Day Two of the Battle of Bannockburn, 24th June 1314
Dr Callum Watson, Battle Coordinator
24 Jun 2018
On this day in 1314, the Battle of Bannockburn came to an end. However, it is possible that King Robert was still considering withdrawing as late as the evening of the 23rd June. The Scots had had the best of the fighting on the first day of battle, and the English had camped in an inferior position to the Scots (as would become clear as the second day of battle progressed), but the English still grossly outnumbered the Scots and Bruce was probably wondering whether he had already pushed his luck as far as it would stretch. The king may only have finally committed to fight for a second day after Sir Alexander Seton – a Scottish knight who had been fighting for the English on the first day – defected to the Scottish camp, bringing with him tales of distrust between King Edward and his commanders, blazing rows among the leading men in the English army, and desperately low morale among the common soldiers. However, whether Bruce was still making up his mind on the evening of the 23rd or not, there can be no doubt that he had trained his men for this eventuality during the six to eight weeks before the battle. The attack he was about to launch against the English was far too sophisticated to expect his men to pull it off with only hours’ notice.
A map showing the lay of the land on 23rd-24th June 1314. On the evening of 23rd June, the Scots had camped in the New Park, while the English had camped in the area labelled on this map as ‘Carse’. On the second day of battle, the Scots advanced eastward and attacked the English while they were still mostly unprepared, using the relatively narrow area between the Bannock Burn and the Pelstream Burn to prevent the English bringing their superior numbers to bear against them.
On the morning of 24th June, the Scots formed up along Balquhidderock Ridge, at the western edge of the Carse, and began advancing towards the area where the English had camped. Suddenly, the Carse – which the night before had seemed like such a secure place to camp – became a trap in which the English were caught. Between the Pelstream Burn to the north and the Bannock Burn to the south, the English could not form up in large enough numbers to overwhelm the Scots, forcing them to face the well-trained and organised Scottish spearmen head-on – just like they had been forced to do at the entrance of the New Park the previous day. Yet even now King Robert retained the option to retreat by holding back his own division in reserve while the bulk of the Scottish army advanced against the English in two divisions – one led by the king’s brother Edward Bruce, earl of Carrick, and the other led by the king’s nephew Thomas Randolph, earl of Moray (the late fourteenth-century Scottish poet John Barbour claims there was a fourth Scottish division, led jointed by the recently-knighted Sir James Douglas and Sir Walter Stewart, but this has been convincingly challenged by historian Sonja Cameron).
The coat of arms of Sir Alexander Seton, reproduced based on his seal attached to the so-called Declaration of Arbroath. Despite something of a chequered history in Scottish and English service, his defection at a crucial moment at the Battle of Bannockburn seems to have cemented his position as a close councillor of the king, and he would emerge as a trusted supporter of King Robert in the years after 1314. Image: thesetonfamily.com
To their credit, the English tried to form up their longbowmen on the northern side of the battlefield. Used en masse by highly-skilled English and Welsh archers, the longbow could be a deadly threat to the slow-moving, tightly-packed spear formations preferred by the Scots. The Scots had learned this the hard way at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, and they would be periodically and painfully be reminded of it repeatedly over the course of the fourteenth-century. However, Bruce seems to have anticipated this and he dispatched his lightly-armoured cavalry to deal with the English archers. Being lightly-armoured meant that the Scottish cavalry was fast, and they could therefore quickly close distance with the longbowmen and scatter them before they could pose a serious threat to either the spearmen or the cavalry themselves. The most detailed account of this cavalry action comes from the late fourteenth-century poem known as The Bruce, written by John Barbour, archdeacon of Aberdeen, in the 1370s, but it is somewhat supported by the contemporary poet Robert Baston, who had been brought to Bannockburn by Edward II in the hopes he would write a poem celebrating the English king’s anticipated victory but was then captured by the Scots and instead compelled to do the same for Bruce. According to Baston’s poem, which is preserved in its earliest form in a fifteenth-century copy, the Scottish army was composed of ‘cavalry and infantry’. In fact, only the Vita Edwardi Secundi, written by one of Edward II’s courtiers in 1320s, states categorically that ‘not only of them [the Scots] was on horseback’, and this should probably best be understood as a broad generalisation rather than an outright statement of fact (indeed, even Barbour claims that the Scots fought ‘on fute’ (Bk. 11, ll. 297) at Bannockburn, but this does not deter him from later mentioning the role played by Keith’s cavalry).
The coat of arms of Robert Keith, lord Marischal of Scotland. Originally from Lothian, for his services to King Robert he received a significant portion of those lands in the north-east of Scotland forfeited by the Comyn family. As a consequence, the Keiths became one of the major noble families in the north-east of the kingdom during the fourteenth- and fifteenth-centuries. Image: Battlepedia
With the English bowmen driven from the field, the rest of the Scottish army could get down to the grisly business of forcing the English army further and further back towards the two streams. Soon, the Scots had pushed so far forward as to threaten King Edward himself, whose shield-bearer – Sir Roger Northburgh – was dragged from his horse and captured. Sir Edmund Mauley, the steward of the king’s household, was also killed, seemingly leading the king’s household knights in a futile final charge against the advancing Scottish schiltrons in an attempt to slow them down, and Mauley’s brother Robert was wounded and captured. Recognising the danger the king was in, Sir Giles d’Argentan (who was later credited by the Scottish writer John Barbour as ‘the third best knight who lived in his time’) dragged Edward away from the fighting but – having apparently never run from a fight before and being unwilling to do so now – Sir Giles then returned to the battle and was killed. Once the king had fled, the rest of the English army began to scatter as well. Those on the northern side of the battlefield followed the king towards Stirling Castle, but those on the southern side of the battlefield (which may have been the majority) decided that their best hope of escape would be back across the Bannock Burn. This is where their problems really began. The wetlands on either side of the burn had been churned into a muddy mess by all the English feet and hooves that had passed back and forth across it during the past two days. Anyone who slipped as they ran back across risked drowning in the mud, being trampled by the panicked soldiers following behind them, or both. By the end of the day, according to Barbour, so many Englishmen had drowned in the Bannock Burn that it was possible to walk across on the backs of these corpses without even getting wet feet (Bk. 13, ll. 337-340).
Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, as he appears in our exhibition. His mother – Joan of Acre – was one of Edward II’s older sisters, and thus he was the king’s nephew. He was selected by the king to lead the vanguard (the leading element of the English army) on its approach to Stirling on 23rd June, a move that seriously alienated Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford, who as Lord Constable of England expected that honour by right of his office. Gloucester was unhorsed by the Scottish spearmen in the New Park on the first day of battle, a fact that he seems to have taken as a serious affront to his honour. On the second day of battle he was killed fighting charging into the front-line of the Scottish army as it advanced. According to Barbour, he was killed because he had not had time to put on his surcoat (the garment displaying his coat of arms and therefore identifying him as the earl of Gloucester), and so the Scots had no idea that they were killing someone who would have been far more valuable as a captive. Nonetheless, his body was repatriated to his family at the expense of the apparently penitent King Robert. Image: Battlepedia
King Edward’s flight towards the castle was to be short-lived. The garrison reminded him that now that the Scots had won the battle, they would be compelled to surrender the castle to King Robert. If Edward was inside the castle when it was surrendered he would become a prisoner of the Scots, and the only way he would ever regain his freedom would be by formally recognising Bruce’s rights as King of Scots – a move that would bring the war to an end. Instead, Edward was compelled to flee down the western side of the battlefield, apparently exploiting the fact that by now the entire Scottish army – including King Robert’s reserve – had advanced into the Carse, and hastily travelled the 65 miles to Dunbar, from where he could take a ship to England and safety. King Edward was pursued all the way to Dunbar by Sir James Douglas, who did not have enough men with him to overwhelm the king’s bodyguard altogether but was at least able to keep pace with the English king and take captive any of the king’s men who fell behind.
Detail from a depiction of the Battle of Bannockburn painted by Jim Proudfoot. This image gives a particularly clear impression of the way in which the Scots exploited the narrow space available for the battle to entrap the English and apply enough pressure on them to make them break and flee.
Victory at Bannockburn did not win the war for King Robert. However, it did significantly change the nature of the conflict. Increasingly, the war would be fought not on Scottish soil but in northern England, where Scottish raiding was used to undermine local confidence in King Edward's government and ultimately force the English to negotiate an end to the violence. Crucially, victory at Bannockburn allowed Bruce carve up Scotland among his own supporters, rewarding those loyal to him with lands and titles confiscated from men who still refused to recognise him as king. In the short term, this policy united the political community of the realm around King Robert, which is what allowed Bruce to start taking the war to the English. In the long run, this policy would cause serious problems for Scotland, since those who had lost lands in Bruce's settlement of the kingdom (known later as 'the Disinherited') would, after King Robert's death, return to Scotland to make trouble for Bruce's successors.