In 1542, relations between King Henry VIII and King James V of Scotland had deteriorated. In October, the Duke of Norfolk led 20,000 men into Scotland and burnt Roxburgh and Kelso. The next month King James retaliated by sending 17,000 troops into England to burn the countryside north of Carlisle. The local English commander mustered 3,000 men to oppose the Scots.
The Scots first saw the flags of the small English force on the hilltop above them, and feared that it was part of a much larger force. Their army began to march on the English but hesitated, turned, and retreated, the English cavalry harrying their rear. A rearguard stand was made by the Scots at the ford across the Esk, but many were taken prisoner. Those who crossed took refuge in the vast marsh known as Solway Moss, which gives the battle its name.
The morale of the Scottish army was low and it possessed no recognised commander. Disunity amongst its leaders precipitated the break-up of the army almost as soon as the battle began. The shameful nature of the defeat so shocked King James that he died within a month at the age of only 30.
The battle took place in a heathland landscape which was not improved and enclosed until the nineteenth century except around the by-then decayed settlement of Arthuret. A second hillock at Arthuret was quarried away in World War II.
There are a number of good viewpoints over the battlefield, which are publicly accessible. The Tourist Information Centre is in the northern edge of the battlefield area. St Michael's church was largely rebuilt in 1609 and modified again later. There is a holy well at the church.
The Arthuret Knowe is an Area of Local Landscape Significance, whilst the surroundings are an Area of Landscape Improvement in the Local Plan. The battlefield lies within a Tourism Priority Area.
Bain, J (ed.), 1890, The Hamilton Papers: Letters and Papers illustrating the political relations of England and Scotland in the XVI century
McIntire, W T, 1941, 'Solway Moss', in Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmoreland Archaeological and Antiquarian Society, xli