Shrewsbury, 21 July 1403
The bloody slaughter at Shrewsbury on a hot afternoon in July marked the climax of Henry 'Hotspur' Percy's attempt to overthrow King Henry IV. The battle took place less than a mile outside the town of Shrewsbury, close by the border between Wales and England. Percy's rebel army took up a strong position along the crest of a ridge, overlooking the massed Royal army on the relatively flat ground below. For the first time in British history longbow faced longbow, and a devastating rain of arrows from both sides signalled the start of what would prove to be the bloodiest battle fought in England during the whole period of the Hundred Years War. Hotspur was killed by an arrow to the face as he led an ill-fated attack on the King, and in the rout of the rebels that followed as many as 3,000 are said to have been slain.
Barnet, 14 April 1471
One of the pivotal battles of the Wars of the Roses took place just outside the village of Barnet on the outskirts of London. Fighting to reclaim his throne from the Lancastrian Henry VI, the Yorkist warrior king Edward IV brought an army of around 10,000 to bear against perhaps 15,000 led by the legendary 'Kingmaker' Warwick. The two opposing forces struggled to find one another on a battlefield wreathed in early morning fog. There was confusion throughout the fighting - which took its most severe toll on the Lancastrians, who eventually fell to fighting one another. In the rout that followed, Warwick the Kingmaker was among those cut down as he attempted to flee the field.
Flodden, 9 September 1513
A defeat that struck at the very heart of the Scottish nation was dealt here, on a Nothumbrian hillside, when the Scottish King James IV himself fell in the thick of the fighting, surrounded by thousands of his nobility and his subjects. With Henry VIII making war in France, the English force was led in his stead by the septuagenarian Earl of Surrey. Disastrous tactics on the part of the Scots, coupled with an unsuitable choice of weapons, assured an English victory and a death toll among the Scottish army that was to affect the national psyche for many generations to come.
Siege of Newark 1642 - 1646
While the English Civil War is famous for set-piece battles such as Edgehill, Marston Moor and Naseby, the eventual victory was decided by the long-running sieges that were waged to gain and keep control of the principal towns and cities of the land. Among the most famous and long-lasting of these sieges is that which beset the Royalist stronghold of Newark, on and off, for four years. The Parliamentary screws were tightened further between October 1645 and May 1646 - through the orders of General Poyntz - and this finally secured the surrender of the town. The legacy of that bloody period is marked today by some of the most impressive and well-preserved field fortifications anywhere in Britain.
Culloden, 16 April 1746
Of all the battles that resonate in the hearts and minds of Scottish patriots, none has a greater effect than that of Culloden. The culmination of the attempt by the House of Stuart to wrest the Scottish crown from the House of Hanover, the battle took place on a rain-blasted moor outside Inverness, and has been romanticised almost since the day and hour when the fighting stopped. Led by the charismatic Bonnie Prince Charlie, the second Jacobite rebellion was finally crushed by the now infamous 'Butcher of Cumberland', the Duke of Cumberland, son of George II, in the last pitched battle ever to be fought on British soil.
Defence of the Forth, 1939 - 1945
In the early days of World War Two, the invasion of Britain by German forces seemed a very real threat. The Firth of Forth on Scotland's east coast had, since the early 20th century, served as one of the most important naval bases on the British coastline, and was therefore considered by many to be one of the most obvious targets for such a move. The story of how the tiny island of Inchkeith, which had been fortified for centuries, played a role in defending the Forth at this time, reveals how quickly even relatively recent military sites can vanish from the landscape and provide a challenge for archaeologists.
Find out more
Archaeological perspectives on the Battle of Little Big Horn by D Scott, R Fox, M Connor, D Harmon. University of Oklahoma, 1989
Two Men in a Trench by Tony Pollard and Neil Oliver. Michael Joseph, 2002
Battlefield Archaeology by John Laffin, Ian Allen, 1987
Battlefields of England by A Burne, Methuen, London 1950
The Complete Guide to the Battlefields of Britain by D Smurthwaite, Penguin, London, 1984
Battlefield Archaeology by John Laffin, Ian Allen, 1987
Places to visit
Site of the Battle of Shrewsbury: now farming land, bordered by the A5124 to the south, the A528 to the west and the A49 to the east. The battlefield is most accessible from the A49 north out of Shrewsbury itself.
Site of Battle of Barnet: accessible from the London Underground station of Barnet; a ten minute walk in a northerly direction brings you to Hadley Green.
Site of Battle of Flodden: more accurately known as Branxton Hill. Take the A698 out of Berwick-on-Tweed and turn left at the roundabout on to the A697 to Wooler. After about two miles you will see Branxton village and the battlefield sign posted to the right.
Newark: the Civil War siege-works of Newark are without equal. The Queen's Sconce was the scene of the most stubborn resistance, are just south of the town centre.
Culloden: Culloden battlefield is located three miles to the south-east of Inverness, which sits next to the A9. Take the B9006 and follow the signs. The battlefield is owned by the National Trust for Scotland who have done much to preserve the site.
Firth of Forth: for a grandstand view of the defences, take the A90 road out of Edinburgh.