6 Key Battles in the Wars of Scottish Independence

Sarah Roller

Middle Ages
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The death of King Alexander III left the Scottish crown in a precarious position. Alexander’s only daughter Margaret died en route to her marriage, and two claimants to the throne were left, with no clear way of choosing one. The Guardians of Scotland wrote to King Edward I of England, asking for his help in arbitrating the dispute.

The English had long wished to conquer Scotland, and the Scottish knew this. They formed an alliance with France, another of England’s rivals – commonly known as the ‘Auld Alliance’ – which meant that should England invade either France or Scotland, the other would invade England in return.

Several years of tensions ensued before war eventually broke out in 1296. The series of wars spanned the 13th and 14th centuries, and culminated in Scottish independence from the English crown.

Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297)

William Wallace’s notable victory against the English occurred in 1297 at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The eponymous bridge was small – it only allowed two men to cross at a time.

Waiting until the English had begun the slow process of bringing their troops across, the Scottish attacked at a particularly vulnerable moment. They gained the east side of the bridge, cutting off potential reinforcements and slaughtering those who were on the east side.

Many of the fleeing English soldiers were killed, and their retreat left the lowlands in the control of the Scottish.

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Battle of Falkirk (1298)

Scottish and English troops clashed in one of the bloodiest battles in history – around 2,000 of the 6,000 Scottish soldiers were killed. Having heard of the defeat at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, Edward began serious preparations for a second invasion of Scotland.

With nearly 15,000 Englishmen to merely 6,000 Scotsmen, it didn’t take long for the Scottish cavalry to be routed and the archers destroyed by English longbowmen. The victory allowed Edward to occupy Stirling, and raid Perth, Ayrshire and St Andrews.

Many historians are critical of Wallace’s decision to fight at Falkirk, arguing it should never have happened at all. It is clear Wallace found the battle humiliating: he resigned as a Guardian of Scotland shortly afterwards.

The Bishop of Durham’s Charge at Falkirk. Image credit: Mechanical Curator collection / CC

Battle of Bannockburn (1314)

One of the most famous – and important – battles in the Wars of Independence, Bannockburn was a major victory for Robert the Bruce over King Edward II, and remains one of the most celebrated in Scottish history.

Unlike most battles of the day, which lasted only a few hours, Bannockburn went on for 2 days. Unable to hold rank against the advancing Scottish army, the English formations disintegrated, and early on the second day it became apparent Edward II needed to be led to safety.

A wide scale English retreat followed shortly after, and the victory allowed the Scots to regain Stirling Castle and begin raiding the North of England.

However, despite its cultural significance, it took a further 14 years for the war to formally draw to a close with the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328.

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Battle of Stanhope Park (1327)

One of the more dramatic battles in the Second War of Independence, the Battle of Stanhope Park saw various Scottish ambushes launched on the English camps, one of which nearly saw King Edward III captured.

The Scottish marched into England, and as the English marched to meet them, they lost their whereabouts. The Scots set up a strong strategic position, meaning the English never really managed to engage in full combat: a series of skirmishes and stand-offs characterized this so-called ‘Battle’.

The political and financial loss for the English was heavy – it had been an extremely expensive campaign and, in the aftermath, resources were severely depleted. A combination of these factors led to the English signing the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, in which they recognised Robert the Bruce’s claim to the Scottish throne.

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Battle of Dupplin Moor (1332)

Robert the Bruce died in 1329, leaving a 4 year old son, David II. This period of minority proved the perfect time for the English to attack Scotland, as it meant the Crown’s power and authority was seriously weakened.

The English sailed to Fife rather than crossing the Tweed – something which had been outlawed in the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton. Despite the fact that the Scottish army was nearly 10 times the size of the English forces, this proved to be one of the heaviest defeats for the Scots in the Wars of Independence.

English forces were much more skilled and better prepared. The Scots ended up in a crush, with one chronicler claimed they killed more of their own side than the English did, out of confusion.

A few weeks later, Edward Balliol was crowned King of Scotland at Scone with the support of the English.

Jacob Jacobsz de Wet II – Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. Image credit: Royal Collection / CC

Battle of Neville’s Cross (1346)

Technically also part of the Hundred Years’ War, the Battle of Neville’s Cross was a major Scottish defeat. The Scots, aided and supplied by the French, invaded the North of England, sacking towns and ravaging countryside along the way. They faced English forces just outside Durham, in wet and foggy conditions.

Most of the battle was relatively even, but eventually the Scots were routed, and the capture of King David II was the beginning of the end, resulting in the English occupying large parts of Scotland.

Eleven years after King David’s capture, he was finally ransomed for 100,000 marks, to be paid over 10 years. A truce was also signed, which lasted nearly 40 years: this marked the end of the Second War of Scottish Independence.

Sarah Roller