Battle of Bannockburn

Battle of Bannockburn

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In the summer of 1314 Robert Bruce was besieging Stirling Castle. Stirling was the last castle still left in English control, and Edward II decided that every effort should be made to stop it being captured by Bruce. Edward therefore decided to take the largest army that had ever left England, to save the castle.

Scotland's army was not only outnumbered but lacked the experience of Edward's troops. Edward also had a large number of armoured knights and longbowmen, the two most effective forces in medieval warfare. Bruce, on the other hand, had very few of either and instead had to rely heavily on spearmen.

Bruce made no attempt to stop Edward's large army from entering Scotland. He decided that his best hope was to force the English to fight on territory that best suited his limited resources. Bruce chose a site only two and half miles south of Stirling, by a stream called Bannockburn. The Scots took the high ground and, if the English were to attack, they had to advance on a narrow front between marshland and a thick wood.

The English advance guard arrived at Bannockburn on the 23rd June. Sir Henry Bohun, the leader of the English party, recognised Robert Bruce. After fixing his lance, Bohun charged the Scottish king. Bruce darted out of the way of the lance and killed Bohun with a blow from his axe.

The main English army arrived on 24th June. Gilbert, 10th Earl de Clare, who had brought 500 of his own knights with him, advised Edward to allow the men to rest for a day. Edward disagreed and accused Gilbert of being afraid of the Scots. Gilbert was stung by these comments and immediately ordered his men to attack. Gilbert gallantly led the charge but his horse was cut down and while he was on the ground he was killed by Scottish spearmen.

However, while the English knights were assembling, Scottish spearmen, who had been hiding in the woodland, launched an attack. The English knights, still not organised into battle order, were forced to retreat.

The English archers were called forward but before they could take effective action they were charged by the Scottish knights. After large numbers were killed the archers were also forced to retreat.

Edward now decided to use his knights to charge the Scottish position at the top of the hill. As the English knights were forced to attack on a narrow front, the Scottish spearmen were able to block their advance. English archers tried to help, but as both armies were crushed together their arrows were just as likely to hit their own men as the Scots.

Suddenly, English soldiers started to turn and run. Others followed and soon the English army was in retreat. The Scots charged after them. Many of the English knights were able to escape but those without horses, such as the spearmen and archers, suffered very heavy casualties.

The battle of Bannockbum was the worst defeat in English history. While what was left of the English army tried to get back home, the Scots were able to take Stirling Castle.

The king and the other magnates of the land with a great multitude of carts and wagons set out for Scotland... The cavalry numbered more than two thousand, without counting a numerous crowd of infantry... Indeed all who were present agreed that never in our time has such an army gone forth from England.

Both in number and in equipment... our troops are far superior to those wretched Scots. In engines of war, in catapults, in arrows, and all such machinery of war we abound, while in all these the Scots are lacking.

I have been told that the English army is made up of men who speak six different tongues; the soldiers are unknown to one another... It is a slender task that I lay upon you; that each of you slay two men from Edward's army... You will have then killed forty-five thousand.

He (Edward II) went to make war on the Scots... There were in the English army many nobles and knights who were too showy and pompous when the two sides engaged, the Scots remained firm, but the English fled. The wicked party lost and the cunning one conquered.

Our enemies are moved only by desire for domination but we are fighting for our lives, our children, our wives and the freedom of our country... You could have lived quietly as slaves, but because you longed to be free you are with me here.

It was one of the most famous battles ever fought, yet nobody's sure exactly where it happened.

The backdrop was Stirling Castle, the last English stronghold in Scotland, which was targeted by Robert the Bruce while on the comeback trail during the wars of independence.

The constable of Stirling agreed to hand over the castle to the Scots unless an English force arrived to relieve him by the 24 June, 1314. They duly pitched up the day before.

Robert the Bruce was thought to have made his stand on what's now known as "monument hill", where his statue sits.

It was the perfect location, on high ground with a good field of vision, but getting up the hill to fight would have been a massive challenge for the English forces.

It seems more likely the main battle was fought on a nearby area of flat, low ground known as the Carse, where the English had camped overnight.

Battle Report: Bannockburn, tactics and terrain

The relationship between Scotland and England since the 1280’s had been tense to say the least. Edward I had earned the name ‘Hammer of the Scots’ for being really nice to the Scottish nobility ( just kidding, he was absolutely awful to them, causing the Scottish War of Independence) and by the early 14th century, his feckless son, Edward II was king of England and hoped to build on the ‘successes’ of his father.

Prelude to war

in 1307, Scotland breathed a sigh of relief as their old enemy, Edward I was dead. Dying of dysentery on the way north to Scotland, Edward left England in the hands of his less than able son, a man not known for his military might or, his political savvy.

Portrait in Westminster Abbey, thought to be of Edward I SOURCE: Public domain

Regardless of Edward’s apparent inabilities as a battlefield commander, he continued, in vein, to put pressure on Robert I, King of Scots. King Robert knew that meeting an English army in the field would likely end in disaster because, even though many Scottish lords had begun to flock to Robert’s cause, England was still by far the more powerful kingdom with vast amounts of men and resources. Several unsuccessful campaigns into Scotland were carried out by Edward in 1309 and 1310, with the Scots taking a leaf out of the welsh playbook, resorting to guerrilla tactics to harass Edward’s forces. By 1314, only two major strongholds were under English control, the imposing castle at Stirling, and the fortification at Bothwell, putting Robert and his armies a mere stones throw away from the major trade centre of Berwick. Robert took advantage of the English king’s fractured court, caused by Edward’s relationship with Piers Gaveston, and began to attack towns and cities on the English border, solidifying his position as the undisputed ruler of Scotland, prompting Edward to react.

Robert I ('The Bruce') by Edward Harding, published by Isaac Herbert, after Unknown artiststipple engraving, published 1797 SOURCE: National Portrait Gallery

The march to Berwick and the siege of Stirling Castle

By spring of 1314, Robert I had almost full control over southern Scotland, and looked to wipe the English lords who had claimed land in the lowlands off the map. Robert had his brother Edward (who we will refer to him as Edward Bruce from now on to avoid confusion with Edward II of England) lay siege the Stirling Castle, forcing the governor of Stirling, Philip Mowbray to sue for peace. As was the chivalric custom, Edward gave the English garrison until the 24th June to be relieved before handing over the caste, this allowed Edward II to mobilise an army of some 20,000 men to crush the upstart Scots once and for all.

Edward Bruce’s noble decision to allow the English garrison time before giving up the castle, would potentially force the Scottish army around the fortress to have to retreat, lacking the sheer numbers to beat back Edward II and his horde of Englishmen. Robert I marched down towards Berwick, near to where he knew Edward would have to come before marching on to Stirling.

Bruce knew that his mere 7,000 men would be no match for the full might of the English army, packed to the brim with men-at-arms and mounted knights roughly accounting for 30% of the army, a truly professional force. With the massive threat posed by the highly professional and dangerous English army, Robert knew that he needed to buy his brother some time in order to get the surrender from Stirling castle. Refusing again to meet the massive army in the field, Robert carried out scorched earth tactics on the retreat to Stirling, destroying anything that could help keep Edward II’s army supplied. Edward’s army was was already suffering from moral issues, due to the uncomfortable relationship between Edward and his leading nobles, the men he relied on for both man power and the money to fund such an audacious campaign.

The Battle of Bannockburn: Day 1

King Robert I was an excellent tactician, he had already showed his military abilities at the battle of Loudoun Hill (1307), where he was all to beat back a much larger English force led by Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. As mentioned before, the Scottish army was outnumbered and in many respects, out matched by the cavalry based English force, forcing the Scots to consider how and most importantly, where the inevitable battle would take place.

By the morning of 23rd June, Robert had arrived near the village of Bannock, a small hamlet on the edge off the Bannock Burn stream, surrounded by woods and hills. the village was just a few short miles away from Stirling and would be where the Scottish army would make their last stand. Robert positioned his men on the edge of the forest in the rear, to protect his flanks from cavalry and ordered his men dig trenches filled with traps to confuse and funnel the expected cavalry charge. The Scottish army were organised into four main battles (the word ‘battle’ originally meant formation) of tightly packed Schiltrons, the Scottish equivalent of a phalanx, thousands of pikes bristling out facing the oncoming enemy.

A modern image of the Bannock Burn stream running through the fields at the bottom of the woods where Robert I waited for the English SOURCE Google maps, getmapping plc (2020)

As was expected, the English army approached in all pomp and chivalric spender, led by its fearsome heavy cavalry. Seeing the large force, Robert ordered his men to retreat into the woods before again ordering them to turn and face the oncoming cavalry that was by now, charging head on into the Scottish lines. Led by the Earl of Hereford, the cavalry smashed head first into the Scottish lines with disastrous consequences. The traps set by the Scottish forces had successfully funnelled the English onto the waiting spears, with men and horse Impaled on the wall of pikes unable to be relieved due to the traps and trenches now behind them. The Earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Claire, was sent around the flank to try and hit the Schiltrons on the side but Edward Bruce was able to move his men into position on his brothers left side, Covering the attack from the Earl, forcing the English to retreat back to their original positions at the Burn.

The English army didn’t take many losses on the first day but, the lack of progress made by the cavalry, acted as a serious moral hit for Edward and the English forces. Edward and his swollen army began to set up camp spread out around bannock itself, ready to take the fight to the Scots the next day.

An interpretation of the battle of Bannockburn from the first day SOURCE: Public domain

The Battle of Bannockburn: Day 2

Early the next morning, going against all military logic, Robert ordered his schiltrons to advance towards the English, still waking from their uneasy nights sleep. Literally catching the English napping, Robert was able to position himself in front of the english who soon matched his formation.

With men and horse quickly being gathered from all over the Bannock Burn, Edward and his advisors decided to use the heavy cavalry to once again, smash through the Scottish lines, taking the day in the most chivalric way possible. As the Scottish lines approached slowly, crossing the fields between their old position in the woods towards where the majority of the English had camped, no one in the English camp could decide who should lead such a noble and honourable charge but, eventually the Earl of Gloucester took it upon himself to lead his contingent straight into the right flank of the Scottish spearmen. Gloucester and his knights smashed straight into the schiltrons virtually destroying the Earl and his men on impact, as mass spears almost always beat mass cavalry.

The rest of the English army were still being organised into proper formation when the Scottish archers started to fire at the English and Welsh longbowmen, keeping them pinned down and unable to fire at the Scottish infantry which was now pushing back the English cavalry and infantry that had followed Gloucester. The Scottish advantages were used superbly by King Robert and he was able to use great timing and English arrogance against them, but the day was not over yet. More and more English Knights and men-at-arms joined the melee where for hours, the two armies slogged it out against one and other until both sides were thoroughly exhausted. At the critical moment of the battle, Robert moved up his reserve Schiltrons that were still camped in the woods, using them to prop up the completely mentally and physically depleted army that for hours, had been pushing the mighty English further and further back. By this point, the outcome was all but confirmed and the number one objective of the English, was the get the King to safety. Edward II took flight with several hundred knights, leaving the rest of his army to ether flee themselves or die on the battle field to the Scots.

In total, the Scottish lost between 500 and 1000 of there original 7,000 that had started the previous day but the English lost over 5,000 men, with many important knights and nobles falling in the doomed cavalry attacks, capping of a complete disaster of a campaign into Scotland. Edward quickly ran of with his tail between his legs back to London allowing the Scots to continue their harrowing of the north of England unchecked. The battle of Bannockburn would go down in history as one of England’s greatest defeats but also one of Scotland’s greatest victories, going on to dominate retellings of the story of Edward II, the lacklustre king who was more interested in chasing members of the court than dealing with his problems. Bannockburn would serve as a pivotal moment in the relationship between England and Scotland, virtually finalising the independence of Scotland furthering the already tense relationship between the two kingdoms.

A peace treaty was eventually signed in 1328 that saw an end to the first Scottish war of independence, a war that had been raging since 1296, but it would not mark the end of Anglo-Scottish conflicts. The relationship would stay prickly at best for the next three centuries, eventually coming to an when James VI of Scotland became king of both England and Scotland in 1603.

I hope you enjoyed this and would love to hear what you think, please leave me a comment and follow me on Instagram @chrisriley_ for more medieval history!

The Battle of Bannockburn explained

The late Dr Alasdair Ross explains the background to the Battle of Bannockburn and the significance of the victory.

The battle of Bannockburn, fought over two days in June 1314, still holds significance for Scots 700 years later, for a number of reasons:

&bull The battle stands out in the pre-1707 history of Scotland as one of the few instances when the Scots won a decisive victory over a much larger invading army, and the only one when they did so in the open field.

&bull Bannockburn was also only the second time in European history that an army consisting of mostly infantry won victory over a mounted host it was a victory against the odds which gave Scotland valuable breathing space and a new dynasty.

An unwanted conflict

The battle was actually unwanted until then, the Scots had avoided meeting the far larger and better equipped English armies in the open field and relied on guerrilla tactics for their successes. But we must never forget that since he knew an English army would try to relieve Stirling Castle in 1314, Bruce had a long time to prepare the ground of the battlefield beforehand.

Victory confirmed the rule of Robert I in Scotland (if not in London or Rome) and set the foundations for an invasion of Ireland, a mooted rebellion in Wales, and the Bruce and Stewart dynasties. Even though some Scots deserted to the English side on the night before the first day&rsquos battle, to contemporaries a victory for Bruce must have meant that God was on his side. He was no longer a usurper.

Importantly, the battle of Bannockburn would remain present in the mind of Scots in the centuries that followed as an example of what could be done if people stood together as proof that superior armies were not invincible, that ingenuity and tenacity could turn a seemingly hopeless situation into victory. For those reasons it is still annually commemorated and it has become part of Scottish national identity, an important defining moment in our national history.

Uncertainty remains

Given all of this, it seems quite remarkable that even today we are still not quite sure about where all of the different elements of the battle were fought.

Certain topographic markers, like the castle and the New Park, are known but the rest is fought over amongst commentators. Battlefield and war dead commemorations are relatively recent developments (at least in historical terms) and it is quite remarkable that by the time Archdeacon Barbour was writing The Brus in the 1370s, he felt confident enough to invent an entire extra division for the Scots army, led by the father of his patron, King Robert II.

Does this indicate that only sixty years after the great victory the majority of people had already forgotten the salient points about the battle order across the two days?

Why then should we be surprised that the precise locations of all of the different elements of the battle have also become lost?

Despite these minor difficulties, the battle of Bannockburn remains a matter of pride &ndash and hope &ndash to those with an interest in our nation&rsquos history and future.

Download the History Scotland digital special Robert the Bruce and the Battle of Bannockburn here for just £2.99.

Edward II

The English King, by contrast, was weak, unpopular and inexperienced in war.

The son of the mighty Edward I, Edward II had grown up in his father’s shadow. He lacked the strength of will to keep his own nobles in line, never mind to deal with the Scots. Conflict between him and the Duke of Lancaster had led to the death of one of Edward’s favourites and the brief dominance of the government by Lancaster. Their squabbles had created a weak government, in which few men respected their king. The army was so lacking in leadership that the Earls of Hereford and Gloucester got into a heated argument over who should lead the vanguard, leading Gloucester to launch a suicidal attack against the Scots in a failed attempt to assert his authority.

Edward II’s lack of political clout was matched by a lack of military skill. He had been raised in the military tradition of feudal monarchs, but had not taken to warfare like his father. His lack of confidence had stopped the English countering Bruce’s manoeuvres for several years, and that lack of campaigning meant that Edward could not match his opponent’s experience.

In short, Edward II was one of the worst generals ever to command an English army.

Bruce Attacks

At dawn on the 24th, with Edward's army surrounded on three sides by the Bannock Burn, Bruce turned to the offensive. Advancing in four divisions, led by Edward Bruce, James Douglas, the Earl of Moray, and the king, the Scottish army moved towards the English. As they drew near, they paused and knelt in prayer. Seeing this, Edward reportedly exclaimed, "Ha! they kneel for mercy!" To which an aid replied, "Yea sire, they kneel for mercy, but not from you. These men will conqueror or die."

As the Scots resumed their advance, the English rushed to form up, which proved difficult in confined space between the waters. Almost immediately, the Earl of Gloucester charged forward with his men. Colliding with the spears of Edward Bruce's division, Gloucester was killed and his charge broken. The Scottish army then reached the English, engaging them along the entire front.

Trapped and pressed between the Scots and the waters, the English were unable to assume their battle formations and soon their army became a disorganized mass. Pushing forward, the Scots soon began to gain ground, with the English dead and wounded being trampled. Driving home their assault with cries of "Press on! Press on!" the Scots' attack forced many in the English rear to flee back across the Bannock Burn. Finally, the English were able to deploy their archers to attack the Scottish left.

Seeing this new threat, Bruce ordered Sir Robert Keith to attack them with his light cavalry. Riding forward, Keith's men struck the archers, driving them from the field. As the English lines began to waver, the call went up "On them, on them! They fail!" Surging with renewed strength, the Scots pressed home the attack. They were aided by the arrival of the "small folk" (those lacking training or weapons) who had been held in reserve. Their arrival, coupled with Edward fleeing the field, led to the English army's collapse and a rout ensued.

The battle of Bannockburn: Robert Bruce’s fight for freedom

The battle of Bannockburn (23–24 June 1314) was fought to the south-east of Stirling Castle in central Scotland. It was the climax of a brutal civil war, pitting the Scots under Robert the Bruce against the English under Edward II. Here, Fiona Watson explains the circumstances surrounding the battle and reveals how the conflict was later recast as an epic struggle for liberation.

This competition is now closed

Published: June 23, 2020 at 10:50 am

There are only about four hours of proper darkness at midsummer in Scotland. For the English army crossing the boggy ground beneath the town of Stirling, that was just enough time to feed and water horses and men, clean equipment and wonder what lay ahead of them once the sun rose. Morale was low. The foot soldiers were exhausted, having been forced to march as quickly as they could from Edinburgh 30 miles away in order to meet the midsummer deadline agreed for the relief of Stirling Castle. And they had failed to best their Scottish enemies earlier the previous day, 23 June 1314, in a series of encounters including the infamous attempt by Sir Henry de Bohun to kill the Scottish king in single combat, only to be felled by one mighty blow of Robert Bruce’s battle-axe.

Nevertheless, Edward II was prepared. What he did not expect was the Scots to fight, for it was their habit to disappear into the hills when confronted by an English army. But now, as dawn crept into the sky, Edward could see the Scots advancing in three brigades of spearmen before kneeling before him. The English king was exultant, believing that this was a prelude to surrender – until it was pointed out to him that, though the Scots sought mercy, it was from God rather than the English.

If, as appeared to be the case, the Scottish king had decided to fight, it would be the seventh engagement between the two kingdoms in the 18 years since Edward’s father, Edward I, had (temporarily) conquered his northern neighbour in 1296.

The prelude to what was a shockingly dramatic change in the relationship between Scotland and England was the death a decade earlier of the Scottish king, Alexander III, without any surviving male heirs. This had prompted Edward I – Alexander’s former brother-in-law – to begin interfering in the northern kingdom’s affairs.

Edward insisted on presiding over a court looking into the claims of 14 candidates to be king, though the choice was really between John Balliol, Lord of Galloway in Scotland and Barnard Castle (in what is now County Durham), and Robert Bruce of Annandale in Scotland (grandfather of the victor of Bannockburn). Balliol won – a decision that most Scots thought was right – and was crowned King John in 1292. But the Bruces never gave up their royal ambitions.

The verge of war

Edward, meanwhile, was biding his time. Having forced all the candidates for King Alexander’s vacant throne to acknowledge his claims to overlordship over Scotland – claims based on past but equivocal precedent and categorically denied by previous kings of Scots – he made increasing demands on King John. These included an expectation that the latter would send men to fight with Edward against France, with whom England was on the verge of war. The Scots, led by their king’s relatives, the powerful Comyn family, realised that they were losing their independence and negotiated a treaty of mutual defence with France.

Suspecting this, Edward I invaded Scotland in 1296, defeating a Scottish army at Dunbar, deposing and imprisoning Balliol, and setting up his own government. The following year the Scots resumed the war, appointing William Wallace as the first of a series of guardians to rule the kingdom in King John’s absence. Robert Bruce, the future king, spent several years fighting the English, even acting briefly as guardian for Balliol, his family’s rival as monarch, presumably in order to boost his own credentials to lead the Scots.

In 1302, however, Bruce submitted to the English king, having been ousted as guardian by his other great rivals, the Comyns, and having proved to be unable to swallow the prospect of King John’s return with French support after the latter’s release from English prison. However, the French king, Philip IV, soon needed the friendship of Edward I for his own reasons and hopes of King John’s return were extinguished. In 1304, most Scots, led by the current guardian, John Comyn of Badenoch, submitted to Edward I.

The lead characters in the showdown at Bannockburn

King Robert I was born in 1274. He seized the throne of Scotland in 1306 and ruled for 23 years until his death on 7 June 1329. His first marriage was to Isobel, daughter of the Earl of Mar, by whom he had his daughter, Marjorie. Her son, Robert, became the first of the Stewart kings who would rule Scotland, then England, from 1371 until 1714.

Edward Bruce, Earl of Carrick, was Bruce’s younger brother. He agreed in May 1314 with Sir Philip Moubray that Stirling Castle would be handed over to the Scots if not relieved by an English army, effectively deciding the site of the battle. He commanded one of Bruce’s divisions on 23/24 June.

Sir John Comyn of Badenoch was nephew of the Scottish king, John Balliol, and therefore a contender for the vacant throne. He was murdered by Bruce in 1306, precipitating a bloody civil war, one which Bannockburn largely brought to an end. His son, another John, was killed in the battle.

Edward II was the only surviving son of Edward I, succeeding his father in 1307. Inheriting a bankrupt treasury, his tendency to be led by favourites brought England close to civil war on many occasions. Though no coward, at Bannockburn he had no strategy and divided his commanders among themselves.

Sir Philip Moubray was a Scot who sided against Bruce because of the murder of John Comyn. After Bannockburn, he closed the gates of Stirling Castle against King Edward and joined Bruce. He went with Edward Bruce on campaign in Ireland in 1315–18 and died with him there.

Sir Robert Clifford was a veteran of the wars in Scotland, having fought in most campaigns for nearly 20 years. On 23 June he took a contingent of knights to try to get between the Scots and Stirling Castle but was beaten back by King Robert’s nephew, Sir Thomas Randolph. Clifford was killed along with the Earl of Gloucester in the first wave of fighting on 24 June.

By 1306 Edward I was known to be very ill, so Robert Bruce began canvassing for support to reactivate his grandfather’s claim to the throne. This, however, completely ignored the fact that John Balliol had been king. If John and his son were unable to return to Scotland (Edward Balliol was still in English custody), then the Scottish king’s nephew, John Comyn of Badenoch, was next in line. He was also a tried and tested war leader, a guardian for most of the period between 1298 and 1304 and the head of a great family with lands and followers across the kingdom.

There may have been an innocuous reason – perhaps associated with a land dispute – why Robert Bruce and John Comyn met at Greyfriars Church in the south-western Scottish town of Dumfries on 10 February 1306. But they probably soon moved onto the inflammatory subject of who might take Scotland’s empty throne to rejuvenate the war effort once Edward was dead, for the meeting ended with Bruce murdering Comyn. Six weeks later, Bruce had himself inaugurated as king – an act that effectively split Scotland in two, as well as unleashing the wrath of Edward I.

Profitable raiding

Though Bannockburn has always been portrayed as England versus Scotland, it was the element of civil war that really caused it to be fought. In October 1313, having spent the previous six years conquering his kingdom from his own people as much as the English, King Robert felt confident enough to issue an ultimatum to all those holding land in Scotland that they should swear homage and fealty to him within a year. And even though a line of castles, from Berwick on the eastern border up to Stirling in the middle of the country, was still held against him, Bruce and his men could pass beneath them at will, en route to some extremely profitable and destructive raiding in northern England.

Even the inept Edward II, who inherited his father’s bankrupt throne in 1307, realised that this ultimatum would force many Scots still prepared to fight against Bruce to change sides if he did nothing to help them. In November 1313, therefore, he ordered an army to muster the following June. Then, in May 1314, it was agreed between the Scots and Stirling’s commander, Sir Philip Moubray, that the castle would be handed over to Bruce unless relieved by 24 June. With that agreement, King Robert had effectively decided where Edward II’s army would march and where, therefore, any battle might be fought.

This time Bruce faced the tantalising prospect that, if he fought and won, he might effectively end the war in Scotland. But if he did not, his ultimatum might well be ignored.

The stakes were high. Should Bruce lose, the military reputation that sustained his kingship, given his dubious accession, would crumble. He needed to fight somewhere that cavalry were at a disadvantage. Even Edward II knew that the ground around Stirling was such a place.

And so Bruce worked with his men to transform the Scottish schiltrom – groups of around a thousand men carrying long spears bristling like a hedgehog – from the stationary unit employed previously. Instead of merely repelling Edward’s cavalry, they would move together on the offensive, allowing the Scots to control the design and tempo of the battle.

Edward arrived the day before the deadline with an army of around 7,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry. Bruce’s army was probably 5,000–6,000-strong, which meant that the opposing sides at Bannockburn were far more evenly matched than the hyperbole of Scottish chroniclers has since suggested.

The Scots were drawn up in the hunting forest south-east of Stirling, blocking Edward’s route to the castle. When the English failed to make any headway on the first day, they crossed the Bannockburn to the north, seeking the protection of the floodplain of the river Forth before taking the field in the early hours of 24 June. Few got more than a wink of sleep during that brief midsummer night.

Meanwhile, morale was already high among the Scots when Sir Alexander Seton arrived in the Scottish camp and was brought before King Robert. Seton was a Scot, one of many who had found Bruce’s murder of Comyn and seizure of the throne abhorrent. Yet he now considered the squabbling and lack of leadership among the English commanders even more problematic and decided to defect. Bruce asked his nobles if they should fight. The response was unanimous: “As you devise, all shall be done.”

How the battle played out

From opening exchanges to bloody rout, a quick guide to the clash at Bannockburn

Bannockburn was fought to the south-east of Stirling Castle in central Scotland. The English army numbered roughly 2,000 cavalry and 7,000 infantry commanded by King Edward II. The Scottish army comprised around 5,000–6,000 spearmen with a few hundred cavalry led by King Robert I of Scotland.

The English arrived on 23 June to find their way to Stirling Castle, which they were intent on relieving, blocked by the Scots. A series of skirmishes won by the Scots left Edward’s men demoralised, and they camped overnight down on the floodplain of the river Forth.

Early in the morning of 24 June, fully expecting Bruce to retreat as usual, the English were astonished to see the Scots advancing towards them. The English vanguard charged but were overwhelmed and many knights killed. The ground, near or on the floodplain of the river Forth, was difficult for cavalry to negotiate, but it was King Robert’s decision to train his spearmen to march offensively that won the day, along with the lack of leadership in the English army. Thousands of footsoldiers were killed in the bloody aftermath when the Scots were intent on seizing booty and taking noble prisoners.

The next morning, Bruce addressed his men again in terms that went on to immortalise the ensuing battle. “You could have lived in serfdom, but because you yearned to have freedom, you are gathered here with me.” The Scots then advanced to meet an English charge led by the Earl of Gloucester, who was still reeling from accusations of cowardice that greeted his sensible suggestion that the English should wait for the footsoldiers to recover before engaging. Bruce had ordered his men not to take either prisoners or booty until the battle was won, and so Gloucester and other high-ranking nobles, including the murdered John Comyn’s son and the veteran soldier Sir Robert Clifford, were killed.

As the front line of the English cavalry disintegrated, the English infantry behind began to run away, while the English bowmen were kept at bay by the Scottish cavalry. Then, as more Scots appeared, the English king was forced to flee too, leaving the rest of his army to escape, be captured or killed. Many died in the ‘great ditch’ of the Bannockburn, which stood between them and the road home, those that came behind running ‘dry-shod’ across their compatriots’ bodies.

Edward II had taken the field and God had found him wanting, while King Robert had been granted victory despite having murdered Comyn on the high altar of a church. As a result, the legitimate grievances of those Scots who fought against Bruce have long been consigned to history’s landfill.

Eternally glorified

It is difficult to pinpoint the long-term benefits that Bannockburn brought to Bruce. What’s more, the assumption that there was a direct connection between the battle and a 1328 peace treaty concluded in the aftermath of Edward II’s deposition is misplaced. But, in articulating a rhetoric of freedom, the Scottish king won an even greater battle, one that has eternally glorified the name of Bruce and Bannockburn by transforming what was predominantly a brutal civil war into an epic national struggle.

Most crucial to that image is John Barbour’s highly influential poem, The Bruce, written in the 1370s, where the future of Scotland itself was explicitly deemed to hinge on Bannockburn’s outcome. Barbour portrays the Scottish nobles’ determination to pay the ultimate price, if necessary, to liberate Scotland after their king reminded them of English tyranny and injustice.

Here we supposedly have the crux of the matter, explaining why they resolved to fight and why they won. Many Scots today also know the stirring lines of the Declaration of Arbroath, a letter sent to the pope in 1320, arguing why Scotland should be independent of England and why Bruce should be its king: “It is not for glory, riches or honour that we fight, but for freedom alone, which no good man loses but with his life.” Stirring words indeed, but ones that would have stuck in the throats of the family of the murdered Comyn.

But facts are facts and Bruce did bring independence to his kingdom against remarkable odds. As late as the 16th century, the Scots exulted in being “18 hundred years unconquered,” which was more than could be said for England. But this was despite the scarcity of victories against the Auld Enemy after Bannockburn. Otterburn in 1388 and Ancrum Moor in 1545 are the exceptions in a catalogue of defeats, some of them catastrophic – Dupplin Moor, Halidon Hill, Neville’s Cross, Homildon Hill, Flodden, Solway Moss and Pinkie.

Bannockburn cast a long shadow over Scottish military strategy, with commanders continuing to rely on spearmen long after weaponry, particularly hand-held firearms, had evolved to render them obsolete.

The Scots remember Bannockburn, then, as an exceptional victory. But that is not why it has proved such a powerful force in Scottish identity. It is the rhetoric of freedom that has chimed throughout the centuries, particularly once the parliaments of England and Scotland were dismantled in 1707 and recreated as the United Kingdom. Now a modified version of that was needed, and the view was taken that Wallace and Bruce saved Scotland from Edward I’s clutches so that it could join the union as an equal partner.

But for others, as the benefits of empire receded and Scotland’s great manufacturing base began to suffer in the 20th century, issues of freedom became bound up with questions over the political status quo. Every year a rally takes place to Bannockburn, and while the Scottish National Party no longer officially attends, their song is still Robert Burns’s Scots Wha’ Hae, inspired by Bruce’s “glorious struggle for freedom”.

The Scots are not alone in subverting the realities of the past to create a powerful and enduring myth – every nation has them. But the right of a nation to determine its own destiny is a concept that appeals across time and geography, and Scotland was one of the first to articulate such a right in medieval Europe. Bannockburn is responsible for that.

Dr Fiona Watson is a research fellow at the University of Dundee

Battle of Bannockburn - History

The Battle of Bannockburn - Background

n 1313 Stirling Castle was being held by the English under the command of Sir Philip Mowbray. A Scottish army under the control of Edward Bruce, the brother of Robert Bruce King of Scotland, laid siege to the castle. On midsummer's day of 1313 Edward Bruce and Mowbray came to an agreement. It was agreed that if an English army had not come within three leagues of the castle by midsummer's day of 1314 Mowbray would surrender the castle to the Scots. Edward Bruce allowed Mowbray to leave the castle so that he could inform Edward II, King of England, of the terms of the agreement in person.

At the end of 1314 or the start of 1314 Edward II sent orders to his nobles to provide an army in invade Scotland and to be in Berwick, on the English Scottish border by the middle of June. At Berwick Edward was joined by several nobels and earls. These included the earls of Gloucester, Hereford and Pembroke

The English army left Berwick on the 17th of June, 1314 and by the 21st had reached Edinburgh. Supplies were taken from their ships there1. Time was running short and so on the 22nd of June the army marched towards Falkirk and reached it by the evening. The English army left Falkirk on the morning of the 23rd and marched up the Roman road towards Stirling.

Route taken by Edward II from Berwick to Falkirk

Ahead of the English was the Torwoord, an ancient forest, and beyond that the Bannock Burn and its tributary the Pelstream, streams that feed into the River Forth. Beyond the Bannock Burn to the west of the road was another forest called New Park which was on high ground. Alexander III had this forest fenced in 1264 to be used for hunting. This forest is separate from the older King's forest to the north near the Castle. To the east of the road was an area called the Carse. The Carse was an area of marshy land with many small streams. This area was to have an important affect on the outcome of the battle.

Battle of Bannockburn

Battle of Bannockburn a battle which took place near Stirling in central Scotland in 1314, in which the English army of Edward II, advancing to break the siege of Stirling Castle, was defeated by the Scots under Robert the Bruce, who subsequently re-established Scotland as a separate kingdom.

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Battle of Bannockburn

Dates of the Battle of Bannockburn: 23rd and 24th June 1314.

Place of the Battle of Bannockburn: In Central Scotland, to the South of Stirling.

The Royal Arms of England at
the time of Edward II: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd June 1314: picture
by Mark Dennis,
Ormond Pursuivant

War: The Scottish War of Independence against the English Crown of Edward I and Edward II.

Contestants at the Battle of Bannockburn: A Scots army against an army of English, Scots and Welsh.

Commanders at the Battle of Bannockburn: Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots, against Edward II, King of England.

Size of the Armies at the Battle of Bannockburn: There is great controversy over every aspect of the Battle of Bannockburn due to the lack of contemporary accounts. The eminent Scottish historian William Mackenzie came to the conclusion that the English army comprised around 3,000 mounted men, knights and men-at-arms, and around 13,000 foot soldiers, including a detachment of Welsh archers. William Mackenzie put the Scots at around 7,000 men. Robert de Bruce’s army comprised foot soldiers with a force of around 600 light horsemen commanded by Sir Robert Keith, the Marischal.

Winner of the Battle of Bannockburn: The Scots trounced the English in the 2 day battle.

Uniforms and equipment at the Battle of Bannockburn:

In order to re-conquer Scotland from Robert the Bruce King Edward II of England summoned his feudal army. The most important element in the feudal array was the mounted knighthood of Angevin England. A fully equipped knight wore chain mail, re-enforced by plate armour, and a steel helmet. He carried a shield, long lance, sword and, according to taste, axe or bludgeon and dagger. He rode a destrier or heavy horse strong enough to carry a fully equipped rider at speed. The heraldic devices of the knight were emblazoned on his shield and surcoat, a long cloth garment worn over the armour, and his horse’s trappings. An emblem might be worn on the helmet and a pennon at the point of the lance. Other knights on the field, including enemies, would be able to identify a knight from the heraldic devices he wore. Socially inferior soldiers such as men-at-arms would wear less armour and carry a shield, short lance, sword, axe, bludgeon and dagger. They rode lighter horses.

Knights of the period of the Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314: picture by Edward Burne-Jones

Within each army units comprised men raised from particular areas or a nobleman’s household knights and men-at-arms. In the English army the King’s household provided a sizeable and homogenous fighting force.

The foot soldiers on each side fought with whatever weapons they had, which might be bows, spears, swords, daggers, bill hooks, bludgeons or any other implement capable of inflicting injury. They wore metal helmets and quilted garments if they could get them. Traditional feudal armies of the time considered battle to be an exercise between mounted knights. No account was taken of those further down the social scale and little sensible use made of them. For the English the battle was to be decided by the attack of their cavalry. The dismounted soldiers were present for other purposes, largely menial, in the eyes of the knighthood.

Battle of Bannockburn 24th June 1314: picture by William Hole RSA

Because of the nature of the guerrilla war Robert de Bruce and the Scots had been fighting over the previous years against the English they had few mounted knights available for the battle. The Scots army comprised foot soldiers mostly armed with spears and that was the force Robert the Bruce had to rely upon.

While Bannockburn is held up as an important event for Scottish nationalism it is intriguing to remember that the knights on each side were essentially of the same stock, Norman-French or Northern European. The language spoken was in many instances still French.

Stirling Castle: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

As the Middle Ages progressed the limitations of mounted knights attempting to win battles alone were repeatedly revealed: the Battles of Charleroi, Crecy and Agincourt were three examples.

Bannockburn was again to show the inadequacy of largely unsupported heavy cavalry.

Edward I, King of England, Maleus Scotorum, and father of Edward II, 1239 to 1307: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

The Background to the Battle of Bannockburn:

Edward I, King of England from 1239 to 1307 and father to King Edward II, conquered Scotland as he conquered Wales. Once the local forces had been overcome in open battle Edward’s system of occupation was to build a network of stone castles or walled towns each occupied by an armed force under a loyal local or English knight.

Edward I died on 6th July 1307 and his son Edward II became King of England. The King had to contend with a number of powerful noblemen each with large regional estates and substantial military resources. A similar politico-social system was in place in most areas of Western Europe. It took a king of considerable military and political acumen and ruthless resolve to keep the English nobility in order and to force them to pursue the national or royal interest as opposed to their own individual interests. Edward I was such a king while his son Edward II certainly was not. Edward II’s reign was blighted by simmering dispute, frequently breaking into outright warfare, between King and Nobles. A particular source of discord was Edward II’s reliance upon his favourite, Piers Gaveston, a Gascon knight, whom Edward made Earl of Cornwall. Gaveston was hated by most of the senior nobility of England, a group of whom finally assassinated him in 1312.

Robert de Bruce, King of the Scots
from 1306 to 1329: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

Robert de Bruce and his Scots followers rejoiced openly at the death of King Edward I. The Bruce now embarked on his war to push the English out of Scotland and to establish his dominance over his Scottish rivals as King of the Scots.

The English castles while a powerful mechanism for dominating occupied country with garrisons of small groups of armed knights and men had a major weakness which lay in its day to day security. During their campaign against the occupying English the Scots became masters of the art of taking fortifications by trick and surprise. A standard piece of kit for the Scots, which they perfected, was the scaling ladder. There were rarely enough men in a castle to watch the length of the fortifications fully and inevitably there were periods when such watch as there was lapsed. Approaching with stealth the Scots would scale the walls and take the castle or town. The classic was the capture of Edinburgh Castle on 14th March 1313 by Randolph Earl of Moray. The castle watch actually looked over the wall at the point where the Scots were preparing to attack, before loudly moving on, leaving the Scots to scale the wall and open the gate to the waiting force, which then stormed the castle.

A particularly popular tale is the taking of Linlithgow Castle by William Bannock in September 1313. Bannock drove up in a cart filled with fodder for the garrison’s horses and stopped the cart in the gateway thereby preventing the garrison from closing the gate. Armed men leaped from beneath the fodder and, assisted by a band of men that rushed the gate, the castle was stormed.

As each castle or town was captured the fortifications built over many years by the English were destroyed so that the English could not re-establish their control of the country, even if the place was re-taken.

Finally few castles remained. One of these was Stirling Castle held for Edward II by Sir Philip de Mowbray. In around February 1313 the brother of King Robert de Bruce, Edward de Bruce, began a siege of Stirling Castle. In June 1313 de Mowbray put an offer to Edward de Bruce. The offer was that if Stirling Castle was not relieved by Midsummer’s Day 1314, 24th June, de Mowbray would surrender the castle to de Bruce. To comply with this requirement the relieving English army would need to be within 3 miles of the castle within 8 days of that date. De Bruce appears to have accepted this offer without thinking through the implications, or possibly without caring. His brother the king was, on the other hand, fully aware of the consequences of this rash agreement, which in effect compelled Edward II to launch a new invasion of Scotland.

Edward II, King of England vanquished at the Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

At the end of 1313 Edward II issued the summonses for his army to assemble. The wording of these documents indicated that while the relief of Stirling Caste was the pretext, the intention was to re-conquer Scotland for the English Crown.

The shaky hold Edward II maintained over his nobility is illustrated by the number of powerful noblemen who refused to answer the call to arms: the Earl of Lancaster, the Earl of Warwick, the Earl of Warenne and the Earl of Arundel among others. The King’s call was answered by Henry de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Constable of England, the Earl of Gloucester and the Earl of Pembroke. The Scottish Earl of Angus supported Edward.

Shield of Sir John Comyn, knight in the English army: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

Knights answering Edward’s summons were: Sir Ingram de Umfraville, Sir Marmaduke de Tweng, Sir Raoul de Monthemer, Sir John Comyn and Sir Giles d’Argentan, several of them Scottish. Other knights joined Edward’s army from France, Gascony, Germany, Flanders, Brittany, Aquitaine, Guelders, Bohemia, Holland, Zealand and Brabant. Foot soldiers came from all over England and archers from Wales.

Edward’s army assembled at Berwick in May 1314. There was complete confidence in victory over the Scots. The army began its advance into Scotland on 17th June 1314, the column covering a considerable area accompanied by numerous flocks of sheep and cattle to provide rations and carts carrying the baggage of the members of the army and the quantities of fodder required for the knight’s heavy fighting horses.

The army marched to Edinburgh and took the old Roman road to Stirling. Beyond Falkirk the road passed through the forest of Torwood, also known in French as Les Torres, before crossing the Bannockburn stream into the New Park and on to Stirling. To the right of the route wound the tidal waters of the River Forth. Along the river was the scrubland area known as Les Polles. The area to the north of the Bannockburn ford on the road route was known as the Dryfield of Balquiderock. A small tributary of the Bannockburn called the Pelstream Burn curled around to the West. Beyond the Pelstream a boggy area led down to the Forth.

Abbot of Inchaffray blesses the Scots soldiers before the Battle of Bannockburn on 23rd June 1314

Robert de Bruce assembled his army of Scottish foot soldiers to the South of Stirling and formed them into 4 battalions commanded by himself, Thomas Randolph Earl of Moray, James Douglas and his brother Edward de Bruce. These battalions were given the name of ‘Schiltrons’. The King’s schiltron comprised men from his own estates in Carrick and the Western Highlands. The other schiltrons men from the estates of their commanders and their associates. Randolph led men from Ross and the North: Edward de Bruce led men from Buchan, Mar, Angus and Galloway: Douglas men from the Borders. The small force of mounted knights and men-at-arms was commanded by Sir Robert Keith, Marischal to the King of Scotland.

Robert the Bruce addresses his army before the Battle of Bannockburn on 23rd June 1314

Several of the Highland clans under their chiefs marched with the Scots army: William Earl of Sutherland, Macdonald Lord of the Isles, Sir Malcolm Drummond, Campbell of Lochow and Argyle, Grant of Grant, Sir Simon Fraser, Mackays, Macphersons, Camerons, Chisholms, Gordons, Sinclairs, Rosses, Mackintoshes, MacLeans, MacFarlanes, Macgregors and Mackenzies among them.
Some Scottish clans fought for Edward II: MacDougalls and MacNabs.

Robert the Bruce positioned his army in the New Park with Randolph’s schiltron to the fore and his own immediately behind it. The chosen method of combat was for each schiltron to form a bristling mass of spears which the English knights would be unable to penetrate. The Scots dug concealed pits across the front of their position and along the bank of the Bannockburn to break up any mounted charge against them.

Map of the Battle of Bannockburn First Day: 23rd June 1314: map by John Fawkes

Account of the Battle of Bannockburn:

The Scots soldiery was aroused at around day break on Sunday 23rd June 1314. Maurice the aged blind Abbot of Inchaffray celebrated mass for the army after which Robert de Bruce addressed his soldiers, informing them that anyone who did not have the stomach for a fight should leave. A great cry re-assured him that most were ready for the battle. The camp followers, known as the ‘Small Folk’, were sent off to wait at the rear of the field, probably on the hill called St Gillies’ Hill. The Schiltrons were formed for battle fronting the fords over the Bannockburn that the English must cross.

Edward’s army had marched some 20 miles on Saturday 22nd June 1314 arriving at Falkirk in the evening. Edward had left it late in leaving Berwick if he was to reach Stirling by Midsummer’s Day and it was necessary to make up lost time. Sir James Keith led a mounted to patrol to watch the arrival of the English Army and he found this a daunting sight as Edward’s men camped over a wide area, the sun glinting on a myriad of weapons and armour.

The bore-stone where Robert the Bruce’s standard was fixed: Battle of Bannockburn on 23rd and 24th June 1314

The English army was formed in 10 divisions each led by a senior nobleman or experienced knight.
On Sunday 23rd June 1314 Edward’s army began its final march up to the Bannockburn. The King was met by Sir Philip de Mowbray who had ridden out of Stirling Castle with a body of horseman, taking the path through the boggy ground by the Forth leading to the Carse and across the Bannockburn.

De Mowbray tried to persuade Edward to abandon his advance to battle. De Mowbray seems to have had grave reservations as to the outcome, not shared by the headstrong nobles and knights that Edward led.

A body of some 300 horsemen under Sir Robert Clifford and Henry de Beaumont rode back to Stirling Castle with de Mowbray to re-enforce the garrison. This body took the path de Mowbray had ridden out on and passed under the noses of Randolph’s shiltron. Randolph received a stinging rebuke from his King, who remarked “See Randolph, there is a rose fallen from your chaplet. Thoughtless man. You have permitted the enemy to pass.”

Robert de Bruce kills Sir Henry de Bohun in single combat on the first day of the Battle of Bannockburn on 23rd June 1314

Randolph rushed his foot soldiers down to the path to block the route of Clifford’s and de Beaumont’s force. A savage fight took place with the English horsemen unable to penetrate the spear points of Randolph’s hastily formed schiltron. The Scots were hard pressed and Douglas moved his men forward to give help but saw that the English were giving way. The English squadron broke in two with half riding for the castle and the remainder returning to the main army. In the initial attack Sir Thomas Grey was brought from his horse and taken, while Sir William D’Eyncourt was killed.

Shield of Sir Robert de Clifford,
knight in the English army: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

While Clifford and de Beaumont were engaged with Randolph the main English Army had moved out of the Torwood. The English advance continued inexorably with the advance guard under the Earls of Hereford and Gloucester riding to cross the Bannockburn and attack the Scots in the forest beyond. To the English it seemed inevitable that the Scots would withdraw and avoid battle in view of the enormous disparity in numbers and arms. It was at this point that Hereford’s nephew Sir Henry de Bohun galloped ahead of the advancing English array to challenge the Scots King to single combat.

Robert de Bruce rode forward to meet de Bohun. The contrast in their equipment was stark. De Bohun was fully armoured with lance and shield and rode a heavy destrier horse. De Bruce rode a light palfrey and was armed with sword and short axe. He was mounted to command infantry not to take part in a heavy cavalry charge. De Bohun rode at de Bruce with lance couched. De Bruce evaded de Bohun’s lance point and as the Anglo-Norman thundered past him struck him a deadly blow on the head with his axe. De Bohun fell dead.

Following their king’s triumph the Scots infantry rushed on the English army struggling to clear the Bannockburn, where the ford had compelled the mass of horsemen to pack into a narrow column. A terrible slaughter ensued, the English knights impeded by the shallow pits concealed with branches. Among the extensive English casualties the Earl of Gloucester was wounded and unhorsed, being rescued from death or capture by his retainers.

Robert de Bruce strikes and kills Sir Henry de Bohun with his axe in single combat before the Battle of Bannockburn on 23rd June 1314: picture by John Hassall

After the engagement such of the English as had come through the ford re-crossed the Bannockburn and the Scots infantry returned to their positions in the forests of the New Park. The English army had been convincingly repelled. Robert de Bruce’s immediate lieutenants reproached him for the risk he had taken in giving de Bohun single combat and the King simply regretted his broken axe.

With the end of the day Robert de Bruce consulted with his commanders as to the future conduct of the battle. The King proposed that the Scots army might withdraw from the field, leaving the English army to attempt a re-conquest of Scotland until a lack of supplies forced it to withdraw south of the border. On the other hand the Scots could renew the battle the next day. Bruce’s commanders urged a resumption of the battle. Soon afterwards a Scottish knight, Sir Alexander Seton, arrived from the English camp, having decided to resume his fealty to the Scottish King, and advised de Bruce that morale was low in the English army. Seton said “Sir, if you wish to take all of Scotland, now is the time. Edward’s army is grievously discouraged. You may beat them on the morrow with little loss and great glory.”

In the English camp on the far side of the Bannockburn the infantry was more than discouraged. The word was that the war was unrighteous and this had been the cause of the day’s defeat. God was against the English army. Order broke down and the horde of foot soldiers ransacked the supply wagons and drank through the night. Heralds declared the victory was certain in the morning but few were convinced.

Map of the Battle of Bannockburn Second Day: 24th June 1314: map by John Fawkes

It was decided that the assault in the morning should be brought about by crossing the Bannockburn nearer to the River Forth to avoid the area of pits. The English knights would then deploy and charge the Scots positioned in the New Park.

Early in the morning the English crossed the Bannockburn and formed up along the edge of the Carse of Balquiderock, ready to charge the Scots. It was not a good position. The left of the English line lay on the Bannockburn, the right was hemmed in by the Pelstream. There were too many English for the narrow area.

The Abbott of Inchaffray again passed among the Scots soldiery, blessing them. Again he held mass. The Abbott had brought relics of St Fillan and Abbott Bernard of Arbroath had brought the reliquary casket of St Columba to encourage the simple and superstitious soldiery. Seeing the kneeling Scots Edward commented to de Umfraville that they were craving his forgiveness for opposing him. De Umfraville answered that they were craving divine forgiveness.

Shield of Sir Pain de Tiptoft knight in the English army: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

As part of the morning’s ceremony de Bruce knighted those of his army he considered had distinguished themselves on the previous day including Walter Stewart and James Douglas.

The Scots army then began to advance to the astonishment of the English that foot soldiers should advance against mounted knights.

Shield of Sir Edmund de Mauley,
knight in the English army: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

Edward said to de Umfraville “Will these Scotsmen fight?” de Umfraville said “These men will gain all or die in the trying.” Edward said “So be it” and signalled for the trumpets to sound the charge.

First off the mark was the Earl of Gloucester. Edward had treated his suggestion of a day to recover from the previous day’s battle as cowardice and Gloucester intended to disprove this slur. The English knights hurled themselves onto the Scottish spear line with a terrible crash. The charge fell on Edward de Bruce’s schiltron. Many of the English knights were killed in the impact: Gloucester, Sir Edmund de Mauley, Sir John Comyn, Sir Pain de Tiptoft, Sir Robert de Clifford among them.

Robert de Bruce strikes and kills Sir Henry de Bohun with his axe in single combat before the Battle of Bannockburn on 23rd June 1314: picture by Ambrose de Walton

Randolph’s and Douglas’s schiltrons came up on the left flank and attacked the unengaged English cavalry waiting to charge in support of the first line.

On the extreme English right flank the Welsh archers came into action causing a pause in the Scots attack until they were dispersed by Keith’s force of light horsemen.

Supporting the assault of the spearmen of the schiltrons the Scots archers poured volleys of arrows into the struggling English cavalry line as it was pushed back across the dry ground into the broken area of the Carse.

Robert Bruce drives the English into the Bannockburn: Battle of Bannockburn on 24th June 1314

The Scots spearmen pressed forward against the increasingly exhausted and hemmed in English army. The cry went up “On them. On them. They fail. They fail.”

The final blow was the appearance of the ‘Small Folk’, the Scots camp followers, shouting and waving sheets. The English army began to fall back to the Bannockburn with ever increasing speed and confusion and foot soldiers and horsemen attempted to force their way across the stream. High banks impeded the crossing and many are said to have drowned in the confusion. Many escaped across into the area of tidal bog land known as Les Polles where they fell prey to their exhaustion, heavy equipment and the knives of the Small Folk.

The Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314: a contemporary representation

Aftermath to the Battle of Bannockburn:

Once it was clear that the day was lost, the Earl of Pembroke seized King Edward’s bridle and led him away from the battle field surrounded by the Royal retainers and accompanied by Sir Giles de Argentan. Once the King was safe de Argentan returned to the battle and was killed.

King Edward II of England refused entry to Stirling Castle after the battle by Sir Philip de Mowbray, the governor: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

Shield of Sir Raoul de
Monthemere, knight in the English army:
Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

Edward was taken to the gates of Stirling Castle. Here de Mowbray urged the King not to take refuge in the castle as he would inevitably be taken prisoner when the castle was forced to surrender to the Scots. Edward took this advice and with his retinue skirted around the battlefield and rode for Linlithgow. He then rode to Dunbar and took boat to Berwick.

The memorial to Sir Edmund de Mauley in York Minster: Sir Edmund died fighting in the English army: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

A group of nobles, the Earl of Hereford, Robert de Umfraville Earl of Angus, Sir Ingram de Umfraville and others fled to Bothwell Castle where they were taken and handed to the Scots by the Castle Constable Sir Walter FitzGilbert.

The Earl of Pembroke led his Welsh archers away from the battle field and after a tortuous and hazardous march brought them back to Wales. One of these archers may have been the source for the account of the battle in the Valle Crucis Abbey chronicle.

Coat of Arms of Sir Marmaduke de Tweng of the English Army captured at the battle by the Scots: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

Others among the prisoners were Sir Marmaduke de Tweng and Sir Raoul de Monthemere.

King Robert de Bruce returned the bodies of Gloucester and Sir Robert de Clifford to Berwick for burial by their families. De Bruce conducted a vigil over the body of Gloucester to whom he was related.

Casualties at the Battle of Bannockburn:

There is little reliable evidence on the number slain. The English probably lost around 300 to 700 mounted knights and men-at-arms killed in the battle with many more killed in the flight from the field.

Few foot soldiers are likely to have been killed in the battle. It is unknown how many Scots were killed.

Memorial in Copthorne Church of Sir Edmund de Twenge who fought with the English army: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

The war against the English continued with years of Scots invasions of England and some counter invasions. Berwick changed hands several times. The Pope, acting on the English account, excommunicated King Robert de Bruce and a number of prominent Scots clergy and placed Scotland under interdict. In 1320 the Declaration of Arbroath was signed in Arbroath Abbey under the seals of 8 Scottish Earls and sent to the Pope. It contained a statement of the origins of the Scottish people and a declaration of their independence from England.

Heraldic representation of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314
© The Heraldry Society of Scotland 2004

The statue of Robert de Bruce on the battlefield: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314 by Pilkington Jackson

In 1327 Edward II was deposed by his nobles and senior clergy. His son Edward III became the new king. Edward II died in Berkeley Castle on 21st September 1327 under suspicion that he had been murdered.

The Treaty of Edinburgh bringing the long wars between England and Scotland to an end was signed on 17th March 1328 and ratified by Edward III on 4th May 1328.

King Robert de Bruce died at Cardross on 7th June 1329.

Anecdotes from the Battle of Bannockburn:

  • Before the Battle of Bannockburn Friar Baston of King Edward II’s entourage wrote a ballad celebrating the coming victory over the Scots. Baston was captured and required to re-write his ballad to record the true victors. He did so and it remains a valuable record. He was then released by Robert de Bruce.
  • The Earl of Hereford was exchanged for King Robert’s wife and daughter who had been held for a number of years by the English, Queen Mary in a cage on the wall of Roxburgh Castle, and some 12 other Scots prisoners held by Edward.

Coat of Arms of Sir William de
Erth of Airth killed at
Cambuskenneth Abbey by the
Earl of Athol: Battle of Bannockburn 23rd and 24th June 1314

The previous battle in the British Battles series is the Battle of Hastings

The next battle in the British Battles series is the Battle of Sluys

16. Podcast of the Battle of Bannockburn: Robert the Bruce’s iconic victory of the Scots over the English in 1314: John Mackenzie’s podcast


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  1. Maran

    but another variant is?

  2. Mizilkree

    The entertaining information

  3. Gifuhard

    Comrades soldiers, the song must be shouted so that the muscles on the ass tremble. Sleep faster - you need a pillow. Better to do and regret than to regret not doing. I didn’t love you as much as you moaned! ..

  4. Lacey

    It seems brilliant idea to me is

  5. Ryence

    This can be argued endlessly ..

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