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This Week In History

Neville´S Cross. October 17, 1346.

On 7 October the Scots invaded England with approximately 12,000 men. Many had modern weapons and armour supplied by France. A small number of French knights marched alongside the Scots. It was described by both Scottish and English chroniclers of the time, and by modern historians, as the strongest and best equipped Scottish expedition for many years. The border fort of Liddell Peel was stormed and captured after a siege of three days and the garrison massacred. Carlisle was bypassed in exchange for a large indemnity and the Scottish army moved east, ravaging the countryside as they went. They arrived outside Durham on 16 October and camped at Beaurepaire Priory, where the monks offered the Scots £1,000 (£910,000 as of 2019) in protection money to be paid on 18 October.

The invasion had been expected by the English for some time; two years earlier the Chancellor of England had told parliament the Scots were “saying quite openly that they will break the truce as soon as our adversary [France] desires and will march into England”. Once the Scots invaded, an army was quickly mobilised at Richmond in north Yorkshire under the supervision of the Archbishop of York, who was Lord Warden of the Marches. It was not a large army: 3,000–4,000 men from the northern English counties of CumberlandNorthumberland and Lancashire. Another 3,000 Yorkshiremen were en route to reinforce the English forces. This was possible because Edward III, when raising his army to invade France, had exempted the counties north of the River Humber. On 14 October, while the Scots were sacking Hexham Abbey, the Archbishop decided not to wait for the Yorkshire troops and marched north-west towards Barnard Castle, and then rapidly north-east to Durham. He was joined en route by the Yorkshire contingent and Ralph Neville, 2nd Baron Neville, took command of the combined force of 6,000–7,000 men.

The Scots at Beaurepaire only discovered the English army on the morning of 17 October, when they were 6 miles (10 km) away. Around 500 men under William Douglas stumbled upon them in the morning mist during a raid near Merrington, south of Durham. The two rear divisions of the English army drove them off, with around 300 Scottish casualties. Douglas raced back to David II‘s camp, alerting the rest of the army, which stood to arms. The same morning two Benedictine monks arrived from Durham in an attempt to broker a peace but David II, thinking they were spies, ordered their beheading.

David II led the Scottish army to the high ground at Neville’s Cross, less than half a mile (800 m) to the west of Durham and within sight of Durham Cathedral, where he prepared for battle. Both the Scots and the English arranged themselves in three formations, or battles. On the Scottish side, David II took control of the second battle. As the mist lifted, it became clear the Scots were poorly positioned, on broken ground and with their movement made difficult by ditches and walls. They remembered their defeats at Dupplin Moor and Halidon Hill and so took a defensive stance, waiting for the English to attack.

The English similarly divided their forces with Henry de Percy, 2nd Baron Percy, commanding their first battle; Neville their second; and the Archbishop of York their third. Neville remained in overall command. The English were entirely dismounted, with each battle having men-at-arms in the centre and longbowmen on each flank. The English also took a defensive stance, knowing they had the superior position and that time was on their side; their morale was high.

The broken terrain and obstacles slowed the advance and made it difficult for the Scots to maintain formation. The longbowmen were able to fall back behind their men-at-arms. By the time the disorganised battle came to hand-to-hand combat it was easily dealt with. Seeing their first attack repulsed, and also being harassed by the English archers, the third and largest Scottish battle, on the left, under the Earl of March and Robert Stewart, broke and fled.

More than 50 Scottish barons were killed or captured; Scotland lost almost all its military leadership. Accounts of the time state that after the battle David II was hiding under a bridge over the River Browney when his reflection was seen in the water by a group of English soldiers. David II was then taken prisoner by John de Coupland, who was leading the detachment and who had his teeth knocked out by the King. During the battle David II was twice shot in the face with arrows. Surgeons attempted to remove the arrows but the tip of one remained lodged in his face, rendering him prone to headaches for decades. Edward III ordered David II to be handed over to him, rewarding Coupland with a knighthood and an annuity of £500 for life (£460,000 per year in 2019 terms). Despite having fled without fighting, Robert Stewart was appointed lord guardian to act on David II’s behalf in his absence.

On three separate occasions Edward III offered to release the childless David II for £40,000 (approximately £37,000,000 in 2019 terms) if he would accept one of Edward III’s son as his heir to the Scottish throne. All three offers were refused. Eleven years after the battle David II was released in exchange for a ransom of 100,000 marks (approximately £61,000,000 in 2019 terms.) The ransom was to be paid over ten years, on 24 June (St. John the Baptist‘s Day) each year, during which an Anglo-Scottish truce prohibited any Scottish citizen from bearing arms against Edward III or any of his men. This truce lasted for four decades and marked the end of the Second War of Scottish Independence.

 

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