The Battle of Happrew was a small skirmish during the First War of Scottish Independence. It saw the English forces occupying Scotland try to locate and capture two prominent leaders of the Scottish resistance, Sir William Wallace and Sir Simon Fraser. Although the English commander, the Baron of Segrave, ultimately failed to detain the two rebels, the raid at Happrew is still known as one of the last actions fought by the legendary William Wallace.
Background and Figures Involved
In the 1290s, the relations between England and Scotland quickly deteriorated to the point of open armed conflict after a period of relative stability during the reign of Alexander III of Scotland (1249-86), largely thanks to the endless ambitions of King Edward I of England. In 1296, Edward invaded Scotland without warning, capturing large swathes of the country and forcing hundreds of Scottish nobles to pledge allegiance to his authority. Next year, however, all of his gains were rapidly reversed after the remarkable Scottish victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This victory lifted William Wallace, a member of the lower nobility, to the status of Protector of Scotland, effectively acting as the regent for King John Balliol (who had been captured by Edward). In 1298, however, Wallace was humiliated in a crushing defeat at Falkirk, after which he resigned from his post. Wallace would resurface as a guerrilla resistance leader after much of Scotland was captured for the second time by Edward in 1303.
The second Scottish figure involved in the action at Happrew was Sir Simon Fraser. Like the bulk of Scottish higher nobility, Fraser was captured by Edward at Dunbar in 1296 and remained in the service of the English king for about five years. He even fought alongside Edward to defeat William Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk. Shortly after being restored to his lands and titles, however, Fraser changed sides and firmly joined the Scottish cause in 1301. In 1303, he defeated the Baron of Segrave in a series of skirmishes, as we shall see.
On the other side of the forces which met at Happrew was Sir John, 2nd Baron Segrave. After being appointed to Berwick Castle in August 1302, Segrave personally led a large raiding party in early-spring 1303. The resulting series of small encounters, known as the Battle of Roslin, saw Segrave not only being defeated, but also briefly captured by the Scottish troops under Sir Simon Fraser.
Battle of Happrew
Almost precisely one year after his defeat at Roslin, Segrave got another opportunity to avenge the disgrace when he received reports of the presence of a considerable Scottish force at Happrew, near the modern town of Peebles, about 35 kilometres south of Edinburgh. When Segrave arrived with a large army, he found out that the Scottish army was actually commanded by his old nemesis, Sir Simon Fraser and the notorious William Wallace. It is almost certain that Segrave’s forces seriously outnumbered the Scots and therefore, were able to quickly overcome the resistance. Unfortunate for Segrave, however, both Fraser and Wallace managed to flee the action in time. This action at Happrew took place on or around the 20th of February, 1304, and partly helped restore the self-esteem of Sir John Segrave.
Moreover, even though the Scottish leaders managed to escape, their days were numbered nevertheless. The only notable action in which Wallace fought after Happrew was the Battle of Earnside in September of the same year, before being captured and executed for treason in the summer of 1305. Similarly, Fraser surrendered himself only a few months after the dispersal of his forces at Happrew, and was allowed to join the English army ranks. Incredibly, Fraser again betrayed Edward I in March 1306, but was similarly captured and executed in September 1306.
Segrave’s revenge was finally complete.
Image: The River Tweed with the spire of Peebles Old Parish Church in the background