‘Lay on, Lay on-they fail’—the Bruce’s victory at Stirling
The Battle of Bannockburn holds a significant place in the history of Scotland and the Scottish people. Fought in 1314, when Edward II reigned in England, it was by no means the first clash of arms to decide the sovereignty of Scotland, nor was it the last—that was the battle of Culloden Moor in 1745. Bannockburn remains iconic because it was the most significant Scottish victory in the First War of Scottish Independence and because it involved a Scottish army under the command of the heroic figure of Robert the Bruce. The English, led by their king, marched north to relieve Stirling Castle which was under attack by Scots commanded by Edward Bruce the Scottish king’s younger brother. The battle need not have been fought because Bruce had agreed a definition of ‘relief’ with Mowbray, the British commander holding the castle, based on the proximity of the English Army. However, the ‘die was cast’ and battle duly joined. This was a poor decision by the English monarch who had substantially lost command of his battle host. The outcome of the battle was a crushing defeat for the English and Edward, with his bodyguard, fled for his life. This special Leonaur edition contains two contrasting accounts of the battle together with significant biographical information about the principal protagonists.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
It has been already stated that, according to the direction of Bruce, the Scottish Army was to be separated into four divisions, and how the charge of the right wing devolved upon Edward Bruce. The van at first was intended to be led by Randolph, but Bruce, on surveying the ground, would seem to have altered his original plan, for the highest part of the front lines was where his brother was placed, and this point, he well knew, would be first assailed by the enemy. Accordingly, the body of above seven thousand warriors, under Sir Edward Bruce, came to form the van of the Scots, for they were before the others, who were stationed somewhat behind, on lower ground, and their heroic leader had the angle of the stream already mentioned, hid far down among trees, on his right hand.
Next to him, on his left, but a little to the rear, with a space between the divisions, so narrow as not to allow a passage for the English horse, was Randolph, Earl of Moray, leading a like number of men; and still farther to the north-east, slightly to the rear, also on the lower ground, and near to the head of Halbert’s Bog, stood Sir Walter Steward and Sir James Douglas, completing with their spearmen, equal in number to the others, the whole front lines of battle. Taking into account the spaces which separated these divisions, each section would average about fourteen men deep, a force that, judiciously guided, would, if they fought well, accomplish much on a stricken field.
Again, on the highest ground beside, or rather behind. Sir Edward Bruce and Randolph, with the fourth division in reserve, the king was stationed on horseback, regulating the whole, and watching attentively from his lofty position every movement, both of his own troops and those of the enemy. Apart from these four bodies of warriors were the five hundred cavalry, who had overcome Clifford, led by Sir Robert Keith, hereditary Marshal of Scotland. Moreover, a considerable band of archers, of whom we are unable to state the number, were placed probably near the openings of the several divisions, but, on account of the rise of the ground, somewhat near to that of Sir Edward Bruce. At this instant both armies must have presented a stirring and most magnificent sight. Before the king were his own devoted subjects, ready to offer up their lives for the freedom of Scotland; and from the stream of Bannock, mile beyond mile, south-east to the hill of Plean, shaded occasionally by patches of the forest, but covering the whole side of the declivity which sloped down towards the brook, one enormous crowd appeared of men, horses, and carriages.
The latter were stationed more in the distance, but in front and behind, up to and beyond Foot o’ Green, were banners, flags, and pennons, of every colour, waving beyond each other in the breeze, while armour, shields, helmets, morions, and weapons, glanced and sparkled above the bearers far and wide. Earls, knights, and bannerets on horseback, gorgeously decorated in their surcoats of various bright hues, seemed innumerable, while squires, cavalry, and infantry, comprising spearmen and archers, densely mingled together, filled up every available space of ground. Their immense numbers scarcely allowed of any opening between them, and we may readily conclude that no exhibition of martial pomp and grandeur to an equal extent was ever witnessed in this land. Fancy delights to contemplate the gorgeous display, and we may conceive how it thrilled the heart of Bruce, and awakened feelings of awe and sublimity in the bosoms, not only of his noble adherents, but of many a brave Scottish peasant.
Ere the English moved forward, several of the leading men of mature age, knowing how the greater part of the army, by watching and revelry through the night, had enjoyed little or no sleep, endeavoured to prevail with the king to defer the conflict till the following day, but the younger chiefs derided such counsel, and the prudence of the former was set aside. The Earl of Gloucester advocated delay, and the king foolishly called him a traitor for his discretion. The taunt was indignantly repelled by the remark that before the day was over proof would be given he was neither traitor nor coward. It was some time ere the arrangements for commencing the attack were completed, and thus the leaders lingered that they might receive orders to advance.
Meantime King Edward was accompanied by Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, on one side of his bridle, and Sir Giles de Argentine, one of the bravest knights in Europe, at the other, also bishops and ecclesiastics who kept near to him, together with five hundred armed horsemen as his bodyguard. It would appear he was stationed somewhere in the neighbourhood of Chartershall Mains, and when gazing northward, on observing the Scottish army drawn up in hostile array, all on foot, he was somewhat amazed at the sight. Looking at the enormous numbers of his own forces, he considered they must be invincible in battle, wherever and whenever it took place; nor did it even enter his mind either to lead them on under superior generalship, or cause them to meet the enemy upon suitable ground, in order to come off victorious. Believing, therefore, that Bruce’s army would not dare to oppose him, he inquired of Sir Ingram de Umfreville, who knew them well, ‘If yonder Scots would presume to fight?’
‘Yea, surely, sire,’ said the knight, ‘and it is the most fearful sight I ever beheld, when they are resolved to do battle against the whole force of England. Truly I know the people, and if your Majesty would please to follow my advice, I can devise how they may easily be overcome. Let us withdraw the army and retreat, as if for fear, beyond our baggage and pavilions, on our way to England, and the desire of spoil shall so work upon them that no captain may keep them together, and thus, when their ranks are broken, we shall secure an easy victory.’
‘I will not assent to this,’ said the king, ‘nor will I turn from doing battle with such a low, despicable concourse of people.’ By this time the Abbot of Inchaffray, who had previously celebrated mass, now advanced, walking bare-footed along the front of the Scottish lines as they stood prepared for the onset, and carrying a cross wherein a crucifix was suspended, he raised it as a banner, and admonished his countrymen in most earnest and appropriate words to perform their duty nobly in so righteous and glorious a cause. When he had done this, the whole army knelt down, and confessing their shortcomings, put up a brief but fervent prayer that the Almighty would remember them in mercy, and crown their efforts with success.
When all the divisions of the Scots thus knelt down, King Edward, who beheld them, believed they were supplicating for pardon, and turning again to Umfreville, observed, ‘These people dare not encounter us in the field—see they all kneel to us for mercy!’
‘They do seek for mercy, my liege,’ said the knight, ‘but not from your Majesty. They implore Heaven for pardon and for help in the struggle, and believe me, sire, these men will either win or die where they stand, nor will they fly for all the power England can bring against them.’
‘Be it so, then,’ said the king, and almost immediately after the trumpets sounded the onset of battle.