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  Byland Campaign

After the Battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, Edward II found himself at the apogee of his reign. Freed from the constraints of troublesome barons, he decided to deal once and for all with the Scots. To this end he summoned an army of 20 – 25,000 men.  To counter this, King Robert the Bruce of Scotland led a devastating raid through the West Marches, penetrating 80 miles into England as far as Lancaster and Preston, which were both burned to the ground. Re-crossing the border after three weeks laden with booty, Robert ordered that all of south-east Scotland be subject to ‘scorched earth’ tactics. With all livestock driven off, all crops taken or destroyed, every dwelling destroyed and all wells poisoned to prevent supply to the invading English army.  Edward crossed the border in early August and marched through the barren landscape unopposed as far as Edinburgh.  A combination of contrary winds and Scottish privateers prevented supply ships reaching the now starving army, and a frustrated Edward was soon compelled to order the retreat, after massacring the remaining citizens of Edinburgh. Dysentery and other disease afflicted the remnants of the English army as it struggled to the border, harassed at every turn by Scottish horsemen who slaughtered anyone leaving the main force to forage for supplies. By early September King Edward had re-entered England, his plans for the final conquest of Scotland in ruins, and his great army decimated by famine and disease.

The Bruce now saw an opportunity to invade England and responded to the English retreat by marching his army, which had been stationed out of harm’s way beyond the Forth, swiftly across country to invade England through the West Marches. Around the 1st of October, having waited until the strong force as Carlisle had been dismissed from Edward’s service, he crossed the Solway to begin his campaign that was to culminate at Byland three weeks later.

Edward learnt of the Scots invasion whilst at Barnard Castle on the 5th of October.  Given the state of his army, he decided to withdraw into Yorkshire ordering new levies to rendezvous with what was left of his invasion force at Old Byland.  Meanwhile, after having spent several days ravaging the country around Carlisle, on the 5th of October the Bruce struck south-east through the Eden Valley and Wensleydale, and by a series of rapid marches reached Northallerton by the 13th of October.

According to the Lanercost Chronicle, Bruce had been informed by his scouts that Edward was at Rievaulx Abbey and it seems certain that it was his intention to capture some important members of the English court, perhaps even the king himself.  Edward received intelligence that the Bruce and his army was at Northallerton on the 13th October and ordered the remaining levies to advance toward Old Byland by the 14th October.


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