Battle of Bannockburn: 5 interesting facts and myths about decisive Robert the Bruce battle

The Battle of Bannockburn took place on this day more than 700 years ago.

Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn – a decisive victory in Scotland’s war for independence.

Between June 23-24 in 1314, the Scots, led by Robert the Bruce, defeated the English troops of Edward II in the historic battle by the Bannock burn (stream).

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Despite being hugely outnumbered by the English forces, the Scots managed to turn the tide on the war which eventually led to independence in 1328.

Battle of Bannockburn's famous Robert the Bruce statue. Inset: Netflix's Outlaw King is said to be a more historically accurate depiction of Robert the Bruce
Battle of Bannockburn's famous Robert the Bruce statue. Inset: Netflix's Outlaw King is said to be a more historically accurate depiction of Robert the Bruce

It was a struggle for the control of Stirling Castle, one of the last English strongholds which was a strategic gateway to the Highlands for the English.

But here are some things you may not know about the historic battle.

Robert the Bruce wasn’t always against the English

The actual ‘braveheart’ – don’t worry, we’ll get to Braveheart – wasn’t always opposed to England. He was more of an opportunist than that.

When Edward Longshanks (Edward I) chose John Balliol as Scotland’s ruler over Bruce’s family, he refused to accept Balliol as their king.

So when Edward I invaded Scotland in 1296, Robert the Bruce’s family gave their support to the English.

The National Trust for Scotland says: “Robert switched allegiance more than once in his life – showing that his actions were not always purely patriotic, and that he would do whatever it took to achieve his ambitions.”

When Edward I seized control of Scotland, Robert the Bruce threw his support behind William Wallace’s rebellion.

No one knows exactly how many fought at the Battle of Bannockburn

While exact numbers aren’t known, it has been said the English force was the largest to ever invade Scotland, and they outnumbered the Scots three to one.

Reports suggest Edward II summoned 25,000 infantry soldiers to break the siege of Stirling Castle from the Scots.

But it’s believed only about half of that number turned up to Bannockburn, with his army amassing about 16,000 foot soldiers and 2,000 cavalry.

In comparison, the Scottish side was made up of about 500 horsemen and 6,000 foot soldiers.

Fought over two days, the number of casualties are also unknown – but historians agree the English suffered far worse.

It is estimated the English lost about 3,000 men in the battle, and Scotland around 100.

However, many English foot soldiers were killed when fleeing the battle and trying to make their way back to England. Some historians estimate that around 11,000 of the original 14,000 English soldiers died in total.

The Battle of Bannockburn did not go down like in Braveheart

Braveheart has been described by the National Trust for Scotland as “epically inaccurate”.

Though this is true in more ways than one, a key moment at the end of the film presents Bannockburn in a less than realistic light.

In the Hollywood film, Robert the Bruce rides out to “pay homage” to the armies of the English king and accept his endorsement of Robert’s crown.

Here it is implied Robert has a sudden change of heart because of what happened to Mel Gibson’s William Wallace. “You have bled with Wallace, now bleed with me!” he shouts to the Scottish warriors.

It’s a stirring moment, but it’s about as accurate as the tartan kilts in this scene.

The whole Bannockburn battle was not a spur of the moment decision. Shockingly, this history-changing event was not decided on a whim. It was carefully planned by the Scots.

Robert the Bruce strategically chose the battleground about a mile south of Stirling Castle, in an elevated, forested area known as New Park. He used trenches along the Bannock burn to funnel the English and prevent their cavalry from charging.

The Scots used schiltrons – formations of tightly-packed infantrymen wielding pikes – to repel the English cavalry and ultimately win. None of this could have happened without careful preparation.

Bannockburn visitor centre isn’t actually where the battle happened

Nowadays, you can visit the Bannockburn visitor centre to relive an epic immersive recreation of the battle.

There is a memorial park with commemorative monuments, including the iconic horse-mounted statue of Robert the Bruce, and two circular walls paying respect to those who died on both sides.

It can be found two miles south of Stirling Castle, and is where the Scots made camp and, according to legend, Bruce raised his royal standard on the eve of battle.

But the actual location of the battleground itself is disputed.

The Carse of Balquhiderock – about a mile and half away from the centre – is thought to be the most likely place where the Scottish forces advanced on the demoralised English on the second day of battle.

Flower of Scotland is about Bannockburn

Scotland’s unofficial national anthem has been bellowed at the Euros in recent weeks.

But did you know it commemorates the famous Battle of Bannockburn?

Written by folk musician Roy Williamson, its lyrics go: “O Flower of Scotland, when will we see your like again, that fought and died for, your wee bit Hill and Glen

“And stood against him (against who?), Proud Edward's Army, and sent him homeward, tae think again.”

And think again he did. After the battle Stirling Castle was surrendered to the Scots and Edward II agreed the release of Robert the Bruce’s wife and family who had been imprisoned for years.

The Edinburgh-Northampton Treaty was signed in 1328 – recognising the independence of Scotland and Robert the Bruce as its king.

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