The unexpected death of King Alexander III ended the long period of peace and prosperity in Scotland. And with his only heir, his sickly granddaughterMargaret, dying four years later, the Scottish throne was left with no clear successor. In an attempt to avoid a civil war betweenno less than fourteen claimants to the throne, Edward Longshanks was asked to arbitrate. Realizing that the possibility of controllingScotland, as he did Wales and Ireland, was within his grasp, the English King ultimatelyannounced in favor of John Balliol, whom he anticipated would be a reliable vassal. However, by 1295 Edward’s demands for menand money to support the war with France exasperated the Scottish nobility, who persuaded Balliolto rebel and enter a defense pact with France. Outraged, Edward raised an army and invaded, starting the First War of Scottish Independence… As one of the strongest and ablest of kings to ever rule England, Edward crushed the Scots at Dunbar. John Balliol surrendered his kingdom beforebeing dispatched to the Tower of London. Although a well-garrisoned force was leftto guard the conquered lands, disturbances broke out soon after when William Wallacefanned the flames of revolt across Scotland after he defeated an English force at StirlingBridge. His victory resulted in his elevation to theguardianship of the realm and preparations began for what was to follow – a confrontationwith Edward. Determined to hammer the Scots into submissionthe English King marched north, having previously signed a peace treaty with France. He mustered a powerful army and decisivelydefeated Wallace at Falkirk. With the throne still vacant in 1306, Robertthe Bruce made a bid for the crown by killing his main rival John Comyn III in the Greyfriars’Church, claiming the throne of Scotland as the great-great-grandson of David I. With the support from a section of the ScottishChurch and nobility he was crowned at Scone. But his rebellion got off to a bad start witha shattering defeat at Methven, where most of his loyal followers died or were capturedand executed. Then at Dalrigh, Robert’s retreating forcewas intercepted and nearly wiped out. With his position collapsing he escaped tothe tiny Isle of Rathlin, where he set about reorganizing his resources. Worse followed. Robert’s sisters, his daughter, and hiswife Elizabeth were captured and delivered into the hands of Edward I, and his brotherNeil was executed at Berwick. In early 1307 he ventured back toward themainland with a handful of followers. Meanwhile, his two younger brothers sailedfor Galloway, intending to harass English communications between Carlisle and Ayr, butonce they landed in Loch Ryan they were ambushed, captured, and later executed. Robert, on the other hand, had success againstthe English at Glen Trool and more significantly at Loudon Hill, which saw his following andhis territorial gains grow significantly. Scottish fortunes took a turn for the betterwhen the 68-year old King Edward I, the “Hammer of the Scots”, died on July 7th 1307. His frivolous son and successor, Edward II,lacked his father’s military and political skill, and his reliance on favorites earnedhim the contempt from his leading magnates, which distracted him from the situation inScotland.
which distracted him from the situation inScotland. This allowed Robert valuable time to dealwith those Scottish nobles who opposed his rule, most notably his arch-rival John Comyn,3rd Earl of Buchan, whose rich earldom was left at his mercy after he defeated the earlat Inverurie. Robert took Aberdeen in the summer of 1308making his hold on the north-east unassailable and other nobles soon joined him, enablinghim to turn his attention to driving the English from his kingdom. Over the coming years, one by one Englishcastles fell and Robert gave those Scottish nobles, who had not yet come to his banner,a year to swear fealty to him or they would lose rights to their lands. By early spring of 1314 only the great strongholds of Bothwell and Stirling remained in English hands. Bothwell was isolated and presented no immediatethreat, so Robert entrusted his brother Edward Bruce with the siege of Stirling. Philip Mowbray, the beleaguered governor,realized that the fall of Stirling was but a matter of time and agreed with Edward Brucethat if he was not relieved by June 24th he would surrender the castle. King Robert was displeased with his brother’schivalrous gesture towards Mowbray, understanding that this deadline would spur the Englishinto action. Now, only a pitched battle would prevent thecastle from being relieved and Robert knew that this could undo all that he had achievedso far. Meanwhile King Edward II patched up relationswith some of his magnates and was now on his way north to muster an army at Berwick, underpressure to relieve Stirling by June 24th. Money had been raised with a loan from thePope and a stream of men converged on Berwick, along with an immense amount of supplies andequipment that were brought by land and sea. As the army marched towards Stirling all provisionshad to be stockpiled and transported, as the Scots would make sure to scorch the land andleave nothing of use for the advancing English. King Robert faced an army more than twicethe size of his own and he positioned his forces a few kilometers south of Stirlingwhere he waited for Edward… Robert divided his 7000 infantry into fourdivisions of schiltrons – strong defensive squares of men with pikes – arraying themalong the Falkirk road that goes through the New Park forest to Stirling. On the morning of June 23rd, Sir James Keith,commander of the 600 light Scottish horsemen, went on patrol to observe the arrival of theEnglish Army. Seeing 3,000 horsemen, knights, and men-at-arms,their weapons and armor glistening in the sun, was a daunting sight. Behind them 13,000 infantry and a contingentof Welsh archers exited the Torwood, descending onto the plain south of the Bannockburn stream. The English formation stretched for severalkilometers and Hereford’s heavy cavalry in the vanguard started making their way down the steep embankment of the considerable Bannockburn stream, and after climbing up onto the roadthey sighted the Scottish footmen, apparently retreating back into the woods. Meanwhile, on the English far right, baronof Clifford rushed along a path, hidden from view, with his armored mounted contingentto cut off the Scottish line of retreat towards
view, with his armored mounted contingentto cut off the Scottish line of retreat towards Stirling castle. Back on the Bannockburn stream, Hereford’snephew, Sir Henry de Bohun spotted a figure riding out in front of the Scottish infantry. It was King Robert himself commanding histroops. Henry could not resist. He saw this as a chance to end the war bystriking down the Scottish King and achieve personal glory. He lowered his helmet, steered his fully armoredcharger towards the king and pointed his lance straight at him. On his light grey palfrey, unequipped formounted combat, Robert had every reason to seek safety with his troops. But he set his horse towards the challenger,who bore down full-tilt. As they closed-in Bruce quickly swerved hisnimble horse aside to avoid the lance, stood up in his stirrups and smashed through Henry’shelmet, his axe breaking on impact. The English knight was dead before he hitthe ground. Meanwhile, Hereford spurred his men forwardalong the road, confident that the Scots wouldn’t dare confront the armored horsemen on openground. He wanted to catch the footmen before theyretreated to the safety of the woods. But the Scots weren’t retreating. Robert had ordered large pits, covered withbranches, to be dug on both sides of the road and he waited for the enemy to come to him. Before the English could form up, Robert’sschiltrons lowered their spears and move up in a tightly packed phalanx-like formation. Hereford’s cavalry was immediately met with heavy losses as they ran into a wall of Scottish spears. As the rest of his mounted contingent triedto form up they experienced considerable difficulties with the pit traps. Gloucester circled back with his mounted men,attempting to cross further upstream. Seeing the maneuver, Edward Bruce immediatelymoved to protect his brother’s flank. Unsure about the extent of the pit traps andwith Edward Bruce’s troops approaching, the English fell back. Meanwhile, on the Scottish left flank Randolph noticed Clifford’s contingent almost too late. He quickly sprang into action, angry withhimself that he almost allowed the enemy to encircle his position. He led his men out of the woods and towardsthe onrushing English. The Scots formed shoulder to shoulder, asan impenetrable wall of spears. Clifford’s cavalry circled around theirformation, launching attack after attack without success and, in their frustration at not breakingthrough the schiltron, the knights hurled spears, darts, and maces – even their swords– at Randolph’s men, in a vain attempt to maim enemy troops. Douglas, meanwhile, left the woods with hisspearmen and slowly advanced. This lifted the pressure on Randolph as someof the English cavalry wheeled about to meet the incoming enemy.
strategy tactics dark ages the incoming enemy.
the incoming enemy. Randolph seized the opportunity and assumedthe offensive, charging right through the English ranks. With their formation broken and with freshScottish infantrymen approaching, the English heavy cavalry dispersed. This brought the fighting of June 23rd toan end. Although the English losses weren’t heavyand they still retained their 2:1 numerical superiority, their morale took a big hit afterthe two clashes. With the day drawing to a close, King Edward’stroops needed a place to encamp and the horses needed to be watered. He decided to move all of the cavalry andabout a half of the infantry into a marshy area across the Bannockburn, while the remaininginfantry and the baggage train would encamp south of the stream. Meanwhile, Robert Bruce gathered his officersfor a council of war. Despite the successes of the day, harsh pastexperiences taught him to avoid pitched battles against heavy cavalry, and he considered withdrawingdeeper into the rugged Scottish wilderness where it would be too hard for the Englishto follow. But as the talks went on, a Scottish knightin English service defected and swore fealty to Robert Bruce. He informed the king that the English aredemoralized and disorganized, pledging his life that if Bruce attacked in the morninghe would have victory. Robert turned to his officers, saying: “Shallwe fight or not?!” In one voice they boldly answered for battle. On the morning of June 24th, among the Englisha mood of caution replaced the earlier presumption of easy victory. King Edward began deploying his cavalry betweenthe deep ravine of the Pelstream and a thick wooded area in the south, ordering archersand infantry to form behind them. King Robert the Bruce then gave the momentousorder to advance across the open field against the mighty English army, more than twice the strength than his own and with far superior weapons. The seemingly suicidal plan of advancing withinfantry against heavy cavalry was only possible because of the innovative way in which Roberttrained his schiltrons to move forward in echelon formation. He hoped that the English would still viewhis formations as defensive and wouldn’t appreciate just how vital their mobility was for hisplan of attack. As the Scots moved slowly to keep their cohesion,Robert sent his archers forward to divert as much attention from his spearmen as possible. And the ruse worked, as English bowmen respondedby shooting at Scottish archers instead of the infantry formations. As the English were still forming their lines,their commanders argued over who should lead the cavalry attack. Refusing to wrangle for too long, Gloucestercharged headlong across the open space between the two armies, followed by Clifford and manyother prominent knights. As they crashed into Edward Bruce’s schiltron,Gloucester and his comrades were instantly
As they crashed into Edward Bruce’s schiltron,Gloucester and his comrades were instantly killed by the wall of spears raised to meetthem. Most of the cavalry contingent was annihilatedin a matter of minutes. Scottish bristling hedge of steel-tipped pikesnow pushed forward. A succession of spirited attacks were mountedby the English, but they weren’t able to break the Scottish formation. Observers said that, as the cavalry met theschiltrons, “the horses disappeared from sight like men plunging in the sea”. Slowly but surely Edward Bruce’s formationreached Bannockburn and anchored its’ position to the stream, allowing other schiltrons topush forward. Robert now planned to trap the English betweenthe two streams. For hours the fighting continued as the Scottishspearmen held their ground against bruising rushes of horsemen. Physical demands on individual spearmen must’vebeen enormous. The disciplined Scots showed great unity againstthe attacks of the English cavalry, as they edged their way further into the narrowingpocket between the Bannockburn and Pelstream. So far the English archers, who could’vepotentially broken up the Scottish formations, weren’t utilized properly, but someone finallyordered them to shoot at the schiltrons. However, with Scottish ranks being so narrow,the arrows now flew harmlessly over them. The bowmen were then ordered to shoot pastthe cavalry, directly at the spearmen. This also failed as English horsemen toweredover the Scottish footmen, in effect shielding them from arrow volleys and finding themselvesin the line of fire. Nevertheless, arrow volleys continued as Englisharchers gradually moved across the Pelstream to get a better angle. Seeing this, Robert ordered his light cavalryunder Marischal Keith to try and disperse them, recognizing the danger archers couldpose for his spearmen. Meanwhile, the Scots closed the pocket betweenPelstream and Bannockburn, effectively trapping the English between the deep ravines of thetwo streams. After crossing the Pelstream himself, Keith’slight cavalry galloped with their lances levelled towards the English archers. The bowmen were overrun, and those who weren’tkilled fled across the stream. Keith continued to patrol up and down thePelstream to prevent any further flanking attempts by archers. As the hard-fought battle reached its’ savageattrition stage, the push of the exhausted Scots slowed and Robert now played his fullhand by sending his own two schiltrons forward, aware that he could not afford a stalemate. Some filled the gaps in Douglas’ spear lines,while others leaned with all their strength against the backs and shoulders of men whoseknees were buckling after hours of fighting. The English finally began giving more ground. With the outcome now virtually certain togo against them, English leaders were determined to get their king to safety, as the Scottishspearmen were close about him on the front line. The withdrawal of 500 knights to protect theking not only guaranteed defeat, but triggered an undisciplined flight by many others. The defeat of the English opened up the northof England to Scottish raids and allowed the Scottish invasion of Ireland. In exchange for the captured nobles, Edward II released Robert’s wife Elizabeth and his sisters Christina and Mary, as well as hisdaughter Marjorie, ending their 8-year imprisonment in England. The victory at Bannockburn secured Scotland’sindependence with the Treaty of Edinburgh–Northampton in 1328. The English crown recognized the full independenceof the Kingdom of Scotland, and acknowledged Robert the Bruce, his heirs and successors, as the rightful rulers.