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The Battle of Neville's Cross took place to the west of Durhammarker, England on 17 October 1346.


By mid 1346, it was obvious that the English under Edward III had every intention of breaking the Truce of Malestroit and resuming (what would be known later as) the Hundred Years' War with France. As a consequence of the Franco-Scottish Auld Alliance and Philip VI of France's fear of an impending English invasion of northern France (an area which the French were not yet prepared to defend), Philip VI sent David II of Scotland numerous appeals for assistance to blunt the coming English threat. Though Philip VI's pleas became especially desperate in June 1346 (when the English were amassing troops in southern England), major Scottish action against England would not commence for some time — in fact, the Scots would not invade Northern England until October 1346.

On 7 October, the Scots entered England with approximately 12,000 men. They were expecting to find northern England relatively undefended because Edward III was by then conducting a major campaign in France. (Philip VI went so far as to characterise northern England as a "defenceless void".) Unfortunately, David II's strategic and tactical abilities were not up to the task of making good use of the Scots' element of surprise. Perhaps, though, they did not feel the need for haste. After taking Liddesdale (and bypassing Carlislemarker after being paid protection money), the Scots moved on toward their ultimate goal of Durham and Yorkshiremarker after more than a week's march. Along the way, they sacked the priory of Hexhammarker and burned the territory around their line of march (not unlike the English in France at the time). They arrived at Durham on 16 October and camped at Beaurepairemarker, where the Scots were offered £1,000 in protection money to be paid on 18 October.

Without the Scots' knowledge, however, the English had already arrayed troops for just such an invasion. Once the Scots invaded, an army was quickly mobilised in Richmondmarker under the supervision of William Zouche, the Archbishop of York. It was not, however, a large army and what men were available were split into two separate groups: 3,000–4,000 men from Cumberlandmarker, Northumberlandmarker and Lancashiremarker, with another 3,000 Yorkshiremen en route. Given the demands of the Siege of Calais, no further men could be summoned for the defence of Northern England. Worse still, on 14 October (while the Scots were sacking Hexham), the Archbishop decided not to wait for the Yorkshiremen and made haste toward Barnard Castlemarker.

The battle

The Scots only discovered the presence of the English army on the morning of 17 October. Troops under command of William Douglas stumbled upon them in the morning mist during a raid south of Durham. The two rearward divisions of the English army drove the Scots off with heavy Scottish casualties.

Upon hearing Douglas's report, David II led the Scottish army to high ground at Neville's Cross (site of an old Anglo-Saxon stone cross), where he prepared his army for battle. Both the Scots and English arranged themselves in three battalions. Though the Scots were in what is considered a rather poor position (with various obstacles between them and the English position), they remembered well their defeats in the Battle of Dupplin Moormarker and the Battle of Halidon Hillmarker and thus took a defensive stance, waiting for the English to attack. However, the English also took a defensive stance, knowing they had the superior position and likely knowing that time was on their side. A stalemate resulted that lasted until the afternoon, when the English sent longbowmen forward to harass the Scottish lines. The archers succeeded in forcing the Scots to attack, but their initial hesitation in going on the offensive appears in hindsight to have been the correct decision. The Scots' poor position resulted in their formations falling apart as they advanced, allowing the English to deal easily with the Scottish attack. When it became clear that the battle was going in favour of the English, Robert Stewart and the Earl of March fled, abandoning David II's battalion to face the enemy alone. Late in the afternoon, the king's own battalion attempted to retreat, but was unsuccessful and David II was captured (though not without difficulty), while the rest of the Scottish army was pursued for more than twenty miles.

Several Scottish nobles were killed, including:

The aftermath

David II initially managed to escape. However, legend has it that, while he was hiding under a bridge over the nearby River Browneymarker, David’s reflection was spotted in the water by a detachment of English soldiers that was out searching for him. David was then captured by John Copeland, the leader of the detachment. Later, King Edward III ordered Copeland to bring the Scots king to Calais and hand him over. Edward then rewarded Copeland with a knighthood and a handsome annuity. King David was brought back to England and imprisoned at Odiham Castle marker in Hampshire from 1346 to 1357. After eleven years, he was released in return for a ransom of 100,000 marks (approximately £15 million in 2006).

The Battle of Neville’s Cross derives its name from a stone cross that Lord Neville paid to have erected on the battlefield to commemorate this remarkable victory. The fate of the unfortunate David II of Scotland is immortalised in Shakespeare’s play Henry V. In Act 1 Scene 3, Henry says to the Archbishop of Canterbury:

For you shall read that my great-grandfather /Never went with his forces into France /But that the Scot on his unfurnish’d kingdom/Came pouring, like the tide into a breach, /With ample and brim fullness of his force; /Galling the gleaned land with hot essays, /Girding with grievous siege castles and towns; /That England, being empty of defence, /Hath shook and trembled at the ill neighbourhood.

But the Archbishop replies:

She hath been then more fear’d than harm’d my liege; /For hear her but exampled by herself: /When all her chivalry hath been in France, /And she a mourning widow of her nobles, /She hath herself not only well defended, /But taken, and impounded as a stray, /The king of Scots; whom she did send to France, /To fill King Edward’s fame with prisoner kings…


  1. Dalrymple, Sir David (1776). Annals of Scotland. Pub. J. Murray. London. Vol. II. P. 322.

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