Wartime Wednesday: The Battle Of Stirling Bridge

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Today

I regret to inform you that due to bad planning (unexpected success) the introduction has become cumbersome and must be relegated to the formal bibliography to make room for better introductions. Those responsible for the llama portions of planning up to this point have been sacked. Thank you.

Today’s guest author is Stray Brit, who graciously (or foolishly, I’m paid in Bert’s!) stepped up in relief of Leaf – who will be back, time permitting. Since the co-founder appears to have resigned to pursue other interests, I’ve decided to try to keep it going for as long as there are volunteers willing to contribute. We even have a Discord server for those who have written a post and want to do more. Want in, OK, but the price of admission is a use-able post submission and the honest intent to write another one.

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The Battle

The Scottish forces gathered around Stirling Castle – a powerful outpost on the north bank of the river Forth and garrisoned by the English. In essence whoever controlled that castle effectively controlled much of the Scottish lowlands. In response the English advanced to the southern banks of the river. The English had a 10-1 (at least) advantage in cavalry and at the time the English heavy cavalry were considered amongst the best in Europe. They also had the yeoman longbowmen who were to dominate European battlefields for a couple of centuries. On top of this they had, probably, somewhere in the region of a 3-1 advantage in infantry numbers. Easy huh?

On Sept 10th 1297 a local knight, Sir Richard Lundie, persuaded Warenne to send a substantial cavalry force northwest to a ford a few miles away. This would give the English a substantial presence on the north bank and an effective flanking group once the infantry battle started. This order was countermanded by Cressingham on the grounds of cost and time. So, on Sept 11th the advance guard of bowmen and infantry marched across the bridge to establish a beachhead. The bridge was timber and only about 4-5 feet wide. It was said that 2 knights could just cross side by side.

Unfortunately for the English, Warenne overslept and so the advance force was recalled. By the time he had got out of bed and had breakfast the Scots were waiting. The advance force was ordered back across the bridge to the boggy soil on the north side and this time the cavalry was sent with them. The Scots waited until they thought there was the maximum number of English on the north bank that they could reasonably deal with and attacked. The first wave were armed with 12ft long spears in tight units known as schiltrons. This was apparently a tactical novelty which has been tentatively ascribed to de Moray. These and the boggy ground meant that the cavalry could make no impact and their counter attack failed disastrously, the survivors attempting to ditch their armour and escape back by swimming.

Once the cavalry were dispatched de Moray attacked the eastern flank of the English infantry with a mixed force of schiltrons and swordsmen. The reach advantage of the schiltron spear caused great confusion in the English and they fell back with considerable losses. Just as they were starting to try and organize a controlled retreat across the bridge Wallace attacked the western flank with his force and turned the engagement into a rout.

In this initial part of the battle the English lost probably 10% of their total cavalry force and around 2000 infantry. This still left Warenne with a powerful force on the southern bank and with enough bowmen to ensure that the Scots could not mount an attack. For whatever reason he lost his nerve and once the final survivor made it back across the bridge, supposedly the only remaining knight Sir Marmeduke Thweng, he ordered the bridge destroyed and retreated to Berwick.

This left the castle garrison isolated and caused two of the Scottish Lords, Stewart and Malcolm, to switch sides, again, and rejoin the Scots forces. The retreat was done so badly that the baggage train and support troops were left exposed and attacked by the Scots let by Stewart, who always had an eye for the main chance. This caused the loss of the entire train and probably another 5000 English dead.

Aftermath

The Scots losses are not known with any real accuracy but were certainly very low. The only ‘named’ casualty was de Moray – leaving Wallace to garner all the plaudits.

Cressingham made the mistake of being captured and in some accounts is said to have been flayed alive and dismembered with Wallace taking a strip of skin “from the head to the heel, to make therewith a baldrick for his sword”. Others dispute this by saying he was dead before that, but either way the message is quite plain to the eyes of the time.

Wallace was made “Guardian of Scotland” and promptly set out to attack England. This achieved very little other than further infuriating Edward, who determined to counter the Scots advance. Accordingly he returned from Flanders in early 1298, rearranged his army and marched north. Here Wallace was shown to be more of a guerrilla commander than a leader of an army, with the Stirling tactics probably being de Moray’s work, and he was comprehensively defeated at the battle of Falkirk – Edward earning the sobriquet “Hammer of the Scots”.

BRaG’s Background Bibliography:

The text that follows isn’t mine, but rather Stray Brit’s, excerpted from the original whole. Too big to use straight up, I’m afraid, but I wanted to salvage what I could include. So here it is.

The Rebellion:

This starts, as with many such things, with small bands of guerrilla fighters raiding supply lines and weak outposts. The occupying forces were presumably acting in the normal (for the period) fashion as the support for the bands grew rapidly. The two most effective leaders to emerge from this period are William Wallace and Andrew de Moray. They create enough havoc and disruption that the Scottish Lords decide to pledge forces to the effort – thus giving them a substantial organized armed force.

At this point Edward decides he needs to re-establish his control and, not expecting much resistance after Dunbar, decides to stay fighting in Flanders and sends another army north under the dual control of the John de Warenne, the 6th Earl of Surrey and Hugh de Cressingham. It was an interesting choice. Warenne was 65 by this time and was a highly experienced commander. He was also suffering from battle injuries and a distinct fondness for the bottle. Cressingham was sent along to make sure that the expedition was was fought as cheaply as possible, because Edward was flushing money fighting the French. He’d also spent the previous 18 months extracting as much money from the Scots as possible. Needless to say, he was not a popular figure.

For deeper background on the Scots’ opponent. A little bird told me that Eddie was a rather naughty boy. 😉

In the 13th century Scotland was an independent country and had been since the Picts annihilated the Roman 9th legion in 108 AD. In 1291 the Scots’ King Alexander III is killed falling off his horse in a drunken overnight trip to see his new queen. The ensuing succession crisis threatened to lead to civil war so the Scottish Lords asked William 1st to arbitrate. William 1st of England is a major league land-grabber. Mainly interested in solidifying his French ‘claims’ at this time, but he’s clearly starting to get to thinking more about expanding domestically. Note that he’s the king of England, do not confuse this with Great Britain or the United Kingdom neither of which existed at that time.

I included this to refer back to the last of Leaf’s posts on the Unification of Japan. He’s the character that Shogun’s viewpoint character “John Blackthorn” was based on, as was mentioned previously. Enjoy, please.

Previous entries: The Battle of Lone Jack, The Battle of Cynoscephalae, The Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, The Battle of Stamford Bridge, The Battle of Hampton Roads, The Battle of Hansado, The Battle of Okehazama, and The Battle of Sekigahara

What do y’all think about all this? The First Rule of WTW Club is you talk about WTW Club Topics, amIrite?

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MasterChief
MasterChief
06/24/2020 1:20 pm

Being a direct descendant of William Wallace’s brother (and father), and also being a descendant of English ancestors, this was very interesting to read!

MasterChief
MasterChief
Reply to  BleedingRedAndGold
06/24/2020 2:43 pm

So cool! Thanks for that!

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