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1066 – The Norman conquest of England begins with the Battle of Hastings.

The Battle of Hastings was fought on October 14, 1066 between the Norman-French army of William, the Duke of Normandy, and an English army under the Anglo-Saxon King Harold II Godwinson, beginning the Norman conquest of England. It took place approximately 7 mi (11 km) northwest of Hastings, close to the present-day town of Battle, East Sussex, and was a decisive Norman victory. Senlac Hill (or Senlac Ridge) is the generally accepted location in which Harold Godwinson deployed his army for the Battle of Hastings. It is located near what is now the town of Battle, East Sussex.

The background to the battle was the death of the childless King Edward the Confessor in January 1066, which set up a succession struggle between several claimants to his throne. Harold Godwinson was elected by the Witan Council and crowned king shortly after Edward’s death, but faced invasions by William, his own brother Tostig, and the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada (Harold III of Norway).

Harald Hardrada and Tostig defeated a hastily gathered army of Englishmen at the Battle of Fulford on September 20, 1066, and were in turn defeated by Harold at the Battle of Stamford Bridge five days later. The deaths of Tostig and Hardrada at Stamford Bridge left William as Harold’s only serious opponent.

While Harold and his forces were recovering, William landed his invasion forces in the south of England at Pevensey on September 28, 1066 and established a beachhead for his conquest of the kingdom. Harold was forced to march south swiftly, gathering forces as he went.

The exact numbers present at the battle are unknown as even modern estimates vary considerably. The composition of the forces is clearer; the English army was composed almost entirely of infantry and had few archers, whereas only about half of the invading force was infantry, the rest split equally between cavalry and archers.

Harold appears to have tried to surprise William, but scouts found his army and reported its arrival to William, who marched from Hastings to the battlefield to confront Harold. The battle lasted from about 9 am to dusk. Early efforts of the invaders to break the English battle lines had little effect; therefore, the Normans adopted the tactic of pretending to flee in panic and then turning on their pursuers. Harold’s death, probably near the end of the battle, led to the retreat and defeat of most of his army. After further marching and some skirmishes, William was crowned as king on Christmas Day 1066.

There continued to be rebellions and resistance to William’s rule, but Hastings effectively marked the culmination of William’s conquest of England. Casualty figures are hard to come by, but some historians estimate that 2,000 invaders died along with about twice that number of Englishmen. William founded a monastery at the site of the battle, the high altar of the abbey church supposedly placed at the spot where Harold died.

1322 – Robert the Bruce of Scotland defeats King Edward II of England at the Battle of Old Byland, forcing Edward to accept Scotland’s independence.

The Battle of Old Byland (also known as the Battle of Byland Abbey, the Battle of Byland Moor and the Battle of Scotch Corner) was a significant encounter between Scots and English troops in Yorkshire in on October 14, 1322, forming part of the Wars of Scottish Independence. It was a victory for the Scots, the most significant since Bannockburn.

Ever since Robert Bruce’s victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the Scots had taken the initiative in the wars with England, raiding deep into the north of the country repeatedly and with comparative ease to attempt to force the English to the peace-table.

The English king, Edward II seemed incapable of dealing with the problem, distracted, as he often was, in a political struggle with his own barons and refused to even begin peace negotiations with the Scots which would have required recognizing Robert the Bruce as King of the Scots. In early 1322 the situation had become critical, with some senior English noblemen, headed by Thomas of Lancaster, preparing to enter into an alliance with the Scots.

It seems unlikely that Bruce had much confidence in Lancaster, who referred to himself as ‘King Arthur’ in his negotiations with the Scots, but he was quick to take advantage of the threat of civil war in England. Scarcely had the truce of 1319 expired in January 1322 than Sir James Douglas, Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray and Walter Stewart came over the border on a large-scale attack on the north-east.

The three commanders fanned out across the region: Douglas to Hartlepool, Moray to Darlington and Stewart to Richmond. Lancaster with his army at Pontefract did nothing to stop them. Edward ignored the Scots, instructing his lieutenant in the north, Sir Andrew Harclay, the governor of Carlisle, to concentrate his efforts against the rebel barons, whom he finally defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge. In the wake of this the Scots raiders slipped back across the border.

Edward’s invasion

Boroughbridge was a new beginning for Edward. The baronial opposition had been defeated and tainted with treason: the king had at last enjoyed his long-awaited revenge for the murder of Piers Gaveston. This was the high point of his reign and, emboldened by this rare triumph, he decided to embark on what was to be his last invasion of Scotland. It was to be a disaster.

By the time Edward was ready to begin his advance in early August, Bruce was more than ready. He deployed his usual tactics: crops were destroyed and livestock removed and his army withdrawn north of the River Forth. In all of Lothian the English are said only to have found one lame cow, causing the Earl of Surrey to remark; This is the dearest beef I ever saw. It surely has cost a thousand pounds and more!

In the Scalacronica, Sir Thomas Grey describes the whole campaign thus;
The king marched upon Edinburgh, where at Leith there came such a sickness and famine upon the common soldiers of that great army, that they were forced to beat a retreat for want of food; at which time the king’s light horse were defeated by James de Douglas. None dared leave the main body to seek food by forage, so greatly were the English harassed and worn out by fighting that before they arrived in Newcastle there was such a murrain in the army for want of food, that they were obliged of necessity to disband.

Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh, and the border abbeys of Melrose and Dryburgh were destroyed in revenge by the English. The invasion had achieved precisely nothing. More seriously, the effect on national morale of the ignominious retreat of a starving army was almost as bad as the defeat at Bannockburn. Worse was to follow; for, as always, an English retreat was the signal for yet another Scottish attack.

Old Byland

Bruce crossed the Solway in the west, making his way in a south-easterly direction towards Yorkshire, bringing many troops recruited in Argyll and the Isles. The boldness and speed of the attack, known as The Great Raid of 1322, soon exposed Edward to the dangers on his own land. On his return from Scotland, the king had taken up residence at Rievaulx Abbey with Queen Isabella.

His peace was interrupted when the Scots made a sudden and unexpected approach in mid-October. All that stood between them and a royal prize was a large English force under the command of John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond. John had taken up position on Scawton Moor, between Rievaulx and Byland Abbey. To dislodge him from his strong position on the high ground Bruce used the same tactics that brought victory at the earlier Battle of Pass of Brander.

As Moray and Douglas charged uphill a party of Highlanders scaled the cliffs on the English flank and charged downhill into Richmond’s rear. Resistance crumbled and the Battle of Old Byland turned into a complete and bloody rout of the English. Richmond himself was taken prisoner, as were Henri de Sully, Grand Butler of France, Sir Ralph Cobham (‘the best knight in England’) and Sir Thomas Ughtred. Many others were killed in flight. Edward – ‘ever chicken-hearted and luckless in war’ – was forced to make a rapid and undignified exit from Rievaulx, fleeing in such haste that his personal belongings were left behind.

After Byland, says Sir Thomas Gray, the Scots were so fierce and their chiefs so daring, and the English so cowed, that it was no otherwise between them than as a hare before greyhounds. This was a significant victory for the Scots after their success at Myton on Swale and was soon followed 5 years later by their victory at Stanhope Park over Edward III.

1586 – Mary, Queen of Scots, goes on trial for conspiracy against Queen Elizabeth I of England.

On 11 August 1586, after being implicated in the Babington Plot, Mary was arrested while out riding and taken to Tixall Hall in Staffordshire. In a successful attempt to entrap her, Walsingham had deliberately arranged for Mary’s letters to be smuggled out of Chartley. Mary was misled into thinking her letters were secure, while in reality they were deciphered and read by Walsingham. From these letters it was clear that Mary had sanctioned the attempted assassination of Elizabeth. Mary was moved to Fotheringhay Castle in a four-day journey ending on September 25.

On October 14, she was put on trial for treason under the Act for the Queen’s Safety before a court of 36 noblemen, including Cecil, Shrewsbury, and Walsingham.

Spirited in her defence, Mary denied the charges. She told her triers, “Look to your consciences and remember that the theatre of the whole world is wider than the kingdom of England”. She protested that she had been denied the opportunity to review the evidence, that her papers had been removed from her, that she was denied access to legal counsel and that as a foreign anointed queen she had never been an English subject and thus could not be convicted of treason.

She was convicted on October 25, and sentenced to death with only one commissioner, Lord Zouche, expressing any form of dissent. Nevertheless, Elizabeth hesitated to order her execution, even in the face of pressure from the English Parliament to carry out the sentence. She was concerned that the killing of a queen set a discreditable precedent and was fearful of the consequences, especially if, in retaliation, Mary’s son, King James VI, formed an alliance with the Catholic powers and invaded England.

Elizabeth asked Paulet, Mary’s final custodian, if he would contrive a clandestine way to “shorten the life” of Mary, which he refused to do on the grounds that he would not make “a shipwreck of my conscience, or leave so great a blot on my poor posterity”. On February 1, 1587, Elizabeth signed the death warrant, and entrusted it to William Davison, a privy councillor. On February 3, ten members of the Privy Council of England, having been summoned by Cecil without Elizabeth’s knowledge, decided to carry out the sentence at once.

Mary was beheaded on February 8,1587 at Fotheringhay Castle. Mary’s life, marriages, lineage, alleged involvement in plots against Elizabeth, and subsequent execution established her as a divisive and highly romanticised historical character, depicted in culture for centuries.