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The First Scottish War of Independence
Category: Medieval Europe: Military History
The First War of Scottish Independence started in 1296 by the English invasion of Scotland. It would end as most wars do with a treaty. The reasons for the war started much earlier than that though. During the Gaelic invasions of the 5th Century C.E. from Ireland, the native Picts of Scotland were conquered. These warlike people, though not unlike the native Picts, would have their clans commit border raids in England during the 13th Century. England could use this as a fact to justify an invasion, but that would just not be the case. The invasion would happen based on the fights over who would take the Scottish throne after King Alexander III died.
When King Alexander III of Scotland died in 1286, he left his three-year old granddaughter as his heir. In 1290, the “Guardians of Scotland”, the controlling body of nobles, signed the treaty of Birgham, which would make change the history of Scotland. This would betroth Margaret to Edward, Prince of Wales, son of King Edward I (Edward “Longshanks”the hammer of the Scots) Margaret was in Norway at the time, and on her voyage back, died shortly after reaching the Orkney Islands. Her death would lead to a surprising total of thirteen noblemen that had legitimate claims to the Scottish Throne. One of whom was Robert the Bruce. Scotland had a group of auditors to decide whom would become king. With so many claimants, Edward I agreed to act as the arbitrator. However, his motive was not to at all a peaceful motive. It was to gain a puppet king in Scotland so that soon enough Scotland would become an English territory. The agreement was that the king that Edward selected would agree to acknowledge Edward as his overlord. In the end, John Baliol, a descendant of King David I, would be elected on August 3, 1291. He would be crowned over a year later on November 30, 1292.
Obviously, King John I was not a powerful Scottish king, but just a puppet of the English. Edward I now looked to Scotland as, possibly, a future state of England, if he could gain it. However, Baliol finally did stand up for Scotland. He would sign a treaty of alliance with France and Norway(though Norway did sign the treaty, they never once would uphold it throughout history), the Auld(Old) Alliance , and this would effect history for centuries. Under this agreement, if any of the three nations were invaded by a foreign country, the other two countries in the alliance would invade the aggressor. One example of this the Hundred Years' War, during which many Scots went to France as either warriors or mercenaries to help the French combat the English invasion. Some would even stay there as mercenaries after the war. Edward I was outraged because he was currently at war with France, so he declared war and invaded Scotland. At the Battle of Dunbar, on April 27, 1296, a Scottish army of 40,000, outnumbering the English army of 12,000 three-to-one. The English forces were commanded by Earl John de Warenne. The Scottish did have a huge terrain advantage as they held the high ground. They would try to shock they English and they charged down from it. The Scots were not as well disciplined as the English, and when the well prepared English held, the surprised Scots ran and fled, as most contemporary armies would do. Now, Edward I claimed himself as the King of Scotland. This, however, would lead to rebellion. Andrew de Moray, a Scoto-Norman mercenary knight whom probably had the most military experience of anyone in Scotland, and William Wallace, a Scottish knight of the minor gentry, would both rebel against the English.
Andrew de Moray
Andrew de Moray's movement would be in Northern Scotland, while Wallace's movement would be in the south. There are two legends to why Wallace rebelled against the English. One says that two English soldiers challenged Wallace at the marketplace about his catching of fish. A violent fight soon ensued, and both of the soldiers were killed. Another legend says that Wallace had murdered the Governor of Dundee's son because he had continually insulted Wallace's family. Either way, Wallace held a great hate for the English. He would later kill the English sheriff of Lanark, William Hesselrig, because the man had brutally killed his wife. Wallace would soon lead a revolt and gain a few victories. However, the nobles of Scotland would agree to a peace treaty with the English at Irvine. This hurt the movement for rebellion, as the people may not see it fit to go against the nobles' wishes. Now, William Wallace would move his forces to join Andrew Moray's forces at Stirling, where the famous Battle of Stirling Bridge would take place.
The Battle of Stirling Bridge took place on September 11, 1297. The Scottish forces, under Moray and Wallace, numbered around 10,000-20,000 men(though some nationalistic sources will say 40,000-60,000). The English were commanded by Earl John de Warenne the same man who, though outnumbered nearly three-to-one, had beaten the Scots in 1296 at the Battle of Dunbar. He had an army of about 60,000 men, made up of elite heavy cavalry, Welsh longbowmen, and heavy infantry. Though he had a great success at the Battle of Dunbar, Earl John de Warenne would not have the same result at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Andrew de Moray and William Wallace had chosen the battleground. They chose to not “fight like honorable gentlemen” and would force the English to cross Stirling Bridge onto boggy ground, where the Scottish army awaited them. The English were to confident in their cavalry, and that was what would help undo them. Earl John had seen how the Scots had fled at Dunbar so quickly when they saw a disciplined English force that were defeating them, and Earl John may have thought that this same thing would happen at Stirling. His infantrymen had crossed the narrow, wooden bridge of Stirling, and were about to set up infantry lines. The Scottish forces were waiting on their flank, at Ochil Hills, and had a perfect view of their army. This was a perfect situation for an ambush, and the Scots capitalized on it. His men charged into battle into the English lines, and the English soldiers were stuck between the river and the Scottish spears. These troops stood no chance against the Scots, and were thus eliminated. Behind the infantry, the English cavalry was crossing the bridge. They were also no match for spears. Many of their horses would drown, and though many tried to escape, only one would. Many of their horses would drown, and though many tried to escape, only one would. The remaining English army would split into two and retreat.
This victory seemed a perfect victory for the Scots, but, there was a bad side to it. Andrew de Morray, the man who is given very little credit throughout history, would die from his wounds a week later. It was really his idea that the Scots fight at Stirling Bridge. William Wallace would get the honor as the Guardian of Scotland from the nobles of Scotland because of this battle later in 1298. Also, it is said in legend that during the battle, William Wallace had slaughtered hundreds of English soldiers at this battle with his six-foot sword. English propaganda would make Wallace into a monstrous barbarian by saying that he had brutally killed English monks for his own amusement. Andrew de Morray would have gotten the title of “Guardian of Scotland” too, if he would have not died a week later from his wounds. The Battle of Stirling Bridge would prove to be a great victory, but the only reason that the Scots had won is because they had not drawn up into disciplined lines against the English. The English longbowmen had not been used, and the Scots would see how great that their effect could be against their light infantry at the Battle of Falkirk.
The victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge gave the Scots some breathing room. The English did not invade for a while. However, the reason for this was that Edward was preoccupied with his war in France. In 1298, the French king Philip IV would sign a truce with the English. He was breaking the terms of theAuld Alliance , which would have forced him to have war with the English. Edward now went back to England to prepare an army to invade Scotland. His army was huge, possibly of 90,000 men, and Edward I himself would command his troops at Stirling. The Scots, however, had a small army of 10,000 men. This army was made up of about 9,000 infantry and 1,000 longbowmen and cavalry. They would engage at Falkirk.
The Scottish spearmen would be set up in four schiltrons, or circles of spearmen, which are very similar to the British infantry squares used at the Battle of Waterloo. Schiltrons were invented by the Scots many years earlier, and were not always the best weapon against cavalry. They were especially bad against arrow fire. The Welsh longbowmen would cause much havoc in their ranks. Once the arrow barrage was over, the English knights charged. Many got around on the left and right flanks, and caused much havoc in the schiltrons. Before this point, the Scottish noble cavalry, that had been held in reserve had already fled the battle. This could possibly be due to the fact that Wallace had planned for them to make a suicide charge into the English ranks. The English did not only charge their cavalry though. The Irish mercenaries and Welsh longbowmen would be ordered to help the charge. However, the Welsh would refuse to. Still, the Irish mercenaries would perform well and charge into the center of the Scottish army. In the end, the Scottish army would be severely beaten. In all, nearly 9,000 Scots died. However, William Wallace would survive the battle. His position as the Guardian of Scotland would be taken away due to this loss. Robert the Bruce and John Coryn would take his place. It is possible that Andrew de Morray would have planned the battle out better. He may have made the English cross a bridge, or take some advantage of terrain. This is only speculation though. It is probable that the Scottish would have still lost to such a huge army no matter what commander they would have been under.
William Wallace would not take part in any other military campaign for the next few years. John Baliol was sent to Italy for imprisonment by the Pope. William Wallace would travel to France to seek aid. It may be possible that William Wallace did go to Italy. The English would later siege Stirling Castle in 1304. This battle was minor, as the Scottish garrison would surrender. However, it was the last major stronghold left in Scotland. The nobles would then sign a truce with Edward. It seemed that the wars would end, as William Wallace would be captured by English knights near Glasgow. However, at this same period in time, Robert the Bruce had made a secret alliance with another noblemen, William Lamberton, to try to get Robert on the throne. Wallace would be tried and found guilty of treason to his true king, Edward I, though he had never once sworn allegiance to him. His allegiance was to the absent king John Baliol. William Wallace would then be brutally executed on August 23, 1305. His head would be displayed atop a pike on London Bridge, and his limbs would be sent to Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth. As happens many times in history, the death of a leader can become the death of a martyr. Rebellion would soon happen again in Scotland.
Robert the Bruce was planning a rebellion to get himself on the throne of Scotland. He had killed his main rival, John Coryn, because John had broken a promise and told King Edward of Robert the Bruce's plans. The Pope would then excommunicate Robert the Bruce for this murder. Robert would soon be crowned by the nobles as the King of Scotland and gained about 5,000 troops to face the English at the Battle of Methven. His troops outnumbered the 3,000 English, but due to a surprise night raid, very few Scots would survive the battle. Robert the Bruce was ejected from the Scottish mainlands and went to the Western Isles where he would plan to return. In 1307, he did just that and returned back to Scotland and won many battles, which increased his army's size. Edward I would die in the very same year, and this would give Robert the Bruce much strength. His campaigns for the next seven years would free much of northern Scotland. His forces would march on Stirling castle. The besiegers lacked siege equipment, and thus, would not be able to take a castle. The governor of the castle would send a letter calling for relief to King Edward II, and a relief force was sent. The relief force numbered some 25,000 men. It included 2,500 heavy cavalry and 2,000 Welsh longbowmen. The Scottish army of 9,000 men would meet this army at the historical battle of Bannockburn.
Robert the Bruce adresses his troops before the Battle of Bannockburn
Before the battle, Robert the Bruce gave an inspiring speech to his men. Though it is not known what exaclty this speech contained, Robert Burns made a poem entitled "Scots Wha Hae"(Scots Who Have). The following words are in Scots, the medieval language of Scotland based off of Middle English. “Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled, Scots, wham Bruce has aften led, Welcome tae your gory bed Or to victorie! Now's the day, and now's the hour: See the front o battle lour, See approach proud Edward's power – Chains and slaverie! Wha will be a traitor knave? Wha will fill a coward's grave? Wha sae base as be a slave? – Let him turn, and flee! Wha for Scotland's King and Law Freedom's sword will strongly draw, Freeman stand or freeman fa', Let him follow me! By oppression's woes and pains, By your sons in servile chains, We will drain our dearest veins But they shall be free! Lay the proud usurpers low! Tyrants fall in every foe! Liberty's in every blow! Let us do or dee!” The words to the speech would later become the popular Scottish patriotic song “Scots Wha Hae”, which is still sung as a national anthem at some football games.
The first clash of the battle was 500 English cavalry engaging the Scottish schiltrons. The Scots held their lines. The English cavalry kept retreating and charging into the schiltrons to try to break the lines, but to no avail. The cavalry force was decimated with very little loss to the Scottish troops. Robert the Bruce was actually concerned about the English cavalry charge, and thought that his men were losing, so he sent reinforcements. To his surprise, his reinforcements found that the English cavalry had been beaten. The English army was advancing across the Bannockburn, and one English knight, Henry De Bohun, saw Robert the Bruce going back to the Scottish ranks and tried to kill him. However, Robert the Bruce heard him coming, and killed him with his axe. If Henry would have killed Robert the Bruce, the whole history of the British Isles could have been changed. The Scottish army would have been demoralized, and they may have not fought the Battle of Bannockburn after their leader's death. The English were camped between the Gillies Hill and the Bannockburn gorge. Robert the Bruce had come up with a plan. Between the battleground and the English camp, was a small gorge. This would slow the English progress. Robert planned to attack the English there.
The English cavalry had crossed the gorge and the Scots had formed up along the plain. The Scots formed in their schiltrons, and they held their lines against the 2,500 English knights. The remaining retreating cavalry caused much panic in the English army. The longbowmen, whom were still crossing the gorge, fired, and hit some of their retreating cavalry while killing few of their intended targets. The longbowmen were soon scattered by 500 light Scottish cavalry commanded by Keith the Marischal of Scotland whom came out from the woods. It has been speculated by some historians that some of these cavalry were exiled Templar Knights, but there is no real source for this. The Scots then charged on the English infantry still remaining near the gorge, and pushed them all of the way back onto the edge of the Bannockburn. The English army was decisively defeated because of the great use of terrain by Robert the Bruce. The two decisive victories that the Scottish won in their first war of independence were due to the strategic use of terrain. Later, in 1328, King Robert I would sign the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton with King Edward III(King Edward II had been deposed and killed in 1327), which would officially end the war. The war had been won by the underdogs. The Scottish did not have the weapons or the manpower to beat the English, yet with the use of superior tactics, they won their independence from England.