Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Road To Bannockburn: And Sent Him Homeward

The Weary Warriors

In the darkness of the night between 23rd and 24th of June 1314, the English army moved into position. Scotland's own mosquito-like insects from hell (midges) plagued the 20,000 men as they moved half a mile north-east to the far side of the waters of the Bannock Burn. The troops made ready to attack from the east instead of the south, where they’d had so little success the day before. Weeks of forced marching, followed by a dismal first day of battle had already sapped the English morale. Add the sleepless night and the ever-present midges bombardment and they were hardly at the top of their game. Most slept in position on the battlefield, hoping the Scots would rise late, giving them some much-needed rest.

Now aware of the English army’s low morale, the Scottish army emerged from Balquihidderock wood at the first light of dawn. Forming quickly into their hedgehog-like schiltrons, the closely packed spearmen marched onto the battlefield. Then as one ten thousand Scots fell to one knee and bowed their heads, praying to almighty God for a swift victory. To the English king and his troops it appeared that they were offering themselves for surrender. Edward's cry of victory quickly changed to dismay as the Scots rose and trumpeted their readiness to fight.

The Battle Rages

King Edward's nephew- Gilbert de Clare, 8th Earl of Gloucester- was just 23 years old and had been fighting in the Scottish wars since he was 15. He held the reigns of the biggest section of Edward's Cavalry, and ranked first amongst the nobles. He argued that they army needed rest, but King Edward would have nothing of it. Because of the rules of siege, Stirling Castle must be reached today if it were to be rescued. An argument ensued leading to Gloucester’s charge against the Scots.

It mattered little. The Scottish schiltrons had advanced far onto the field to stop the English cavalry from reaching any momentum in their charge. At the edge of the concentrated spears, Gloucester and his men died in their hundreds. Buoyed by their victory, the schiltrons closed on the English lines where they met the rest of the English knights with their cavalry. Trapped between the advancing spears and their own army behind them, the advantage of the knights on horseback was lost. In minutes, the English vanguard fell all along the front line, it became clear that the day was lost. Then the rest of the weary English army came under the Scot's determined assault. Trapped in boggy land, and unable to flee quickly because of the number of men and the river behind them, the men soon were cut to pieces.

Historic Defeat

The English army stood in chaos. King Edward was dragged from the field and rode eastward with his personal bodyguard for 65 miles until they reached Dunbar castle, where he boarded a ship to England. Leaving his ‘superior force’ to be cut to pieces in their thousands on the field of Bannockburn, his campaign was over, and Stirling Castle given to the Scots.

Victory belonged to Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. Nine English knights, earls and barons met their end at Bannockburn, with another nine captured and held for ransom. With their leaders gone, the army splintered. For the first time in all the wars between Scotland and England, thousands of English were caught behind enemy lines in complete disorder. It would be a difficult journey home.

The words of our National Anthem, Flower of Scotland, written by Roy Williamson of the Corries, recounts this day with a passion that still stirs the hearts of Scots the world over...
O flower of Scotland
When will we see your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen
And stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

The hills are bare now
And autumn leaves lie thick and still
O'er land that is lost now
Which those so dearly held
And stood against him
Proud Edward's army
 And sent him homeward
 Tae think again

Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
 But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
That stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again
Part 6 of 7 in my Road to Bannockburn series
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