Morpeth Rotary Club
Jared Johnson gave a talk to members about the historic background to the relationship between England and Scotland and the decisive battle of Bannockburn 700 years ago.
A 240-year old line of Scottish kings came to an end in 1286 when Alexander III broke his neck in a riding accident. After that, the succession got messy.
Fearing a civil war, the Guardians of Scotland (a group of leading nobles and bishops) invited Edward I of England to come north to arbitrate. A number of claimants came forward and Edward arranged an agreement that he would be judge of the best claim.
As a condition, he got the Scots to acknowledge him Lord Paramount of Scotland. He took control of every Scottish castle and demanded that all Scots pay him allegiance.
Claimants were invited to plead their case at Berwick and two years later he declared John Balliol the winner. He was crowned king at Scone in 1292.
In 1294, Edward I treated him as a vassal and ordered him to provide troops to invade France. The Scots refused and agreed a treaty with France where if England invaded France, the Scots would attack England. This was the first ‘Auld Alliance’ agreement.
It provoked a war, starting with the sack of Berwick by Edward in 1296 where 7,500 men, women and children were killed by the English army. Robert Bruce, the grandfather of Robert the Bruce, refused to help as Balliol had taken over his estate at Carrick.
Balliol surrendered in July and had the crown taken from him. He and many Scottish nobles were taken as prisoners to England.
Revolts broke out in Scotland in 1297 – led by William Wallace in the south and Andrew Murray in the north. Edward was defeated by them at Stirling Bridge, but Murray was fatally wounded.
Wallace was made Guardian of Scotland and he led an invasion into northern England. He even spent time camped in Rothbury Forest. He was later defeated at Falkirk.
Then every year for six years, Edward led an army to attack Scotland. Due to pressure from the Pope and France, Edward had to release John Balliol, who retired to France.
In 1304, Edward captured Stirling Castle, the Pope sided with England and Scotland appeared to have been conquered.
But in 1306, Robert the Bruce rallied the Scots and was crowned king. Edward set off north in 1307 to attack him, but died on the way.
Bruce defeated the English several times and by 1313 he had taken back most of Scotland. In 1314, the Scots laid siege to the last English garrison at Stirling Castle.
Edward II gathered a large army to attack them. He had 2,000 heavy cavalry, 2,000 Welsh bowmen, 500 light cavalry and 16,000 soldiers.
The Scots had about 7,000 men for the battle.
Edward mustered at Berwick and crossed the border at Coldstream. At New Park, the road was the only way through for heavy cavalry to avoid difficult country called the Carse, with water on three sides.
Bruce lined both sides of the road with pits, forcing the English cavalry to use the narrow road, where they could be blocked, or use the Carse.
Edward sent 500 cavalry through a small gorge to relieve the castle, but they were intercepted by Sir Thomas Randolph with formations of men armed with 15’ pikes.
The cavalry charged repeatedly, but they could not break through. The surviving cavalry returned back across the Bannock Burn to the main army.
By early the next day, the bulk of the English army had got through the Carse and began to cross a small ravine and stream to reach the Scots. However, Edward was surprised to see Scots pike formations come from the cover of the woods and move towards him.
The English archers should have been able to deal with this, but Bruce used his 500 light cavalry, led by Sir Robert Keith, to disperse them. The English infantry began to retreat and then the cavalry.
The Scots formations advanced and pushed the English back to the gorge, where they blocked the advance of the rest of the English army. The English cavalry was hemmed in and found it difficult to manoeuvre. The English army scattered and fled, with many drowned as they tried to cross the Bannock Burn and the River Forth. Others were crushed in the rush to escape.
Edward went to Stirling Castle, but the Governor told him not to come in as he had agreed with the Scots to surrender. Edward then went to Dunbar Castle before sailing back to England.
An Earl, 100 knights and 11,000 English soldiers were killed. Scottish losses were light, with only two knights lost.
In 1324, the Pope recognised Robert I as king of an independent Scotland. In 1327, the English deposed and killed Edward II in favour of his son Edward III.
Bruce invaded Lancashire and Yorkshire and in 1328, Edward III was forced to recognise Robert I and Scottish independence. It was agreed that Robert’s son David would marry Edward’s sister.
Robert the Bruce died in 1329. His body is buried at Dunfermline and his heart at Melrose Abbey. Sir Thomas Randolph became Guardian of Scotland as Bruce’s son was only five.
Scotland remained independent until 1707, when the two kingdoms were joined by the Treaty of Union and became the United Kingdom of Great Britain.