History of the Stewarts | Battles and Historic Events
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The Battle of the Standard
Near Northallerton, Yorkshire, England.
David I´s sister, Maud, had married Henry I of England, so the two monarchs were brothers-in-law and at peace with one another. Things changed when Henry died in 1135. Civil war broke out in England between Henry´s daughter, Matilda ("The Empress Maud") and Steven of Blois, who both claimed the English throne. David I naturally sided with his niece and marched into England against Steven in the spring of 1136, sweeping all before him and capturing every castle in Cumberland and Northumberland, save only Bamborough. A temporary truce was arranged, favourably negotiated by David from a position of strength, but it only lasted a short time before hostilities broke out once more. By this time Walter Fitzalan had arrived in Scotland and had been made first High Steward. When he set out with David in the spring of 1138 it was the first campaign in which a Stewart bore arms under the Scottish banner. It is also arguably the first occasion on which the Scottish army was drawn from all parts of the country and represented all the various strands and races of her people. Scotland was then a loose-knit nation, still forming herself into a cohesive whole. Normans, Britons, Angles, Celts, Picts, Scots and Norsemen all joined forces under their King and his High Steward to ravage Northumberland and Durham. The only abbey they spared was Hexham, dedicated to Scotland´s patron, Saint Andrew.
This was David´s third invasion into England in as many years and it has been described as "the most devastating of all the incursions which ever the Scots made into that country". Steven had gone south to deal with other enemies, so the English barons were led against the Scots by Thurstan, the ageing but resolute Archbishop of York.
On a wheeled float he erected a tall mast bearing his standard (hence the name by which the battle is known), hung with banners and holy relics including a consecrated host "so that Jesus Christ might be bodily present as Commander in the battle".
The High Steward, in his first battle, was second-in-command of the right wing, under Prince Henry, the king´s eldest son. They led a successful assault on the English left and drove their enemy from the field. But victory slipped from the Scottish grasp and all day the battle wavered until the Scots realised that they were not going to defeat Thurstan and his holy standard.
Although claimed as a victory by the English, the Scots withdrew to the north in good order, baffled rather than defeated, and regrouped at the place afterwards called Scotch Corner, near the Yorkshire/Durham border.
The Scots finally withdrew as part of the terms of the Treaty of Durham in April 1139, when the River Tees was agreed to become the border between Scotland and England, only the castles of Bamborough and Newcastle being retained by the English.