The Battle of Bannockburn was fought over the course of two days on June 23-24, 1314
. It pitted some 10,000 Scots -- 6-7,000 heavy infantry
, 500 light cavalry
and 3,000 irregulars
(the 'wee folk
,' lightly-armed, poorly-trained troops and camp followers) -- led by their king, Robert the Bruce
against nearly 20,000 English
(16-17,000 heavy infantry and archers
, plus 2,500 heavy cavalry
), commanded by King Edward II
, in what proved to be the most critical battle in the War of Scottish Independence.
By 1313, the Scots had captured all of the English-held castles in Scotland, save for Stirling Castle. In early 1313, the castle was besieged for three months. Seeing the futility of the siege, the Scottish commander Edward Bruce (the king's brother) and Stirling's castellan Sir Phillip Mowbray came to an agreement: if an English army didn't relieve Stirling by Midsummer's Day 1314, then Mowbray would surrender the castle.
As that day grew near, the Scottish army set up defensive positions atop a ridge that looms above the northern bank of the Bannock Burn, controlling the road leading north from England to Stirling. The west flank of the Scottish position was guarded by thick woods; the eastern approach to the castle would lead the English through a nasty tidal swamp. To further reinforce their positions, the Scots dug "pots" (small spiked pits, camouflaged from view) along their front.
Day 1 (June 23, 1314)
Edward approached the Scottish position in the early afternoon of June 23. After surveying the area with Mowbray, he ordered his van, under the joint command of the Earls of Gloucester and Hereford to cross the burn and engage the Scots. Edward also dispatched a force of 600 horse under Sir Robert Clifford and Sir Henry Beaumont along the Scots' flank to cut off the main escape route to the north.
As Gloucester's division crossed the burn, a bold English knight named Sir Henry de Bohun challenged the Bruce. Robert spurred his grey pony towards de Bohun, who was astride a much larger warhorse. Bruce dodged de Bohun's lance, wheeled his pony and proceeded to split de Bohun's head to the neck with a blow from his axe.
Gloucester's division charged the Scots, and entered into vicious close-quarters fighting with the battle (division) belonging to Robert the Bruce. The Scottish pikemen mauled the English, and pushed them back to the English lines. Clifford's cavalry was engaged by the battle commanded by the Earl of Moray, but only after a stiff rebuke from Bruce. Moray formed his battle into a schiltron, a crude defensive formation whereby the entire battle forms a circular mass of pikes, not unlike the Macedonian phalanx. Clifford's detachment was routed, with survivors fleeing either to Stirling or their own lines.
That evening, the English sought better ground, and forded the burn during the night of the 23rd and the early morning of the 24th. They took up positions on The Carse, a grassy field to the east of the Scots' original lines that was bounded by the Bannock Burn on the east and the Pelstream Burn to the north and northwest.
Day 2 (June 24, 1314)
During the early morning of the 24th, an English knight named Sir Alexander Seton deserted his camp and approached the Scots. He informed the Scots of the waning morale of Edward's army, and urged The Bruce to attack. After mass and a rousing speech, the Scots advanced on the English position, much to the surprise of their still-overconfident foes.
The Scots' advanced with a front of three battles -- from left to right: Sir James Douglas, Moray, and Edward Bruce -- with Robert Bruce's battle, Sir Robert Keith's cavalry and the wee folk held in reserve. Repeatedly, the English attacked, but could not penetrate the schiltrons, and suffered grievous casualties. Gloucester, again at the van, was one of the first men killed this day, but he would not be the first man of title to fall. Also killed were Clifford, Sir Giles d'Argentine and Sir John Comyn (a Scotsman, and rival of the Bruce for the Scottish throne).
Edward managed to flank the Scots with a number of longbowmen, who caused several casualties among Douglas' battle. Bruce ordered Keith to drive off these archers from their position on the north bank of the Pelstream Burn, which was accompished in short order. At this point, some of the English began to break, and Bruce ordered in his reserves -- his own battle, comprised of highlanders and men from the western isles.
At this point, Edward struck camp and began to flee. The effect of the "highland charge" combined with the sight of their king leaving the field of battle was too much for the English. The rout was on. To add to the chaos, the wee folk could not restrain themselves any longer, and were compelled to charge into the fray. Some accounts state that the wee folk were mistaken for an entirely new Scottish army, and incited panic amongst the remaining sassenachs. Among the English titled men, casualties were near catastrophic, with many drowning themselves in the Bannock Burn. Several prisoners were taken, including the Earl of Hereford, Sir Marmaduke Tweng and Ralph de Monthermer.
Edward attempted to flee to Stirling, but he was denied entry by Mowbray (who surrendered the castle shortly afterwards). He eluded capture by the Scots, and eventually reached Dunbar, where he hired a boat to return him to England.
With the English routed, Scotland's immediate security was guaranteed. Many of the prisoners taken were ransomed, both to fill the treasury and to exchange for Scots held captive by the English (including Bruce's queen, his daughter and the Bishop of Glasgow).
Bannockburn also allowed the Scots to seize the initiative. For fourteen years following the battle, Scots armies would raid northern England for plunder and to exert pressure on Edward to acknowledge Scots sovereignty. After Edward III took the throne in 1327, a lasting peace was struck through the marriage of Bruce's son David to Edward's sister Joan. In 1329, the Pope recognized Bruce and his successors as the sovereigns of Scotland, and reversed Bruce's excommunication.
Seymour, William; Battles in Britain 1066-1746