scottish history
A service from

One, Two

The Highland Clearances

Scottish Origins... up to William Wallace

The Battle of Stirling Bridge

Battle of Falkirk & Execution of Wallace

History of the Kilt

Patrick Geddes

Tragedy at Glencoe


The Battle of Stirling Bridge
Chapter One

One, Two
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[Sir Wiliam

Sir William Wallace, from his Monument.

............and what led to it.


The situation leading up the confrontation of loyal Scots under the command of Sir William Wallace against the powerful Anglo-Norman army of Edwards I's Northern English forces at Stirling Bridge is a bit complex.

After a properous and relatively peaceful reign under King Alexander III, Scotland was enjoying economic success and some degree of peace with it's southern neighbour England. With Alexander's tragic death in 1286 A.D., all of the old problems and new ones came crashing down on Scotland leading to what is now called the "First war of Scottish Independence".

Background: Scotland, 1286 A.D.

Edward I of England had only recently completed phase one of his conquest of Wales by defeating the forces of Prince Llywelyn. Edward, for all of his disreputable charateristics, was indeed one of England's most powerful and effective rulers ....particularly in his military campaigns. At the time, Anglo-Norman England commanded the most powerful, best equipped and armed military force in all of Europe.

Edward had shown his military tactics in battles in Wales, England and France, to be very effective, if not cruel and ruthless. He was indeed an enemy to be feared.

It was Welsh misfortune to choose to fight with one of England's most powerful rulers. Like other medieval kings, Edward had problems to settle in France, but throughout his reign these were overruled by his determination to increase English influence in Britain. Such a focus of attention, backed up by high military expertise, was bad news for the island's Celtic realms. For, after Wales, Edward set his sights on Scotland. In 1286, against the desires of his advisors, Alexander III, king of Scots, went for a midnight ramble to Kinghorn to see his new, young bride. "Neither storm nor floods nor rocky cliffs, would prevent him from visiting matrons, virgins and widows, by day or by night as the fancy seized him", said one contemporary. But it appears this night, Alexander was intent on being with his young bride. He went out in the dark, steep mountains, plunged over a cliff and was found with a broken neck the next day.

Alexander's heirs, his daughter and wife had died before him, and no direct adult heir was available to fill the now vacant throne of Scotland. Chaos and confusion reigned in Scotland now, instead of a rightful king or queen. Alexander's only direct heir was his grand-daughter, Margaret, an infant child known as the "Maid of Norway", the daughter of King Eric of Norway and Alexander's own daughter Margaret. Alexander's untimely death couldn't have come at a worse time for Scotland. It marked the end of a period of peace and prosperity during which country's borders, always a shifting affair, had been defined and the differing tribal "stew" of groups in the Lowlands of Celt, Saxon, and Norman had to some extent, finally grown into one recognisable nation.

The Highland and the Isles continued to be a land of Celtic and Norse people, but the Lowlands from where the Scots king ruled, was a veritable mix of ethnic groups and Gaelic was beginning to become a secondary language to English and, in places, Norman French or Latin still prevailed.

Edward Becomes Involved in the Political Situation
Edward cleverly sought to arrange a hasty marriage of his son, the Prince of Wales, and the little Margaret, "Maid of Norway". In what can only be said to be , at best, bad judgement on the part of the Scots Nobles, agreement to the marriage of young Margaret and Edward of Caernarvon was signed into treaty, called the Treaty of Birgham.

However, fate again dealt a cruel blow to Scotland as little Margaret took ill on her voyage to England from Norway and died of fever in the Orkney Isles. Now the throne to Scotland and her future laid in the hands of 13 claimants for the empty throne.

At the request of Scottish, Norman blooded, Bishop Fraser a letter was urgently sent to Edward asking him to arbitrate the increasingly volatile Scottish situation. Anxious to utilise this new opportunity to unite the whole Island of Britain, Edward readily agreed to arbitrate and hoped to bring all of Scotland under his sovereign control.

Acknowledging his feudal and military superiority, the Scots regents allowed Edward to decide who should rule Scotland. The front runners were John Balliol and Robert the Bruce the Elder. Both these lords were descendants of knights of William the Conqueror. For, by this time, Scotland, especially the Lowlands, was dominated by Anglo-Norman landownders ruling estates throughout the realm. Also in consideration was Sir "Red" John Comyn.

John Balliol ran vast estates in France; Robert the Bruce the Younger owned land in Essex. This conquest of Celtic Scotland had been achieved through court politics, (notably the Canmores and David I), intermarriage, and peaceful settlement. In the North, there were still many Scots landownders and clansmen who were of direct Celtic or Celtic/Norse descent, but increasingly the politics of the day was being handled by warlords of Norman or partial Norman blood. Some state that the ensuing Anglo-Scots war was therefore more a power struggle between Anglo-Norman dynasties and not an international war of Scot versus English or Celts versus Normans, as was more true in Wales and Ireland. However, this author and historian sees it as a mixture of both. Clearly in the Lowlands, this was true, but the Highlands of Scotland , not to mention the fiercely independent Isles, the Celtic and Celtic/Norse people were not ruled by Normans. So the confrontations to come were truthfully a mixture: a clash of Norman dynasties and a Celtic and English war, for the independence of Scotland.
That being said, the common people of all Scotland and many of the lower aristocracy, the clansmen, were Celtic and still spoke Gaelic. It was these people, rallying to the cause of their Scots Norman masters, who may have envisaged their battle against the English invader as a national or Celtic struggle for independence. As it turns out, they were correct.

Edward wanted to dominate Scotland. If he couldn't become it's king, then he would choose the most malleable contender. He selected John Balliol, (although according to Celtic customs -- Robert the Bruce had a stronger claim). The elderly Robert Bruce passed his family's claim onto his son, Earl of Carrick, Robert the Bruce. The Bruce's refused to do homage to the new king. Tiring of his humiliating role as frontman for Edward's ambitions, King John Balliol renounced his allegiance to the English king and renewed the Auld Alliance with France, preparing the way for war with England. Robert the Bruce refused the call to arms for various reasons. At the time, loyal to Edward, it seemed now that Balliol might be displaced in favour of the Bruce claim. Much politics was in play on the part of the Bruces and his indecision which appears to make him weak, was actually a carefully played plan to eventually be on the throne of Scotland.

Balliol was in his forties, seemingly not very intelligent and rather weak-willed. Edward treated him with brutal contempt, using him merely as a feudal puppet to carry out English policies in Scotland. Finally, tired of this constant humiliation, Balliol renounced his oath of allegiance and opposed Edward. The English King, deeply embroiled in a bitter war with France in Gascony and confronted by yet another Welsh rebellion, stormed north to deal with Balliol and his followers.

Although involved in a war in France and Wales, king Edward rode north with an army of English Knights and Welsh archers. It may, incidentally, be thought remarkable that the Welsh should form such a major part of Edward's army so soon after their own defeat at his hands. But the defeat was against the Welsh Celtic Nobility, whereas the ordinary Welshman was happy to fight for money and food, due to famine, on any side. For many of the Celtic nobility, however, Wales had ceased to be their homeland and several Welsh nobles served abroad as mercenaries. The French chronicler Froissart, for instance, mentions an Owain of Wales who offered his services to the French King during the Hundred Years War.

The English army arrived outside the town of Berwick at the end of March 1296 to find the citizens and castle prepared for a long siege. So confident were the inhabitants of Berwick that they jeered at the English army over the battlements. But the experienced English troops, now wild with rage, and at the very urging of their king, captured the town nearby in a bloody matter of minutes and then spent the rest of the length of the day slaughtering it's citizens, men, women and children all under the direct orders of Edward I "Hammer of the Scots". It is said that so many townspeople were killed, that the stains of their blood could be seen, like a watermark, on the walls of the city for decades. Seeing the horrifying result of resistance to Edward, the castle opened its gates and surrendered that evening.

But Edwards bloodlust was not assauged yet. With Berwick in his hands, he sent his most senior lieutenant, John de Warrenne, to take Dunbar. De Warrenne's detachment consisted of the best cavalry, numbers of Welsh bowmen, and a good force of infantry raised in the northern levies. On arriving at Dunbar, 29 April 1296, de Warrenne found this castle also prepared for a siege, and the main Scottish army outside its walls at a place called Spottsmuir. It was commanded by John "Red" Comyn, Earl of Buchan. De Warrenne ignored the castle and offered battle to the main body of Scottish troops. The Scots, not lacking in courage but ill disciplined, broke ranks and hurled themselves at the English troops, only to be showered by thousands of Welsh arrows.

Broken and confused, they were trampled into the ground by de Warrenne's cavalry, who rode among the Scots slaughtering even the few remaining survivors with sword, lance, axe and mace. De Warrenne totally routed the Scottish army killing over 10,000 men, many of whom were injured and lying helpless on the field.

The result was a total English victory and the loss of Scottish men, women, children and Scotland's pride. Aside from the dead, John "Red" Comyn, three other Scottish Earls and more than a hundred of Comyn's most important followers were captured. Edward followed his victory at Dunbar with a triumphant march through Scotland, taking his army further than any previous ruler of Britain since the Romans.

Balloil's Fall from Power, Scotland under English Domination

Parading in triumph through Scotland, Edward demanded the abdication of Balliol. At Montrose, the two kings confronted each other. In front of both English and Scots courtiers, Balliol's coat of arms was ripped from him and thrown on the floor. His humiliation was complete. But Edward's arrogance had further heights to reach. Through fear alone, he received the homage of the Scots magnates. At Perth, he commanded that the sacred Stone of Scone (pronounced Skoon) -- upon which generations of Scots Kings had been crowned -- be removed and delivered to Westminster Abbey. Also stolen were all of Scotlands historical records (which have never been recovered) and the Holy Rod of St. Margaret. Ignoring the Bruce claim, Edward appointed an English viceroy over the Scots. Scotland it seemed was now part of the English Empire. As Edward I returned over the border, a chronicler recorded his rude parting comments of Scotland : " It is a good job to be shot (rid of) of such shit (Scotland)."

A Hero Emerges from Scotland


Sword of Sir William Wallace.
[Sword of Sir Wiliam Wallace]

This was far from the end of the conflict between the two countries, however. In the spring of 1297 the whole of Scotland, with the possible exception of Lothian (long an Anglo-Saxon area) was in a state of armed insurrection. At Lanark a complete garrison of English troops were massacred by troops loyal to what is described as a giant of a man named William Wallace, son of a minor local landowner and knight from Ellersie, near Paisley. He quickly became a symbol of Scottish resistance to the English occupation of Scotland. But just who was this William Wallace?

In Part two we shall briefly look the the man, and the battle itself.

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