Battle of Otterburn
Reconstruction by Andrew Spratt
Battle of Otterburn took place on the 5 August 1388, as part of
the continuing border skirmishes between the Scottish and
There are varying accounts of a battle that took
place in 1388. One version is that of a large hunting party upon
a parcel of hunting land (or chase) in the Cheviot Hills, hence
the term, Chevy Chase. The hunt is led by Percy, the English
Earl of Northumberland. The Scottish Earl of Douglas had
forbidden this hunt, and interprets it as an invasion of
Scotland. In response he attacks, causing a bloody battle which
only 110 people survived.
The best remaining record of
the battle is from Jean Froissart's Chronicles in which he
claims to have interviewed veterans from both sides of the
battle. His account is still regarded with some concern as
details, such as the distance between Newcastle upon Tyne and
Otterburn, are incorrect.
The Scottish James Douglas, 2nd
Earl of Douglas decided to lead a raid—one of a continuing
series on both sides of the border—into English territory. It
was timed to take advantage of divisions on the English side
between Lord Neville and Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland
who had just taken over defence of the border.
divided their forces with the main force and their baggage train
heading towards Carlisle while a raiding party including Earl
Douglas ravaged the countryside around Durham and Newcastle.
Henry Percy sent his two sons Henry "Hotspur" Percy and Ralph to
engage while he stayed at Alnwick to cut off the marauders'
Froissart says that the first fighting included
a meeting of the Earl Douglas and Henry Percy in hand to hand
combat, in which Percy's pennon was captured. Douglas then moved
off destroying the castle at Ponteland and besieging Otterburn
castle. Percy attacked Douglas' encampment with a surprise
attack in the late afternoon but first encountered the Earl's
serving men, giving the bulk of the forces time to muster and
attack them on their flank.
During the battle on a
moon-lit night Douglas was killed and the Percys were both
captured, with the remaining English force retreating to
Newcastle. Despite Percy's force having an estimated three to
one advantage over the Scots Froissart records 1040 English were
captured and 1860 killed whereas 200 Scots were captured and 100
were killed. The Westminister Chronicle gives a more reliable
estimate of Scottish casualties as being around 500 or so. When
the Bishop of Durham advanced from Newcastle with 10,000 men he
was so impressed by the ordered appearance of the Scottish
force, the din they set up with their horns, and their seemingly
unassailable position, that he declined to attack.
decisive victory kept the two sides apart for some time. In 1402
the Earl Douglas' cousin attempted to emulate his great victory
and hopefully survive but the Battle of Humbleton Hill was
almost an exact reverse of Otterburn and a great defeat for the
Of such renown was the battle of Otterburn that
several ballads were composed in its honour including The Battle
of Otterburn and The Ballad of Chevy Chase (Child ballads 161
and 162). Chevy Chase rather mangles the history of the battle
and may be confusing other conflicts at around the same time but
it is still cited as one of the best of the ancient ballads.
The battle of Otterburn: won by a dead man
||Percy's pennon - click to enlarge
||The Death of Douglas and Capture of Sir Ralph
Percy by Sir John Maxwell
Painted by by Samuel West; held in
the Burrell Collection, Glasgow.
|Pennant of James, 2nd Earl of Douglas
|The Earl at Otterburn - Cigarette
|Skirmish line at the battle of
Otterburn - S. Walsh (Above)
|The Earl of Douglas's body being
removed from the battlefield - S. Walsh (Above)
The battle continued by moonlight and the Scottish leader,
the 2nd Earl Douglas
, was mortally wounded. He was worried that
his death would encourage the English, so he told his men to
hide his body beneath a bush so nobody could see it.
battle of Otterburn: won by a dead man When Percy offered to
capitulate, he was directed surrender to the bush under which
Douglas was lying and so the battle became famous because it was
won by a dead man.
Northumberland. W of village & n of A696 or s of village nr Elsdon at
Amongst the trees at the side of the A999, just beyond Otterburn is the
Douglas Cross which is believed to be the spot where Percy was killed.
parking there and information boards relating to the Battle.
stone is 150 metres east of Percy's Cross
Any contributions will be
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