Major Battles of the Middle Ages

There were many battles fought in the Middle Ages some really significant some less so. Here we take a look at some of the more major battles fought in Medieval times beginning with the Battle of Hastings in 1066 through to the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

The Battle of Hastings 1066

William the Conqueror

If you ask anyone when the Battle of Hastings was fought they will almost certainly know the date of 1066 as this battle was one of the major conflicts of the Middle Ages. The battle was fought approximately seven miles from Hastings close to Battle Castle and Senlac Hill but was named the Battle of Hastings for convenience sake as the Battle of Battle sounds weird! William of Normandy (the conqueror) wanted the English throne for himself as he stated that he was the rightful heir not Harold who had been named heir to Edward before he died. William set sail from Normandy to England with full support from the pope to invade England and take the throne.

The battle for the road around Hastings was crucial as this was the main road leading to London at that time. Harold marched his men from York to Sussex when he heard of Williams's invasion plans. Harold chose to set up on Senlac Hill and had a little success repelling the Norman troops. In fact the Normans turned and fled, while Harold's men followed them which was the biggest mistake they could have made. William turned his men around and surrounded Harold's men. This scenario was repeated a number of times until a Norman archer fired upon Harold hitting him in the eye. Harold was then attacked and killed leaving his troops with no leader therefore they capitulated. From this day in 1066 the Normans effectively ruled England.

Battle of Lincoln Fair 1217

Lincoln Castle

This battle was the second battle of Lincoln and took place on May 20th 1217 at Lincoln Castle between the army of future King Louis VIII of France and Henry III of England. Louis had invaded London and proclaimed himself king. Some English barons supported him as they hated King John, while during this war King John died and was succeeded by his son Henry III who the barons felt they could support.

William Marshall the 1st Earl of Pembroke was a brilliant swordsman and knight who served as regent to Henry. Marshall had the support of many knights due to his awesome reputation and he was able to gather a huge army at Newark. Marshall headed to London with his army where he attacked Louis and ended his siege of Lincoln. Lincoln was an important location as the roads surrounding it were important trade routes. Louis took Lincoln but his forces could not take the castle where troops loyal to Henry were defending it.

The French had split their men into two groups one to assault the caste the other to attack the incoming troops. Marshall's army entered the castle siting men with crossbows on the ramparts to rain down their arrows on the French below. The Count of Perche who was leading the French army was killed in the onslaught resulting in the French turning tail and running. Following victory Marshall's men pillaged Lincoln stating that the inhabitants had supported the French. Hence why the battle became known as Lincoln Fair, meaning the army ransacked stole from and killed the townsfolk in the battle aftermath.

Battle of Lewes 1264

Lewes Castle

The Battle of Lewes was fought in Lewes Sussex on May 14th 1264 between the troops of Simon de Montfort the 6th Earl of Leicester and Henry III. Henry was reneging on constitutional reform he had agreed with the barons and looked to Louis IX of France to support him. Henry had agreed to meet the baron's representative Simon de Montfort three times a year to discuss governmental matters but resisted keeping to the agreement. Louis served as arbitrator coming down on Henry's side enraging De Monforte and the nobles into open rebellion against the king.

Montfort gathered his troops on Offham Hill where initially the battle did not begin well for them as Prince Edwards's cavalry were pushed back. Edward's cavalry didn't stop there they pursued the rebels following them so far away from the initial battle that they didn't manage to get back to the field until the fight was over! Edward's troops had left the remainder of his army to fight alone and they were overwhelmed in number and skill with Montfort defeating the troops as they tried to flee across the River Ouse. Edward returned to find the fight over, Henry prisoner and Lewes occupied by the rebels.

Simon de Montfort was a great leader and was a man who was credited with being more concerned about fair government for the people, rather than out for himself, as so many leaders tend to be. He introduced many reforms and began the process of parliamentary government by representation rather than the monarch having divine rule. Edward was to wreak revenge on Montfort eventually at the Battle of Evesham which we shall discuss next.

The Battle of Evesham 1265

Evesham Abbey

The year after the Battle of Lewes Edward I escaped from his captors to take his revenge on Simon de Montfort and the noble rebels. Montfort marched north to meet his son at Kenilworth and engage Edward with his troops. This was however not to be as Edward arrived first to fight the junior Montfort defeating him and surprising Montfort senior at Evesham. Realising they were in trouble Montfort's Welsh allies deserted him leaving him greatly outnumbered by four to one.

Montfort ordered his men to charge up the hill but they really stood no chance against the might of Edwards's army and the surge up the hill soon turned into an all-out massacre. Troops including the Welsh who had decided to desert Montfort were killed or drowned in the river. Montfort suffered a humiliating and violent fate. Edward's army carved up Montfort's body sending various parts to different areas of the kingdom. His torso is buried at Evesham Abbey which is now a popular pilgrimage site.

The Battle of Evesham was the final battle in the Baron's War. Henry III was reinstated, while Simon de Montfort's remaining family fled the country. Edward at the Battle of Lewes, the year before the Battle of Evesham, had shown his inexperience and naivety but subsequently learned from his mistakes and became an admired military leader and King.

The Battle of Sterling Bridge 1297

Stirling Bridge

The Battle of Stirling Bridge was a battle of the first war of Scottish independence and took place on the 11th September 1297 between Edward I army under the 6th Earl of Surrey and William Wallace's Scottish army. Edwards's army planned to cross the River Forth at Stirling over the narrow wooden bridge located there. The English army consisting of bowmen and foot soldiers made camp south of the river. The Scots under Wallace camped at Abbey Craig a little north of Stirling where could see the English from the top of the hill.

The English set off across Sterling Bridge the very next morning to engage the Scots as John De Warrene the 6th earl had ordered but the army was ordered back as the earl had slept late in Stirling Castle that morning. Warrene assumed that Wallace would surrender and sent two Dominican monks ahead in order to negotiate surrender. Wallace was astounded and sent a scathing message back to Warrene. "Tell your commander that we are not here to make peace but to do battle, defend ourselves and liberate our kingdom. Let them come on, and we shall prove this in their very beards."

Warrene was advised that if they crossed the bridge they would be sitting ducks but he refused to heed the warning and the army led by Hugh de Cressingham proceeded to cross the bridge under the ever watchful eyes of Wallace. The Scots blocked the escape route back over the bridge and attacked the English who were surrounded and struggling in the muddy marshes. The result was carnage with most of the English slaughtered where they stood. Warrene escaped back over the bridge and set it alight so the scots could not follow him. Cressingham's fate was far less agreeable as he was flayed alive and Wallace made a belt with some of his skin!

The Battle of Falkirk 1298

William Wallace

The Battle of Falkirk took place on July 22nd 1298 one year after the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Once again the English army under Edward I was to engage the Scots under William Wallace. It was inevitable that Edward would not take the defeat of his army the year before in his stride, while the English defeat served only to unite them under Edwards's leadership. They marched north to Scotland led by Edward with a formidable army along with the new English longbow that they would use to devastating effect.

Longbow Archers

Finding food and drink on the way north was not easy as Wallace had burned the land leaving little in the way of crops etcetera but when Edward was informed that Wallace and his army were camped near Falkirk he headed there with speed. This time around the Scots were greatly outnumbered as Edward had fifteen hundred knights along with twelve thousand foot soldiers. Wallace along with Sir John Stewart of Jedburgh and Sir John Comyn prepared for battle.

Sir John was killed by the English Knights, while Edward ordered his archers to shoot at the beleaguered Scots. The new longbow pierced through chainmail and padded armour causing mass casualties for the Scots then the knights finished off what was left. Wallace escaped through the woods as his army was massacred and resigned as Guardian soon after the defeat. Notable losses included the Templar Brian Le Jay who was pulled from his horse and killed by the Scots and the Scot Sir John de Graham who was a close friend of Wallace.

The Battle of Banockburn 1314

Robert the Bruce

The Battle of Banockburn was fought over two days on the 23rd and 24th June 1314 between Robert the Bruce of Scotland and King Edward II of England. Robert the Bruce wanted Scotland to be independent and was prepared to fight for it. The two armies met at Banockburn near Stirling, while this battle was to be the fight that set the pace for Scottish independence in motion.

The Scottish army was outnumbered three to one with Edward hoping to follow in his father Edward I footsteps and destroy the Scots as he had done at Falkirk sixteen years previously. Bruce on the other hand also had nothing to lose as members of his family were either dead or being held hostage in England. Both his brothers had been hung drawn and quartered and he had lost many friends. The Scots new the ground at Bannockburn well and used it to their advantage.

The first day of battle saw Bruce armed with a battle axe repel the attack of Henry de Bohun who charged at Bruce aiming his lance at the Scottish king. Bruce however was not to be thwarted and raised himself up enough to crash his battle axe firmly down on his attackers head smashing his skull.

Battle day two was the Feast of St John the Baptist and with low morale the English crossed the river east of New Park onto boggy ground. The Scots arrows rained down on the English then the Scots moved forward slaying Edwards's army as they went. The English panicked and tried to get back over the river suffering heavy losses as they did so. This was indeed a bloody battle! Edward fled to Dunbar Castle and sailed back to England, while Bruce's victory meant he could negotiate the release of his family who were being held hostage in England.

The Battle of Stalling Down 1405

Ruthin Castle

The Battle of Stalling Down was fought between the English under Henry IV and the French and Welsh under Owain Glyndwr. Descended from Llewelyn the Last Owain fought with the English for many years. His feeling of Welshness was to come to the fore in 1400 following a dispute over land that he had with an English neighbour. This dispute resulted in Owain leading an uprising against the English.

Owain had just been declared Prince of Wales and on that very day along with his troops he attacked Ruthin Castle along with other fortresses owned by the English. Owain had a lot of support from the Welsh as well as a number of English Lords disgruntled with Henry, while his methods were somewhat violent and not in keeping with the general rules of battle. Owain established a Welsh parliament albeit briefly following the battle.

King Henry IV

Henry IV was not however to give up on regaining power and he led a counter attack of troops into Glamorgan in 1405. The bloody battle ensued in a field named Stalling Down near Cowbridge with both sides slaughtering one another. However the Welsh came out on top and Henry along with his troops had to withdraw in order to survive giving Owain a resounding victory. This victory did not last for long as Henry pushed Owain and his troops back to Harlech Castle which eventually fell, while Owain's wife and children were taken prisoner and transported to London where they remained for the rest of their lives. Owain's fate is unsure as he remained a fugitive for many years.

The Battle of Tewkesbury 1471

Tewkesbury Abbey

A Yorkist army under the leadership of Edward IV defeated the Lancastrian army led by the Duke of Somerset on behalf of Queen Margaret. Queen Margaret and Prince Edward had been in exile in France, while upon their return the Lancastrians gathered together a force that they felt was large enough to defeat the Yorkist army.  Meanwhile in Windsor King Edward on hearing of the Lancastrian plans made his way to the West Country in order to intercept the queen and Somerset before they entered Wales.

The Lancastrians gathered more arms and supplies at Bristol then headed north to cross the River Severn at Tewkesbury. The Yorkist army led by Edward followed and the two armies engaged at Tewkesbury where the Lancastrians had stopped as they were literally exhausted from their long and speedy walk. Somerset deployed his army in readiness for Edward's army and the two sides faced one another at a parallel angle with Somerset's men outnumbering Edwards's men by two thousand fighters.

The Battle of Tewkesbury led to fourteen years of peace being a decisive battle of the second phase of the War of the Roses. Edwards's army pushed the Lancastrians back into the town and the river where many died or drowned trying to escape the onslaught. Prince Edward was killed and Somerset along with his allies were tried and executed after being arrested at Tewkesbury Abbey. Queen Margaret was caught and remained a prisoner until her ransom was paid by the French.

The Battle of Bosworth Field 1485

Battle of Bosworth Field

The Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 was the last major battle of the War of the Roses. King Richard III fought against Henry Tudor, who up to this point had been exiled, in one of the most famous medieval battles that was to become known throughout history as the battle where the last English king led his troops into the fray and was killed. Henry made claim to the English throne on behalf of the Lancastrian cause, while Richard represented the Yorkists.

Richard III

In reality Richard should have had enough manpower to defeat Henry's army (he had fifteen thousand men to Henrys five thousand) but unfortunately some of his troops who were under the leadership of Northumberland refused to fight. The Stanley's were also a factor in Richards defeat too. Stanley's men were supposed to be on Richards's side but the Stanley's had secretly pledged their allegiance to Henry meaning Richards fate was more or less sealed. Richard was a brave king and soldier fighting at the heart of the battle where he ultimately died. He was offered a horse in order to flee the battle but refused.  Henry Tudor was crowned Henry VII of England and so began the most famous dynasty in English history which was The Tudors.

Henry VII

Henry Tudor may have won the battle but it was the men who fought on his behalf that won the day as Henry remained up on the hillside viewing the scene of the battle well out of reach. Henry's vanguard forces were led by Lancastrian General John de Vere who led his men around the marsh that divided the two armies. He attacked Richard's vanguard led by the elderly Duke of Norfolk turning the battle in Henry's favour. It was only when troops thought Henry may be in danger that the Stanley's took part in the battle.

Richard III body was discovered buried under a car park in Leicester in 2012. His remains have been examined meaning we know definitively how Richard died. Richard suffered a terrible fate receiving two huge blows to the head and other injuries from a sustained attack by more than two people. The head injuries were inflicted by a halberd, while further injuries are thought to have probably been inflicted after death.

The Battle of Flodden 1513

King James IV

The Battle of Flodden Field took place on September 9th 1513 close to the village of Branxton in Northumberland.  Flodden saw Henry VIII's army fight the army of James IV of Scotland in what was to be remembered as one of the bloodiest medieval battles of that time. Thousands of men perished with around four thousand English fighters and ten thousand Scottish men losing their lives in a blood bath. Even though James was married to Henry's sister it did not prevent the battle taking place. The Battle of Flodden was the last major battle where the longbow played a part as artillery had taken over by the time of Flodden.

James was confident that he would secure a victory as his army greatly outnumbered the English army. In fact the Scots had around forty thousand men, while the English had a mere twenty seven thousand by comparison. The only problem for James was that his army though huge in number was inexperienced compared with the English army and consequently the English had the upper hand even when faced with so many of the enemy.

Outmanoeuvring the Scots the English led by the Earl of Surrey a Bosworth Field veteran, circled around the Scots position, while James who after all was a great and noble king led from the front and charged into the middle of the ensuing battle. He was cut down only feet away from the Earl of Surrey who was leading the English assault as Henry VIII was fighting in France. King James was not the only casualty among the elite as his own son Alexander also perished as did many nobles and brave countrymen too. The Scots were to be no threat to the English for the next thirty years following the Battle of Flodden.