There were fourteen (ish) landmark battles fought on English soil between 1066 and 1403. I have mentioned a couple of other battles in this post for the sake of neatness.
The two key battles of the Norman Conquest are:
25th September 1066 – the Battle of Stamford Bridge
This saw the defeat of Norwegian king Harald Hardrada by Harold Godwinson. According to legend a Norseman wielding a battle axe held the bridge crossing on his own for half an hour before a Saxon overcame the warrior by the simple expedient of finding his way beneath the bridge without being seen and used his spear to wound the man from below. The English put Hardrada to flight but then had to march from Yorkshire to the south coast. Hardrada and Harold’s brother Tostig who had sided with Hardrada were killed.
14th October 1066 – The Battle of Hastings
There were various skirmishes, sieges and revolts during this period but only two set piece battles. There were no more set piece battles until The Anarchy (1135-1153).
Stephen of Blois became king in 1135. His uncle Henry I had made his barons swear to recognise the rights of his only surviving legitimate child the Empress Matilda but after he died many barons decided that they preferred a king to a queen; Stephen arrived in England first and secured the treasury. Matilda was supported by her half-brother Robert Earl of Gloucester and her uncle David I of Scotland. David also made a claim on Northumberland by right of his wife – Matilda, Countess of Huntingdon who was the daughter of Waltheof of Northumbria. He began his campaign by capturing Carlisle and then advancing to Northumbria via Hexham. Inevitably the Scots and the English clashed.
22nd August 1138 The Battle of the Standard (Northallerton)
Eventually the English were victorious but David still retained control over the north of the country. Carlisle would not become English again until Henry II gained the throne.
2nd February 1141 The Battle of Lincoln Stephen had been besieging Lincoln Castle when he received word that Robert of Gloucester and Ranulph of Chester were on their way to raise the siege. Stephen decided to fight and was captured for his pains.
1st July 1143 The Battle of Wilton. Robert of Gloucester attempted to capture King Stephen at Wilton Abbey. It was a surprise attack taking place at sunset. Stephen and his army attempted to break out but were forced back – Stephen escaped under cover of darkness from the abbey which was on fire by that point in proceedings. I’m in two minds about whether this is a key battle or not so have set it in italics – I don’t think it’s a landmark battle, it didn’t change the course of history – although it would have done had Stephen been killed or captured.
The Anarchy involved rather a lot of sieges, skirmishes and pillaging. As with the earlier Normans warfare was more to do with tactics and attrition than a set piece battle unless it was unavoidable. Stephen besieged Matilda in Arundel Castle for instance and again during the Siege of Oxford in 1142, Matilda had to escape over the frozen river in order to reach safety.
Under the Anjevin monarchs there was relative peace until King John proved unable to keep the empire that his father had built up. He resorted to taxation in order to pay mercenary armies in an attempt to regain his continental territories. This might have been acceptable had he been victorious – but he wasn’t. This led to the First Barons’ War (1215-17)
The First Barons’ War is more notable for its sieges than its battles. However, it is worth noting that the revolting barons had invited the French to invade which meant that after the death of King John, Henry III’s regent William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke had restore order and evict them. First he re-issued the Magna Carta which meant that the barons had very little reason to support the French.
20 May 1217 The Second Battle of Lincoln followed by “the Lincoln Fair” – i.e. a spot of pillaging. William Marshal attacked the Count of Perche who was holding the town but not the castle. There may have been 1000 men involved where as the Battle of the Standard involved armies of four and five thousand on each side. This battle is in italics because of the numbers. This was followed by a sea battle – the Battle of Sandwich.
The Second Baron’s War (1264-1267)
Henry III was nine when he became king. Marshal re-issued Magna Carta. Henry’s barons became used to power during his minority and expected more of a say in the way the country was run. Unfortunately when Henry III began ruling for himself he had a tendency to rely on foreign favourites rather than homegrown barons. He also set about trying to win his grandfather’s empire back – it wasn’t a success. Nor for that matter was his attempt to make his brother Richard the King of the Romans or his son Edmund the King of Sicily. All those campaigns required lots of taxation! In 1258 the barons forced Henry to accept the Provisions of Oxford which gave the barons more of a say in the way the kingdom was ruled. This did not go down particularly well with Henry who was a Plantagenet with the usual autocratic tendencies of medieval monarchs. The was a period of instability followed by outright revolt led by Simon de Montfort in 1263.
14th May 1264 The Battle of Lewes
Simon de Montfort V Henry III & his son Prince Edward. Henry III narrowly escaped death and fled the battle field before being captured This resulted in a fifteen month imprisonment for Henry and Edward. This allowed de Montfort and the barons to rule under the auspices of Parliament under the Provisions of Oxford.
4th August 1265 Battle of Evesham
Prince Edward eventually escaped with the aid of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. Edward rallied marcher lords, took on de Montfort and won.
There was another battle at Chesterfield on 15 May 1266 to bring the Earl of Derby to heel but it wasn’t on the scale of Lewes or Evesham which is why it is not on the list as a key battle.
First War of Scottish Independence
I did say England but it’s almost impossible not to mention the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 that saw William Wallace defeat the English or the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 which saw Edward II put to flight by Robert the Bruce. These victories, together with Edward II’s unmartial outlook, allowed the Scots to invade Northumberland and Yorkshire .
20 September 1319 Battle of Myton
The Scots killed some 4000 English when an English army attempted to prevent the Scots from taking York. The Scots did not then take York because Edward II signed a peace treaty.
The Dispenser War (1321-1322)
Various barons including Edward II’s cousin Thomas of Lancaster rebelled against the king because of his reliance upon the Despensers. They weren’t terribly impressed with the way Edward handled the Scots either.
16th March 1322 The Battle of Boroughbridge Thomas was captured and executed.
14th October 1323 The Battle of Byland – Edward II was staying at Rievaulx Abbey when the Scots and the english encountered one another. The English, led by the Earls of Richmond and Pembrokeshire assumed that they would simply prevent the Scots from ascending Sutton Bank and force them to go the long way round. Instead the Scots chose to fight and ultimately Edward II was forced to flee.
Second War of Scottish Independence
King David II was too young to rule after the death of Robert the Bruce. This was the opportunity for Edward III to regain Scotland. He was supported by Scots who had been dispossessed by Robert the Bruce because they had supported the English during the First War of Independence. There were a series of invasions and King David was sent to France for safety. Edward gained the upper hand and there was a truce until David returned from Scotland. The truce was soon in tatters.
19th July 1333 The Battle of Halidon Hill saw Sir Archibald Douglas being defeated by Edward III. The battle was precipitated by Douglas’s attempt to raise the siege on Berwick which was at that time in Scottish hands.
1346 The Battle of Neville’s Cross David II arrived outside Durham, lost the battle and was captured. He spent the next eleven years in the Tower.
19th August 1388 Battle of Otterburn James, Earl of Douglas crossed the border with 6,000 men. Harry Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland was sent to stop them. During the battle the earl was killed but Hotspur was captured. It was a decisive Scottish victory for the Scots despite the death of their general.
14th September 1402 Battle of Homildon Hill something like 22,000 men clashed. The English were once again led by Harry Hotspur but unlike Otterburn this time the English were victorious.
21st July 1403 Battle of Shrewsbury Between Otterburn and Homildon Richard II was deposed by his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. He was initially supported by the Percies but by 1403 they had changed their minds. The earls of Worcester and Northumberland renounced their loyalty to Henry IV saying that he was guilty of perjury. In reality Northumberland was irritated that Henry had taken the Scottish hostages that had been captured at Homildon which Northumberland regarded as Percy profit. Hotspur joined with Owain Glyndwr and the result was the Battle of Shrewsbury. The victory belonged to Henry IV.