Blue Bells of Scotland is being featured today by Alistair Forrest, author of the debut historical fiction Liberatas, at Qhistorical, his online history quiz. He reserves the right to offer amazing prizes, such as cars and luxury homes, when the sponsorship money rolls in. So just in case the money rolled in last night, hurry over to his quiz and give the right answer!
Yesterday was the 696th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, the Scots’ greatest victory against a much larger and better equipped force, a true David and Goliath story. The issue behind the battle was that Edward I of England, also known as Longshanks, or Hammer of the Scots, had declared himself Lord Paramount of Scotland some years earlier. Even after his death in July, 1307, his son Edward II pursued the claim. From 1307 until 1314, the Scots steadily regained, under Robert the Bruce’s leadership, what Edward I had taken, till only Stirling and Berwick remained in English hands. Edward Bruce, Robert’s younger brother, led a siege against Stirling Castle, during which he made an agreement with the commander there, Philip de Mowbray, that if Edward II did not send relief troops by Midsummer’s Day, Mowbray would surrender Stirling to Scotland. Edward II gathered ‘the largest army the world had ever seen’ and marched north. Bruce gathered his troops and arrived first, choosing his ground and preparing it, so that his small force, on the appointed day, not only defeated, but routed, England’s great army. Edward II ran from the field, pursued by the great James Douglas.
A great deal has been written about the Battle of Bannockburn, in books, articles, web pages. There is an entire museum devoted to it at the site of the battle itself (well worth seeing, in my opinion). So today I post about the lesser known aftermath of the battle.
Put yourself in the scene. Tensions have been high for years. A stronger nation has taken control of yours by force of arms. For seven years, you have been steadily leading small groups of men against its large armies, bit by bit taking back your country, but only through the stealthier moves of guerrilla warfare, laying traps, using the land against them, striking fast and fleeing into the hills where they cannot pursue. You have accomplished this re-taking of your country largely by avoiding face to face battle. Their numbers are simply too great. But some months ago, your rash and hot-headed brother forced you into exactly what you’ve so far avoided. What have you felt all these months, knowing you must finally face this great force in pitched battle, knowing you do not have the numbers?
Bruce announced before the battle that any man might choose then and there to leave the battle and go to the aid of his family, that it would not be held against him. To me, this sounds like a man very realistic in his assessment of what might happen to Scotland that day. He’d used everything he had to give his men and his country the best possible chance. He also knew it might not be enough. He knew Edward II and the English armies would ravage, rape, pillage, and murder throughout his country if they were not stopped at Bannockburn.
So what was he feeling on the evening of June 24, as he watched Edward II fly from the field under his banner of three lions, shielded by his advisors? As the reports must have come back to him, perhaps standing where the borestone stands today, of English knights and foot soldiers drowning as they tried to retreat back across the Bannock Burn, till the bodies piled so high that the rest could walk across? Elation at his victory? Plans to celebrate all night? Gloating at driving out the invaders who had caused his country, his family, and himself, so much sorrow and pain? Hatred? A thirst for vengeance? Plans already formulating to pursue Edward and do to England what Edward would have done to his people?
The Bruce, by all accounts, was a man of deep faith, though, sadly, very little is written specifically on this aspect of his life. Knowing this, however, it is not surprising that the great Robert the Bruce met the dawn of June 25, 1314, with exhaustion. He had spent weeks training his men and preparing the ground for England’s invasion; and two days fighting the greatest army ever seen, with probably a relatively sleepless night of planning and prayer in between. But he spent the night of June 24-June 25, after the battle, in the chapel of the Abbey of Cambuskenneth, a mile from the field, giving thanks to God and paying his respects by keeping vigil over the body of Gilbert St. Clare of Gloucester: his cousin and his enemy who had fought against him. This event alone speaks volumes about the character of the Bruce.
On June 25, despite his exhaustion, he returned to work. Scotland, by this point, was poverty-stricken from the constant wars with England. Not only was the battle the previous day a military success, and a great boost to the morale and hope of the struggling country, but it provided a much-needed infusion of wealth. Edward II liked to travel in style. When he and his knights fled, they naturally had no time to carry their wealth. On June 25, Bruce and his chancellor, Abbot Bernard, Bernard de Linton, and an army of monks and priests manned tables at Cambuskenneth Abbey, accounting for the wealth brought in off the field: gold and silver vessels, plate, jewelry, ceremonial weapons encrusted with jewels, crosses, saddle cloths, banners, banners, harnesses, clothing worked in gold, armor, helmets and shields often encrusted or worked in gold and silver. 200 pairs of gold spurs, left behind by English knights, were brought in. King Edward’s own shield and his royal seal both found their way to Cambuskenneth, rather than returning to England. The wealth has been calculated at more than 200,000 pounds, a fortune even by today’s standards.
And what were other actors in this great drama doing on June 25, in the wake of the great battle? Some of the Scottish army was rising with headaches from the previous night’s drunken celebrations. Most of the army and virtually none of the town and castle had slept the previous night, for the ringing of bells throughout the countryside, deep tolling carrilons and higher, ringing pitches shouting with joy. Much of the army was scouring the field, stripping the dead of their weapons and treasures. The bodies of the great English lords and knights were carried off the field with respect. Normally, the knights and lords in medieval battles were taken hostage and held for ransom. At Bannockburn, in the confusion and pressure of fighting so many, in addition to at least one incident of an English knight rushing to battle so quickly that he didn’t take time to don his identifying tabard, many knights and lords were killed, so that on June 25, the Earl of Gloucester, 200 knights, and 6 barons lay dead.
England’s Sir Aymer de Valence was riding hard for his life, at the side of Edward II. They headed for Dunbar Castle on the coast, held by their supporter and Bruce’s cousin, Patrick Cospatrick, 9th Earl of Dunbar; they had been turned away from Stirling Castle by Mowbray. Some accounts report that as they fled south, they passed their own great army’s wagon train still heading north.
Mowbray’s life, on June 25, hung in the balance. He was brought before Bruce, a man who had caused Bruce and Scotland no end of trouble over the years. Some advised Bruce to hang him. Thomas Randolph, Bruce’s nephew, is said by Nigel Tranter, the novelist, to have advocated, “Do with him as you did with me.” That is, show him mercy, offer him the chance to come into the peace of the Bruce. Thomas Randolph claimed, as the reward Bruce had promised him the previous day, the life of Mowbray. Mowbray chose to come into Bruce’s peace that day, and thereafter served him and Scotland faithfully.
One of the greatest medieval knights, Giles de Argentan, lay dead on the field of Bannockburn. He had bought time for Edward II’s escape with the words, “It is not my custom to fly,” before returning to the battle. They were most likely among his last words.
James Douglas and his men spent the day pursuing Edward II. One of their number, lucky or unlucky enough, as the case may be, to have gotten close enough to grasp the king’s reins, lay dead on this day, having been bludgeoned to death by Edward Plantagenet’s mace.
Edward Bruce, for his part, along with Robert Boyd, also pursued fleeing English knights. They returned to Bruce with a small army of nobles captured at Lanarkshire’s Bothwell Castle, to hand over as prisoners: Henry de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, Lord High Constable of England; Robert de Umfraville, Earl of Angus; Sir Ingram de Umfraville, former Guardian of Scotland; Maurice, Lord Berkeley; John, Lord Segrave; Hugh, Lord Despenser who makes later appearances in history; John, Lord Ferrers; John, Lord Rich; Edmund, Lord Abergavenny; and Sir Anthony de Lucy of the great Lucy family, plus many lesser men. It must have been quite a crowded hall. On June 25, they began their time in the dungeons of Stirling. Several of them would be held for ransom, and some traded, in future weeks, for the release of Bruce’s wife, sisters, and daughter, and Isabel MacDuff.
Sir Ralph de Monthermer, Earl of Gloucester, Herford and Atholl; John Comyn, Earl of Angus, son of the Red Comyn killed by Bruce in 1306, and some 70 other knights also spent the day waiting to hear their fate as captives of the Bruce and Scotland. In another enlightening glimpse of Bruce’s character, and much to the dismay of many in Scotland, several of these great knights were sent home without ransom.
Sir Marmaduke Tweng was one of these. His reputation for goodness survives even now, nearly 700 years after his death. As pertains to the Battle of Bannockburn and June 25, however, Sir Marmaduke, one of the most respected knights of Christendom, renowned for honor, chivalry, and goodness, was unhorsed, though unwounded. He spent the night of June 24 in hiding, and on June 25 wandered the bloody field, searching for Bruce, determined to surrender to none other than the king. The incident is recorded, among others, by Nigel Tranter, a novelist with a reputation for thorough research, and David Cornell in Bannockburn: The Triumph of Robert the Bruce. On recognizing Sir Marmaduke, who fell on his knee to surrender, Bruce bid him rise, and in respect to his reputation for goodness, valor, and honor, offered him refreshment in his own tent, and sent him on his way home to England, rather than claim the great ransom he would have received for this great knight.
June 24 was a significant day in Scottish history. June 25 was a significant day in the personal lives of hundreds of men who fought there, when decisions were made and fates decided. What was your June 25th like?