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Battle of Neville's Cross 17th October 1346

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 26, 2008 3:26 pm    Post subject: Battle of Neville's Cross 17th October 1346 Reply with quote

Battle of Neville's Cross
17th October 1346

Neville's Cross Campaign 1346

In the autumn of 1346 a Scottish army under King David II invaded England at the behest of the French king, Phillip VI. This was an attempt to divert English forces from their campaign in France, a campaign in which the English army had already won a devastating victory at Crecy.

Advancing into England the Scottish army destroyed Liddle Strength, a pele tower on the border, took Lanercost Priory, then crossing the Pennines they sacked Hexham Priory before advancing towards Durham. On the night of the 16th October the Scottish army camped in the Bishop of Durham's great deer park of Beaurepaire, 2 miles north west of the city.

With the king in France, the English forces in the north were commanded by Ralph de Neville, Henry Percy and the Archbishop of York. By the 16th October they had assembled an army in Auckland Park on the north east edge of Bishop Auckland, about 10 miles from the Scottish quarters.

A skirmish occurred early in the morning of the 17th October when a Scottish plundering force was intercepted at Merrington, 3 miles north east of Bishop Auckland. They had stumbled upon the English army as it marched north to engage the main Scottish force. Some 200 Scottish cavalry escaped to warn of the threat, but not in time to enable them to secure the best strategic position. The English army had advanced to join the Great North Road at Sunderland Bridge and marched north to take a commanding position where the road traversed a narrow ridge, just to the west of Durham

The battle of Neville’s Cross, between Scottish and English forces, took place on 17th October 1346, on moorland just to the west of Durham. The two armies clashed on the narrow ridge close to Neville's Cross. The English had already chosen the best ground before the Scots could assemble their army and so the invaders found themselves severely disadvantaged by the terrain. Despite the battle being evenly balanced for a time, the Scots were out manoeuvred and gradually fled the field, all but abandoning their King.

The battle of Neville’s Cross was disastrous for the Scots. Not only was their King captured and imprisoned and many men lost, but the following year the English pursued their advantage and were able to occupy almost the whole of Scotland south of the Forth and the Clyde.

The battlefield is extensively developed on the eastern side, though the area around Crossgate Moor (as shown on the modern Ordnance Survey Explorer map), on which some of the action may have taken place, is still undeveloped. The land on the west remains largely agricultural. A railway line dissects the southern half of the battlefield running east to west in a cutting 30m deep and 80m wide. Access is possible by car and on foot and there are sufficient public footpaths to enable much of the battlefield to be walked, a waymarked battlefield trail having been laid out with interpretation panels and a published leaflet. The remains of the Cross is situated within the urban area.

The Battle

The English joined the Great North Road at Sunderland Bridge, where they crossed the river Wear. From there they marched north and deployed their forces in the strongest of tactical positions, where the Great North Road ran along a narrow moorland ridge immediately west of the city of Durham. They formed up facing north with their flank protected by steep valley scarps on either side. The Scottish army could only approach from the north because of the steep valleys. As the Scots advanced to engage, their vanguard’s battle array was disrupted by smaller side valleys and the ditches of enclosed ground which further narrowed their room for manoeuvre.

The contemporary accounts conflict as to the time at which the action began, but both give the time in terms of the monastic day. The Lanercost Chronicle says the English attacked at about the third hour (9:00am), whereas the Thomas Sampson letter says the battle took place between noon and vespers (that is late afternoon). If they had marched at sunrise, which will have been at about 6:45am, the English army is unlikely to have fought at Merrington and covered the 9 miles to Neville’s Cross by 9:00am, the time that the Lanercost Chronicle suggests the battle began. 12:00 noon, as indicated by Sampson’s report seems more likely, giving four to five hours for the English army to march and then deploy. If encumbered by a baggage train the army is unlikely to have made more than 2 miles an hour.

Both armies were organised in the standard three ‘battles’. The Scots deployed with the main battle under King David in the centre, the right under William Douglas and Earl Moray, and the left under Robert the High Steward. The English battles were commanded by Neville in the centre, Percy on the right, and Rokeby (with the Archbishop of York) on the left. The English archers were to the fore with the cavalry held in reserve.
The Scottish army were clearly disadvantaged by the terrain, with Moray’s vanguard on the right flank forced to manoeuvre amongst ditches and hedges within steeply sloping ground. When Moray’s troops encountered a small ravine they were forced to veer to the left causing confusion and disruption to the troops of the middle battle. The English archers took full advantage of Moray’s plight, forcing the Scots to pay dearly for the ground gained in their advance to engage.

On the Scottish left the Steward was more successful with the English archers initially pushed back. The English cavalry then charged, effectively halting the Scots and then forcing a retreat. Moray’s troops also broke and fled the field. According to at least one contemporary source, the fighting during these later stages of the battle may have extended as far north as Findon Hill.

David’s main battle was now exposed on both flanks, though for a time they held their ground and fought on. But the increasing pressure from both English wings saw King David deserted by his troops and, although he escaped the field, he was soon captured, later to be imprisoned in London.


Name: Battle of Neville’s Cross
Type: Battle
Campaign: Neville’s Cross Campaign
War period: Medieval (Hundred Years War)
Outcome: major English victory
Country: England
County: Durham
Place: Crossgate / Bear Park
Location: accurate
Terrain: upland moor
Date: 17th October 1346
Start: either 9:00am or 12:00
Duration: several hours
Armies: Scottish; English
Numbers: Scottish: about 10-15,000; English: about 700 men at arms & 10,000 archers and other troops
Losses: Scottish: about 1000 killed and many captured; English: probably few.
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