Seven hundred years ago, on the the 23rd and 24th June 1314, a battle took place along the banks of the Bannockburn, a small stream that wove a winding route through marshy ground not far from the great castle of Stirling in central Scotland. Recently, I was lucky enough to be taken on a walking tour of the fields, strongly believed to be the site of the battle. It was here that Scots, loyal to Robert the Bruce – Robert I , king of Scots, faced up to a much larger and better resourced army under King Edward II of England.
You might wonder how it was that Scotland came to win a battle against such a mighty foe.
That there were Scots on both sides reflects a complex history of divided loyalties midst the powerful families of Scotland. But to simplify the telling, the battle has always been described in terms of Scotland versus England.
It’s not my intention to describe the battle here but merely to highlight its significance. If you would like to know more about the backdrop to these dramatic events and Scotland’s first War of Independence, there are many well-known historical resources available in bookstores and online. And my novel, ‘Sisters of The Bruce’, which seeks to bring this powerful tale to life, might prove useful.
The battle was managed with precision by Scotland’s great warrior king. Despite his initial reluctance, Robert understood the invaluable benefit of preparation time. With careful deliberation, he chose the site which offered the greatest advantage, then set about training those who had gathered under his banner. This was no easy task!
Since gaining the Scottish throne, Robert had been forced by dire circumstance to engage in guerrilla tactics, utilising hit and run raids rather than entering into formal, structured warfare with invading armies. Given half a chance, his enemies with their skilful archers and armoured knights on horseback, would have made short work of his men.
Generally, the Bruce forces lacked sufficient numbers, weaponry and armour, except that which they had purloined. Ruse and strategy were Robert’s strongest weapons. Over time, with the success of these raids, support flourished.
Before the battle, pits were dug. Vicious iron spikes known as caltrops were concealed. Large platoons of men with long spears, much like huge, spiky hedgehogs, were trained to move about to force the enemy in a particular direction. These schiltrons proved successful in forcing the knights and horses onto the marshy ground and eventually into the fast flowing stream to drown. The slaughter must have been relentless and bloody.
Though the battle was won at enormous cost to both sides, the war for Scotland’s independence waged on for many years. However, through his endeavours, Robert finally secured the release of his female kinfolk who had been imprisoned eight years before, through the ransoming of captured knights.
Today, there is little to see apart from a picturesque burn winding its way amongst lush green fields where cattle graze. Such tranquillity is deceptive!