King Robert Bruce - The Kingdom Of Fife

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King Robert Bruce

History Zone > Scottish History

It seems likely that King Robert Bruce was initially afraid to face up to a major confrontation on an open battlefield shared by an English enemy after the disaster at Methven, but when his brother, Edward Bruce, began a seige of Sirling Castle in April, 1314, the die was cast in this direction. The fortification in Stirling was both the strongest in Scotland and located centrally. The seige initiated by Edward Bruce was thus bound to bring aid and response from England and where both sides knew the castle could not hold out indefinitely. Sir Philip Mowbray, charged with command of the castle, entered into agreement with Edward that if support from England failed to materialise by 24th June then he would willingly surrender the castle.

In England, there were whisperings about the fate of Edward II should Stirling Castle fall and with some rumours about his reign ending in violence and blood with another taking his place. Sir Philip Mowbray may have known this and where his agreement with Edward was primed to galvanise the English King into action.  For Edward II himself, it must have been apparent that losing Stirling Castle to the Scots would seriously weaken his Crown and prestige. He was finally roused to action and where nobles involved in the recent insurrection perhaps sought to heal the rift by supporting the King of England.

The English army comprised about sixteen thousand infantry, two thousand knights and war horses and eight hundred Welsh archers. It was one of the largest and best equipped armies ever to leave England on a single campaign and they arrived in Edinburgh on June 19th with just a few days before the truce described above was due to expire. On June 22nd, the English army reached Falkirk and were just fifteen miles from Stirling Castle. From here, they followed an old Roman Road towards Stirling Castle and toesrds destiny on the Battlefield of Bannockburn.

By comparison, the Scottish army was much smaller and may have comprised about eight thousand men in all with about five hundred archers and five hundred warhorses. Although hugely outnumbered, the Scots had the considerable advantage of being on the site of battle well in advance and where they used this time profitably and to their advantage. Many 'pot traps' were dug and placed 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 forced the English army to advance on a narrow front and where movement and size of the Scottish army was concealed from them.

Once again, King Robert Bruce had chosen his battleground carefully and where suitable defences were put in place. The English army had been steered towards a point where the slope of the land favoured the Scots and where the option of a Scottish strategic withdrawal was still possible and considered right up to the very last minute before the battle. Even before the battle began, it was clear that Robert had resisted this moment and fearing defeat yet perhaps aware that he could never win unless facing and beating this ulimate challenge from the best army in Europe. Despite many willing to fight for the cause , he rejected many volunteers on the grounds that they were woefully equipped for battle. Robert even criticised his brother, Edward, for having created this win or lose all scenario 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 greatly superior forces applied against him.

In terms of natural geology, the ground into which the English army found itself was bounded by the River Forth to the North and the and the Bannockburn to the South and where both merged to the East to form the source of the Firth of Forth Estuary leading out to the North Sea. It seems unlikely that if Edward I, had he been alive, would have been comfortable with.

Prior to the battle, on Sunday 23rd June, Henry de Bohun, nephew of the Earl of Hereford, scouted ahead of the main English army and spotted the Scottish King riding without wearing armour on a palfrey; a type of horse better known for agility rather than strength, size or power. Seizing the opportunity, 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 members of his own army.  With the Englishman only feet away, Bruce turned the nimble horse aside, avoided the blow and stood up tall in his stirrups and brought his battle axe down on the head of his attacker. The sheer force of tis attack split de Boun's helmet and killing him instantly while the battleaxe handle sheared. This small incident became a symbol of the battle itself: one side heavily armoured 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 merely 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 when the main battle took place.

The English army was still approaching Stirling from the south and Edward II made a decision to cross the Bannockburn to the East of the New Park area. At first light, the shiltrons of Scottish spearmen began to move in unison towards the English front line.

According to several accounts, Edward II 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. A smug English King Edward II is supposed to have said in surprise "They pray for mercy!"

"For mercy, yes," said one of his attendants, "But from God, not you. These men will conquer or die."

One of the English earls, Gloucester, asked the English 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 fell alongside his knights. The sheer size of the English army made it difficult to move quickly and much time was wasted and lost trying to get into preferred positions.

Robert Bruce committed his whole Scots army in a massive push into the poorly organized English masses, the skiltrons 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 areas and where, if an Englishman fell, he would be immediately crushed by those walking over him. English and Welsh archers were forced to refrain from attack as there were good chances that many arrows would inflict major casualties within the infantry of their own  As the Scots pressed forward, English and Welsh archers presented a serious threat but the Scots army soon put them to flight. English Knights began to retreat and sought 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 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.

A huge part of English survivors fared less well with many killed or captured by pursuing Scots or else by inhabitants of lands they crossed. According to historian Peter Reese, one one sizeable group of infantry did succeed in making the ninety-mile journey back into England but perhaps because they were Welsh spearmen and spared on account of 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 later held for ransom. Casualties among English infantry may hgave been about eleven thousand may have been killed, either on the battlefield or subsequently! 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, inherited a huge amount of plunder and wealth abandoned by the retreating English.

The Battle of Bannockburn had delivered a costly 'bloody nose" to the English realm and had firmly established Robert Bruce as King of Scotland but it was many years afterwards before the English would finally accept Scotland as a fully independent nation. The extent of the English defeat took many years to restore and left England in a poor state to make further military adventures until 1334.

For now though, Robert Bruce was free to raid Northern England and in 1315, his forces invaded Ireland and where aid was promised by Donal O'Neil, King of Tyrone. It seems Robert wanted to open a second front in his war against England and where his brother Edward led the way. Edward was crowned High King of Ireland in 1316 and initially, the Scots were met with enthusiam, support and success within Ulster but it ended at the Battle of Faughart in 1318 and where Edward Bruce was killed.

In the wake of the Battle of Banockburn, English politicians and religious leaders sought to prevent Papal recognition of Scotland as an independent nation. Scottish politicians tried to prove otherwise and it led towards the creation of a remarkeable document known as the 'Declaration of Arbroath' of 1320. The Declaration is now thought to be one of three documents presented to Pope John XXII but is the only surviving one. Bishops and King Robert Bruce may have written the others.

The Declaration of Arbroath, signed by eight earls and forty-one magnates and nobles of Scotland, asserted the right of independence and proposed the notion of contract between the people and their chosen King and justified why Robert Bruce had been compelled to fight against English invasion. It contains a phrase, many times repeated across the World;-

..for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

The argument presented to Pope John was sufficient for him to finally end the excommunication of Robert Bruce and to pressure Edward II to finally recognise Scotland as an independent nation.

The Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton was a peace treaty signed in 1328 between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England. It was signed by Robert Bruce, King of Scots, on 17th March 1328, and later ratified by the English Parliament at Northampton on 1st May. The agreement stated that, in exchange for £20,000, the English Crown would finally recognise the Kingdom of Scotland as a separate and fully independent state. It would also recognise Robert Bruce and his successors as rightful Kings and Queens of that nation and that the border between Scotland and England would return to that as recognised under the reign of Scottish King Alexander III. The First Scottish Wars of Independence were thus concluded - but only for a short time.

If the sentiment, if not the words seem akin to the American Declaration of Independence, and written many centuries later, then its because much of the same aims were involved and where its entirely possible that the Americans sought a model for the later document.

Before his death in 1329, Robert wrote an advisory directed towards future kings of Scotland and warning them of the power held and exerted by Clan Donald and some 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 of the Isles where his power and influence might have been substantially weaker than might have been supposed. In his last will, he requested that his heart be cut out and carried into battle against, 'All God's foes' and perhaps reflecting on his inability to mount a crusade as requested by the Pope. Sir James Douglas carried the heart (within a small casket) into battle against the Moors in Grenada but was killed near Teba in 1330. Sir William Keith recovered the casket and brought it back to Scotland and where it was buried in Melrose Abbey. The other bodily remains of Robert Bruce were buried in a crypt in Dunfermline Abbey.

What Robert Bruce did in his lifetime was extraordinary by any comparison; not only snatching ultimate victory at Bannockburn from the crushing defeat at Methven but then moving on to forge a fully independant nation finally recognised at the highest levels by their closest and most antagonistic neighbour. It would have been nice to end this page by saying that the neighbours got on famously afterwards but by 1334, the 'Auld Enemy' was back at the door, ready to attack, and still insistant upon overlordship under the rule of John Balliol's son, Edward Balliol. New wars and battles yet originating from the same causes were about to errupt once more.

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