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Battle of Myton 20th September 1319

 
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 26, 2008 3:22 pm    Post subject: Battle of Myton 20th September 1319 Reply with quote

Battle of Myton
20th September 1319




The battle of Myton was an unequal match between a battle hardened Scottish army and an inexperienced Yorkshire militia force. Instead of achieving their intended surprise attack, the English were caught while in disarray. Their line of retreat across Myton bridge was cut off by an outflanking move and, as they fled, many English were cut down while others drowned trying to cross the river Swale. Myton was a crushing defeat, forcing Edward II to raise the siege of Berwick and, as this was their original objective, the victorious army immediately retreated into Scotland with their prisoners.



The action was fought on the west side of the river Swale on what in the 14th century was hay meadows and open fields. Today the landscape is completely transformed. The floodplain meadows have been drained and cultivated and the whole landscape enclosed in hedged fields. Even the exact location of the medieval bridge is uncertain. But the area has not been built over or quarried and so future archaeological investigation could, perhaps, help to answer many of the questions about exactly where and how the battle was fought.



This is now a secluded landscape with a feeling of remoteness that makes a very pleasant battlefield walk, though the uncertainties about the exact location of the action are a problem. The site has to be explored on foot but can be approached by car, along quiet lanes, and there is good pedestrian access via public rights of way and the Countryside Stewardship scheme.




The Myton Campaign



War: Anglo-Scottish: Scottish War of Independence

Campaign: Myton Campaign

Date: 1319





During the first half of the 14th century the Scots were involved in a series of campaigns to secure their independence, following Edward I’s conquest in the 1290s. In 1314 Robert the Bruce had defeated Edward II’s army at Bannockburn and expelled the English from Scotland. He then captured Berwick on Tweed, which had been refortified in the last years of Edward I, as the key border town controlling the important east coast road between the two kingdoms.



In August 1319 Edward II besieged the town. Rather than sending a relief force against this major English army, an experienced Scottish army was sent into England by the west coast route, via Carlisle, in a diversionary attack. The Scottish army numbered perhaps 10-15,000 men, one account says 20,000 though medieval chronicles are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to numbers of troops involved in major actions. They were commanded by the Bannockburn veteran Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, and Lord James Douglas.



As with so many other Scottish forays into the North of England, this was a punitive raid causing destruction across the north. They crossed the Pennines heading into Yorkshire, plundering and destroying as they went, including at Ripon and then Boroughbridge before a local English response could be mounted. Intelligence from a captured Scottish spy revealed his army’s location and their intention to capture the English Queen, who was staying near to York.



Like Northallerton in 1138, with the King engaged in action elsewhere the Archbishop of York, as one of the greatest magnates in the north, took charge of the defence of Yorkshire. The Queen was whisked away to safety in Nottingham and an army rapidly assembled from the local populous.



Myton was a crushing victory for the Scots, but after the battle the victorious army retreated into Scotland. They had to avoid an engagement with Edward’s far more powerful army, which they could not hope to win. But Edward had been forced to raise the siege of Berwick just as the Scots had intended and he also failed to intercept the retreating Scottish army. But with Myton, just as with the far greater victory at Bannockburn, the Scottish War of Independence was not ended. The warfare dragged on for another nine years until a treaty was signed in 1328.



The Armies & the losses

ENGLISH

Commanders: Sir William Meton, Archbishop of York; Sir John Hotham, Bishop of Ely and Chancellor of England; Nicholas Fleming, mayor of York


The English army was a rapidly assembled militia force, apparently drawn mainly from the city of York, but joined by countrymen en route. It also included so many clerics that the forthcoming engagement was sometimes known as The White Battle. But critically it lacked men at arms, the essential core of an effective medieval army, who were almost all in the North with Edward II at the siege of Berwick. Though apparently greatly outnumbering the Scots, some sources claiming as many as 20,000 troops, it was an inexperienced and ill equipped force.

SCOTTISH

Commanders: Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, and Sir James of Douglas.

The Scottish army is said to have been substantially outnumbered, the contemporary sources claiming there were 10-15,000 men. But this was a battle hardened force, well equipped and well led. Both their leaders were highly experienced soldiers, having served as divisional commanders at Bannockburn.

LOSSES

One source suggests 1000 English were killed, of whom 300 were priests, but other accounts claim some 4,000 were killed, including the Mayor of York, and about 1000 drowned in the Swale.


The Battle

The Battle of Myton, sometimes known as The White Battle, was fought in the meadows and open fields to the west of Myton village on the 20th September 1319. It was an unequal match, between a battle hardened Scottish army led by the Earl of Moray and a larger but inexperienced militia force raise in York and the surrounding countryside by the Archbishop of York. The English failed in their intended surprise attack. Instead they were caught, while not in battle formation, by the well armed Scottish forces in full battle array.



Lacking the heavily armoured ‘men at arms’, always the central core of an effective medieval army, who were all in the north with the King at the siege of Berwick, the English troops fled in the face of the Scottish advance. This enabled the mounted infantry of the Scottish army to leave the battle formation, to mount up and outflank the English forces. Cut off from their only retreat, across Myton bridge, the English had either to stand and fight or to attempt to swim the river Swale. In this dramatic Scottish victory thousands of English troops are said to have perished, either at the hands of the Scots or drowned in the river, with yet more taken prisoner.


The advance

The English army marched some 13 miles north to Myton, close to Boroughbridge, where they now knew from a captured spy that the enemy were camped. The Scottish army probably chose a location on the Ure and west of the Swale so that these two substantial rivers would have given them protection from surprise attack from the south and east. With just a small number of guards posted at the bridges at Boroughbridge and Myton, and any nearby fords, they would then have forewarning of an enemy advance.

As with any inexperienced force, even where it significantly outnumbered the enemy, if it was facing battle hardened troops then one of its best chances was to advance by stealth and to catch the enemy unawares. This was the tactic that the English army attempted at Myton. They appear to have advanced by the quickest route, that leading from York along the east side of the river Ure, which was a major route in the 14th century passing less than 2 miles to the east of Myton. Several sources actually state that the English advance quietly through the fields, rather than in battle array, in an attempt to achieve surprise.

The English army then crossed the river Swale, over Myton bridge, to engage the enemy. The Scots are usually considered to have been deployed less than a mile to the west of the river, around the present Clott Hill Farm. However it seems more likely that they were a considerable distance further to the west, otherwise it is difficult to see how the English were allowed an unopposed crossing of the Swale, a manoeuvre that would have taken a considerable time for such a large force, even if this was a substantial medieval bridge

The attack

The attack was launched in the afternoon. The Scots saw the English advancing in disorder, scattered through the fields rather than in battle array, and as a result, rather than retreating as at least one source suggests they had intended, they concluded that the English troops were not experienced soldiers and could be easily beaten. This disorder is taken in some sources to have been the result of the English troops inexperience and lack of discipline, or even as a misguided attempt to advance by stealth. However this disorder might perhaps have simply been or a result of the process of crossing the Swale in too close proximity to the enemy, giving the English troops too little time to reform in a proper battalia, though this might be difficult to reconcile with the subsequent reference to the smoke screen, though even the exact sequence of events is unclear in places.

The rout

The Scottish forces set fire to three haystacks, creating a great pall of smoke which seems to have drifted across the field and obscured the Scottish army from view. Rather than retreating, the Scots formed into a single schiltron, a tight battle formation of spearmen initially designed to combat heavily armoured English cavalry. Another source suggest they were deployed in two battles, Douglas commanding the vanguard and Moray the main battle or rearguard. The Scots then advanced on the enemy with a battle formation in the form of a shield, that is like a wedge, with the wings withdrawn. Without a strong body of men at arms to provide the core of their response, the English could not stem the Scottish attack and fled, apparently without initially coming to hand to hand fighting.

This enabled the Scots to change their tactics to a more aggressive mode, dividing up their battle formation. The Scottish hobilers (mounted infantry) mounted up and outflanked the English forces, placing themselves between the English and the bridge. With the bridge in enemy hands, the fleeing English troops were forced either to stand and fight or to brave the waters of the Swale, many drowning in the attempt. While many English were killed even more were captured and taken as prisoners with the Scottish army when it retreated, to be ransomed. The archbishop himself fled and many more English troops escaped, thanks to the onset of night, than would otherwise have been the case.

The Battlefield

LOCATION

The location of the battlefield has been established with some confidence, but its extent to the west and north has not been securely defined, because there is so little topographical information contained in the contemporary accounts and at present there is no archaeological evidence to resolve the problem. Even the medieval Myton bridge, which is central to the interpretation of the action, is still not securely located. Neither is the historic terrain or the wider road network understood in sufficient detail to allow an adequate understanding of the battle.

HISTORIC TERRAIN

The battlefield is on low lying land on the west side of the river Swale and the north of the river Ure. Here the floodplains of the rivers are quite wide and all of this land, until enclosure in recent centuries and drainage in the 19th and 20th century, will have been hay meadow. The medieval settlements of Milby, Ellenthorpe, Humberton and another possible site at The Knowle, all lie on slightly higher ground away from the rivers. This land, mainly on sands and gravel or on silts and clays, will have been extensively exploited as the open field arable of these settlements in the early 14th century. To the north west of Humberton field names indicate an area of former moorland, shared by the various townships, but there does not appear to have been any moorland on the battlefield.

BATTLE ARCHAEOLOGY

No archaeological evidence has been identified which relates to the battle. Local tradition, recorded in the 19th century, is that the battle was fought on the west of the Swale and that many of the dead were buried in Myton churchyard. On the evidence from other battles the latter would seem unlikely, except for those who later died of their wounds. It is far more likely that the dead would have been buried in mass graves on the battlefield.

Problems of location

The accounts refer to Myton on Swale, the river Swale and a bridge. Given the Scottish advance was from the North West to Boroughbridge, it is normally assumed that the Scottish army will have been on the north of the river Ure and west of the Swale, taking the protection of the rivers rather than placing it dangerously across their line of retreat. However, given the presence of a major road, on the east side of the Swale in the 14th century, running north to Topcliffe and thus across the Pennines to Carlisle, the latter need not have been a problem. However, if they had been on the east side of the river then the English army marching north on that road, the shortest route from York, would not have had to cross a bridge to engage the Scots. This would only have been necessary if the English had taken the more circuitous and improbable route via Boroughbridge.

The English army’s approach, if along the road on the east of the river Ure, will have brought it within a mile or so of Myton. From here Myton bridge gave access across the river Swale, leading into Myton Pastures, which is the site of the battle according to local tradition recorded in the 19th century and is the best fit for the limited topographical evidence in the contemporary accounts.

However there are several problems in the detail of current interpretations. One is the short distance that exists between the presumed Scottish deployment and the probable site of the bridge from Myton. It is difficult to understand how the English forces could have been allowed to achieve an unopposed crossing of Myton bridge, which would have taken the thousands of troops involved a considerable time, if the Scottish army was really positioned just under a mile (almost 1.5 km) away to the north west. If they did not intentionally allow the English crossing then it is perhaps more likely that the English advance was, as the accounts say, an attempt to catch the Scottish forces by surprise.

It is then possible perhaps that the Scottish forces were camped and that their initial deployment and first stages of the action were played out further to the west than the site suggested by English Heritage. What does seem fairly certain is that the final action occurred on Myton Pasture, as the English forces fled back towards the bridge over the Swale. It is also here that the majority of the ‘execution’ of fleeing troops may be expected to have occurred.

The second problem is the reported burning of hayricks as a smokescreen by the Scottish forces. Hay will have been cut and stacked by the end of July and typically the hayricks will have been in or immediately adjacent to the settlements. Rarely there may have been rick places in the open fields, but never would they have been on the floodplain because of the danger of flooding, so they will certainly not have been on Myton Pastures. If the ricks were close by the settlements then this means Ellingthorpe, 1200 metres to the west of Coney Hill, or Humberton, 900 metres to the north west of Coney Hill, or perhaps the undated settlement remains 700 metres to the north west, at The Knowles.

Details of historic terrain

Settlements & townships

The battlefield is divided between the townships of Myton, Milby and Ellenthorpe, with Humberton a little to the north. The latter two settlements are now shrunken to single farms, but in the early 14th century both will have been nucleated settlements, one at Humberton farm, the other adjacent to Ellenthorpe Hall. Undated settlement remains are also recorded at The Knowles, 700m to the north west of Clott Hill Farm.

The rectilinear plan form of Myton village and the place of the church within it is consistent with the layout being, in broad terms, the medieval plan form.

Roads and Bridges

The present Myton bridge is a cast iron construction built in 1868 and rebuilt in 2002, approached by a short causeway on the south side. Before this, from the mid 19th century, depicted immediately to the west of the present bridge in 1854-5, back into the medieval period the Swale was crossed by ferry. Earlier in the medieval period a wooden bridge is recorded, the site of which is believed to have lain about 250 metres downstream of the present bridge. The survival of a small strip of meadow on the north side of the flood bank on the north side of the river here may mean that any earthwork associated with a road leading from the bridge may still survive as an earthwork. The presence of an abandoned river channel (palaeochannel) immediately adjacent must however be kept in mind because this may have affected the exact positioning of the medieval bridge. On the south side of the river there is a slight earthwork leading out of the western end of Myton village street that might prove to be a medieval causeway to the possible bridge location. However when seen the area was under high grass and it was not clearly visible and could prove to have far more recent origins.

The present Ellenthorpe Lane, running west from Clott House Farm, is followed by several township boundaries, suggesting it is an early route, and the alignment is continued eastward along the north boundary of Myton Pastures. It is possible that this was an early road of some significance, leading to Myton bridge, perhaps a continuation of the route from York on the east side of the Ure westward towards Ripon. This would account for the presence of a bridge at Myton in the early 14th century, but might suggest it lay to the north not to the west of the village. The demise of the route would explain why the bridge was not maintained later in the medieval period. If this were correct then it might give a more coherent interpretation of the battle, but at present this is merely conjecture.

Meadows

The floodplain of the Ure and Swale was almost certainly all meadow in the medieval period because of the regular inundations. Myton Pastures encompasses most of the floodplain of the Swale in this area and can be expected to have been meadow at the time of the battle. The high flood defence banks and associated drains together with the broad bands of trees which encompass Myton pastures on the north west and south sides have totally transformed the character of the landscape, blocking what were almost certainly wide open views across between Coney Hill and Myton village and bridge. In the small area of the preserved meadow on Myton Pastures there is an earthwork of one deep and wide palaeochannel, a former channel of the Swale. Further to the north, in an area now cultivated, there appears to be the slight trace of another former channel. Whether these were abandoned much earlier, or were still in existence in the medieval period will have had a significant influence upon the nature of the battlefield in 1319. On the unploughed pasture there are also a number of other, mainly very straight, shallow and narrow linear depressions but these appear to be drainage ditches of relatively late date.

Immediately to the west of Myton Pastures, on the floodplain next to the Ure was Ellenthorpe Ings and at its eastern end Clough Ings which were still unenclosed as late as the 1840s. On the south side of Myton, on the east side of the Ure, is another extensive area of floodplain, known as Myton Ings.

Open Fields

Much of the higher ground, above the floodplain, on the gravel terraces, silts and clays will have been mainly if not wholly down to open field arable in 1319. In such a low lying landscape as this the very slightest of slopes, bringing the ground above the floodplain will have been significant. There are a few places where fragments of ridge and furrow still survive from these fields. For example, on the south side of Clott Hill Farm barns, on either side of the house, are two small paddocks containing a tiny fragment of earthwork ridge and furrow survives, a tiny fragment of evidence for the medieval open fields of Ellenthorpe.

The hedged fields that have replaced the open fields, meadows and moorland in the Myton area were not generally created by Parliamentary Enclosure in the 18th and 19th centuries, but rather were enclosed by agreement, much of this perhaps taking place considerably earlier. Immediately south of Myton village, as seen in 1854-5, the enclosure pattern is one of long narrow parallel fields indicative of ancient enclosure of open field strips. However in 1319 little more than the tight knot of closes around the settlements is likely to have been enclosed. This was then essentially an open landscape at the time of the battle, only the major rivers providing a significant obstacle to military action.

Moor

There are a group of moor field names to the north west of Humberton which indicate that indicate the presence of moorland in the vicinity, which may well have existed as such in the 14th century. All the surrounding townships had tongues of land extending into the area to take a share of this moorland.

Warren

It is suggested that Coney Hill, adjacent to Clott Hill Farm, may have been the site of a rabbit warren, but this is not certain as the field name does not specify a warren, just the presence of rabbits.



KEY FACTS



Name: Battle of Myton (The White Battle)

Type: Battle

Campaign: Northern campaign of 1319

War: Scottish War of Independence

Outcome: Scottish victory


Country: England

County: North Yorkshire

Place: Myton

Location: Approximate

Terrain: Meadow & Open Field?

Grid Ref: SE 428 675 (442800,467500)


Date: 20th September 1319

Start: afternoon

Duration: until night


Armies: English: under Archbishop of York; Scottish: under the Earl of Moray / Lord James Douglas

Numbers: Scottish: perhaps 10-15,000; English: possibly 10-20,000

Losses: English: claims of 1,000-4,000; Scottish: few
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