Battle of Neville’s Cross at Durham, October 17th 1346

Context – The Hundred Years War

In the summer of 1346 the hundred years war took a disastrous turn for the French King, Phillip IV, when King Edward III of England led a massive invasion into France, winning substantial and shocking victories including the battle of Crecy which witnessed the destruction of “the flower of the French aristocracy” at the hands of English long-bowmen. Before Crecy, Edward moved through the French countryside pillaging and looting, rather than capturing and holding. Now he could afford to hold territory and so laid siege to Calais. In desperate need of relief Phillip implored his old ally the Scottish King, David II, to invade England and divert Edward’s attention. Unfortunately for King David and the Scotts, Edward foresaw this threat and stationed a sizeable force to counter any Scottish incursion.

The Battle

David entered England on October 7th with approximately 10-12,000 men. The army headed towards Durham, sacking and burning as they went and reached their target on October 16th. During this time the English moved some 6 to 8 thousand troops in two separate groups north to reinforce Durham including a large contingent of English and Welsh Bowman. Only half of that force was to reach Durham in time.

On the morning of October 17th a Scottish raiding party stumble upon the approaching English army and experienced heavy casualties. Upon hearing the startling and altogether unforeseen news that an English army was so close at hand, David decided to take up immediate defensive positions on a nearby ridge. The English army, in the mean time, was allowed to take the best strategic position. Both armies formed up three battalions in defensive positions, though the English formed a fourth kept back in reserve. The two armies faced each other for the better part of the day, each wishing to fight a defensive battle. David was finally drawn out in the afternoon by English skirmishers.

Despite having great superiority in numbers, the Scots were at a disadvantage attacking over poor terrain and directly into the deadly archers. The Western battalion found itself separated from their target by a steep sided ravine and while attempting to assault the enemy across this obstacle under heavy fire from the archers, began to disintegrate into confusion and retreat. A third of David’s army was now departing the field after causing virtually no injury to the enemy forces.

The Scott’s Eastern battalion fared better, causing the English Eastern battalion to retreat. Unfortunately this exposed the Scots’ flank to the English reserves, and the Scottish Eastern battalion began to falter as well. Soon the entire battalion was in full retreat and now the Scottish King remained in command of the only Scottish battalion left on the field, in the center, and surrounded by enemy. David himself was wounded and his remaining army, only a third of the original Scottish force, broke as well.

The Aftermath

David managed to escape capture during the battle but was captured as he hid under a bridge and remained English prisoner for 11 years. The Scottish army is thought to have lost approximately 1,000 dead and many captured, while the English suffered “very few killed.” The English invaded Scotland the next year, virtually unopposed. 


Copyright: Jane Parr 2010