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

Battle of Hexham 15th August 1464

Hexham was the last battle of the first chapter of the Wars of the Roses. Having been defeated at the decisive Battle of Towton, King Henry VI and his Queen fled north to Scotland. However, finding the Scots in negotiation with their enemies, the King moved into Northumberland where he still held several castles and Queen Margaret sailed for France to raise troops and money.
Lord Montague soon marched out from Newcastle to challenge Henry, but the cowardly monarch fled to Lancashire, leaving his battered army to try and stop the Yorkists reaching Hexham. They clashed along the Devil's Water, south-east of the town, but the Lancastrians were heavily outnumbered and the ensuing battle was little more than an armed skirmish.
The Lancastrian camp was near Linnels Bridge over the Devils water found slightly to the south of Hexham. The Yorkists crossed onto the south bank of the Tyne on the night of 12th/13th of May and were by the morning of the 14th in a position to attack Hexham. Presumably the Yorkist advance was at speed, as despite warnings by their own scouts the Lancastrians had little time to prepare for battle.
It is thought Somerset rushed his forces to a site near Linnels Bridge and deployed his troops in 3 detachments in a meadow near the Devils Water, here he hoped he could engage the Yorkist army before it moved past him into Hexham. No sooner had the Lancastrians taken their positions than the Yorkists charged down from their positions on higher ground. Upon seeing the Yorkist advance the right detachment of the Lancastrian army, commanded by Lord Roos, turned and fled across the Devil's Water and into Hexham, before a single blow had been struck. The remnants of Somerset's force were in a hopeless situation, hemmed in and unable to manoeuvre; the Yorkist troops charged through the one opening at the east end of Linnel's Meadow and engaged the bewildered Lancastrian soldiers.
Lancastrian morale collapsed, and after some token resistance the remains of Somerset's army was pushed into the Devil's Water by the Yorkist infantry. A chaotic rout followed, men either drowned in the river or were crushed as they tried to climb the steep banks of the Devil's Water in the retreat towards Hexham. Most, however were trapped in West Dipton Wood on the north bank of the river and were forced to surrender when the Yorkists approached.There is some controversy over which side of the road the Battle of Hexham took place, but it was certainly in the fields around the River, possibly on the slopes of Swallowship Hill. Legend says that Queen Margaret returned to England just too late to rally her troops and found herself and her young son lost in the adjoining forest near Dilston. She escaped being murdered by bandits and lived for some days in a cavern still known as the 'Queen's Cave'.

A meadow like one that may have been used during the battle near linnels bridge.

Plaque of the bridge over the Devils water nothing to do with the battle but i thought i would post it up out of interest.

The Devils Water taken from the Linnels bridge where many troops were suppose to of drowned while fleeing the battle. The river isnt that deep but the sides are steep.

View of the Devils Water taken from the other side of the Linnels bridge.

Views of Swallowship Hill another possible location of the battle. maybe the battleline of the Yorkest army.

Fields leading towards Swallowship Hill looking down towards Linnels Bridge

Fields around Swallowship Hill.

Fields around Swallowship Hill.