Battle of Bannockburn : The Battle of Kings

Bruce addresses his troops, from Cassell’s History of England.

Battle of Bannockburn Fought on the 23rd and the 24th of June 1314. Bannockburn was a victory of the army of King of Scots Robert the Bruce over the army of King Edward II of England in the First War of Scottish Independence.

A fourteenth-century illumination of Edward II, King of England on folio 105r of Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson C 292.

A crushing victory for the Scottish army led by Robert Bruce over the English troops led by King Edward II of England during the First Scottish War of Independence. Bruce commanded fewer than 10,000 soldiers vs a much larger English force that approached 25,000 men. 

The Battle is also marked by Robert Bruce’s use of squares of pikemen. Called schiltrons on which the English cavalry charges came crashing down.
A depiction of the Battle of Bannockburn from a 1440s manuscript of Walter Bower‘s Scotichronicon. This is the earliest known depiction of the battle.

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This battle brought about a tactical questioning of the English army, which would have a major impact on the combat tactics of the Hundred Years’ War.

As Robert Bruce predicted, the English knighthood launched an assault charging the Scottish left wing. 

An interpretation of the battle of Bannockburn—first day

Sure of their strength, the English charged without waiting for the arrival of support troops. The assault breaks into traps and stakes. 

On June 24, 1314, 5,000 or 6,000 Scottish soldiers succeeded in gripping the English army, nearly 20,000 to 25,000 men strong, between two streams, the Pelstream Burn and the Bannock Burn. 

With no room to maneuver or charge, the English heavy cavalry, the flagship of Edward’s army, was paralyzed and slaughtered on the spot.

The English didn’t even make good use of the infantry they had. 

The Archers were left at the rear, where they could not be used effectively. When they were finally brought around they devastated the closely packed Scots, but were left undefended and so swiftly destroyed by Scottish cavalry.

The effect of longbowmen and defensive infantry was already well known by this point in history. In addition, the key reason for the defeat was that the over confident King Edward did not wait for his archers to arrive and had no way of breaking the schiltrons effectively. With archers this would have been a very different outcome.

Holkham Bible, c. 1330: Depiction of a biblical battle, giving an impression of how soldiers were equipped at Bannockburn.

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Henri de Bohun was a regarded English knight who during the battle was riding among the heavy cavalry. At one point early in the fighting de Bohun caught sight of the Scottish king Robert the Bruce who was mounted on a small palfrey and armed only with a battle-axe. De Bohun thought he could end the battle early for the English by taking down the Bruce.

De Bohun lowered his lance and charged, but Bruce stood his ground. At the last moment Bruce manoeuvred his mount nimbly to one side, stood up in his stirrups and hit de Bohun so hard with his axe that he split his helmet and head in two.

The Bruce apparently said “I lost a good battle axe. Can anyone find me another”?

Moreover, this early loss of morale doomed the English forces and on the second day of the battle Robert Bruce decided to launch a full-scale attack on the English forces.

Furthermore, Edward ordered his archers to position themselves on the flanks where they could pick their targets. Bruce waited as the longbowmen were moved into position. Bruce released his cavalry on the archers. The bowmen broke and fled down the hill.

In addition Bruce used his schiltrons again as offensive units, a strategy his predecessor William Wallace had not used.

An interpretation of the battle of Bannockburn—second day.

When the English forces faced off with Scottish armies properly ordered, led, undisrupted by artillery or longbow fire, the English tended to lose. As was the case here and at Stirling Bridge, Byland Ridge, Otterburn, Bauge, Haddon Rig, Acrum Moor.

The monument to the battle.

Battle of Bannockburn