The Second Battle of Alnwick – 1174

In my last blog we looked at the First Battle of Alnwick in 1093 (  It was more of a skirmish than a battle, but it did result in the death of the King of Scotland, Malcolm III and his eldest son and heir Edward.  In this blog we consider the Second Battle of Alnwick.  The same place, another King of Scotland (this time Malcolm III’s great grandson William the Lion), another Scottish defeat, but luckily for William not a cross erected to mark where he died.

It is perhaps helpful to speedily fill in the gaps between events and give broader context to the story.

On the death of Malcolm III and his eldest son a succession crisis ensued in Scotland.  Remember, even after the Scottish victory at Carham, at this time the border between England and Scotland was not yet fixed.  Malcolm III had four younger sons: Duncan, Edgar, Alexander and David, however his brother, Donald, saw his chance to seize the throne.  To be fair to him, primogeniture (the right of succession passing to the eldest son) was not a fixed rule in Scotland, but it was calculated and opportunistic nonetheless. Donald Bane, as he was known, meaning “the fair” was the historical figure behind Shakespeare’s Donalblain in Macbeth.  A year later, the eldest of Malcolm’s boys, Duncan, almost ousted Donald but he was killed in a skirmish.  Donald resumed his reign and ruled for another three years, after which he was succeeded by Malcolm III’s younger sons in sequence: Edgar – 1097 to 1107, Alexander I – 1107 to 1124 and David I – 1124 to 1153.  

For brevity, we’ll skip forward to the youngest son, David.  Before he was crowned, he had become a powerful earl by marriage to Maud, the Countess of Huntingdon, holding lands in England and Scotland as well as being recognised as “Prince of the Cumbrians”.  After a shaky start, David fought aggressively to assert his authority and to expand his Kingdom.  With his eldest son and heir, Henry, he succeeded in pacifying their Kingdom and by the 1030’s they were looking south to England with designs on expanding their territory.

Map showing the extent of the Principality of the Cumbrians

By this time England was on the brink of civil war following the sinking of the White Ship in 1120.  The White Ship sank in the English Channel, not far from the port of Barfleur in Normandy.  It took down with it the only legitimate son and heir of King Henry I of England causing a succession crisis.  The ensuing period of strife following the kings death in 1135, called the Anarchy, pitted Henry I’s daughter Matilda against his nephew Stephen of Blois for the throne of England.  With the help of his brother, the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen had himself crowned king and immediately had to deal with the threat of invasion from the Scots in the north.

Sensing weakness, David I began raiding northern England.  By the end of January 1036 David I’s forces occupied the castles of Carlisle, Wark, Alnwick, Norham and Newcastle.  By February he was at Durham, where he was met by an English army commanded by King Stephen.  Avoiding a pitched battle, the two Kings agreed a treaty whereby David would retain Carlisle, be re-granted the earldom of Huntingdon (which had been confiscated from him) and given the promise that, should the defunct earldom of Northumberland be reinstated, it would go to his son, Henry.  On Stephen’s side, he would take back the other castles which had been taken and received the solemn oath that David would do homage to him for Carlisle and the other English lands David controlled.   

The peace did not last long and in 1138 David lead another invasion into the northern England and the lands controlled by the Bishop of Durham. 

An English army was mustered to meet the Scots and this time a pitched battle was fought in August 1138 at Cowdon Moor near Northallerton in North Yokshire.  The battle is known as the Battle of the Standard, named after the consecrated banners of the minsters of Durham, York, Beverly and Ripon which were flown by the English army.  The battle resulted in a clear defeat of the Scottish army.  However, David regrouped in Carlisle and went on to occupy Cumberland and much of Northumberland.  Peace talks followed at Durham in which David was recognised as ruler of Carlisle and all of Cumberland.  It also resulted in the confirmation of Henry (David’s son) as Earl of Northumberland.  Although defeated in battle this treaty effectively handed David all he wanted to achieve from his invasion.

In 1139 Henry, now Earl of Northumberland, married Ada de Warenne (daughter of the Earl of Surrey) and for a time was present at the English court of King Stephen.  Henry and Ada had seven children, two of whom, Malcolm and William, would go on to become Kings of Scotland.  For the purpose of our story, it is William who we are interested in.

William was born in 1142 at the height of his grandfather, David I’s, reign.  Tragedy struck when William was ten and his father Henry died unexpectedly, although he may have been ill for some time.  William’s elder brother became heir apparent and a year later, following the death of David I in May 1153 he was crowned Malcolm IV.  Malcolm gave the Earldom of Northumberland, which he had inherited from their father, to William.

David I (left) with the young Malcolm IV (right) depicted on the charter to Kelso Abbey.

In 1154, King Stephen of England died.  He was succeeded by Henry II, the son of Matilda and first Plantagenet ruler of England, which bought an end to the civil war.  Malcolm IV delayed paying homage to the new king but eventually did so in 1157.  Perhaps as an assertion of the new Kings strength or as retaliation for being snubbed, Henry II refused to allow Malcolm to keep Cumbria or William to remain Earl of Northumberland (remember the Scottish kings had to pay homage to the English sovereign for Cumberland and Northumberland).  It can be assumed that this did not sit too well with the brothers.  Unfortunately, Malcolm IV was chronically ill and did not live long enough to contest this loss of territory.  He died in December 1165 at the age of 24.

Seal of William the Lion

William, who was next in line to the throne, was crowned on Christmas Eve 1165.  He initially spent some time at the court of Henry II, perhaps looking to win him over and reverse the decision on his territorial claims in the north.  It did not work and in 1168, behind Henry II’s back, William secured the first treaty between Scotland and England’s enemy France, a prelude to the Auld Alliance.  This led directly to the revolt against Henry II in 1173 – 74.  Hostilities began in April 1173, when the Counts of Flanders and Boulogne invaded Normandy.  In England, the Earls of Leicester and Norfolk joined in, raising an army of Flemish mercenaries and invaded England.  William’s part was to launch a fresh invasion from Scotland in northern England.  He must have seen this as his opportunity to take back Cumberland and Northumberland by force.

He first moved on Newcastle, but, finding the defences too strong moved to lay siege to Prudhoe Castle, to the west along the Tyne valley.  Similarly, he found Prudhoe to be too strong and he made his way back to Scotland, maybe to rethink his strategy.  He would return the following year to try again.

The following is taken from my trusty, 1939 copy, of Borderland Castles and Peles by Robert Hugill.  It gives us a lively summary of the history of Prudhoe Castle and the events following William’s invasion.    

Prudhoe Castle – “Old England: A Pictorial Museum” (1845) by C. Knight

The name, Prudhoe, meaning the high or proudly swelling mound, conveys an apt impression of this famous stronghold of the Umfravilles.  Though ruined, it still looks down from its eminence a hundred and fifty feet above the broad River Tyne.

The first Umfraville in England was Robin with the Beard, William the Conqueror’s right-hand knight who, for his stout services, was given the barony of Redesdale to defend, with the aid of the very sword worn by William himself, against wolves and the King’s enemies.  Later the huge barony of Prudhoe was added to the Umfraville possessions, and in Henry I’s reign (1100 – 1135) the castle was begun.  Odinel de Umfraville, the builder, had excited the hatred of William the Lion of Scotland by refusing to acknowledge his hereditary claims to the county of Northumberland; and when that monarch invaded England, one of his express objectives was Prudhoe.  “May I be loathed and disgraced, cursed and excommunicated by a priest” he swore, “if I grant any terms or respite to Odinel’s castle!”.  The siege failed (in 1173), but William came back the next year, and Odinel, fearing defeat this time, rode himself day and night on his good bay mare to get reinforcements from the Archbishop of York.  Though the Scots in their anger spoiled the gardens and cornfields outside the castle walls, and barked the orchard apple trees, the besieged did not suffer “a silver pennyworth of harm.”

Following the lack of success at Prudhoe, William divided his forces.  The Earl of Fife went on to attack Warkworth, burning the church of St. Lawrence killing a large number of civilians who had sought refuge inside.  William moved north to besiege Alnwick Castle.  He established a camp nearby but unwisely allowed his army to spread out to pillage and plunder the countryside. 

Alnwick Castle – The Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend

On the night of 11th July, Ranulf de Glanville, who was Sheriff of Westmorland, rode north from Newcastle with around four hundred mounted English knights.  The disgruntled Odinel de Umfraville joined them, understandable angry about the state his garden!  Although the small band got themselves lost in fog they managed to reach Alnwick by dawn.  They found the camp almost empty with William protected by only around sixty men of his personal guard.  The English knights charged.  Caught entirely by surprise the Scots did not put up much of a fight.  Williams horse was killed beneath him and he was captured.  Hugil states that…

By an ironical turn of fate, one of the knights who assisted in his capture was Odinel de Umfraville.  How the Lion must have roared!

William was bought back to Newcastle as a captive and his army, leaderless, made their way back to Scotland.  William was eventually moved to Falais in Normandy and an English army marched north to occupy the castles of Roxburgh, Berwick, Jedburgh, Edinburgh and Sterling. 

To obtain his freedom, Henry II forced William to sign the Treaty of Falais, where he swore an oath of allegiance to the English king and agreed to pay for English troops to garrison the Scottish castles which had been taken.  To add insult to injury, William was attacked by an angry mob in Newcastle as he made his way back home.  By this time there was no love lost for Scottish invaders in the North.  The Treaty of Falais lasted for fifteen years, until the new English king, Richard I (the Lionheart), sold the castles back to William to help fund his Crusade to the Holy Land.

William’s part in the Rebellion of 1173 – 74 would be the last time a Scottish king would attempt to regain the lost territories of Cumberland and Northumberland.  Under the Treaty of York in 1237 William’s son, Alexander II, agreed to abandon their claims and the border between England and Scotland was fixed to its current position.

Finally, in case you were wondering, William the Lion, as he would be known to history (he did not go by this epithet during his lifetime), was so called not for his martial prowess but for the fact that his banner was a red lion on a yellow background.  It would be this banner that would go on to be adopted as the Royal Banner of Scotland, still used today.   

Royal Banner of Scotland

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