24 June 1314, 700 years ago, the Scots, led by King Robert the Bruce, decisively defeated a larger English army under King Edward II at Bannockburn.
“'Scots, wha hae wi Wallace bled, / Scots, wham Bruce has aften led, / Welcome tae yer gory bed, / Or tae victorie.” (Robert Burns, “Scots Wha Hae“)
|An illustration showing the clash of the Bruce and Henry de Bohun |
at the first day of Bannockburn
from H E Marshall's 'Scotland's Story', published in 1906
King Edward II of England was a bit under pressure, following the footsteps of his father Edward the Longshanks, who was labelled “Hammer of the Scots”, in general, and in relieving the last English-held stronghold north of the border in particular. The castellan of Stirling Castle had agreed to surrender the place to the Scottish besiegers if no relieve force had arrived by Midsummer. Thus, Edward hurried his army, about 20,000 men, at least 2,000 well-trained and equipped knights among them, infantry and lots of archers, to the north and arrived just in the nick of time to prevent Sir Philip Mowbray from quitting Stirling. On June 23rd, 500 of Edward’s knights, eager to show the numerically inferior Scots under King Robert the Bruce what’s what, rushed ahead and met the very effective schiltrons already in place, basically men arranged defensively in a circle that bristled with long pikes like a hedgehog, impenetrable for even the best of cavalry, and the English knights who charged nonetheless, consequently got their noses bloodied. Seeing Robert the Bruce riding in front of his army after the first charge, young Sir Henry de Bohun couched his lance again and tried to decide the battle with one stroke. King Robert, mounted on ”ane gay palfray Li till and joly“, waited until the last moment, dodged Sir Henry’s deadly lance point and smashed the knight’s helmet and skull with one mighty blow of his battle-axe. With the handle of the weapon splintered, the Bruce, raised with an attitude of thriftiness, mourned the ruin of a perfectly good tool. “I have broken my good axe,” was all he said, while the men forming the schiltrons cheered.
|Edmund Blair Leighton: “ Bruce Reviewing His Troops Before the Battle” (1909)|
The next day, the English, still positioned between the rivers Pelstream and Bannock on swampy ground after the failed advance, were in for another surprise. The defensive hedgehogs of the Scots could actually move and they did, advancing with their long spears and driving the English deeper into the mud and finally the waters of the Bannock. The archers that had shot the schiltrons to pieces at Falkirk in 1298 under Edward the Longhshanks, were drawn up, far to late and probably in a wrong position, began to shower Scots and English alike with their arrows and were soon dispersed by King Robert’s small cavalry force that had somehow been forgotten to be taken into account by the English. Edward II fled the field and left his army to be slaughtered. By the end of the day, Robert the Bruce’s victory at Bannockburn had secured Scottish independence during the rest of the Middle Ages.
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