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Battle Scenarios

The Battle of the Standard (Aug. 22, 1138 AD)

By Konstantine Trtiambelas

In the battle of the Standard, King David and his Scots Common army (DBA140) attempted to smash the Anglo-Norman (DBA 134) defenders of York, who rallied around the banners of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Wilfred.

The Historical Battle

In the summer of 1138 King David of Scotland assembled what is described by the chroniclers as "a formidable array" and invaded Northern England for the third time that year. The two previous incursions were easily turned back without a battle when King Stephen of England, grandson of William the Conqueror, marched north at the head of his own formidable army. This time, though, Stephen was tied up in the South trying to suppres one of the numerous baronial revolts that characterized his somewhat illegitimate reign (after the death of Henry I his daughter Matilda should have taken over but Stephen, Count of Boulogne at the time, rushed to England, marched to Canterbury, and secured a coronation that was never aknowledged by a large proportion of the kingdom's tenants, King David among them) and the Scots army proceeded to besiege Wark, augmented in strength by the defection of Eustace fitz John, an important Northern baron.

With the siege of Wark still in progress, the Scottish army moved southwards, crossed the Tyne and reached the borders of Yorkshire unopposed sometime in the middle of August. At this point action seems to have been taken by Archbishop Thurstan of York who summoned the military leaders of the area at a war council in York. There, Bernard de Balliol (an interestingly Scottish name) reached them at the head of a mounted contingent, the only reinforcements King Stephen could afford to dispatch. Heartened by that and by the words of the bishop, the English barons decided to act. They send for their contingents and the city militias of York, Beverley, and Ripon were mobilized; the latter marched under the banners of their patron saints St. Peter, St. John, and St. Wilfred, respectively, mounted on a wagon.

Nineteen miles north of York the English army paused at Thirsk were it received word of the Scottish advance. It was decided to intercept the enemy across the Great North Road at once and a night march must have commenced since the battle begun around 6am on the morning of the 22nd. The armies, marching overnight through dense fog that lifted in early morning, met three miles north of Northallerton on The Great North Road.

To the right of the road there were two hillocks, the only terrain mentioned in the chronicles, and the English army occupied the southernmost of them and started to deploy. Who was in overall command is not clear but certain prominent Norman barons were present such as Count William of Aumale, Walter Espec, Roger de Mowbray, and Richard de Courcy. Every man was to fight on foot except a small mounted contingent positioned behind the lines to guard the horses of the dismounted men-at-arms. The first line was composed of archers while the dismounted knights formed the center with the militia to the flanks and behind them. The wagon with their holy standards was placed at the summit of the hill, doubtless in order to provide a rallying point for the troops, and was surrounded by the elite of dismounted knights.

The Scots started to deploy on the opposite hill. King David was forced to change his initial disposition (he was going to match the English line of battle) when the highlanders from Gallway insisted upon their ancient right to begin the battle against the enemy first in line. So adamant they must have been that the Scottish King, unwillingly, put them in the center of his formation. To the Picts' right there was Prince Henry (the king's son) in command of the mounted Scottish knights supported by men from Cumbria as well as by the majority of the archers. The left wing was composed by contingents from the Lowlands and Western Highlands while a tactical reserve commanded by the king himself (all on foot) was kept behind the Pictish warbands in the center.

The battle opened with a charge by the Highlanders who, accompanied by wild yells and screams, rushed uphill against the conglomeration of archers and dism. knights. The archers in the front decimated the charging Galwegians while the knights met adequately the momentary penetration carried by the impetous of the charge. Again and again the lightly armored highlanders charged home only to be met with the same fatal results.

At this point Prince Henry took the initiative (there is no evidence that he received an order) to charge against the English left. Outdistancing his infantry support he and his knights crashed into the militia, chopped their way through, and emerged diminished in number at the back of the English formation. Instead of turning on the backs of the English, they went forward apparently with the intention of pillaging the horses. After a brief skirmish with the mounted guard they had to withdraw throwing away their insignia and mingling with their opponents in order to get away. The gap they caused in the line was easily repaired by the English who threw back the infantry who tried to exploit it. The Scottish left then made a half-hearted charge, was beaten off and withdrew from the field.

At this point the so far idle King David ordered the reserve forward. Unwilling to press a lost cause and having witnessed the fate of the center and right, they turned back and left. Soon the king found himself surrounded by only the few English and Norman knights of his bodyguard. All they could do was to call for their horses and withdraw from the field. The Yorkshiremen made no attempt to pursue; they were obviously content to have repulsed the immediate threat to York and the rest of Yorkshire.

The Scottish army disintegrated during the retreat; the remains gathered at Wark, pressed on the siege and finally took the castle in November despite the heroic defense of Walter Espec-the garrison was actually allowed to leave intact and join King Stephen in the South.

The Battle of the Standard presented a series of opportunities for the Scottish who failed to exploit them. If the reserve had been commited to action earlier maybe it would have saved the day; if Prince Henry had hit the English in the back maybe they would have collapsed. It also showed that wild charges against an orderly line of heavier troops don't pay off unless supported properly, which did not happen in this case.

Army Composition

I reenacted the Battle of the Standard (1138 AD) using a double Scots Common army (#140) vs. a double Anglonorman (#134). However, it seems that the English were lesser in number, since the English king was busy repressing a baronial revolt in the south of the kingdom and was not present with his full army. Perhaps a 18-element strong Anglo Norman army vs. a 24-element strong Scots Common would be more accurate.

In any case, this is the composition of the armies I used:

Scots Common: 16x4Pk, 2x3Kn 2x3Bw, 4x3Wb

Anglo Norman: 8x4Bd (dism. knights), 2x3Kn, 8x4Sp, 6x2Ps

Deployment Notes

The English deploy first on and around the hill, then the Scots deploy anywhere opposite them. The English C-in-C represent the Standard, and should be an element of Blades positioned in the back, perhaps 2nd or 3rd rank. King David, the Scottish C-in-C, is an element of pikes, part of the reserve behind the warbands.

The Gaming Map

 --------------------Scottish Baseline-North--------------------------

                            Pk Pk 
                            Pk Pk-CinC
            Pk Pk Pk        Wb Wb
      Bw Bw Pk Pk Pk        Wb Wb          Pk Pk Pk 
              Kn Kn-SubGen                 Pk Pk Pk

                            #  #  #   # # #  #
                          # Ps Ps Ps Ps Ps Ps  #
                       Sp#SpBd Bd Bd Bd Bd Bd Sp#Sp
                       Sp#Sp    Bd Bd-CinC    Sp#Sp
                          #                    #
                            #                 #
                              #   Kn Kn    #
                                 #    # 

  --------------------Anglo-Norman baseline-South--------------------

Terrain notes

There is no bad goings anywhere. Actually the only terrain features are a road with two opposing hills on the right. The hills are both good going and offer a +1 advantage to the uphill defender.

In the game map above, I have omitted the Scottish hill and the road since they didn't play any role in the historical battle. The ### on the Anglo side represents the hill, which is good going all round with a +1 advantage to the uphill defender.

Special rules

The English CinC rolls 1D6+3 for PIPS (i.e. 3 additional PIPs per turn) or 1 PIP for every 4 elements more than the original 12. The extra PIPs were allocated since there are no sub-commands. Command radius, however, remaind the same, i.e. 12 inches.

The English deploy in one command and they lose if the CinC is killed or if 8 elements are destroyed. The dismounted English knights are NOT impetuous, i.e. they do not follow up after having made their opponent recoil. It is clear to me that the English army deployed defensively and it was probably made clear to the men that none should break ranks. Indeed, the Normans did not even attempt to pursuit after they had won.

The Scots deploy in two commands: Prince Henry, the Knight SubGeneral, is in charge of the 10 elements that comprise the Scottish right wing. Their demoralization level is 3. If they demoralize, they fight with a -1 and will move towards the board edge unless PIPS are spent on them. It takes two PIPs to bring a demoralized element in contact with the enemy, 1 for all other movement. The Scottish king is the CinC in charge of the rest of the army; demoralization level is 5. For the Scots to lose the battle, both commands have to be demoralized.

The Scottish army should include the Wb option. Warbands are impetuous and will move straight ahead their full movement allowance towards the English line unless halted at the expense of 2 PIPs. The warbands' forward movement can be slowed to less than their full allowance by expenditure of 1 PIP.

The battle was otherwise conducted according to David Kujit's Big Battle DBA Rules.

Victory Conditions

For the English, normal. The Scots win if they kill 1/3 of the English elements or if the CnC/Standard is taken.

The Battle Report

In the first three bounds both armies shuffled for positions. The Scots kept moving forward with no PIPs spent on halting the Wb. On the right, the two Kn moved in between the Bw and the Pk forming one straight line.

I was the Scottish commander and my plan was simple: I had to deploy according to the historical battle, but did not have to move like they did, i.e., my 2 elements of Kn were not going to charge forward with no support. Instead, I would try to outflank the shorter English line and use missile fire from the Bw and knightly pressure in order to make the English left buckle and roll them uphill. This would be the spearhead of my attack; everything else would just have to move along and support them. I was aware of the tactical inflexibility of the monolithic English formation and I knew that one little break in it would give me the day (or that's what I thought).

The Norman General (my roomate) stood and watched as I shuffled. With cool resolve and confidence in the discipline of his troops, he sent the two elements of knights to the extreme left of his formation, in order to extend his line. At this point I was approaching the hill in 4 different groups, pretty much the way I had deployed, except that my right was now in a linear formation. Unfortunately, I hadn't halted the Wb this whole time and not only that but the Pk behind them were still a base apart (see no support). The Wb crashed into the two Ps elements in the center before my right got into position. The Ps recoiled through the Bd, the Wb followed up and were now being overlapped by the other Ps on their sides.

With my Pk farther than 40mm behind them, nothing could stop the Ps from closing around them not only providing a +1 for the Bd but also prohibiting my Wb from recoiling. With a +6 vs. a +3 all four Warband elements were destroyed in a single round of combat bringing the whole command awfully close to demoralization. This was the first tactical mistake that I committed that afternoon.

On my right, the two lines were now facing each other with the two elements of Bows overlapping on the extreme left of the english formation. Not wanting to risk another uphill engagement (the previous had proven disastrous), I moved the bows forward within range and fired on the Norman knights. Amazingly, I doubled my opponent and killed an element. This is it, I thought. Not quite.

My roomate extended his line of Spears and separated my bows from my knights on a wide circling motion in order to get behind the English line. When the two lines clashed, the single English spear, outflanked, doubled my Kn General!!!! How could have I foreseen this?

Now the day was lost for the Scottish. Both commands were one element away from demoralization (the subgeneral counting as two elements lost) and the Normans had only lost a single element.

An encircling attempt by the formation of Pikes on the left was thrown back by an extended line of Sp (plus the +1 for uphill), in the center my CinC (now in single file to prevent the Ps from repeating their feat) managed to kill an element of Bd but the gap in the line was immediately filled by the Bd behind. Finally, another Pk was gone on the left while the same accursed element of Sp killed one of my Bows on the right. The battle was over with the English line having hardly moved at all. I lost 7 elements vs. 2 on my opponent's side.

Lessons learned

Two critical mistakes cost me the day. I should have supported the Wb somehow and even after they got killed I shouldn't have separated the Bw from the Kn but used the overlap instead of going for the flank.

Attacking heavy infantry uphill is tough. Perhaps my only chance would be to force my roomate to give up his strong defensive position, but how? With his Bd not being impetuous (a rule we both agreed to) all he had to do was sit back and wait.

Lots and lots of Bw or Art could be helpful but no such options for the Scots. My question is, with an army like the Scots Common why would anyone ever attack the Anglo-Normans?


This is one of the few medieval battles that is relatively easy to recreate, although there is no evidence about the extra strength of the English army or who was at its head. My primary source was "Warfare in England,1066-1189" by John Beeler, which offers extensive references and a couple of maps about the battle.

Gamer Feedback

Roy Beers: One of my interests is Scottish medieval warfare, and while the standard DBA lists are fine for "generic" games they need to be radically rethought for individual campaigns. Obvious example is the battle of Northallerton, or Battle of the Standard, 12th century. The English army is more or less ok as it is but the Scots army is really a hybrid of the Pre-Feudal and Scots Common armies, with far more warband than a typical late 13th/early 14th c army. So, the Northallerton campaign Scots army should be, I tentatively suggest:

4 x 4Pk, 4 x 3Wb (Highlanders and Galwegians) , 2 x 2Ps, 2 x 3Ax (Caterans/sma' folk); 1 x 3Kn (Norman Knights); 1 x 3Bd (Islesmen) or 2Ps or 2LH.

For the sake of argument say two Wb elements are Galwegian: they will not group move with any other troop type and should default advance to contact unless a pip is spent to stop them.

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Last Updated: June 5, 1999

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