Following the bloody, no-quarters decimation of a four-hundred-strong force of Border reivers, by a smaller English force, at the Battle of Nesbit Moor that same year, Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas, led some ten thousand men on a punitive campaign into Northumberland. Seeking retribution for the annihilation of the reiving men on Nesbit Moor’s ‘slaughter field’, Douglas laid waste to much of Northumberland, before finally meeting an English army in battle.
The English, led by Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, and his son Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, met the Scots at Homildon Hill (also called Humbleton Hill) on 14th September 1402. The Scots, not having learned the lessons of similar tactical errors at the earlier battles of Halidon Hill, Dupplin Moor, and Neville’s Cross, marched their schiltrons against the English longbowmen. Carnage ensued. One hundred men, under the command of Sir John Swinton, chose to charge the enemy saying: “Better to die in the mellay than be shot down like deer”. They all perished.
It has been suggested that Douglas hesitated to signal the advance of his main force, and when he did, it was too little, too late. When his force, already mauled by English archers, finally met the as-yet-unbloodied English men-at-arms, they were quickly routed. Many of Douglas’ leading captains were captured, including his kinsman George Douglas, 1st Earl of Angus, Thomas Dunbar, 5th Earl of Moray, and Murdoch of Fife. Douglas himself was captured, having been wounded five times (including the loss of an eye), despite the fact that his armour had reputedly taken three years to make.
King Henry IV of England bestowed all of Teviotdale on the Percys as payment for their victory. Archibald Douglas would later fight alongside Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, when freed by him during his rebellion against the English King; the Scot being wounded badly once again during ‘Hotspur’s’ final military engagement, at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.
Here is a dear, a true industrious friend,
Sir Walter Blunt, new lighted from his horse.
Stain’d with the variation of each soil
Betwixt that Holmedon and this seat of ours
And he hath brought us smooth and welcome news.
The Earl of Douglas is discomfited
Ten thousand bold Scots, two and twenty knights,
Balk’d in their own blood did Sir Walter see
On Holmedon’s plains. Of prisoners, Hotspur took
Mordake the Earl of Fife, and eldest son
To beaten Douglas and the Earl of Athol,
Of Murray, Angus, and Menteith
And is not this an honourable spoil
A gallant prize ha, cousin, is it not’
- Henry IV, Part 1 act 1, scene 1 by William Shakespeare c.1597