The Battle of the Standard

By Martin Williams.  Reposted from the Regia egroups with permission.

This sort of thing may be new to many (it was new to me…) so if you’re all properly uncomfortable – 

In 1135 Henry I, rex anglorum &c. &c. died. His reign had been one of wisdom and justice, wherein the liberal arts were exercised in an atmosphere of Civil Peace and so forth.  However: he had not managed to secure the succession: despite having admitted to siring 27 children, his chosen and lawful heir was Matilda (who was, in case anyone hadn’t noticed, a woman)

Many of the more traditional lords balked at the idea of a fluffy girlie on the throne (not that one would wish to describe a grand-daughter of William of Normandy as fluffy) and preferred Stephen, Count of Blois, another grandchild of the Conqueror (and definitely a bloke) to occupy it.   

There being no-one to hold it, the King’s Peace was thus dropped and broken across much of England: parts of which had seen no warfare of note for nigh on a century.

Now David, Earl of Huntingdon, was Matilda’s uncle: and he threw his support firmly behind his niece’s claims.  This support was valuable, as the Earl happened to have another title: that of King of Scots – and the forces to go with it. Campaigns in 1135, 6 and 7 ensured that David, together with Henry of Anjou, his heir, and Walter fitzAlan his High Steward were unchallenged masters of Cumberland and Northumberland: the royal castles of Bamburgh and the New Castle and the territory of St Cuthbert and Hexham Abbey (but not the town) excepted.

The nobility’s first duty is to defend the people: this was largely being ignored as Stephen’s armies clashed with his cousin’s proxies all over the south and west.  Thus the defence of the North (what was left of it) fell to Archbishop Thurstan of York: an old man, and in 1138 in the 24th year of his reign. 

In 1138 David came again, occupying Carlisle, and then passing over Stanemoor to Darlington, then moving south into the Vale of York.  Peace talks were held: with many nobles holding lands in both kingdoms a party led by Robert de Brus (think about it….) and Bernard de Baliol [the presence of a de Waleis is not mentioned but I wouldn’t be surprised…] suggested that Prince Henry should be created Earl of Northumberland. This initiative failed.

Thurstan was on the defensive: to inspire the Yorkshiremen he brought up a large psychological weapon.  His battle flag bore no crown, no lion nor any red cross: it was a forty-foot pole on a cart – topped with a silver pyx containing the Host, it flew the banners of York’s patron saints: Peter for York, Wilfrid for Ripon and John of Beverley for the East Riding’s minster.  Thus the lines were drawn for battle and on Cowton Moor, near Northallerton, on 22 August, the armies met.