Battle of Bannockburn II

Battle of Bannockburn II

Following the execution of William Wallace in 1305, Robert the Bruce, grandson of an earlier claimant to the Scottish throne, took up resistance to English rule. After suffering defeats in 1306 at the hands of the Earl of Pembroke at Methven on June 19 and at Dalry on August 11, Bruce was victorious over Pembroke in the Battle of Loudoun Hill on May 10, 1307. Hardly a major battle, Loudoun Hill nonetheless reversed the negative effects of Bruce’s two earlier defeats.

Bruce, now recognized as King Robert I of Scotland (r. 1306–1329), utilized mostly guerrilla tactics and raids to drive out the English. By 1314 he controlled all Scotland except five English-held castles. That spring Edward Bruce, Robert’s younger brother, began a siege of the major English stronghold, Stirling Castle, held by Sir Philip Mowbray. Bruce and Mowbray eventually concluded an agreement that if no relief appeared by midsummer, June 24, the castle would surrender.

That arrangement forced English king Edward II to act. Assembling a force of 20,000 men, including 2,000 heavily armored knights, he invaded Scotland in midJune. His stated goal was to relieve the siege, but his real intent was to reclaim Scotland. His army was probably twice the size of the Scottish force opposing it.

Aware of the English approach, King Robert prepared a defensive position about one mile wide on a slope several miles south of Stirling, behind the stream of Bannockburn. Woods anchored the Scottish right, and a morass flanked the left. The only good approach to the Scottish position was by the old Roman road. Along that approach the Scots blocked paths with branches and dug cavalry traps (pits implanted with stakes and covered with brush). These were intended to prevent any flanking movements and channel the advance, forcing the English to bunch up.

The Scots were armed similarly to the English, primarily with long pikes. They were formed into schiltroms, large circles of men with the pikes pointing outward to form an impenetrable wall. The pikes could be grounded at an angle to blunt a cavalry charge. The Scots numbered only some 8,000 men, however, of whom 500 were cavalry.

Mowbray knew of the Scottish preparations and warned Edward and also informed him that battle was not necessary, for Edward had already met the technical terms of the relief of the castle, which now would not have to surrender. Edward, however, had lost control of his army, and its leaders were eager for battle.

Edward arrived in the vicinity of Bannockburn on June 23. Preliminary skirmishing occurred that day, with the main battle occurring on June 24. The fighting went badly for the English from the beginning. On June 23 Mowbray met with Edward and requested a relief force for Stirling Castle. Edward agreed and allocated 500 cavalry for the purpose. Mowbray attempted to reach the castle undetected via a narrow bridle path, but Robert spotted this and ordered his men to intercept. In the ensuing fight the Scottish schiltroms withstood repeated English cavalry charges, and the knights were forced to retreat with the loss of about 100 of their number.

This small engagement cheered the Scots. That evening a young Scottish knight who had been with the English deserted and informed King Robert that the English were demoralized and unhappy with Edward’s leadership. This convinced Robert, even though he was badly outnumbered, to keep his position and fight the next day.

The main battle opened with an English advance on the Scottish positions. Crowded into the narrow front, the English cavalry became disorganized, and the Scottish schiltroms beat back its charges. The English infantry, behind the cavalry with the archers, was not able to deploy properly, and the archers, unable to deploy to the flanks, could not employ their weapons effectively. They hit their own men in the back as often as they hit the Scots.

As the English faltered, the Scots staged a general advance against the disorganized mass of the English army, which began to break. Edward was forcibly taken from the field by his bodyguard, but this ended what remained of army discipline.

The Scots pursued and slew thousands of the English. Although there is no accurate count of English casualties, perhaps only a third of Edward’s infantry returned to England. The Scots killed some 700 of the men-at-arms and held another 500 for ransom. Scottish losses in the battle are said to have been light.

The Battle of Bannockburn was decisive. One of the greatest victories in Scottish history, it greatly strengthened Robert’s position, although full English recognition of independence for Scotland was still more than a decade away.

References

Barrow, G. W. S. Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965.

Prestwick, Michael. The Three Edwards: War and State in England, 1272–1377. New York: St. Martin’s, 1980.

Scott, Robert McNair. Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1996.