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Chapter XXVII. Bannockburn

After the complete defeat of the party under Lord Clifford, and the failure of their attempt to relieve Stirling, Randolph and Douglas returned together to the king. The news of their success spread rapidly, and when Randolph rode down from St. Ninians to his division, loud cheers broke from the whole Scottish army, who were vastly encouraged at so fair a commencement of their struggle with the English.

The English army was still advancing slowly, and Bruce and his leaders rode down to the front of the Scottish line, seeing that all was in order and encouraging the men with cheering words. When the English army approached the stream King Edward ordered a halt to be sounded for the purpose of holding a council, whether it was best to encamp for the night or at once to advance against the enemy. The Earls of Gloucester and Hereford, who commanded the first division, were so far ahead that they did not hear the sound of the trumpet, and continuing their onward march crossed the Bannock Burn and moved on toward the Scotch array. In front of the ranks of the defenders the king was riding upon a small palfrey, not having as yet put on his armour for the battle. On his helmet he wore a purple cap surmounted by a crown. Seeing him thus within easy reach, Sir Henry de Bohun, cousin of the Earl of Hereford, laid his lance in rest and spurred down upon the king. Bruce could have retired within the lines of his soldiers; but confident in his own prowess, and judging how great an effect a success under such circumstances would have upon the spirits of his troops, he spurred forward to meet his assailant armed only with his axe. As the English knight came thundering down, the king touched his palfrey with his spur, and the horse, carrying but a light weight, swerved quickly aside; De Bohun's lance missed his stroke, and before he had time to draw rein or sword, the king, standing up in his stirrups, dealt him so tremendous a blow with his axe as he passed, that it cleft through helmet and brain, and the knight fell dead to the ground.

With a shout of triumph the Scotch rushed forward and drove the English advance guard back across the stream; then the Scotch leaders led their men back again to the position which they had quitted, and reformed their array. Douglas, Edward Bruce, Randolph, and Archie Forbes now gathered round the king and remonstrated with him on the rashness of an act which might have proved fatal to the whole army. The king smiled at such remonstrances from four men who had, above all others, distinguished themselves for their rash and daring exploits, and shrugging his shoulders observed only that it was a pity he had broken the shaft of his favourite axe. The English array now withdrew to a short distance, and it became evident that the great battle would be delayed till the morrow. The Scotch army therefore broke its ranks and prepared to pass the night on the spot where it stood. The king assembled all his principal leaders round him, and after thanking God for so fair a beginning of the fight as had that day been made, he pointed out to them how great an effect the two preliminary skirmishes would have upon the spirits of both armies, and expressed his confidence in the final result. He urged upon them the necessity for keeping their followers well in hand, and meeting the charges of the enemy's horse steadily with their spears; and especially warned them, after repulsing a charge, against allowing their men to break their array, either to plunder or take prisoners, so long as the battle lasted, as the whole riches of the English camp would fall into their hands if successful. He pledged himself that the heirs of all who fell should have the succession of their estates free from the usual feudal burdens on such occasions.

The night passed quietly, and in the morning both armies formed their array for battle. Bruce, as was customary, conferred the honour of knighthood upon several of his leaders. Then all proceeded to their allotted places and awaited the onset. Beyond the stream and extending far away towards the rising ground were the English squadrons in their glittering arms, the first division in line, the others in heavy masses behind them. Now that the Scotch were fairly drawn up in order of battle, the English could see how small was their number in comparison with their own, and the king in surprise exclaimed to Sir Ingram de Umfraville:

"What! will yonder Scots fight us?"

"That verily will they," the knight replied, for he had many a time been engaged in stout conflict with them, and knew how hard it was even for mail clad knights to break through the close lines of Scottish spears. So high a respect had he for their valour, that he urged the king to pretend to retire suddenly beyond the camp, when the Scots, in spite of their leaders, would be sure to leave their ranks and flock into the camp to plunder, when they might be easily dispersed and cut to pieces. The king, however, refused to adopt the suggestion, saying, that no one must be able to accuse him of avoiding a battle or of withdrawing his army before such a rabble. As the armies stood confronting each other in battle array a priest passed along the Scottish front, crucifix in hand, exhorting all to fight to the death for the liberty of their country. As he passed along the line each company knelt in an attitude of prayer. King Edward, seeing this, exclaimed to Sir Ingram:

"See yonder folk kneel to ask for mercy!"

"Ay, sire," the knight said, looking earnestly at the Scots, "they kneel and ask for mercy, but not of you; it is for their sins they ask mercy of God. I know these men, and have met and fought them, and I tell you that assuredly they will win or die, and not even when death looks them in the face will they turn to fly."

"Then if it must be so," said the king, "let us charge."

The trumpet sounded along the line. First the immense body of English archers crossed the burn and opened the battle by pouring clouds of arrows into the Scottish ranks. The Scotch archers, who were in advance of their spearmen, were speedily driven back to shelter beyond their line, for not only were the English vastly more numerous, but they shot much further and more accurately. And now the knights and men-at-arms, on their steel clad horses, crossed the burn. They were aware of the existence of Milton Bog, which covered the Scottish centre, and they directed their charge upon the division of Edward Bruce on the Scottish right. The crash as the mailed horses burst down upon the wood of Scottish spears was tremendous. Bruce's men held firm, and the English in vain strove to break through their serried line of spears. It was a repetition of the fight of the previous day, but on a greater scale. With lance and battleaxe the chivalry of England strove to break the ranks of the Scotch, while with serried lines of spears, four deep, the Scotch held their own. Every horse which, wounded or riderless, turned and dashed through the ranks of the English, added to the confusion. This was much further increased by the deep holes into which the horses were continually falling, and breaking up all order in their ranks. Those behind pressed forward to reach the front, and their very numbers added to their difficulty.

The English were divided into ten divisions or "battles," and these one by one crossed the stream with banners flying, and still avoiding the centre, followed the line taken by the first, and pressed forward to take part in the fray.

Randolph now moved with the centre to the support of the hardly pressed right, and his division, as well as that of Edward Bruce, seemed to be lost among the multitude of their opponents. Stewart and Douglas moved their division to the right and threw themselves into the fray, and the three Scottish divisions were now fighting side by side, but with a much smaller front than that which they had originally occupied. For a time the battle raged furiously without superiority on either side. The Scotch possessed the great advantage that, standing close together in ranks four deep, every man was engaged, while of the mounted knights and men-at-arms who pressed upon them, only the front line was doing efficient service. Not only, therefore, was the vast numerical superiority of the English useless to them, but actually a far larger number of the Scottish than of themselves were using their weapons in the front rank, while the great proportion of the English remained helplessly behind their fighting line, unable to take any part whatever in the fight. But now the English archers came into play again, and firing high into the air rained their arrows almost perpendicularly down upon the Scottish ranks. Had this continued it would have been as fatal to the Scots at Bannockburn as it was at Falkirk; but happily the Scottish horse told off for this special service were here commanded by no traitors, and at the critical moment the king launched Sir Robert Keith, the mareschal of Scotland, against the archers with 500 horsemen. These burst suddenly down upon the flank of the archers and literally swept them before them. Great numbers were killed, others fell back upon the lines of horsemen who were ranged behind, impatient to take their share in the battle; these tried to drive them back again, but the archers were disheartened, and retreating across the stream took no further part in the battle. The charge of the Scottish horses should have been foreseen and provided against by placing strong bodies of men-at-arms on the flanks of the archers, as these lightly armed troops were wholly unable to withstand a charge by cavalry.

The Scottish archers, now that their formidable opponents had left the field, opened a heavy fire over the heads of the pikemen upon the horsemen surrounding the squares, and when they had shot away their arrows sallied out and mingled in the confused mass of the enemy, doing tremendous execution with their axes and knives. Hitherto the king had kept his reserve in hand; but now that the English archers were defeated and their horsemen in inextricable confusion, he moved his division down and joined in the melee, his men shouting his well known battle cry.

Every Scotch soldier on the field was now engaged. No longer did the battle cries of the various parties rise in the air. Men had no breath to waste in shouting, but each fought silently and desperately with spear or axe, and the sound of clanging blows of weapons, of mighty crash of sword or battleaxe on steel armour, with the cries and groans of wounded men were alone heard. Over and over again the English knights drew back a little so as to gain speed and impetus, and flung themselves on the Scottish spears, but ever without effect, while little by little the close ranks of the Scotch pressed forward until, as the space between their front and the brook narrowed, the whole of the English divisions became pent up together, more and more incapable of using their strength to advantage. The slaughter in their front divisions had already been terrible. Again and again fresh troops had taken the places of those who had formed the front ranks, but many of their best and bravest had fallen. The confusion was too great for their leaders to be able to direct them with advantage, and seeing the failure of every effort to break the Scottish ranks, borne back by the slow advance of the hedge of spears, harassed by the archers who dived below the horses, stabbing them in their bellies, or rising suddenly between them to smite down the riders with their keen, heavy, short handled axes, the English began to lose heart, and as they wavered the Scotch pressed forward more eagerly, shouting, "On them! on them! They give way! they give way!"

At this critical moment the servants, teamsters, and camp followers who had been left behind Gillies Hill, showed themselves. Some of their number from the eminence had watched the desperate struggle, and on hearing how their soldiers were pressed by the surrounding host of English men-at-arms they could no longer remain inactive. All men carried arms in those days. They hastily chose one of their own number as leader, and fastening some sheets to tent poles as banners, they advanced over the hill in battle array, and moved down to join their comrades. The sight of what theydeemed a fresh division advancing to the assistance of the Scotch brought to a climax the hesitation which had begun to shake the English, and ensured their discomfiture. Those in rear turned bridle hastily, and crossing the Bannock Burn, galloped away. The movement so begun spread rapidly, and although those in front still continued their desperate efforts to break the line of Scottish spears, the day was now hopelessly lost. Seeing that this was so, the Earl of Pembroke seized the king's rein and constrained him to leave the field with a bodyguard of 500 horse. Sir Giles de Argentine, who had hitherto remained by the king's side, and who was esteemed the third best knight in Europe -- the Emperor Henry of Luxemberg and Robert Bruce being reckoned the two best -- bade farewell to the king as he rode off.

"Farewell, sire," he said, "since you must go, but I at least must return; I have never yet fled from an enemy, and will remain and die rather than fly and live in disgrace."

So saying, the knight spurred down to the conflict, and charged against the array of Edward Bruce, and there fell fighting valiantly. The flight of the king and his attendants was the signal for a general rout. Great numbers were slain, many men were drowned in the Forth, and the channel of the Bannock was so choked with the bodies of dead men and horses that one could pass over dry shod. The scattered parties of English were still so numerous that Bruce held his men well in hand until these had yielded themselves prisoners. Douglas was charged to pursue the king, but he could only muster sixty horsemen. A short distance from the field he met a Scottish baron, Sir Laurence Abernethy, with twenty-four men-at-arms, on his way to join the English, for even as yet but few of the Scottish nobles were on the side of the king. Upon hearing what had happened, Sir Laurence, with the easy facility which distinguished the Scottish nobles of the period, at once changed sides, swore fealty to Bruce, and joined Douglas in the pursuit of his late friends. They overtook the king's party at Linlithgow, but Pembroke kept his men well together, and while still retiring, showed so bold an appearance that Douglas did not venture to charge. Finally the English reached the Castle of Dunbar, where the king and his immediate attendants were received by his ally, Earl Patrick of Dunbar. So cowed were the fugitives that they left their horses outside the castle gate, and these were captured by their pursuers. The main body of the king's bodyguard continued their way in good order, and reached Berwick in safety. Edward gained England in a fishing boat from Dunbar. Eighteen years had elapsed since his father had entered Scotland with an army deemed sufficient for its entire subjugation; had sacked and destroyed the rich and prosperous town of Berwick, routed the army of Baliol, marched through Scotland, and, as he believed, permanently settled his conquest. Now the son had lost all that his father had won.

Among the fugitive remains of the English army were a considerable body of Welsh, who, being lightly armed, fled at full speed toward the Border, but being easily distinguished by their white dresses and the absence of defensive armour, almost all were slain by the peasantry. The Earl of Hereford, the Earl of Angus, Sir John Seagrave, Sir Anthony Lucy, Sir Ingram de Umfraville, with a great number of knights, 600 men-at-arms, and 1000 infantry, keeping together, marched south toward Carlisle.

As they passed Bothwell Castle, which was held by the governor for England, the earls and knights entered the castle, their followers remaining without; but the governor, on hearing the result of the battle, closed the gates and took all who had entered prisoners, and, changing sides, handed them over to Bruce. Their followers continued their march south, but were for the most part slain or taken prisoners before they reached the Border.

When all resistance had ceased on the field the victors collected the spoil. This consisted of the vast camp, the treasures intended for the payment of the army, the herds of cattle, and stores of provisions, wine, and forage; the rich wearing apparel and arms of the knights and nobles killed or made prisoners, many valuable horses, and the prisoners who would have to be ransomed, among whom were twenty-two barons and sixty knights.

The spoil was estimated at 200,000 pounds, equal to 3,000,000 pounds of money in these days. The king refused to take any share in this plunder, dividing it wholly among his troops. 30,000 English lay dead on the field, including 200 knights and 700 esquires, and among the most distinguished of the dead were the Earl of Gloucester, Sir Giles de Argentine, Lord Robert Clifford, Sir Edmund Manley, seneschal of England, Sir William de Mareschal, Sir Payne Tybtot, and Sir John Comyn. Sir Marmaduke de Twenge was among the prisoners.

Bruce's conduct to his prisoners was even more honourable to himself than was the great victory that he had won. In spite of his three brothers, his brother in law Seaton, his friends Athole and Frazer, having been executed by the English, and the knowledge that their mangled remains were still exposed over London Bridge and the gates of Carlisle and Newcastle -- in spite of the barbarous and lengthened captivity of his wife, his sister and daughter, and his friend the Countess of Buchan -- in spite of the conviction that had he himself been made prisoner he would at once have been sent to the scaffold -- Bruce behaved with a magnanimity and generosity of the highest kind. Every honour was paid to the English dead, and the bodies of the chief among these were sent to their relatives in England, and the prisoners were all either ransomed or exchanged. Sir Marmaduke de Twenge was dismissed free of ransom and loaded with gifts, and even the Scotch nobles, such as Sir Philip Mowbray, who were taken fighting in the ranks of their country's enemy, were forgiven. This noble example exercised but little influence upon the English. When Edward Bruce was killed four years afterwards at Dundalk in Ireland, his body was quartered and distributed, and his head presented to the English king, who bestowed upon Birmingham -- who commanded the English and sent the gift to him -- the dignity of Earl of Louth.

Among the prisoners was Edward's poet laureate, Baston, a Carmelite friar, who had accompanied the army for the purpose of writing a poem on the English victory. His ransom was fixed at a poem on the Scotch victory at Bannockburn, which the friar was forced to supply.

With Bannockburn ended all hope on the part of the English of subjugating Scotland; but the war continued fitfully for fourteen years, the Scotch frequently invading England and levying heavy contributions from the northern counties and towns, and the English occasionally retaliating by the same process; but at length peace was signed at Northampton.

In 1315 a parliament assembled at Ayr for the purpose of regulating the succession to the throne. It was then agreed that in case of the king's death without male issue his brother Edward should succeed to it, and that if Edward left no heirs, the children of Marjory, the king's daughter, should succeed. Shortly afterwards Marjory was married to Walter the Steward. Edward Bruce was killed unmarried. A son was afterwards born to the king, who reigned as David II, but having died without issue, the son of Marjory and the Steward became king. The hereditary title of Steward was used as the surname for the family, and thus from them descended the royal line of Stewart or Stuart, through which Queen Victoria at present reigns over Great Britain, Ireland, and their vast dependencies.

After Bannockburn Archie Forbes went no more to the wars. He was raised to the dignity of Baron Forbes by the king, and was ever rewarded by him as one of his most trusty councillors, and his descendants played a prominent part in the changing and eventful history of Scotland; but the proudest tradition of the family was that their ancestor had fought as a patriot by the side of Bruce and Wallace when scarce a noble of Scotland but was leagued with the English oppressors of their country.


G. A. Henty