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Second War of Scottish Independence: Battle of Neville's Cross

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Battle of Neville's Cross - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Neville's Cross was fought October 17, 1346, during the Second War of Scottish Independence (1332-1357).

Armies & Commanders

Scotland

  • David II
  • 10,000-15,000 men

    England

  • Archbishop of York
  • Lord Ralph Neville
  • Lord Henry Percy
  • 7,000-10,000 men

  • Battle of Neville's Cross - Background:

    In mid-1346, Edward III of England landed in Normandy with a large army. Violating the Truce of Malestroit and renewing the Hundred Years' War, Edward commenced campaigning against the French. Under pressure from the English, Philip VI of France activated the Auld Alliance with Scotland with the hope that the Scots could divert some of Edward's forces north. After receiving several pleas from Philip and seeing the French crushed at Crécy, David II of Scotland began marshaling his forces for an advance south. Gathering his army took time and it was not until October 7 that the Scottish army crossed the border.

    Believing northern England to be largely undefended, David's army moved slowly rather than taking advantage of the element of surprise. After accepting protection money from Carlisle, he turned his army east and sacked Hexham Priory before pressing on towards Durham. Arriving outside of the city on October 16, David encamped at Bishop of Durham's great deer park of Beaurepaire. Unbeknownst to David, the English troops were present in the region under the leadership of Lords Ralph de Neville and Henry Percy, as well as William Zouche, Archbishop of York.

    By October 16, the English commanders had assembled their army at Auckland Park, approximately ten miles from the Scottish camp. The following morning, a small Scottish force led by William Douglas encountered the advancing English. In the skirmish that ensued, the Scots took losses but escaped to warn David of the enemy's approach. Though warned, David was unable to secure the best terrain for the coming battle. This went to the English who deployed along a narrow ridge west of Durham with their flanks protected by deep valleys on either side.

    The Battle of Neville's Cross:

    Arrayed into three "battles", the English center was led by Neville, while Percy commanded the right, and the Archbishop of York the left. Pushing his archers to the front, Neville formed his cavalry as a reserve to the rear. Advancing onto heights to the north of the English, David also deployed his force into three battles with himself leading the center, Douglas and the Earl of Moray the right, and Robert the High Steward the left. In the wake of earlier defeats, such as Halidon Hill, David sought to fight a defensive battle (Map).

    This desire was reinforced by the broken nature of the ground between the armies which would disrupt an attacker's formation. Aware of the superior nature of their position, the English also elected to remain on the defensive. As a result, a stalemate ensued through the day. Advancing his archers to harass the Scots, Neville was finally able to force David into attacking. Moving forward, the Scottish troops were quickly hampered by the broken terrain. On the right, Moray's vanguard struggled through bushes and ditches. At one point, they were forced to shift left due to a ravine, causing confusion in the lines.

    Peppered by arrows, Moray and Douglas' troops suffered badly. On the left, the Steward had some success and drove back the opposing archers. With his right under pressure, Neville sent in his cavalry which succeeded in halting the Scots and then driving them back. As the Steward's battle was retreating, Moray and Douglas' men also broke leaving David's men as the only Scottish force on the field. Holding their own against Neville's center, the king's troops began to waver as their exposed flanks came under attack. Finally breaking, David was forced to flee the field but was soon captured by English forces.

    Aftermath of Neville's Cross:

    Casualties for the Battle of Neville's Cross are not known with certainty, however sources indicate that English losses were minimal while the Scots incurred around 1,000 killed and many captured. Taken to London, David remained a prisoner of the English for eleven years. The victory at Neville's Cross effectively eliminated the threat to northern England while Edward continued his campaigns in France. Having gained the upper hand, the English invaded southern Scotland the following year. In the wake of the battle, Neville ordered a cross erected on the field to commemorate his victory. It is this cross that gives the battle its name.

    Selected Sources

  • UK Battlefield Resource Centre: Battle of Neville's Cross
  • English Heritage: Battle of Neville's Cross
  • Battle of Neville's Cross

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