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Battle of Halidon Hill
Part of the Second War of Scottish Independence
Halidon Hill.jpg
Monument marking the site of the battle
Date 19 July 1333
Location
Halidon Hill, near Berwick-upon-Tweed
Result English victory
Belligerents
Royal Banner of Scotland.svg Kingdom of Scotland Royal Banner of England.svg Kingdom of England
Royal Banner of Scotland.svg Scots loyal to Edward Balliol
Commanders and leaders
Sir Archibald Douglas 
Arms of Stewart.svg Robert Stewart
Moray Coat of Arms.svg John Randolph, 3rd Earl of Moray
Royal Arms of England (1198-1340).svg King Edward III
Royal Arms of the Kingdom of Scotland.svg Edward Balliol
Strength
Up to 20,000 Less than 10,000
Casualties and losses
Unknown. Very few


The Battle of Halidon Hill (19 July 1333) was fought during the Second War of Scottish Independence. Scottish forces under Sir Archibald Douglas were heavily defeated by the English forces of King Edward III of England on unfavourable terrain while trying to relieve Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Background

The First War of Scottish Independence between England and Scotland began in March 1296, when Edward I of England (r. 1272 – 1307) stormed and sacked the Scottish border town of Berwick as a prelude to his invasion of Scotland. After 30 years of warfare that followed, the newly-crowned 14-year-old King Edward III was nearly captured in the English disaster at Stanhope Park. This brought his regents, Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, to the negotiating table. They agreed to the Treaty of Northampton with Robert Bruce (r. 1306 – 1329) in 1328 but this treaty was widely resented in England and commonly known as turpis pax, "the cowards' peace". Some Scottish nobles refused to swear fealty to Bruce and were disinherited; they left Scotland to join forces with Edward Balliol, son of King John I of Scotland (r. 1292 – 1296), whom Edward I had deposed in 1296.

Robert Bruce died in 1329; his heir was 5-year-old David II (r. 1329 – 1371). In 1331, under the leadership of Edward Balliol and Henry Beaumont, 4th Earl of Buchan, the disinherited Scottish nobles gathered in Yorkshire and plotted an invasion of Scotland. Edward III was aware of the scheme and officially forbade it. The reality was different, and Edward III was happy to cause trouble for his northern neighbour. He insisted that Balliol not invade Scotland overland from England but turned a blind eye to his forces sailing for Scotland from Yorkshire ports on 31 July 1332. The Scots were aware of the situation and were waiting for Balliol. David II's regent was an experienced old soldier, Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray. He had prepared for Balliol and Beaumont, but he died ten days before they sailed.

Five days after landing in Fife, Balliol's force of some 2,000 men met the Scottish army of 12,000–15,000 men. The Scots were crushed at the Battle of Dupplin Moor. Thousands of Scots died, including much of the nobility of the realm. Balliol was crowned king of Scotland at Scone – the traditional place of coronation for Scottish monarchs – on 24 September 1332. Almost immediately, Balliol granted Edward III Scottish estates to a value of £2,000, which included "the town, castle and county of Berwick". Balliol's support within Scotland was limited and within six months it had collapsed. He was ambushed by supporters of David II at the Battle of Annan a few months after his coronation. Balliol fled to England half-dressed and riding bareback. He appealed to Edward III for assistance.

Edward III dropped all pretence of neutrality, recognised Balliol as king of Scotland and made ready for war. The English parliament met at York and debated the situation for five days without conclusion. Edward III promised to discuss the matter with both Pope John XXII and King Philip VI of France (r. 1328 – 1350). Possibly to prevent the Scots from taking the initiative, England began openly preparing for war, while announcing that it was Scotland which was preparing to invade England.

Prelude

Edward's chosen target was the Scottish border town of Berwick. Berwick, on the North Sea coast of Britain, is on the Anglo-Scottish border, astride the main invasion and trade route in either direction. In the Middle Ages, it was the gateway from Scotland to the English eastern march. According to William Edington, a bishop and chancellor of England, Berwick was "so populous and of such commercial importance that it might rightly be called another Alexandria, whose riches were the sea and the water its walls". It was the most successful trading town in Scotland, and the duty on wool which passed through it was the Scottish Crown's largest single source of income. Edward hoped that the possibility of losing it would draw the Scots into a set piece battle, which he anticipated winning. During centuries of war between the two nations battles had been rare, as the Scots preferred guerrilla tactics and border raiding into England. Berwick was one of the few targets which might bring the Scots to battle as, in the words of the historian Clifford Rogers "abandoning it was almost unthinkable".

Archibald Douglas was Guardian of the Realm for the underage David. He was the brother of the "Good" Sir James Douglas, a hero of the First War of Independence. Weapons and supplies were gathered as he made arrangements for the defence of Berwick. Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March, the keeper of Berwick Castle, had recently spent nearly £200 on its defences. Sir Alexander Seton was appointed Governor of Berwick, responsible for the defence of the town. The town walls stretched for 2 miles (3.2 kilometres) and were up to 40 inches (3 feet; 1 metre) thick and 22 feet (6.7 metres) high. They were protected by towers, each up to 60 feet (20 metres) tall. The wall to the south-west was further protected by the River Tweed, which was crossed by a stone bridge and entered the town at a stone gatehouse. Berwick Castle was to the west of the town, separated by a broad moat, making the town and castle independent strongholds. Berwick was well-defended, well-stocked with provisions and materiel, and expected to withstand a long siege.

Berwick under siege

Edouard III devant Berwick
A medieval depiction of Edward III at the siege of Berwick

Balliol, in command of the disinherited Scottish lords and some English magnates, crossed the border on 10 March. Edward III made grants of over £1,000 to the nobles accompanying him on the campaign and a similar amount was paid to Balliol's companions; Balliol received over £700 personally. He marched through Roxburghshire, burning and pillaging as he went and capturing Oxnam. He reached Berwick in late March and cut it off by land. Edward III's navy had already isolated it by sea. Balliol and the nobles accompanying him are said to have sworn not to withdraw until Berwick had fallen. Edward arrived at Berwick with the main English army on 9 May, after leaving Queen Philippa at Bamburgh Castle 15 miles (24 kilometres) south of Berwick. Balliol had been at Berwick for six weeks and had placed the town under close siege. Trenches had been dug, the water supply cut and all communication with the hinterland prevented. A scorched-earth policy was applied to the surrounding area to deny supplies for the town if an opportunity to break the siege occurred. The pillaging of the countryside also added to the English army's supplies.

The besieging army included troops raised in the Welsh Marches and the Midlands, as well as levies from the north which had already mustered on account of the earlier Scottish raids. By the end of the month, this force had been augmented by noble retinues, a muster at Newcastle, and the assembly of the English fleet in the River Tyne. Accompanying the army were craftsmen to build siege engines. Thirty-seven masons prepared nearly 700 stone missiles for the siege; these were transported by sea from Hull on 16 May. Edward III had arranged for the combined army to be revictualled by sea through the small port of Tweedmouth.

Douglas had assembled a large army north of the border but his inactivity contrasts sharply with Robert Bruce's swift response to the siege of 1319. Douglas seems to have spent the time assembling ever more troops, rather than using those he already had to mount diversionary raids. Minor raids into Cumberland were launched by Sir Archibald Douglas. These were insufficient to draw the English forces from the siege. But it gave Edward III a pretext for his invasion, of which he took full advantage.

In late June, the defenders set adrift burning brushwood soaked in tar, in an attempt to repel a naval assault. Instead of the English ships, much of the town was set on fire. William Seton, a son of the town's governor, was killed fighting an English seabourne assault. By the end of June the attacks by land and sea had brought the town to a state of ruin and the garrison close to exhaustion. It is believed that a desire for a respite from the plunging fire of the two large counterweight trebuchets used by the English was a significant factor in Seton requesting a short truce from King Edward. This was granted, but only on the condition that he surrender if not relieved by 11 July. Seton's son, Thomas, was to be a hostage to the agreement, along with eleven others.

Relief force

Douglas was now faced with a situation similar to that which the English had faced before the Battle of Bannockburn. Nicholson considers that "If Berwick were to be saved immediate action on the part of the Scottish guardian was unavoidable". As a matter of national pride Douglas would have to come to the relief of Berwick, just as Edward II had come to the relief of Stirling Castle in 1314. The army that Douglas had spent so much time gathering was now compelled to take to the field. The English army is estimated to have been less than 10,000 strong – outnumbered approximately two-to-one by the Scots. Douglas entered England on 11 July, the last day of Seton's truce. He advanced eastwards to Tweedmouth and destroyed it in sight of the English army. Edward III did not move.

Sir William Keith, with Sir Alexander Gray and Sir William Prenderguest, led a force of around 200 Scottish cavalry. With some difficulty, they forced their way across the ruins of the bridge to the northern bank of the Tweed and made their way into the town. Douglas considered the town relieved. He sent messages to Edward III calling on him to depart, threatening that if he failed to do so, the Scots army would devastate England. The Scots were challenged to do their worst. The defenders argued that Keith's 200 horsemen constituted the relief according to the truce and therefore they did not have to surrender. Edward III stated that this was not the case: they had to be relieved directly from Scotland – literally from the direction of Scotland – whereas Keith, Gray and Prenderguest had approached Berwick from the direction of England. Edward III ruled that the truce agreement had been breached – the town having neither surrendered nor been relieved. A gallows was constructed directly outside the town walls and, as the highest-ranking hostage, Thomas Seton was hanged while his parents watched. Edward III issued instructions that each day the town failed to surrender, another two hostages should be hanged.

Keith, having taken command of the town from Seton, concluded a fresh truce on 15 July, promising to surrender if not relieved by sunset on 19 July. The truce comprised two indentures, one between Edward III and the town of Berwick and the other between Edward III and March, the keeper of Berwick Castle. It defined circumstances in which relief would or would not occur. The terms of surrender were not unconditional. The town was to be returned to English soil and law but the inhabitants were to be allowed to leave, with their goods and chattels, under a safe conduct from Edward III. All members of the garrison would also be given free passage. Relief was defined as one of three events: 200 Scottish men-at-arms fighting their way into Berwick; the Scottish army forcing its way across a specific stretch of the River Tweed; or, defeat of the English army in open battle on Scottish soil. On concluding the new treaty, Keith was allowed to immediately leave Berwick, travel to wherever the Guardian of Scotland happened to be, advise him of the terms of the treaty, and return safely to Berwick.

By this time Douglas had marched south to Bamburgh, where Edward III's queen Philippa was still staying, and besieged it; Douglas hoped that this would cause Edward III to break off his siege. In 1319 Edward III's father, Edward II, had broken off a siege of Berwick after a Scottish army had advanced on York, where his queen was staying, and devastated Yorkshire. However, whatever concerns Edward III had for his queen, he ignored the threat to Bamburgh. The Scots did not have the time to construct the kind of equipment that would be necessary to take the fortress by assault. The Scots devastated the countryside but Edward III ignored this. He positioned the English army on Halidon Hill, a small rise of some 600 feet (180 metres), 2 miles (3.2 km) to the north-west of Berwick, which gives an excellent view of the town and the vicinity. From this vantage point, he dominated the crossing of the Tweed specified in the indentures and would have been able to attack the flank of any force of men-at-arms attempting to enter Berwick. Receiving Keith's news, Douglas felt that his only option was to engage the English in battle.

Battle

Charge of the Scots at Halidon Hill
A 19th-century view of the Scottish charge at Halidon Hill

Crossing the Tweed to the west of the English position, the Scottish army reached the town of Duns, 15 miles (24 km) from Berwick, on 18 July. On the following day it approached Halidon Hill from the north-west, ready to give battle on ground chosen by Edward III. Edward III had to face the Scottish army to the front and guard his rear against the risk of a sortie by the garrison of Berwick. By some accounts, a large proportion of the English army was left guarding Berwick.

To engage the English, the Scots had to advance downhill, cross a large area of marshy ground and then climb the northern slope of Halidon Hill. The Battle of Dupplin Moor the previous year had shown how vulnerable the Scots were to arrows. The prudent course of action would have been to withdraw and wait for a better opportunity to fight, but this would guarantee the loss of Berwick. The armies encountered each other's scouts around midday on 19 July. Douglas ordered an attack. The Lanercost Chronicle reports:

... the Scots who marched in the front were so wounded in the face and blinded by the multitude of English arrows that they could not help themselves, and soon began to turn their faces away from the blows of the arrows and fall.

The Scots suffered many casualties and the lower reaches of the hill were littered with dead and wounded. The survivors continued upwards, through the arrows "as thick as motes in a sun beam", according to an unnamed contemporary quoted by Nicholson, and on to the waiting spears.

The Scottish army broke, the camp followers made off with the horses and the fugitives were pursued by the mounted English knights. The Scottish casualties numbered in thousands, including Douglas and five earls dead on the field. Scots who surrendered were killed on Edward's orders and some drowned as they fled into the sea. English casualties were reported as fourteen; some chronicles give a lower figure of seven. About a hundred Scots who had been taken prisoner were executed the next morning, 20 July. This was the date that Berwick's second truce expired, and the town and the castle surrendered on the terms in the indentures.

Aftermath

1334 Treaty of Newcastle
Territory ceded to England by Edward Balliol
     Scottish territory not claimed by England     ceded Scottish territory     England

Edward, considering his part done, left for the south, and left Balliol to quell any remaining resistance in Scotland. On 19 June 1334, Balliol did homage to Edward for Scotland, after formally ceding to England the eight counties of south-east Scotland. Balliol ruled a truncated Scottish state from Perth, from where he attempted to put down the remaining resistance. Balliol was deposed again in 1334, restored again in 1335 and finally deposed in 1336, by those loyal to David II. Berwick was to remain the military and political headquarters of the English on the border until 1461, when it was returned to the Scots by King Henry VI (r. 1422 – 1461). Rogers states that Berwick "remained a bone of contention throughout the Middle Ages", until its final recapture for the English by the Duke of Gloucester, the future King Richard III, in 1482.

Balliol proceeded north and held a parliament at Perth in October 1333, whereby he restored lands to the "Disinherited", by reversing all territorial grants of the Bruce. In doing so he dispossessed a whole new generation of Scots nobility of their land, thus ensuring continued conflict.

Estimate of the casualties: of nobles 4,000; of common people 19,000.

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