Battle Of Bannockburn

Battle Of Bannockburn

Author: Lang, Andrew

Battle Of Bannockburn


After the submission of Scotland in 1303, at the end of Wallace's heroic

struggle, Edward I undertook to complete the union of that kingdom with

England. "But the great difficulty," says a historian, "in dealing with the

Scots was that they never knew when they were conquered; and just when Edward

hoped that his scheme for union was carried out, they rose in arms once more."

The Scottish leader now was Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale and Earl of

Carrick. He had acted with Wallace, but afterward swore fealty to Edward.

Still later he united with William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, against

the English King. Edward heard of their compact while Bruce was in London,

and the Scot fled to Dumfries. There, 1306, in the Church of the Gray Friars,

he had an interview with John Comyn, called the Red Comyn - Bruce's rival for

the Scottish throne - which ended in a violent altercation and the killing of

Comyn by Bruce with a dagger. Next to the Baliols, Bruce was now nearest heir

to the throne, and March 27, 1306, he was crowned.

Edward now determined to take more vigorous measures than ever against

the Scots. He denounced as traitors all who had participated in the murder of

Comyn, and declared that all persons taken in arms would be put to death. He

made great preparations for subduing Scotland, but while leading his army into

that country, 1307, he died at Burgh-on-the-Sands, near Carlisle.

Meanwhile Bruce, who ranks with Wallace as a Scottish hero, had suffered

some reverses at the hands of the English. Under the Earl of Pembroke, in

1306, they took Perth and drove Bruce into the wilds of Athol. In the same

year, at Dalry, Bruce was defeated by Comyn's uncle, Macdougal, Lord of Lorn,

and escaped to Ireland. But in 1307 Bruce returned to Scotland and carried on

the war against Edward II. The English were driven out of the strong places

one by one; war alternated with diplomacy through several years; and at last

came a crisis which roused the English government to a supreme effort.

Stirling castle still held out, besieged by Edward Bruce, Robert's

brother, 1313, but its surrender was promised by Mowbray, the governor, in the

event of his not being relieved before June 24, 1314. The relieving of

Stirling meant for the English a new invasion of Scotland. On both sides the

strongest efforts were made - on the one side to relieve the castle, on the

other to strengthen its besiegers. The opposing forces met in battle at

Bannockburn, June 24, 1314, an action which has never been better described

than in this characteristic recital by Professor Lang.

Bannockburn, like the relief of Orleans, or Marathon, was one of the

decisive battles of the world. History hinged upon it. If England had won,

Scotland might have dwindled into the condition of Ireland - for Edward II was

not likely to aim at a statemanlike policy of union, in his father's manner.

Could Scotland have accepted union at the first Edward's hands; could he have

refrained from his mistreatment as we must think it of Baliol, the fortunes of

the isle of Britain might have been happier. But had Scotland been trodden

down at Bannockburn, the fortunes of the isle might well have been worse.

The singular and certain fact is that Bannockburn was fought on a point

of chivalry, on a rule in a game. England must "touch bar," relieve Stirling,

as in some child's pastime. To the securing of the castle, the central gate

of Scotland, north and south, England put forth her full strength. Bruce had

no choice but to concentrate all the power of a now, at last, united realm,

and stand just where he did stand. His enemies knew his purpose: by May 27th

writs informed England that the Scots were gathering on heights and morasses

inaccessible to cavalry. If ever Edward showed energy, it was in preparing

for the appointed Midsummer Day of 1314. The Rotuli Scotioe contain several

pages of his demands for men, horses, wines, hay, grain, provisions, and

ships. Endless letters were sent to master mariners and magistrates of towns.

The King appealed to his beloved Irish chiefs, O'Donnells, O'Flyns, O'Hanlens,

MacMahons, M'Carthys, Kellys, O'Reillys, and O'Briens, and to Hiberniae

Magnates, Anglico genere ortos, Butlers, Blounts, De Lacys, Powers, and

Russels. John of Argyll was made admiral of the western fleet, and was asked

to conciliate the Islesmen, who, under Angus Og, were rallying to Bruce. The

numbers of men engaged on either side in this war cannot be ascertained. Each

kingdom had a year within which to muster and arm.

"Then all that worthy were to fight

Of Scotland, set all hale their might;"

while Barbour makes Edward assemble not only

"His own chivalry

That was so great it was ferly,"

but also knights of France and Hainault, Bretagne and Gascony, Wales, Ireland,

and Aquitaine. The whole English force is said to have exceeded one hundred

thousand, forty thousand of whom were cavalry, including three thousand horses

"barded from counter to tail," armed against stroke of sword or point of

spear. The baggage train was endless, bearing tents, harness, "and apparel of

chamber and hall," wine, wax, and all the luxuries of Edward's manner of

campaigning, including animalia, perhaps lions. Thus the English advanced

from Berwick,

"Banners rightly fairly flaming,

And pencels to the wind waving."

On June 23rd Bruce heard that the English host had streamed out of

Edinburgh, where the dismantled castle was no safe hold, and were advancing on

Falkirk. Bruce had summoned Scotland to tryst in Torwood, whence he could

retreat at pleasure, if, after all, retreat he must. The Fiery Cross, red

with blood of a sacrificed goat, must have flown through the whole of the

Celticland. Lanarkshire, Douglasdale, and Ettrick Forest were mustered under

the banner of Douglas, the mullets not yet enriched with the royal heart. The

men of Moray followed their new earl, Randolph, the adventurous knight who

scaled the rock of the castle of the Maidens. Renfrewshire, Bute, and Ayr

were under the fesse chequy of young Walter Stewart. Bruce had gathered his

own Carrick men, and Angus Og led the wild levies of the Isles. Of stout

spearmen and fleet-footed clansmen Bruce had abundance; but what were his

archers to the archers of England, or his five hundred horse under Keith the

mareschal, to the rival knights of England, Hainault, Guienne, and Almayne?

Battles, however, are won by heads, as well as by hearts and hands. The

victor of Glen Trool and Cruachen and London Hill knew every move in the game,

while Randolph and Douglas were experts in making one man do the work of five.

Bruce, too, had choice of ground, and the ground suited him well.

To reach Stirling the English must advance by their left, along the

so-called German way, through the village of St. Nian's, or by their right,

through the Carse, partly enclosed, and much broken, in drainless days, by

reedy lochans. Bruce did not make his final dispositions till he learned that

the English meant to march by the former route. He then chose ground where

his front was defended, first by the little burn of Bannock, which at one

point winds through a cleugh with steep banks, and next by two morasses,

Halbert's bog and Milton bog. What is now arable ground may have been a loch

in old days, and these two marshes were then impassable by a column of attack.

Between Charter's Hall - where Edward had his head-quarters - and Park's

Mill was a marge of firm soil, along which a column could pass, in scrubby

country, and between the bogs was a sort of bridge of dry land. By these two

avenues the English might assail the Scottish lines. These approaches Bruce

is said to have rendered difficult by pitfalls, and even by caltrops to maim

the horses. He determined to fight on foot, the wooded country being

difficult for horsemen, and the foe being infinitely superior in cavalry. His

army was arranged in four "battles," with Randolph to lead the vaward and

watch against any attempt to throw cavalry into Stirling. Edward Bruce

commanded the division on the right, next the Torwood. Walter Stewart, a lad,

with Douglas led the third division. Bruce himself and Angus Og, with the men

of Carrick and the Celts, were in the rear. Bruce had no mind to take the

offensive, and as at the Battle of the Standard, to open the fight with a

charge of impetuous mountaineers. On Sunday morning mass was said, and men

shrived them.

"They thought to die in the melee,

Or else to set their country free."

They ate but bread and water, for it was the vigil of St. John. News

came that the English had moved out of Falkirk, and Douglas and the Steward

brought tidings of the great and splendid host that was rolling north. Bruce

bade them make little of it in the hearing of the army.

Meanwhile Philip de Mowbray, who commanded in Stirling, had ridden forth

to meet and counsel Edward. His advice was to come no nearer; perhaps a

technical relief was held to have already been secured by the presence of the


Mowbray was not heard - "the young men" would not listen. Gloucester,

with the van, entered the park, where he was met, as we shall see, and

Clifford, Beaumont, and Sir Thomas Grey, with three hundred horsemen, skirted

the wood where Randolph was posted, a clear way lying before them to the

castle of Stirling. Bruce had seen this movement, and told Randolph that "a

rose of his chaplet was fallen," the phrase attesting the King's love of

chivalrous romance. To pursue horsemen with infantry seemed vain enough; but

Randolph moved out of cover, thinking perhaps that knights adventurous would

refuse no chance to fight. If this was his thought, he reckoned well.

Beaumont cried to his knights, "Give ground, leave them fair field." Grey

hinted that the Scots were in too great force, and Beaumont answered, "If you

fear, fly!" "Sir," said Sir Thomas, "for fear I fly not this day!" and so

spurred in between Beaumont and D'Eyncourt and galloped on the spears.

D'Eyncourt was slain, Grey was unhorsed and taken. The three hundred lances

of Beaumont then circled Randolph's spearmen round about on every side, but

the spears kept back the horses. Swords, maces, and knives were thrown; all

was done as by the French cavalry against the British squares at Waterloo, and

all as vainly. The hedge of steel was unbroken, and, in the hot sun of June,

a mist of dust and heat brooded over the battle.

"Sic mirkness

In the air above them was"

as when the sons of Thetis and the Dawn fought under the walls of windy Troy.

Douglas beheld the distant cloud, and rode to Bruce, imploring leave to hurry

to Randolph's aid. "I will not break my ranks for him," said Bruce; yet

Douglas had his will. But the English wavered, seeing his line advance, and

thereon Douglas halted his men, lest Randolph should lose renown. Beholding

this the spearmen of Randolph, in their turn, charged and drove the weary

English horse and their disheartened riders.

Meanwhile Edward had halted his main force to consider whether they

should fight or rest. But Gloucester's party, knowing nothing of his halt,

had advanced into the wooded park; and Bruce rode down to the right in his

armor, and with a gold coronal on his basnet, but mounted on a mere palfrey.

To the front of the English van, under Gloucester and Hereford, rode Sir Henry

Bohun, a bow-shot beyond his company. Recognizing the King, who was arraying

his ranks, Bohun sped down upon him, apparently hoping to take him."

He thought that he should dwell lightly,

Win him, and have him at his will."

But Bruce, in this fatal movement, when history hung on his hand and eye,

uprose in his stirrups and clove Bohun's helmet, the axe breaking in that

stroke. It was a desperate but a winning blow: Bruce's spears advanced, and

the English van withdrew in half superstitious fear of the omen. His lords

blamed Bruce, but

"The King has answer made them none,

But turned upon the axe-shaft, wha

Was with the stroke broken in twa,"

"Initium malorum hoc" ("This was the beginning of evil"), says the English


After this double success in the Quatre Bras of the Scottish Waterloo,

Bruce, according to Barbour, offered to his men their choice of withdrawal or

of standing it out. The great general might well be of doubtful mind - was

to-morrow to bring a second and a more fatal Falkirk? The army of Scotland

was protected, as Wallace's army at Falkirk had been, by difficult ground. But

the English archers might again rain their blinding showers of shafts into the

broad mark offered by the clumps of spears, and again the English knights

might break through the shaken ranks. Bruce had but a few squadrons of horse

- could they be trusted to scatter the bowmen of the English forests, and to

escape a flank charge from the far heavier cavalry of Edward? On the whole,

was not the old strategy best, the strategy of retreat? So Bruce may have

pondered. He had brought his men to the ring, and they voted for dancing.

Meanwhile the English rested on a marshy plain "outre-Bannockburn" in sore

discomfiture, says Gray. He must mean south of Bannockburn, taking the point

of view of his father, at that hour captive in Bruce's camp. He tells us that

the Scots meant to retire "into the Lennox, a right strong country" - this

confirms, in a way, Barbour's tale of Bruce suggesting retreat - when Sir

Alexander Seton, deserting Edward's camp, advised Bruce of the English lack of

spirit, and bade him face the foe next day. To retire, indeed, was Bruce's,

as it had been Wallace's, natural policy. The English would soon be

distressed for want of supplies; on the other hand, they had clearly made no

arrangements for an orderly retreat if they lost the day; with Bruce this was

a motive for fighting them. The advice of Seton prevailed; the Scots would

stand their ground.

The sun of Midsummer Day rose on the rite of the mass done in front of

the Scottish lines. Men breakfasted, and Bruce knighted Douglas, the Steward,

and other of his nobles. The host then moved out of the wood, and the

standards rose above the spears of the soldiers. Edward Bruce held the right

wing; Randolph the centre; the left, under Douglas and the Steward, rested of

St. Ninian's. Bruce, as he had arranged, was in reserve with Carrick and the

Isles. "Will these men fight?" asked Edward, and Sir Ingram assured him that

such was their intent. He advised that the English should make a feigned

retreat, when the Scots would certainly break their ranks -

"Then prick we on them hardily."

Edward rejected his old ruse, which probably would not have beguiled the

Scottish leader. The Scots then knelt for a moment of prayer, as the Abbot of

Inchafray bore the crucifix along the line; but they did not kneel to Edward.

His van, under Gloucester, fell on Edward Bruce's division, where there was

hand-to-hand fighting, broken lances, dying chargers, the rear ranks of

Gloucester pressing vainly on the front ranks, unable to deploy for the

straitness of the ground.

Meanwhile, Randolph's men moved forward slowly with extended spears, "as

they were plunged in the sea" of charging knights. Douglas and the Steward

were also engaged, and the "hideous shower" of arrows was ever raining from

the bows of England. This must have been the crisis of the fight, according

to Barbour, and Bruce bade Keith with his five hundred horse charge the

English archers on the flank. The bowmen do not seem to have been defended by

pikes; they fell beneath the lances of the mareschal, as the archers of

Ettrick had fallen at Falkirk. The Scottish archers now took heart, and

loosed into the crowded and reeling ranks of England, while the flying bowmen

of the south clashed against and confused the English charge. Then Scottish

archers took to their steel sparths - who ever loved to come to hand strokes -

and hewed into the mass of the English, so that the field, whither Bruce

brought up his reserves to support Edward Bruce on the right, was a mass of

wild, confused fighting. In this mellay the great body of the English army

could deal no stroke, swaying helplessly as southern knights or northern

spears won some feet of ground. So, in the space between Halbert's bog and

the burn, the mellay rang and wavered, the long spears of the Scottish ranks

unbroken and pushing forward, the ground before them so covered with fallen

men and horses that the English advance was clogged and crushed between the

resistance in front and the pressure behind.

"God will have a stroke in every fight," says the romance of Malory.

While the discipline was lost, and England was trusting to sheer weight and

"who will pound longest," a fresh force, banners displayed, was seen rushing

down the Gillies' Hill, beyond the Scottish right. The English could deem no

less than that this multitude were tardy levies from beyond the Spey, above

all when the slogans rang out from the fresh advancing host. It was a body

yeomen, shepherds, and camp-followers, who could no longer remain and gaze

when fighting and plunder were in sight. With blankets fastened to cut

saplings for banner-poles, they ran down to the conflict. The King saw them,

and well knew that the moment had come: he pealed his ensenye - called his

battle cry faint hearts of England failed; men turned, trampling through the

hardy warriors who still stood and died; the knights who rode at Edward's rein

strove to draw him toward the castle of Stirling. But now the foremost

knights of Edward Bruce's division, charging on foot, had fought their way to

the English King and laid hands on the rich trappings of his horse. Edward

cleared his way with strokes of his mace; his horse was stabbed, but a fresh

mount was found for him. Even Sir Giles de Argentine, the best knight on

ground, bade Edward fly to Stirling castle. "For me, I am not of custom to

fly," he said, "nor shall I do so now. God keep you!" Thereon he spurred into

the press, crying "Argentine!" and died among the spears.

None held his ground for England. The burn was choked with fallen men

and horses, so that folk might pass dry-shod over it. The country people fell

on and slew. If Bruce had possessed more cavalry, not an Englishman would

have reached the Tweed. Edward, as Argentine bade him, rode to Stirling, but

Mowbray told him that there he would be but a captive king. He spurred south,

with five hundred horse, Douglas following with sixty, so close that no

Englishman might alight, but was slain or taken. Laurence de Abernethy, with

eighty horse, was riding to join the English, but turned, and with Douglas,

pursued them. Edward reached Dunbar, whence he took boat for Berwick. In his

terror he vowed to build a college of Carmelites, students in theology. It is

Oriel College to-day, with a Scot for provost. Among those who fell on the

English side were the son of Comyn, Gloucester, Clifford, Harcourt, Courtenay,

and seven hundred other gentlemen of coat-armor were slain. Hereford (later),

with Angus, Umfarville, and Sir Thomas Grey, was among the prisoners.

Stirling, of course, surrendered.

The sun of Midsummer Day set on men wounded and weary, but victorious and

free. The task of Wallace was accomplished. To many of the combatants not

the least agreeable result of Bannockburn was the unprecedented abundance of

the booty. When campaigning Edward denied himself nothing. His wardrobe and

arms; his enormous and apparently well-supplied array of food wagons; his

ecclesiastical vestments for the celebration of victory; his plate; his siege

artillery; his military chests, with all the jewelry of his young minion

knights, fell into the hands of the Scots. Down to Queen Mary's reign we

read, in inventories, about costly vestments "from the fight at Bannockburn."

In Scotland it rained ransoms. The Rotuli Scotiae, in 1314 full of Edward's

preparation for war, in 1315 are rich in safe-conducts for men going into

Scotland to redeem prisoners. One of these, the brave Sir Marmaduke Twenge,

renowned at Stirling bridge, hid in the woods on Midsummer's Night, and

surrendered to Bruce next day. The King gave him gifts and set him free

unransomed. Indeed, the clemency of Bruce after his success is courteously

acknowledged by the English chroniclers.

This victory was due to Edward's incompetence, as well as to the

excellent dispositions and indomitable courage of Bruce, and to "the

intolerable axes" of his men. No measures had been taken by Edward to secure

a retreat. Only one rally, at "the Bloody Fauld," is reported. The English

fought widely, their measures being laid on the strength of a confidence

which, after the skirmishes of Sunday, June 23d, they no longer entertained.

They suffered what, at Agincourt, Crecy, Poitiers, and Verneuil, their

descendants were to inflict. Horses and banners, gay armor and chivalric

trappings, were set at naught by the sperthes and spears of infantry acting on

favorable ground. From the dust and reek of that burning day of June,

Scotland emerged a people, firm in a glorious memory. Out of weakness she was

made strong, being strangely led through paths of little promise since the day

when Bruce's dagger-stroke at Dumfries closed from him the path of returning.

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