So here's Sami's thought-provoking post, with thanks again to him for taking the time and trouble to put so much work into it. And see what he says at the end: Edward II was not a physical coward, quite the contrary. Take THAT, detractors who say he was! I had the misfortune recently to read a self-published novel about Edward's queen Isabella in which she calls her husband "cowardly" and says that "he shied from battle because the sight of blood made him queasy." This is the kind of dire written-by-numbers Edward/Isabella novel that exist by the truckload, by a writer who doesn't have enough skill to make Isabella and Roger Mortimer sympathetic characters without turning Edward into a weak feeble cowardly 'snivelling' caricature - the kind of novel where every myth that has ever existed about Edward II is repeated, the kind of novel which contains prejudices that say far more about the person who perpetuates them than they do about Edward. At the risk of sounding really kiddish and stupid, I'm ROFLMAO at that 'queasy' quotation from it. Oh, and at the bit where a painting of Edward doesn't look much like the real him, "being much more muscular." I wonder how the author thinks that "one of the strongest men in his realm," "a handsome man, of outstanding strength," who went rowing and swimming and digging, could actually have been much more muscular than he already was. But of course, Edward loved men! He couldn't possibly have been strong and muscular then, not like our manly hetero hero Rog!
Anyway, I'm waffling. Here's Sami's Bannockburn post.
In the summer of 1314 King Edward II of England was mustering a huge army in order to invade Scotland. Once again, most of his earls did not attend. They stayed at home or had something more important to do than face the enemy about whom they had been complaining for many years. These mightiest men of the realm had been accusing the king of cowardice but had refused to join him in any war against Scotland. They had been sabotaging the king's efforts for seven years, but now the king was determined. He would go to Scotland, with or without those crybabies. It is easy to imagine Edward's motives. He had been hearing all those complaints and rumours, all that talk behind his back how he did not dare to fight against Robert the Bruce. It did not matter that he had wanted to do so many times or that the barons had made it impossible. He was to blame. So, when he heard the news that the commander of Stirling Castle had made a deal with Edward the Bruce that he would hand over the castle to the Scots if there was no relief before St.John's day in 1314, Edward knew this was his best chance.
His army was big, even without the earls who stayed behind. Estimates range from twenty to thirty thousand. Out of these some 2000 - 2500 were knights on horses, medieval shock troops, the elite. The only commander ever to stop a full charge by a full cavalry had been William Wallace with his schiltrons. A schiltron was basically a falang, foot soldier formation, were the spears were pointing outwards and men stood side by side, three to four ranks deep. Scottish schiltrons were different from Alexander the Great's Macedonian falangs in that they were round and could change formation if needed, where as Alexanders had been rigid squares. When we think of a medieval knight we see him in his fine armour, shining and awesome, with his long lance and wide shield. What we do not see is that he has a page, a shield carrier, a servant who leads his war horse and there's the knight without his armour, riding his other horse. So for every knight there was five horses. 2000 knights and men at arms on horseback meant around ten thousand horses in the army.
Now if you are serving in infantry as a spearman or archer, you walk behind those horses. Those horses produce a lot of waste and you along with tens of thousands of men march splashing on their urine and slipping on their manure all day long, from dawn till dusk. There are very few breaks, perhaps once a day for eating or quick drinks, but usually it is after the stop in the evening. By then you are so exhausted that you probably just drop down and fall asleep. Before you have had time to eat, you are woken up and told to get back in line and the march continues. And this goes on and on for days. Some men break their feet, ankles, their footwear shreds into pieces, their soles bleed, some just keel over and die. That is the reality of the medieval army on the move.
Edward II was an inexperienced commander. He had led some troops at least nominally during his father's wars in Scotland but more than likely others had taken care of the practicalities of running the army. So in order to reach Stirling by the set date, Edward and other noblemen on horses pushed the pace during the march. He probably did not understand how hard it was for the foot soldiers, but kept on going like a mad man. He wanted to fight. He was determined to get there on time. Nothing was going to stop him this time. It is also very likely that he trusted that his officers were running the army with the best skill and everything was in order. After all, it was a given. He was paying for men to do exactly that. Even most of the foot soldiers were on the pay roll by this time, rank and file earning 2 pennies a day and archers 3.
One of the earls who had answered his call was Aymer de Valence who had been at odds with the king previously, mainly because Edward had taken his lands in Scotland and given them to Piers Gaveston. Gaveston was now dead, had been for two years, and seemingly everything was OK between them. Valence was considered to be a good soldier, good officer and valiant warrior. Another earl who answered to the call was the young earl of Gloucester. He was Edward's nephew and one of the most valiant knights of the realm. He had served in his grandfather Edward Longshanks' army at the age of fifteen and everyone held him in high esteem. He had been a stout supporter of Edward II and when Edward had been in France in 1313, he had been the regent. The earl of Hereford was thirty-eight in 1314 and was also in the army marching north. He was Constable of England and he had been one of the mediators between the king and other barons during the crisis of 1312. Despite being not totally loyal to the king during the Gaveston years, this time he was enthusiastic and joined in quickly with a full force.
Alongside these three, the top commanders of the English army were Sir Robert Clifford and Sir Henry Beaumont, who commanded jointly the second cavalry division of the army. Clifford had been in Scotland with the old king and had some battlefield success but he had been against Piers Gaveston with most of the barons. Beaumont was Edward's cousin and was appointed to command the second division with Clifford. He had a personal stake in this war since he had estates in Scotland via Comyn family in which he had married into. The Scottish Sir Ingram of Umfraville was also present and one of the senior advisers and officers to the king. He had plenty of experience of fighting against the Bruces and in Scotland. He had been fighting since 1299, also against the English, but now with them.
Alongside these men there were mercenaries from continent, thousands of Irish warriors, Welsh and soldiers from all over England. Most famous of the continental knights was Giles d'Argentan, a knight rated as number three in the whole Christendom, right after the Scottish commander Robert the Bruce. He was the epitome of knighthood, straight out of Hollywood, incorruptible, chivalrous and handsome, all of which suited well during jousts and single combats, but not that well in a big battle. There were also many many younger knights in the army. They were ambitious and full of ideas of bravery and glory. They wanted to fight and show off their bravery and skills, get recognition and perhaps rewards from the king himself. They were also full of themselves. After all, this was one of the biggest English armies ever, the king was leading them in person, and who were the Scots? Raiders and thieves, hillbillies and ragtags with no decent weapons, training or class. It is good to remember that medieval society at large was a society of young people. Most of the population was under thirty years old. This applied to the soldiers as well as knights. Give weapons to a few thousand young men and send them anywhere with no other orders than to fight and you have a picture of the medieval knights and what they were all about.
And then there were those tens of thousands of foot soldiers. They were commanded by men at arms, sergeants, or by men who were appointed to command them. They served in groups of twenty or more. Some formed in companies of plus hundred men. Some knights commanded some formations too, depending if they were his levy or not. But the knights spoke French, or Anglo-Gascon, as well as did the nobles. Some of them spoke fluent English but most refused to use it. French was the language of the nobility, just like Latin was the language of the church. Very few ordinary foot soldiers spoke any French at all. But that was not all. There were thousands of Irishmen and Welsh speaking their own languages. In fact, if you came from Cornwall, you could not understand a word a Yorkshireman was telling you. All of these men formed the king's army. Thousands and thousands of men speaking dialects and languages alien to each other. And when we remember that these were not trained men of modern armies, that they were not drilled for months at anything, lucky if they had practised at all, we can see what kind of chaos this marching horde was.
They were not marching in unison or at the same pace, nor in neat interwalls or formations. They were just trying to keep up with the rest of the army. Famously rich noblemen on their horses, humble foot soldiers walking barefoot in the dust and stink of tens of thousands of animals. Yes, there were thousands of animals too. Thousands of horses for the cavalry and hundreds of smaller horses pulling carriages and carts, thick big bulls, oxen, pulling big and decorated wagons of the nobility, almost like medieval caravans. Contemporary sources speak of the army stretching for twenty miles along the dry and rock-hard road, with dust clouds reaching the sky. Another tells that there were 106 wagons each pulled with six horses, plus 110 wagons each pulled by eight oxen. In 1300 Edward I had needed 3000 horse shoes and 50,000 nails for them. Now they needed even more. The noise made by this medieval monster was ear-splitting. Thousands of animals huffing and puffing, screaming and making noises, tens of thousands of feet stomping on the ground, men shouting, officers shouting, horns blowing and musicians playing. Yes, musicians followed armies every where.
No doubt that when Edward looked at this army of his from some hill top and saw its humongous size, he must have felt confident. His father raised a bigger army only once, perhaps, but this was the biggest anyone could remember. Edward knew that the Scots were following them. The Scottish horsemen were seen on distant hill tops and ridges, it was more than certain that the Scots were in those woods and forests, lurking there, watching in owe this tremendous power play of English might. But that was fine with Edward. He was not trying to hide. He was showing off. He was telling by this march to Robert the Bruce: I am coming and I bring the whole of England with me. Unfortunately for Edward, Robert the Bruce was the one man he could not intimidate. At the lowest point of his rebellion, Bruce had had only twelve men with him and still he did not quit nor gave up. He fought with those twelve men, until he had a few dozen, then a few hundred and now a few thousand. He knew that numbers were just numbers and that smaller force could defeat bigger ones.
Robert the Bruce had trained his forces. He had equipped them as well as he could and could afford to. He had drilled them over and over again and most of all, he had instilled fighting spirit into them. The Scottish men served in schiltrons of roughly one thousand men in each. They served under the direct command of their feudal lord. All the men in a schiltron were from the same area and spoke same dialect, many of them knew each other well. There were brothers, sons and fathers, uncles and cousins in the schiltrons. Whole families might have been in them. Just like the Spartans in the old days, the Scots knew the men around them well and had known them all their lives. In the battle this was a big asset. Men were no longer fighting for some obscure idea but for each other, and Robert the Bruce knew this. He had divided his army in five schiltrons of which he commanded the biggest. He also had perhaps half of thousand riders, not a cavalry in the same sense as the English one, but never the less a riding force for fast action around the battle field where ever such was needed. His biggest advantage over Edward was that his commanders were his companions and supporters. They all knew each other well and they all knew what they were about to do. There was no confusion, no hesitation, no second guessing. Everyone knew what was expected of him, every one knew his mission and place in the battlefield, and they all knew their men well. Most important of all was the battlefield. They all knew it intimately. They had chosen it. They had trained on it. They had been around it for some time. There were no surprises, no sudden unexpected knobs or ditches, pools or streams. They mastered it.
The confident English army approached Stirling just in time. The road to the castle went directly ahead through rising hills and on the right side of the English was vast flatland beyond of which they could see the hills on which Stirling castle was resting. Edward must have felt like a winner. Not only he was at in time but the Scots were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he was a bit disappointed that those raiders had ran to the hills again. He came to fight. But that was just the impression. When the English vanguard crossed the deep and narrow gully of Bannockburn, small river that cut trough the landscape, and began to rise towards the hills, the Scots were there waiting for them in full formation. Front of his schiltron was a lone horseman, an officer, Robert the Bruce none the less. What the English vanguard should have done is to stop and call for the king, have a counsel what to do and then proceed as planned. It did neither. The vanguard was commanded by the younger knights who were burning with the desire for glory. The nephew of the earl of Hereford, Henry de Bohun, was among them too. And he decided to get the glory right now. De Bohun attacked Bruce straight on with some visions of glory shading his mind. He did not know Robert the Bruce. He was too young to understand that this much older man was a killer. They clashed before their men. Bohun lost half of his head and Bruce broke the saft of his battle axe when splitting the young knights skull all through his steel helmet. Seeing this Bohun's squire tried to get to his master but was killed by the Scots who advanced in formation. This was sensational, schiltrons had been stationary and defensive formations before, but not single one of the vanguards told this to the king or his officers. That was a huge and disastrous mistake. The Scots had dug small pot holes all around the road so when the English tried to advance, they had to stick with the road and face Bruce's schiltron head on. That was no match. The English fought bravely, they did not yield easily. but in the end they had to retreat. The Scots had drawn the first blood. Robert the Bruce had done it personally perhaps echoing his alleged words before the battle: Let us do or die!
But Edward was not the incompetent moron he has been painted to be. He had sent another English troop through the vast open land below the hills towards Stirling. If these could get in, the deal would be done and Bruce would have lost his bet. But Bruce was not a moron either. He could see from his higher position this cavalry force racing towards Stirling and sent Moray's schiltron to stop them. Lord Moray and his men emerged from the woods and assumed position blocking the direct road, but they were out in the open. The English could have easily ride around them, they could have raced and passed by them as they were coming out from the woods. But they did not. This cavalry troop was commanded by Clifford and Beaumont. What they saw was a small bunch of hillbillies stepping out from the shadows and offering themselves as a nice target for the knights in shining armour.
- Let us wait a little, let them come on, give them room, Beaumont allegedly said. The veteran knight sir Thomas Grey saw it differently.
- My lord, give them what you like want now and I am afraid in short while they will have everything, he said. To no avail. No one was listening. The younger knights wanted to fight, they wanted the glory and they wanted blood and they wanted it right now!
- Flee then! Flee now if you are afraid, Beaumont shouted at Grey and this was an grave insult to any knight.
- Fear will not make me flee, my lord, veteran knight answered and headed straight on into the schiltron. On his side was Sir William Deyncourt. Grey's horse was impaled on the scottish spears and Deyncourt himself died along with his horse. The Scots pulled Grey inside the schiltron and took him as a prisoner, first one of the battle.
English knights on their heavy horses attacked the schiltron, rode around it and tried to smash it with fury, but the spearmen kept their positions, they did not flinch, and they were well-trained. More and more English cavalry came to the fight and Moray formed the traditional schiltron formation, static circular falang. The knights were enraged to see that nothing they did broke the formation and they started to hurl they weapons at the Scots. They threw axes, maces and even swords at them but nothing came from it. They needed archers badly, otherwise this would be a repetition of the previous battle of Stirling when William Wallace had stopped the English cavalry this way. The Scots instead shot them from within the schiltron with their short bows. Men and horses fell down, from the arrows and spears, and every now and then some daredevil Scot rushed out from the formation and finished off a helpless knight who was pinned under his horse near by. Some were dragged into the schiltron. This only added the fuel to the rage of the knights. James Douglas, another Scottish commander saw from the high ground Moray's schiltron almost submerged with the English cavalry and asked permission to help out. At first Bruce did not see the need but eventually gave the order. As Douglas brought his schiltron out from the woods, the English were amazed and confused. Some turned to face this new threat, some were unsure what to do, and at this moment Moray saw that the English cavalry had lost its cohesion. He went on the attack and smashed the cavalry formation in half with his foot soldiers. Douglas held back and gave the honor of the field to Moray and his men. Some of the English horsemen galloped to the safety of Stirling while some made their way back to the main army. Day one was over.
Edward realised that this really was going to be it. He would have his fight after all. The Scots had blocked the main road, they had blocked the lesser path through the open country and were willing to fight. All right, then. Let's get it on! Except it was late and night would fall soon. Edward and his commanders knew that up on the hills and in the woods the Scots would be unbeatable. The only option was to draw them out in the open and the enemy had shown its willingness to do just that earlier today. There was open land just below the hills, on the plain beyond Bannockburn. Edward gave the order for the army to move in there and take the positions along the said lesser road, facing the ridge line on the west. Easier said than done. Bannockburn was not that wide but was deep and had sharp enbankments. Soldiers raided nearby houses and tore off everything that could be used as a bridge. Doors and planks, everything useful was taken. Slowly the army began to cross over, like a huge giant in a slow motion. The tents and wagons of the nobility had to be taken across but most of the supplies and other stuff was left on the other side of the river. There was simply no way they could have been brought over at the same time when tens of thousands of men did the same manoeuvre.
Darkness fell and the king and his retinue ate nicely in their tents, surrounded by their servants and from their silver wares and golden cups. They discussed about the fighting that day, perhaps made some plans for next day, but nothing like a real battle plan. No orders were issued, written down, taken to the lower command or even between those noble men. They ate well and drank a bit wine, probably listened to some music, fully confident that the dawn would bring them the smashing victory. There was a war council of sorts but what happened is unclear. Perhaps these noble men were tired and got little tipsy from the wine, but when young Gloucester joined some others saying that they should wait for another day and get organised before getting on with the business of war, Edward, probably remembering the accusations of cowardice he had been showered with for past years, replied by asking was Gloucester a coward. This did not go well at all and would have serious consequences the next day. But it was not just an accusation by a stupid king. Edward was not totally lost. He knew that an army this big would eventually start to crumble, men would slip away, go looking for food or loot, even desert, so longer they stayed doing nothing, less cohesive they became. He also knew that there would be a battle next day, whether they wanted or not, so the idea that they could somehow rest and talk about things in peace for one more day was impossible.
Just to show that Edward was not the numbskull everyone seems to think he was, when he had written his military writs he had asked specially for foot soldiers. He had pointed out that cavalry would have difficulties in the terrain the Scots favored and that their battle tactics were designed against the cavalry. Therefore Edward wanted as many foot soldiers as possible. This was the first time any king had thought anything like that. It was a revolution in the military thinking, at least on the English side. His own son, Edward III, put it in action by making his army fight on foot from Halidon Hill to Crécy. It also served the English well in Agincourt many decades later. For some reason this has been neglected by most writers completely. Before the whole operation, Edward had known that it would be infantry, not the cavalry, which would decide the outcome, and he was absolutely right. He had asked infantry to counter the Scottish tactics. But many writers simply do not even mention this nor the fact that it was Edward II who was first to say out loud that perhaps the heavy cavalry of the nobles was no longer the deciding force it had been for the past few centuries. It was Edward who was first to say that the infantry of common men will be the most important part of the army.
At the same time thousands of men tried to get into the area behind the nobles' wagons and tents. They were pushing and cursing in the dark, some fell into the river, few drowned, and after they had managed to get across, they found themselves on a slushing wet floodplain among thousands of men just like them, loitering here and there and wondering what was going on. From the viewpoint of the king and his commanders this was an excellent place to camp. Wide open land in front, coming battle field of their choice they believed, and protected from both sides by a river. Bannockburn in the south and Pellstream in the north. What they did not see was that the area behind them was almost a swamp, marshy bog, and that it had not enough room for the army. More and more men came in to that area and more more tightly they were packed up. These men did not get sleep, they did not get food and they could not light fires because the soil was wet and there was no wood. Disaster was beginning to form, right behind the king's position. Then there were also the events of the day. Rank and file had seen the empty horses, they had heard the rumours and they had also heard the official version announced by the heralds. There had been a little skirmish, a small insignificant touch with the enemy, nothing more. And yet every man in the army realised that those rubbish Scots had given a beating to the cream of the army. They had beaten the knights, best trained and equipped warriors in the world. Many men dozed off nervously, some could not sleep at all. Some were so exhausted that they slept in the muddy and soggy ground in spite of the wet and mosquitoes. On the Scottish side there was a slight possibility for optimism. The had bested the feared English knights on two fights and during the night Sir Alexander Seton, a Scotsman who had been in the English army, appeared on the Scottish camp with some good news. Seton told Bruce and his commanders about the difficulties the English were having out on the carse, how tightly packed they were, about the wet ground, hunger among the rank and file and how the English nobles were still not believing that they were in trouble at all. It was sweet music to the ears of Robert the Bruce.
At the next dawn something odd happened. The Scots came out from the woods up on ridge and came down to the flat lands. The English could clearly see three schiltrons advancing across the open land. What they did not see was the schiltron of Robert the Bruce right behind these three or that one more schiltron was moving on the right of their position. The English did not understand that the enemy was going to close them in to the salient. There were some Scottish bowmen front of the formations but they did little damage since their short bows could not even reach the main English position. Some english archers moved out to counter their actions and for a while arrows flew back and forth on no man's land between the two armies. But all in all, the response of the English was very slow and almost apathetic. According to many writers, this was also Edward's fault. Not so. General alarm was not sounded. That was not his job. There were supposed to be guards to take care of that. His commanders and captains were supposed to be alert and ready for anything. They were not. Perhaps they simply overslept, or perhaps they were not that good at all.
Finally the word reached Edward that the Scots were coming with banners flying, flags fluttering in the wind. Edward came to see what was going on and could only marvel the sight. Scottish host seemed so small compared to his mighty army. There were no wagons, no cavalry, nothing but tightly packed formations of foot soldiers. It seemed almost suicidal, but then again, he had not seen them in action a day before. We do not know what he had been told about the defeats of the previous day, but it is very clear that Edward did not take them so seriously as he should have. Perhaps he had been told some excuses. Perhaps he had received wrong information, maybe he was not told about the moving schiltrons at all. So it seems. He was genuinely surprised to see them advancing across the open land towards him.
- What? Will those Scots fight? he shouted at the people around him. One of them was Sir Ingram Umfraville, himself a Scot.
- Of truth, sir, now I see the most marvellous sight by far that I ever beheld. Scotsmen undertaking to fight against the might of England and to give battle in the hard open land, he said. Perhaps he had his doubts for he proposed that the English army should retreat behind the wagons and wait when the Scots would stop to loot them and then attack. Edward thought that as silly and it was. There was no way his forward troops could withdraw into the mass of men behind the wagons. Besides, king Edward was not going to take any steps backwards now that he finally got his fight.
All of a sudden the schiltrons stopped and all the Scots knelt down. Edward was puzzled and tried to joke about it. Perhaps they had come to do homage and pray for mercy. Sir Umfraville was not in the mood for joking. He had been fighting Robert the Bruce many years and could see that the Scots had come out for a fight.
- You are right. They ask for mercy, but not from you. They cry to God for forgiveness. I tell you one thing for certain, yonder men will win all or die. None shall flee for fear of death, sir Umfraville said to Edward.
When the Scottish schiltrons got up and resumed their advance, Edward knew that the time had come.
- Now so be it, he said. - We shall see presently.
So the guards had not sounded the alarm when the Scots had come out. The king was simply woken up by informing him that, by the way, the enemy is approaching. It seems that most of the nobles were unaware of the situation. It was Edward himself who gave the alarm and ordered call to arms. Younger knights saw a new chance to make history, to ride to the glory, and they were the first to get into their armour and on their horses. The young earl of Gloucester was really hot, the king had accused him of cowardice, and he did not even wait his servants to pull over his coat of arms. He got up on his horse and wanted to charge, not waiting for anyone's orders or command. Hereford told him that as a Constable of England it was his duty to start the action, but young knight was not in the mood for listening to anyone. Gloucester called archers for support and without waiting for them or anyone rode straight at the schiltron front of them. He was impaled on the spears right away. But he was not the only one. Sir Robert Clifford, probably fuming from the loss of the previous contest, rode with the young earl and crashed on the schiltron, only to die. Sir Edward Mauley, the steward of the king's household, also rode to glory and death. So did a Scotsman Sir John Comyn, son of the contender Red Comyn, whose father had been murdered by Robert the Bruce himself. They were not the only ones and the battle had not even started yet with full force.
Seeing his knights being mauled so badly, Edward did something very few English or any other kings ever did. He geared up, put on his helmet and rode in to the worst fighting with his personal retinue. Remember, this was a man with enormous physical strength, he was believed to be one of the strongest men in the realm, and he was big and tall. He had his plate armour on, his shield, his huge war horse under him, his ten feet long lance pointed to the enemy and off he went. The battle was not easing up, it was getting more and more intense by every moment. The Scottish schiltrons did not just stop, they moved. After every attack by English horse, the Scots took a step or two forward, pushing the English back. The more cavalry got up to them, less space there was in front of the schiltrons. Someone ordered archers to move up, but they could not hurt the Scots. They tried to shoot high arching fire, over the cavalry which was between them and the Scots, but the arrows flew over the enemy. They tried to shoot directly but only managed to shoot more Englishmen in the back than the advancing Scots. At some point some commander of the archers understood how serious the situation was and sent archers cross the Pellstream on north side of the salient. It is not known how many they were, perhaps few hundred or couple thousand, but when they opened up on the left flank of the Scots, it began to show. Each archer could shoot ten arrows a minute and one thousand archers meant ten thousand arrows a minute. This could have changed the whole battle. But Robert the Bruce had been thinking about the English archers. When he saw how badly Douglas's schiltron was mauled by the archers, he sent his light cavalry to attack them. Scottish cavalry was no match against the English cavalry but for this job it was more than fit. Those light-footed small horses carried the men across the carse with stunning speed and the English archers panicked and fled, some towards Stirling and some across the Pellstream back to the army. There they were met with blows and mocking. After that the Scottish horse patrolled the north side of the Pellstream and kept the English in the trap, for that it was.
There has been lot of speculation where the actual battle took place and the official version places it in a wrong place. The only place where this battle was physically possible was between the Bannockburn and Pellstream, probably where the gap between the streams is narrowest, some one thousand paces wide. Every account and testimony states this. Most of all, the battle itself proves it. Had it taken place anywhere else, the Scots would have lost. The English would have had more space to use their thousands of archers and foot soldiers, the English cavalry would have been able to ride around the Scottish forces, just like in Falkirk, but that did not happen here. The only explanation is that they did not have room to manoeuvre their troops. And the only reasonable explanation for that is that they were pinned between these two streams. And when the Scots pushed forward, the more compact the English army became. In the reports there are stories how the English cavalry was so tightly packed that the knights could not even swing their swords or maces. It was a huge massive mob compressed into a smaller space by every minute. And all the time more and more riders pushed forward, more men at arms tried to get forward, thousands of men tried to push and push. And on the other side the Scots pushed against this smouldering cauldron of men, horses and weapons.
Edward was in the thick of it. He was right there where the action was fiercest, on the front line. There was not much room, if he tried to turn his horse, it was perhaps impossible because there was another knight right there pushing on. He swung his sword, maybe lost it in the melee, and the Scots stabbed their sharp spears at him from all around. He was grabbed by the enemy and used his war mace to smash their safts, arms and heads. His horse was killed and he fell pell mell at the feet of thousands of men and horses, all stomping and smashing the dead and the wounded alike under them. It is a testimony of his character and physical strength that he could get up, fight his way out from that horrible crush and smashing, and stay alive in that chaos and murder. And what he did when he was safe? Perhaps he drank something to quench his thirst, most likely so, but what he did was get a new horse and get back in to the fight. Sir Roger Northburgh, king's shield-carrier, was lost in action. Scots grabbed the harness of the horse, they grabbed the housings, and Edward swung his heavy mace like a mad man to get them away.
Actually, we can be pretty certain that at this moment he was a complete mad man, crazed by the fighting, a berserker just like all of them, hitting furiously all over, trying to smash foot soldiers with his huge horse. He was in the fiercest fighting from the start of the morning and went back after losing a horse from under him, and kept on fighting like no-one. One could ask if this is the man they call a coward today? Is this the no good man, who was soft and feminine, so much so that he was no good at all? Is this the king they claim was afraid of everyone and unable to make up his mind? Is this the yelping and shrieking fashion stylist from the movie Braveheart? No. This was a true warrior king. Just like in the old days of Vikings and Saxons, when the kings had fought right in the front line of any combat. That is what Edward was on that day, 24th of June, year 1314. But of course, he was not a Viking king nor he was a Saxon king. He should have been a medieval king, leading and directing the course of the battle from behind, not fighting hand to hand combat. That was a mistake and his fault. In his absence, nobody was giving out orders or directing the troops. That was a recipe for a disaster, though it is good to ask where were those experienced commanders and officers who could have given orders in the king's name. Yep. They were missing in action too. So it was also their fault.
All of a sudden the heart of the English army was broken. It happened for two reasons. First of all, just when there was a sort of stalemate on the fighting, thousands more Scots appeared out from no where. The English could not have known that these were so called small folk whom Robert the Bruce had taken off from the field but who now came out expecting the looting. All the English saw was thousands of more Scots joining in. At that moment the king's escort made a quick decision. The king had to be taken to safety. His capture would be a national embarrassment and disgrace and these noble men were determined to avoid that. I personally believe that Edward would have not been taken alive. He would have fought till the end that day. Perhaps some other time he could have surrendered, given up, perhaps cried, but not on this day. He would have gone down fighting. King Edward refused to leave the field. Aymer de Valence grabbed his horse and together with some 500 knights rode out from the field with the king protesting and opposing the idea. Edward himself still wanted to fight but the die was cast. He was taken off by his knights. This broke the heart of the English army. Giles d'Argentan, that valiant and shining example of the knighthood, escorted the king to the safety across the Pellstream and said that he had to return since his honor did not allow him to quit the fight. He did not quit. He rode back in and was killed by the schiltron of Edward Bruce right after.
So here we have it. The famous Battle of Bannockburn, which was called the battle of Stirling at the time. King Edward fought as hard as any man on that day. He put his life on the line. Not just once or twice but for the most of the duration of the battle. He did not flee nor he escaped like so many writers claim. He was taken off by his noble men, the senior knights. He protested, he refused to leave, but they led his horse away. Naturally, when he cooled off, Edward probably understood that those men were right, but at that moment he had wanted to fight on. Considering what a disaster the battle was, how many thousands of English died on that day, it was a catastrophe for the king and his country. And as it was, the responsibility fell on the king. It was all his fault. Everything was his doing and because of the weakness of his character. Really? Where was the earl of Lancaster, hero of so many present-day writers, who could have brought thousands of men into the fight? Norfolk was only fourteen at that time so perhaps his absence is understandable, but what about the others? If they had joined in, the English army would have been much stronger. Perhaps Earl Thomas of Lancaster could have been able to direct the force better? Perhaps seeing the overwhelming combined force of England Robert the Bruce would have been thinking twice of the fight? We know that he had been thinking of retreating just before the battle.
We will never know. Those earls were absent. Robert the Bruce decided to fight. The English lost. Edward II took the blame, despite the fact that all those "experienced" and "more qualified" knights and noble men in his army did nothing during those dramatic and decisive hours during the battle. They had zero impact on the result despite them being there. Instead they did what everybody else was doing: fight. Some were killed, others not. The king did the same. But for some reason he was a coward and fled, and left his army behind, when these other nobles and earls were OK doing the same things. Really?
But we also know one thing for absolute sure: Edward of Caernarfon was not a coward but a true warrior. He proved that on the bloody field of Bannockburn.