The Battle of the Standard (Northallerton) – 22nd August 1138   Leave a comment

Coronation of King Stephen

After the death of Henry I in 1135, a power struggle for succession that turned to civil war broke out across England and Normandy.

Before his death Henry had asked his barons and earls to swear their allegiance to his daughter, Matilda, and for her to become Queen. But as soon as he died, their moods changed, unsure as to be ruled by a woman, and one who was married to the Count of Anjou, a rival of Normandy.

Stephen of Blois, King Henry’s nephew, made a claim to the throne, and many barons rallied to his banner. He was crowned King of England in December 1135, but war was now on the cards.

The war largely centred around the old capital and religious centre of Winchester in southern England, however there was also fighting in Normandy, the east of England , and today’s battle, in northern England. Today, Northallerton is a busy and attractive market town about 15 miles south of where we, The Little Corporal are based. Back in 1138, it was just a small hamlet and became the site of this decisive engagement purely by chance in so much that it sits the distance of one day’s march north of York, from where the English Royalist army was marching from.

1138 was a troublesome year for Stephen, with several barons rebelling in southern England that needed his personal attention to put down the uprisings. Seeing that Stephen had his hands full, King David I of Scotland, who was Matilda’s uncle, took the opportunity to invade England in support of his niece. With an army around 16,000 strong he marched south.

As Stephen was otherwise engaged in the south, he entrusted the defence of the north largely to two men; William of Aumale, the Earl of Yorkshire, and Archbishop Thurstan of York. Between the two of them, through preaching and persuasion, they raised an army of Yorkshire levies which were bolstered by professional knights and archers, bringing their numbers up to possibly 10,000 men. Still far short of the numbers David advanced with. As a morale boost for the smaller army, Thruston had created a carroccio, a wagon upon which was mounted a ship’s mast. At the top of the mast was fastened a pyx containing the holy host and from the mast was hung four religious banners; those of the cathedrals of Durham, York, Ripon and Beverley. It was a method of creating a “sacred” army banner and rallying point that had been used for sometime by the Italians, as well during the early Crusades, but was the first, and to my knowledge, the only time such a banner has ever been used in England. It is this elaborate holy wagon that of course gave this battle its name – The Battle of the Standard.

Setting off from York to intercept the Scots, Aumale’s army made only one day’s march before meeting the Scots on the foggy morning of 22nd August near Northallerton.


Suggested initial set up for The Battle of the Standard

Wargaming Notes

Due to popularity now of ancient & medieval rules like Mortem et Gloriam and L’Art de la Guerre, which use “bases” rather than individual figures like the traditional WRG rules and Shock Of Impact, we are now listing suggested base numbers in our Orders of Battle instead of figure numbers. As always, our army lists, although thoroughly researched, are just a suggestion and designed to be as generic as possible so you can apply them to whichever rules you prefer.


Scottish Army

King David ! of Scotland – Commander-in-Chief – Experienced, veteran, competent leader.

Royal Knights (200 men) – 1 base – mounted medium knights, veteran, elite, lance, shield

Prince Henry of Scotland – sub-commander – Experienced, impetuous, ordinary leader

Knights (2 units of 250 men) – 2 bases – mounted medium knights, impetuous, lance, shield

Bowmen (2 units of 1,000 men each) – 2 x 2 bases – bowmen, medium infantry, experienced, bow

Spearmen (4 units of 1,500 men each) 4 x 3 bases – heavy infantry, experienced, spear and shield

Galwegian Warriors (4 units of 2,000 men each) 4 x 4 bases – medium infantry, impetuous, unarmoured, swords and shields.

Royalist Army

William d’Aumale – Commander-in-Chief – Experienced, veteran, competent leader

Household Knights – (200 men) – 1 base – mounted medium knights, veteran, elite, lance, shield

Carrocccio & Guard – (Scared banner/camp with 200 men) – Camp base + 1 base – dismounted knights, heavy infantry, veteran, elite, swordsmen

Yorkshire Levy – (5 units of 1,000 men) – 5 x 2 bases – heavy infantry, mediocre morale, spear, shield

Bowmen – (2 units of 1,000 men) – 2 x 2 bases – bowmen, medium infantry, experienced, bow

Dismounted Knights – (2 units of 750 men) 2 x 2 bases – dismounted knights, heavy infantry, veteran, swordsmen


William d’Aumale, having a much smaller army, and despite the “divine standard” supplied by Archbishop Thurstan, opted for a practical way to bolster the morale of his newly raised Yorkshire Levy. He had the majority of his knights dismount, and placed them in the front line interspersed with archers; a formation normally attributed to much later battles of the 100 Years War. Having his knights present and relatively static, he hoped would steady the more nervous levies. The only knights that remained mounted were his own Household guard which he no doubt kept mobile in case of an emergency exit being needed.

Across the battlefield King David had initially planned to deploy in a similar fashion. He was an experienced commander and knew how to fight the Anglo-Normans. However his Galwegian allies demanded that they lead the battle and take the front line. David eventually gave in to their demands as they did make up almost half his army and he had witnessed them defeat English knights before, but that was on a far smaller scale and in advantageous terrain. This battle was very different.

The Galwegians took the front line and with screams and war-cries, launched their charge across the open ground towards the English army. Fast moving, but unarmoured, they came under devastating clouds of arrows unleashed by the English bowmen. Despite taking considerable casualties they pressed home their charge and smacked into the wall of dismounted knights who had filled the line as the bowmen moved back. Their sheer weight of numbers and ferocious fighting style began to push back the knights and the front line levy units, who thankfully held under the pressure. The Galwegians kept up the fight and forced the English line back to the carroccio which had it’s own guard of knights. The reserve Yorkshire Levy were now committed to the fight too and eventually the Galwegians were halted and then pushed back before being routed.

All the while King David had watched from the opposite hill without sending his other troops forward, but his impetuous son, Price Henry decided to support the Galwegians and launched a charge of his cavalry without orders from his father. But it was too late, by the time his men hit the English lines most of the Galwegians were either dead or fleeing and Henry found himself and his knights fighting alone. William d’Aumale launched his own Household knights to counter attack the Scots cavalry in the flank as they battled with the Yorkshire Levy, which quickly sent them into retreat.

It was now that King David decided to send forward the rest of his army, another 8,000 men, but it was too little and certainly too late. Half way across the battlefield his fresh troops were confronted with fleeing Galwegians and Henry’s knights in full retreat. The remaining Scots immediately halted and opted to turn around and fall back too.

Despite their smaller numbers, the English Royalist army had won. The Scots lost over 10,000 men, mainly Galwegians who were reported on by an eyewitness as “looking like hedgehogs, there were so many arrows in their bodies”. English losses were minimal.


As I hope you can see from the account of the battle, it could have all been different with different tactics, or even just a speedier intervention by David’s reserves. It would certainly make an interesting re-fight in miniature, and if you do re-fight it from this the article then please send us a picture of your game and we’ll send you some freebies.


We have both games and books available on this site if you want to learn more about The Anarchy, just click on the images below to see more information on each item.


The Anarchy – “Cry Havoc” hexmap game

Posted 13/09/2021 by The Little Corporal in Medieval

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