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05-Apr-2019 Jack Cook & Google

Battle of Dryfe Sands

In this Google photograph, Jack Cook has identified for us the 2 main areas of the Battle of Dryfe Sands (older spelling being Dryffesands). The large red circle is the site of the main battle. The smaller red circle is the location where the Clan Maxwell Chief was slain.

About 3 kilometres to the west of Lockerbie on 7 December 1593, Clan Johnstone fought Clan Maxwell at the Battle of Dryfe Sands. The Johnstones numbered 400 at best with their youngest combatant being 11 years old. They were fighting for their very existence. The Maxwells had an army with numbers given variously as 2,000 to 4,000, and they vowed to kill each and every Johnstone in Scotland. In spite of being outnumbered, the Johnstones nearly exterminated the Maxwells involved in the battle. A Johnstone technique used to spare the lives of their opponents while disabling them so that they could not or would not continue fighting was to use downward slash of the sword across the cheek of their opponents. This created a terrible bleeding gash that required immediate attention and effectively took the enemy out of the fight. This led to the proverbial expression "Lockerbie Lick."

Various reasons have been given for the animosity between the Johnstones and the Maxwells. Power and jealousy have been the two most commonly attributed causes; however, when one scratches the surface one finds a story of deep international intrigue with the Roman Catholic Maxwells conspiring with the Vatican to overthrow Scotland's Protestant king. The Johnstones supported the Church of Scotland, now known as the Presbyterian Church. The Johnstones stood in the way of a Roman Catholic takeover, and the Maxwells were determined to wipe them off the face of the earth.

Sir James Johnstone had been warned by Johnstone of Cummertrees about the size of Maxwell's army. He gathered a mix of Elliots, Irvines, Murrays, Scotts, Carruthers and Grahams.

Captain Oliphant, leading an advance Maxwell party, was beaten near Lochmaben by the Johnstones. In the skirmish, Oliphant was killed, the remainder of his forces sheltering in Lochmaben Kirk. However, some Johnstones set fire to the building, forcing the Maxwells to surrender.

Lord Maxwell's main army camped near Skipmyre, on a hill. A day later, he took up the left bank of the River Dryfe. However, Sir James Johnstone's men were on higher ground, and provoked Maxwell's men, with the result of some of Maxwell's men getting ambushed. This enabled Johnstone's main force to attack Maxwell's main army, which confused them. The Lairds of Drumlanrig, Closeburn and Lag rode off of the battlefield, presumably followed by many of their men. Maxwell's army was destroyed, and Maxwell himself was killed by William Johnstone of Kirkhill, or possibly by Sir James Johnstone.
John Pollock of Clan Pollock was killed supporting the Maxwells.

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