The battle of Bannockburn: Robert Bruce’s fight for freedom

The battle of Bannockburn (23–24 June 1314) was fought to the south-east of Stirling Castle in central Scotland. It was the climax of a brutal civil war, pitting the Scots under Robert the Bruce against the English under Edward II. Here, Fiona Watson explains the circumstances surrounding the battle and reveals how the conflict was later recast as an epic struggle for liberation...

A statue of Robert the Bruce Statue at Stirling Castle, Scotland. (Dreamstime)

There are only about four hours of proper darkness at midsummer in Scotland. For the English army crossing the boggy ground beneath the town of Stirling, that was just enough time to feed and water horses and men, clean equipment and wonder what lay ahead of them once the sun rose. Morale was low. The foot soldiers were exhausted, having been forced to march as quickly as they could from Edinburgh 30 miles away in order to meet the midsummer deadline agreed for the relief of Stirling Castle. And they had failed to best their Scottish enemies earlier the previous day, 23 June 1314, in a series of encounters including the infamous attempt by Sir Henry de Bohun to kill the Scottish king in single combat, only to be felled by one mighty blow of Robert Bruce’s battle-axe.

Nevertheless, Edward II was prepared. What he did not expect was the Scots to fight, for it was their habit to disappear into the hills when confronted by an English army. But now, as dawn crept into the sky, Edward could see the Scots advancing in three brigades of spearmen before kneeling before him. The English king was exultant, believing that this was a prelude to surrender – until it was pointed out to him that, though the Scots sought mercy, it was from God rather than the English.

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