Some of the most important, yet little known, battles were fought in Yorkshire during the Middle Ages. MATT CLARK meets a York historian who is about to shed light on them.

TOWTON, Stamford Bridge, Marston Moor and Fulford were some of the most infamous and bloodiest battles fought on English soil – and more major skirmishes have been fought here than in any other English county.

But a host of other clashes, many less well known, also helped to shape the region and the nation, such as the Battle of Heathfield fought in AD 633, and the Battle of Winwidfield, AD 654, not to mention the little known Royalist victories at The Battle of Adwalton Moor, near Gomersal, or the Battle of Heptonstall in 1643.

And, apart from those who live in the village, how many are aware of the Battle of Sherburn-in-Elmet, where Parliamentarians defeated the last significant Royalist force in the north?

York-based freelance historian Dr Rob Wright is about to unveil the secrets of the county's lesser known bloody history in a series of talks at Bedern Hall.

Setting context aside, he will mainly concentrate on the medieval period, when Yorkshire was permanently on the front line.

"In the Middle Ages you had to be able to keep the nobility on your side," says Dr Wright. "The worst thing you can do is concentrate on a few people you trust and exclude everybody else.

"Edward II is the classic example of a king that does just that. He could only have redeemed himself if he'd been lucky in battle, but he wasn't. In fact the chronicles call him 'chicken hearted as ever' when it comes to war."

Morale plummeted across the kingdom, the Scots were waiting in the wings and English nobles, feeling excluded from power, rebelled.

Throughout the reign different baronial groups struggled to gain power and control the king. But Edward's greatest enemy was the Earl of Lancaster, whose lack of support was a decisive factor for losing Bannockburn in 1314.

Following the king's humiliating defeat, Lancaster rose to power and in effect became ruler of England. But he was also unable to keep order or prevent the Scots who, fresh from victory, mounted ever more daring raids into England’s northern counties.

"We like statistics. The biggest, the bloodiest and if we can throw in a few skulls even better," says Dr Wright. "Towton gets a lot of attention, but what's interesting is not just set-piece action, but the significance of this region at the time. The same importance that brought the Romans here.

"I'll certainly talk about Marston Moor, but these forgotten battles are the most interesting ones. It's the stuff to do with Scots coming south."

As soon as there was a whiff of trouble in England, they came down sensing blood and revenge. Edward I had made things worse by defeating the Scottish nobility, so they went on the warpath with leaders William Wallace and Robert Bruce.

Soon it became a seasonal activity to raid the north. In 1318 and 1319, the men stormed further south, burning and looting Northallerton, Wetherby, Knaresborough and Boroughbridge. Ripon was only spared in return for a ransom of 1,000 marks.

The following year, while Edward was busy trying to take back Berwick on Tweed which had fallen to Robert Bruce, a Scottish contingent headed for York. The city was largely undefended with its men seconded to take part in the Berwick campaign.

But when they failed to enter the city and capture Queen Isabella, the troops set off for home. One thing they hadn't bargained for was the Archbishop of York, who in the meantime had raised an army of 10,000 untrained men, which set off in pursuit of the Scots.

They met at Myton near Boroughbridge, where the Ure joins the Swale. Although they outnumbered the Scots, the English army was inexperienced and ill-equipped. After crossing the river at Myton Bridge, they were attacked and began to flee.

But the Scottish forces had control of the bridge, forcing the English to hold their ground or brave the water. Many drowned or were slaughtered, including some 200 monks whose corpses were left on the field, their white habits drenched with blood. Hence the name: The White Battle.

By the 1330s a degree of peace had been brokered, York lost its significance as the war capital and the machinery of Government returned to London.

While Edward II's reign was the important period, Dr Wright says he will also be stressing the importance of the Battle of the Standard as a precedent. It was fought near Northallerton in 1138, as one of two major struggles in a war between English King Stephen and Empress Matilda during the period aptly known as The Anarchy.

Scotland's King David crossed the border into England with an army of 16,000 men to support his niece’s claim to the throne and with Stephen busy tackling rebel barons in the south, it fell to a locally raised force to repel the invaders.

Thanks to Archbishop Thurstan of York, who preached repelling the foe was God’s work, an army of 10,000 men was also recruited.

The centre of their position was marked by a cart which had a mast from which were flown the consecrated banners of the minsters of York, Beverley and Ripon: thus the name of the battle.

God must have been listening that day. Despite resisting a number of attacks, the Scottish lines eventually broke after hours of hand-to-hand combat. But it proved to be a pyrrhic victory. The Yorkshiremen failed to take full advantage of their rout and this allowed many of Scots to escape and regroup at Carlisle.

They would control northern England for the next 20 years.

Arrow-storming tactics had played a major role in defeating the Scots at the Battle of the Standard, but one of the most legendary weapons in English history was to play a significant part at another little known, confrontation that Dr Wright will discuss.

The Battle of Boroughbridge was fought in 1322. Not this time against the Scots, but between Lancaster's rebels and forces loyal to Edward II.

Lancaster was fleeing north after his most trusted retainer had defected to the king. When his small force of 700 men reached Boroughbridge they discovered the king's general, Sir Andrew Harcla had taken possession of the wooden river bridge.

Lancaster was caught between a rock and a hard place. Fight Harcla for the crossing or turn south and face the King's advancing army. He chose the former, which proved to be his undoing, because Harcla's troops were armed with longbows.

Lancaster was captured him, taken to York and later ordered by Edward to be drawn, hung and beheaded at Pontefract Castle.

"This was revenge time," says Dr Wright. "Boroughbridge freed Edward from his enemies for a significant time and he felt renewed and reborn afterwards.

"It's a shame more people don't know about the battle, because it's got all the hallmarks of an interesting one."

The conflict had monumental consequences for the king, and was significant for being the first time that tactics learned during the Scottish wars were used in a domestic English conflict. This was a very early use of the longbow which, 20 years later, would show its devastating efficiency at Crécy, Poitiers, and of course Agincourt.

Perhaps it's the paradox of Edward II's disastrous reign that this was precisely the period when the full-sized, six-ft longbow emerged to its full potential.

The king's respite after Boroughbridge didn't last long. Only months later he was again defeated by the Scots. This time at The Battle of Byland. Few of us have heard of it, but this was the most significant victory against the English, since Bannockburn.

"Some of the most important, little known conflicts were fought in Yorkshire during the reign of Edward II," says Dr Wright. "York was the working capital of the kingdom; the forward base for military operations.

"The court is here and all the instruments of government such as the exchequer and it stays here for close on 40 years.

"In all that time York is the lynchpin."

Dr Rob Wright's six two-hour talks will run from April 29 to June 3 at Bedern Hall, York, beginning at 7pm. There will also be a post-course visit to one or more battlefields. The cost is £25 (£20 for unwaged or retired people). To book places contact

All proceeds will go to the Education & Research Centre for PLACE (People, Landscape And Cultural Environment of Yorkshire), an independent charity that promotes research into Yorkshire culture and disseminates the results for public benefit.