1314 - Bruce defeats Edward II at Bannockburn


Having subdued his rivals the Comyns, Bruce started a steady war of attrition against the English occupying forces. He took a number of castles by stratagems, but Stirling Castle still held out against him. His brother Edward besieged the castle and extracted a promise of surrender from the garrison. Unless an English army came in sight of the castle before midsummer's day 1314, the castle would be his. The news was brought to Edward II. The Monk of Malmesbury who wrote the Vita Edwardi Secundi takes up the story. His narrative is anecdotal, concentrating on the deeds of individual knights - for example, his disgust at the failure of the English knights to save the Earl of Gloucester. By contrast the Lanercost chronicler and Sir Thomas Gray have accounts which show more military understanding. This is how the English chroniclers recorded Bannockburn.

About the beginning of Lent messengers came to the king [Edward II] with the news of the destruction of the Scottish cities, the capture of the castles, and the breaching of the surrounding walls. The constable of Stirling came, too, and pointed out to the king how he had been compelled by necessity to enter upon the truce. He persuaded the king to lead an army to Scotland, to defend his castle and the country. When the king heard the news he was very much grieved, and for the capture of his castles could scarcely restrain his tears. He therefore summoned the earls and barons to come to his aid and overcome the traitor who called himself King [Bruce] . . .
When all the necessaries had been collected, the king and the other magnates of the land with a great multitude of carts and baggage-wagons set out for Scotland. On the sixth or seventh day before the feast of St John the Baptist, our king with all his army left Berwick and took his way towards Stirling. The cavalry numbered more than two thousand, without counting a numerous crowd of infantry. There were in that company quite sufficient to penetrate the whole of Scotland, and some thought if the whole strength of Scotland had been gathered together, they would not have stayed to face the king's army. Indeed all who were present agreed that never in our time has such an army gone forth from England. The multitude of wagons if they had been placed end to end, would have taken up a space of twenty leagues . . .
On Sunday, which was the vigil of St John's day, as they passed by a certain wood and were approaching Stirling Castle, the Scots were seen straggling under the trees as if in flight, and a certain knight, Henry de Boun [Bohun] pursued them with the Welsh to the entrance of the wood. For he had in mind that if he found Robert Bruce there he would either kill him or carry him off captive. But when he had come thither, Robert himself came suddenly out of his hiding-place in the wood, and the said Henry seeing that he could not resist the multitude of Scots, turned his horse with the intention of regaining his companions; but Robert opposed him and struck him on the head with an axe that he carried in his hand. His squire, trying to protect or rescue his lord, was overwhelmed by the Scots. This was the beginning of their troubles! . . .
[The next day]
The Earl of Gloucester counselled the king not to go forth to battle that day, but to rest on account of the feast, and let his army recuperate as much as possible. But the king spurned the earl's advice, and, growing very heated with him, charged him with treachery and deceit. 'Today,' said the earl, 'it will be clear that I am neither a traitor nor a liar,' and at once prepared himself for battle. Meanwhile Robert Bruce marshalled his men for battle and equipped his allies, gave them bread and wine, and cheered them as best he could; when he learned that the English line had occupied the field he led his whole army out from the wood. About forty thousand men he brought with him, and split them into three divisions; and not one of them was on horseback, but each was furnished with light armour, not easily penetrable by a sword. They had axes at their sides and carried lances in their hands. They advanced like a thick-set hedge, and such a phalanx could not easily be broken. When the situation was such that the two sides must meet, James Douglas, who commanded the first phalanx of the Scots, vigorously attacked the Earl of Gloucester's line. The earl withstood him manfully, once and again penetrated their wedge, and would have been victorious if he had had faithful companions. But look! At a sudden rush of Scots, the earl's horse is killed and the earl rolls to the ground. Lacking defenders, and borne down by the weight of his body-armour he could not easily arise, and of the five hundred cavalry whom he had led to battle at his own expense, he almost alone was killed. For when they saw their lord unhorsed, they stood astonished and brought him no aid. Accursed be the chivalry whose courage fails in the hour of greatest need!
Alas! Twenty armed knights could have saved the earl, but among some five hundred, there was not found one. May the Lord confound them! . . .
Giles de Argentine, a fighting soldier and very expert in the art of war, while in command of the king's rein, watched the fate of the earl, hurried up in eager anxiety to help him, but could not. Yet he did what he could, and fell together with the earl, thinking it more honourable to perish with so great a man than to escape death by flight; for those who fall in battle for their country are known to live in everlasting glory. On the same day Robert de Clifford, Payn Tibetot [Pain Tiptoft], William Marshal, famous, powerful, and active knights, were overcome by the Scots and died in the field.
When those who were with our king saw that the earl's line was broken and his men ready to run, they said that it would be dangerous to tarry longer and safer for the king to retreat. At these remarks the king quitted the field, and hastened towards the castle. Moreover when the royal standard was seen to depart, the whole army quickly dispersed. Two hundred knights and more, who had neither drawn their swords nor even struck a blow, were reduced to flight.
O famous race unconquered through the ages, why do you, who used to conquer knights, flee from mere footmen? At Berwick, Dunbar, and Falkirk you carried off the victory, and now you flee from the infantry of the Scots. But whatever others may say, the land of the Lord was not with you. Thus was Ben-hadad, a most powerful King of Syria, put to flight by the footmen of the princes of Samaria.

Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm Young, London, 1957.

The Scots Prepare for Battle

The Lanercost Chronicler has the following . . .

On the morrow - an evil, miserable and calamitous day for the English - when both sides had made themselves ready for battle, the English archers were thrown forward before the line, and the Scottish archers engaged them, a few being killed and wounded on either side; but the King of England's archers quickly put the others to flight. Now when the two armies had approached very near each other, all the Scots fell on their knees to repeat Pater noster, commending themselves to God and seeking help from heaven; after which they advanced boldly against the English. They had so arranged their army that two columns went abreast in advance of the third, so that neither should be in advance of the other; and the third followed, in which was Robert. Of a truth, when both armies engaged each other, and the great horses of the English charged the pikes of the Scots, as it were into a dense forest, there arose a great and terrible crash of spears broken and of destriers wounded to the death; and so they remained without movement for a while. Now the English in the rear could not reach the Scots because the leading division was in the way, nor could they do anything to help themselves, wherefore there was nothing for it but to take to flight. This account I heard from a trustworthy person who was present as eye-witness . . .
[The Bannockburn itself:]
Another calamity which befel the English was that, whereas they had shortly before crossed a great ditch called Bannockburn, into which the tide flows, and now wanted to recross it in confusion, many nobles and others fell into it with their horses in the crush, while others escaped with much difficulty, and many were never able to extricate themselves from the ditch; thus Bannockburn was spoken about for many years in English throats.

The Chronicle of Lanercost, 1272-1346 translated, with notes, by the Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert Maxwell, Baronet, Glasgow, 1913.

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