Historic Battles Series: Battle of Bannockburn

A depiction of the Battle of Bannockburn from a 1440s manuscript of Walter Bower's Scotichronicon. This is the earliest known depiction of the battle.

The Battle of Bannockburn is one of the most significant events in the history of Scotland.

It took place on June 23rd, 1314, at the First Battle of Bannockburn. Moving north to attack King Edward’s forces at the pass leading to Stirling Castle, the Scotts assembled a force of archers and light troops. While the Englishmen were defending themselves, a Scottish army under the command of King Edward’s younger son was advancing on Bannockburn with a larger force. When the Scotts were finally able to surround Edward’s men, they inflicted heavy damage on the English troop while lacking the numbers and discipline to challenge the veteran veterans of the First Battle of Bannockburn. Edward was taken prisoner, and Edward’s son was forced to withdraw from Scotland, forcing his army to retreat towards the border.

Background

The Wars of Scottish Independence between England and Scotland began in 1296 and initially the English were successful under the command of Edward I, having won victories at the Battle of Dunbar (1296) and at the Capture of Berwick (1296). The removal of John Balliol from the Scottish throne also contributed to the English success. The Scots had been victorious in defeating the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. This was countered, however, by Edward I’s victory at the Battle of Falkirk (1298).

By 1304, Scotland had been conquered, but in 1306 Robert the Bruce seized the Scottish throne and the war was reopened.

After the death of Edward I, his son Edward II of England came to the throne in 1307 but was incapable of providing the determined leadership his father had shown, and the English position soon became more difficult.

In 1313, Bruce demanded the allegiance of all remaining Balliol supporters, under threat of losing their lands, as well as the surrender of the English garrison at Stirling Castle. The castle was one of the most important castles held by the English, as it commanded the route north into the Scottish Highlands. It was besieged in 1314 by Robert the Bruce’s younger brother, Edward Bruce, and an agreement was made that if the castle was not relieved by mid-summer it would be surrendered to the Scots.

The English could not ignore this challenge and prepared and equipped a substantial campaign. It is known that Edward II requested 2,000 heavily armoured cavalry and 25,000 infantry, many of whom were likely armed with longbows, from England, Wales and Ireland; it is estimated no more than half the infantry actually arrived, but the English army was still by far the largest ever to invade Scotland. The Scottish army probably numbered around 6,000 men, including no more than 500 mounted forces.

Unlike the English, the Scottish cavalry was probably unequipped for charging enemy lines and suitable only for skirmishing and reconnaissance. The Scottish infantry was likely armed with axes, swords and pikes, and included only a few bowmen.

The precise numerical advantage of the English forces relative to the Scottish forces is unknown, but modern researchers estimate that the Scottish faced English forces one-and-a-half to two or three times their size.

Most medieval battles were short-lived, lasting only a few hours, so the Battle of Bannockburn is unusual in that it lasted two days.

England lost the battle in 2 days. Edward fled with his personal bodyguard and panic spread among the remaining troops, turning their defeat into a rout. King Edward with about 500 men first fled for Stirling Castle where Sir Philip de Moubray, commander of the castle, turned him away as the castle would shortly be surrendered to the Scots

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