Friday, 24 June 2016

The Battle of Bannockburn: A Victory for Scottish Independence

On the first day of battle, Scottish leader Robert the Bruce engaged in single combat with the English knight Henry de Bohun and knocked his brains out with an axe. This led to a surge in Scottish morale and a charge that broke the English lines. Robert the Bruce later complained that this blow broke his favorite axe.

In the light of current events, I thought I'd mention that it's the 702nd anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, when on 23-24 June 1314, a Scottish force destroyed an invading English army, securing Scottish independence.

The First War for Scottish Independence was already well underway. Stirling Castle in Scotland was held by the English but under siege by a Scottish force. The defenders had already agreed to surrender if they weren't relieved by mid-summer. The castle was vital to the war effort of both sides since it dominated the route into the Highlands.

King Edward II of England personally led an army of an estimated 2,000 heavy cavalry and 15,000 infantry, most of them longbowmen, to relieve the castle. Facing him was an army under the Scottish king Robert the Bruce numbering no more than 10,000, only about 500 of whom were mounted.

Stirling Castle

Repeated English cavalry charges failed to break the Scottish formations and after two days of bloody fighting, the English withdrew, having suffered heavy losses. They would suffer more. As they made their way south, they were harassed by a Scottish pursuing force and isolated English soldiers were set upon by local peasants. King Edward got away, but 700 men-at-arms were killed, another 500 captured for ransom, and up to 11,000 English infantry never made it home. The Scottish lost at most 4,000 men, although some historians put their casualties much lower. Stirling Castle surrendered and Scottish independence was secure for a time.

Scotland did, of course, end up in the United Kingdom eventually, but will it remain so? With every single Scottish county voting against leaving the European Union, some by huge margins, there is almost certainly going to be another vote in Scotland regarding the independence issue. Hopefully no one will get their heads caved in with an axe this time.

Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
The earliest depiction of the battle comes from the Scotichronicon (c.1440), a book of Scottish history written by Walter Bower


S.T. Ranscht said...

Fascinating. Having just watched the latest Game of Thrones episode, Battle of the Bastards, I can imagine with unfortunate clarity what the Battle of Bannockburn must have looked like.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It will be interesting to see what happens.
Broke his favorite axe - funny.

D.G. Hudson said...

I'm interested in the outcome due to my Scottish ancestry. I wouldn't blame Scotland for leaving, but isn't all this breaking apart going to cause a lot of border hassles?

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