The Action

Given that Lancaster’s troops had reached Boroughbridge to take up quarters for the night, implies it was late in the day on Tuesday 16th March that the action began.

Harcla had no reason to take the initiative and attack across the bridge or ford, for an opposed crossing would be a difficult and costly assault. All Harcla had to do was to hold his ground and wait for the pursuing royal forces to reach the town. In contrast Lancaster was in a dangerous situation which required desperate measures. He had no choice, negotiations having failed, but to attack and try to force the crossing.

Hereford, with his standard bearer and a few other knights charged across the bridge against the pike, in advance of the rest of his force. Hereford was almost immediately killed by the pikemen. Also killed in the assault were Hereford’s standard bearer and two other knights, while the rest were driven back, many of them wounded, including Sir Roger de Clifford who had been seriously injured by both pike and arrow.

One source claims that a single pikeman crept beneath the bridge and thrust his spear upward between the timbers beneath the Earl’s armour and killed him. However, as Clark suggests, this may be an elaboration based on the events of the battle of Stamford Bridge (Yorkshire, 1066). This is certainly true of the description of his assailant as a Welshman, something which is purely drawn from local tradition.

The attack across the ford, presumably timed to coincide with that on the bridge, fared little better. The river at Boroughbridge is now about 40 metres wide and may have been very little wider in the 14th century. As a result of the heavy rate of fire laid down by Harcla’s archers from the northern bank, Lancaster’s first cavalry attack, which must have had to cross open meadow ground, did not even reach the waters edge before being forced to retreat. One account suggests that the archers were so effective that the cavalry could not attempt another assault, thus throwing the whole battle array into disorder and effectively ending the action.

After what seems to have been a very short battle, Lancaster negotiated a truce with Harcla to allow his troops to retire into the town for the night, either to surrender or to give battle once more in the morning. Harcla’s forces remained deployed at the crossings for the rest of the day and night in case of a surprise attack.


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