It was a crucial battle for Scottish independence. Robert, the Bruce, the son of a former Scottish king from Galloway (Southwest Scotland) was born in England. His loyalty to Scotland initially was uncertain as his family was tied to the British crown. He juggled with his English and Scottish interests to avoid offending the former. Although he fought alongside William Wallace, he later deserted him, in favour for economic interests. He was fighting alongside the English when they took Stirling Castle in 1305. He was one of thirteen claimants to the throne of Scotland and in 1306 aligned himself with the Scots. He crowned himself king after murdering rival, John Commyn, a joint guardian to the throne of Scotland.
Commanders and leaders
| Robert the Bruce
Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray
| Edward II
Humphrey de Bohun
Earl of Pembroke
Gilbert de Clare†
Robert de Clifford†
Edward I, King of England was a veteran campaigner, decisive, experienced, a politician and statesman. He subdued civil strife and Wales and also took part in campaigns in France and the Crusades. From the English Plantagenet family, he was invited by the Scottish nobles to adjucate the hereditary claim to the Scottish throne on the tragic death of King Alexander III. William Wallace had earlier been executed in 1305 by him. Edward I aged 68 raises an army on learning of Robert Bruce’s enthronement but dies near the border with Scotland on the march, to the north .The invasion of Scotland is abandoned for the moment. He is succeeded by son, Edward II, an alleged homosexual and inexperienced in military affairs, unlike his father favours the pleasures of life, and is a lover of arts.
Robert Bruce is the effective king of Scotland in the summer of 1314, and the legend of spider may well have played its part. The Scots by capturing the castles denied them to the English. Stirling Castle’s possession is symbolic and vital for both the Scots and English because of its strategic and economic importance. It dominated the central plains of Scotland where wealth and population was concentrated. Edward II marches north to relieve the siege of Stirling castle. Edward II has strength of 3,000 heavy cavalrymen inclusive of his household knights, 20,000 infantrymen, mostly from the Welsh marches, including an Irish contingent of spearmen. Edward II reaches Berwick on June 10, assembles his army, and arrives at Falkirk via Edinburgh on evening of June 22, 1314.
English foot soldiers were organised in units of 20 men led by an officer, called a vintenar. 5 units of these were a company or ventate led by a centenar on horseback. There was no formal organisation of the army above the level of a company. It was customary to organise the army into three great divisions or battles, the vanward, the mainward, and the rearward. Each division had archers and spearmen.
Scottish army was similar but focused on the infantry with spears and long pikes. Units of pike men were organised in a schiltron, a densely packed unit of three thousand strong, a formidable obstacle of spear points with archers inside. Scottish knights dismounted and fought with the schiltron on foot. The schiltron was not effective against archers.
How the battle developed?
Bannockburn flows south of Stirling Castle and east-west
Note: River Forth is East to West; Bannockburn flows South and West. The Garse described above is between the east of old Roman road and Bannockburn.
A very favourable site was chosen for the battle. Stirling Castle was surrounded by a low flood plain known as the Garse, a wet marshy area, quite unsuitable for cavalrymen. A couple of miles south of the castle, the old Roman road crossed a stream known as the Bannockburn and then ran over a low plateau with patches of woodland. This area was reserved by the Scottish kings for hunting and was known as the New Park. The area east of New Park was left invitingly empty. King Edward was forced to advance along the old Roman road.
The English army would face dug up obstacles in the ground in case of a direct assault. The right flank of the Scottish army had the New Park area, whereas on the left flank an opening through the ‘Garse’ was an invitation through marshy area. The Scots deployed their army among the trees of the New Park. On Sunday June 23, the English army cautiously felt its way, advised by Governor of Stirling Castle, Sir Philip Mowbray, who had slipped out with a warning that the Scots were deployed among the trees of New Park. Edward II advanced along the old Roman road from the south.
Flanking movements contemplated by the English
Edward sends two squadrons of cavalry to inspect the New Park area before committing himself to battle. Sir Henry de Bohun of the first squadron is killed in an engagement with Robert Bruce (out on a recce) as he charges him with a lance.
The second reconnaissance squadron led by Sir Robert Clifford runs into trouble as it tries a flanking movement and is engaged by a schiltron led by Sir Philip Murray out of the woods. An argument breaks out about the appropriateness of an immediate engagement among the English knights and one of them, Sir Thomas Grey, followed by others charges at the advancing Scottish pikemen. He is killed immediately. The English knights do not break through the Scots, who continued to advance on them.
Edward’s cavalry is beaten back and part of it returns and others make it to the castle
At the end of the June 23 before nightfall, Edward’s army crosses Bannockburn and is lodged on the northern and eastern side. It has not learned any lesson of using cavalry against the Scottish schiltron with their spikes and will repeat the same head on charge on June 24 with cavalry and be slaughtered
June 24: A Scottish knight, Alexander Seton with the English has defected over to the Scots and gives a sorry picture of their morale and advises attack at first light. In the morning the Scottish schiltron advance towards the English army to the total surprise of Edward who expected them to flee.
June 24: the Scots have kept their cavalry at the rear, 400 horsemen under Sir Robert Keith
June 24: Robert Bruce’s three schiltrons advance down the slopes from New Park to attack the English. The English are disorganised and have no formation. Their cavalry squadrons are ahead and behind are the infantry. Their cavalry charges into ranks of Scottish pikemen who have wrought havoc earlier with the horses and riders. The English are hemmed in by Bannockburn and River Forth and their infantry is unable to assist. The archers try to provide some assistance but fire on their own troops and are held back. They eventually make their way to their right flank and inflict some damage on the Scots. They are eventually dispatched by the Scottish cavalry who are brought in. Further up north and west of the castle is the Scot rear guard that is also thrown in battle now. The English are in a rout.
Archers are deployed by the English on their right flank to get at the Scots. They are beaten back by the Scottish cavalry
Casualties and Losses
English: 700 cavalry, 4000-11,000 infantry
Source and courtesy: YouTube-History Channel; Wikipedia.org