With the phenomenal success of Stirling Bridge under his belt, Sir William
Wallace, Guardian of the Realm of Scotland, continued his campaign of
guerilla warfare upon the Northern English counties.
In November 1297, after the battle of Stirling Bridge, Sir Andrew de Moray,
Wallace's friend and right hand military advisor died of the terrible
wounds he had received at Stirling Bridge. Wallace was now the sole
Guardian of Scotland, holding it, many feel, for Toom Tabard (John
Balliol), meaning "empty coat". The truth is there is no absolute proof
that Wallace was indeed fighting to restore Toom Tabard to the throne, but
there is compelling evidence that he at did at the very least invoke the
king's name when in need of supporters of funds. Either way, Wallace was
now alone in his fight to secure Scotlands freedom.
William Wallace from a Stained Glass
Throughout the rest of 1297, Wallace ravaged the Border land of England for
corn and cattle. Such a turn of events wrenched Edward I back from his
negotiations in France with King Philp. He transferred his headquarters to
York. Now he would hammer the Scots. Feudal dues were called upon. Gascon
crossbowmen and Welsh archers were recruited. So were foot soldiers from
De Warrenne, the Earl of Surrey and Sussex having failed at Stirling to
stop Wallace, necessitated Edward's march north himself. He assembled at
York the largest invasion force to enter Scotland since the days of Romand
general Agricola. It consisted of perhaps as many as 2,500 heavily armoured
knights and at least 12,500 infantry. Eight earls joined Edward: the Marshal, the
Constable, Ralph de Monthemer, Arundel, Guy of Warwick and the young Earls
of Lancaster and Pembroke, each bringing their own large contingents of
minor knights and infantry, swelling his host to a monstrous size.
King Edward, in the month of June 1298, reviewed at Roxburgh his army,
which consisted of 12,500 infantry, English, Welsh, and Irish, alongside a
body of splendidly mounted and disciplined cavalry; the veterans of his
French wars: 3,000 of these rode horses completely armoured from head to
crupper, and some sources say there may have been as many as 4,000 light
cavalry. In addition to these were 500 Life Guards from Gascony, nobly
mounted and magnificiently accoutred. (Some figures according to Cassell's
British Battles, 1875).
Edward Returns; Marches against Wallace
In the beginning of 1298 the hope and support from France ended bitterly
for the Scots, with peace between French King Philip and Edward, the Plantagenet
came home from Gascony to deal with the Scots. As mentioned he moved the
seat of his government to York (a better base of operations for an invasion
of Scotland), and on 3 July, he crossed the Tweed by Coldstream with 12,500
or more foot (infantry) and over 2,500 horse, veterans of his campaigns in
France and Wales. Eight earls, two of them his kinsmen and one Scot of Angus,
rode behind him with their knights and tenants. Bishop Bek of Durham, armed
for a cause that was surely God's, commanded thirty-two bannered knights, all
his liege-vassals. The dust of the great baggage-train, wheels, feet and
hooves, hung above the forest, lances leafed with pennons, as the summer
sun struck bright sparks from helm and shield. Above them all the tall
figure of Edward on a black horse, his yellow hair now white, his aging
back held straight in it's cuirass of steel. As this mighty force moved
northward by Roxburgh and Lauderdale, skirting Edinburgh toward the
Stirling plain, swallowing lonely castles and digesting their burnt stones,
it was less powerful than it might have seemed to the watching Scots on the
hills. It was hungry. The fleet that should have provisioned it had been
delayed by weather. It was undisciplined. Welsh archers quarrelled
viciously with Gasons, and sickness raddled its splendid chivalry. At
Kirkliston, near Linlithgow, Edward decided to fall back on Edinburgh,
where he might calm and feed his mutinous men.
Wallace's Peasant Army
Wallace, indefatigable and undismayed, had meanwhile collected from amid
the peasantry, of whom he was guardian, and to whom he was an idol, a
resolute force of 8,000-10,000 total men, including the reserves (mostly
cavalry and infantry) brought by Red Comyn. With these he moved to Falkirk,
in West Lothian, where, with great skill, he chose a strong position,
having on its front a morass impassable for cavalry, and his flanks covered
by breastworks of palisades driven into the earth and bound together by
ropes. As Edwards massive formations crossed the Border, Wallace withdrew
into the hinterland, removing or burning all sources of food. He knew that
Edward's army was far too big to be maintained totally by its own
commissariat. When he reached Edinburgh, Edward was forced to wait fourteen
days whilst the Bishop of Durham's troops destroyed Direlton and two
neighbouring castles. Then the English army trudged on again: hungry, tired
and with diminishing prospects of a decisive battle. Desertions increased,
and fighting again broke out between English men-at-arms, Gascons versus
Welsh archers. Then, on 21 July 1298, Wallace led his army forward to meet
the English. In the early dawn of the following morning scouting parties
from the two opposing forces met each other near Falkirk, heralding the
opening of battle.
Provisions became scarce in Edward's camp at Kirkliston and the fleet from
Berwick was looked for anxiously. The surrounding country, having been many
times wasted by fire and sword (by Wallace), had English soldiers
complaining bitterly of their scanty provender, and a change of quarters
was contemplated. Only a small supply was received as the great body of the
fleet was still being detained by adverse winds. A dangerous mutiny broke
out in the English ranks. Under his banner Edward had vast numbers of Welsh
bowmen, led by their chiefs, whom he had recently subjected to his stern
sway. The famine was allowed, by the English, to be pressed hardest on the
Welsh before the English. A supply of wine sent to them brought on a crisis
and during the ride north, Edwards new Welsh archers, got into a killing
fight with the English soldiers, which nearly broke up the whole invasion
force in a sudden paroxysm of national antipathy. The Welsh turned upon the
English in their tents at night. Edward's trumpets sounded promptly to
horse, and charging the Welsh he slew more than eighty of them, and
eventually restored order. Exasperated and sullen, the Welsh chietains now
openly threatened to join Wallace.
"Let them do so" said Edward scornfully; "let them go over to my enemies. I
hope soon to see the day when I shall chastise them both". Wallace had
heard of the troubles in Edwards Army and had planned a night attack upon
the English camp, but two ignoble peers, jealous of his power, went to the
English King's side and warned him. These traitors, unnamed, told Edward
where Wallace was encamped in the forest near Falkirk and told of Wallaces'
position and intended tactics.
"Thanks be to God, who hath hitherto extricated me from every peril!,
exclaimed Edward. "I shall go forth to meet them".
Whilst camping one night, Edward's horse was startled by something , and
the charger trod heavily upon his royal master breaking three of his ribs.
Wallace Prepares and Invents - The Schiltron
Sir William Wallace feared the greater numbers of English horsemen for good
reason. To counter them, he positioned his spear-carrying foot-soldiers
behind boggy land, with woodland and rough terrain guarding their flanks.
The 12 foot spears of the Scots were like long pikes and they stood in
crowded phalanx formations -- called schiltrons (pronounced skil-trons) --
presenting the enemy with a forest of iron points.
A Scottish schiltron in action.
This clever invention, was Wallace's own creation. Wallace, it is believed,
had no prior knowledge of the great Greek and Macedonian phalanxes used by
armies such as those of Alexander the Great centuries before. This classical
literature and the wealth of information it contained remained a secret
from most Europeans until Spanish Lords captured the great palaces in the
Moorish Kingdoms of Granada, and earlier in Spain itself. Much classical
knowledge was reclaimed from the Spanish Reconquista, or the "reconquering"
of Spain, by Christian Europeans.
Discovering a weath of books and information all written in Arabic from
original Greek texts, one Spanish lord sought help to decipher them. He found
that his Jewish man-servant had a knowledge of Arabic language, having
lived so near the Moors and Arabs. The servant translated the texts thus unlocking
vast stores of information about Greek, Macedonian, Persian, and Roman
history which had been lost to Europe. Therefore, many experts feel, and I would
agree, Wallace had no prior knowledge of the phalanxes used by the
ancients as sometimes stated in older Scottish history texts.
Wallace is credited with the invention of the schiltron units (long speared
units of men, to fight horsemen) that were later employed with tremendous
success by the Flemish warriors against the French chivalry at Courtrai, in
1302, and again with astounding success when used by Robert Bruce at
Bannockburn in 1314.
In front of the spearmen, stakes were hammered into the ground with ropes
joining them. Groups of short-bow Ettrick archers gathered between the
schiltrons. The few Scots horsemen (most under the command of the "Red"
Comyn)waited in reserve, hoping to exploit any break in the enemy.
Wallace had badly misjudged the fighting condition of the English army, but
he came to the field well prepared. He realised that his infantry must
defeat Edward's cavalry and this had not happened for centuries. With the
experience of Stirling Bridge behind him this seemed possible, although it
was a rare event in medieval warfare of that period. He had trained his
ferocious and hearty soldiers to fight in four tight box or oval
formations, as mentioned above, called schiltrons. In addition to the front
row of spear points, the unit was further protected by two more rows
(triple rows) of the twelve foot spears, pointing outwards, the front rows
kneeling whilst those behind stood.
Early sketch of Edward I of England
By an unusual twist of historical fate, Edward also came to Falkirk with
new tactics. He had learned from bitter experience in his Welsh Wars of the
devastating firepower of the South Welsh longbowmen; and despite the cost
and difficulty of dealing with the Celtic Welsh and their constant
quarrelling with the English, he now included large numbers of them (for a
price) in his army and began to use them as part of his coordinated battle
plan. It would set the tone of English battle tactics for the next two
centuries and would serve the English remarkably well in France during the
One Hundred Years War.
The Battle Opens
On St. Magdalen's day, 22 July, the army came in sight of the Scot's
position. Edward proposed to refresh his soldiers, but, confident in their
overwhelming numbers, they clamoured to be led against the Scots. Edward
consented, "in the mane of Holy Trinity", and the English advanced in three
The first was led by Earl Marshal, the second by the Bishop of Durham, and
the third by Edward himself.
Wallace had drawn the Scots up in four schiltron columns, each of 1,500 to
2,000 men. These were composed entirely of peasantry; for jealous of his
increasing popularity, few knights and still fewer barons joined him.
Under this, however, there served as leaders Sir John Stewart of Bonhill,
Sir John the Grahame of Abercorn and Dundaff; Duncan MacDuff, 11th Earl of
Fife and John "Red" Comyn, son of the Lord of Badenoch.
Whilst the Bishop of Durham had been celebrating a Mass upon the hill for
the English, the same sacrament was performed in the Scottish ranks; then
all awaited steadily the advance of the foe.
Next: The Battle of Falkirk begins in earnest...continued in Pt. 2 of
"Battle of Falkirk & the Execution of Wallace".
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