Battle of Otterburn (1388)

One of the many engagements along the Anglo-Scottish border during this time, the Battle of Otterburn was the culmination of a Scottish reive into England, and resulted in a decisive Scottish victory. A group of nobles (namely James, 2nd Earl of Douglas, the Earl of Moray, and the Earl of Buchan) met at Southdean Kirk, southeast of Hawick, toward the end of summer, 1388. There, they planned an unofficial invasion of England – in essence, a largescale raid. With the Scots harrying much of Northumberland (which was in a state of disorder at the time due to divisions between the Earl of Northumberland and the Earl of Westmoreland), Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland sent his two sons, Harry ‘Hotspur’ and Sir Ralph Percy, to head off the Scottish forces.

According to Jean Froissart – contemporary French chronicler whose Chronicles recorded the happenings of much of the 14th century, and who stated that he had interviewed veterans from the Battle of Otterburn – the first engagement between the two armies took place outside of Newcastle. Reportedly, Douglas and Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy met in hand-to-hand combat, Douglas defeating and humiliating Percy by taking his pennon as trophy (a ‘pennon’ is a small flag, typically carried on a knight’s lance and decorated by personal heraldry). Douglas then destroyed the castle at Ponteland, before besieging Otterburn Castle (also known as ‘Otterburn Tower’).

The Percys army (of around three thousand-two-hundred men), caught the Douglas camp (estimated at about one-third the size of the Percy force) by surprise. However, Douglas’ main force still had time to muster and draw formation, and so the surprise attack had little bearing on the rest of the engagement. Hotspur’s men, having ridden up from Newcastle, were tired and disorganized as they made their way onto the field. Moreover, Hotspur was so overly-confident, that he apparently attacked the Scots while the rest of his force was still marching up through Otterburn. This combination of hubris and disarray doubtlessly contributed to the inability of the English to maintain their upper-hand, and so, despite James, 2nd Earl of Douglas being killed in the fray, the Scots emerged victorious. They inflicted heavy losses on the English, capturing around two thousand men (including the Percys), and killing over one thousand; whilst the Scots suffered perhaps as few as just a hundred casualties, and lost only around two hundred men as prisoners of war. Such a decisive victory kept the two sides apart for some time, and of such great renown was the battle that several ballads were composed in its honour, including The Battle of Otterburn and The Ballad of Chevy Chase. The battle site itself is marked by a monument in a small, wooded area off the main road through Otterburn, and some relics, said to be from the battle, were long preserved at Cavers House.

Border families who took part in the Scottish victory at Otterburn include: the Halls, Swintons, Johnstones, Grahams, Gordons, Lindsays, Leslies, Herons, and Montgomerys.