The 12 Towers of Rule

The National Park Campaign & Archaeology Scotland, along with other partners, are developing this fascinating community project


In September 1545 Henry VIII dispatched the Earl of Hertford north with an army of 12,000 men and instructions to lay waste to the Merse.

What are the twelve towers of Rule?

In the 16th Century Henry VIII of England expended considerable resources trying to take Scotland under the control of the English Crown. In 1542 a Scottish army was defeated at Solway Moss, and James V died, leaving his daughter Mary, only a few days old, as Queen.

Henry tried to force the Scots lords to give the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, in marriage to his young son Edward. The Scots refused. In order to bend them to his will, Henry then undertook a series of campaigns against the Scots between 1543 and 1551 known as “The Rough Wooing”.

In February 1545 the Scots were victorious over an English army at the Battle of Ancrum Moor. In revenge, in September 1545 Henry dispatched his brother-in-law, the Earl of Hartford, north, with an army of 12,000 foot and 4000 horse. His instructions were to lay waste to the Merse.

In two weeks in September the Earl of Hertford devastated Tweeddale and Teviotdale, burning five abbeys and hundreds of farms, settlements and towers. Letters to Henry VIII from the Earl of Hartford carry long lists of names of the places that were destroyed. In just one afternoon he laid waste to the Valley of the Water of Rule, a tributary of the Teviot. Contemporary accounts list a dozen “places” burnt. After two weeks of raids Hartford and his army departed south again, leaving the Borderlands in a destroyed and weakened state, many slaughtered, buildings laid low, their gear, their food stores and stock stolen.

We have very few records of that event and its aftermath. It was many years before the area recovered. However we know that there were survivors and that many of the farms and towers were eventually rebuilt. In time it became a tranquil and prosperous area. Some descendants of the families which suffered in 1545 live there today.

Download the The Twelve Towers of Rule Historical Evaluation by Richard Oram and Tom Turpie

The view south from the site of Bedrule Castle. 

The restored Fatlips Castle sitting upon Minto Crags

The view towards Minto Hills from the site of Bedrule Castle

The Campaign group is working with Archaeology Scotland under its “Adopt a Monument” scheme to develop a community project

The project will research the history of what happened in that fateful September, try to determine which of the named “12 Towers” in the reports correspond to the known tower sites in the Rule valley, do community led surveying and archaeology on the sites to understand the towers as a working entity and their relationship to the local community, and develop the tourist potential of the sites to benefit the local economy. To this end, a feasibility study has been commissioned on how the tourist potential could be realised, and how to maximise the visitor experience of these sites.

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