The Scots at the Battle of Neville’s Cross, 17 October 1346
By Michael Penman
Scottish Historical Review, Vol.80:2 (2001)
Abstract: This is an analysis of the loyalties and political rivalries of the army of David II of Scotland at the battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346 where that king was apparently deserted by some of his subjects and led off to eleven years’ captivity in England.
Introduction: David II (1329-71) was a king unable to celebrate military victory against England, either of his own or of his father’s making. David and his royal host succumbed to an improvised English militia led by the archbishop of York at Neville’s Cross on parkland outside Durham on 17 October 1346. As a result of that crushing defeat, David’s commemoration of each anniversary of the most famous triumph of his father, Robert I, became tainted: for after 1357 Edward III would insist that the Scots pay David’s ransom annually on 24 June, St John the Baptist’s day, but also the anniversary of Bannockburn. Ironically, however, David’s capture in 1346 meant that Neville’s Cross was far more influential in bringing about peace between the houses of Bruce and Plantagenet and their realms than any of the other pitched battles of the Scottish Wars of Independence. Although it would take over a decade to reach a settlement – and require England’s additional capture of Scotland’s ally, John II of France, at Poitiers (September 1356) – the ‘battle of Durham’ is now rightly held as having had telling diplomatic consequences in both the British Isles and mainland Europe.
To mark the 750th anniversary of the battle, the strategies and leadership displayed in the field during the four or so hours over which it was fought have received fresh historical attention. Previously overlooked chronicle and letter accounts of the battle have been brought together to give a clearer picture of the winning combination of archery, infantry and cavalry tactics deployed by quick-thinking English captains. The Scottish leaders’ fatal choice of poor ground and tactics have also become apparent, providing a strong contrast to Robert I’s masterful exploitation of the terrain around Stirling in 1314.