Capture of Berwick (1296)

The Capture of Berwick was the first significant battle of the First War of Scottish Independence in 1296.

Siege of Berwick (1296)
Part of the First War of Scottish Independence
Date30 March 1296[1]
55.775°N 2.013°W / 55.775; -2.013
Result English victory
Kingdom of Scotland Kingdom of England
Commanders and leaders
William the Hardy, Lord of Douglas Robert de Clifford, 1st Baron de Clifford
Unknown Unknown
Casualties and losses
ca. 30,000 civilians Light


Upon the death of Margaret, Maid of Norway, in late September 1290, there arose a number of claimants to the throne of Scotland. The Guardians of Scotland were the de facto heads of state[2] until a king was chosen. The late king, Alexander III, had been married to Margaret of England, sister to Edward I, and he was asked to conduct the court proceedings in the dispute, though not to arbitrate; the decision was to be made by a jury of 104 "auditors".[3]

John Balliol, a descendant of King David I, was chosen and was inaugurated at Scone, on St. Andrew's Day, 30 November 1292.[4] Edward I treated Scotland as a feudal vassal state, claiming contributions towards the cost of the defence of England. When he demanded military support for his war against France, the Scots responded by forming an alliance with the French, and launched an unsuccessful attack on Carlisle.[2]


After the raid on Carlisle, the English, under Edward I, began the initial conquest of Scotland in the first phase of the war. On 28 March (the Wednesday in Easter Week), Edward passed the river Tweed with his troops and stayed that night in Scotland at the priory of Coldstream. From there he marched on the town of Berwick.[5]

Berwick was a Royal burgh just north of the border, and was Scotland's most important trading port, second only to London in economic importance in medieval Britain at that point. Its garrison was commanded by William the Hardy, Lord of Douglas, while the besieging party was led by Robert de Clifford, 1st Baron de Clifford. Contemporary accounts of the number slain range from 4,000 to 17,000. The English took the castle, whereupon Douglas surrendered and his life and those of his garrison were spared.[6]

When the town had been taken in this way and its citizens had submitted, Edward spared no one, whatever the age or sex, and for two days streams of blood flowed from the bodies of the slain, for in his tyrannous rage he ordered 7,500 souls of both sexes to be massacred...So that mills could be turned by the flow of their blood.” - Account of the Massacre of Berwick, from Bower’s Scotichronicon.

The Battle of Dunbar crushed further Scottish resistance.


  1. James H. Webb (11 October 2005). Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-7679-1689-9. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  2. Barrow, G. W. S. (2005). Robert Bruce and the community of the realm of Scotland. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 9780748620227.
  3. Powicke, F. M. (1962). The Thirteenth Century, 1216–1307 (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. OCLC 3693188.
  4. Dunbar, Sir Archibald H., Scottish Kings – A Revised Chronology of Scottish History 1005–1625, Edinburgh, 1899
  5. Prestwich, Michael (1997). Edward I. New Haven, US: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07209-0.
  6. John Parker Lawson (1849), "Siege of Berwick, 1296", Historical Tales of the Wars of Scotland, and of the Border Raids, Forays, and Conflicts, pp. 113–116
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