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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
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
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
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
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 #
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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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