The Battle of Otterburn

As the A68 sweeps down from Carter Bar at the Scottish Border into Redesdale the first significant settlement you encounter is Otterburn. Half a mile before you reach it, a narrow stand of trees extends north from the road. You can turn off into the trees, here a footpath leads to Percy’s Cross, which commemorates the nearby Battle of Otterburn, fought on the night of 5 August 1388 where over 2000 men were killed.

England and Scotland had been intermittently at war for the better part of a century by this time, and would remain so for several more centuries. In 1388 the Scots army, perhaps up to 6,000 strong, camping just west of Otterburn after an unsuccessful attempt to capture the tower there. Early in the evening they were surprised by the arrival of Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy, at the head of an army of perhaps 8,000 that had force marched from Newcastle. The battle commenced as night fell on open land to the north west of Otterburn: the same place (though with a rather different landscape) that you can view from the wall beyond Percy’s Cross today.

Despite strong moonlight, the decision by Percy to attack at night prevented the English using their best weapon, their longbows: and when the exhausted English engaged in hand to hand combat with the fresh and rested Scots, they came off second best. It is said that some 1,800 English were killed during the battle, compared perhaps only 200 Scots. Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy was captured, along with his brother, while on the Scottish side, James Douglas, 2nd Earl of Douglas was among those killed.

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© George Hurrell

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