The Battle of the Standard, sometimes called the Battle of Northallerton, in which English forces repelled a Scottish army, took place on 22 August 1138 on Cowton Moor near Northallerton in Yorkshire. The Scottish forces were led by King David I of Scotland. The English were commanded by William of Aumale. King Stephen of England (fighting rebel barons in the south) had sent a small force (largely mercenaries), but the English army was mainly local militia and baronial retinues from Yorkshire and the north Midlands. Archbishop Thurstan of York had exerted himself greatly to raise the army, preaching that to withstand the Scots was to do God’s work. The centre of the English position was therefore marked by a mast (mounted upon a cart) bearing a pyx carrying the consecrated host and from which were flown the consecrated banners of the minsters of York, Beverley and Ripon: hence the name of the battle.
David had entered England for two declared reasons, :
David’s forces had already taken much of Northumberland apart from castles at Wark and Bamburgh. Advancing beyond the Tees towards York, early on 22 August 1138 the Scots found the English army drawn up on open fields two miles N of Northallerton; they formed up in four ‘lines’ to attack it. The first attack, by unarmoured spearmen against armoured men (including dismounted knights) supported by telling fire from archers failed. Within 3 hours, the Scots army disintegrated apart from small bodies of knights and men-at-arms around David and his son Henry. At this point Henry led a spirited attack with mounted knights; he and David then withdrew separately with their immediate companions in relatively good order. Heavy Scots losses are claimed, in battle and in flight.
The English did not pursue far; David fell back to Carlisle and reassembled an army. Within a month a truce was negotiated which left the Scots free to continue the siege of Wark castle, which eventually fell. Despite losing the battle, David was subsequently given most of the territorial concessions he had been seeking (which the chronicles say he had been offered before he crossed the Tees). David held these throughout the Anarchy, but on the death of David, his successor Malcolm IV of Scotland was soon forced to surrender David's gains to Henry II of England
David had gained the Scottish throne largely because of the support of Henry I of England and he had attempted to remodel Scotland to be more like Henry's England. He had carried out peaceful changes in the areas of Scotland over which he had effective control and he had conducted military campaigns against semi-autonomous regional rulers to reassert his authority; in administration, in warfare, and in the settling of regained territory he had drawn on the talent and resources of the Anglo-Norman lands. The death of Henry I in 1135 by weakening England made David more reliant on his native subjects, and allowed him to contemplate winning control over substantial areas of Northern England.
Henry I had wished his inheritance to pass to his daughter Matilda, and in 1127 made his notables swear an oath to uphold the succession of Matilda (David was the first layman to do so). Many of the English and Norman magnates and barons were against Matilda, because she was married to Geoffrey V, count of Anjou. On Henry’s death, Stephen, younger brother of Theobald, count of Blois, seized the throne instead. When Stephen was crowned on 22 December, David went to war. After two months of campaigning in northern England, a peace treaty ceding Cumberland to David was agreed. Additionally, David’s son Henry was made Earl of Huntingdon , David declining to swear the required oath of loyalty to Stephen, since he had already sworn allegiance to Matilda. In spring 1137 David again invaded England: a truce was quickly agreed. In November, the truce expired; David demanded to be made earl of the whole of the old earldom of Northumberland. Stephen refused and in January 1138 David invaded for a third time.
"an execrable army, more atrocious than the pagans, neither fearing God nor regarding man, spread desolation over the whole province and slaughtered everywhere people of either sex, of every age and rank, destroying, pillaging and burning towns, churches and houses".Monastic chroniclers often deplore depredations made by foreign armies and sometimes even those of their own rulers but some Scots forces were going beyond normal Norman 'harrying' by systematically carrying off women and children as slaves. In the contemporary Celtic world this was regarded as a useful source of revenue, like (and not significantly more reprehensible than) cattle-raiding
"Then (horrible to relate) they carried off, like so much booty, the noble matrons and chaste virgins, together with other women. These naked, fettered, herded together; by whips and thongs they drove before them, goading them with their spears and other weapons. This took place in other wars, but in this to a far greater extent."The practicalities of this would support the chroniclers’ tales of sexual abuse of the slaves and casual slaughter of unsalable encumbrances:
"For the sick on their couches, women pregnant and in childbed, infants in the womb, innocents at the breast, or on the mother's knee, with the mothers themselves, decrepit old men and worn-out old women, and persons debilitated from whatever cause, wherever they met with them, they put to the edge of the sword, and transfixed with their spears; and by how much more horrible a death they could dispatch them, so much the more did they rejoice."In February, King Stephen marched north with an army to deal with David. David successfully evaded him., and Stephen returned south.
Archbishop Thurstan of York (who, as will presently appear, greatly exerted himself in this emergency), William of Aumale, Walter de Gant, Robert de Brus, Roger de Mowbray, Walter Espec, Ilbert de Lacy, William de Percy, Richard de Courcy, William Fossard, Robert de StutevilleHowever, urged by the 70-year-old Thurstan, to stand and fight and if needs be die in a holy cause , they agreed to gather their forces and return to York, where they were joined by reinforcements from Nottinghamshire under William Peverel and Geoffrey Halsalin , and from Derbyshire led by Robert de Ferrers. They advanced to Thirsk, from where they sent Robert de Brus and Bernard de Balliol (recently arrived with a few mercenaries sent by King Stephen) on an embassy to David, whose army was now approaching the River Tees and North Yorkshire.
Much irresolution was caused by distrust of each other, arising from suspicions of treachery, by the absence of a chief and leader of the war (for their sovereign, king Stephen, encompassed by equal difficulties in the south of England, was just then unable to join them), and by their dread of encountering, with an inadequate force, so great a host]]
“In front of the battle were the Picts; in the centre, the king with his knights and English; the rest of the barbarian host poured roaring around them. The king and almost all his followers were on foot, their horses being kept at a distance.”Ailred of Rievaulx gives the eventual deployment of the Scots as being in four ‘lines’. The Galwegians - described by a later chronicler as
" men agile, unclothed, remarkable for much baldness; arming their left side with knives formidable to any armed men, having a hand most skillful at throwing spears and directing them from a distance; raising their long lance as a standard when they advance into battle"- were in the first line. "The second line the King's son Prince Henry arranged with great wisdom; with himself the knights and archers, adding to their number the Cumbrians and Teviotdalesmen ... The men of Lothian formed the third rank, with the islanders and the men of Lorne. The King kept in his own line the Scots and Moravians; several also of the English and French knights he appointed as his bodyguard.”
Henry of Huntingdon's account of the battle would imply that the men of Lothian with their ‘long spears’ were in the first line; however, the generally accepted view is that the long spears were those of the Galwegians. .
And Alan de Percy, base-born son of the great Alan - a most vigorous knight, and in military matters highly distinguished - took these words ill; and turning to the earl he said, 'A great word hast thou spoken, and one which for thy life thou canst not make good this day.' Then the king, restraining both, lest a disturbance should suddenly arise out of this altercation, yielded to the will of the Galwegians ..
"Most illustrious nobles of England, Normans by birth, ... consider who you are, and against whom, and where it is, you are waging war; for then no one shall with impunity resist your prowess. Bold France, taught by experience, has quailed beneath your valour, fierce England, led captive, has submitted to you; rich Apulia, on having you for her masters, has flourished once again; Jerusalem so famed, and illustrious Antioch, have bowed themselves before you; and now Scotland, which of right is subject to you , attempts to show resistance, displaying a temerity not warranted by her arms, more fitted indeed for rioting than for battle. These are people, in fact, who have no knowledge of military matters, no skill in fighting, no moderation in ruling. There is no room then left for fear, but rather for shame, that those whom we have always sought on their own soil and overcome ..have ...come flocking into our country."He next assures them that God has chosen them to punish the Scots
"This .. has been brought about by Divine Providence; in order that those who have in this country violated the temples of God, stained the altars with blood, slain his priests, spared neither children nor pregnant women, may on the same spot receive the condign punishment of their crimes; and this most just resolve of the Divine will, God will this day put in execution by means of your hands. Arouse your spirits then, ye civilized warriors, and, firmly relying on the valour of your country, nay, rather on the presence of God, arise against these most unrighteous foes"that any keenness of the Scots to attack is because they don't understand the superiority of Norman equipment
"And let not their rashness move you, because so many insignia of your valour cause no alarm to them. They know not how to arm themselves for battle; whereas you, during the time of peace, prepare yourselves for war, in order that in battle you may not experience the doubtful contingencies of warfare. Cover your heads then with the helmet, your breasts with the coat of mail, your legs with the greaves, and your bodies with the shield, that so the foeman may not find where to strike at you, on seeing you thus surrounded on every side with iron.".and that the Scots advantage in numbers is no advantage at all, especially when they are up against properly trained Norman knights
"[I]t is not so much the numbers of the many as the valour of the few that gains the battle. For a multitude unused to discipline is a hindrance to itself, when successful, in completing the victory, when routed, in taking to flight. Besides your forefathers, when but few in number, have many a time conquered multitudes; what then is the natural consequence of the glories of your ancestry, your constant exercises, your military discipline, but that though fewer in number, you should overcome multitudes?"The bishop then finishes by promising that anyone who dies in battle against the Scots this day will go straight to Heaven with all his sins forgiven. These preliminaries over, the battle begins
"after their custom gave vent thrice to a yell of horrible sound, and attacked the southerns in such an onslaught that they compelled the first spearmen to forsake their post; but they were driven off again by the strength of the knights, and [the spearmen] recovered their courage and strength against the foe. And when the frailty of the Scottish lances was mocked by the denseness of iron and wood they drew their swords and attempted to contend at close quarters"The English archery caused disorganisation and heavy casualties in the Scottish ranks. Ailred records the bravery and determination of the Galwegians, together with its ineffectiveness:
"like a hedgehog with its quill, so would you see a Galwegian bristling all round with arrows, and nonetheless brandishing his sword, and in blind madness rushing forward now smite a foe, now lash the air with useless strokes".The Galwegians finally fled after the death of two of their leaders (Domnall and Ulgric); the men of Lothian similarly broke after the earl of Lothian was killed by an arrow
"Next, the king’s troop ... began to drop off, at first; man by man, and afterwards in bodies, the king standing firm, and being at last left almost alone. The king’s friends seeing this, forced him to mount his horse and take to flight; but Henry, his valiant son, not heeding what he saw being done by his men, but solely intent on glory and valour, while the rest were taking to flight, most bravely charged the enemy’s line, and shook it by the wondrous vigour of his onset. For his troop was the only one mounted on horseback, and consisted of English and Normans, who formed a part of his father’s household. His horsemen, however, were not able long to continue their attacks against soldiers on foot, cased in mail, and standing immoveable in close and dense ranks; but, with their lances broken and their horses wounded, were compelled to take to flight."
"But of [David's] army nearly ten thousand fell in different places, and as many as fifty were captured of his picked men. But the king's son came on foot with one knight only to Carlisle, while his father scarce escaped through woods and passes to Roxburgh. Of two hundred mailed knights whom [David] had, only nineteen brought back their hauberks ; because each had abandoned as booty to the foe almost everything that he had. And thus very great spoils were taken from his army, as well of horses and arms and raiment as of very many other things.
he having first given an oath that, if he became king of England, he would give to [David]Newcastle and all Northumbria, and would permit him and his heirs to possess in peace without counter-claim for ever the whole land which lies from the river Tweed to the river Tyne>.
"And [Malcolm] prudently considering that in this matter the king of England was superior to the merits of the case by the authority of might ..restored to him the .. territories in their entirety, and received from him in return the earldom of Huntingdon, which belonged to him by ancient right. Things being so arranged, England enjoyed for a time her ease and security in all her borders. And the king ruled more widely than all who were known to have ruled in England till that time, that is from the furthest bounds of Scotland as far as to the Pyrenees
Ailred, indeed, could not regard the war as an uncompromising conflict between England and Scotland, and still less between Englishmen and Scots. It was a war between kinsmen. David's mother, Saint Margaret, was the granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, and but for the verdict of God at Hastings, David would have been the claimant of the legitimist party to the English throne. His sister had been the Queen of Henry I., his niece was wife of Stephen, his wife was the daughter of Waltheof, the great Earl of Northumberland. If he thought it wise to invade England on behalf of his other niece, the ex-Empress Matilda, and to try to resume Scottish possession of the northern shires, he could hardly be blamed, though it was doubtless the duty of King Stephen's vassals to resist him. In Ailred's memory the Battle of the Standard was an unhappy conflict of allegiances for the Bruces and Balliols and other North-country barons had extensive lands in David's dominionsand p 36
His attitude to the ordinary Scots and (especially) Gallwegians (when abbot of Rievaulx, Ailred visted Galloway on Church business, crowned by the foundation of Dundrennan Abbey) is discussed in Aird, William M, "Sweet Civility and Barbarous Rudeness" A view from the frontier, Abbot Ailred of Rievaulx and the Scots p 63 onwards in Ellis Steven G et al (eds) Imagining Frontiers, Contesting Identities, (Pisa, 2007), ISBN 8 8849 2466 9. Ailred will have personally known most of the people he attributes speeches to; but the speeches may not have happened: it was an accepted device to present a point of view in an invented 'speech'. (Ailred gives Walter Espec (the founder of Rievaulx) a rousing speech before battle with the Scots in which he boasts of the Norman's superior equipment, discipline etc. This effectively responds to the native Scots' argument to David (of which Walter should be unaware) that their offensive elan will bring him victory more surely than foreigners in armour. His audience at the time would have appeciated that they were being told why both sides thought they would win, rather than that it really happened just like that. In another work (according to Bliese J. R. E,. , The Battle Rhetoric of Aelred of Rievaulx p 99-107 in Haskins Society Journal 1989, 1) Aelred gives Alfred the Great an inspiring but clearly spurious speech before battle with the Danes.There was no difference in culture, race or nationality between the people who inhabited the Old Northumbria ; when a Scottish King invaded the lands of the King of England he was engaging in a domestic quarrel, about the rights of which even men who lived south of the Tweed might freely differ. What the subjects and vassals of the English King did resent and fiercely resist was the presence of barbarians, of Picts and Galloway men, side by side with the feudal host of Scotland. For Englishmen and Normans, learning as they were to speak each other's language, were united, whether theylooked to David or to Stephen as their lord, in the task of adapting the old order to the new. The definition of services and tenures in feudal terms, the encouragement of foreign fashions in art and letters, the organization of bishoprics, the foundation of monasteries, the subjection of social life to ecclesiastical discipline, were proceeding as actively in the south of Scotland as in Yorkshire.
Michael Lynch, in his single-volume Scotland: A New History suggests: (p 79) As late as the 1130s David was still, to Norman Chroniclers, the epitome of Norman knighthood, which was why his expedition into England at the head of an ‘incredible army’ of semi-barbarous peoples was so shocking to them. Unfortunately the remark can be interpreted to suggest that the behaviour of the Scots wasn't really as shocking as the chroniclers found it. The supporting reference is to a passage in the Gesta Stephani (to be found on pages 176-8 of Anderson 'Scottish Annals') which establishes that chroniclers found the Scots behaviour shocking, but does not seem to directly supportly the 'explanation'. On David's death, many of the same chroniclers give him highly favourable obituaries and none suggest that he approved of the atrocities they found shocking. David's dealings with knights and abbots seem to have allowed him to continue to be the epitome of Norman knighthood (which should be clearly distinguished from modern concepts of chivalry). The Anglo-Norman magnates don't seem to have regarded other Scoto - Normans with any great disgust either; when William of Aumale married some years after the battle, he married one of Walter fitz Duncan's daughters; admittedly she was an heiress, which often smoothes over minor difficulties)
The chronicles can found in (amongst other places)