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Object ID 1000.129.05
Title Origins of the Name "Chevy Chase:" a Tale of Battles and Ballads
Object Name Exhibit
Date 03/20/1994
Creator Eleanor Ford
Description Origins of the Name "Chevy Chase" a Tale of Battles and Ballads exhibit
March 20, 1994 for Section 3 and the Chevy Chase Historical Society Gala at 3709 Bradley Lane
by Eleanor Ford

4. Otterburn, Northumberland, 1388

[Photo of Scotland: 2008.203.05]

The battle of Otterburn was only one event in a much wider European conflict known as the Hundred Years War, a bitter struggle sparked off by England's attempt to dominate her neighbors France and Scotland. To protect their independence, in 1295 the Scots and French formed the Auld Alliance, an important diplomatic bond which was to last until 1603, when James VI of Scotland succeeded to the English throne.

The Alliance did not deter England's aggression. The course of the wars which followed was influenced not only by the more grandiose political and military Anglo-Scottish Border. Here the powerful noble families of Percy and Douglas had long been rivals and the intermittent warfare between their countries provided an ideal opportunity to settle old scores.

Tradition has it that on the night of August 19th, 1388, a bloody encounter took place on these fields between Scottish raiders led by James, Earl of Douglas and an English force commanded by Sir Henry Percy, eldest son of the Earl of Northumberland which resulted in a defeat for the English forces and the death of James.

In early August 1388, at the isolated Church of Southdean just across the border, Douglas rallied about 7,000 men and in a brilliant commando raid, ravaged the countryside as far south as Durham.

On his return, in a skirmish outside the walls of Newcastle upon Tyne, he captured the pennant of Harry Percy, the city's defender and carried it off towards Otterburn.

True to his Scottish nickname "Hotspur," the impetuous Percy quickly mustered 9,000 troops and without waiting for the Bishop of Durham to arrive with reinforcements, gave chase. After a gruelling forced march he reached Otterburn shortly before dark. Although his men were tired and hungry, Hotspur was determined to give battle without delay, possibly because his scouts had assured him that the enemy numbered a mere 3,000 and could be dealt with easily.

The Battle

According to Froissart, the Scots had made their main camp behind the ruined ramparts of an ancient British hill fort. This was probably Greenchesters camp which lies above the plantation on the hill to the left. Douglas had already chosen a slight ridge to the right as the preferred battleground. At the north end of the ridge was a depression running along the natural contour which would provide cover for the Scots to mount an attack on the English right flank.

Despite his awareness of Percy's impetuosity, even Douglas was taken by surprise when the English arrived on the scene so quickly. Hotspur deided to move directly ahead with the main part of his army and sent a small detachment under the command of Sir Thomas Umphraville, Lord of Redesdale, on a detour round to the north, to attack the Scottish camp.

As darkness fell Percy and Douglas joined battle on the ridge.

Meanwhile the men of Redesdale, fighting under Umphraville's banner, located the Scottish camp, sacked it and made off with the loot! With the remnants of his force, Umphraville, instead of moving out to take the Scots from the rear, blundered back through the darkness to rejoin Hotspur on the ridge.

As the battle raged back and forth, the Lammastide moon rose, revealing a scene of dreadful carnage. The decision to fight at night had prevented the English from using their most formidable weapon, the longbow and the hand-to-hand-conflict went badly for Hotspur's exhausted men. When Douglas ordered the attack on the English right flank they crumpled under the Scottish onslaught. In the resulting confusion the English were defeated and 1800 men were cut down as they fled the field. Their remains were later buried in Esldon churchyard. Several English knights including Hotspur and his brother, Sir Ralph, were taken prisoner and held to ransom.

Although the Scots won the battle of Otterburn their leader, Douglas, was among the 100 slain. His body was taken over the border to Melrose Abbey.

Hotspur's banner was never recovered.

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