June 22-26, 1314: Summarized by William Bruce, MA, FSA Scot:
The following is designed to be only the briefest sort of overview and therefore many important items have been left out altogether, or only superficially mentioned. It is intended that this article will inform the person who is altogether unfamiliar with the subject, and hopefully inspire that person to consult more extensive sources.
THE SCOTS: The Scots army was made up of primarily foot soldiers, including both Highlanders and Lowlanders. There were also about 500 light horse and a relatively small number of archers. A very tiny contingent of heavy cavalry/chivalry was present. A reasonable estimate of the total number of Scots troops would be between 5,000 & 8,000.
THE ENGLISH: The English army included a huge contingent of heavy cavalry (mounted knights), and large numbers of Welsh longbowmen and English archers. It is said that the number of foot was beyond counting. Various accounts suggest that they numbered anywhere from four to six times the number of Scots, a total of between 20,000 & 30,000. They were also accompanied by some Scots, most notably the Comyn’s (Cumming’s), MacDougal’s, MacNab’s & MacDowell’s.
LEADERSHIP: The Scots were led into battle by none other than Robert 1, “The Bruce”, King of Scots. He was considered to be one of the most accomplished knights in all of Christendom. He was supported by his brother Edward Bruce a noted horseman, Sir Robert Keith in command of the light horse, Angus Og MacDonald the “Lord of the Isles” who led his own Isle men, Thomas Randolph, James Douglas, and numerous other of King Robert’s long time lieutenants. It is quite certain that King Robert did not want to fight this battle at this place and at this time, his successful experience in fighting the English using guerilla tactics instructive. However, his brother
Edward had foolishly forced the issue by agreeing that should the English garrison at Stirling Castle be relieved by Midsummer’s Day, it would remain in English possession. This forced Robert’s hand. The English were led by King Edward II, son of Edward 1 who was known as the “Hammer of the Scots”. Edward II was not the war leader his father was, and depended on his experienced noblemen to manage the fighting. Although many engaged the Scots bravely, they were over confident, poorly led, and not up to the task.
THE PLACE: A boggy and largely forested plain within easy sight of the City of Stirling and the heights upon which stands Stirling Castle. It was not far from Falkirk where William Wallace had led the Scots in defeating the English early in the Wars of Independence. The area was, and is, known as the throat of Scotland, marking the so called “Highland Line”, separating Highland and Lowland Scotland. Today, the battlefield is primarily a large green parkland, a pleasant and peaceful place to walk your dog and simply enjoy being outdoors, with its stirring vistas and grand memorials such as the famous equestrian statue of King Robert. A visitor’s center, as well as the battlefield
itself, is managed by the “National Trust for Scotland”. In 1314 it was considered primal, with some open ground, thick unmanaged forest and brush, and large tracts of water logged, almost swampy tree and brush covered bogs and small streams.
PREPARATION: The Scots were fighting on home ground and had the most to lose. Long before the English arrived they had prepared by digging pits and traps with sharpened stakes at the bottoms and covered with turf and brush (murder holes), erecting barricades over roads and paths to direct the English heavy cavalry into the bogs where they would be ineffective, and dividing the Scots foot into four divisions. These were further divided into two schiltrons each. The foot were equipped with shields to protect against arrows, and twelve foot long spears. Shiltrons were “squares/rectangles” of soldiers used to both attack the enemy and defend their own positions. The light horse was used for reconnaissance, harassment, and support of the foot. The English, both horses and men, were weary from travel, drawn out in long lines, followed by a very long baggage train, and unprepared for a terrain of which they had no knowledge. It is said that there
were so many troops and so much baggage, that the English were never able to bring their full strength to the battlefield. This, obviously, was much to the Scots advantage.
BATTLE: The Scots were well organized, rested, well led and disciplined. They had been shriven (given absolution) and were placed to take advantage of the lay of the land, especially the pits and bogs. Much of the foot was drawn up into schiltrons awaiting the enemy. The English were impulsively led, and were deceived into thinking that the Scots were intimidated by them. The English heavy cavalry/chivalry charged the schiltrons where they drove themselves into the long spears and suffered heavy casualties. They also discovered that the schiltrons were mobile, and were able to move forward to meet them. Other English were brought down in the pits and bogs and gravely injured, where the Scots foot soon dispatched them. Many more English drowned as they fought their own heavy armor. Meanwhile the Scots light horse attacked the Welsh archers and soon nullified the effect of their arrows, further protecting and enabling the schiltrons. Much of the English foot were literally bogged down and were soon dispatched by the Scots foot. It is likely that the greater part of the
English host never saw battle due to the disastrous failure of the initial attacks and the appearance of a large Scottish host numbering in the many thousands made up of “secondary/support” foot who were, for the most part, enthusiastic but poorly armed. Fortunately, the English were unaware of the condition of these additional Scots, and panicked at their appearance late in the battle. Most turned and ran, including Edward II, who was one of the first taken off the field, and that by his own bodyguard.
RESULTS: The flower of English chivalry were killed or taken prisoner, probably well over 700 knights and other nobles. One estimate is that as many as 15,000 of the English were killed, wounded or taken prisoner, although that seems exaggerated to this writer. Most escaped back to England, including Edward II. It is reported that 200 pairs of silver English spurs were recovered from the battleground. Much booty, including war horses, weapons, armor, and almost the entire English baggage train was taken. Even the chest of money to be used to pay the English soldiers was confiscated. Most of the captured knights and other nobles were held for ransom, and a notable sum paid for their release. Many English dead remained unburied and rotting in the bogs for a very long time. Scottish casualties were relatively small in comparison.
AFTERMATH: Scottish independence was affirmed, in that the English were not able to further challenge the Scots in any significant military fashion for decades following. The English were embarrassed and humiliated. The cream of English chivalry was dead, with many survivors being ransomed at great cost. The Scots who had supported the English had their lands confiscated by the crown, and many were banished from Scotland. King Robert, who had so successfully managed this victory, was acclaimed by many of the Scots as a hero. However, the “ultimate” peace was not to be had, despite punitive raids into England, till well after 1320 and the “Declaration of Arbroath”. A peace treaty was finally signed in 1328.
———- Copyright: Family of Bruce International, Inc. USA: May, 2011:
copyright William Bruce – may not be reproduced in any fashion without the permission of theauthor. Permission granted to FOBII to post on its web site.