June 23, 1314: Bannockburn

Seven hundred years ago the Scots regained their independence in a two day fight at Bannockburn.  The Scots led by Robert the Bruce were heavily outnumbered by the English under Edward II, perhaps as badly as 2-1 or more.  The English cavalry outnumbered the Scottish cavalry four to one, usually the decisive factor in battles at this time.  The Scottish infantry formed in schiltrons,  defensive circles bristling with pikes.
On the first day in hard fighting the Scots forced the English across Bannock Burn, the stream that flowed through the battle field.  The English recrossed the stream during the night and took up position in the plain beyond.  Robert the Bruce, learning from Alexander Seton, a Scottish knight serving with the English army who deserted to the Scots, that morale was low among the English, decided to attack.  The English and Welsh longbowmen should have made Swiss cheese of the Scots as they charged, but a daring and skillful charge of the 500 Scottish cavalry dispersed the archers.  An English counter charge by the Earl of Gloucester was defeated by the Scots, few of the English cavalry choosing to follow the Earl.  The Scottish infantry closed in on the English infantry and cavalry, the English cavalry now being hemmed in and unable to maneuver.  Edward fled with his personal guard, English morale collapsed on the flight of the King, and a defeat promptly turned into a rout.  The Scots had scored one of the greatest upset victories in the Middle Ages.
Let’s give Bobbie Burns the last word:

AT Bannockburn the English lay,
–The Scots they were na far away,
But waited for the break o’ day
That glinted in the east.
 But soon the sun broke through the heath
And lighted up that field of death,
When Bruce, wi’ saul-inspiring breath,
His heralds thus addressed:– 
“Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled–
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led–
Welcome to your gory bed.Or to victorie! 
“Now’s the day, and now’s the hour;
See the front o’ battle lower;
See approach proud Edward’s power–
Chains and slaverie! 
“Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward’s grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!
 “Wha for Scotland’s king and law
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand or freeman fa’–
Let him follow me! 
“By Oppression’s woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free! 
“Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow!
Let us do or die!”

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  1. To the best of our family’s knowledge, my oldest known ancestor fought alongside Robert the Bruce at this battle, shifting allegiance to him sometime before Bannockburn. He then joined the Bruce on his Irish campaign under his brother Edward, into Ulster, and it is where my antecedents settled until the Battle of Ora in 1563 and again in 1580 at the hands of Sorely Boy MacDonnell and the MacDonnell clan which led to our flight. Whenever I think of Robert the Bruce and the independence of Scotland, I am reminded that I may very well not exist to write this post if it were not for the Bruce’s victory at Bannockburn. I never made it to Bannockburn, but I imagine it like most areas I saw while living in Scotland: stunningly ethereal, unbelievably cold, unlike any other place I’ve been and absolutely enchanting.

    You can easily imagine why some would fight over such a land.

  2. Burn’s poem is sung to the old air, Hey Tuttie Taiti, said to have been played by the Scottish army before Bannockburn. It was also played by the Scottish Free Companies at the siege of Orléons, a century later

    The Seymours also fought at Bannockburn (they were still using the old spelling of Saint-Maur)
    The actual site of the battle is disputed; all one can say for certain is that it was near Stirling, the only major inland city in the country and one of the most strategically important, for it forms the gateway from the Central Belt, formed by the wide, shallow valleys (or straths, as we call them) of the Firths or estuaries of Clyde and Forth and the Highlands. Whoever held Stirling controlled the country.

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