Battle of Falkirk
On this day in 1298 the Battle of Falkirk took place between the forces of Scotland under William Wallace and an English army under Edward I. A pivotal moment in the First War of Scottish Independence, it would be a significant defeat for the Scots leading to Wallace resigning as Guardian of Scotland.
In September 1297 the Scots had inflicted a crushing defeat upon the English at the Battle of Striling Bridge. Since then Wallace and his army had been able to travel south with little opposition and raid the countryside along the Scottish / English border. Hearing of the defeat at Stirling, Edward hastily agreed a truce with the French king, Philip the Fair and returned to England to prepare a counterstrike. He assembled a force of around 15,000 men, including some 10,500 Welshmen. Edward ordered his army to assemble at Roxburgh in the Scottish Borders on June 25th where he remained until July 3rd.
He reached Kirkliston in two weeks, where he awaited supplies expected to arrive along the coastal ports, delayed due to weather. There he was forced to deal with a mutiny among his Welsh troops but on July 20th was able to move on, reaching Linlithgow on the 21st. Hearing that a Scottish army was at Torwood, near Falkirk, he decided to place his army south of the town.
The Wallace’s army numbered around 6,000, perhaps consisting of four schiltrons with about 1,000 men each, in addition to the cavalry and archers. Absent however, were forces under the Comyns and Robert Bruce. Also absent was Andrew Moray, co-victor with Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, having been mortally wounded in that battle. It was Moray who used the schiltrons offensively.
The schiltrons formed the backbone of the Scottish army, consisting chiefly of spearmen arranged in a circular formation, with the long spears pointing outwards. At Falkirk it is thought four were arranged with archers filling the gaps between them and some 500 knights supporting them to their rear. When in formation however schiltrons were essentially static and at Falkirk they were fortified by stakes driven into the ground before them, with ropes between. In front of them was an area of marshy ground which would make an English charge difficult.
It was therefore up to the English to advance and since they were eager to do battle, advance they did. Their cavalry was divided into four battalions with the Earl of Lincoln leading from the right but moving left to avoid the marshy ground; they were followed by the Earl of Surrey's horse. Anthony Bek and Edward’s horse moved around the right of the marshy ground. Lincoln and Bek charged aggressively and Lincoln quickly routed the Scottish cavalry.
The Scots bowmen commanded by Sir John Stewart of Bonkill, the younger brother of the High Steward of Scotland, stood their ground and were quickly destroyed. But the schiltrons held firm, with the knights making little impression on the dense forest of long spears, and 111 horses were killed in the vain attempts. Edward's cavalry fell back as his infantry and archers arrived.
Edward's longbowmen were brought into place and quickly overcame the inexperienced force of badly armed Scottish archers. The schiltrons were an easy target; they had no defence and nowhere to hide. The hail of arrows was supplemented by crossbow and slingshot. Unable to retreat or attack the schiltrons were cut to pieces, the battle lost almost as soon as the first arrows began to fall. The English cavalry waited, this time observing the King's command, until the Scots ranks were thin enough to allow them to penetrate the Scottish formation and cause whatever damage they could. The English footsoldiers, who had been advancing during the English barrage on the Scottish formations, closed the distance and the schiltrons finally started to break and scatter. Wallace managed to escape and the surviving Scots fled into the woods.
Casualties among the Scottish leaders were not particularly heavy, but did include Wallace's second-in-command, Sir John de Graham, as well as Sir John Stewart of Bonkill, and Macduff of Fife. According to the historian Stuart Reid, "while unquestionably a good partisan leader, William Wallace's military abilities were simply not up to the job of organizing, training and leading a conventional military force." At Falkirk, Wallace "simply drew up his army in an open field and froze."
Edward occupied Stirling and raided Perth, St. Andrews and Ayrshire. Yet, he retreated to Carlisle by September 9th. By this time Wallace had resigned as Guardian of Scotland in favour of Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick and future king, and John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, King John Balliol's nephew. Edward invaded again in the summer of 1300 and so began a new chapter of the First War of Scottish Independence.
This scene was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on the Kings and Queens of Scotland. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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