The Hundred Years’ War between England and France had begun a little less than a decade before the Battle of Neville’s Cross (known also as the Battle of Durham). As part of the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France, King David II of Scotland heeded the call from France’s monarchy, to aid their country by diverting English attention. To do so, David II raised an army of about twelve thousand men, well armed and equipped (and to a lesser degree reinforced) by money and men from France. Chroniclers at the time agreed that the invasion force was one of the best Scotland had put forth in a many years.
On the way south into England, David II’s army laid siege to Liddel Castle (or ‘Liddel Pele’), retaking it for Scotland (and slaughtering the garrison inside) after three days of fighting. The King then passed Carlisle by (in exchange for a large indemnity), sacked Hexham Abbey, and moved on Durham. The English, however, were prepared. They had long expected the Scottish invasion, knowing of Scotland’s willingness to honour their Auld Alliance. What’s more, English king Edward III, when raising his army for the invasion of France, had exempted the counties north of the River Humber; meaning in effect that north England was as able as ever to withstand a Scottish attack.
Under Lord Ralph Neville’s leadership, a small force of some three or four thousand soldiers was raised by the Archbishop of York, joined on their march north by a further three thousand Yorkshiremen led by Neville himself. The English army surprised the Scots camp at Durham, and so Scottish defensive formations were hasty. They did, however, remember their defeats at Dupplin Moor and at Halidon Hill, and so attempted to maintain a defensive position, from which they could absorb the English assault. Unfortunately, English archers once again proved devastating against the Scottish schiltrons, succeeding in provoking the Scots to attack. Bogged down by unfavourable ground (a common theme of the era’s battles), the Scottish army was quickly and easily decimated. When the Scots attempted to retreat, the battle became a rout, resulting in a catastrophic loss of life. Sir Michael Scott of Rankilburn (who had served at Halidon Hill in 1333), and Maurice Murray, Baron of Hawick, were killed upon the battlefield. Robert Chisholme of Chisholme, Sir William Douglas, Knight of Liddesdale, and King David II, alongside about fifty other Barons, were taken prisoner. During the battle, David II was twice shot in the face with arrows. Surgeons later attempted to remove the arrows, but the tip of one remained lodged in his face, rendering him prone to headaches for decades.
In the aftermath of the Battle of Neville’s Cross (named so for an Anglo Saxon stone-cross on the hill where the Scots made their stand, later replaced by a monument erected by Lord Neville in commemoration of his victory) the English army took possession of the Border territories, and Hermitage and Roxburgh Castles surrendered, with several locals swearing fealty to the English King. Almost the entirety of Scotland’s military leadership had been killed or captured, strategically freeing significant English resources for the war in France, and allowing the English border counties to comfortably stand guard against what remained of the Scottish threat. The eventual ransoming of King David II resulted in a truce that brought peace to the Borders for forty years.