Bannockburn

This day marks the 708th anniversary of Bannockburn.

England and Scotland coexisted peacefully during the early Middle Ages.  That all changed in the 1290s.  Young Margaret, heiress to the Scottish throne, died on her way to the country in 1290, leaving the question of succession in dispute.  Margaret had previously been affianced to Edward, Prince of Wales, son and heir of Edward I, King of England.

Scottish leaders asked Edward I to function in an advisory role as the Scots decided between two claimants for the throne.  Edward used this opening to assert his power over the entire Scottish realm.  This would make him master of all Great Britain.  Edward’s action led to friction and resistance.  William Wallace led the Scots to victory over an English army at Stirling Bridge in 1197, but soon thereafter Edward crushed all opposition mercilessly; and eventually he had the brave Wallace drawn and quartered as a traitor, even though Wallace had never sworn him fealty.  Scotland was now under the English heel, but the embers of Scottish independence continued to burn.

In 1306, Robert Bruce proclaimed himself King of Scotland and raised an army.  The following year he achieved his first victory over a major English force at Loudoun Hill.  Edward I assembled a large army and marched north to confront Bruce, but he died before reaching Scotland, and the English army disbanded.  

Over the next seven years Robert Bruce managed to drive the English from virtually all of Scotland.  The only remaining major English stronghold was Stirling Castle, and that place was under siege.  Edward II could delay no longer.  He issued a call to arms, and a large English army was assembled for the campaign.  It was perhaps the largest English army to ever invade Scotland.

Robert Bruce knew the odds against him.  The English population at this time numbered about three million, the Scots perhaps a half-million; and other resources were equally disparate.  Edward’s army is estimated to have numbered more than 20,000 men and included perhaps 1,500 heavily armed knights.  The Scots are believed to have had 5-6,000 men and only 500 lightly armed calvary.

On June 23, 1314, the armies met at a place called Bannockburn, not far from Stirling Castle.  The major fighting took place the following day. Somehow, despite the odds, the victory went to the Scots. Bruce lost only a few hundred men, the English lost many thousands.  It was the most catastrophic defeat in England’s long military history. Edward II fled the field of battle along with his demoralized retainers.

The victory at Bannockburn reestablished Scottish independence.  Over the next several centuries there were other English-Scottish wars, and the Scots more often got the worst of it, but the English never again attempted to conquer Scotland.

In 1603, Elizabeth I, Queen of England, died childless.  James VI, King of Scotland, a great-great grandson of England’s Henry VII, was her nearest relative, and he became James I, King of England.  Thereafter, the two kingdoms were ruled by the same monarch.  In 1707, following Acts of Union by their respective parliaments, England and Scotland, along with Wales and Ireland, were formally bound together as the United Kingdom.

The Scots remember Bannockburn, and they still celebrate their victory in the lyrics of a song that many consider the country’s national anthem, O Flower of Scotland.

O flower of Scotland

When will we see your like again

That fought and died

For your wee bit hill and glen

And stood against

Proud Edward’s army

And sent him home to think again.

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