of Stirling Bridge 11th September 1297
Wallace of Elderslie .v. Earl of Surrey (commander-in-chief
of Scotland under Edward I)
Setting - Royal Burgh of Stirling, Scotland
With many of his Barons hostile, Edward was desperately trying
to raise an army to use against France. This situation left
him with no troops to send north against the Scots. He therefore
decided to release several of the Scottish nobles he had been
keeping prisoner since Dunbar. Among them were Alexander Comyn
and the Earl of Buchan, who were released on the condition that
they quell the disturbances.
the nobles arrived north, they found the situation far worse then
they had been told. They sent various letters to King Edward expressing
their loyalty and hopes of success. In the meantime they actually
did nothing and waited to see how matters turned out. They also
made no effort to prevent their retainers from joining the rebels.
and Moray had not been idle. By the end of August they had captured
Inverness, Elgin, Banff, Aberdeen, Irvine, Fife and Dundee. The
entire country of Scotland, north of the Firth of Forth, was in
the Earl of Surray, Edwards Viceroy in Scotland, decided he should
do something. He was an elderly soldier who had learned over the
years that hundreds of foot soldiers could be scattered by just
a few mounted knights. He was convinced that with most of the
Scottish nobility and therefore their knights either on the sidelines,
in prison, or in the service of Edward, that he could wipe out
the commoners of Wallace and Moray with ease. Gathering a large
host of heavy horse and foot soldiers, he marched towards Sterling,
which was they key to crossing the Forth, and therefore, the key
to the North.
hearing of this approach, Moray and Wallace joined forces and
moved south to meet him and defend Stirling. Overlooking a loop
in the Forth river, which was crossed only by a single bridge,
was an abrupt rock called Abbey Craig, from which a small neck
of ground led back to give safe retreat. Below the northern end
of the bridge was an area of boggy ground almost entirely encircled
by the forth. The Scots deployed their men upon the crag. The
English were camped on the south side of the river. As no army
of foot soldiers had ever prevailed against a large force of heavy
cavalry, they were extremely self confident.
Stewart and the Earl of Lennox were hovering on the outskirts
with a troop of cavalry, uncertain weather to join Moray and Wallace.
They didn't feel the Scots had much of a chance and were hesitant
to risk their force. In an effort to prevent the annihilation
of the countrymen, they approached the Earl of Surrey with the
suggestion that they initiate a parlay. The earl agreed but Wallace
and Moray refused. Two Dominican friars were then dispatched to
Moray and Wallace with offers of generous treatment if they would
yield. "Tell your commander", Wallace replied, "that
we are not here to make peace but to do battle to defend ourselves
and liberate out kingdom. Let them come and we shall prove this
in their very beards."
dawn on September 11, a party of English foot soldiers were sent
over the narrow bridge but were recalled because the Earl had
overslept. Hugh de Cressingham was fuming with impatience. He
urged that no more time be wasted and the earl gave him the order
to cross. He arrogantly led his cavalry across the bridge two
approximately half of his force had crossed the bridge, Wallace
and Moray gave the signal to attack. The main force of the Scots
fell upon the leading ranks on the causeway that lead from the
bridge to the more solid ground some distance from the bridge.
A hand picked detachment seized the bridgehead and began to cut
away its timbers. Jostled from the causeway, the heavy horses
of the armored knights plunged into the deep mire on either side,
unable to move or charge, throwing their riders to the ground.
them the rest of the English army was powerless to help as the
bridge was now destroyed. A massacre now took place. Hugh de Cressingham
was flayed and pieces of his skin were sent throughout the country
as tokens of defiance. Legend has it that Wallace had a baldrick
made from a large piece of it.
Earl of Surrey had not crossed the bridge, aghast at the carnage,
he fled straight to the border. The foot soldiers and the baggage
trains were not as fortunate. As they retreated, James Stewart
and the Earl of Lennox, who were lurking in the woods on either
side until they saw the outcome, fell upon the fleeing groups.
effect was immediate, for the first time, commoners had defeated
mounted knights. The dissenting barons were so shocked that immediately
patched up their disagreements with the King.
you would like to visit this area as part of a highly personalized
small group tour of my native Scotland please e-mail me:
Return To Tour Stirling
to Scottish History