Military In Otterburn, Northumberland
A 14th century stone monument to the Battle of Otterburn in 1388
The latter half of the 1300s was a period of instability between England and Scotland, a truce between the two which began following the Battle of Neville's Cross was due to end in 1384, but the Scots had refused to pay the ransom for this since 1377. As you can imagine, this caused further bad blood between the nations resulting in increased border skirmishes and raids, which escalated again in 1385 after the treaty expired and a small force of Scots and French advanced as far as Carlisle. The English retaliated by marching to Edinburgh and burning a number of Abbeys on the way including Melrose and Dryburgh.
The summer of 1388 saw the Scots begin an attack on England on three fronts, in Ireland, Cumbria (the West March) and Northumberland (the East March). It is the attack on the East March that we are going to look at. It was led by Earl Douglas and, with 6000 troops, he advanced as far as Durham, burning all the way! The famed Henry 'Hotspur' Percy was sent by his father to intercept the Scots at Newcastle on their route back to Scotland.
The battle that occurred at Newcastle was unusual in that many of the local townsfolk gathered on the town wall ramparts to watch as Hotspur and Douglas fought at Barras Bridge. The battle did not go well for Percy as the pennant on his lance was captured by Douglas (the Medieval equivalent of spilling his pint and nicking his packet of crisps!). This is thought to be why Percy pursued the retreating Scots, with his 8000 strong army, where they met again at Otterburn.
The Scots had attempted to take Otterburn Castle but had been unsuccessful and were camped around a mile to the west of Otterburn. There are conflicting stories as to why Douglas did this, some feel he was waiting for Percy to give him a chance of chivalric redress to get his pennant back, others feel he may have been waiting to make a further attack on the castle the following day. Whatever the reason, the arrival of Percy's army on the 19th August 1388 literally caught them with their pants down, many Scots had donned loose gowns for comfort, although they were quick to respond to the initial attack.
The Battle of Otterburn saw a victory for the Scottish forces, though it was not a resounding one as their leader Earl Douglas was killed, although this was not known until later after the battle had finished. The English were not routed either as the capture of 200 Scots who pursued them from the battlefield indicates. Henry 'Hotspur' Percy was captured by the Scots during the battle but despite this his reputation as a heroic leader remained secure and his ransom was paid for largely from the public purse.
Following the battle and before 1400, a sandstone memorial was erected on the battlefield and was known as 'Battle Stone'. Over the years it fell into disrepair and in 1777 another memorial, now known as the 'Percy Cross', confusingly it is a tapering stone that is not cross shaped, was erected on the spot where Earl Douglas was said to have fallen, by the landowner of the time, Henry Ellison. The Percy Cross contains the socket the original Battle Stone sat in, although it is in a location to the east of where that originally stood.
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Parking is on site and the Percy Cross is visible from the parking area
Place contributed by Andrew Gardner
I love being outdoors, in nature, and experiencing the relaxation it brings. Wandering through the northern countryside seeing unexpected buildings, historic places and occasionally surprised wildlife is one of life's great pleasures.
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