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Robert the Bruce

Bruce at Bannockburn, Scotland

The famous battle of Bannockburn, 24th June 1314, was fought for the relief of Stirling Castle, which was besieged by the Scottish forces under Robert the Bruce. The English governor of Stirling had promised that, if he were not relieved by that date, he would surrender the castle, and Edward II. hastily collected an army in the northern and midland counties of England.

Robert the Bruce made no attempt to defend the border, and selected his defensive position on the Bannock Burn, 2 1/2 miles South of Stirling. His front was covered by the marshy bed of the stream, his left flank by its northerly bend towards the Forth, his right by a group of woods, behind which, until the English army appeared, the Scots concealed themselves. Two corps were left in the open in observation, one at St Ninians to watch the lower course of the burn, one to guard the point at which the Falkirk-Stirling road crosses the burn.

On the 23rd the van of the army of Edward, which numbered about 60,000 against the 40,000 of the Scots, appeared to the south of the burn. and at once despatched two bodies of men towards Stirling, the first by the direct road, the other over the lower Bannock Burn near its junction with the Forth. The forner was met by the Scottish outpost on the road, and here occurred the famous single combat in which Robert the Bruce, though not fully armed for battle, killed Sir Henry Bohun. The English corps which took the other route was met and after a severe struggle defeated by the second Scottish outpost near St Ninians.

The English army assembled for battle on the following day. Early on St Johns day the Scottish army took up its assigned positions. Three corps of pikemen in solid masses formed the first line, which was kept out of sght behind the crest until the enemy advanced in earnest. A line of pottes (military pits) had been previously dug to give additional protection to the front, which extended for about one mile from wing to wing. The reserve under Bruce consisted of a corps of pikemen and a squadron of 500 chosen men-at-arms under Sir Robert Keith, the marischal of Scotland.

The line of the defenders was unusually dense; Edward, in forming up on an equal front with greatly superior numbers, found his army almost hopelessly cramped. The attacking army was formed in an unw-ieldy mass of ten. battles, each consisting of horse and foot, and the whole formed in three lines each of three battles, with the tenth battle as a reserve in rear. In this order the English moved down into the valley for a direct attack, the cavalry of each battle in first line, the foot in second. Ignoring the lesson of Falkirk (q.v.), the mounted men rode through the morass and up the slope, which was now crowned by the three great masses of the Scottish pikemen.

The attack of the Eng]ish failed to make any gap in the line of defence, many knights and men-atarms were injured by falling into the pits, and the battle became a milie, the Scots, with better fortune than at Falkirk and Flodden, presenting always an impenetrable hedge of spears, the English, too stubborn to draw off, constantly trying in vain to break it down. So great was the press that the battles of the second line which followed the first were unable to reach the front and stood on the slope, powerless to take part in the battle on the crest. The advance of the third English line only made matters worse, and the sole attempt to deploy the archers was crushed with great slaughter by the charge of Keiths mounted men.

Robert the Bruce threw his infantry reserve into the battle, the arrows of the English archers wounded the men-at-arms of their own side, and the remnants of the leading line were tired and disheartened when the final impetus to their rout was given by the historic charge of the gillies, some thousands of Scottish campfollowers who suddenly emerged from the woods, blowing horns, waving such weapons as they possessed, and holding aloft improvised banners. Their cries of slay, slayl seemed to the wearied English to betoken. the advance of a great reserve, and in a few minutes the whole English army broke and fled in disorder down the slope. Many perished in the burn, and the demoralized fugitives were hunted by the peasantry until they re-crossed the English border. One earl, forty-two barons and bannerets, two hundred knights, seven hundred esquires and probably 10,000 foot were killed in the battle and the pursuit. One earl, twenty-two barons and bannerets and sixty-eight knights fell into the hands of the victors, whose total loss of 4000 men included, it is said, only two knights.

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