September 11 is well-known around the world for a tragedy of global proportions. But in 1297, in Scotland, it was a day of great celebration for William Wallace had engineered a victory of such gravity against a much larger and better equipped force of mounted  English knights and foot soldiers. Today, we will be exploring the themes of courage and intuition.

I’ve always been impressed at the extraordinary generalship shown by the Scots like Wallace, Bruce, Douglas and Randolph in choosing the terrain to suit the military needs of a smaller force. The English, on the other hand, show themselves to be more rigid in their approach, seeking to engage the enemy on broad expanses where their armoured war horses, the great destriers, could thunder along and trample the enemy underfoot. There’s often a hint of arrogance too as they come upon the Scottish rabble, dressed in rough plaids, barelegged,  brandishing more farm implements than swords and lances, but this cockiness soon sours when they realize they’ve been led into a trap.

Wallace exercised his intuitive capacity to make use of the land and chose to confront the English force at the choke point of Stirling. If  you look at the map of Scotland you will see the strategic value of the site, where forces heading north must find a way through the boggy land alongside the River Forth to cross the wooden bridge at Stirling.

Nearby, the great castle towers over all. The clash of swords and cries of the dying must have drifted up to the occupants who watched the death and mayhem as soldiers and horses lost their footing in the sustained attack, falling from the bridge to drown in the river below. Did the river run red?  I suspect it did!File:The Battle of Stirling Bridge.jpg

Several legendary stories have arisen from this battle.

One which amuses me no end is how Wallace goads the English commanders to attack. Here Wallace intuitively uses the English arrogance to force them across the bridge. One report suggests one of the commanders had even slept late. Can you see him being shaken from his cot, tumbling out of his tent, and responding in anger at the sight of Wallace?  A huge man by the standards of the day, but the leader of an untrained rabble – someone who needs to be taught a lesson!

At the end of the battle, Wallace orders King Edward’s treasurer, Hugh de Cressingham, known by the people as “the treacherer” for bleeding Scotland dry to fill Edward’s war chests, to be skinned and has a scabbard lined with his skin. Thus did Wallace gain the reputation of being a brigand and a bogle.

Those who escaped the carnage rode back to England with their tails between the legs. Perhaps that’s when the Scots began calling the English “tailed dogs!” Something which irked them no end!

Wallace and his men showed enormous courage and bravado that day to stand before an English force and shout jeers. Fortunately, they could back up their actions: they won a mighty physical and psychological victory which cemented in the minds of the Scots, Wallace’s greatness as a man and as a leader. He used fear and jibes to get under the skin of the English commanders and gave the Scots back their sense of purpose and pride. The tide had turned …

Alba gu Brath – Scotland Forever!

(Photos courtesy of Education Scotland and the BBC)

William Wallace and the Battle of Stirling

Yesterday, we were left with one hell of a cliff hanger — King Alexander III of Scotland tumbled from the cliffs of Kinghorn. See what happens next? 

 ‘With the death of the king, many put forward their claims for the crown. One such claimant was old Robert Bruce (the Lord of Annandale and grandfather of Robert the Bruce) who became known as the Competitor. Rival factions threatened to split the country. The Scottish parliament sent envoys to seek out Edward I of England in far off Gascony in southern France, and ask for his advice and protection.’ 

 From our perspective, this seems a naïve act but back then …

‘Scotland’s relationship with England’s monarchs had been on favourable terms: respectful, but wary. Even Alexander III had been prepared to acknowledge, as did many Anglo-Scottish barons, King Edward’s overlordship. However, this extended only to their lands in England, not those in Scotland. Encroachment by their capricious neighbour was an ever-present danger. The country threatened to implode.

They even tried a treaty of sorts — to marry the royal heirs of England and Scotland and join the kingdoms. This was a tried and true formula. Did it work this time?

‘With the Treaty of Birgham, six-year-old Margaret, granddaughter of the deceased King of Scots and daughter of Eric II of Norway, was to marry Edward’s infant son. Some objected, concerned this marriage – where Margaret was, but a pawn to be used – could give the English king the pretext to interfere in the affairs of Scotland. Scottish and English nobles were sent to collect the child. During the voyage, the little Maid of Norway sickened and died. The year was 1290.’

Could it get any worse? Oh yes!

From that time on, battle lines were drawn by the attorneys and adjudicators of the thirteen claimants for the Scottish crown, delivering the complexities of claim and counter claim before a far-from-impartial judge: Edward of England. It was achieved by a piece of adroit political manoeuvring on his part, which would spell trouble for Scotland as an independent country.’

The legal battle came down to two claimants who were descended from an old Scottish king, David I. In the Anglo-Norman world of England and Scotland, rules of hereditary decreed who would be king. But Scotland was also a Celtic nation and the Celts had a different system. Civil war loomed for there were two families prepared to fight over the crown.

‘Principal amongst those claims was that of John Balliol who was perceived to have the most direct, and therefore senior hereditary right of primogeniture to the throne. His claim was supported by the closely-related and powerful Comyn family. One of their territories, the region of Galloway in southwest Scotland, bordered that of their long time rivals: the Bruce family, the Earls of Carrick and Lords of Annandale.’

Find out next time who wins…

Coming Soon!

Over the next few months, some of the key figures from ‘Sisters of The Bruce’ will be featured on this blog in a series of interviews. Read about their experiences first hand and ask your own questions as well. They’re a feisty bunch, so don’t hold back…

But first, forget Braveheart! Much too loose with the truth for me. Instead, let’s take a stroll through some of the key issues facing Scotland and the Bruce family.

Cast your mind back in time. Hear the beat of Scotland’s ancient heart…

‘Scotland was a land of rich and ancient beauty, coveted by many. Its wildness was matched by its people. They were a remarkable mix of races and creeds, both ancient and new: native Picts; Strathclyde Britons; Angles and Saxons from the Germanic continent; Celtic Gaels from Ireland; Vikings and Danes from across the cold North Sea; Flemings from Flanders and the feudal Normans, the newest arrivals, from France. These warriors, traders and settlers formed a loose conglomeration of layered cultures. It is hardly surprising this ill-meshed society was torn apart, often from within by bitter rivalry between families and further weakened by external wars. By the late thirteenth century, the volatile kingdom of Scots was as brittle as dry tinder, ready for the spark which would set it ablaze. Civil war threatened and, to the south, Scotland’s great neighbour flexed its muscles, flint-stone at the ready.

One bitter night in 1286, King Alexander III of Scotland crossed the storm-tossed Forth, making haste to lie with his beautiful French queen. Yolande de Dreux was his second wife, and there was no surviving male heir from this marriage. As his stallion tumbled from the cliffs of Kinghorn, so too had Scotland careened out of control…’




Coming Soon!