The Battle of Langside took place on the 13th of May, 1568.
The Battle of Langside, was a sort of internecine quarrel, involving, as it did, a mother who was fighting her half-brother who was, in turn, ostensibly defending the rights of her infant son. It’s probably more accurate to suggest that Mary’s primary antagonist, the Regent Moray, was more concerned with maintaining his power and influence in the Kingdom, than with any altruistic feelings towards the young King James. At the Battle of Langside, Mary I, Queen of Scots, was finally defeated in her attempt to regain the throne from those controlling her infant son, James VI.
In 1567, Mary’s short personal rule ended in recrimination, intrigue and disaster when she was forced to abdicate in favour of James VI, her infant son. The Catholic Mary was sent into captivity in Loch Leven Castle, while her Protestant half-brother, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, was appointed Regent on behalf of his nephew. In early May, 1568, Mary escaped and headed west to the country of the Hamiltons, who figured high amongst her remaining supporters, determined to restore her rights as Queen. News of Mary’s escape was welcomed, even among sections of the Protestant nobility. With an escort of fifty horse, led by Lord Claude Hamilton, she arrived in Lanarkshire, soon to be joined by a wide cross-section of the nobility, including the Earls of Argyll, Cassillis, Rothes and Eglinton, the Lords Sommerville, Yester, Livingston, Herries, Fleming, and Ross, who all assembled at the town of Hamilton with their followers and vassals.
Within a few short days, Mary had managed to gather a respectable force of some six thousand men willing to fight for her. It was openly declared by her supporters that Mary’s abdication, and her consent to wee Jamesie’s coronation, had been extorted under threat of death. An act of council was then passed, declaring the whole process by which Moray had been appointed as Regent to be treasonable. A bond was drawn up by those present, for Mary’s restoration, and this was signed by eight Earls, and an assortment of Bishops, Lords, Abbots and Barons.
It was Mary’s intention to avoid battle if possible, retiring instead to Dumbarton Castle, still held for her by Lord Fleming, where she would be in a virtually impregnable position and well placed to receive reinforcements from the north. Her intention was to recover a hold on the country, by degrees. The Regent, Moray, recognising the security that Dumbarton Castle would provide to Mary, moved his smaller, better trained army to intercept.
The preliminaries to the Battle of Langside began when Kirkcaldy’s Hackebutters, each mounted behind a horseman, forded the intervening river and deployed in among the cottages, hedges and gardens of the village. These bordered a narrow lane, through which Mary’s army must defile. Meanwhile, the vanguard, under the command of the Earl of Morton, crossed a nearby bridge to deploy both right and left. The left flank extended as far as the farm of Pathhead, the highest point of which is now known as Queen’s Park. That manoeuvre had only just been accomplished, when the Queen’s vanguard, commanded by Lord Hamilton, began its advance through the village.
The engagement began with Hamilton attempting to force a passage through Langside. He was met by close fire from the Hackbutters and many in the front ranks were killed, throwing the remainder back on those following and adding to the general confusion. Hamilton pushed on regardless, finally reaching the top of a hill, only to find the main enemy force drawn up awaiting. Morton’s border Pikemen advanced to intercept Hamilton’s vanguard and the two sides met in ‘push of pike’.
The battle was now at its height and the outcome still doubtful, until Grange saw that the Regent’s right wing was beginning to lose ground. He immediately brought up reinforcements and counter attacked with such force that it broke Hamilton’s resistance. Moray, who had until that moment remained in a defensive formation, repulsing Hamilton’s cavalry, ordered a charge. The Queen’s men crumbled and fled in disarray.
Moray had proved himself the superior tactician and the Battle of Langside, which lasted for a mere forty-five minutes, one of the shortest battles in history, was over. Some three hundred men were killed, a figure that would almost certainly have been higher, but for Moray’s decision to avoid further bloodshed by ordering a halt to the pursuit. Many prisoners of note were taken.
During the battle, the Queen was positioned some distance to the rear, close to Cathcart Castle, on a mound thereafter named Court Knowe. Seeing that the battle was going against her supporters, Mary and her escort rode off, eventually arriving at Dundrennan Abbey, in Galloway, some sixty miles to the south. From here she left for England, never to return.
Langside is one of the oldest and most eventful areas on the south side of Glasgow. There is evidence of prehistoric settlement and a community of radical weavers, before it became a suburb of Glasgow, in 1891. The White Cart Water to the south, and the two long hills with summits in Queen’s Park and Mansion House Road, define its hilly and surprisingly wooded character. The name Langside refers to this feature. The village originated at the crossroads between the north-south route from the crossing of White Cart Water and the east-west path from Crossmyloof, down Lang Loan (Battlefield Road), and was part of the ancient parish of Cathcart.
There is now an 18m (58ft) tall monument, the Langside Battlefield Memorial, which was designed by Alexander Skirving, during 1887-8, to mark the site of Glasgow’s most important, albeit short duration, military encounter.