Guardians of Scotland Downloads
This in an extract from the Guardians of Scotland booklets, which are all free to download at the bottom of the page. Hope you enjoy them.
At the point when Wallace, Murray, Graham and Ogilvy, among others, were starting to fight back against Edward I, the Bruce family was so against Balliol’s reign, and the Comyn family, that it had temporarily taken sides with Edward I. However, when Edward sent Robert the Bruce to capture Douglas lands and, particularly, young James Douglas, the future king joined Wallace’s cause. (There would be more back and forth exchanges between the Bruce and Edward I, as the Bruce family held substantial territories in England. However, any trust that might have been there appears to have been spent after Robert the Bruce sided with the Douglas family on this occasion).
The events that followed are best known for the destruction of Edward I’s army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge on 11 September 1297, as a result of Wallace and Murray joining forces. Murray had been operating in the north east in taking on Edward’s forces and supporters. So much so that he might be seen as having presented the greater threat until Wallace and Murray joined forces. (That said Murray was working in more immediately fertile territory, as Wallace operated in areas where support for Edward was more firmly established if not accepted).
The Scots’ success in the battle was largely due to the English leaders’ over-confidence and the Scots’ considerable resolve. An English army designed for an open battlefield and level ground advanced into a trap where a bridge provided a bottleneck in advance of a relatively confined area.
Image: Stirling Castle today
The notoriously brutal Hugh Cressingham, (who had been running Scotland’s occupation on behalf of the Earl of Surrey), is said to have persuaded the Earl not to add to existing costs by attempting an outflanking manoeuvre via a crossing further up the River Forth.
It seems, despite the obvious tactical disadvantage involved in crossing the bridge, the arrival of thousands of reinforcements had added to expenses and, for Cressingham, significant losses on both sides were an acceptable option. In other words, he may have thought using sheer force of numbers alone to overwhelm the Scots would save paying all the English troops who didn’t survive.
Sir Andrew Murray was wounded in the battle and died some time later, possibly while trying to recover from serious wounds. Nevertheless, following the battle Murray and Wallace both become Guardians of Scotland and the victors’ role or position is such that Murray and Wallace follow the battle by issuing the Lübeck letter - an invitation for European traders to engage in trade with a free Scotland.
There were two letters originally and they set out to re-establish trading links with the Hanseatic League towns of Hamburg and Lübeck. The Hanseatic League formed an economic alliance of cities and their guilds, which largely controlled trade along the coast of northern Europe between the 13th and 17th Centuries.
The League stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and included locations such as Hamburg, Lübeck, Hannover, Kraków, Berlin, Antwerp, Aberdeen and Hull, among many others. The Hanseatic cities had their own laws and mutual protections, which often amounted to a measure of political autonomy.
“Andrew Moray and William Wallace, leaders of the army of the Kingdom of Scotland and the Community, to their worthy and beloved friends, the Mayors and citizens of Lübeck and Hamburg, greeting. We have been told by trustworthy merchants of the Kingdom of Scotland that you are giving help and favour in all business concerning us and our merchants for which we thank you. We ask that it be made known among your merchants that they will now have safe access to all ports in the Kingdom of Scotland, since Scotland, blessed be God, has been rescued from the power of the English by force of arms. Given at Haddington in Scotland, on the 11th day of October in the year of grace one thousand two hundred and ninety seven.”
Unsurprisingly, Edward I was less than satisfied with the turn of events and he remained determined to win Scotland back by whatever means he thought necessary. Yet another English army was sent to invade Scotland and the resulting Battle of Falkirk in 1298 is often seen as signalled the beginning of the end for the popular defence of Scotland led by Wallace.
The English army apparently hit lucky when they received word that Wallace’s troops were not quite far enough away to be safe from them. A forced march took them to a position close enough to the Scots to make retreat as poor an option for the Scots as staging a defence.
Wallace’s troops became exposed to Edward I’s archers and the Scots could find no respite. Without cavalry support the Scots’ were fixed in static, circular schiltron formations, which bristled with hundreds of long spears that could not be brought to bear. It has been claimed that this was because the Comyn family withheld their light cavalry from the battle just when they were needed most. However, that is far from confirmed - and propaganda was thick on the ground by this stage.
Wallace resigned his Guardianship following the loss of life at Falkirk, then travelled to France to attempt to gain support from Philip IV of France, but none materialised. Upon returning to Scotland Wallace waged a guerrilla campaign in Scotland’s lowlands and it is interesting to observe that he remained able to muster sufficient force to require Edward I to commit huge resources to Scotland. In addition Wallace is said to have been offered command of the forces mustered for the Battle of Rosslyn during an extraordinary invasion.
Roslin, or Rosslyn, was a remarkable event on several levels, but rarely mentioned alongside the battles at Dunbar, Stirling Bridge, Falkirk or Bannockburn. This can appear to be due to shifting positions within Scotland, (which are difficult to untangle), but neither Wallace nor, particularly, Sir John Comyn, were likely to be recorded as the first among many when later chronicles were more concerned with recording Robert I’s victory at Bannockburn.
The ‘battle’ of Rosslyn itself is often claimed to have resulted from the actions of Sir John de Segrave, who had been given control of English troops in Scotland after Falkirk. De Segrave seemingly fell in love with Lady Margaret Ramsey of Dalhousie while commander of Edinburgh Castle. However, Lady Margaret was said to be romantically entangled with Sir Henry St. Clair of Rosslyn and disinterested in de Segrave.
According to this version: Sir Henry and Lady Margaret were betrothed late in 1302 and instead of taking the news on the chin de Segrave asked Edward I to allow him to march an army of up to 30,000 soldiers into Scotland. In February 1303 these soldiers crossed the border under the cover of darkness and descended upon Melrose. From there they split into three forces with one attacking Borthwick Castle near Gorebridge; the second besieging Lady Margaret's home at Dalhousie Castle; and the third, under de Segrave, assaulting Sir Henry St. Clair at Rosslyn.
Fortunately for the Scots, Prior Abernethy, at Mount Lothian Priory (near Balantradoch), sent monks on horseback to raise the alarm. Sir William Wallace, Sir John Comyn, Sir Simon Fraser, Somerfield of Carnwarth, Simon of the Lee, Flemming of Cumbernauld and Sir Henry St. Clair were all within reach.
An army of 8,000 local people mustered at Biggar where what one commentator describes as a collegiate system of command was introduced. Wallace was apparently offered overall command, but suggested Sir Simon Fraser lead the army; Prior Abernethy brought vital knowledge of the local area; and, as a Guardian of the Realm, Sir John Comyn is said to have been elected nominal Commander.
The Scots moved north and by the evening of February 23rd the army had assembled in Bilston Wood. What then followed were three battles in rapid succession. The Scots encircled the first part of the English army at camp on an embankment of the River Esk in the early hours of February 24th. Comyn took command of 3,000 troops hidden in a wood to the west of the English camp, while Fraser led 5,000 Scots from the east in a crescent formation. Darkness allowed the Scots the advantage of surprise and English soldiers fleeing to the west ran straight into Comyn’s detachment.
The second English force at Dalhousie Castle heard about the on-going battle and rode to face the Scots unaccompanied by the third English force. Using Prior Abernethy’s knowledge of the terrain, Wallace instructed that the Scots deploy along the ridge of the summit of Langhill above Rosslyn, which had a precipice at its north end.
When the English closed as anticipated, their uphill charge was broken by volleys of Scottish arrows causing them to wheel northwards while unaware of the precipice. The Scots then closed on their southern flank and drove them towards the chasm. A direct uphill assault into the face of Scottish archers was disastrous and the Scots descended upon the survivors, driving many into the ravine.
The appearance of the third English force was not far behind and English prisoners without the rank to be ransomed were slaughtered by the exhausted Scots. A force of 8000, already reduced by two battles, faced a fresh enemy force and it is believed many doubted they could manage a third victory on the same day.
However, Prior Abernethy is claimed to have set off on an inspiring speech reminding the Scots of everything inflicted upon their nation in recent years and topped this off by directing the troops to gaze upon the Pentland Hills. The Scottish troops supposedly turned to see a vast gleaming saltire set upon a hillside and illuminated by the afternoon sun. They then promptly set about defeating the remaining English army with another ambush from high ground and a charge, which drove many more into another ravine. Scottish troops may never have known that Prior Abernethy had instructed Cistercian monks to construct the canvas saltire during the day.
Overall, the Scots' knowledge of the terrain, Wallace's tactical skills and de Segrave's decision to split his army into three groups largely settled the outcome. Supposedly Sir William St Clair promptly married Lady Margaret Ramsay; de Segrave was ransomed; and the other Scots soon had to concern themselves with Edward I’s now customary summer invasion. However, at that point it has to be noted that whatever can be made of the numbers involved and taken from the chronicles written closer to the time, I’m afraid the tale of the romance is a significantly later addition.
Otherwise, at Rosslyn we find Wallace’s troops, tactics and influence - if not with absolute certainty Wallace himself - underpinning the feat of conjuring up an effective mounted militia and destroying three large enemy forces within a single day. So on some levels Wallace appears to have remained the lynchpin of Scottish military resistance even after Falkirk and in keeping with that De Segrave is said to have thrown himself upon Wallace’s mercy during the battle.
The turn of events elsewhere to some extent marginalised Rosslyn. Edward I borrowed even more money than he already had to continue to campaign against Scotland. Meanwhile any hope of aid from France had gone after the destruction of the French feudal army at Courtrai by the Flemish, as the French made peace with Edward I to set about persecuting the Flemish. Consequently, the Scottish nobility were worn down and more had their lands seized until they agreed as a group to submit to Edward.
Wallace refused to submit and became an outlaw, which soon led to his betrayal by Mentieth - Simon Fraser fared no better than Wallace. Within two years of Rosslyn both had been hung, drawn and quartered. This gruesome process of dismemberment seems to have been intended to subdue subjects as a whole, but regardless of the many key figures supporting William Wallace, he had become ‘part seen, part imagined’ to many Scots - a ‘folk legend’, alive in the popular imagination. In a sense the ghastly execution may have engendered exactly the resistance it set out to quell.
Despite the costs it seems worth remembering the wider impact of Rosslyn in terms of draining English resources. If the number of Edward’s troops lost was more in the region of 15,000 that inevitably impacted over the years ahead. The numbers involved are certainly open to debate but, given Edward’s need to borrow more money to continue his campaigning, the losses start out as likely to have been high. A review of some of the evidence may get us closer to an actual figure, but overall it would be extraordinary if as many as 20,000 were driven from the field on the one day.
* - Please note the current bridge at Stirling pictured above is not at the same location as the bridge destroyed in the battle.
** - Where there are links to Wikipedia, they are to identify locations rather contribute to the content.
The Battle of Stirling Bridge - a detailed account with maps and another view.
There’s an outline on the store page for Guardian of Scotland, but there’s no need to go through the checkout there. PDF downloads for each of the booklets are here at a click. A straight click opens a booklet in front of you, but it is quicker to click on the link with your second button and hit Save Link As to quickly download the lot.
As these are digital I’m very open to hearing of either corrections or historical corrections, as it’s quick quick to make changes and reburn any of the PDFs.
To keep in touch or get in touch I post daily from the Scottish Media Lab page where I can be messaged and there’s the Contacts page here on the site. If you enjoy the Guardians of Scotland booklets please take a look at the Jacobites in the store.