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The Battle of Neville’s Cross as told in the Lanercost Chronicle

The year 1346 is remembered in England mostly for the Battle of Crecy, where King Edward III defeated the French forces in one of the most important battles of the Hundred Years War. That year also saw another major battle, this one fought on English soil.

Earlier in that year the French King Philip VI had asked his ally David II, King of Scotland, to invade England in hopes that it would stretch the English military. However, it was not until October of 1346 that the Scots invaded England, several weeks after the Battle of Crecy. David II believed that northern England would be defenceless, as Edward III was still in continental Europe, along with most of the English army. After crossing the Scottish-English border on October 7th, his force of 12,000 men began to plunder the area, including monasteries.

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Meanwhile, William Zouche, the Archbishop of York, organized the remaining English forces in the north, and with Henry de Percy and Ralph de Neville, marched to confront the Scots near the town of Durham. The Battle of Neville’s Cross was fought on October 16th, and one of the sources that narrated its events was the Lanercost Chronicle – written at Lanercost Priory, one of the sites plundered by the Scots. Our section begins with the author mocking King David II and his men:

On that day David, like another Nebuchadnezzar, caused the fringes of his standard to be made much larger, and declared himself repeatedly to be King of Scots without any hindrance. He ordered his breakfast to be made ready, and said that he would return to it when he had slain the English at the point of the sword. But soon afterwards, yea very soon after, all his servants had to hurry, allowing the food to fall into the fire. Thus David, prince of fools, wished to catch fish in front of the net, and thereby lost many and caught but few. Therefore he failed to carry out the plan he had laid, because, like Aman and Achitophel, that which he had prepared for us befel himself.

So David, having reckoned up his forces, called the Scots to arms the folk that were eager for war and were about to be scattered ; and like Jabin against Joshua, he marshalled three great and strong columns to attack the English. He set Earl Patrick [of Dunbar] over the first division ; but he, like an ignorant fellow, refused to lead the first line, demanding the third, more out of cowardice than eagerness. The Earl of Moray forthwith undertook his [Earl Patrick’s] duty, and so held chief command in the first division of the army, and afterwards expired in the battle. With him were many of the valiant men of Scotland, such as the Earl of Stratherne, the Earl of Fife, John de Douglas, brother of William de Douglas, Sir Alexander de Ramsay, and many other powerful earls and barons, knights and esquires, all of one mind, raging madly with unbridled hatred against the English, pressing forward without pause, relying on their own strength, and, like Satan, bursting with over-weening pride, they all thought to reach the stars.

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King David himself commanded the second division not, however that David of whom they sang in the dance that he had put ten thousand to flight in battle, but that David of whom they declared in public that his stench and ordure had defiled the altar. With him he took the Earl of Buchan, Malcolm Fleming, Sir Alexander de Straghern (father and son without the holy spirit), the Earl of Menteith, and many others whom we do not know, and whom if we did know, it would be tedious to enumerate. In the third division was Earl Patrick, who should have been more appropriately named by his countrymen ‘Non hic’. He was late in coming, but he did splendidly, standing all the time afar off, like another Peter ; but he would not wait to see the end of the business. In that battle he hurt no man, because he intended to take holy orders and to celebrate mass for the Scots who were killed, knowing how salutary it is to beseech the Lord for the peace of the departed. Nay, at that very time he was a priest, because he led the way in flight for others.

His colleague was Robert Stewart; if one was worth little the other was worth nothing. Overcome by cowardice, he broke his vow to God that he would never await the first blow in battle. He flies with the priest [Earl Patrick], and as a good cleric, will assist the mass to be celebrated by the other. These two, turning their backs, fought with great success, for they entered Scotland with their division and without a single wound; and so they led off the dance, leaving David to dance as he felt inclined.

About the third hour the English army attacked the Scots not far from Durham, the Earl of Angus being in the first division, a noble personage among all those of England, of high courage and remarkable probity, ever ready to fight with spirit for his country, whose good deeds no tongue would suffice to tell.

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Sir Henry de Percy, like another Judas Maccabeus, the son of Mattathias, was a fine fighter. This knight, small of stature but sagacious, encouraged all men to take the field by putting himself in the forefront of the battle. Sir Rafe de Neville, an honest and valiant man, bold, wary and greatly to be feared, fought to such effect in the aforesaid battle that, as afterwards appeared, his blows left their marks upon the enemy. Nor was Sir Henry de Scrope behindhand, but had taken his post from the first in the front of the fight, pressing on the enemy.

In command of the second division was my lord the Archbishop of York, who, having assembled his men, blessed them all, which devout blessing, by God’s grace, took good effect. There was also another bishop of the order of Minorite Friars, who, by way of benediction, commanded the English to fight manfully, always adding that, under the utmost penalty, no man should give quarter to the Scots; and when he attacked the enemy he gave them no indulgence of days from punishment or sin, but severe penance and good absolution with a certain cudgel. He had such power at that time that, with the aforesaid cudgel and without confession of any kind, he absolved the Scots from every lawful act.

In the third division Sir John de Mowbray, deriving his name a re, was abounding in grace and merit. His auspicious renown deserves to be published far and wide with ungrudging praise, for he and all his men behaved in such manner as should earn them honour for all time to come. Sir Thomas de Rokeby, like a noble leader, presented such a cup to the Scots that, once they had tasted it, they had no wish for another draught; and thus he was an example to all beholders of how to fight gallantly for the sacred cause of fatherland. John of Coupland dealt such blows among the enemy that it was said that those who felt the weight of his buffets were not fit to fight any longer.

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Then with trumpets blaring, shields clashing, arrows flying, lances thrusting, wounded men yelling and troops shouting, the conflict ended about the hour of vespers, amid sundered armour, broken heads, and, oh how sad! many laid low on the field. The Scots were in full flight, our men slaying them. Praise be to the Most High! victory on that day was with the English. And thus, through the prayers of the blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Cuthbert, confessor of Christ, David and the flower of Scotland fell, by the just award of God, into the pit which they themselves had dug.

This battle, therefore, as aforesaid was fought between the English and the Scots, wherein but few Englishmen were killed, but nearly the whole of the army of Scotland was either captured or slain. For in that battle fell Robert Earl of Moray, Maurice Earl of Stratherne, together with the best of the army of Scotland. But David, so-called King of Scotland, was taken prisoner, together with the Earls of Fife, of Menteith, and of Wigtown, and Sir William of Douglas and, in addition, a great number of men-at- arms. Not long afterwards, the aforesaid David King of Scots was taken to London with many of the more distinguished captives and confined in prison, the Earl of Menteith being there drawn and hanged, quartered, and his limbs sent to various places in England and Scotland. But one of the aforesaid captives, to wit, my lord Malcolm Fleming, Earl of Wigtown, was not sent to London by reason of his infirmity, but, grievous to say ! was allowed to escape at Bothall through the treachery of his guardian, a certain esquire named Robert de la Vale, and thus returned to Scotland without having to pay ransom.

After the aforesaid battle of Durham, my lord Henry de Percy being ill, my lord of Angus and Ralph de Neville went to Scotland, received Roxburgh Castle on sure terms, patrolled the Marches of Scotland, exacting tribute from certain persons beyond the Scottish sea, received others to fealty, and returned to England, not without some losses to their army.

Other sources suggest that about 1000 Scottish men were killed in this battle, along with many captured. King David II himself was held prisoner in England for 11 years before he was ransomed for 100,000 marks.

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You can read the entire Lanercost Chronicle, which was translated by Sir Herbert Maxwell in 1913, on Archive.org

Top Image: Battle of Neville’s Cross from a 15th-century Froissart manuscript

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