On this day 1314, the First War of Scottish Independence reached its climax at the Battle of Bannockburn.
Bannockburn is a defining moment in British history, which saw Robert I of Scotland, commonly known as ‘Robert the Bruce’, lead his country to victory over Edward II of England.
At the head of one of the largest English armies ever to invade Scotland, Edward II arrived on the outskirts of Stirling with the intention of relieving the besieged fortress, which by this point was the last stronghold still loyal to the English monarch.
The years preceding Bannockburn saw Bruce loyalists systematically capture and clear English-held strongholds across the country as part of a bloody and protracted guerrilla campaign.
Bruce had experienced success in pressuring the English occupation of Scotland, famously securing victory at the Battle of Loudon Hill and the Battle of Brander Pass.
Key strategic positions, including Roxburgh Castle and Edinburgh Castle were also seized by forces loyal to Bruce, further weakening English control.
A race against time
Observing Stirling Castle, Edward II would have known that time was running out to break the siege. The castle defenders had pledged to surrender the fortress if they had not been relieved by 24th June.
On 23rd June, early engagements broke out as English cavalry sought to advance toward Stirling Castle and break the siege. This initial melee saw the Scots achieve the upper hand and prompted their English opponents to withdraw and make camp for the night.
As morning broke on the 24th, the Scots held mass and Edward II ordered his forces across the burn. Having camped on wet, boggy ground the night before and in fear of night raids, English morale is said to have hardly been ideal.
Advancing from their woodland cover and mindful to navigate pre-dug anti-cavalry ditches, the smaller Scottish force formed into three imposing schiltrons.
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Several fearsome charges were made by English cavalry, but each was repulsed as the heavily-clad horses were forced to avoid ditches. Meanwhile, Welsh longbowmen, who had proven so effective at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, were rendered ineffective due to incessant harrying from Scots light cavalry.
The Scots pikemen advanced, and advanced, and advanced. The soft, marshy ground made for awful conditions and the fighting was visceral. As English troops began gradually withdrawing they found themselves penned in with the burn to their rear and flanks. Before long, the battle turned into a rout.
Fleeing English troops became bogged down in the burn, many of them drowning and hacked down by the pursuing Scots.
A pivotal moment
The English host suffered several thousands casualties, including a number of prominent English nobles such as Sir Robert Clifford and the Earl of Gloucester.
In the chaos of the rout, Edward II fled and was very nearly captured before reaching the safety of English-held territory.
The Battle of Bannockburn is one of the most celebrated victories in Scottish history and marked a pivotal moment in the Scottish Wars of Independence. This victory wasn’t the end of Scotland’s struggle to free itself from English domination, but it did mark the beginning of the end.
In 1327, Edward II of England was deposed and murdered. His son, Edward III, was crowned king. After defeat at the Battle of Stanhope Park, in which Edward III was very nearly captured, the English monarch signed the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in May of 1328.
This treaty recognised Scottish independence and Robert Bruce’s kingship.