The battle of Halidon Hill was fought on the 19th July 1333 between the Scots and the English during the Second Scottish War of Independence.
Following the death of Robert the Bruce in 1329 and the accession of his infant son David II to the throne Edward Balliol the, son of John Balliol had laid claim to the Scottish throne. Edward through victory at the battle of Dupplin Moor against the forces of Donald of Mar and regent of Scotland in August 1332 had been crowned king of Scots in the September of 1332 only to be driven out of Scotland three months later.
In the spring of 1333 Edward Balliol travelled north with English troops to lay siege to Berwick intending to invade Scotland and reclaim the crown.
He was opposed by Archibald Douglas who was in command of the Scottish army raised to defend the interests of the boy king David II and frustrate the invasion.
The Siege of Berwick
Edward Balliol was joined by Edward III in the May of 1333 when Berwick was still stubbornly holding out. Edward III tried a naval assault on the town and when that failed he settled for blockading the port. But to hurry things along a little, and since Edward III happened to have two of the sons of the governor of Berwick in his custody, he had them both hanged outside the walls of the town as a clear demonstration of intent.
In any event Berwick was running out of food and on the 15th July 1333, the governor signed a document of surrender and agreed to quit the town on the 20th July unless previously relieved by the Scottish army led by Archibald Douglas.
Douglas had spent the past few months trying to get the English to lift the siege. He had first tried harrying the English positions and when that didn't work he had advanced into Northumberland for a spot of ravaging and when that didn't work he had made a half-hearted attempt to lay siege to Bamburgh Castle where queen Phillipa Edward's wife was staying. But Edward III refused to budge from Berwick and with the town at the point of surrendering on the 20th July Douglas had no choice other than to engage the English army in battle.
The Battle itself
At some 600 feet high, Halidon Hill lies around two miles to the west of Berwick and it was at this strategic position that Edward III placed his army to face the Scots. He was at a numerical disadvantage with a force of some 10,000 men against a Scottish army 13,000 to 15,000. But he had the advantage of the better ground as he arranged his army in three divisions; the left flank under Edward Balliol, the right under the earl of Norfolk and the centre commanded by himself as he awaited the Scottish assault.
The Scots advanced towards the English but struggled to make progress through the boggy ground at the foot of the hill. As they floundered in the mud they made easy targets for Edward's archers, and took heavy losses as the arrows rained down upon them, whilst the Scottish spearmen were unable to make much impression against the English lines.
One account of the battle tells that the archers shot,
arrows as thickly as the rays in sunlight, hitting the Scots in such a way that they struck them down by the thousands; and they began to flee from the English in order to save their lives.
Once the archers had done their work, the English knights mounted their horses and charged down the hill at the Scottish lines and scattered what remained Douglas' forces;
There could one see many good men of Scotland dead and returned to the earth, their banners displayed on the ground, hacked to pieces, and many a good haubergion bathed in their blood.
Around four thousand Scottish dead including Sir Archibald Douglas himself, Sir Adam Gordon his second-in-command, a further six Scottish earls, and seventy Scottish barons. The English on the other hand lost a total of just fourteen men.
It wasn't so much of a battle as an extended target practice session for the Welsh mercenary longbowmen.
After the battle
For Edward III at not yet quite twenty-one years of age, Halidon Hill represented his first major battle and one which demonstrated clearly the potential of the longbow as a weapon of war; a lesson that he was later to apply at both Crecy and Poitiers.
Edward Balliol marched onto Scotland and reclaimed his crown and the infant David II was spirited away to France for safe keeping.
Berwick-upon-Tweed surrendered the following day and in accordance with the Treaty of Roxburgh previously agreed between the two Edwards on the 23rd November 1332, the town was occupied by Edward III and became resolutely part of England from that day forward.
Quotations from An English Account of the Battle of Halidon Hill. Source: British Library, London. Cottonian MSS, Cleopatra D III, fo. 182v. (An early redaction of the French Brut d’Engleterre.) found at http://orb.rhodes.edu/encyclop/late/england/rogers01.html
Articles on the battle at