Thursday, June 24, 2010
And now we come to the big event of this month: The Battle of Bannockburn.
A little backstory before I go into the actual battle:
When William Wallace was executed in 1305, six months later, Robert the Bruce stepped onto the scene. Well, he had been on the scene before, but was fluctuating throughout all of Wallace's campaign as to which side he was on. After Wallace's death, however, he took up his sword against England, and was crowned King of Scots at Scone in 1306. His campaign was a long and bloody one. He was always on the run, often fighting illness and the bitter climate, but in 1314, eight years since he had been crowned at Scone, eighteen years since William Wallace began his fight, Bruce and his men charged the fields of Bannockburn and won Scotland's freedom.
It happened on the twenty-fourth of June, in the middle of summer, on a battlefield not too far from Wallace's victory at Stirling bridge almost eighteen years earlier. The battle was actual fought on two days total, starting on the twenty-third and ending gloriously on the twenty-fourth.
Edward II of England (Son of the notorious Edward Longshanks) led an army northwards to defeat the Scots army once and for all. It is said--though the actual numbers are not known-- that he had somewhere around fifteen thousand men including the infantry, cavalry and archers. Bruce on the other hand, had about six thousand men. He had about five hundred light cavalry led by Robert Keith besides his infantry, and then he had some "small folk"--the poor farmers and such--waiting in reserve. As was usual, he was outnumbered.
Bruce did not want to originally engage the English army in full scale battle. He did however, set up the field at Bannockburn with booby traps in the form of spiked trenches to ward off the heavy English cavalry. His vanguard was led by his nephew, Thomas Randolph, the Earl of Moray and behind him two devisions, one led by his brother Edward Bruce, and the other by his trusted general, James the Good the Black Douglas. The "small folk" were camped as a reserve on the Coxet Hill out of sight, guarding the extra supplies until they were needed in battle.
When the English army appeared from the Torwood on the afternoon of the twenty-third, they watched the Scots deploying in the southern fringes of the New Park ahead of them. As this was happening, one of the most talked about stories of this battle took place. One of the English knights, Sir Henry de Bohun, saw Bruce on the back of his small gray pony mustering his men and getting them into position. Sir Henry, thinking, most likely of the praise he would get if he were able to kill the Scottish king before the battle even started, charged forward, meaning to strike Bruce off his pony. Bruce however saw him coming and before Sir Henry could strike at him, he sidestepped his pony and raised his battle axe, striking out at the English knight. Sir Henry de Bohun, was cleaved to the breastbone, and the force of the blow was so hard that Bruce's axe broke in half. When he went back to the Scottish ranks, the men were shocked at what he had done saying something along the lines of "Why did ye do that? Ye're the king, that was stupid!!" And then Bruce just says, "I know, I broke my good axe."
Bruce also used a tactic that William Wallace had used at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. The Schiltron. This was a group of spear men who would stand in a circle, some standing, some kneeling and they would form a huge spiked circle that could withstand cavalry charge. And that's what it did at the Battle of Bannockburn. The English cavalry thought they would have a go, but ran into more trouble then they had imagined. The Scots did now break formation as the English thought they would, and their horses were impaled on the spears of the schiltron men. Eventually, after several tries and heavy losses, the English gave up retreated for the night.
That night, the Scots would rest on a reasonably comfortable spot of the field while the English would sleep on the carseland where it was wet and uncomfortable, made even more so by the fear of a night attack.
The next day, Bruce, having seen that his men wanting to fight or die, decided the best thing would be to charge. He gathered all his men up, said a few profound words, and then led the charge against the English.
The English longbowmen set up their volley of arrows, trying to take down the schiltrons as they had at the Battle of Falkirk, but Bruce's schiltrons were no longer standing still. They were marching across the field in perfect unbreakable formation. Every time the English tried to charge one, they ended in defeat. The Earl of Moray and James Douglas as well were fighting off the rest of the English army with their brigades, forcing the Englishmen to be pressed back and caught between the Scottish brigades and the schiltrons. Unable to maneuver properly, the English ranks were cut down at an alarming rate. This was what Bruce had been waiting for. He released his light calvary under Sir Robert Keith who's charge was so fierce that they sent the English archers running.
Bruce then sent his own brigade into the fight, mainly Highlanders and Islanders under Angus Og MacDonald of Islay. It was then that the English began to realize they were loosing the battle. They were now desperate to do whatever needed to be done to win. But then, Bruce sent out his "small folk" who had been hidden behind the Coxet Hill and waiting with anticipation for their part in the battle.
It was done by then. The English could not withstand the might and energy of the Scottish people. They fell into a retreat, dragging their unwilling king off the field with them and left Bruce and his men to revel over their victory that had won freedom for their country that they had not possessed for far too long.
So that was how the battle of Bannockburn went down. Before this month is over, I will try to have at least one more post to go along with this one, so I will probably be back next week sometime.