The Battle of the Standard
by Ellen Castelow
Also known as the Battle of Northallerton, the Battle of the Standard was one of two major battles fought in the civil war between the English King Stephen and Empress Matilda (pictured towards the bottom of this article) in the troubled times known as The Anarchy.
The Scottish King David I had crossed the border into England at the head of an army some 16,000 strong, in order to support his niece Matilda’s claim to the throne against Stephen.
With Stephen busy fighting rebel barons in the south of the country, it was left to a mainly locally raised force to repel the invading Scots. Thanks in a large part to Archbishop Thurstan of York, who preached that to withstand the Scots was to do God’s work, an English army of around 10,000 men was recruited.
At the head of the English army was a mast mounted on a cart proudly flying the consecrated banners of the minsters of Beverley, Ripon and York, earning the battle its name.
The English took up their position across the Great North Road a few miles north of Northallerton, blocking the Scots advance southwards. Attempting a surprise early morning attack, King David found the English well prepared and waiting for him.
The battle began with a charge by the unarmoured ‘wild’ Galwegian spearmen, who fell in large numbers under the hail of English arrows. The Galwegians finally fled when two of their leaders were killed.
Although greatly outnumbered, the English resisted several sustained Scottish attacks. Fierce hand to hand fighting continued for around three hours until the Scottish lines broke and retreat turned into a rout. The victorious Yorkshiremen however, failed to take full advantage of the rout allowing many of the Scots to escape and regroup at Carlisle.
Despite the result of the battle, as the English did not pursue their advantage the Scots would control northern England for the next 20 years.
Date: 22nd August, 1138
War: The Anarchy
Location: Near Northallerton, Yorkshire
Belligerents: Kingdom of England, Kingdom of Scotland
Victors: Kingdom of England
Numbers: England around 10,000, Scotland around 16,000
Casualties: England negligible, Scotland around 10,000
Commanders: William of Aumale (England), King David I (Scotland)