Sunday, 16 March 2008

The Battle of Boroughbridge (1322)

The Battle of Boroughbridge, one of the major turning points of Edward II’s reign, took place 686 years ago today, and to mark the anniversary, I have written a short summary of the battle and included some pictures I took on a visit to Boroughbridge three weeks ago.

A brief overview of the battle

While at Ripon on the night of 15th March, the royalist commander Sir Andrew Harclay received news from a spy in the Lancastrian ranks that the army of the Earls of Lancaster and Hereford would arrive at Boroughbridge the following day. Overnight, Harclay’s force marched to Boroughbridge.

There were two crossings of the River Ure near to the town: a bridge and a ford. These crossings were the only way Lancaster and Hereford could continue retreating north in an attempt to escape the royal army that was pursuing them. By reaching Boroughbridge before the earls, Harclay ensured that they would have to fight to get across the river.

It was only after the Lancastrian force had begun to take quarters in Boroughbridge on 16th March that they found out that Harclay had reached the river crossings before them. This illustrates two crucial facts: the weakness of the earls’ scouting, and that the subsequent battle was fought very late in the day.

Harclay deployed his pikemen in the Scottish schiltron formation, supported by archers, at both the bridge and the ford. Meanwhile, the Lancastrian forces had split, with Hereford leading an attack on foot at the bridge and Lancaster planning to mount a cavalry attack at the ford.

The battle was over very quickly. In a short action at the bridge, Hereford, his standard bearer and two other knights were killed, and many of the others were wounded. Traditionally, Hereford is said to have been killed by a pike thrust between the planks of the wooden bridge into his anus. The assault at the ford fared little better – Lancaster’s cavalry was forced back by Harclay’s archers before even reaching the water’s edge. After this, Lancaster and Harclay agreed a truce whereby the earl’s men were allowed to retreat into the town overnight, and would either surrender or resume the battle in the morning.

Harclay received reinforcements during the night, and the following morning entered the town. Lancaster had no chance of resisting, as many of his troops had fled during the night, but refused to surrender and took refuge in a chapel, where he was captured by Harclay’s men. Subsequently, he was taken to Pontefract where he was executed six days after the battle.

My pictures

The pictures that follow are based on rough estimates of the positions of the opposing forces according to this map: http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/media/217.pdf(please note the map is in PDF format).

I based my estimated positions of the bridge and ford on a very rough estimates of where the centre of the positions marked on the map were. However, it is important to note that the positions on the map are themselves estimates, and that the position of the ford is extremely uncertain. Therefore, while the pictures I took near to the bridge are probably fairly close to where the action took place, my estimated position of the ford could quite probably be nowhere near where it actually was.

A view of the modern bridge from the estimated position of Hereford’s men

The modern bridge from the Lancastrian side of the river

The modern bridge from the Royalist side of the river

View from end of royalist position furthest away from bridge

View from end of royalist position nearest bridge

My estimation of where the 14th century bridge might have been (a very rough guess according to the positions on the map)

A view of the modern bridge from the position of the previous picture

A view from the Royalist side of the river of my extremely questionable estimate of where the ford may have been

A view from the Lancastrian side of the river of my guess at where the ford may have been


Lastly, a picture of the plaque on the Lancastrian side of the modern bridge


For my information about the battle, I would suggest this website, where I found the map and much of my information. It includes a lot more detail than I have here. It includes details like where Lancaster was captured and also extracts from the contemporary sources.
I would also recommend Lady D’s much more detailed post about the battle (click on the link to “Lady Despenser’s Scribery” in the list of Blogs I Read.)

5 comments:

Alianore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lady D. said...

Those pics are really interesting and help to give us more of an on-the-spot feeling. You really did some walking around and good detective work there!

I noticed that you, too, used Harclay instead of Harcla. I started to use the latter but it sounded really clumsy to my modern ears so I had to change it!

Wouldn't it be great if Time Team got to do a dig at this site? Maybe they could find the site of the ford.

Great post!

Carole said...

Lady D -

It took me and my Dad a good couple of hours to go round all the relevant spots - although I left the map interpretation to him, I never was any good at Geography.

Re: Time Team - yes it would be good but unfortunately, with the battle not being very well known, I think its unlikely.

Re: Harcla/Harclay, yes I find it clumsy too. I always say Montagu and not Montacute for the same reason.

Frank said...

I am a Trustee of the Battlefields Trust. We are the charity that seeks to preserve, interpret and educate people about our battlefields. Glen Foard, the Battlefield Archaeologist wrote the report that you have mentioned.

I am posting because you could help to preserve the battlefield and enssure that it is properly interpreted.

The battlefield of Boroughbridge was identified by English Heritage as one of the eight battlefields most under threat in the UK. There is development pressure on urban fringe of the towns of Boroughbridge and Aldborough from hydrological works. It is one of the Registered Battlefields and the area identified has some statutory protection.

We would like to form a group of people who will act as custodians for the battlefield, as part of the strategy to manage the risks to our battlefield heritage, as recommnedd by English Heritage in Battlefields at Risk. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.19243

We want to work actively with all the stakeholders, the landowners, local authorities and local societies. We think that the battlefield should be preserved and properly interpreted so that many more people can find out about the fascinating story of this battle and its part in our history. We would like some people from the local area, as well as people who care about the battlefield because they are interested in the history around the battle or have specialist historic or archaeological knowledge.


This battlefield is an important part of a story that isn't always well told. Usually people only know two things about Edward IInd and the Battle of Boroughbridge isn't either!

I am going to be presenting the story of the threats to Boroughbridge at a conference on 14-15th March 2009 at the National Army Museum so if anyone is i8interested in findign our more is welcome to attend - There is a fee.

Please let me know if you are interested in becoming a friend of the battlefield.

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