Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Great Scotch Victory

On this day back in 1388, a great victory, if not an odd one, was won on the Scottish side. It was the Battle of Otterburn, and was one of the many battles fought amongst the border clans and the Wardens of the Marches of the Scottish and English borderlands. (Someday, I hope to go into more detail about the border clans and their relation to the borderers on the English side but that will be far more extensive than what I have time for today.)

It was fought between two of the higher class gentlemen of the borders, Lord of Douglas on the Scottish side and Lord Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland (commonly known by the nickname of "Hotspur"). The two were rivals to begin with, being the two richest men on the borders, but when the English made a raid into Scotland (as they were always doing) they burnt both Dryburgh and Melrose Abby. These were two loved places in Scotland and they could not let the English go unscathed for it. So Lord Douglas gathered his men and went to retaliate.

Outside Newcastle's walls, the Scots were able to capture Percy's banner. In war, the capture of someone's banner was considered a loss of face, so Douglas decided that the Scots would not cross the border for three days, thus giving Percy a chance to re-capture his banner. An interesting tidbit, I should probably mention is that Lord Douglas was grand-nephew to The Good Sir James, the famous Black Douglas who fought at the side of Robert the Bruce through his long campaign for Scotland's freedom.

On the way back to their homeland, the Scottish army camped at Otterburn where they urged Douglas to forget about Hotspur, an old enemy. But he was firm in his first thought to let Percy have a chance to claim back his lost standard. That night, as the sun was setting, Lord Percy was sighted and fell into an attack almost instantly, eager to gain back his dignity.

In the melee before the battle, while Douglas was getting his armor on, he was reportedly stabbed, weather by an assassin or his own armorer, no one knows for sure. He realized the wound was fatal and as his men were already engaged with the enemy, he asked his paged to carry him to the bushes and hide him there so his men would not see him fallen and loose courage. His plan worked, as it turned out, to perfection. Douglas's men soon gained the upper hand over Percy's troops and Hotspur himself was captured by a knight under Douglas's command, Sir Hugh Montgomery. They had men in battle and Sir Hugh had overpowered Percy and forced him to yield. Percy reportedly refused to surrender to anyone but Douglas himself and he was taken to the bushes where the brave commander's body lay. I'm sure you can only imagine the surprise and probably indignation Percy felt when he realized he had been beaten by a dead man. I'm sure he was not happy in the least.

Sir Hugh, however, prospered greatly from Lord Percy's ransom money, called a poind. He bought land in Renfrewshire and built himself a fortress called Polnoon. Some think this might be a corruption of "poind" but that is probably unlikely.

Douglas was buried in Melrose Abby under what is called the "Douglas Window". Besides the loss of their leader, the Scots only lost 100 men in the fight, compared to the English's loss of over 1,800. The English liked to call it, the "Battle of Chevy Chase", the only high point of the battle of them being when they chased the Scots to the Cheviot Hills. The English were never able to take defeat easily!

There's a song about the battle that the Corries sing called Lammas Tide. It is taken from an old ballad about the battle. Enjoy that!

I'll be back next monday for my special Wallace Day post and I hope you will join me then!

Slainte, Hazel

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