King Edward I was a tough old monarch. He was a ruthless and effective combat commander who required servitude, rectitude and compliance with English laws and traditions. Previously he had crushed the Scottish national movement and drawn and quartered the upstart independence Scots leader William Wallace. And Edward I then claimed Scotland as the property of the United Kingdom. Now in Scotland there was a deucedly troubling power vacuum that now had to be faced. Robert the Bruce and John Comyn both of noble bloodlines, both claimed that they were the natural king of Scotland. At Greyfriars Church in 1306 in a small Scottish town of Dumbfries Comyn and Robert met, and there a rumpus ensued.
Robert the Bruce killed John Comyn. Having killed a man at the altar of a church, Robert received bad comments and suffers a damaged reputation. Now, he was an outlaw, having killed a member of a royal bloodline. Edward I brought forces onto the Scottish Islands to pursue Robert the Bruce. Robert in turn decided that this was his chance to claim the kingship as there was no else in contention, even on the horizon. He went to a Bishop and asked the Bishop to coronate him.
Suddenly Robert was the closest thing the Scottish nation will have to national monarchy. He had enough royal blood to satisfy naysayers and the Bishop’s support cements this for now. The MacDuff family was the ceremonial designator of Scottish kings and they also supported the Coronation of Robert the Bruce. Edward I tortured members of Robert’s family in a bid to get him to expose himself. He had Mary, Bruce’s sister hung in a cage for years, just to show people he had possession of them.
Despite being crowned King, Robert had to hide to escape the pursuing parties of Edward I. Edward II his son had won no respect from the nobles around him. They listened to Edward II the way to US military listens to Donald Trump. Edward II then began a bromance with noble named Piers Gaveston , First Earl of Cornwall. The relationship looks to be a sexual one, and Edward II lavished upon Gaveston all kinds of favors in the form of land and gifts.
Suddenly and unexpectedly Edward I died. His abortive son was now in charge. Robert quipped, “I feel the bones of Edward I more than the presence of Edward II.”
Just to be sure this was a mistake, nobles had Gaveston killed, devastating Edward II.
Robert the Bruce meanwhile had curated a hardened fighting force and began one of the most successful insurgencies against the Crown. Every few weeks Robert led men into the night to lay siege to the English castles erected on Scottish soil. One by one, the castles were burned or they were breeched until they made no sense. Ed Bruce, Robert’s brother, was making headway in his own efforts to survive with the hope of National Scottish identity. He decided to strike a bargain with the English. The castle burning actually worked as a policy and practice, and with each one that burned, the ruling power of the English evanesced. On June 1313, Edward the Bruce told the British leaders at Stirling castle, Thomas Mowbray, that he has one year to reinforce Stirling castle. If he does, the English will be left alone. If not, the English will leave.
Of course Robert the Bruce was furious at the deal and never intended to honor it. He feared all it would do is bring a huge English force down on them.
So as the insurgency grew the siege did too, and the deal for peace was on.
Understand that this was a classic case of poor peasants trying to defend themselves against rich cavalry laden nobles. Poor troops had no weapons save for sharpened stick. They were facing nobles rich enough to have a battle horse, armor, and training enough to kill a foot soldier.
Edward II is trying to raise an army from nobles living in Scotland. Hugely unpopular, Edward II could barely raise any interest. At the end of the day he brought 20,000 mounted knights to the battlefield.
Robert the Bruce used pikes, sharpened stick to arm the peasants of Scotland to stand against the usurpers. He trained them and trained them. A phalanx of staves was a poor man’s defense against well armored cavalry. These twelve foot pikes, used judiciously should stop the most muscular of cavalry charges.
The recruitment for Mobray and Edward I went poorly and not all of the 20,000 showed up. The coordination to the battlefield was badly executed and those who showed on the battlefield on June 24th 1314 were not in a position to support each other. They were tired, many had become lost and dragged their way back to their assignments. Additionally the Scots had prepared the battlefield by placing traps, false fall away pits and other ways to combat engineer the battlefield in their favor.
Robert created a fairly large stave laden groups that defended in a circle that he called Schiltrons. He had spent time training them to understand that they could win. He taught each one to be mobile enough to attack in force together against cavalry in any direction. This was a typically fashioned confrontation in the middle ages. Cavalry was expensive, so was armor and swords and lances, all combat for the rich warrior, an ostentatious way of killing people who were lesser than you.
On June 23rd, 1314, one day before Edward the Bruce’s brokered deal expired. Troops formed up against each other. Skirmish lines undulated and bucked against the heat of the day.
It’s interesting to note that a Knight named Sir Henry De Bohun, nephew of the Earl of Hereford made an open made dash to attack Robert the Bruce himself. All in a glory seeking moment. Robert ended de Bohun’s ambitions with an ax.
Then Edward II decided to order his knights across the shallow end of the Bannockburn River. It was a gallimaufry, an absolute cluster.
That was the end of the first day’s battle. Edward II held no sway with his minions and they all kept lumbering into the theatre of battle unkempt, unorganized and began drinking and partying and all in the full conviction that the Scots would run as soon as they English showed up on the battlefield.
Sir Alexander Seton of Dunbar deserted the English and came to inform Robert that the Brits were completely demoralized and weak and uncoordinated. He advised Robert to attack as soon as possible.
The next day, the Scots all kneeled to pray at the outset of set piece battle. Mobray thought they were surrendering and ordered an advance. The Knights advanced and noticing that the Scots were not surrendering, they began a discombobulated advance. Throughout the day the Schiltrons held and the English knights could go no further. English longbow men killed so many of their own troops their attack was called off.
Soon it was the English that began to run and it became a rout where most of the Knights were surrounded and killed. Their seconds and horses were also slaughtered.
Caught in a cul de sac of the Bannockburn river, 20000 knights were defeated by 8000 foot soldiers, armed with sharp sticks and axes.