24th of June 1314: The Battle of Bannockburn (Second Day)
As it turned out, it was the Scots, and not the English, who should have worried about treachery in the night. Despite having fought against Bruce for much of the conflict, David of Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, had changed sides by late 1313, and was one of the three earls with the king at Bannockburn. Another of these, however, was the king’s brother, Edward Bruce, for whom Atholl had allegedly conceived a deep hatred on account of Edward’s desertion of his wife Isabel (Atholl’s sister) for a sister of Sir Walter Ross. It was claimed by John Barbour that, this issue came to a head on the night of the 23rd, when Atholl and his men headed towards the Scots supply depot at Cambuskenneth. There, they slew Sir William Airth along with many of his men, and raided the supplies in the Abbey before leaving the area completely. For this crime, Atholl’s lands were forfeited and he was banished to England, but his descendants continued to cause trouble for the Bruce kings long afterward.
Several miles away in the New Park, the Scots rose at daybreak, and readied themselves for battle as the morning of the 24th of June dawned clear and sunny. Robert Bruce had been convinced not to withdraw the previous evening, while the victories of the previous day had been an auspicious beginning, but the task facing the Scots was still immense, and the king did his best to hearten his army. Probably on the evening of the 23rd (though some sources say the next morning), he addressed them, in a speech which has been variously recorded by different sources, but was plainly inspiring to the Scots whatever its form, and if the next morning they felt any trepidation about the battle ahead, they seem to have been no less determined to face the challenge. The English chronicler Geoffrey le Baker’s account was written sometime after Bannockburn, and is likely embellished, but his description is no less compelling,
“On the other side you might have seen the silent Scots keeping a holy watch by fasting, but with their blood boiling with a fervent love for the liberty of their country which, although unjust, made them ready to die on her behalf.”
The previous evening having been the eve of the feast of St John the Baptist, the army had fasted, but now they may have received bread and wine, and, then masses were said. Walter Bower claims that Maurice, the Abbot of Inchaffray, having taken King Robert’s confession, presided over this mass, before making his own speech to the host and then leading them onto the field, walking ahead of the army with cross in hand. The Scots quickly formed up in their divisions, almost all, including the king, being on foot, many carrying axes at their sides and spears in hand. As already mentioned, most sources state that there were three divisions, two in front, and a third in the rear commanded by the king, which may have included many men from Carrick and the west highlands and islands, as well as Lowlanders. The other two seem likely to have been commanded by the king’s brother Edward Bruce and Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, (John Barbour’s claim that there was a fourth division under the Steward and James Douglas being largely rejected by historians, though A.A.M. Duncan has raised the possibility that Douglas was serving under Edward Bruce, which would fit his movements later in the battle). Once in their divisions, the king likely created new knights, as was chivalric custom, though again Barbour’s claim that this was when Stewart and Douglas were knighted may have been poetic licence. This done, the army advanced, moving out of the New Park and down into the land near to where the English had made camp.
(One interpretation of where the second day of the battle may have taken place (Barrow’s), with the English camp in between the Pelstream and Bannock burns. Not my picture.)
The site of the fighting which took place on the second day of the Battle of Bannockburn has never been conclusively located, despite the best efforts of historians and archaeologists across the centuries, which have most recently included a huge archaeological dig to mark the seven hundredth anniversary. Some archaeological finds would seem to support Barrow’s hypothesis, which was also largely supported by Duncan. In this view, the English encampment is thought to have been on the fields which are currently sited just across the railway from Broomridge, surrounded by the Pelstream and Bannock burns, and it is even possible that the battle itself was fought down here, or perhaps at Broomridge itself (though there are now houses on the spot). It is also possible that the battle may have been fought up the hill from Broomridge, over the other side of Balquidderock wood, on the ground that Bannockburn high school now occupies. The position of the Bannockburn Heritage Centre near Borestone (to the west of the aforementioned sites) has, in recent years, is actually very unlikely to have been the spot of the battle, though local legend states that Borestone takes its name from a nearby stone (which survived until the mid-twentieth century) in which Bruce’s standard was planted. This legend can only be definitively dated to the eighteenth century, however, and, though there are arguments for spots slightly further afield, most theories seem to agree on a spot somewhere in the vicinity of Balquhidderock wood. I cannot comment on this with authority though, and so I recommend personally reading up on the subject further, as there are other opposing arguments (and it’s also really interesting- see the references below for the full titles of Barrow and Scott’s books). For now though, I’ll return to narrating the battle.
The English army had not had a particularly restful night. Though some sources claim that the soldiers ‘spent the night in braggartry and revelry with Bacchus’, exulting in the rout of the Scots rabble they were sure would follow, other sources indicate that many within the army were anxious and restless. The cavalry had armed themselves and readied their horses in the night, and Thomas Gray states that when they saw the Scots march out of the woods, they mounted hurriedly in some alarm. The actions of their king and other leaders can hardly have been comforting- the English commanders were deeply divided, both on account of individual pride and on what course of action they should take. Seasoned veterans counselled against attacking that day, reasoning that the Scots would likely begin to melt away if the battle was postponed or become too tempted by the prospect of gaining spoils to maintain discipline. Gilbert de Clare, the Earl of Gloucester, though relatively young, is also supposed to have supported this argument, but according to the ‘Vita Edwardi Secundi’ many of the other younger nobles felt that delaying the battle was cowardly, while King Edward is said to have accused his nephew Gloucester of treachery. Gloucester did not take this at all well and, allegedly replying, ‘Today it will be clear that I am neither a traitor nor a liar’, he quit the king’s presence in anger and readied himself for battle.
(Part of the possible location of the English camp between Broomridge and the A91).
To the Scots coming out of the wood the sheer size of the English army would have been immediately apparent, and according to some reports only the vanguard was distinguishable from the rest of the vast force assembled in front of the Bannockburn, armour glinting in the early morning sun. From the English point of view the much smaller Scottish army appeared like a ‘thick-set hedge’, the two foremost divisions bristling with spears as they advanced in their schiltroms. This type of tight-knit spear formation had its weak points, but the Scots were in a much narrower, and therefore advantageous, position than Randolph’s force had been in the skirmish by St Ninian’s the previous day, and the Scots had been drilled thoroughly in the weeks leading up to the battle, enabling them to use the schiltrom offensively as well as to simply stand their ground. They moved swiftly in the direction of the English, but at one point stopped briefly in the sight of the enemy, the whole Scottish army kneeling down to pray, both confusing and impressing many on the opposite side. Soon after they rose to their feet again, battle was joined.
The Chronicle of Lanercost maintains that the main battle was preceded by a short duel between the two sides’ archers, but if so this likely stopped as soon as the main bodies of the two armies clashed. It is unclear just how this clash occurred, but, while the ‘Vita Edwardi Secundi’ implies the Scots advanced first, more sources suggest that the English vanguard, under the earls of Gloucester and Hereford, charged the Scots schiltroms, particularly those under Edward Bruce. As this Scottish division came under pressure, Thomas Randolph’s division pressed ahead to lend support, and the English vanguard began to feel the full repercussions of charging at thousands of spears head on, as the Scots held the line and did not falter under the weight of the heavy cavalry. Jammed together they found it difficult to fight effectively, and hadn’t the space to pull the schiltroms apart from the sides, and Sir Thomas Gray, whose father had been captured charging a schiltroms the previous day, wrote:
“They [the English] were not accustomed to fight on foot; whereas the Scots had taken a lesson from the Flemings, who before that had at Courtrai defeated on foot the power of France.”
The twenty-three year old Earl of Gloucester seems to have been an early casualty. Whether in a fit of pique over the accusations Edward II had levelled at him, or because he was still squabbling with his other uncle, the earl of Hereford, over who should take precedence in leading the charge, he had hurled himself at the schiltroms with much ferocity. When a phalanx that may have been under the command of James Douglas suddenly rushed forwards, however, the earl’s horse was killed on the Scottish spears and its rider hit the ground, where he was lost in the fray.
(In this recent imagining of the battle, Gloucester may be identified by his arms- yellow (or) with red chevrons. The knight to his right is possibly intended to be Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke while elsewhere in the background can be seen the arms of James Douglas, Edward Bruce Earl of Carrick, and Hugh Despenser the Younger. Not my picture)
***Gloucester’s death may have been a blow, and others in the vanguard likely met similar fates, but the Scots were not out of trouble yet, and, according to John Barbour, at some point the English archers began causing real problems forto the spearmen in the schiltroms. From his position behind the main battle, holding his troops in the rear, King Robert sent out a small cavalry force under the command of the marischal, Sir Robert Keith, numbering about five hundred and mounted on relatively light horses. Keith’s horsemen got in among the archers and scattered them, but as the archers fled they ran into their own troops coming up from behind and worsened the crush. It may have been then that King Robert committed his men to the battle and the Scots steadily pushed their foes back in the direction of the Bannock burn, the English beginning to give ground as their line collapsed and men fell backwards over each other under the weight of the Scottish onslaught. Not long afterwards, if Barbour is to be believed, an even worse omen appeared out of the wood as what looked like thousands of Scottish reinforcements headed in the direction of the battle. In fact, this was no second army at all, but the camp followers and carters and other members of the supply train who had been left behind in the New Park (tradition has it they were stationed near the appropriately named Gillies’ Hill but this is more folklore than evidence). Seeing the fight from afar, they had allegedly chosen leaders among themselves, made banners from sheets, and marched down to the battlefield in time to join the struggle. Their arrival though, appearing like a second army, was a terrible blow to the English army’s morale, and many now attempted to flee.
From where the men in charge of Edward II’s rein were standing, the situation was beginning to look rather perilous, and now the Earl of Pembroke and Sir Giles d’Argentan made the decision to remove their king from the battle. Edward was less than happy about being made to leave the field, but went, ‘much against the grain’, striking out at the Scots behind him with a mace. Once the king was clear, however, the famous knight Sir Giles d’Argentan took his leave of the party, claiming that he had never been accustomed to fleeing from a fight, and rode back into the fray, where he was killed. Pembroke and Edward, with the rest of their party, thus continued on towards Stirling castle as fast as their heels would carry them. Arriving at the gates of the castle, however, they were refused entry. Some sources imply that the garrison had switched their allegiance to the Scots, others that Philip de Mowbray, quite sensibly, pointed out to the king that once inside Stirling he would never be able to escape again. Whatever the case, the king’s party was forced to gallop hell-for-leather back the way they’d come, tearing past the King’s Knot and the battlefield in the direction of Lothian.
(Not my picture.)
The rest of the English army had not been so lucky. When the king’s standard was seen to leave the field, this signalled the complete collapse of the English defence, and men began fleeing in earnest, the Scots pursuing them with triumphant shouts, cutting down any they could reach and snatching up spoils as they went. In their haste to get away from the enemy, many of the retreating soldiers fell into the ditch behind them, through which flowed the dark waters of the Bannockburn, and this stream now became their graveyard as it filled with the bodies of the drowned and the wounded. Others fled in the direction of the castle, and Barbour describes the castle rock as visibly crawling with men as they scaled the crag any way they could. King Robert was apparently still anxious about the English deciding to turn and fight again, however- not at all an unlikely occurence, given the number of apparent victories that have been turned to defeat when it seems as if the enemy is retreating- and attempted to prevent his men from chasing them too far, especially avoiding any attack on those in the park under the castle, where the hundreds of fleeing soldiers might yet regroup. However, if we are to believe John Barbour, the king still granted James Douglas permission to pursue the party containing the English king- if captured, Edward II would have been too large a prize to pass up the opportunity completely.
In all the confusion, and despite the area swarming with men, both friend and foe, King Edward made it safely to the Torwood and from there his party, numbering around five hundred, headed south-east. James Douglas and his men swiftly gave chase, and by the time they reached Linlithgow, the Scots were nipping at the heels of the English party. According to Barbour however, Douglas’ force, numbering only around sixty, was far too small to engage them, even when they met up with another force that had defected from the English, and the Scots settled for picking off stragglers in the rear. When the English paused at Winchburgh to rest their horses, the Scots paused too, lurking some distance away and keeping a careful watch, until the English remounted and the chase began again. Eventually though, their headlong flight was successful, and Edward made it safely to Dunbar, the coastal fortress belonging to Patrick, Earl of Dunbar, who was quick to demonstrate to the English king that he was still loyal, evacuating many of his own people to make room for the royal party. From Dunbar, a small, open boat was procured, and Edward with only a few attendants, escaped by sea to Berwick, the rest of his party travelling by land as best they could, though constantly attacked by the Scots of the borders. Many of their horses were left running wild, and were seized eagerly by the Scots. A force of Welshmen, heading towards the border under the command of Maurice de Berkley, were also much harried by the Scots, with many being taken or killed. In the south-west, Bothwell Castle received a large number of men seeking refuge, under the command of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford. Unfortunately for them, the keeper of Bothwell, Sir Walter Gilbertson, was not so reliable as the Earl of Dunbar, and, having ensured that Hereford’s force was subdued, he soon brokered a deal with the Scots, and handed over his prisoners, including the earl.
By late afternoon, the battle was very much over. The Scots busied themselves clearing up the rich pickings left behind by the magnificent English army- their fastidiousness when it came to spoils may be partially why so little archaeological evidence has survived. As well as horses, treasure, and armour, they may also have found Edward II’s seal, as he lost his in his haste to escape and had to borrow Queen Isabella’s when he finally arrived in Berwick. It was equally important to count the dead, and while it is difficult to gauge the number of Scottish losses, most accounts only give two notable names- Sir William de Vieuxpont and Sir Walter Ross, the latter allegedly a close comrade of Edward Bruce, being the brother of his mistress Isabel of Ross. The English death toll was far higher. As well as Giles d’Argentan, among the dead were that hardy veteran of so many Scottish campaigns Robert Clifford, Lord William Marshall, Edmund Mauley the steward of Edward II’s household, and Payne de Tibetot, whose young son and heir had been born not even a year before. The earl of Gloucester’s body was also identified among the carnage, which is said to have saddened King Robert, the two being close kin, and a guard was appointed to wake the corpse that night. Gloucester’s body was later returned to England and buried in Tewkesbury Abbey, while several of the other English nobles were given honourable burials. The rest of the army, meanwhile, was interred in large pits.
(The earliest known artistic portrayal of the Battle of Bannockburn, from a manuscript of the fifteenth century Scotichronicon. Obviously not my picture.)
While Bruce may well have lamented Gloucester, his death also meant the loss of a hefty ransom for the Scots, but in that department at least they were generally richly rewarded, not least with the capture of the Earl of Hereford. Humphrey de Bohun was later to be exchanged, with others, for the aged yet formidable bishop of Glasgow, Robert Wishart, and several of Robert Bruce’s kinswomen, including his queen, Elizabeth de Burgh, his sister Mary, and his daughter Marjorie Bruce, all of whom had been in captivity in England since 1306. Other captives were not of such high rank, but still had their uses- for example, Robert Baston, a Carmelite friar who had apparently been brought along with Edward II’s army to compose poetry commemorating his victory over the Scots. In the event, he was captured by the Scots and in return for his release was commissioned to write poetry for them, though Baston’s poetry is less partisan than either side might have liked, and more grief-stricken than triumphant. I agree with Walter Bower in that Baston’s poem makes for interesting reading, particularly from the point of view of someone who was near the field at the time of the battle itself, so here are a few verses:
“Weeping in my tent, I lament the battles joined,
not knowing (God be my witness!) which king is to blame for them.
This is a twofold realm, where either half seeks to be master;
neither wishes to be a supplicant subjected to the other.
England and Scotland are two Pharisaic kingdoms.
This one is at the top and so is the other, lest one or the other fall.
Hence spring gaping flanks, spattered with rose-red gore,
embattled ranks, mown down with bitter anguish;
hence wasted strength, overwhelmed by Mars,
hosts engulfed while hammering out mutual conflict;
hence pallid faces, one drowned, another buried;
hence manifold mourning, a noise that mounts to the stars;
hence wars that arise and waste the resources of the land.
I cannot recount the particulars of a massacre that transcends all reckoning
All round the scene are places heaped high with spoils.
Words charged with menace are hurled back and reinforced with acts.
I know not what to say. I am reaping a harvest I did not sow.
I renounce the trickery of guile; I cultivate the peace that is a friend of right.
Let him who cares for more assume the care of writing it.
My mind is dulled, my voice is harsh, my work totally blurred.
I am a Carmelite, surnamed Baston.
I grieve that I am left to outlive such a carnage.”
Sixty years later, John Barbour took a rather different view of the battle in his poem ‘the Brus’, written in the days of Robert I’s grandson. His work is a romance more than history, though it provides many details for events that we cannot find elsewhere and is therefore an invaluable source, if often problematic. Thus Bannockburn is presented in triumphant terms, but is not without its chivalric episodes, as in the story Barbour tells of the Yorkshire knight Sir Marmaduke Tweng. The survivor of Stirling Bridge had similarly managed to weather Bannockburn and, by hiding his armour under a bush, somehow managed to avoid coming across any of the thousands of Scots roaming the field for much of the day. When he happened to come across the Scottish king however, he spurred his horse in Bruce’s direction and yielded to him personally. Apparently impressed by this, King Robert ensured that he was treated well, chivalrously waived Tweng’s ransom, and sent him home to England laden with gifts.
Eventually, Stirling Castle, the source of all the troubles, surrendered to the King of Scots. It was then razed, like Edinburgh and Roxburgh, so it could not be held by the English again, but it was of course rebuilt later on, and survived to continue causing trouble across the centuries.
The Battle of Bannockburn did not end the First War of Independence. It didn’t even prevent Robert I from being faced by threats from other Scottish magnates, though it certainly did do much to bolster his position in his kingdom and rendered his rule a great deal more acceptable to many of his subjects. Even some English commentators seem to have reluctantly conceded his primacy, and Bannockburn certainly played a huge role in this- Sir Thomas Gray, for example, refers to Bruce as the king of Scotland for the first time in the paragraph immediately following his account of the battle. Edward II’s ambitions in Scotland were also massively affected, and though the English king did mount other campaigns against the Scots they were largely unsuccessful and were often less confident than even the Bannockburn campaign. Bannockburn was also a triumph for a new way of fighting, and some of the tactics used therein found their way into the style of warfare practised so expertly by the English on their French campaigns during the Hundred Years’ War, and other instances of late mediaeval warfare. Its importance in popular culture from the fourteenth century to the present day, should also not be overlooked, even if some examples are rather cringeworthy. All in all, whilst it is important to recognise that Bannockburn was not the pivotal, conflict-ending event it is often claimed to be, it is still a fascinating battle, associated with many compelling stories, and is of great historical significance, both for Scotland and Britain as a whole, which makes it well worth studying.
(Not my picture. References and notes below)