Braveheart & Bannockburn - The Kingdom Of Fife

Welcome to Fife
Go to content

Main menu:

Braveheart & Bannockburn

Days Out & About

At first glance, it might seem strange why the City Of Stirling has been included on this web site but if we take Glenrothes as the most central community of Fife then Stirling is no farther than our immediate neighbouring cities of Perth, Dundee and Edinburgh and thus demands consideration and inclusion. It also proves, once again, why Fife provides an ideal base from which to explore most of Scotland!
On this page, we've chosen to explore historical aspects about William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and the infamous battle of Bannockburn plus details of modern days exhibits all centred close to Stirling and thus combining to make a multiple day-out venue of great enjoyment.

In the closing years of the thirteenth century, Scotland was a land in turmoil and where a politically wise English King was called upon to arbtrate as to the rightful heir to the Scottish Crown. Never one to miss an opportunity to further his own interests, Edward I chose John Balliol, a man soon regarded as 'Toom Tabbard' or the 'empty raincoat' by many Scots. Often, Edward I humiliated the Scottish King in public and Balliol was portrayed as a puppet under the command of his English counterpart. Rebellion became inevitable as Scots increasingly resented Balliol and sought freedom and liberation from English occupation of their land. This first rebellion was rapidly quashed at the Battle of Dunbar in 1297 and where the Scottish King hid at Strathcathro near Montrose rather than become directly involved with the struggle. He abdicated the throne soon afterwards in favour of 'Guardians Of The Realm' and which included two competitors for the throne of Scotland.

They were John Comyn of Kingussie and Robert Bruce of Annandale. Later, this was to be of profound importance but in the meantime, new leaders of the revolution,and initially still proclaiming that John Balliol was the rightful King, emerged to forge a new Scottish army willing to fight for independence and freedom. Their names were William Wallace and Andrew Moray.

Although it's not entirely clear what caused Wallace to attack and resist the occupation; the notion presented in the popular film, Braveheart, is entirely feasible but a more likely account is that concerning his alleged encounter with some English soldiers who demanded that he surrendered all the fish he had caught that day from a river. Wallace tried to reason with them and offered half but this was deemed inadequate and prompted Wallace to attack and kill several of them. From that moment, he was an outlaw from English justice and who decided to fight back. Over a period of time, others joined him and where his 'hit and run' raids on English installations grew in daring and scope. Andrew Moray had already been using similar tactics in Northern Scotland with some success and it was common hatred of the occupation that drew them together.

English King Edward I had increasingly expected to get income and troops from his vassals in Scotland to support his wars in France but, in sharp contrast to this desire, the establishment of the 'Auld Alliance' between France and Scotland suddenly opened up two fronts with England caught in the centre. An English army was despatched to deal with this latest Scottish rebellion and where the confident English army fully expected a repeat of the Battle of Dunbar. It's alleged that William Wallace stood on the Abbey Craig close to Stirling and watched as the large English force headed towards Stirling Bridge

At the time, the bridge in question could only accomodate two warhorses side by side and the English army thus became split with their knights and warhorses on one side with the infantry waiting on the other. In theory, the war horses were the tanks of their age and capable of breaking the ranks of any enemy line and permitting great advantage to the following infantry.

At Stirling Bridge however, the wily Scots permitted the warhorses to cross the bridge and followed by about eight thousand infantry before ordering the attack. Scottish spearmen rushed down towards the bridge and secured the bridgehead thus splitting the numerically superior forces of the English army. In response, the English war horses and knights who had crossed the bridge rallied and charged forward towards the main body of the Scottish army only to be suddenly confronted by pike men arranged in sheltron formations and with long pikes dug into the ground and levelled at various angles, pointing outward and akin to hedgehog spines on a much greater scale.
  
For only the second time in medieval history, the first occurred in Switzerland, the overwhelming confidence of armoured knight and warhorse against infantry was broken and where the warhorses failed to deliver the knock-out blow expected of them.

For the English, the situation grew worse when the Scottish sheltrons were ordered to advance and where English knights, warhorses and infantry were trapped within a receding area and compelling some to swim over the river and failing to reach the other side. Wallace had won the day and was subsequently dubbed 'Guardian of Scotland' but sadly, Andrew Moray had received serious wounds during the battle and died soon afterwards. Alas, one battle and one victory rarely becomes the final arbittor of war! In Europe, King Edward I was forced to concede terms with King Philip the Fair of France and withdrew his troops back to England. He was thus perfectly poised to personally lead an English army into Scotland just one year after the disaster of Stirling Bridge.

Upon hearing this news, Wallace wisely advocated a 'scorched earth' policy in which crops were burned or deliberately destroyed so that the advancing army might struggle to find food to eat. By the time Edward's Army reached Edinburgh, most of his troops were close to rebellion and it seemed best to retreat. News of the Scottish Army encamped at Falkirk, less than thirty miles away, changed that decision. In one final push, Edward led his army westward and with several Scottish nobility having switched sides in favour of the English King.

On the battlefield of Falkirk, the Scots army was betrayed and defeated by several members of the Scottish nobility and Wallace was captured. He was transported to London and where he was accused of treason against a King he had never sworn fealty nor loyalty to. Found guilty of this trumped up charge, his body was hung, drawn and quartered with several parts of his body displayed to show what rewards would be gained if actions against the English King were undertaken. Whilst Edward I saw himself as the 'Hammer of the Scots', he failed to live up to that title. He died of dysentry leading another army north towards Scotland.

Robert Bruce - King Of Scots


As stated earlier, both John Comyn and Robert Bruce could claim the throne of Scotland but their competitive nature came to a head in Dunfries Chapel and where Bruce killed him in an act of cold blooded murder.The 'man who might be king' left many followers and believers and as Robert the Bruce struggled to assemble the new Scottish army; there were many supporters of Comyn ready to fight against him. Despite this, Robert Bruce was crowned King of Scotland just seven weeks later.

English King Edward I had already made six victorious forays into Scotand and now commanded allegience from those granted in his favour to act in his place and raise an army against Robert Bruce and headed by Aymer de Valence, brother-in-law to John Comyn. In 1306, Valence commanded his army to Perth while Robert commanded his army just north of this position at Methven. Astonshingly in retrospect, and in a declining age of chivalry and fair quarter, a naive Robert failed to post sentries or spotters despite the close proximity of the armies; a crucial error that almost cost him his life and ambitions when Valence and his army attacked early in the morning of 19th June and caught the opposition completely by surprise. In a short space of time, Robert's army was routed and destroyed and he was forced to flee and hide.

According to popular myth and legend, Robert hid in a cave while Valence's men scoured the countryside in search of him and where he carefully observed a spider steadily rebuilding its web after it had been destroyed by his arrival. It seems the young king took this as a sign to begin again but in a different fashion and more akin to the guerilla tactics formerly employed by William Wallace and Andrew Moray.

It may be alleged that Robert was afraid to face up to major confrontation after the disaster at Methven but when his brother, Edward Bruce, began a seige of Stirling Castle in early 1314 , the die was cast in this direction. Edward Bruce faced an initial position of stalemate but it was equally obvious the castle could not survive indefinitely without external help and support from England. Sir Philip Mowbray, charged with command of the castle, entered into agreement with Edward that if support from England failed to materialise by mid-summer then he would willingly surrender the castle. Given the strategic importance of Stirling Castle, Edward II of England was compelled to respond and despite recent internal insurrection from his barons and noblemen. Perhaps because the noble houses of England sought to heal the rift, many agreed to support a further military campaign into Scotland and the army sent into Scotland comprised about two thousand horses and about sixteen thousand infantry troops and archers. This army arrived in Edinburgh on June 19th and just a few days before the truce was due to expire. Trouble erupted among the eight hundred Welsh archers, and with time at a premium, the issue was settled by force witjh many Welshmen pu to the sword. On June 22nd, the English army reached Falkirk and were just fifteen miles from Stirling. From here, they followed an old Roman Road towards the castle and destiny on the Battlefield of Bannockburn.

By contrast, the Scottish army may have comprised about eight thousand men in all with about five hundred archers and five hundred warhorses. Although greatly outnumbered, the Scots had the considerable advantage of being on the site of battle in advance and where they use this time to place 'pot traps' and where the hoof of any warhorse falling into one was likely to break the horses leg and bring down its rider. The road from Falkirk was lined either side with such traps and forcing the English army to advance on a narrow front and where they would eventually arrive at the Tor Wood and where movement of the Scots army could be concealed. The English army would also arrive at a point where the slope of the land favoured the Scots. The land also favoured a strategic withrawal if Robert chose to take this option and this was seriously considered as an opton right up until the last moment. As stated earlier, Robert was not keen to rest his destiny on a single battle in the way William Wallace had at Falkirk. He was even critical of his brother, Edward, for creating this win or lose all situation but as the preparations took shape and where he could see the lie of the land, he must have known there would never be a better chance to win against the superior forces being applied against him. The area had natural boundaries like the River Forth to the North and the Bannockburn to the South and where both merged to the East. In addition and following the slaughter of Welshmen at Edinburgh, Robert was told about the poor atate of morale within the English army.

Forget any notion about a Scots army clad in kilts (kilts came later in Scottish history) and fighting with farming implements. Robert had rejected many applicants to join the Scots army unless suitably equipped with heavy vestment or mail clothing, spears, swords or bows and arrows. The new Scottish army had learned much from the experience of William Wallace and where sheltrons were now more able to move in perfect unison and retaining their ability to defeat any cavalry charge. They'd learned how to minimise aerial assault from archers and were more capable in many ways than previously.

On Sunday 23rd June, an extraordinary event and in advance of the main battle occurred. Henry de Bohun, nephew of the Earl of Hereford, had ridden ahead of the main army when he spotted the Scottish King riding a type of horse better known for agility rather than strength, size or power and known as a palfrey. Robert wasn't wearing armour and armed only with a battle-axe. It was an opportunity too good to miss and Henry de Bohum charged towards the Scottish King. As de Bohun's great warhorse thundered towards him, Robert stood his ground, watched with mounting anxiety by his own army. With the Englishman only feet away, Bruce turned aside, stood up tall in his stirrups and hit the knight so hard with his axe that he split de Bohun's helmet and head in two. This small incident became in a larger sense a symbol of the war itself: the one side heavily armed but lacking agility; the other highly mobile and open to opportunity. Rebuked by his commanders for the enormous risk he had taken, the Scottish King only expressed regret that he had broken the shaft of his best battle axe. On the same day, there were a few skimishes easily repulsed by the Scots but which should have signalled the kind of battle that might unfold on the second day and where the main battle took place.

The English army was still approaching Stirling from the south and Edward made a decision to cross the Bannockburn to the East of the New Park area. At first light, the sheltrons of Scottish spearmen began to move in unison towards the English front line. According to several accounts, Edward was surprised to see Robert's army emerge from the cover of the Tor Wood and as Bruce's army drew nearer, they paused and knelt in prayer.

The English King Edward is supposed to have said in surprise "They pray for mercy!" "For mercy, yes," one of his attendants replied, "But from God, not you. These men will conquer or die."

One of the English earls, Gloucester, asked the king to hurry up, but the king accused him of cowardice. Angered, the earl mounted his horse and led the vanguard on a charge against the leading Scots spearmen, commanded by Edward Bruce. Gloucester was one of the first casualties and alongside other knights. The sheer size of the English army made it difficult to move quickly and much time was lost trying to get into the preferred positions.

By then, Robert Bruce had committed his whole Scots army in a massive push into the poorly organized English mass, the skeltrons fighting side by side across a single front and defeating each charge of the English war horses. The small force of Scottish archers added misery in Edward's army and drove the English into a tightly packed area in which, if a man fell, he would be crushed by those walking over him. English and Welsh archers were forced to refrain from attack as there was a good chance that many of the arrows would strike infantry of the English army.

As the Scots moved forward, Englsih knights began to retreat and escape back across the Bannockburn. With the English formations beginning to break apart, a great shout went up from the Scots, "Lay on! Lay on! Lay on! They fail!"

This loud cry was heard by Bruce's camp followers largely comprising cooks and servants camped over the hill and initially out of sight. On hearing the cry, they gathered crude weapons and banners before mounting the ridge to see what was happening. To the shock and surprise of an already struggling English army; this was mistakenly viewed as the arrival of a fresh and fit reserve army.

The English army retreat now turned into a rout with some knights heading for the protection of the castle while the great bulk of them, clad in heavy armour attempted to cross the rivers. According to one account of the battle, written by Barbour, "they ran, tumbling over one another" and where the war horses crossed the carse land, normally bog-like in winter but quite dry during summer, only to be confronted by the steep and slippery banks of the river. Any hesitation at this point meant being pushed forward by the mass of panicing troops and knights running and rushing in an attempt to save their lives. According to Barbour, the crush was such that "men could pass dryshod upon the drowned bodies” in some places.

King Edward II fled from the battlefield with his personal bodyguards and evaded capture by securing passage to England on a boat sailing from Dunbar. The remainder of his army fared less well. Many were killed by the pursuing Scottish army or else by inhabitants of the lands they crossed through. According to historian Peter Reese, one one sizeable group of infantry did succeed in making the ninety-mile journey back into England but its notable that these were Welsh spearmen and perhaps spared on account of their common Celtic ancestry.

It's been suggested that a sizeable faction of English nobility was lost at Bannockburn with some estimates placing the casualty rate at about seven hundred with a further five hundred captured and held for ransom. Casualties among English infantry were worse and where as many as eleven thousand may have been killed, either on the battlefield or subsequently! The damage inflicted on the English was severe and took many years to repair. Despite this, England still refused to recognise Scotland as an independent nation until ten years after this event.

Scottish casualties were far lighter with only two knights killed and most of the Scottish army remaining intact. Robert Bruce, now undesputed King of Scotland, now inherited a huge amount of plunder and wealth abandoned by the retreating English, and yet, he was compelled to accept limitations as to his rule.  

Before his death in 1329, Robert wrote an advisory directed towards future kings of Scotland and warning them of the power held and exerted Clan Donald and others. Such text suggests that while Robert held title over Scotand; he was also vassal to wishes demanded by the more powerful clan Lords of the North and where his power and influence might have been substantially weaker than might have been supposed in modern times.

The Bannockburn Visitor Centre is located beside the site of the famous battle and is open from late spring to early autumn.

William Wallace Monument


Driving westward from Fife towards the city of Stirling, visitors can see the unique 220 foot high sandstone tower structure of a monument dedicated to the memory of Sir William Wallace, one of the most famous 'freedom fighters' in Scottish history and whose ultimate betrayal and ghastly execution hardened Scottish resolve. His life and struggle was fictionalised and portrayed in 'Hollywood' fashion in the popular movie 'Braveheart' with Mel Gibson in the leading role.

In real life and at that time, William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland, came close to defeating King Edward II, an experienced military tactician who had already subdued and annexed Wales by the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284. Although, King Edward I would have probably loved a similar settlement in Scotland, his wars in Europe and Wales had weakened the English exchequer and where similar investment in Scotland was likely to promote a baronial revolt within his own realm. Indeed, his son and successor, Edward II, had to deal with such a revolt soon after his death. Edward I was actually leading an army towards Scotland when he died and perhaps hoping to annex Scotland in a similar way he had to Wales and it remains an important distinction whenever the subject of Welsh Independance is compared to that of Scottish Independance in current times. Full monarchial and governmental integration between Scotland and England didn't occur until four hundred years later in 1707 and amid very different circumstances.

The tower stands upon Abbey Craig, a volcanic outcrop from where William Wallace is alleged to have observed an English army assembling immediately before the Battle of Stirling Bridge. There are 246 steps to climb before reaching the gallery overlooking the Ochil hills and Forth valley.

The Wallace memorial was built and completed in 1869 via public conscription and including foreign financial contribitions towards the cost of construction made by revolutionary Italian leader Giuseppe Garibaldi. It's open to the public most days of the year and where a modest display of artifacts alleged and linking to William Wallace is on display, the highlight of which is a heavy sword measuring 165cm long (five feet four inches).


Stirling Castle

Last, but by no means least, is the great medieval fortification that commands the highest point of land for miles around and whose views from the top of the high walls overlooking the Forth Valley must rank as one of the finest in the land. That, in itself, is worth seeing and while the more renowned Edinburgh Castle offers more in terms of grandeur, size and the serendipity of historical links, Stirling Castle has much of the same but on a lesser scale and typically without the hassles of car parking and long distance walking to visit it.

Naturally, this isn't the castle pictured above that Robert the Bruce would have seen since the oldest surviving parts date to around the fourteenth century and has been updated many times since. The infamous Mary, Queen of Scots, and who seems to have trvelled to many parts of Scotland, was crowned here as were other former Kings of the realm.

Due to its apparently similar appearance to that of Colditz Castle in Saxony and where the latter was used to house Prisoners of War in World War 2, the 'Colditz' drama series was actually filmed at Stirling Castle.

In the early part of the twenty-first century, many parts of the castle underwent major restoration and where the castle esplanade or parade ground provided venue for popular music artists including REM, Bob Dylan, Wet Wet Wet and Runrig with this and surrounding scenery included in several 'in concert' DVDs. The regimental museum and headquarters of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlander regiment of the British Army has its HQ at Stirling Castle. The castle is open to tourists throughout the year and is managed by Historic Scotland.

Back to content | Back to main menu