Friday, June 20, 2014

Road to Bannockburn - King Edward leaves Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle, an imposing structure in any age
Seven hundred years ago on this very day, June 20th, 1314, King Edward of England’s trumpeters roused the weary English army. They had crossed the Scottish border at Wark on the old Roman road called Dere Street, just three days ago, fording the river Tweed, and marched at breakneck speed to reach Edinburgh, Scotland’s magnificent walled city.

For a medieval army to march ninety miles in three days is a particularly arduous task. The daily structure for an army on the move was regimented and disciplined. Around 5 a.m. in the first rays of the morning sun the men must first be roused from sleep, and prepare and eat breakfast. They then strike camp; tents are collapsed, horses groomed and fed, and knights carefully armored. Coals from the campfires would be carefully preserved in iron pots for easy lighting the next evening, then the army would form up in columns, ready to march. Scouts would be sent north, both to look for possible ambushes and new sources of food. Trumpets would sound, and the long caterpillar of men would commence their march. Sometime around midday the army would stop and feed again, eating cold meats and dry bread, before returning to the march, where they trudged onward. Even at a walking speed of three miles per hour, the English army would still have needed to march ten hours per day to accomplish the task. King Edward was determined to reach Stirling Castle by the 24th June, and lift the Scottish siege.

Earliest known illustration of Battle of Bannockburn

On the morning of 20th June, 1314, after marching north for many weeks, the English Army turned abruptly to their left, and departed from the outskirts of Edinburgh, with its castle high on the grey volcanic rock, and headed eastwards for Stirling. The Lothians, the land surrounding Edinburgh, is an area of good arable farming land, and after pushing through rough moors for many days, the English army would have eaten well, finding easy pickings of sheep, poultry and cattle. The populace would have either fled into the hills, into the walled city of Edinburgh, or just hid as well as they could, as an army of 20,000 men rampaged through their lands.

Leaving an angry populace at their backs, the army marched away regardless. It would be a mistake many would rue to their dying day.

Part 4 of my Road To Bannockburn series
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