Battle of Neville's Cross

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Battle of Neville's Cross
Part of the Hundred Years' War and the Second War of Scottish Independence
Battle of Neville's Cross from a 15th-century Froissart manuscript (BN MS Fr. 2643).
Date 17 October 1346
Location Neville's Cross, west of Durham, England
Result Decisive English victory
Royal Arms of the Kingdom of Scotland.svg Kingdom of Scotland Royal Arms of England (1340-1367).svg Kingdom of England
Commanders and leaders
Royal Arms of the Kingdom of Scotland.svg David II of Scotland (POW) Neville.svg Lord Ralph Neville
Redvers.svg Lord Henry Percy
William Zouche, Archbishop of York[1]
12,000 6,000-7,000
Casualties and losses
1,000 killed[2] and many captured. Very few killed[3]

The Battle of Neville's Cross took place to the west of Durham, England, on 17 October 1346. The culmination of a Scottish invasion of northern England, the battle ended with the rout of the Scots and the capture of their king, David II of Scotland.


In 1346, England was embroiled in the Hundred Years' War with France. In order to divert his enemy, Philip VI of France appealed to David II of Scotland to attack the English from the north in order to create a second front for the English. Despite Philip VI's especially desperate pleas in June 1346 (when the English were amassing troops in southern England), David II of Scotland waited until October, when he felt few English troops would be left to defend lucrative Northern English cities. Waiting until he believed most English troops were fighting France and with winter approaching David II of Scotland invaded England.

On 7 October, the Scots invaded 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 characterize 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. After taking Liddesdale (and bypassing Carlisle after being paid protection money), the Scots moved on toward their ultimate goal of Durham and Yorkshire after more than a week's march. Along the way, they sacked the priory of Hexham and burned the territory around their line of march. They arrived at Durham on 16 October and camped at Beaurepaire, where the Scots were offered £1,000 (£830,000 as of 2018)[4] 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 mobilized in Richmond 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 Cumberland, Northumberland and Lancashire, 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 Castle.

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 Moor and the Battle of Halidon Hill and thus took a defensive stance, waiting for the English to attack. The English also took a defensive stance, knowing they had the superior position and likely knowing that time was on their side. The resulting stalemate 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, the future King of the Scots, and the Earl of March fled the battle, 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 after he fled the field, while the rest of the Scottish army was pursued for more than twenty miles.

Several Scottish nobles were killed, including:

Scottish chroniclers Andrew of Wyntoun and Walter Bower both wrote that 1,000 Scots were killed in the battle,[2] while the Chronicle of Lanercost said that "few English were killed".[3]

The aftermath

The remains of Neville's cross

David II initially managed to escape. However, legend has it that, while he was hiding under a bridge over the nearby River Browney, 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 de Coupland the leader of the detachment. Later, King Edward III ordered Coupland to hand him over. Edward then rewarded Coupland with a knighthood and a handsome annuity. King David was imprisoned at Odiham Castle (King John's Castle) 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. Only the base of the original cross remains.

In literature

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…

The last lines refer to an earlier play that would have been known to Shakespeare's audience, The Reign of Edward III, at the end of which John de Coupland brings over the captured David to Edward III in Calais, where he meets up with the Black Prince who has captured the French king (hence "prisoner kings").[6] Though these two events in fact occurred ten years apart, the play portrays them as contemporaneous.


  1. Tate, George, The History of the Borough, Castle, and Barony of Alnwick, Vol. 1, (Henry Hunter Blair, 1866), 124.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rollason and Prestwich, p. 26
  3. 3.0 3.1 Rollason and Prestwich, p. 140
  4. UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2015), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  5. Dalrymple, Sir David (1776). Annals of Scotland. Pub. J. Murray. London. Vol. II. P. 322.
  6. Michael A. Penman, David II, Tuckwell Press, 2004, p.129.

Sources and further reading

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