Thursday, August 4, 2011

Battle of Stanhope Park

August 4, 1327 saw the conclusion of a conflict between English and Scots forces at Stanhope Park.  The result was a victory for Scotland, led by James Douglas; the “Black Douglas”.  Walter Scott’s “The History of Scotland” provides some detail on the battle.

‘The king sent a herald to defy the Scots to a fair field of fight, according to the practice of chivalry : he offered either to withdraw his own troops from the northern hank, and permit the Scottish army to come over and form in array of battle; or, if the enemy preferred to retire from the southern bank, and allow the English to cross the river unmolested, he declared his willingness to make the attack. But Douglas and Randolph knew too well their own inferiority in numbers and appointments, and the great advantage of their present situation, to embrace either alternative. They returned for answer, that they had entered England without the consent of the king and his barons; that they would abide in the realm as long as they pleased : " if the king dislikes our presence," said they, " let him pass the river, and do his best to chastise us." Thus the two armies continued facing each other; the Scots on the south bank of the Wear, the English on the north; the former subsisting on the herds of cattle which they drove in from the country on all hands, the latter living poorly on such provisions as they brought with them : the former spending their night round immense fires, maintained in the greater profusion for the pleasure of wasting the English wood, and lodging in huts and lodges made of boughs; the English, who were on the depopulated and wasted side of the river, sleeping many of them in the open air, with their saddles for pillows, and holding their horses in their hands. They were annoyed by the Scottish bordermen winding their horns all night, and making a noise as if, says Froissart, " all the devils of hell had been there." Having thus faced each other for two or three days, the English, at dawn of the third or fourth morning, perceived the Scots' position was deserted and empty. They had decamped with much silence and celerity, and were soon found to have occupied a new position on the Wear, resembling the former in its general description, but even stronger, and masked by a wood, being part of an inclosed chase, called Stanhope Deer-park, the property of the bishop of Durham. Here the two hostile armies confronted each other as formerly; the English declining to attack on account of the strength of the Scottish position, the Scots refusing battle with an army superior to their own….
But the English did not remain long in the. neighbourhood of the Douglas in undisturbed slumbers. On the second night after their arrival in this new position, that enterprising leader left the Scottish camp with a select body of men at arms, crossed the Wear at a distance from the English encampment, and entered it, saying, as he passed the sleepy sentinels, in the manner and with the national exclamation of an English officer making the rounds: " Ha! Saint George! have we no ward here ?" He reached the king's tent without discovery, cut asunder the ropes, and cried his war cry of " Douglas ! Douglas !" The young king only escaped death or captivity by the fidelity of his chaplain and others of his household, who fell in his defence. Disappointed in his attempt on the king's person, which was his main object, Douglas cut his way through the English host, who were now gathering fast, broke from their encampment, and returned safe to the Scottish camp with fresh laurels in his helmet…’

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