The Battle of Bannockburn (23-24 June 1314) is a key date in Scottish history. Over two days King Robert ‘the Bruce’ and an inexperienced, outnumbered Scottish force fought off a superior English army.
Here are ten facts about the Battle of Bannockburn.
1. The English army was attempting to lift the Siege of Stirling Castle
The Scottish army had been laying siege to Stirling since early in 1314. It was one of just two fortifications left in English hands across the whole of Scotland.
2. The English army was commanded by King Edward II
He was the fourth son of King Edward I – ‘the Hammer of the Scots’.
3. Edward’s army had a large number of knights and longbowmen
These men were the elite in what was a highly-professional, battle-hardened army. Alongside these men, Edward also had a substantial number of melee infantry.
4. The Scottish army was commanded by King Robert I, popularly known as Robert ‘the Bruce’
He had been crowned king of the Scots in 1306 and soon attempted to forcibly gain Scotland’s independence from England. By 1314, he had captured most of the English castles in Scotland and had also launched some audacious raiding attacks into Cumbria.
Although it is still largely believed Bruce hailed from Turnberry Castle in Ayrshire, it was recently claimed he actually came from Essex in eastern England.
5. Bruce’s army consisted mainly of spearmen
Unlike Edward II’s army, Bruce did not have a large number of archers or knights within his army. Instead, his force consisted largely of spear-wielding militia infantry – poorly trained and lacking armour.
Nevertheless these pikemen could form a deadly wall of spears called a ‘schiltron’ which could prove devastatingly effective against cavalry charges.
6. Robert deployed his army in a strong defensive position
He led his men two miles south of Stirling positioning them in an elevated, forested area called the New Park. The position straddled the old Roman road that headed south from Stirling – the road Edward II’s army had to take if they were to relieve the castle.
To further strengthen his defences, Bruce ordered his men to dig pitholes his side of a small river located further south: the Bannockburn. Protected by marshy ground, pit holes, elevated woodland and the Bannockburn itself, Bruce’s army occupied a formidable defensive position.
7. The battle lasted two days
In terms of medieval battles, to have a fight which lasted more than a day was unusual.
8. Bruce defeated the English vanguard on the first day
The leader of the English vanguard, Humphrey de Bohun, had attempted to kill Robert the Bruce before the battle, spotting him in front of his army. Bruce, however, avoided the charge and killed Bohun with his axe. The rest of the English force was routed soon after.
9. The Scottish schiltroms routed the English cavalry on the second day
When Edward’s knights – the tanks of the medieval battlefield – charged the Scottish infantry, they were presented with a deadly wall of spear-points. Unsupported by the English archers, the iron-clad horsemen were unable to break through and were slaughtered.
Soon after, the whole of the English army was in flight, including King Edward II.
10. Victory at Bannockburn led to Scotland gaining independence from England
In 1328, the treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton was signed that recognised Robert I as an independent sovereign of Scotland. This independence, however, was soon threatened when Edward II’s successor returned and won a decisive victory at Halidon Hill. His name was Edward III.