Monday, June 24, 2013

Battle of Bannockburn - 699 Years Ago Today

On this day 699 years ago - 24 June 1314, Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, led his vastly outnumbered army into battle against the English under King Edward II at Bannockburn, near Stirling Castle, in Scotland. Edward had more than 2000 battle-hardened knights to Bruce’s 500 horsemen, and a force of 16,000 infantry to Bruce's 6000 foot soldiers.

It was Midsummer Day, the Feast of St John the Baptist.

The day before, an English knight, Sir Henry de Bohun, had seen the Bruce separated from the rest of his army and turned his war-horse to charge him. De Bohun thundered across the field levelling his lance at Bruce. The Bruce stood his ground and waited until the English knight was almost upon him, then stood up in his stirrups and brought his battle-axe crashing down, splitting de Bohun's helmet and skull in two.

The Bruce would own this day as well. 
The Scots had carefully chosen their ground at Bannockburn. They used the natural terrain to counter the threat of Edward’s heavy cavalry and dug small pit traps or ‘pots’ to defend their flanks and force the English to fight them head on. Disastrously, Edward ordered his men to cross the Bannockburn river onto boggy ground. Bruce ordered the Scots to push forward and a forest of spears sent Edward’s army crashing back upon itself. The Scots pushed Edward’s army back to the steep-sided Bannockburn until the river was filled with bodies. King Edward II fled the field, escaped to Dunbar Castle, and then sailed back to England. Others weren't so fortunate - the Scots killed or captured many of the greatest knights of England.

For the next 15 years - until the Bruce's death in 1329, the Scots held the upper hand over the English militarily, including a significant victory at the Battle of Byland in Yorkshire, in which a young, newly crowned Edward III was almost captured.

The ultimate result of Bannockburn was that the Scots had won their independence on the battlefield, an achievement that was to receive legal sanction a few years later when the Scots obtained papal recognition of their claim for independence as laid out in the Declaration of Arbroath (considered by many to be a forerunner to the American Declaration of Independence).


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