Saturday, June 25, 2005

Och, this day inna historrry...

(posted from an e-mail at El-ahrairah's request. Of course, I had to edit it - CH)

On June 24th in military history….in 1314.

Scottish forces under Robert Bruce defeat English forces under Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn. In 1314, after 18 years, the Scottish rebellion started by Mel Gibson, er, William Wallace had liberated Scotland north of the river Forth. Stirling Castle, however, was still under English rule, and in the spring of 1314, the Scots under Robert Bruce had started to besiege it. The commander of the castle had agreed to surrender himself and the castle to the Scots if relief did not arrive by the end of June. Upon hearing this, the king of England, Edward II organized a force to relieve the siege of the castle and also put down the Scottish rebellion, once and for all.

The English force was quite large (40,000 men by some estimates) and arrived at the ford of Bannockburn, just south of Stirling Castle on 23 June. Robert Bruce wanted to fight the English at a place where the English would be forced into small area, thus negating their strength in numbers and where his schiltron (a circle of men with 15 foot pikes facing outward) could withstand the charges of the English knights. He had suspected that the English would travel by the old Roman road towards Stirling Castle and at the village of Bannockburn, where the road fords the Bannock Burn, he prepared to fight.

He hid his men in the trees on the other side of the Bannock Burn along the old Roman road where they would be able to swarm around the English knights in close quarters and prevent the knights from mounting any charges. However, a group of 500 knights tried to bypass the Scottish defenders through a gorge and make their way to the castle, but were discovered by the Scots who sent a force to block them. A small skirmish ensued with the English knights charging the Scottish schiltron and then retiring back to their lines when they couldn’t breakthrough. As the end of the day approached, the English forces retired across to a marshy area between the gorge and the River Forth which paralleled the old Roman road.

The original plan was that the Scots would fight the English along the confines of the old Roman road to Stirling, but with the English essentially across the Bannock Burn, this would not work. They were camped in a marshy area (a carse) between the Bannock Burn and the Pelstream Burn and separated from the Scots by a gorge. The gorge was not all that deep, but its sides were steep and would take some time for the entire army to cross. This meant that the battle would take place in the flat area between the gorge and the old Roman road. This was much more open than Robert Bruce had wanted, but it was either here or nowhere.

The morning of the 24th, the Scottish forces were already in position waiting in their schiltrons when the English started to cross the gorge. However, instead of attacking all at once and in an organized fashion, the English attack was piecemeal and disorganized, with many knights being killed when they struck the Scottish schiltron. As the English knights retreated, someone gave the order to the English archers who had just crossed the gorge, to start firing arrows. The arrows fell on the Scots, who were out in the open, but more importantly, they also fell on the retreating English knights, contributing to the confusion. The Scots had foreseen this development and a force of mounted infantry was sent out of the woods to attack the archers and route them off the field.

With the English knights in confusion and the English archers routed, the Scottish schiltrons started advancing towards the remaining English forces. Since the English mounted charges could not breakthrough the Scottish schiltrons, the knights were forced to fall back towards the gorge. Unfortunately, the English infantry were still trying to advance across the gorge to join in the fight, causing each force (the retreating English knights and the advancing English infantry) to block each other at the gorge. The relentless advance of the Scottish schiltron caused the English forces scatter and those who were not killed on the field of battle, crushed by the mass of men and horses in the gorge or drowned in the River Forth, tried to save themselves in a veritable “sauve-qui-peut”. Seeing that the enemy was routed, Robert Bruce gave the order to break ranks and give chase. The English king, Edward II, left the field of battle early, and after being denied entry to Stirling Castle (he was told by the earl commanding the castle, that since the Scots had held to their part of the bargain, he would hold to his), he barely escaped by boat to England.

The Scottish victory enabled Robert Bruce to re-establish Scotland as a sovereign state, although English recognition of Scottish Independence did not come for another 10 years. So now you know what happens at the end of Braveheart.

Now, go back and read this again, using an accent like the Famous Historian in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Or maybe with a Scottish accent, like Tim the Enchanter ("a grrrrrail!?")


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