The battle known as the ‘Chapter of Myton’ took place on the 20th of September, 1319.
This battle was one of a series of encounters between the victorious Scots, post Bannockburn, and the defeated, harassed and extremely annoyed English. The Scots had a ‘field day’ for a number of years, with the only cloud on the horizon being the death of Edward de Brus, the brother of Robert ‘the Bruce’, who was defeated and slain (killed) in a battle near Dundalk in 1318, whilst attempting to conquer Ireland.
In 1317, a few months before the death of Edward Bruce, Robert I had captured the border town of Berwick-on-Tweed, which had been held by the English since 1298. In fact, although the plan for the capture of the important Border fortress may have been drawn up by Bruce, it was executed by his able Lieutenants, Sir James Douglas and Sir Thomas Randolph, Bruce’s nephew and the Earl of Moray. These two, along with Bruce’s son-in-law, Walter Stewart, had been running the country whilst the Bruces were away gallivanting in Ireland and had cleared Scotland of the hated English presence almost entirely. The waging of full scale, outright war had ceased with the English defeat at Bannockburn (did I mention that already?) and hostilities at that time were confined to occasional Border forays. The Scots almost always came out on top from such raids, mainly because of the tactics and leadership of ‘The Good Sir James’, a true borderer.
Pestilence, famine, Douglas and Randolph had desolated the Northern Counties of England and the loss of Berwick was unquestionably disastrous to the English. Not only did it open the door to a Scottish invasion, it severely embarrassed Edward II. Two years later, in 1319, having plucked up the courage, Edward sent an army to besiege Berwick-on-Tweed. The English made every effort to recover Berwick and laid siege to it in such numbers, and with such defences, that for Bruce’s men to attack in support of the fortress town would have been a perilous mistake.
Instead, whilst Edward was vainly throwing stones at Berwick, Bruce sent Douglas and Randolph to invade England. At the head of a well-appointed force of around fifteen thousand seasoned troops, those Knights Inhospitable crossed the Solway at the other side of the country and laid waste to the countryside with ‘fire and sword’, all the way to the gates of York. It is said that in Yorkshire alone, they burned and destroyed between eighty and ninety towns and villages. Part of their plan, in addition to creating a diversion in support of the besieged of Berwick, was said to have been the abduction of Edward’s Queen – his wife. At that time, she was residing near York, but unluckily for Douglas, Randolph and perhaps Edward, the intended hostage escaped.
Indignant at the insult thus offered to his City, William de Melton, the Archbishop of York, and his crony, the Bishop of Ely, hastily assembled an army in an attempt to bar the advance of the Scots. His motley crew was comprised of priests, canons, monks, friars, clerks, other ecclesiastics, archers, yeomen, husbandmen, wifelessmen, and artificers, to the number of ten or even twenty thousand men. With these ill-assorted and undisciplined troops, he went in pursuit of the enemy, which unfortunately, he encountered at Myton on the Swale near Borough Bridge, about twelve miles north of York. As might have been expected, the English were ignominiously defeated in a short and decisive battle. The Archbishop’s raw levies were no match for the disciplined ranks of the Scots and the slaughter that followed is legendary. Between three and four thousand casualties are said to have fallen in the battle. They either perished on the field or were drowned in attempting to escape pursuit by crossing the river.
As planned, the Scots’ success at Myton raised the siege of Berwick and when Edward’s army was withdrawn, it was marched southwards in an endeavour to intercept the Scottish invaders. However, Douglas and Randolph were too clever to be caught. They had anticipated Edward’s action and had eluded him by taking the high road to Scotland, which they reached unmolested. The engagement was long afterwards remembered by Yorkshire men as the ‘White Battle’, in allusion to the number of clerks and clergy, said to number three hundred, who fell fighting on the field clad in their full canonicals. Scottish writers, a bit more sardonically, called it the ‘Chapter of Myton’.
The village of Myton, known as ‘Mitune’ in the Domesday Book, lies about three miles east of Borough Bridge and is intersected by the Swale, a little above its confluence with the Ure, by which the village is bounded on the south and south-west. The battle took place in the low lying meadows near the village of Myton on the Swale in Yorkshire and not near the Lancashire parish of Mitton. Near the confluence of the Hodder and the Ribble, that parish dates back to Saxon times when it was known as ‘Mythe’, which means ‘a farmstead at the junction of two rivers’. Mitton is also mentioned in the Domesday Book and there is a church record of 1103, confirming the grant of the parish to the minister, ‘Ralph the Red’. Ralph became Lord of the Manor and was known as Ralph de Mitton.