Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Heavenfield Battlefield AD 635

The early 7th century had seen a major war raging between the Northumbrians under King Edwin and the Welsh and their Mercian allies under King Cadwallon of Gwynedd. With Edwin's demise at the Battle of Hatfield, it seemed that the Saxons would be completely expunged from north of the Humber. However, the Christian King Oswald returned from exile to take up the Northumbrian cause and the two enemies met in the fields adjoining the mid-section of the old Roman wall.
It appears that the Welsh army advanced northward from York along the line of Dere Street. Oswald, who may have been accompanied by a force of Scots, took up a defensive position beside the Roman Wall, about four miles north of Hexham. It was claimed that the night before the battle, Oswald had a vision of Saint Columba, in which the saint predicted that Oswald would be victorious. Oswald placed his army so that it was facing east, with its flanks protected by Brady’s Crag to the north and the Wall to the south. According to Bede, Oswald raised a cross, and prayed for victory alongside his troops.
It is believed that the Welsh had superior numbers, but they were forced to attack from the east along a narrow front, where they were hemmed in and unable to outflank the Northumbrian forces. It is not known how long the battle lasted or what the losses were, but the Welsh line finally broke. This began a headlong flight southwards by the Welsh, pursued by the vengeful Northumbrians. Many Welsh soldiers were cut down as they ran, and according to Bede, Cadwallon was caught and killed at a place called the ‘Brook of Denis’, now identified as the Rowley Burn. The battle was a decisive victory for Oswald, and it was likely that the Welsh losses must have been substantial. Afterwards, the site was known as Heavenfield (Hefenfelth).
A chapel was raised to commemorate this great Saxon triumph and dedicated to King Oswald and marks the spot where Oswald was believed to have raised his battle standard. Subsequent buildings were replaced by the present structure in 1737. And the little chapel certainly makes the site easy to identify. A modern cross stands in the adjoining lay-by and explanatory boards tell the story of the conflict.

Battlefield sign in the layby
Infomation board in the layby.

The wooden cross was erected by a group of local people in the 1930's to commemorate the battle.


The present church of St. Oswalds was rebuilt in 1717 leaving no trace of the original church which had been built on the site where Oswald erected his cross.


Site of the battle as views from the layby

Site of the battle from the layby

1 comment:

  1. We'll have to refight this, should be easy to replicate and we already have the armies.

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