This week Local and Family History’s Josh Flint will take a special look at the Battle of Myton, seven hundred years after the battle was fought. The Battle of Myton was fought during the Scottish War of Independence after a Scottish Army, ordered by Robert the Bruce, raided and ransacked northern England. At Myton the grizzled Scottish army defeated the inexperienced English army led by the Archbishop of York. This article will use the poem ‘The Battle of Mitton’ from The Bruce: An Epic Poem, available at Leeds Central Library, to examine what happened at the Battle of Myton. To discover more about Yorkshire Battles at the Central Library, see our research guide.
The Battle of Myton was fought during the Scottish War of Independence, 1296 – 1328, on the 20th September 1319. By 1319 Robert the Bruce had been crowned King of Scotland and had been repelling the English invasions of Edward I – called the Hammer of the Scots – and now his newly crowned son Edward II. Edward II did not have his Father’s military experience or tactical nous and this allowed the newly confident Scots under King Robert to stage daring raids on northern England. The Bruce is the only Scottish account of the battle, written by the Archdeacon of Aberdeen, John Barbour, in 1375. Written fifty years after the battle, the accuracy may be questioned, but it does provide information on the Battle of Myton from a differing perspective to the larger English Histories. This article will use The Bruce from the Leeds Central Library Collection to examine the battle.
Now leave we here these folk at rest,
And let us, as me thinks it best,
Direct our story to the king,
Sir Robert, that was gathering
A mighty host from far and near.
As soon as he had come to hear
That Edward king of England then
Was laying siege with many men
To Berwick, where Sir Walter stayed,
Decision with his men he made
That he would not as yet go down
To attack the king outside the town,
Within his dykes of such a size;
For that, he thought, would be unwise.
Instead, two worthy lords he chose;
And to earl Thomas did propose
That, with the Douglas at his side
And fifteen thousand men, he ride
To England, there to burn and slay,
And far and wide such havoc play
That those that lay outside the town,
When they should hear the damage done,
In England by their children and their wives
Should peradventure lose their lives;
And also for their goods lest they
Should utterly be stolen away;
That they would quickly leave the siege
And hurry off in haste to reach
Their friends and property and land.
This section of the poem is describing how Edward II of England was trying to reclaim Berwick by laying siege to the town with his substantial English army. The poem explains how King Robert expecting this invasion and siege poured Scottish soldiers and supplies into Berwick in an attempt to repel the English. However this was only one part of King Robert’s plan to defeat the English, as he sent two of most trusted and experienced commanders, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray and Sir James Douglas, with a large Scottish army to raid Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire in an attempt to disrupt the English Army’s supply lines. David Cooke is his brilliant book Battlefield Yorkshire from the Romans to the English Civil Wars called this an inspired move by King Robert.
Therefore, as I have borne on hand,
These lords without delay be sent;
And speedily their way they went,
In England did they burn and kill,
And wrought therein such woe and ill,
And pillaged so the whole country
That it was pitiful to see
For those that wishes it any good;
For they destroyed where’er they could.
For long they rode destroying so,
And ravaged, wandering to and fro,
Until on Ripon they bore down
And utterly destroyed the town.
Near Boroughbridge ere long they stayed,
At Mitton, where a halt they made.
Barbour goes into great detail about the devastation the Scottish raids caused across the north of England. The Scots headed into Yorkshire, plundering and destroying as they went, including at Ripon and then Boroughbridge without any real threat of an English response. Barbour reveals his sympathy for the English townsfolk who were enduring these ‘pitiful’ raids. A captured Scottish spy revealed the Scottish army’s location, near Myton, and their intention to capture the English Queen Isabella.
And when the men of those parts saw
Their country ravaged more and more,
They brought together speedily
The archers, burghers, yeomanry,
And many a monk and friar and priest
And clerk and peasant, till at least
Some twenty thousand men, or near,
Were gathered all together there,
With arms in plentiful provision.
Their leader, so they made decision,
The Archbishop of York should be;
And they would battle openly
In force against the Scots, that then,
Compared with them, had fewer men.
He then displayed his banner fair;
And other bishops that were there
Bade all their banners be displayed;
And in a rout their way they made
To Mitton, by the shortist wat.
Archbishop Melton, of York, knowing the mayhem that the raiding Scots had caused and their intention to take Queen Isabella hostage, attempted to raise an English army to defeat the Scots. The Archbishop’s problem was that Edward II had taken the majority of Northern Nobility and soldiers to Berwick. Undeterred, the Archbishop of York was able to raise a substantial English army mainly made up of English townsman and three hundred white-clad monks. The English plan was to ambush the unaware Scots, however the battle hardy and experienced Scots knew the English were coming and prepared accordingly.
And when the Scottish men heard say
That all this rout was coming near
They made them ready, doned their gear,
And two divisions quickly made.
The vanguard was by Douglas led.
To Moray did the rearguard fall.
For he was captain of them all.
And so arranged in good array,
Toward their foes they held their way.
When of the other each caught sight
They both pressed forward to the fight.
The English men made their advance
With good and fearless countenance
Around their banners in array,
Until they were so close that they
Could clearly see their foemen’s faces.
I trow there were a dozen paces.
Tween them, when they took such fright
That all at once without a fight,
They broke and turned their backs to flee.
And when the Scottish men could see
Their foes so cravenly abased
They swiftly charged so hard behind
That near a thousand died. At least
Three hundred of these were priests.
This was a battle between a hardened Scottish army and an inexperienced Yorkshire force. Instead of achieving their intended surprise attack, the English encountered a Scottish army waiting for them in battle formation. Barbour describes the English as very brave but foolhardy for attacking the experienced Scottish army head on. The Scots caused more dismay and panic in the English ranks as they created a smoke-screen by burning haystacks, this blinded the English troops. The English army’s line of retreat across Myton Bridge was cut off by a Scottish outflanking move and, as they fled, many English were slaughtered while others drowned trying to cross the river Swale. Myton was a devastating defeat, forcing Edward II to raise the siege of Berwick and, as this was their original objective, the victorious Scottish army immediately retreated with their valuable prisoners and vast number of treasures.
This battle was no name being apter
Known thereafter as ‘The Chapter
Of Mitton’, for so many were
The priests whose bones were buried there.
The Battle of Myton was a small but important battle during the Scottish War of Independence. Edward II and the English expected his large army to reclaim Berwick and hoped that this would discourage the Scots from further fighting. However, due to the military and tactical cunning from Robert, the Bruce this turned into a disaster for the English. Leaving northern England open for Scottish raids terrified the English locals and allowed the threat of the Scottish to increase. Myton represented a complete victory for the Scots as they were able to plunder treasure and take important hostages back to Scotland while Edward II was forced to retreat in order to regain order in northern England. The epic poem The Bruce is an incredible resource which conveys the chaos and brilliance of the Scottish plan and how the English were complete unprepared for this attack and eventual Battle at Myton.
Barbour, J. The Bruce: An Epic Poemed. A. H. Douglas (Glasgow, 1964) Classmark: 821 BAR
Barbour, J. The Bruce Being The Metrical History of Robert The Bruce, King Of The Scots translated by G. Eyre Todd (Glasggow, 1907) Classmark: 942.102 BAR
Cooke, D. Battlefield Yorkshire From The Romans To The English Civil Wars (Barnsley, 2006) Classmark: Y 942.81 COO
Grainge, W. The Battles And Battlefields Of Yorkshire : From The Earliest Times To The End Of The Great Civil War (York, 1854) Classmark: Y 355.48 GRA
Lamplough, E. Yorkshire Battles (Hull, 1891) Classmark: Y 355.48 LAM
Maxwell, H. Robert The Bruce And The Struggle For Scottish Independence (London, 1897) Classmark: 941. 102 BRU