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Significant Scots
Robert the Bruce, King of Scots
Part 5

The English king having effected a temporary reconciliation with his refractory nobility, lost no time in making all the preparations which his great power and resources allowed of, to relieve the castle of Stirling, in the first place, and recover the almost entirely revolted kingdom to his authority. He summoned the whole power of the English barons to meet him in arms at Berwick on the 11th of June; invited to his aid Eth O’Connor, chief of the native Irish of Connaught, and twenty—six other Irish chieftains; summoned his English subjects in Ireland to attend his standard, and put both them and the Irish auxiliaries under the command of the earl of Ulster. "So vast," says Barbour, "was the army which was now collected, that nothing nearly so numerous had ever before been arrayed by England, and no force that Scotland could produce might possibly have been able to withstand it in the open field." A considerable number of ships were also ordered for the invasion of Scotland by sea, and for transporting provisions and warlike stores for the use of the army.

The Scottish king, meanwhile, used every effort in his power to provide adequately against the approaching contest, resolved resolutely to defend the honour and independence of the crown and kingdom which through so many dangers and difficulties he had achieved. Re appointed a general rendezvous of his forces at the Torwood, between Falkirk and Stirling. The fighting men assembled in consequence of his summons, somewhat exceeded thirty thousand in number, besides about fifteen thousand unarmed and undisciplined followers of the camp, according to the mode in those times. Two days before the battle, Bruce took up his position in a field not far from Stirling, then known by the name of New Park, which had the castle on the left, and the brook of Bannock on the right. The banks of the rivulet were steep and rugged, and the ground between it and Stirling, being part of a park or chase, was partly open, and partly broken by copse-wood and marshy ground. The place was naturally well adapted for opposing and embarrassing the operations of cavalry; and to strengthen it yet more, those places whereby horsemen might have access, were covered with concealed pit-falls, so numerous and close together, that according to our ancient authority, their construction might be likened to a honey-comb. They were a foot in width, and between two and three feet deep, many rows being placed, one behind the other, the whole being slightly covered with sods and brushwood, so as not to be obvious to an impetuous enemy. The king divided his regular forces into four divisions. Three of these occupied the intended line of battle, from the brook of Bannock, which covered his right flank, to the village of St Ninians, where their left must have remained somewhat exposed to the garrison of Stirling in their rear; Bruce, perhaps, trusting in this disposition some little to the honour of Moubray, who by the terms of the treaty was precluded from making any attack, but probably more to his real inability of giving any effectual annoyance. Edward Bruce commanded the right wing of these three divisions, which was strengthened by a strong body of cavalry under Keith, the rnareschal of Scotland, to whom was committed the charge of attacking the English archers; Sir James Douglas, and the young Stewart of Scotland, led the central division; and Thomas Randolph, now earl of Moray, the left. The king himself commanded the fourth or reserve division, composed of the men of Argyle, the islanders, and his own vassals of Carrick. The unarmed followers of the camp, amounting, as we have said, to about fifteen thousand, were placed in a valley at some distance in the rear, separated from the field by an eminence, since denominated, it is supposed, from this circumstance, the Gullies (that is, the servants’) hill. These dispositions were made upon the 22d of June, 1314; and next day, being Sunday, the alarm reached the Scottish camp of the approach of the enemy. Sir James Douglas and the mareschal were despatched with a body of cavalry to reconnoitre the English army, then in full march from Falkirk towards Stirling. They soon returned, and, in private, informed the king of the formidable state of the enemy; but gave out publicly, that the English, though indeed a numerous host, seemed ill commanded and disorderly. The hurried march of Edward into Scotland might give some colour of truth to this information; but no sight, we are told by the ancient authors, could in reality be more glorious and animating than the advance of that great army, in which were concentrated the whole available chivalry, and all the martial pomp, which the power and riches of the English monarch could command.

Robert was particularly anxious that no succours from the English army should be allowed, previous to the engagement, to reach the garrison in Stirling castle, and enjoined Randolph, who commanded the left wing of his army, to be vigilant in repelling any attempt which might be made for that purpose. This precaution was not unsuccessful; for, as the English forces drew near, a body of eight hundred horsemen were detached under the command of Clifford, who, making a circuit by the low grounds to the east and north of St Ninians, attempted by that means to pass the front of the Scottish army, and approach the castle. They were perceived by the king, who, coming hastily up to Randolph. angrily exclaimed "Thoughtless man! you have suffered the enemy to pass where you were set to keep the way. A rose has fallen from your chaplet." On receiving this sharp reproof, Randolph instantly made haste, at the head of a body of five hundred spearmen, to redeem his negligence, or perish in the attempt. The English cavalry, perceiving his advance, wheeled round to attack him. Randolph drew up his small body of men into a compact form, presenting a front of spears extending outwards on all sides, and with steady resolution awaited the charge of the enemy. In this porcupine-like form were they assailed on every side by the greatly superior force of Clifford’s cavalry, but without effect. At the first onset a considerable number of the English were unhorsed, and Sir William Daynecourt, an officer of rank, was slain. Environed, however, as he was, there seemed no chance by which Randolph and his desperate band might escape speedy destruction. Douglas, who witnessed with deep interest the jeopardy of his friend, requested permission of the king to go and succour him. "You shall not move from your ground," said Robert; "let Randolph extricate himself as he best may. I will not for him break purpose." "In truth," replied Douglas, after a pause, "I cannot stand by and see Randolph perish; and, with your leave, I must aid him." The king unwillingly consented, and Douglas hastened to the assistance of his friend. The generous support of the good knight was not required; for, he had not advanced far when he perceived the English to waver, and fall into confusion. Ordering his followers to halt, "those brave men," said he, "have repulsed the enemy; let us not diminish their glory by sharing it." The assailants had indeed begun to flag in their fruitless efforts; when Randolph, who watched well his opportunity, ordering, in his turn, a sudden and furious charge among them, put the whole body to flight with great slaughter, sustaining on his own side a loss so small as to seem almost incredible.

While this spirited combat was yet being maintained in one part of the field, another, of a still more extraordinary and striking character, was destined to arrest the attention of both armies. The English army, which had slowly advanced in order of battle towards the Scottish position, had at length, before evening, approached so near, that the two opposing vaunguards came distinctly into view of each other. Robert was then riding leisurely along the front of the Scottish line, meanly mounted on a small palfrey, having a battle axe in his hand, and distinguished from his knights by a circlet or crown of gold over his helmet, as was the manner in those days. Henry de Bohun, an English knight, completely armed, chanced to ride somewhat in advance of his companions, when recognising the Scottish king alone, and at such disadvantage, he rode furiously towards him with his spear couched, trusting surely to have unhorsed or slain him on the spot Robert calmly awaited the encounter, avoided agily the spear of his adversary, and next instant raising himself in the stirrups, struck Bohun, as he passed, to the earth, with a blow of his battle axe, so powerfully dealt as to cleave the steel helmet of the knight, and break the handle of the axe into two. The Scots much animated by this exploit of their leader, advanced with a great shout upon the vanguard of the English, who immediately fell back in some confusion upon their main body, leaving a few of their number slain upon the field. When the Scottish army had again recovered order, some of the king’s principal men gathering about him, kindly rebuked Robert for his imprudence. The king, conscious of the justice of their remarks, said nothing, but that he was sorry for the loss of his good battle axe. These two incidents falling out so opportunely upon the eve of battle, strengthened the confidence, and greatly animated the courage of the patriot army; while, in a like degree, they abashed and dispirited the proud host of the enemy.

On Monday the 24th of June, at break of day, the two armies mustered in order of battle. The van of the English, consisting of archers and lancemen, was commanded by the earl of Gloucester, nephew of king Edward, and the earl of Hereford, constable of England. The main body, comprising nine great divisions, was led on by the king in person, attended by the earl of Pembroke and Sir Giles d’Argentine, a knight of Rhodes, and a chosen body of five hundred well-armed horse, as his body guards. The nature of the ground did not permit the extension of this vast force, the van division alone occupying the whole front of battle, so that to the Scots they appeared as composing one great compact column of men. The Scots drew up in the order which we have already described. Maurice, abbot of Inchaffrey, placing himself on an eminence in view of the whole Scottish army, celebrated high mass, the most imposing ceremony of the catholic worship, and which was then believed of efficacy to absolve all faithful and penitent assistants from the burthen of their past sins. Then passing along the line barefooted, and bearing a crucifix in his hand, he exhorted the Scots in few and forcible words to combat for their rights and their liberty; upon which the whole army knelt down and received his benediction. When king Edward observed the small and unpretending array of his hardy enemies, he seemed surprised, and turning himself to Sir Ingram Umfraville, exclaimed, "What! will yon Scotsmen fight?" "Yea, sickerly," replied the knight; who even went the length of advising the king, that instead of making an open attack under so great disadvantages of position, he should feign a retreat, pledging himself, from his own experience, that by such means only could he break the firm array of the Scots, and overwhelm them. The king disdained this counsel; and chancing then to observe the whole body -of the Scots kneel themselves to the ground—"See," said he, "yon folk kneel to ask mercy." "You say truly," Sir Ingram replied, "they ask mercy, but it is not of you, but of God. Yon men will win the field or die." "Be it so, then !" said the king, and immediately-gave order to sound the charge.

The signal- of attack being given, the van of the English galloped on to charge the right wing of the Scots, commanded by Edward, the king’s brother, and were received with intrepid; firmness. The advance of this body allowed part of the main body of the English to come up, who moving obliquely to the right of their own van, were soon engaged with the centre and left flank of the Scottish army. The conflict, thus, soon became general along the whole Scottish line, and the slaughter considerable on both sides. Repeated and desperate attempts were made by the English cavalry to break the firm, or as they seemed, immovable, phalanxes of the enemy, but with no effect. Straitened and harassed by the nature of the ground, they with difficulty maintained order; and but that they were pressed on by the mass in their rear, the front lines of the English would have been inevitably repulsed. The king of Scots perceiving that his troops were grievously annoyed by the English archers, detached a small but chosen band of cavalry under Sir Robert Keith, who, making a circuit by the right extremity of the Scottish line, fell furiously upon the unprotected archers in flank, and put them to flight. This body of men, whose importance in an English army has been so often and so fatally exemplified, both before and since, were so effectually discomfited, as to be of no after use in the battle, and by their precipitate retreat were instrumental in spreading confusion and alarm through the whole army. Robert with the body of reserve under his command now joined battle ; and though the fury on both sides was not relaxed, the forces of the English were every moment falling more and more into disorder. Matters were in this critical state, when a singular accident or device, for it never has been ascertained which, turned decisively the fortune of the day. We have before stated, that the Scottish camp was attended by a large body of disorderly followers, amounting to about fifteen thousand in number; and that these, along with the camp baggage, were stationed by Bruce to the rear of a little eminence called Gillies’ hill. These men, either instructed for the purpose, or, what seems more likely, perceiving from their position that the English army began to give way, resolved with what weapons chance afforded them, to fall down into the rear of their countrymen, that by so doing they might share in the honour of the action, and the plunder of the victory. Choosing leaders, therefore, among themselves, they drew up into a sort of martial order, some mounted on the baggage horses and others on foot, having sheets fastened upon tent-poles and spears, instead of banners. The sudden and appalling spectacle of what seemed to the English in the distance, to be a new and formidable army, completed the confusion and consternation which had already begun widely to invade their ranks. The Scots felt their advantage; and raising a great shout, in which they were joined heartily by the auxiliaries in their rear, they pressed forward on the ground of their enemies with a fury which became more and more irresistible. Discipline and union were soon entirely lost, and the rout, on every side, became general and disastrous.

Pembroke, when he saw that the day was lost, seized Edward’s horse by the bridle, and constrained him, though not without difficulty, to leave the field. When Sir Giles d’ Argentine, the brave knight of Rhodes, was informed of the king’s flight, and pressed to accompany him ;—" It never was my wont to fly," said he, and putting spurs to his horse, be rushed furiously into the battle and met his death. It was a vulgar opinion, that the three greatest warriors of that age were Henry of Luxemburg emperor of Germany, Robert king of Scotland, and Sir Giles d’Argentine. Sir James Douglas, with sixty horsemen, followed hard in pursuit of the English king. At the Torwood he was met by Sir Lawrence Abernethy with twenty horse hastening to the English rendezvous, but who, as soon as he understood that the Scots were victorious, joined the party of Douglas in the pursuit. Edward rode on without halting to Linlithgow ; and had scarcely refreshed himself there, when the alarm that the Scots were approaching, forced him to resume his flight. Douglas and Abernethy followed so close upon his route, that many of the king’s guards, who, from time to time, had chanced to fall behind their companions, were slain. This pertinacious chase continued as far as Tranent, a distance of about forty miles from the field of battle, and was only given up from the inability of the horses to proceed further. Edward at length reached the castle of Dunbar, where he was received by the Earl of March, and shortly afterwards conveyed by a little fishing skiff to Bamborough, in England.

Thirty thousand of the English are estimated to have fallen upon the field of Bannockburn. Of barons and bannerets there were slain twenty-seven, and twenty-two were taken prisoners; and of knights the number killed was forty-two, while sixty were made prisoners. Barbour affirms that two hundred pairs of gilt spurs were taken from the heels of slain knights. According to English historians the most distinguished among those who fell, were the Earl of Gloucester:, Sir Giles d’Argentine, Robert Clifford, Payen Tybelot, William le Mareschah, and Edmund de Manley, seneschal of England. Seven hundred esquires are also reckoned among the number of the slain. The spoil of the English camp was great; and large sums also must have accrued from the ransom of so many noble prisoners. If we may believe the statement of the monk of MaImsbury, a contemporary English writer, the loss sustained by his countrymen on this occasion did not amount to less than two hundred thousand pounds; a sum equal in value to upwards of three millions of our present currency. The loss sustained by the Scots is allowed on all hands to have been very inconsiderable; and the only persons of note slain were Sir William Vipont and Sir Walter Ross. The last named was the particular friend of Edward Bruce, who, when informed of his death, passionately exclaimed, "Oh that this day’s work was undone, so Ross had not died." On the day after the battle, Mowbray surrendered the castle of Stirling, according to the terms of the truce, and thenceforward entered into the service of the king of Scotland.

Such was the signal victory obtained by Robert at Bannockburn, than which none more important was ever fought, before or since, between the so long hostile nations of England and Scotland. It broke effectually and for ever the mastery, moral and physical, which the one had so nearly succeeded in achieving over the other; and, while it once more re-established the liberties of Scotland, awakened or restored that passion for independence among her people which no after dangers or reverses could subdue. "We have only," as a late historian has well observed, "to fix our eyes on the present condition of Ireland, in order to feel the present reality of all that we owe to the victory at Bannockburn, and to the memory of such men as Bruce, Randolph, and Douglas."

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