Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The English retake Berwick

Following the surprise attack on Berwick, the Earl of Northumberland raises the country to retake it.

Book II, ch.8. Thomelin Friant made haste until he arrived at Alnwick, and entered the castle from the knowledge he had of it; for it was so early that the earl of Northumberland was not out of bed. Having arrived at his bedside to speak to him, for the business was very pressing, he said, "My lord, the Scots have this morning taken Berwick castle by surprise; and the governor of the town sends me to inform you of it, as you are the lieutenant of all these countries." When the earl heard this news, he made every possible haste to order succour to Berwick: he sent off letters and messengers to all knights and squires of Northumberland, without delay, and informing them that he was marching thither to besiege the Scots, who had conquered the castle.

This summons was soon spread over the country, and every man at arms, knight, squire, and cross-bowman, left their houses. The lord Neville, the lord Lucy, the lord Gastop, the lord Stafford, the lord de Blelles, the governor of Newcastle, and a right valiant and expert man at arms, called sir Thomas Musgrave, were there; but the earl of Northumberland first arrived at Berwick with his people; and forces daily came thither from all parts. They were in the whole about ten thousand men, who surrounded the castle so closely on all sides that a bird could not have escaped from it without being seen. The English began to form mines, the sooner to accomplish their purpose against the Scots and regain the castle.

Intelligence was brought to the barons and knights of Scotland, that the earl of Northumberland, with the chivalry of that country, were besieging their countrymen in Berwick castle: they therefore determined to march thither, raise the siege, and reinforce the castle, for they considered what Alexander Ramsay had performed as a most gallant achievement.

Sir Archibald Douglas, the constable, said, "Alexander is my cousin, and it is his high birth that has caused him to undertake and execute so bold a feat as the taking of Berwick castle: it behoves us to do all in our power to assist hiim in this business, and if we can raise the siege it will be to us of great value: I am of opinion, therefore, that we march thither." He immediately ordered part of the army to remain behind, and the rest to advance towards Berwick. He chose five hundred lances from the flower of the Scots army, and set off well mounted and in good order, taking the road to Berwick.

The English, who were before Berwick with ten thousand men, including archers, soon heard how the Scots intended to raise the siege and reinforce the garrison: they called a council, and resolved to extend their ground, to wait for them and offer batle, as they were anxious to meet them. The earl of Northumberland ordered all to prepare themselves, and march into the plain to be mustered, when they were found to amount to full three thousand men at arms and seven thousand archers. When the earl saw his army so numerous, he said, "Let us keep to this ground, for we are able to combat all the force Scotland can send against us." They encamped on an extensive heath, without the walls of Berwick, in two battalions, and in good array.

This had scarcely been done an hour before they perceived some of the scouts of the Scots army advancing, but too well mounted to be attacked by the English: however, some English knights and squires would have been glad to have quitted their lines to have checked their career, but the earl said, "Let them alone, and allow their main body to come up: if they have any inclination for the combat, they will themselves advance nearer to us."

The English remained very quiet, so that the Scots scouts came so close they were able to reconnoitre their two battalions and judge of how many men they were composed. When they had sufficiently observed them, they returned to their lords, and related what they had seen, saying, "My lords, we have advanced so near to the English that we have fully reconnoitred them: we can tell you, they are waiting for you, drawn up in two handsome battalions, on the plain before the town: each battalion may consist of five thousand mn: you will therefore consider this well. We approached them so close that they knew us for Scots scouts; but they made not the smallest attempt to break their line to pursue us."

When sir Archibald Douglas and the Scots knights heard this account, they were quite melancholy, and said, "We cannot think it will be any way profitable for us to advance further to meet the English; for they are ten to one, and all tried men: we may lose more than we can gain: and a foolish enterprise is never good, and such is what Alexander Ramsay has performed." Sir William Lindsay, a valiant knight and uncle to Alexander Ramsay, took great pains to persuade them to succour his nephew, saying, "Gentlemen, my nephew, in confidence of your assistance, has performed this gallant deed, and taken Berwick castle. It will turn to your great shame, if he should be lost, and none of our family in future wil thus boldly adventure themselves."

Those present answered, "That they could not amend it, and that the many gallant men who were there couldn not be expected to risk their own destruction in the attempt to prevent a single squire from being made prisoner." It was therefore determined to retreat further up in their own country among the mountains near the river Tweed, whither they marched in good order and at their leisure.

When the earls of Northumberland and Nottingham, and the other barons of England, found the Scots were not advancing, they sent off scouts to enquire what was become of them, who brought back intelligence that they had retreated toward the marches beyond the castle of Roxburgh. On hearing this, each man retired quietly to his quarters, where they kept a strict guard until the morrow morning about six o'clock, when they all made themselves ready for the attack of the castle.

The assault immediately began; it was very severe, and continued until the afternoon. Never did so few men as the Scots defend themselves so well, nor was ever castle so briskly attacked; for there were ladders raised against different parts of the walls, on which men at arms ascended with targets over their heads, and fought hand to hand with the Scots. In consequence, many were struck down and hurled into the ditches. What most annoyed the Scots were the English archers, who shot so briskly that scarcely any one dared to appear on the bulwarks. This assault was continued until the English entered the castle, when they began to slay all they could lay hands on: none escaped death except Alexander Ramsay, who was made prisoner by the earl of Northumberland.

In this manner was Berwick regained. The earl of Northumberland appointed John Bisset constable thereof, a very valiant squire, through whose means, as you have already heard, it had been reconquered. He had every part of it repaired, and the bridge which he had broken down restored.

Return to the Tales from Froissart Main Page

Contact the editor