Friday, September 10, 2010
The Battle of Stirling Bridge was the highest point in the career of William Wallace. It is the one that has gone down in history and has been immortalized in song and story ever since. It was an amazing victory, one of the best the Scots ever saw and, like Flodden, it is still remembered today, though in celebration of the joyous victory where Wallace and his men got to stand there on the banks of the River Fourth and shout out their defiance to the English army running away into the distance.
William Wallace had been raiding all the English held towns in Scotland, driving the men of Edward Longshanks like poison from the land. Edward himself was in Flanders at the time, waging war against the French and when he heard word of Wallace's exploits, he commanded his army commander, John de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey to take his men and march north to meet the Scots and stop their inexperienced force.
Little did he know, though, that Wallace was not in the least inexperienced.
Wallace had a plan. He had joined up with another young man named Andrew Murray (also sometimes spelled as de Moray) Andrew had been campaigning up north while Wallace had been in the Lowlands and had freed some of the Highland towns from English occupation. The two young patriots got on very well it seemed and were able to work together to come up with a plan to send the English packing. They heard about the English army coming north, and they immediately thought of Stirling Bridge. It was a very well traveled rout back then and would have been crossed by many people traveling into Scotland. It was constructed over the River Fourth, a wide and heavy flowing river that was nearly impossible to cross on foot.
Surrey went along with Hugh de Cressingham, the treasurer of England who was really only there to make sure Longshanks' money was being well spent. He was unpopular in both Scotland and England because he was fat and brutish and people had been known to call him the "Treacherer" instead of the treasurer. He fancied himself a knight though, for he was to make one of many charges that day.
When the English army joined up on the southern side of the River Fourth, they sent two friers over to Wallace's side to ask if he would surrender. When Wallace got the message, he was reported to have said, "Tell your commander that we are not here to make peace but to do battle to liberate ourselves and our kingdom. Let them come on and we shall prove this to their very beards."
With that, you can almost hear Surrey's sigh of resignation as he told his men to form up and begin to cross the bridge. This would have been the main force of mounted knights. The infantrymen, mostly Welsh archers, would have formed up on the banks of the river on the English side and shot across to the Scots side. The English knights began to cross the bridge and form up in front of the Scots army who were formed at the base of the Abbey Craig, a rocky cliff over looking the River Fourth where the National Wallace Monument now stands. Wallace waited just long enough for about half of the knights to cross and then he blew a signal on his horn and the bridge collapsed.
The story of the collapse Stirling Bridge, is a little bit far fetched, but might very well be true. It was said there was a man hanging under the bridge, a carpenter, who had fixed it so that when the signal came, he could pull a pin out and collapse the bridge. There is evidence of this really happening, for the family that the carpenter belonged to have ever since named their first born son "Pin" in honor of his deed for Wallace.
When the bridge collapsed, all the English knights who were on the bridge, which, considering the length of it, was a considerable amount, fell into the River Fourth. I'm sure most of them drowned, being swept down the river in their heavy armor. The English knights who had already crossed now saw that there was no way they could get back to their reinforcements and that they were going to be forced to meet the Scots in hand-to-hand combat.
Wallace wasted no time. As soon as the bridge collapsed, he led him men forward and they fell on the Englishmen killing many. The terrain around the river was marshy, and a lot of the knights, had formed up on the marshy ground, their horses sinking in so their movement was hindered. Wallace and his men however, had formed up on the causeway from the Abbey Craig to the River Fourth and thus had stable ground to fight on.
It was over in only a little bit. Sometime during the fray, Cressingham had tried to prove himself and had gotten slain for his troubles. It is said that the Scots skinned him after the battle and some accounts even say that they made Wallace a baldric (a sword belt) out of his hide. Barbaric, you might say? Well, the English stuck their enemy's heads and limbs up for people to view.
James the Steward and the Earl of Lennox, two Scottish earls who had come to Wallace's aid, had forded the river further along and taken off after the English baggage trains, thus winning valuable spoils.
Wallace had won the day. But it had come with a price as usual. Andrew Murray had been wounded in the battle and as the winter came on, he died of his injuries which turned out to be worse then first thought. Wallace mourned the loss of his friend and fellow commander.
It was after this battle that Wallace was knighted and bestowed the honor of being Guardian of Scotland.
You can still see the wooden posts from the original Stirling Bridge in the River Fourth on a clear day. The new one stands a bit to one side of it and that one too has seen a lot of history over the years.
Here is a song about the Battle of Stirling Bridge sung by, as usual, The Corries!
I'll be taking requests this month, so if there is anything you want me to talk about, please tell me!
Thursday, September 9, 2010
It all started with a ring. And that one ring was to wipe out almost a whole generation of Scottish menfolk from the borderlands and one of their most loved kings to boot.
Flodden is considered one of the bloodiest battles Scotland ever saw, if not the worst. The death toll and loss even outweighed that at Culloden a couple hundred years later. It washed a history of blood and sorrow over the Lowlands and Borderlands of Scotland.
But, in truth, it did start with a ring. Henry VIII of England had invaded France and the French, remembering the Auld Alliance they had between themselves and Scotland, wished to call on their comrades in their time of need. James IV who was king of Scots at the time was reluctant to fight someone else's war, but the French queen sent him a letter asking him to "take but three paces into English ground and brake a lance for my sake." Attached to this letter was a gold and turquoise ring. James IV was a man who had a sense of honor and chivalry and he would not leave this fight undone since a woman pleaded him to do something about it, so he gathered his knights and men from the Boarders and even some Highlanders and went off to meet the English commander, Earl Surrey.
The Scots army actually outnumbered the English and they had the best ground up on Flodden Hill. For some reason or other, once the English gathered there to fight, the Scots moved to Branxton Hill while the English crossed the River Till. If they had attacked Surrey's men as they were moving they could have won the day. It was their untimely hesitation that cost them dear.
The two armies exchanged cannon fire first and then the Scots made another untimely and pointless move and started down the hill toward the English. The ground was wet and they took off their shoes to keep from sliding. They were armed with tall Swiss spears and found they were a terrible hinderance on the slope, unbalancing them on their way down. Once they got to the bottom, the English were ready for them, armed with bill hooks or halberds, a type of spear that had an almost axe like head on the front side and a hook on the back. With these they could hook the Scots' spears to one side, thus making them harmless or break the heads off of them altogether. The English began to close in and the Scots army was getting smaller and smaller by the minute.
The Scottish foot soldiers died by the thousands protecting their king while Surrey and his commanders waited it out on a small rise. James had been wounded several times now, fighting in the thick of it with his men. He had been pierced with arrows with one hand nearly cut off, but he still fought on. He had a last desperate hope that if he could cut Surrey down then the English would surrender. James hacked his way through the fray to the place Surrey stood, several of his men standing around him, covering him as he made him move. It is recorded that he got to "one spear-length" of Surrey when an archer standing at Surrey's shoulder shot right into James's open mouth as he was yelling out his war cry. James died there on the field with all his men. and Surrey became the victor for the day. For all else we might say about James, and though he might not have been the best tactician; he was brave. And he fought in the thick of it with his men unlike most leaders of those days.
Surrey was said to have taken the turquoise ring from James's body, along with his matching sword and dagger as spoils of war. Historian David R. Ross says in his book Passion for Scotland that these artifacts are still kept in the College of Arms in London. Just another Scottish artifact that ended up down there. It was also said that Surrey changed his coat of arms after this battle to a top-halved lion rampant like that on the Scottish flag with an arrow through its mouth. I call that bad sportsmanship on any level.
The Battle of Flodden or just Flodden as it has been dismally called over the centuries since September 9th 1513 cut a deep wound into the heart of Scotland's history. Many songs and poems have been written about it. It is still commemorated today in honor of the men who died on the field, all for the love of their king. One who really deserved their love to the full. One who died with them on the field.
Here are a couple songs about Flodden:
Flowers of the Forest This is actually an old poem, but was made into a song. This is my favorite version of Ronnie Brown singing it.
And this is another one by a Scottish folk group called Celticburn. This is their own song about the battle called Flodden's Green Loanin
I'll be back Saturday to talk about the Battle of Stirling.
Monday, September 6, 2010
I am thinking this is going to be another slower month. There is not much to talk about and frankly, I will not have that much time to write about a lot of anything this month due to my novel writing conquests. Historic novels need research, and I will probably not have time to research for blog posts on the side.
However, there are two more important battles to pretty much conclude our Summer Battle Season, both coming up this week and I will try to have posts for them. I am also hoping to get a book of my poetry up on a self publishing site, which may happen this month, or it may not, but it's a goal I am setting to happen within the next couple months at least!
I may even have some smaller posts later this month as well, if I come up with any little thoughts on historical Scotland and if you have any requests on things you may want to know more about, please make sure you tell me. I am also still taking stories and/or comments on William Wallace, so if you think of anything you would like to share, please write it!
I'll go for now, but I will be back later this week to talk about the battles of Flodden and Stirling; two completely contrasting battles, but yet two that were so important to Scotland's history. One for the worst, one for the best.