|Photo by David Robertson Photography|
In the aftermath of the Battle of Bannockburn, King Edward’s only thought was to reach Dunbar Castle, and find some safety in this suddenly dangerous land. He fled with his personal bodyguard of mounted knights and came to no menace on the journey east. The rest of his army found the retreat a little more perilous.
For hundreds of years the Kings of Scotland had bowed to their southern cousins, and for much of that time English Barons held positions of power in Scotland. The Earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare, so recently cut to pieces at Bannockburn, had been “Warden of Scotland” and “Captain of Scotland and the Northern Marches” in 1308 and 1309. The Scottish people had already endured much suffering at English hands. But with the English army in such complete disarray, the statistics of war were now firmly on the Scottish side.
It is estimated that 10,000 Englishmen died or were captured at the field of Bannockburn, or in the immediate vicinity. That leaves a schism of another 10,000 men scattering all over lowland Scotland, leaderless and frightened, all trying vainly to reach the English border and escape this wild and vengeful land. In their eagerness to flee, some men would band together, taking refuge in large numbers, knowing that the lowly Scottish farmer could not attack such a force. Some would run in pairs or alone, seeking safety in guile and cunning to sneak southwards.
Historian Peter Reece has given us a very frightening statistic. After the battle of Bannockburn only one group of men is recorded to have reached England in safety; a bunch of Welsh spearmen under the command of Sir Maurice de Berkeley arrived at Carlisle Castle many days later. In Reece’s opinion, less than a third of the survivors from Bannockburn ever got home. Cutting the refugees down singly or in small groups, the people of Scotland wreaked their own bloody vengeance for centuries of English oppression. The name Bannockburn would be spoken of proudly for 700 years and more.
Ultimately, the events of these ‘border wars’ so long ago still undermine a curious relationship between two countries now at peace and allies for many hundreds of years. While we Scots shake hands with our southern neighbors, it seems that even today we do so somewhat grudgingly. Scotland votes on independence this year, hoping to finally cutting the ties that the Union of the Crowns achieved in 1707. We live in historical times again.
I am a historian, writer and folk singer, so have sung and written about the cause of Scottish Freedom for many years. I was a member of the SNP and campaigned vigorously for the first bid for a Scottish Parliament years ago. I love my country and insults to her honor run deep, as illustrated vividly by this personal story:
On 15 June, 2012, England played Sweden in the group stages of the European Championship. I drove to a local "pub" in my new home town of Topeka, Kansas, where I knew I’d find huge screens to watch. Scotland hadn’t qualified, so I was here to support a Scot's next favorite team; “anyone who’s playing against England”.
In the huge bar, there were only four of us watching the game, and it became quickly clear that the two men at the next table were actually English, with the accompanying English accents. To be honest, they didn’t really converse with us much and we all watched the match with interest. Then Sweden scored, and I jumped out of my seat in exclamation. “Yes!” I punched the air. When the euphoria had died down, the nearest Englishman leaned over.
“’S’cuse me, mate?” he began in a very London accent. “You’re Scottish, aren’t you?”
“Yes!” I proudly declared, wishing I’d bought a Sweden shirt for the game.
“Then why are you supporting Sweden?” he asked.
“Seven hundred years of oppression, mate.” I crisply answered.
My wife cringed in her seat as I turned back to watch the television screen oblivious to her fears. Perhaps luckily for me England won, but when I was questioned later as to why I’d said such a cruel thing to my ‘fellow countryman’, I realized that I had not considered the snub for one second. The words had been so natural, so quickly out of my mouth, that I never gave it a second thought. Yes, to "the punters" wars are much more than mere statistics...
PHOTO CREDIT: David Robertson Photography