The Battle Of Homildon Hill

By Geoff Towers
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Northumbeland Thursday 14th September 1402

The Sun, cool red in the early dawn. Shafts of Sunlight picking out the tops of the long low hills of the Teviot. No light was to be seen in the inky black shadows of the valley below, where Riccarton lay.
                                                  Standing still, like statues, the Scottish host waited hoar breathed, as now the yellow orb cleared the Cheviot hills to the East and cast its gold upon the land......
                                                Archibold of Archibold, 4 th Earl of Douglas, spurred his horse, the Host , no sound except the jangle of harness and dull thud of hoof on moss, moved behind him and fell, like  a bloody wraith upon an unsuspecting England.

Surrounded by his companions and fellow knights the great Douglas and his army 10,000 strong bit deep into English bone on that hot September morn, destroying settlements, farmsteads, homes, enslaving the choicest young and slaughtering  all else.  Highly prized cattle and horses taken and added to the plunder of those heady weeks, whilst to the East, separated by the hills of Cheviot, Hotspur waited?
Homildon Map
 Durham, burnt and plundered. Now to return. Up past Alnwick, where was Hotspur? A last grasp at riches in the ashes of Newcastle, fast march to  Coldstream, across the Tweed and home, a good plan, a very good plan, but where was Hotspur?

Hotspur was at Homildon Hill.

It was the morning of September the 14th 1402, Douglas was at Wooler two miles to the South of Homildon. Perceiving that an English army at least of equal strength, blocked his way home. It was either leave the great plunder, run, or fight...He chose to fight.

Hotspur had moved his army to the plain of Red Riggs, a better position athwart the road to Coldstream, to block the Scots. Douglas, to give himself every advantage, moved his army to the lower slopes of Homildon, leaving his plunder and useless mouths at Wooler.

At noon, the rival armies were set before each other. The feelings of one, confident, seasoned, sated  with English blood and welcomed more, the other? Cold, grim and full of hate, determined that no Scot would leave the day as he came into it!

The Earl of March, a renegade Scot, grasped the bridle of Sir Harry Hotspur, to reign him in from a great charge of the English host at the Scots.... "At much expense Sire!" "You have Welsh and English archers in your employ" "I say use them and put them ( the Scots ) to such discomfort"

What followed, was not "discomfort" as the Earl of March would have it, but a massacre on a scale not seen since Crecy sixty years before. The archers, supremely skilled, trained since boyhood to draw the great warbow, killed the Scots spearmen where they stood. Moving slowly forward, decreasing the range with every step and shooting steadily at six arrows per minute, brought down on the heads of the Scots a roaring , fluttering rain of death that pierced even the stoutest heart and shield. Nothing could deny those astonishing bowmen. The Douglas, an eye lost from it socket, five wounds on his body, could find no answer, he did nothing. Men dead and dying all around him, the arrows splitting spears and armour as if they were but corn stalks and hide, the sheer quantity  made them bristle like hedgehogs.
                                                   Sir John Swinton, a brave border knight exclaimed; Why stand we here to be shot like deer and marked down by the enemy? Where is our wanted courage? Are we to be still and have our hands nailed to our lances? Follow me and let us at least sell our lives as dearly as we can!
This brave man at the head of 100 of his followers charged the archers, but were shot down to a man.
Seeing this desperate effort come bloodily to nought the Scots main body began to move toward their tormentors. Calmly the archers  moved back, still shooting steadily, dropping the Scots by the hundred At last even the bravest of men has a breaking point and seeing the English battle array untouched and ready to pounce like a lion to it's prey. The Scots broke.
Yes it was every man for himself, but hardly any made it. The Tweed at Coldstream was full of bodies of horses and men. The battlefield littered with most of the army that had crossed  the Teviotdale. Some were prisoner and if 'ordinary' sold to bondage, if 'knightly',like the Douglas, ransomed.

This battle took place a mere 13 years before that other great victory gained by the archers under Henry the 5th at Agincourt. But that victory was won with the equal participation of the men at arms. In the battle of Homildon hill the English main body were mere spectators to the Scottish rout, by those incomparable bowmen, perhaps the greatest archers the world has ever seen.......In Under One hour destroyed a Seasoned Scots army of 10,000 men.

                                                                  And the number of archers?

                                                                                       800 !

Bendor Stone Homildon

As a postscipt to this article. Steve and I did a battlefield investigation in 2003 on Homildon hill.

Armed with two war bows of 120 and 130 lb draweights. A box of sheaf arrows 32" long  1/2" dia,   7 3/4" long fletches, triangular, zero to 5/8" high at the nock end. We shot them from Harehope hill to Homildon hill, both of which are  connected to each other by a saddle. Most battle accounts state that the archers shot from Harehope hill over to Homildon. Apart from the fact that any force placing itself on Harehope is dangerously exposed,  separated from the main force down,  (a mile away) on the Red Riggs.  And the damming fact that for all the archers prowess, they could not shoot the war bow over 1/2 a mile. Nor could we!
The Archers shot on the Red Riggs up to the slopes of Homildon,protected by the main body of the English men at arms and cavalry ( if they were not dismounted ), as they have always been.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Geoff Towers.


Steve and Andy

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