It was one of the most significant clashes of the Anglo-Scottish Wars. Now a memorial has been unveiled to the Battle of Byland to mark its 700th anniversary.
Fought at Sutton Bank in North Yorkshire, near Harrogate, on 14 October 1322, Byland saw Scottish forces led by King Robert the Bruce inflict on the English a defeat as serious as that of Bannockburn eight years previously.
To mark the anniversary, a memorial was unveiled last month by Adam Bruce, a direct descendant of the Scottish king. A programme of events – including re-enactments, guided walks, and lectures – organised by the North Yorkshire Moors Association, also took place.
The battle occurred during the First War of Scottish Independence. English troops, consisting of some 8,000-10,000 men and led by King Edward II, were forced to retreat from Scotland having failed to defeat Robert the Bruce in battle. Wasted by famine and disease, the king and his men retreated to Rievaulx Abbey near Helmsley, where they established a base.
King Robert seized the opportunity to counter-attack, leading his army of roughly 7,000 men on a lightning march to Northallerton, just 15 miles from Edward at Rievaulx. The speed of the Scottish advance caught Edward off guard – he was reportedly still eating his breakfast when he heard of the enemy’s proximity.
In response, the English king ordered his field commander, John of Brittany, the Earl of Richmond, to post an advance guard along the Hambleton Hills escarpment, particularly at Sutton Bank, where the medieval track climbed a narrow pass.
By preventing the Scots from gaining the high ground, King Edward hoped to buy himself valuable time in which to organise reinforcements.
But in a blizzard of fierce hand-to-hand fighting, the Scottish army forced their way up the steep hillside.
After several hours, English resistance was broken, and Edward and his army were forced into a further retreat. The Earl was captured by the Scots along with much treasure, according to the Battlefields Trust.
Although the landscape has changed significantly in the ensuing 700 years, particularly with the construction of the A170, the site is still accessible, with stunning views of the steep, rocky surroundings.
The new stone memorial and interpretation panel describing the battle can be visited at a site near the top of the escarpment, not far from the Sutton Bank National Park Centre.
Speaking shortly before its unveiling, Chris Pye, manager at the site’s visitor centre, said, ‘The 700th anniversary of this historic battle provides a perfect opportunity for us to raise its profile among the general public… all with the backdrop of the finest view in England.’