The Battle of Halidon Hill

19th July 1333.

The Setting
The Sandal Magna Connection
The Siege
The Battle

Halidon Hill lies about two miles west of the centre of Berwick-Upon-Tweed, its summit reaching 600 feet. Its name, Hali-dun indicates it had an earlier purpose as a fortified hill top. From here are excellent views to the north and south along the strategic coastal route between England and Scotland. At the time of the battle the lower slopes were deceptively marshy and with Edward III's strategic use of longbow-men and the advantage of elevation, helped to demolish the Scottish army.


 Harvesting In the early 1300's Berwick was a busy trading town and port between England, Scotland and the North Sea. It strategically controlled the coastal route to Edinburgh. Wool weaving was becoming an important industry and Berwick's hinterland, the Tweed river valley, especially "The Merse", was a rich productive agricultural area growing wheat as well as barley for the Scottish invasion machine.

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Berwick-upon-Tweed, 1610, John Speed's map.
                                                                                                              Berwick in 1610

Robert de Bruce of Scotland had died. Edward de Balliol, son of John Balliol, laid claim to the Scottish throne but because Balliol had relinquished southern Scotland to England he was not popular in Scotland. He revolted against David II but lost and escaped to England, whilst the youthful David II of Scotland was accepted by the Scottish parliament as king.
John Balliol, Edward's father had been supported against de Bruce by Edward II and now Edward Balliol was supported by Edward III.

The castle at Sandal Magna the seat of the Wakefield Manor, had been rebuilt in 1320  by the 6th Earl Warrene, probably to secure the district from the Scots who had penetrated as far south as Bradford between 1311 and 1316.
There was a disastrous Scottish incursion into the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1332 following Balliol's defeat.
Balliol now repaired to Sandal Castle, the seat of  John 6th Earl of Warrene. He stayed here whilst an army was assembled for an attack on Berwick.
[It may be that at this time Sir William de Midgley joined the army heading northwards]
Balliol is described as a "puppet king" or a "vassal" of Edward III by the Scots. For Edward he was a suitable regent to take control should Edward succeeed against the invaders.
Balliol travelled north with a division of the English army to besiege Berwick, joined by Edward III in May 1333.  Edward III arrived in Durham on the 1st April 1333 to stay at St. Cuthbert's Priory, whilst Queen Philippa, as Froissart, the Queen's Chronicler records3, stayed nearby at Durham Castle. On the 12th April 1333 Edward III assembled his part of the English army at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, then travelled with Queen Philippa  to Bamburgh castle in Northumberland, where Philippa resided for the duration of the Seige of Berwick.
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Artist's impression of the battle of Halidon Hill 1333. THE SEIGE OF BERWICK
Seige was laid to Berwick and its walls which was held by the Scots, using a variety of seige engines and perhaps some primitive hand canons which were beginning to make their appearance. By the middle of May Berwick was still holding out so Edward III sent an army into the Berwick hinterland to burn and pillage. A ship attack was tried from the sea which was unsuccessful, as a result the town was blockaded from the sea.
A truce was made beween Edward III and the governor of the castle and an exchange of hostages took place. Edward had the governor's eldest and youngest sons held hostage and then hanged outside the walls of Berwick when the governor refused to surrender.

By the 15th of July Berwick was running out of food. The governor intended to give in by the 20th July unless relieved by "The Grim" Sir Archibald Douglas's army [The guardian and regent for David II]. Douglas had tried harrying the English army and then changed tactics and harried Northumberland and even threatened Bamburgh Castle where Queen Philippa was staying, but Edward III was not drawn by this decoy, knowing that Bamburgh was a secure bastion against Scottish foot-men. In frustration Douglas turned his 13,000 strong army back towards Berwick where Edward III had strategically placed his army high on Hali-dun Hill, whilst a contingent  of Edward's army were left to beseige the starving town.
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Edward III at the age of 20 years and 8 months led his first major battle at Halidon. He had three dismounted divisions totalling 10,000, each flanked and probably led by archers. The left flank division was led by Edward de Balliol, the right flank division by The Earl of Norfolk and the cenre division by Edward III.
The English army had the advantage of elevation. The archers fired volleys of arrows downhill at the huge 14,700 strong Scottish horde swarming towards them, which struggled to extricate itself from marshy ground at the foot of the hill. The Scottish spearmen were no match for the longbow men, who were picked off with sickening rapidity. Once the archers had subdued the advance of the Scottish army, the English knights mounted and charged the remaining attackers with sword, mace and lance to completely rout the Scots. 
Halidon Hill
Four thousand Scots lay dead along with Sir Archibald Douglas, Sir Adam Gordon of Berwickshire, 6 Scottish earls, 70 Scottish barons, 500 knights and many spearmen. The English had a loss of 14 men. The longbow of South Wales had, as in the time of Edward I, decimated the Scottish and was later to be used with such devastating results at Crecy, Poitiers and even later, Agincourt.
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1. History of Cawthorne Rev. C.T. Pratt, 1881.
2. The Chronicles of Froissart.
3.Baine's History of Wakefield

Copyright © Tim Midgley, December, 2000 revised May 2009.