Battle of Bannockburn

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The Battle of Bannockburn (June 23, 1314 - June 24 1314) was a significant Scottish victory in the Wars of Scottish Independence.

Prelude

Stirling Castle was besieged by the Scots in the spring of 1314. The commander at Stirling, Sir Philip Mowbray, agreed to surrender if a relieving force had not arrived by the end of June. On hearing of this agreement, Edward II of England organized a considerable force of possibly 25,000 men to head north. The army was mustered at Berwick-upon-Tweed before crossing the border at Coldstream and heading for Stirling.

The battle

On Sunday, June 23, the English force had reached the ford at Bannockburn, a few miles south of Stirling, where the Scottish force of maybe 9,000 was waiting for them under the command of Robert Bruce. The Scots intended to fight in a narrow gap, relying on their disciplined schiltron to blunt the advantages of the English heavy cavalry. The actual battle spread over the few miles of poor ground between Bannock Burn and the River Forth.

Bruce addresses his troops - fanciful illustration from Cassell's History of England, 1902
Enlarge
Bruce addresses his troops - fanciful illustration from Cassell's History of England, 1902

The battle was fought over two days and although the first encounters were relatively small compared to the major clash on the second day, the outcome dictated by the strategically disastrous disposition of the English force, hemmed in on marshland between the Bannock Burn and the Pelstream Burn in the marshland leading down to the banks of the meandering River Forth. The Battle of Bannockburn was remembered by the English as "The Battle of the Pools".

The first clash was between 500 English cavalry heading for Stirling and a force of Scottish infantry. The schiltrons proved their worth, the English charges were repulsed for little loss and the cavalry were forced to retire. At the same time there had been a number of skirmishes around the main force as the English crossed Bannock Burn to face up to the Scots, including the clash of the English Knight, Henry De Bohun (nephew of Humphrey de Bohun, the Earl of Hereford) and Robert Bruce. De Bohun had seen Bruce mounted on a pony in advance of the main Scottish force. Tilting his lance, De Bohun rode down on the solitary figure whose pony side-stepped the charging warhorse at the last moment while its rider dispatched the knight with a blow to his helmet with his battle axe. As daylight was fading after some further half-hearted skirmishes, the English withdrew to set up camp between Bannock Burn and the Pelstream Burn.

The main battle occurred on June 24. The English advanced across the burn while the Scots waited in schiltrons. The first English cavalry charge was disorganised and costly, few knights managed to break through the schiltrons and they were quickly dispatched. The Scots then advanced, still in schiltrons, forcing the disorganised cavalry back into the English infantry still trying to join them across the burn. The fire from English archers fell on both English and Scots and before they could properly threaten the advancing Scottish infantry a sally of light cavalry drove the archers back. The English superiority of numbers hampered any attempts at rallying them as the Scottish force pressed the masses back towards the river. Edward II fled the field early, and after being denied entry to Stirling he went to Dunbar via Winchburgh and then by ship back to England.

Legacy

The Scottish victory was complete and, although full English recognition of Scottish independence was not achieved until more than ten years later, Robert Bruce was able to re-establish Scotland as a sovereign state mainly because of the events at Bannockburn.

The modern Bannockburn monument
Enlarge
The modern Bannockburn monument

The actual location of the battle is disputed, as contemporaneous historical records are ambiguous about the precise site. A 2004 archeological dig sponsored by TV programme Two Men in a Trench found circumstancial evidence that the battle had taken place across a large length of the marshy valley of the Bannock Burn, behind the current location of Bannockburn High School.

A modern, abstract monument stands in a field above the battle site, where the warring parties are believed to have camped on the night before the battle. The monument consists of two hemicircular walls depicting the opposing parties. The monument, and the associated visitor centre, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area.

Each year the Scottish Nationalist movement, primarily the Scottish National Party commemorates the battle with a march to Bannockburn field from Stirling town centre. There then follows a laying of a wreath at the statue of Robert Bruce and a rally.cs:Bitva u Bannockburnu de:Schlacht von Bannockburn pl:Bitwa pod Bannockburn

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