23 January, 2013

The battle of Bannockburn, and why Edward II was NOT a coward (guest post)

Here's Sami Parkkonen again, with some thoughts on Edward II's defeat at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314.  I'd also like to link to my friend Colin's three posts about the battle of Byland on 14 October 1322, where Edward II's army was again defeated by Robert Bruce's: part one; part two; part three.  Colin uses his excellent local knowledge, complete with maps, to speculate about what was really going on, and provides a different take on the usual Edward II, "ever chicken-hearted and luckless in war" (Chronicle of Lanercost), being a totally incompetent idiot blah blah.  I'm really grateful to both Sami and Colin for providing such terrific new perspectives on these two battles, especially as what I know about battles and military tactics would fit on a postage stamp so I'm incapable of providing any new insights into them myself.  A recent article, incidentally, also suggests that "we may have done [Edward II] a dis-service" in judging his tactics at Bannockburn.

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.

38 comments:

Undine said...

Very informative post, thanks so much for all the work that must have gone into writing it. I know nothing about military matters myself, so this essay was quite enlightening.

I've heard stories (legends?) that many of the by-then-offically-disbanded Knights Templars were living "underground" in Scotland, and they were the "out from nowhere" forces who suddenly jumped in with the Scots fighters and saved the day for them.

Do you know if there is anything to this story, or is it probably just a lively myth?

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Undine!

I'm pretty sure, though not absolutely certain, that the 'Templars fighting at Bannockburn' story is a myth. It's true that Scotland was the only European country where they weren't arrested, as Robert Bruce was already under excommunication, so that threat didn't work on him as it did on the others, so quite possibly a few Templars found refuge there. I don't think the Templars had much reason to want to fight against Edward II though, who had done his best to protect them.

Sami Parkkonen said...

There were some templars fighting among the scotts but they did not form their own unit and it is not known how many of them were at present. Most likely few dozen at most and under the command of the scottish nobles. The so called small folk were not templars nor lead by the templars, they were poor and unreliable people whom Robert the Bruce had wanted to keep away from the battle field. They propably realised that there would be a massive loot for taking and decided to join in before it was too late.

Jules Frusher said...

Excellent Sami - very similar to my own conclusions on the battle and also a very good point made about the foot soldier array.

On thing I've never understod about the earl of Gloucester's death though, is that although it is noted that he did not wear his identifying surcoat, what about the caparison on his horse or the coat o arms on his shield?

If he had those then he would still have carried his arms onto the battlefield. I believe he was recognised by the Scots (and they would certainly have identified him as someone worth ransoming anyway), but that he was killed before they could capture him. Therefore, maybe the story about his surcoat has been added or emphasised by the original author for the sake of his narrative.

As for the Templar story - I too think it to be a myth held up by those who think the Templars must have had a hand in everything. I'm sure there might have been some fighting in the Scottish ranks but, as Sami said, not in a seperate unit of their own or disguised as 'the small folk'.

Out of interest, Sami, which sources did you use?

Sami Parkkonen said...

I had few books, which had small differences, the Net of course etc. There is huge amount of matriel on the Net which I found useful too. Most useful book I found was Peter Reeses Bannockburn (Canongate Books 2000) which describes the events pretty well. But as for the conclusions where it was fought I used several maps etc. which confirmed the site. It also shows why the battle went the way it did.

Anonymous said...

Great article, Sami ... and thanks to Kathryn for posting it.

Esther

S.I.N. said...

Very good post!
Kathryn. Actually, all Templars found in Scotland were arrested too. All the two of them, hehe! You have to read my take on the battle, which I hope I'll be publishing soon, when I find the courage to do it. (Of course my story is about templars, so they kind of take part in the action) I tried to bring together the way the battle was fought according to Battlefields Trust (they have a great site) and Aymer de Valence leading Edward to Stirling first (BT argues that the battle must have been fought with the Scots to the North, that is, in the way of the English, then advancing to Stirling). The only way I could think of was if Edward was so deep into enemy lines that retreating was not an option. Of course there were thousands of foot men trying to leave by a small ford, so it must have been difficult to retreat from any place. He could have gone to the New Park instead, to his left (to his right was the Bannock). I have to think he was not near the park. So where was he? A medieval army put the vanguard to the right when arrayed for battle, if I am not mistaken, and that is where he may have been, and quite into the action, leaving his rescuers only one option: forward.

Kathryn Warner said...

Really glad you enjoyed the post, SIN, and so looking forward to your take on it - let me know when it's published! :)

Esther, thanks!

Jules, that's a good point about Gilbert - his horse's housings should still have identified him, and his shield, as you say. Hmmm, a later addition to make a better story?

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Sami, thanks for this meticulous study of the battle, somehow I never knew the details. How very interesting that Edward was the first English king to realize the importance of infantry.
And you're absolutely right, he does not sound like a coward at all, risking his own life in the midst of the fiercest fighting.

I love the way you have described the army on the move, with all the sounds, equipment, orinary soldiers' situation, etc. Thank you again.

Kathryn Warner said...

Kasia, thank you for taking the time to leave this lovely comment on Sami's post!

Anerje said...

I really enjoyed this very detailed post on Bannockburn - it's given me a great insight into how Edward's army operated. I've studied a little about the battles of Alexander so enjoyed the explanations between the terms used etc.

To call Edward a coward is ridiculous - put simply, it was the major battle won by the Scots and IMO Edward's reputation has suffered because of this.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Anerje - so glad you enjoyed Sami's post! It is ridiculous to call him a coward, isn't it? :/

Carla said...

Wonderful post, thank you to the author and to Kathryn for posting it. I second Kasia's comment. The details of the battle, the military logistics and the ordinary soldier's experience are terrific.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Carla! So glad you enjoyed Sami's post.

Hugh said...

Without doubt the most spirited and colourful defence of Edward the 1st courage I have read. My only problem with it is that along with most accounts of the battle the assumption is present that the cavalry and the footsoldiers were camped in virtually the same place. It is highly unlikely that cavalry would be camped in a marsh and no explanation is given of why such a vast army of foot failed to engage in support of the cavalry before it was overwhelmed. Given that the author has rightly expressed Edwards intent to use his footmen, some explanation is required as to why this did not happen.
The usual claims of lack of leadership are not enough. It beggars belief that so many foot were standing idle and uninvolved on the same field due to lack of leadership or or the dictates of chivalric honour. To my thinking it could not be clearer that while the foot did occupy exactly the area described here, the cavalry were elsewhere on higher dry ground,suitable for heavy horse, but still near the mouth of the great ravine. The foot could only be uninvolved if they were camped in a different place unaware of what was happening to the cavalry above them and receiving no orders due to the seperate locations.
I hope my comments are not taken as an attack on a very good article, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The location of Edwards cavalry is a hotly disputed area of contention which all too often is fought over rather than civilly discussed. I mean no disrespect to the author whatsoever. In fact, quite the contrary.

Kathryn Warner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathryn Warner said...

For some weird reason both Sami, author of this post, and I have been unable to post his comment responding to Hugh's, so we'll try again later ;) So annoying when Blogger won't let me post a comment on my own blog! :(

Kathryn Warner said...

Sami's comment, part 1:

Thank you for your comments!
The very reason for the catastrophy was the camp of the english. They moved over the Bannockburn during the evening and the night and as the noble men occupied the front along the road and the dry flat land below the hills, the only area left for the infantry was behind them, in the flood plains. Nobody planned this, it just happened and precisely because of the lack of leadership.
The nobility and the cavalry camped on dry flat land, not into the marsh. It was the rank and file who did.
From the point of the noble men that place was ideal, dry and flat land with suitable battleground right in front of them for their cavalry. They had their tents there, their wagons and servants and propably did not even realise that behind them a nighmare was going on as the vast majority of the army tried to get in to that area behind them.
As for the cavalry operating separately and on a different location, I believe that if that had been the case, the Scotts would have lost. They had perhaps a third of troops what the english had and practically no cavalry at all, only some 500 light horse men, so if there would have been room enough for the english, they would have won easily. Their army was that big and strong.
All the accounts of the battle tell us about the terrible crush and push, which means that there was no room to manouver the cavalry around the enemey or room to bring up the bulk of the infantry. That can only mean that the english were trapped between Bannockburn and Pellstream, to the very place were they had camped the previous night.
Actually when the Scotts came down and stepped forward, the english were surprised that they did so, which means they were not expecting them to come on, which could also explain why the battle took place where it did and how it went down.
And this also explains why the Scotts so hastily advanced on them very early at the morning. They had to keep the english in that salient if they wanted to have any chance for victory. And since they had five schiltrons each of roughly one thousand men strong (some sources say only three but there were five) we can calculate how wide the scottish front could have been.

Kathryn Warner said...

Sami's comment, part 2:

A schiltron was three to four men deep which means that on the front of it there were perhaps three to four hundred men. Now each of these men take roughly one meter space. Thus three hunderd men side by side means that the width of the schiltron was about three hundred meters. We know that that the schiltron of Robert Bruce was behind the four as a reserve, which means that the whole width of the scottish front, once all the four schiltrons were side by side, was about 1200 meters.
So at the impact point the front was some 1200 meters wide between rivers Bannockburn and Pellstream and as the day went on, the Scottish were able to push even further. This gives away where the battle must have been fought. It must be between those rivers, or streams, and on a 1000-1200 meters wide strecth of land.
Anywhere else, up in the New Park or else where, the numbers of the english would have made the battle as a repetition of Falkirk. Anywhere else the english could have fully utilised their cavalry and archers, their massive infantry, but they did not. They were not able to do so. The only explanation is that they were stuck in that carse and could not break out.
I know that there are several theories and takes on this battle but for me the most realistic explanation is the most obvious. How were the Scotts able to defeat the much bigger and stronger english army?
The only explanation must be that the english could not utilise their full might and that could happen only if there was not enough room for them to do so.
This may sound strange or weird but actually it had happened many times before and would happen again in the future battle fields were a much smaller force defeated much bigger one on the same basic principle.
Most famous incident of this principle was the battle of Thermopylai in Greece where 300 spartans and 1400 auxiliaries kept an army tens of times larger at bay for days in a narrow space and had it not been a betrayal, there is no way to tell what could have happened in there.
The Scotts applied the same principle at Bannockburn and kept the much larger enemy at check in a limited ground where the enemy could not use its strenghts.
That is my undersatanding of this battle.

Hugh. said...

Thank you for responding Sami. I am familiar with the arguments put forward and assure you I would not put an alternative forward without evidence to suppoort it.
We have little more than the accounts in Stellsr Templar and Lanercost to track Edward's Horse. they roughly agree on the following.
The English vanguard approached from the South along the Roman road. They crossed the Bannock Burn then immediately began to fall in to the caltrop pits dug on either side of the road. This forced them to assault the Scot's line on a narrow front without success. They turned back, crossed back over the Bannock Burn and turned East. They then crossed the Bannock Burn once more and camped. It is due to that final reference to crossing the Bannock Burn that most historians have insisted that Edward's horse must have camped north of the Bannock Burn on the carse and understandably so. I am sure you were as aware of all that as I am. However there is new information that suggests what was previously thought to be inescapable may be an understandable error.
The crux of this is the location of the Scot's line at Whins of Milton and the caltrop pits. It is an established fact that the Scot's line was on the North bank of the burn referred to in the present day as the Bannock Burn. That is the one which runs down through the great ravine to the East. The remnants of wooden stakes planted into the north bank provided proof of this some time ago. If any doubt remained of that, it was dispelled when the Stirling Council Archaeologist discovered the position of the caltrop honeycomb from an aerial photograph around 2001. Subsequent excavations found the remains of caltrops in the newly revealed circles. The caltrops were positioned immediately South of the stakes at the burn. There can therefore be no doubt that the Scots defensive line was at the burn referred to today as the Bannock Burn during the first engagement.
The conflict of that with historical accounts is instantly obvious. How could they twice refer to the vanguard crossing the Bannock Burn when that is clearly impossible due to the verified location of the Scot's line and the pits? Either the accounts were wrong twice. or the burn they crossed is not the burn that is known as the Bannockburn today. There was another burn south of those pits and it led straight through the settlement at Bannockburn.
It is not unreasonable to conclude that if the accounts have referred to crossing the southern burn twice, they have done so a third time. That does not put them on the carse. It puts them on a high horse shoe shaped promontory and a horrific three sided natural trap, right beside the settlement. I actually know where the elusive "evil ditch" is Sami, what's left of it.
Wonderful Article Sami. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Please excuse my diversion in to the battle part. The real thrust of the article was Edward's supposed lack of courage. You drove a coach and horses through that myth, well done. Thank you for your patience.

Hugh. said...

At risk of becoming the personification of the word tedium Sami, may I point out one more thing. From the base of the ridges at Bannockburn out to the river Forth there is roughly 15 inches of soil. Below that there is around 30ft of blue clay. I have dug in to it and watched it being excavated for housing close to the base of the ridge and that is the simple fact. Due to the thin layer of soil and the clay underneath water does not soak away. The builders had to create an overflow area and a costly pumping station to get permission to build there. That is today, near the foot of the ridge and after generations of farming and irrigation.
There was no area of firm ground for horses in front of that ridge other than the small bridal path Clifford attempted to use to cross the Pelstream burn. It is just not feasible that a large area of this ground would have been firm in 1314. To this day it is still marshy in even in summer.
10.000 years ago that land was underwater and part of an inland sea. We know this because the skeleton of a stranded whale was unearthed near the university. The top of the ridges at bannockburn actually have sand below the soil because they were once beaches.
This is why the carse is the way it is from one side to the other and why the Romans had to build a causeway to get horses across it.
Many authors have simply ignored the inconvenience of the clay ridden soil, or just know nothing of it. One author William Scott even claimed a mound on the carse was irrefutably where the English archers were chased off by Keith's cavalry, as there was no other mound out there. Unfortunately his "mound" was the overgrown scooped out remains of the bing from Fallin Colliery. Be wary of experts who speak in absolutes Sami. The danger of absolutes is that when wrong they are usually absolutely wrong.
Best regards, Hugh.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Thanks Hugh,
I am aware of the soil down on the flats but my take on the battle rests on two facts:
1. Where could the Scotts pin down the much more larger army?
2. The weather at the time of the battle.
In my eyes the only place where this could have been done is somewhere between the two streams. Had the battle taken place on the higher ground, the english infantry would have played much bigger role, just like at Falkirk where the cavalry pinned the schilttrons down and the archers then decimated them.
The weather had been very hot and dry all trough the summer. The roads were described "as hard as stone" which implies that the ground. the soil was also dry. In order to become sinking gaugamire the clay needs water and during the dry spell it turns into rock solid matter. This was provided by the tidal waters during the evening and night before the battle.
Perhaps the ground I describe looked dry and solid when the desicion to camp in there was given? That would explain this mistake.
Anyway, thanks for your comments and insights. They are always welcomed.

Hugh said...

Good question Sami. The answer I would suggest, is that they did'nt have to pin them down. It took too long for the foot to get organised and attempt to make its weary way along the ridge looking for a way up into the horrific press above. Bruce had two escape routes open to him to the south and to the west had the foot been able to intervene earlier.
I suggest that by the time the foot and most of the archers were belatedly underway The cavalry was already all but finished and Edward was seen in flight. After the cavalry had suffered disaster the Scots and their archers were left in control of the ridge, where any late attempt to rally the foot and get up there would have been easily repulsed with heavy losses.
Seeing retreat and disorder The schilltrons descended and attacked the superior but demoralised and largely leaderless numbers of foot on the carse. Many hours of brutal toil followed before resistance gave way to panic as reinforcements appeared.
I will leave the argument as to whether these reinforcements were Templars or smallfolk to others. Whoever it was, it seems to have been enough to inspire panic and a final rout.
I am not argueing that no battle was fought on the carse Sami. I am argueing that the cavalry had already been overwhelmed on the promontory before that phase of the battle occurred.
If you see no significance to the location of the pits relative to the two burns and the proveable position of the Bruce's defensive line, can we agree to disagree?

Hugh said...

You are entirely correct that the summer of 1314 was a hot dry one. The road Edward marched north on would indeed be baked hard, but that road did not pass through the carse so there can be no relevance to it. There was no road through the carse to bake hard. In 1297 Percy's cavalry was caught strung out on the old roman causeway that was the only route across it.
Having lived in and walked the Bannockburn area all my life I can assure anyone that hot summers do not bake the ground of the carse solid. Even during the long hot summer of 1976 this ground remained saturated due to the clay beneath it. The carse was described in 1314 as having many pools and powys (streams) and sodden. It will simply not do to assume a dry spot for the cavalry for the sake of convenience. I do understand that the references to crossings of the Bannock Burn by Edward's vanguard is why that assumption is made.
The carse is at once described as being too wet for fires yet dry enough for cavalry. Dry wood was not a problem as the nearby ridge slope was wooded to its base and still is today. That is why the Scots saw numerous camp fires out there and some writers have used those fires to assume all Edward's forces were there.
Dr Fiona Watson places the cavalry and the battle up on the Dry Field site on high ground. This is the area on top of the northern ridge on the north side of the ravine. Again due to these same reference of crossings of the burn. If this were true and Edward could get his cavalry up there, then there was nothing to stop Edward hitting Bruce in the rear and his carefully prepared defences at Whins of Milton and positioning of Moray was totally pointless. This is not a point Dr Watson is happy to discuss. As my brief and sadly late aquaintance the wonderful Nigel Tranter once told me. When reputations become involved in debate, the first casualty is usually the truth. The second is the facts. Nigel was a terrible loss of fantastic knowledge. Despite the fact that his own account of the battle was very similar to yours, his reaction was to pull out a map and ask me to show him the area. Kind and open minded as always he nodded and said that if I was right Edward never stood a chance in there. He was surely entitled to the cautionary "if" It was he who proved to me that the lump of stone in Edinburgh is not the stone of destiny, but that's another debate for another place and another time.
The battle is a fascinating subject if only for the diverse opinion on it, based on the question, how on earth did they win it? You are a wonderful writer and researcher Sami, however much we disagree on this. Hugh.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Hi Hugh,
I guess we have to agree to disagree. Naturally I do not have the knowledge of the soil as you and I simply base my take on the battle on my own conclusions from various sources which, as you know, disagree too about many more points than we do.

You may be right about the cavalry as we all know that it did start the battle for the english and took also the first blows while trying to deliver its own.

How ever, I am still sticking with my own version, even though I always welcome other views and particulary any new information on this and other historical issues.

Thank you for brining up many og them on your comments.

Hugh. said...

Please excuse my horrendous faux pas above. That should have been Surrey's cavalry caught on the Roman causeway in 1297 not Percy's. I should never post when entirely sober! Hugh.

Hugh said...

Thanks Sami, that was both tolerant and generous. You could not be more right on the numerous disagreements which often get bitter and descend into insults.
Until I saw the aerial photo of Bruce's pits and checked their location I had just about exactly the same take on the battle you do. I followed much the same lines of reasoning. I was bewildered why anyone would camp cavalry on a clay bog, but with no reason to contradict the accounts in Stellar Templum and Lanercost concluded that they must have done. I could do no other when a third and final crossing of the Bannock Burn as it is defined today, dictated they had to be north of the Bannock burn and on the carse. Believe me I totally understand your position.
My reaction to the reality of where those pits were was utter shock. It blew apart everything I had ever believed written or said about the battle. I had great difficulty accepting, it but in the end realised I could not ignore it. I cannot fault you or anyone else for having the same or worse difficulty.
I started to discover accounts of finds by children in the southern burn in the 1950's. A broken sword, remnants of daggers, strange coins. tunic buttons with heraldic designs. None ever handed in or verified. Realising that the proof may still be in and around that burn I resolved to search and went to see what I was facing. To my utter horror I found that most of the gulley had been just been filled in and housing was being built on top of it. The site had been utterly destroyed. That was the sorry end to my hopes of proving what I had come to believe was the truth.
You have been more than tolerant in debating with me Sami. I now ask that you delete my arguments from this blog. I do not wish them to be seen as an attack on a wonderful article. This comment might remain to prove it was by my request. A salute to your tolerance and a testament to my failure. Kindest regards Hugh.

Kira said...

Edward did indeed prove himself not to be a coward on that day, but a true warrior? Nah. What he did prove was that he was fully and completely committed to destructive imperialism, annihilating Scottish independence, and continuing the legacy of violence that his father left to him.

During the sacking of Berwick, an incident was recorded in which invading English hacked a pregnant woman into pieces while she was still alive. In continuing the campaign of his father, Edward II held culpability for these crimes of genocide, and I truly disagree that a mass murderer can be called a true warrior.

Sami Parkkonen said...

@Kira:

Being a warrior in the medieval times did not mean a man of finesse nor up holding the values we hold dear. Even today, war is hell, just ask any veterans who has seen it himself.

Edward was a warrior just like Robert the Bruce or any other man in those days, who picked up weapons and went to war. It is also good to remember that the vikings are still called warriors today, even though in our eyes and according our morals they were more of gangs and armies of robbers, murderers and arsonists.

As for the war against Scotland, yes, it was against the treaties BUT it was Edward I who had started them and in the political field Edward had no choice but to go on with them. His very own son continued the campaign after a short stop by Isabella.

It is also good to remember that Robert the Bruce had fought for and in the army of Edward I against other scotts before he began his own campaign for the scottish crown. He had been one of the vassals of Edward I before.

War, and particulary medieval warfare, was not clean, nice and orderly. The reasons were often obscure or down right crazy. The results were terrible for the people if not always to the knights and nobel men, who could be ransomed.

During the Hundreds Year War the english destroyed largea areas of France just for the sake of it. This was what they had done in Scotland and what the scotts had done in northern England.

So perhaps when we imagine medieval war we should see it for it was: brutal, cruel and terrible. Not the stuff Hollywood pictures it.

There were no noble knights doing valiant things but armed men hacking each other into pieces. There were people crying, panicking, screaming in terror, soiling themselves in horror, crushing to death, and none of the orderly ballet we so often see in the movies.

The people at the time new it. Many had seen it. So when a medieval writer says someone was a great warrior, there are no violines playing, no shining armour nor anything we might understand valiant about it. It simply means that this individual was able and cabable to survive the horrors of the battlefield and kill a lot of other men.

At Bannockburn Edward II was that kind of a man.

Gavin Ferrie said...

Never read any reports previously of William Wallace using schiltrons at Stirling. All the references i've read have agreed that the Scots hid amongst the trees until around one third of the English army had crossed the bridge, then they charged them, cutting off the end of the bridge in doing so. Can you point me to the sources you used for the assertion of Scots Schiltrons at Stirling please, i would love to read them. Thanks.

Kathryn Warner said...

Gavin, I've notified Sami of your comment, so hope he answers you :-) I have no idea, personally.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Hi Gavin,

I found the direct reference to the use of schiltrons at Striling in an article about the battle, which I now seem to have lost in the Net wilderness. I try to locate it for you.

You are right about the scottish rush at Striling. As for the schiltrons and their use, Peter Reese writes in his book Bannockburn, that they were an "invention" of Wallace and proved to be his downfall at Fallkirk as they were "static" formations.

Here is what I think: the concept of schiltrons was not as simple as we seem to think now nor it was completely Wallaces invention. I think they were a scottish variation of the old falangs. They were called by some chroniclers as shiled rings but I assume they could have been in any form the commander wished for. After all, the commanders were no more stupid than we are now.

And knowing that Wallace tried to win in Fallkirk, he used the best ideas he could come up with. So he expected them to win. They did not survive the english arrows at there, which begs the question: why a brilliant tactitian such as Wallace would make such a mistake?

The only logical conclusion I can think is this: he knew they worked. He had used them before and won with them. The only real major victory over the english in which he could have used them for his advatage had been at Striling.

Yes, the scotts rushed the english, but if you read the describtions of that battle, the narrow choke point, contested area, scottish blocking force etc. I assume they used some form of solid formation to crush the english to the river and on the bridgehead. This formation could have been called anything, but most certainly in my mind was a schiltron/schiltrons of some sort.

If we look at Bannockburn, all the commentators mention the schiltrons. There were 3 to 5 of them, depending the guessing. They advanced across the level ground to the english. Once the contact was made, these formed almost a solid wall of men against the english force, some plus one thousand paces wide, which began to crush the english backwards.

So if we look at the behavior of the schiltrons at Bannockburn we see that these were not the solid static circular formations they had been at Fallkirk. Robert the Bruce could have invented this idea or he could have known about the use of schiltrons at Stirling, or, most likely, schiltrons were never the static circular formations so many in our times assume. Actually, the only time I have found out they were just static was the battle of Fallkirk where that very fact proved to be their downfall.

So my take on the battle of Stirling is based on this reasoning. Granted, it is my opinion that in order to crush the english the scotts used their falangs/schiltrons there, but that is the logical explanation. Same as in Bannockburn, that was their only real tactical advantage over the english: solid formations of men who would and could crush the enemy.

Just like in Bannockburn, they key was to keep the english from spreading out after which their greater number and mobility, not to mention the archers, would have done the day. Just like they did at Fallkirk.

Hope this helps you in some way. I begin to search for that article and hopefully I find it for you.

PS. Sorry, Kathryn, for the length of this one.

The World of the Blue Bells Trilogy said...

Great post! There's a lot of detail here I haven't found elsewhere. Thank you.

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting article - and excellent comments on the schiltrons. Peter Reese's analysis of the two-day battle (a small couple of skirmishes on day one and a surprise of the English camp on at dawn on day two) is one of very, very few to have ever been based on the actual topography.
It is the only battle I ever heard of were one side's plan came off perfectly -- with added good luck of weather conditions and enemy commanders jostling with ill-discipline for pre-eminence, and neglecting something so basic as the discipline of their encampment.

In essence: Bruce knew the place intimately.
He knew his enemy intimately -- had been on crusade with these same English knights.
He knew that England's senior personnel themselves knew the territory very well from previous battles.
The castle was due to be surrendered by agreement if not relieved "within a year and a day" and Edward had a day in hand as they arrived at Stirling Bridge, a small wooden bridge by today's standard, from were the road ran up the spine of a steep ridge surrounded by miles of marshy ground (made into a swamp by recent heavy rains.)

Bruce had led them to believe his resistance was a token protest.
He knew if he could delay them till afternoon, they would use the customary campsite, the sole hard ground for miles around - anticipating a largely ceremonial relief of Stirling castle on the last day before its agreed surrender.
Bruce showed both incredible personal courage, a very modern command of PR before his troops, and shrewd, cool planning on day 1.
The English initially intended to cross the Bannock and go up the road along the wooded ridge: so he blocked them at the bridge, where a tiny knoll still prevents a straight exit from the (then) bridge. Only a few troops abreast, a knight or two, could negotiate the bridge exit.
Bruce put a schiltron on that tiny knoll like a horizontal fence, to make anyone crossing stop for a think. The tip of a schiltron spear is 12-15 feet in front of the man holding it: a lance only sticks out about 6 feet in front of the horse's nose. And the schiltron stood at least as high as any rider.

Bruce let the English vanguard watch him ride down the ridge-road on a messenger-pony (palfrey) armed with an un-aristocratic axe, without armour. He halted near the knoll and basically taunted the leading knights.

Sir Humphrey Bohun, took the bait, and cantered over to show Bruce how the flower of English nobility do things: with a lance. Of course he was unable to get up a proper charge because of the bend around the knoll, and having to keep out of spear-prodding range as he rounded it.

Bruce waited, stepped his pony to one side and axed Bohun's head vertically as he passed, cleaving his skull from the crown of his helmet down to his shoulders. The schiltron then unceremoniously killed his squire (who would also be a noble) who dashed after him.

Bruce was showing his own men that mounted knights are vulnerable: and that he was trustworthy to lead from the front.
The English aristocracy were basically in shock.
They tried to sneak up onto the road-ridge in undisciplined small parties of more glory-seekers to come down from behind, but Bruce had anticipated this. The ground was too soft, it was full of caltrops, and parties of Scottish knights were stationed waiting at the one or two points of possible, limited access. (It was in one of these little sorties that de Grey was captured.)
So the English, indignant and frustrated but still unwary, retired for tea (OK, ale), to the customary camp, crossing the Bannock a little way downstream (not really thinking about why they were being allowed to).
That was day one.

Anonymous said...

Day two: The English camp faced the steep side of the wooded ridge to the west. They were surrounded by two burns in spate - the Bannock with deep, vertical banks on their south, the Pol edging a swamp to the north: the two waters join at the back of the camp to the east in an even rougher, swollen river. Bruce had psychologically "nudged" them into wanting to camp and make a fresh start in the morning; still believing the treaty-agreed relief of the English-occupied castle to be more or less a formality.

Bruce's trap was set for complacency. Edward's encampment is tiny area, maybe 1km square or less: the majority of his army and baggage, still on the southern side of the Bannock, camped spread out along the road and on minuscule dry patches here and there.

After a careless night camped higgledy-piggledy, squashed into the one bit of hard ground for miles around (used by English armies before) England's generals were in Edward's tent in the pre-dawn, squabbling about who should get the right-hand place of status... when the Scottish schiltrons - walking silently in lines - were spotted appearing out of the morning mist, almost at the pools. (midsummer: first light is the wee hours here). An eerie sight.

Bruce had forbidden the nobility to take part in the initial clash if they would not walk with the common soldiery. He had sent many men home beforehand, and used only picked men. He and his two commanders personally led in the dark down the steep wooded side of the ridge and, in the false-dawn, walked ahead of the single-files of spearmen on a front only 800m or so. The 3 English witness accounts misunderstood Bruce's strategy even afterwards. Most of it was obscured by their own side galloping impotently up and down the line before splashing through the shallow pools of standing water to throw themselves on Scottish spears. Soon having to negotiate piles of dead horses and comrades.

Only one senior Englishman, commander of the vanguard, understood what was about to happen when the Scots appeared out of the mist. The line of temporary rain-pools across the middle of this square kilometre or so, they handily marked the limit of bow-shot from the ridge. They also mark the narrowest part of this field between the two watercourses. Gloucester's own men were unready, and not close to this key point. He ran from Edward's tent, mounted and dashed ahead alone, yelling, towards where the Scots right hand was about to close up to an inward kink in the Bannock burn bank, closing the trap. A wall of spears in front, water on three sides, swamp all around.

Gloucester charged the Scots front at this key point near the bank: but too late to break through, and anyway alone. He was immediately wounded, unhorsed, hacked to death. (The Scots admired his courage.) It unnerved those English who could see it: a senior aristocrat-commander no sooner acting a bit weird than killed out of hand -- by common footsoldiers.

In answer, vengeful and equally unsuccessful knightly charges all along the front, by half-armoured individuals with no strategy and -- as Bruce had ensured -- no room to get up a proper gallop. Their own dead horses soon piled up, impeding them further: the spray they kicked up obscured their own commanders view of the enemy. (The Scots may have knelt again to set the spearbutts in the ground.)

Welsh archers in the camp could see little. They mustered, tried one or two volleys and hit their own side.

Crowded in randomly among tents and picketed horses, trapped, milling in confusion, without any effective command and half-armed, people panicked and tried to escape south across the Bannock, as it looks so narrow. But in spate it is a miniature ravine, vertical sides filled with a torrent. Many horses and men disappeared in it. Others drowned in the choppy waters of the confluence at the back of the camp. To the north you could get across, but were then in very boggy ground and even further from home.

Anonymous said...

Bruce had sent many men home before the battle, and reserved archers and the more disciplined horsemen (and local "small folk" eager to plunder) to rout the escapees and the leaderless troops still camped on the route to the south. These Scots forces would have been nothing but a hindrance to Bruce's "special forces" schiltrons, whose success depended on discipline, surprise and drilled manoeuvre. I believe the stories of the Templars are attempts by people who don't know the ground to explain how a larger, more professional army was defeated so rapidly comprehensively.

Remember, it started in eerie silence with the Scots appearing mysteriously, kneeling (in prayer, the chroniclers assumed) and battle opened with the instant suicide-slaughter of a great commander. The people just waking inside the English camp could not even see properly what was happening.

Edward could not take part: he was (all agree) not even properly dressed yet and had no fighting horse ready. He had no strategy. His army was trapped totally unprepared, his best commander had just been inexplicably, brutally slaughtered by commoners and now the flower of English knighthood were committing hara-kiri willy-nilly! He must face an ignominious death (at the hands of commoners!) or even more ignominious capture, or he must escape. His guard would not have given him the option of staying.

A small party got him away undetected (apparently!) and they must have had to take a very arduous and roundabout way, sneaking around for several days. By all accounts they were in a bad way when they finally reached safe territory.

Edward's inexperience in command must be in some measure to blame, but some very experienced military commanders let him down badly on rudimentary soldiering skills. Complacency, interpersonal rivalry and concern for personal chivalric & social status drove the most basic precautions out of their heads.

It is a startling contrast between a formidable army at its worst and a (purposely reduced) far less professional force commanded by the very best.

sami parkkonen said...

In response to the last comment: Edward was not unprepared at the dawn. All the accounts tell that it was the king himself who raised the alarm instead of the sentries and called the camp to get up and prepare to the battle. Which means he was up and at arms already, just like most of the knights. In medieval battles you wore your armor until the fighting stopped, that is, you slept in the gear, just like men do still today if they are in battlefield or close the enemy. That was, at least, how I was trained to do when I was in the army: weapon at hand, all the ammo and others attached to my body etc.

He was also involved in the fighting for some hours, from early on until the final moments. That was his mistake and why he was not a successful commander. While he was thick in the melee, no one was directing the whole army. His personal involvement in the fighting created the chaotic situation which lead to the collapse. But to say that he was loitering around in his undies and then some took him secretly away from the field is wrong.

Edward rushed into the battle with his war horse, fought on the front and was almost captured twice, lost his horse from under him, managed to get back alive when hundreds of other fallen English noble men perished in the same crush, and took his spare horse and went back in. So he was actually fighting from early on until the so called small folk came out and the English commanders took them as additional Scottish forces.

It was only then he was lead away, against his will, for he wanted to keep on fighting. Which was very brave but very stupid. He would have been killed or captured and the noble men who took him away knew this. One of them, how ever, returned to the battle because of his personal reputation and was killed at once. And that shows you what would have happened to Edward had he stayed in the battlefield as he wanted.

So, Edward was a good fighting knight in Bannockburn but very bad king/commander. Instead of staying back directing his troops, which were much more numerous than the Scottish and could have been perhaps used to win, he fought like a knight, almost lost his life while at it, and his army fell into pieces while he was hacking the enemy who had already grabbed his horse and his reins.