An article from the Dumfries and Galloway Standard about a new series of local battlefield guides:
As the centuries pass and ancient enemies long vanquished, the cold ground of a battlefield gives little away to the keen historian.
Dumfries and Galloway, so close to the coveted borders of England, Ireland and northern Scotland, has had its fair share of violence in the name of despots, dispute and desperation.
Invaded and counter-invaded for millennia, these lands have hosted the sites of many bloody skirmishes where clashing swords, pounding drums and the screams of the injured and dying could be heard for miles across the hills and forests.
Yet it is difficult to believe, when living and travelling in the now peaceful landscapes of Dumfries and Galloway, that so much blood had once been spilled.
Eastriggs author Stephen Maggs (pictured) has brought the region’s turbulent past to life in a series of books, the most recent being an account of the Battle of Sark on October 23, 1448, and the Battle of Dryfe Sands, December 6, 1593.
“I enjoy walking battlefields,” said Stephen, “but I get a little frustrated by a lack on information on them.
“I therefore decided to find out more by visiting local libraries (the staff at the Ewart Library in Dumfries are always a great help) and of course internet research.”
Forty-five-year-old Stephen, who is currently studying Higher Business Management at Dumfries and Galloway College, moved to Scotland from Worcestershire in 1989.
“I have always had an interest in the English Civil War, in particular the Scottish armies fighting alongside King Charles II’s royalist forces in 1650-1651.”
“In 2001, I led a campaign to erect a war memorial at Worcester near to burial pits containing the bodies of many Scottish soldiers killed in the Battle of Worcester in 1651.”
Stephen wrote a book listing the names of a few hundred Scots killed in the battle and has not stopped writing since.
Having always wanted to be an author, Stephen has had nine guides published and the current two are the first of six commissioned by Wigtown publishers GC Books.
He said: “I began writing about local battlefields and thought it would be good to see if a local publisher would be interested in them.
“I contacted GC Books via email and they were very keen.
“After reviewing my guides they asked if I’d like to write a series of six for them.
Dryfe Sands and Sark being the first two.
“Although these are less well known battles they were much more than minor skirmishes. The Battle of Dryfe Sands was Scotland's largest and bloodiest clan battle while the Battle of Sark was a great victory for the Scots and a humiliation for the English King, Henry VI,” Stephen explained.
Fought in 1448 between the Scots under Hugh Douglas and the English forces led by the powerful Percys, Earls of Northumberland, the Battle of Sark was brought about by a bitter and personal feud.
The victory put the Scots in a position of strength against the English for many years and led to such a rise in the power of the Clan Douglas that the Scottish throne came under threat.
The Battle of Dryfe Sands was also the result of a power struggle that had plagued the Borders for generations, this time between the Maxwells and the Johnstones.
In December 1593 the eighth Lord Maxwell decided to end the rivalry once and for all hoping to finally gain complete control of the Scottish West March, little knowing that his actions would lead to the biggest and bloodiest clan battle Scotland had ever known.
For his inspiration, Stephen walks the battlefields, tracing the footsteps of history to get a clearer picture of how they were lost and won and a ‘feel’ for the soldiers involved.
“I walk battlefields as often as I can,” he said. “This can be a great inspiration for it’s possible to see just what the soldiers saw when in battle: in many cases very little. In times of action soldiers really were very much alone, even though surrounded by hundreds of their comrades.”
Stephen then undertakes methodical research, trawling libraries and the internet as well as his own sources.
“I have around 1,500 books at home, on many military periods, which I get information from.”
For his knowledge on military tactics and strategy, Stephen has an unusual pastime.
He took up wargaming when at school in Worcestershire and now regularly writes articles and attends shows.
He said: “It is a fascinating hobby and helps one understand just how armies were formed and what tactics they used on the battlefield.”
Stephen puts his true inspiration for all things military down to his upbringing.
“My father was in the army when I was a child and I lived for a while on the military bases of Osnabruck and Beilefeld.
“He died in 1992 but will always be an inspiration to me.”
Stephen has already started three other guides: The Battle of Arkinholm, Langholm, 1455; The Fall of Dumfriesshire in 1651; and the well-known Battle of Solway Moss 1542.
“Once these guides are finished I will be writing a guide to Dumfriesshire’s castles, hill forts and motte and bailies etc, which could prove lengthy as the whole area is littered with them.”
“I would ultimately like to set up a local history shop to encourage battlefield tourism in Dumfriesshire,” he added.
The books Death of a King’s Man and Where True Valour is Only to be Seen are available from the GC Books’ website www.gcbooks.co.uk