1297 - William Wallace & Andrew Moray defeat English

Stirling Bridge

By 1297 there were not one but several rebellions in full swing. Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, James Stewart, Sir William Douglas, Robert Bruce, William Wallace and Andrew Murray all led uprisings. The Bishop and his friends were able to accomplish little, but Wallace and Murray were more successful. They managed to stay in arms, taking the war to the English who were advancing on Stirling. Against them came the English commander, the Earl of Warenne, and the most hated man in Scotland, Hugh de Cressingham - the king's Lord High Treasurer and the man responsible for extracting English taxes in Scotland and financing the English campaign.
De Cressingham, pompous, greedy, and a 'son of death' (and that's just what his own side said about him), was loathed by the Scots, which was a little unfair, as his accountant-like behaviour - demanding the cheapest possible military strategy regardless of its stupidity - was to cost the English the battle. William Wallace versus the accountant: the accountant lost. This narrative of the battle is by the contemporary Yorkshire Chronicler Walter de Guisborough, who ignores Wallace's role in the battle and concentrates instead on the heroic deeds of a certain Marmaduke de Tweng, who captured the bridge single-handed, if we are to believe his fellow Yorkshireman.

In the month of May in the same year, the perfidious nation of the Scots began to rebel in this way. The Earl of Warenne to whom our King [Edward I] had entrusted the whole of the kingdom of Scotland on his behalf and in his name, giving as his reason the debasement of money, said that it was not sensible for him to stay there and he remained in England but in the North, and half-heartedly pursued the enemy who were living in exile, which was the source and origin of evil for us in the future. And the King's treasurer the lord Hugh de Cressingham, a solemn and lofty man, loved money exceedingly and failed to construct the stone wall which the lord the king himself had ordered to be constructed upon the new fortifications at Berwick; which turned out to be a scandal to our men as will be clear below. Now the King's justiciar, William Ormsby, prosecuting the King's command, began to send into exile all those without distinction of persons who had refused to make firm fealty to the King of England. There was also a certain brigand, William Wallace by name, who had been in exile many times. Since this man was wandering and fugitive, he assembled about himself all those who were living in exile, and became something of a chief to them, and they grew into a large people. To him also was joined the soldier James Douglas who in the capture of the castle of Berwick had given himself together with his men to the King, saving his life and limb, as has been said above. Although the King had restored him to everything he became forgetful of his goods, and a robber allied to a robber, pursued his liberator to death, at least in his subjects . . .
[Sir William Douglas and the Bishop of Glasgow started an abortive rising. Warenne moved against them and both were soon handed over to him.]
When that robber William Wallace had heard this [the imprisonment of the Bishop of Glasgow] he became angry in his mind and proceeded to the Bishop's house and drew to himself all his furniture, arms and horses, and the sons who were called by name of the bishop's nephews. And he was increased by an immense number of Scots to the point where the community of the realm began to follow him as their leader and prince. And entire households [retainers] of the nobles began to adhere to him and even though the nobles themselves were with our King [Edward I] in body, their hearts were a long way from him. Indeed our men having become so irritated, since they did not wish to put up with such things any longer, marched forward in arms to the town of Stirling where the Steward of Scotland and the Earl of Lennox and certain others of the nobles of Scotland came and asked our men to hold off for a short time in case they might be able to pacify their men and the people of the Scots in whatever way. Although this was granted to them, they came back, that is to say on the 11th of September, and replied precisely that they could not answer for them, promising however that they would come to the aid of our men the next day with forty armed horse.
[The English army headed towards Stirling Bridge. Meanwhile, de Cressingham was given the offer of reinforcements under Sir Henry Percy.]
. . . he [Sir Henry] received in the commands from the lord Hugh de Cressingham the King's treasurer that he should send the same people back with his thanks, saying that the army that they had could be enough and that it was not useful to trouble them for nothing or to consume the King's treasury more than was necessary. He did this, and the people were mightily angered, wishing as if to stone him, and so with various people reckoning various things, some began shouting aloud that they should cross the bridge and some on the contrary that they should not. Amongst them the King's treasurer, a pompous man and a son of death, added,'It is not fitting my Lord Earl to prolong the matter further and to expend our King's treasury in vain. But let us go up and pay our debt, rather than hold ourselves back.' And so the Earl, moved by those words, commanded that they should go up to the bridge and cross it. It was astonishing to say, and terrible in its consequence, that such a large number of individual men, though they knew the enemy was at hand, should go up to a narrow bridge which a pair of horsemen could scarcely and with difficulty cross at the same time. Since, as some who had been in the same conflict were saying, if they had crossed over from earliest morning until the eleventh hour, without any interruption or hindrance, the last part of the army would have remained in great part until then.
Nor was there a more appropriate place in the kingdom of Scotland for shutting the English into the hands of the Scots, and the many into the hands of the few. So there crossed over the King's and the Earl's standard-bearers and amongst the first that most vigorous soldier, the lord Marmaduke Tweng, and when the enemy had seen that as many had come forth as they could overcome, as they believed, they then came down from the mountain [high ground], and sent the spearmen to occupy the foot of the bridge, such that from then no passage or retreat remained open, but in turning back, as also in making haste over the bridge, many were thrown headlong and were drowned. And so as the Scots were descending from the mountain, the lord Marmaduke said to his allies, 'Is it the time brothers for us to ride at them?' And with them answering that it was, they then spurred their horses and engaged together. And whilst some of the Scots were falling together, the rest of the horsemen, almost all, were turned to flight. Whilst those who were fleeing followed after them, one of our men said to the lord Marmaduke, 'My Lord, we have been cheated, for our men are not pursuing and the King's and the Earl's standards are not present.' Looking back to these things, they saw that many of our men, and the King's and the Earl's standard-bearers had fallen to the ground, and they said 'The way to the bridge is already cut off from us and we have been cut off from our people. It is therefore better that we put ourselves at risk of danger, in case we may cross over, than that we should fall, as if for nothing, whilst penetrating into the enemy's troops. Crossing through the middle of the Scots has already become difficult - or rather - impossible for us.' In reply to this Marmaduke, that most vigorous man, said, 'My dearest friends, may it certainly never be said of me that I willingly drowned myself. And far be it from you, but follow me, and I will make you a way through them as far as the bridge.' And after goading his war-horse he then rushed into the enemy, and submitting now these, now those to his sword, he crossed over through the middle of them unharmed; and a great way opened up to those who followed him. For he was powerful in strength and of tall stature, and when he was fighting strenuously, his own nephew, wounded and stunned but standing on his feet, his horse having been killed, called out to him, 'My Lord, save me,' but he said, 'Climb up behind me,' he said, 'I cannot, for my strength has failed me.' Then his comrade, the same lord Marmaduke's shield-bearer, got down from his own horse and made him mount and said to his lord, 'I will follow you my Lord wherever you shall go' and he followed him as far as the bridge and each of them was saved. So with the bridge captured through the bravery of that vigorous fighter, as many as stayed there fell to the number of about 100 men-at-arms and about 5,000 foot-soldiers, amongst whom were 300 Welshmen, although they had deprived many of life. At length some from amongst those who were left crossed the water by swimming. Also one soldier from our men crossed the water with difficulty on an armed horse.
On the same day amongst the Scottish spearmen fell the above-named treasurer of the lord King, the lord Hugh de Cressingham, rector of the church of Ruddeby, and chief judge at the assizes of York. Although he was a prebendary of many churches and had the cure of many souls, yet he never put on spiritual arms or the chasuble, but helmet and cuirass, in which he fell. And he who had previously terrified many by the sword of his tongue in many court trials, was eventually slain by the sword of evil men. The Scots stripped him of his skin and divided it amongst themselves in small parts, not indeed for relics but for insults, for he was a handsome and exceedingly fat man and they called him not the King's treasurer but the King's 'Treacherer' and this was truer than they believed. For he led many astray that day, but he too, who was smooth and slippery, exalted with pride and given over to avarice, was himself led astray.
At the first encounter of our men with the Scots, the Steward of Scotland and the Earl of Lennox, who previously had come in peace, when they saw that our men had fallen, immediately retreated to their own men who were lying hidden in the woods near the pows [slow-running streams feeding into the Forth]. Seeing the outcome of the abominable thing they came out in front of our men and killed many, particularly those who were running away in the same area, carrying off much plunder and leading away loaded waggons to the pows, for the waggons could not be easily be led away by those fleeing in lochs and marshes. Indeed our Earl, remaining throughout on this side of the bridge when the lord Marmaduke had returned with his men, ordered that the bridge be broken and burned, and entrusting the custody of the same castle of Stirling to the aforesaid lord Marmaduke, promised him faithfully with granted pledge that within the first ten weeks he would come to his help with a strong band of men; however he did not carry out what he had promised, and forgetting his own old age, he set out for Berwick with such haste, that the war-horse on which he had sat, which had been placed in the stable of the Friars Minor, nowhere tasted its fodder. From there he proceeded into southern parts to the King's son and left his fatherland entirely abandoned. This ruin was brought about on the third day before the Ides of September, namely the Wednesday in the year of grace above-stated.

Translated by J. Russell from Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough, ed. H. Rothwell, Camden Society, 1957.

print Top of page Close window