History of the Stewarts | Battles and Historic Events
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Bruce hadn´t got nearly so many men - his army probably numbered around 5,000 or so. The Scottish foot soldiers were deployed in four divisions ; the first was commanded by the king himself; the second, the king´s nephew the earl of Moray, the third was led by the king´s brother, Edward Bruce and was mostly men from the north -east with a few Galwegians. The third division was under the command of Walter the High Steward, at least nominally, although it is possible command was taken by the more experienced Sir James Douglas. After eight years of successful guerrilla warfare and plundering the north of England for booty, the Scots had created an experienced battle-hardened army.
In June 1314, Edward II crossed the border only to find the road to Stirling blocked by the Scots army. Bruce had carefully chosen his ground: - to the south of Stirling castle, where the road ran through the New Park, a royal hunting park. It is likely that Bruce planned a defensive encounter, digging small hidden pits designed to prevent a charge by the English heavy cavalry along the roadway, and keeping the Torwood behind him for easier withdrawal.
The battle opened with one of the most celebrated individual contests in Scottish history. Sighting a group of Scots withdrawing into the wood, the English vanguard, made up of heavy cavalry, charged. As they clashed with the Scots, an English knight, Sir Henry de Bohun, spotted Robert Bruce. If de Bohun had killed or captured Bruce, he would have become a chivalric hero. So, spurring his warhorse to the charge, he lowered his lance and bared down on the king. Bruce, an experienced warrior, didn´t panic, but mounted and met the charge. Dodging the lance, he brought his battle axe down on de Bohun´s helmet, striking him dead.
Two of Edward´s experienced commanders, Sir Henry Beaumont and Sir Robert Clifford, attempted to outflank the Scots and cut off their escape route – very nearly surprising the Scots. At the last moment, however, Thomas Randolph´s schiltron dashed out of the wood and caught the English cavalry by surprise. A ferocious melee ensued. Without archers, the cavalry found they were unable to get through the dense thicket of Scots spearmen, even resorting to throwing their swords and maces at them, until the Scots pushed them back and forced them into flight.
The Scots had won the first day. Their morale was high and Bruce´s new tactic of using the schiltrons offensively rather than statically, as Wallace had used them at Falkirk, appeared to be working. For the English the setbacks of the first day were disappointing. Fearing Bruce might mount a night attack, they encamped in the Carse of Balquhiderock. The following day they still hoped to draw Bruce into a full-scale, set-piece battle where their decisive Welsh longbowmen could be brought to bear rather than let Bruce return to guerrilla warfare.
At this critical moment, Sir Alexander Seton, a Scots noble in the English army, defected to Bruce bringing him vital intelligence of Edward´s army: its confined position and the low morale within the English camp. Bruce decided to risk all in the morning and face Edward in open battle.
At dawn the Scots ate their breakfast and advanced out of the wood to face the enemy. Abbot Maurice of Inchaffrey walked out in front of the army, led mass and blessed the Scots as they knelt in prayer. An archery duel followed, but the Scots schiltron rapidly took the offensive in order to avoid its inevitable outcome. Edward Bruce´s schiltron advanced on the English vanguard, felling the Earl of Gloucester and Sir Robert Clifford, while Randolph´s schiltron closed up on their left.
The English knights now found themselves hemmed in between the Scots schiltrons and the mass of their own army and could bring few of their archers to bear. Some broke out on the Scots flank and rained arrows into the Scots ranks, but they were quickly dispersed by Sir Robert Keith´s Scots cavalry; the rest were badly deployed, their arrows falling into the backs of their own army.
In the centre of the field there was ferocious hand to hand combat between knights and spearmen as the battle hung in the balance. At this crucial point Bruce committed his own schiltron. Under their fresh onslaught, the English began to give ground. The cry "On them! On them! They fail!", arose as the English were driven back into the burn. The battle´s momentum was obvious by this point. Edward II was escorted away. As his royal standard departed, panic set in. The Scots schiltrons hacked their way into the English army. Those fleeing caused chaos in the massed infantry behind them. In the rout that followed hundreds of men and horses were drowned in the burn desperately trying to escape.
The battle was over. English casualties were heavy: thousands of infantry, a hundred knights and one earl lay dead on the field. Some escaped the confusion: the earl of Pembroke and his Welsh infantry made it safely to Carlisle, but many more, including many knights and the earl of Hereford, were captured as they fled through the south of Scotland. Edward II with 500 knights was pursued by Sir James "the Black" Douglas until they reached Dunbar and the safety of a ship home.
The capture of Edward would have meant instant English recognition of the Scots demands. As it was, they could absorb such a defeat and continue the war. For the Scots it was a resounding victory. Bruce was left in total military control of Scotland, enabling him to transfer his campaign to the north of England.
with thanks to John Sadler: Scottish Battles; and Wikipedia