Bannockburn, Flodden, Stirling and Culloden: Great Scottish battles

WARS have shaped the history of the people Scotland since records began.

WARS have shaped the history of the people Scotland since records began.

Some of the most bloody were fought on Scottish soil where countless lives were lost.

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The Battle of Bannockburn (1314)

Thank to the efforts of Robert the Bruce, almost every place in Scotland was back under Scottish control bar Stirling Castle.

Robert’s younger brother Edward Bruce made a deal with the English commander of the castle, Sir Philip Mowbray, that if King Edward had not sent an army to Stirling Castle within a year to fight for it, he would surrender it to the Scots, to which Sir Mowbray agreed.

Midsummer day, June 24, was King Edward’s deadline. True to his word, the English king appeared in Stirling the day before with one of the largest army’s a king had ever had -it was reported to be around 100,000 men - two Englishman for every one Scotsman.

But King Bruce was a greater war general than Edward and this was reflected on the battlefield.

Three miles south of the castle, Bruce set up his men. On one side of them was a stream the English would have to cross, to another a bog. And in the surrounding firmer land, Bruce had pits dug, spikes places then the holes recovered with turf.

By the time the English army reached the Scots, it was too dark to fight, so both sides lay in wait until morning.

A small number of the English army, around 300 men, rode towards Stirling Castle at night. If they could reach it, the pact would be kept. They were held off by Scottish soldiers and fled back to their camp.

Sir Henry de Bohun also attempted to murder the Scottish king that evening, but was unsuccessful and paid with his life.

When the battle begun the next morning, the English archers sent a flurry of arrows towards the Scots, felling them in numbers. Bruce commanded his horsemen on them and soon the archers were killed.

The battle lasted for hours, but the large number of mounted English soldiers were useless against the Scottish foot soldiers and were soon killed in their thousands. Both sides had lost countless numbers and were exhausted. So when the servants of Bruce’s camp - joined by several hundred locals - looked to be ascending on the battlefield, the English retreated.

King Edward first rode to the castle, seeking refuge, but Sir Mowbray kept his end of the deal and told the English king he would surrender the castle by morning.

The king fled towards England and in a narrow escape, managed to make it on a boat back to Berwick.

The Battle Of Flodden (1513)

James IV was king of Scotland and in constant quarrel with King Henry VIII. Both reportedly stubborn and fond of a good fight, the two rulers were often at odds.

With the Auld Alliance still firmly in place, James had warned Henry not to invade France, or he would have no choice but to invade England.

Henry ignored James and set off for France, and James made his way for the north of England.

There are two legends that say James was warned not to get involved, as it would end in casualties for the Scots.

The first was that while James was worshiping at the church of Linlithgow, a strange figure appeared amongst them. The man was wearing a long blue gown and was carrying a pikestaff. Standing in front of the king, he said that he had been sent by his mother to warn him not to go against the English, then disappeared into the night.

The other story is that in Market Cross, Edinburgh a voice called out the names of the 40 noble and gentlemen who would die in the upcoming battle, during the dead of night.

But James determinedly marched upon Flodden Hill and waited for the English army.

When they met on September 9, James fought among the ranks of men, while the Earl of Surrey lead the English from afar, in Henry’s absence.

While the Scots fought well, the English were more experienced in war tactics and soon the Scottish army was surrounded by the English. The Scots fought back but nightfall soon halted the fighting.

When morning broke, the Scots had fled the battlefield, cut in numbers. Lying among the dead was King James, inflicted from many injuries.

The Battle of Culloden (1746)

After an unsuccessful campaign in England, Charles - Bonnie Prince Charlie - retreated back to Inverness, with an English army apparently not far behind. After a long journey, Charles’ Highlander men were unfit for battle - lacking food and clothing - so he had not decided if he was to fight the large army advancing.

The English were lead by the Duke of Cumberland, brother of King George II, who was encamped at Nairn, twelve miles away from the Scots at Culloden Muir.

Charles decided he would fight the English, by sneaking up on them during the night, and set out with his army. However, day broke when they were only three miles from the camp, and Charles decided to pull back, having lost the element of surprise.

Barely returning to their camp, the Scots were exhausted after their 24 mile march with no sleep and had hardly settled down for rest when they were informed that the English were quickly advancing.

8,000 trained men advanced upon the weary and hungry Scots, taking out many of their approximate 6,000 men with canons. The Scots rushed the English, but were no match for the guns ready pointed at them. The men were wiped out with around 2,000 fatalities, compared to the estimated 300 English deaths.

Charles fled from the battle, hiding in the Highlands and Islands for five months before escaping to France, where he lived the rest of his life in exile.

Cumberland took his revenge on the remaining men, killing five of the leaders of the Jacobite rebellion and around 80 clansmen.

Common prisoners were shipped off to the colonies - around 1,000 - with just over 200 being forced into exile. 382 were traded with France for prisoners of war.

The Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297)

In what has been imortalised as William Wallace’s greatest battle, the rebel gentleman heard that the Earl of Surrey was leading an army to the English controlled Stirling Castle.

Wallace was celebrating liberating Dundee from the English, but brought his army at once to the banks of the River Forth, on the opposite side of Stirling.

He proved to be a great general, placing his soldiers in a way that ensured survival - when the English attacked they would only have a narrow bridge to cross, and if they seemed to be being defeated they could retreat backwards, north into the Highlands.

The English sent a messenger to Wallace, demanding his surrender, but Wallace sent him back with his own message: “Go back and tell your masters that we did not come here to ask for peace, but to fight for our freedom. Let them come on, and they will find us ready to fight them.”

This caused the English army to advance on Wallace and his men, hindered by the bridge. They could only cross the narrow stone structure at two abreast.

The Earl wanted to go further down the river where he was told it was possible to wade across, but Cressingham being a man of the church has no experience with war and protested it was costing them time and money.

The English began to advance and waited until a number of them, thought to be around 2,000, had crossed before Wallace advanced his men, overpowering the number. Most of the soilders were killed or drowned.

Cressingham was among the dead and it was said that the Scots hated him so much for his pride and cruelty that they skinned his body and kept pieces of it as trophies.

The remainder of the army and the Earl fled back to England while Wallace took control of Stirling.