Friday, 14 November 2014

Battle of Bannockburn

At Edinburgh Castle statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace are set into the wall on either side of the entrance.
Robert the Bruce
 Recently SBS showed the History Channel production - Battle of the Kings: Bannockburn- about the battle between the armies of Robert the Bruce and King Edward II near Stirling Castle in Scotland in June 1314.

Robert the Bruce was born in Turnberry Castle, on the coast of south west Scotland, on 11 July 1274. His father was Robert de Brus (1243-1304) who was the 6th Lord of Annandale while his mother was Marjorie (1246-1292), the Countess of Carrick. Robert the Bruce was born in a time of political unrest in Scotland. Not only were there disputes as to who should lead the country there was constant unrest as the Scots attempted to gain independence from England. The following notes provide a short summary of some of the events leading to the Battle of Bannockburn.

When King Alexander II died in March 1286 six Guardians were appointed to govern Scotland. On 20 September 1286 a group of noblemen, including members of the Bruce family, met at Turnberry Castle asserting their claim to the Scottish throne. This group became known as the Turnberry Band. The following years were years of uncertainty as Scotland had a succession of leaders. In November 1292 John Balliol was crowned King rather than Robert the Bruce's grandfather who had also laid claim to the throne. King John paid homage to Edward I of England who controlled much of the political activity in Scotland. In March 1296 Edward I and his army invaded Scotland and in April 1296 the Scots were defeated at the Battle of Dunbar. King John abdicated a few months later in July and in September Edward I installed John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, to govern Scotland.

A number of uprisings led by William Wallace, Andrew Murray and Robert the Bruce occurred in parts of Scotland against the English in 1297. Wallace was appointed Guardian in February 1298. However in July 1298 Edward I returned with his army and defeated the Scots at the Battle of Falkirk.

In September 1298 William Wallace resigned the Guardianship and Robert the Bruce and John (Red) Comyn became joint Guardians. Robert the Bruce and John Comyn were related. John Comyn was a nephew of John Balliol. John Balliol's mother (Margaret) was the sister of Robert the Bruce's grandmother (Isobel). Bishop Lamberton was made the third Guardian in August 1299. In November 1299 the Scots reclaimed Stirling Castle from the British.

In May 1300 Robert the Bruce resigned from the position of Guardian. In February 1302 he submitted to Edward I and married Elizabeth de Burgh. They were to have four children - Matilda, Margaret, John and David (who became David II of Scotland). Previously Robert had married Isabella of Mar (1277-1296) and they had one daughter, Marjorie, (1296-1316). Marjorie's son became Robert II of Scotland in 1371.

In 1304 John Comyn submitted to Edward I and later a secret band was made between Robert the Bruce and Bishop Lamberton. Stirling Castle once again fell to the British. In February 1305 Edward I ordered a new constitution for the Scots. In April the father of Robert the Bruce died. In August William Wallace was captured by British soldiers near Glasgow and was executed in London.

1306 proved to be an eventful year for Robert the Bruce. On 10 February he arranged to meet John Comyn at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries. Swords were left outside the church when the two men entered. No-one is sure what actually happened except that John Comyn died from knife wounds. Numerous theories and stories have been written about the event. Robert the Bruce left the church and, realising that he would be excommunicated by the Pope for his actions, he immediately made his claim for the throne and was crowned by Isobel of Buchan at Scone on 26 March. Later in the year the Scots were defeated at a number of battles but Robert escaped first to Dunavert and then to Rathlin. However his brother, Nigel, was captured and executed while Robert's wife and his daughter, Marjorie, were captured and imprisoned in England along with some of his other supporters.

In February 1307 the King returned to Turnberry Castle and during the next few years he and his supporters staged a number of small battles, gradually recapturing most of the castles occupied by the British. In August 1310 King Edward II of England (his father died in July 1307) invaded part of Scotland. The following year Robert retaliated by moving his forces into northern England. By 1313 King Robert has control of most of the castles in Scotland except for Stirling Castle. His brother, Edward, was sent to lay siege to the castle and, in June 1313, made a settlement with the governor of the castle that if the English did not come to the aid of the castle within the next twelve months the castle would be handed over to the Scots.

This set the scene for the Battle of Bannockburn that took place near the Stirling Castle in June 1314 when Edward II and his extensive army and cavalry arrived to relieve the castle. Robert's successful battles prior to the Battle of Bannockburn had been small swift battles usually taking the occupants of the castles by surprise. This encounter was to be a fully fledged battle with the Scottish troops being outnumbered by the English soldiers. Many of Robert's soldiers had little or no military experience. The English soldiers however had spent many weeks walking through England to reach the battle site and they were tired when they arrived. The English camped in the open while the Scots remained in the forest until the battle. The Scots had also laid trenches and spikes in parts of the open ground to impede the advances of the English cavalry. The Scottish soldiers were also divided into groups and armed with long spears to form a wall of spears (a schilitron) against the cavalry.

The battle took place on 23 and 24 June. The main battle was on 24 June but there was a smaller battle the previous day when a group of Englishmen attacked a party of Scots and one of the Englishmen, Sir Henry de Bohun, unsuccessfully attempted to to kill Robert. Much to the surprise of the English, the Scots defeated the larger English army and forced them to retreat back to England.

Although the Scots had won this battle, battles against the English continued for many years and it was not until 1328 that King Edward II fully conceded that Robert was King of Scotland with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh. The Pope had recognised Robert as King of Scotland in 1324.

Robert the Bruce died on 7 June 1329.

Robert the Bruce was my great (x 21) grandfather.
Edward II was also my great (x 21) grandfather.

Some references:
Turnberry Castle - Undiscovered Scotland 

Bruce kills Comyn  Scotland's history

SCOTS - was it murder? John Comyn of Badenoch
Robert the Bruce Trust

Battle of Bannockburn  - BBC Scotland's history

Battle of Bannockburn - what was it all about? - BBC News - Scotland

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