Battle of Neville Cross
Edward III having won a decisive victory over the French at Crécy in August of 1346, his commanders at home secured an equally important defeat of King David II ’s Scots in October.
Philip of France had long begged the Scots to attack their neighbour to open a second front against the English. It is a mark of Edward’s foresight that he had readied his forces in England for the incursion by the Scots that duly came in the early autumn with attacks on Northumberland ( Hexham Priory was sacked), and Carlisle , where they were bought off.
Edward’s orders were dated a week before Crécy, but William Zouche, Archbishop of York , was slow to assemble the army, and slow to march north to meet the danger his king had predicted.
King David had a force of perhaps 12,000 to 15,000, the Archbishop fewer, around 10,000, but this included many bowmen.
The armies met close to Durham, near the site of an Anglo-Saxon cross. The English surprised the Scottish advance guard, killing many, but the survivors fled to warn King David.
The English took up defensive positions rather than following up their early advantage. They may have been biding time, awaiting reinforcement, or they may have realised the strength of the ground they had taken up. They used a gulley on their left flank to particularly good effect.
The Scots held their positions too, until goaded by arrows into attack. The Scots right flank commanded by Moray stumbled down one side of the gulley and struggled up the other, losing formation fatally. They were routed, but the real battle was fought in the centre, the King against the Bishop. Twice the Bishop’s division was pushed back, twice recovering. Eventually the Scottish left flank under Robert Stewart turned and ran, and the day was lost.
The Scots casualties numbered perhaps 1,000 men, but most disastrously their King was taken. David was to be a prisoner in the Tower of London for the next 11 years, until finally in 1357 a ransom of 100,000 marks was paid. Scotland was humiliated and effectively neutralised for a decade, the English walking in to the south of the country the year after Neville Cross.
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