The Battle of Otterburn
Sometimes dismissed as a mere skirmish - perhaps English historians prefer to aggrandize victories - Otterburn was a full scale clash where more than 1000 men died, and which ended the long-running Wars of Scottish Independence.
James Earl of Douglas with an army of perhaps 2500 earlier in the summer reached Durham , but declined to invest the town, moving back to Newcastle where skirmishes with the English defenders continued over several days. His thrust was timed well: England had the weak Richard II on the throne, his control of the country marginal – the Peasants’ Revolt at the start of the decade, the Black Death, a narrowly avoided invasion by France averted at the Battle of Margate the previous year, all signalled opportunity for the Scots.
Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, who had according to legend lost his lance-pennon to Douglas in one of the Newcastle skirmishes, seems to have surprised the Scottish camp near Otterburn at dusk; his superior numbers allowed him to send a large flanking party on a wide loop to hit the Scots’ rear: part of the Scottish army was routed, fleeing over the border with English in hot pursuit. Douglas had similar ideas, leading a party to hit the English right flank that must have passed inside the English manoeuvre. Douglas was killed in the fighting, but Hotspur was captured, the leaderless and demoralised English suffering heavy casualties, an estimated 800 – 1000.
The Scottish victory was decisive, but the death of Douglas a major blow. English ambitions northwards were halted. An armed truce prevailed until the removal of King Richard.
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