Battle of Falkirk (1298)

From Academic Kids

Battle of Falkirk
Conflict Wars of Scottish Independence
Date July 21, 1298
Place Falkirk, Scotland
Result English victory
Combatants
England Scotland
Commanders
Edward I William Wallace
Strength
20,000 troops 8,000 - 10,000 troops
Casualties
Unknown Unknown
Contents

Prelude

William Wallace had secured control of Scotland with his victory against the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Edward Longshanks had been distracted with his wars on the European continent, and did not return to retake Scotland until six months after the English defeat.

Battle

Edward and his reluctant army forced Wallace's Scots into a pitched battle at Falkirk. Wallace placed his men on higher ground overlooking a small creek (Westquarter Burn) with the Callender Wood to his rear. The ground opposite his centre was boggy. He deployed his men in four schiltrons, with archers and light troops between them, while his Noble cavalry were held in reserve.

Longshank's army entered the field in column led by three bodies of knights. The centre unit became mired in the marshy ground but disengaged itself to circle left while the second unit circled right to hit the Scottish left and right flanks respectively. The Scottish schiltrons held, but many archers and light troops were cut down by the English Knights. At this point, Wallace's noble cavalry abandoned the battle.

Unable to make headway against the leveled pikes of the Scots schiltrons with his Knights, Longshanks moved forward his archers and Irish mercenaries. Several historical sources record that Longshank's subject Welsh longbow units refused to participate. The English and Irish mercenaries were able, however, to inflict casualties and create confusion in the schiltrons, which the English Knights were eventually able to exploit. Finally, the schiltrons broke and the remnants of Wallace's army fled.

Aftermath

Wallace survived, and Edward was not able to follow up on his victory: lack of supplies forced him to return to England. Wallace's rebellion, however, was broken by the defeat at Falkirk. The Scottish struggle for independence ultimately passed to Robert the Bruce.

Commonly the Scottish cavalry are seen as treacherous for leaving the field, but Wallace's plan called for the them to make a nearly suicidal charge on the English troops. In addition, at the time they left, the battle's result was fairly predictable: the Scottish would be defeated but first they would inflict casualties on the English. The Scottish cavalry were few and those at Falkirk were a significant proportion, if not all of them. By staying behind to fight, they would have inflicted a few more casualties on the English army, but the battle still would almost certainly have been lost. The Scottish cavalry fought at the Battle of Bannockburn.

Braveheart

Mel Gibson's film Braveheart made a number of historical mistakes in its depiction of the battle. It showed the Irish charging, then stopping, shaking hands with the Scottish troops, and switching sides. This may have been a confusion with the Welsh longbow units. It was the Irish who inflicted the most casualties on the Scots. Also, it describes the Irish as conscripts, an anachronism in the Middle Ages. Wallace is shown losing a one-on-one fight with Robert the Bruce, who fights on the English side, defending the king. The popular video game Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings also has the Scots win the Battle of Falkirk and hence winning the war.

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