Battle of Halidon Hill
Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland The 19th of July 1333 AD
Robert The Bruce ’s victory at Bannockburn towered over Scottish politics and burrowed to the core of the country’s psyche. It was a decisive victory, bringing the country independence, ushering in an era of peace with England. The Treaty Of Edinburgh-Northampton , in 1328, was the final chapter in the First War Of Scotland’s Independence.
But the sense of freedom and order, nursed in the aftermath of battle and underscored in treaty, did not extend goodwill and harmony throughout the country. Nor would it last. Scotland was a fractious state – embittered by Robert The Bruce’s slaying of John Comyn, Balliol’s supporters never recognised Bruce as King. Powerful families – the Comyns, the Balliols – were losing land, their power was fading under the shadow of Bruce’s reign. With Robert Bruce’s infant son David on the Scottish throne, Scotland’s political dynamic was schismatic and increasingly volatile.
By 1332, Scotland was sallying towards civil war, amassing itself behind the Bruce loyalists – chiefly the Douglases – and those of the Comyn and Balliol camp. Between Scotland and England, a dynastic parallel could be drawn. Like his grandfather before him, King Edward III would campaign for a Balliol’s ascension to the Scottish throne. Edward Balliol, son of King John Balliol, would offer fealty to the English in exchange for assistance. And just as John Balliol lived a claustrophobic life in the pocket of an English king, Edward Balliol would assume the role of England’s puppet-in-chief.
Balliol and Henry Beaumont, 4th Earl Of Buchan invaded Scotland; King David, still underage, would be sent to France for his own safety. Scotland’s rulers were circling the wagons. Though Balliol cut deep into South-west Scotland, Bruce’s supporters would defeat him. Balliol would retreat, but this was no longer a civil conflict. The Treaty Of Northampton was now irrelevant: Edward III pledged military support for ‘his’ Scottish king, his army marched north. Berwick, that most important of merchant towns, had seen its share of atrocities in the First Wars Of Scottish Independence. It was to suffer again.
As Berwick stood firm in the face of Balliol’s seige, Edward III would advance upon Berwick Castle . The slaughter that resulted from his grandfather’s sacking of the town would not have been forgotten by those within its walls. Sir Alexander Seton lead an impassioned resistance but his men were succumbing to exhaustion. Seton entered into a truce with Edward III that would serve as the preamble to the Battle Of Halidon Hill. Agreeing to surrender the town if no relief arrived, Seton gave over a dozen hostages to Edward. Seton’s own son, Thomas, was hanged by Edward – if Archibald Douglas had been biding his time patiently gathering his army, his hand would now be forced.
The English corralled themselves on the slopes of Halidon Hill. It would prove to be an indomitable position, surrounded by marshland and crowned with woodland – the Scots had little chance. Ill disciplined and chaotic, the Scots charged at the the English.
The battle would echo that of Dupplin Moor, but defeat would not so much resonate as fester; Scotland’s resistance was doused under a hail of arrows. Again England’s archers visited death upon a Scottish army, whose spearmen were brutally exposed. Thousands fell on Halidon’s slopes – including Douglas. Bannockburn was reversed and again Scotland would find its sovereignty in peril.
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