Let Battle Commence

23 Jun 2016

On 22 June, Robert made careful preparations and moved his men to the New Park, 2 miles south of Stirling Castle. He chose his ground wisely. The trees of the hunting reserve beside the road to the castle would make it difficult for Edward to deploy his cavalry, while Halbert's Bog and the rolling hills to the south-west would protect them from attack on that side. Robert wanted to defend his flanks and force Edward's troops to fight his army head on. He prepared the open ground with knee-deep pits, planted with stakes, to trap the horses. Disguised with grass and sticks, ditches also proved a hazard to enemy cavalry.

In the New Park, the day of the 23rd dawned with Mass and a breakfast of bread and water as it was the eve of the saint's day of St John the Baptist. For Edward's troops, it was a quick march from Falkirk towards Stirling. In the early afternoon Sir Philip Mowbray slipped out of Stirling Castle to warn Edward that Robert had blocked the road through the Park and anyway, technically the castle had been releived. But Edward had no intention of leaving it there.

Many of the young soldiers in the English army were desperate to get to grips wiht the Scots, who normally avoided pitched battles. Although Edward commanded his army to halt for a break, the vanguard pressed on, either mistaking or ignoring his orders. Robert's spearmen stood firm and the vanguard was repulsed. The Earl of Gloucester was thrown from his horse, although escaped unharmed.

Early in the engagement, the young knight Henry de Bohun, the Earl of Hereford's nephew, spotted Robert, mounted on a palphrey and armed only with a battle axe, reviewing his forward troops. The gold crown on his helmet gave him away. De Bohun spurred his horse and charged. Robert coolly swerved at the last moment, stood in his stirrups and struck a deadly blow on de Bohun's head, breaking his battle axe in the action. It was a major morale-booster to Robert's troops. However the incident, calls into question Bruce's judgement in placing himself in such a vulnerable position; a different result would have proved disastrous.

Two experienced knights, Sir Robert Clifford and Sir Henry de Beaumont, determined to try a flanking movement, took over 300 horsemen around to the north along the edge of the higher ground, perhaps to get behind Bruce's army and prevent a retreat. Spotting them, Moray, postioned at St Ninian's Kirk to the west, ordered his men into a schiltron, which pushed back the cavalry. At least one English knight was captured. As the cavalry retreated, the first day of battle was effectively over.

After an exhasuting day, Edward met with his leaders to discuss what to do next. When the Earl of Gloucester suggested giving the troops time to rest and rethink their plans, Edward accused him of treason. Gloucester prophetically swored that he would fight to the death.

Desperate for water for his men and horses, and wishing to be out of the way of a possible Scottish night attack, Edward decided to cross the Bannockburn Burn and set up camp for the night on the carse beyond.

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