Hume Castle protrudes â€˜like a boss on a shieldâ€™ high on its rocky outcrop near Kelso, visible for miles and facing the border between Scotland and England. Such a site was always going to be fortified and so it was in 1547 when the Duke of Somerset â€“ or â€˜Protector Somersetâ€™ to use his official title â€“ demanded its submission.
The War of the Rough Wooing was in its third year. Hume Castle had lately been strengthened by the French and garrisoned by 78 Scots. They were well armed with â€˜culverins, sakers, falconets and iron gunsâ€™ and well able to see out a siege â€“ but Protector Somerset had a sinister plan.
Let the story be taken up by the Frenchman Jean de BeaugÃ© in his â€˜History of the Campaignsâ€™:
"The English thought nothing was more necessary than the taking of the Castle of Hume. They invested the place but being by nature fortified although there were but a few with it, yet the besiegers had spent several days in vain. At last they besought of the following wile: they erected a gibbet in view of the Castle and sent in a trumpeter to tell my Lady Hume that if she did not surrender within two hours they would hang up her son before her eyes. She stated that her sonâ€™s life was in the hands of almighty God.
"This answer was no sooner carried back than they laid violent hands upon the young gentleman, surrounded his body and arms with cords and conveyed along the walls and fosse of the castle. The mother could no longer behold the barbarous spectacle and unwilling to see her son so basely murdered she hung out a flag as a sign of her willingness to capitulate."
Somerset installed a Spanish garrison (he also employed Italian and German mercenaries) and spent Â£734 to improve its defences along with installing no fewer than 21 cannon â€“ enough to see off the Scots and their French allies. The Scots, however, had their own â€˜dark planâ€™.
Young Lord Hume, having narrowly avoided being hanged, escaped his English captors and, anxious for revenge, mixed eight of his retainers with the workmen who were strengthening the castle defences. These befriended the Spanish garrison and won their trust and when they promised to bring provisions from Edinburgh, their offer was gladly taken up. They returned fully laden and were admitted and allowed to spend the night. While the garrison slept they opened the gate and let in the Scots.
The Spanish, caught napping in their beds, were all â€˜put to the swordâ€™.
Hardly anything remains of the old castle as it was destroyed by Cromwell a century later. Its outline is marked by high walling, the stones of which were salvaged in 1794 to create a folly. Visitors will be rewarded with magnificent views of the border lands.
Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle.