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Second War of Scottish Independence: Battle of Halidon Hill

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Battle of Halidon Hill - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Halidon Hill was fought on July 19, 1333, during the Second War of Scottish Independence (1333-1357).

Armies & Commanders:

Scotland

  • Sir Archibald Douglas
  • approx. 13,000 men

England

Battle of Halidon Hill - Background:

With the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328, the First War of Scottish Independence came to an end. As a result of the treaty, many nobles of associated with the Balliol and Comyn families lost their lands and titles in Scotland. In 1332, Edward Balliol, whose father King John Balliol had lost his crown following the Battle of Dunbar in 1296, raised an army in England and invaded Scotland. Encountering Scottish forces, which supported young King David II, they won a decisive victory at the Battle of Dupplin Moor.

Proclaiming himself King of Scotland, Edward Balliol found little support for his claim and was driven from the country after the Battle of Annan that December. Returning to England, he appealed to King Edward III for assistance and promised to cede parts of southeastern Scotland in return. Intrigued by the offer, Edward III renounced the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton and prepared to march north with the goal of supporting Balliol and reasserting English claims on Scotland.

Battle of Halidon Hill - Advance of the English:

Alerted to English intentions, the Guardian of Scotland, Sir Archibald Douglas, who was ruling as regent for David, began raising the army and dispatched Sir Alexander Seton to defend the vital border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. On March 10, 1333, Balliol crossed into Scotland at the head of an army and made for Berwick. Operating around the town, he was joined by Edward III in May after the English king had placed his queen at Bamburgh Castle for safety. Closing in on Berwick, the English entrenched and severed all of the town's supply lines.

While Seton's men fought off repeated English assaults, Douglas waited for the army to assemble before taking any action. With his defenses near collapse, Seton agreed to a short truce with the promise that he would surrender on July 11 unless relieved. To guarantee the truce, several hostages, including his son, were sent to Edward III. Crossing into England on July 11, Douglas sought to draw Edward III away from the city. Approaching from the south, Scottish troops captured the small town of Tweedmouth and a party led by Sir William Keith was able to cross the river and enter Berwick.

Believing that Keith's success technically represented the "relief" of Berwick, Douglas sent messages to Edward III stating that if the he did not depart the Scottish army would move south to devastate England. As Edward III refused to be moved, Douglas marched south toward Bamburgh Castle. Aware that Douglas lacked siege equipment and trusting that Bamburgh's defenses would hold, Edward III remained before Berwick and demanded its surrender. Stating that Keith's entry did not constitute an actual relief, he announced that he would start hanging hostages beginning with Seton's son.

Battle of Halidon Hill - Advance to Battle:

Meeting with the English, Seton was able to conclude another truce which moved the surrender date to July 20. Learning of this, Douglas had no other choice but to return to Berwick to battle Edward. Moving his army to a strong position atop Halidon Hill, just northeast of the town, Edward awaited the Scots. Re-crossing the Tweed on July 18, Douglas moved toward Berwick from the northwest. With his options limited, Douglas prepared to give battle the next day.

The Scottish army formed into three schiltrons (large blocks of pikemen) with Douglas leading the left, Robert Stewart the center, and the Earl of Moray the right. Having been forced to fight on ground of Edward III's choosing, Douglas' men had to advance down a slope, cross a marshy area, and climb the hill before reaching the English. They were further hampered by the fact that their tactics and formation favored defeating enemy cavalry and Edward III had instructed his men to fight dismounted. Atop the hill, the English were also divided in three groups and were well supported with archers.

Battle of Halidon Hill - A Hopeless Attack:

As Douglas' men advanced down the slope and reached the marsh, the first English arrows began to descend on their ranks. Packed in tight lines and moving slowly, the Scottish troops suffered heavily as the archers continued to fire. Suffering heavy casualties, the survivors struggled up the hill toward the English. The first to reach Edward III's men were from Moray's division. Badly depleted from the approach, Moray's men clashed with troops led by Balliol. Falling by the sword and continuing to take losses from the archers, Moray's men broke and began fleeing down the hill.

The panic from Moray's division soon swept across the Scottish lines as the arrows continued to fall. Soon Douglas' entire force was in full retreat. Rallying his Highlanders, the Earl of Ross fought a gallant rearguard action and was killed. With Ross' men overrun, the English knights mounted their horses and rode in pursuit of the fleeing enemy. While Stewart and Moray were able to escape, Douglas and five earls were killed in the fighting.

Battle of Halidon Hill - Aftermath

Scottish losses at the Battle of Halidon Hill are not known with certainty, but they were extremely high and the army was effectively shattered. English casualties were light and have been reported as low as 14. The defeat at Halidon Hill stunned Scotland and the nation was essentially laid prostrate before Edward III as many of its leaders had been killed. While many Scottish landowners were quick to swear fealty to the English king, Edward III did little to follow up his victory. As a result, the Scots were able to slowly recover and by 1335 scored victories at Boroughmuir and Culblean.

The defensive tactics pioneered at Dupplin Moor and Halidon Hill, with their reliance on archers, were refined and used with great success by the English during the Hundred Years' War.

Selected Sources

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