Battle of Falkirk
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (July 2011)|
- For the battle in 1746 see Battle of Falkirk Muir.
|Battle of Falkirk|
|Part of the First War of Scottish Independence|
|Kingdom of Scotland||Kingdom of England|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Sir William Wallace Guardian of Scotland||Edward I of England|
|6,000 men||15,000 men|
|Casualties and losses|
|Over 2,000 killed, 1,000 abandoned||1,000 killed|
The Battle of Falkirk, (Blàr na h-Eaglaise Brice in Gaelic) which took place on 22 July 1298, was one of the major battles in the First War of Scottish Independence. Led by King Edward I of England, the English army defeated the Scots, led by William Wallace. Shortly after the battle Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland.
King Edward I was campaigning against the French in Flanders when he learned of the defeat of his northern army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. After concluding a truce with Philip the Fair, he returned to England in March 1298 and immediately began organising an army for his second invasion of Scotland. As a preliminary step he moved the centre of government to York, where it was to remain for the next six years. A council-of-war was held in the city in April to finalise the details of the invasion. The Scots magnates were all summoned to attend, and when none appeared they were all declared to be traitors. Edward then ordered his army to assemble at Roxburgh on 25 June. The force he gathered was impressive: over 2,000 men-at-arms (armoured cavalry) and 12,000 infantry receiving wages, though, after the manner of medieval armies there would have been many more serving without pay either as a statement of personal independence, forgiveness of debts to the crown, criminal pardons or just for adventure, including a huge force of Welshmen armed with the longbow.
Edward advanced into central Scotland and Wallace's army shadowed the English, intending to avoid battle until shortages of supplies and money forced Edward to withdraw, at which point the Scots would harass his retreat. Edward's own supply fleet was delayed by bad weather, and when the army reached central Scotland it was both tired and hungry. The Welsh infantry in particular were badly demoralised. While the army was encamped at Temple Liston, near Edinburgh, they erupted in a drunken riot that was broken up by the English cavalry, who killed 80 Welshmen. Edward faced the prospect of the kind of ignominious retreat that became a regular feature of his son's campaigns in the succeeding reign. As he was on the point of falling back on Edinburgh he received intelligence that Wallace had taken up position in the wood of Callendar near Falkirk, only thirteen miles away, ready to pursue the retreating English. Edward was delighted: As God lives... they need not pursue me, for I will meet them this day.
The Scots army, again made up chiefly of spearmen as at Stirling, was arranged in four great armoured 'hedgehogs' known as schiltrons. The long spears pointed outwards at various heights gave these formations a formidable and impenetrable appearance. The gaps between the schiltrons were filled with archers and to the rear there was a small troop of men-at-arms, provided by the Comyns and other magnates.
On Tuesday 22 July, the English cavalry, divided into four battalions, finally caught sight of their elusive enemy. The left was commanded by the Earls of Norfolk, Hereford and Lincoln. The right was under the command of Antony Bek, Bishop of Durham, while the King commanded the centre, still a little distance to the rear of the vanguard. Once in sight of the enemy, Norfolk and his colleagues began an immediate attack, but on encountering a small marsh to the front of the Scots position, made a long detour to the west before being able to make contact with the right of Wallace's army. Bek tried to hold back his own battalion to give the King time to get into position but he was overruled by his impatient knights anxious to join their comrades on the left in an immediate attack. In a disorganised pell-mell the cavalry finally closed on the Scots, on the right and left. The party of men-at-arms under John Comyn, outnumbered about 30 to one, left the field immediately. 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, absorbing the shock of the impact. The knights made little impression on the dense forest of long spears and were soon threatened with impalement. A small number of riders were killed under their horses. King Edward arrived in time to witness the discomfiture of his cavalry and quickly restored discipline. The knights were ordered to withdraw and Edward prepared to employ the tactics that the Earl of Warwick had used to defeat the Welsh spearmen at the Battle of Maes Moydog in 1295. The Scottish cavalry having charged at the English cavalry, seeing the vast numbers that were formed against them, wisely fled the field, abandoning their fellow Scottish comrades to the slaughter. Edward's archers were brought into place and went to work with their deadly longbows, and quickly overcame the inexperienced force of badly armed Scottish archers. Their hail of arrows was supplemented by crossbow and slingshot. The schiltrons were an easy target; they had no defence and nowhere to hide. Unable to retreat or attack, the battle was lost for the Scots almost as soon as the first arrows began to fall. The cavalry waited, this time observing the King's command, until the Scots ranks were thin enough to allow them to enter and finish the job. A great many Scots were killed, including Macduff, son of the Earl of Fife. The survivors, Wallace included, escaped as best they could, mostly into the nearby forest of Torwood where their pursuers could not safely follow.
For Edward, Falkirk was a badly needed victory. Previous defeats by Wallace and his ongoing wars in France, which were costly to maintain, began to suggest that he was an ineffective and weak king. Casualties among the Scottish leaders were not particularly heavy, but did include Wallace's second-in-command Sir John de Graham, Sir John Stewart of Bonkill, Macduff of Fife and Andrew Moray.
- Barrow, G. W. S. Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, 1976 and Fisher, Andrew (2002), William Wallace (2nd ed.), Edinburgh: Birlinn, ISBN 1-84158-593-9
- UK. Battlefields, Battle of Falkirk
- Fisher, Andrew (2002), William Wallace (2nd ed.), Edinburgh: Birlinn, ISBN 1-84158-593-9
- Prestwich p.481
- Paterson, Raymond Campbell For the Lion:History of the Scottish Wars of Independence John Donald Publishers Ltd (29 August 1997) ISBN 978-0-85976-435-3 pp. 21,165
- Bain, J., The Edwards in Scotland, 1296-1377, 1961.
- Barrow, G. W. S. Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, 1976
- Barron, E. M. The Scottish War of Independence, 1934.
- Brown, C., "William Wallace", 2004.
- Morris, J. E. The Welsh Wars of Edward I, 1994.
- Nicholson, R. Scotland-the Later Middle Ages, 1974.
- Oman, C., The Art of War in the Middle Ages, 1898.
- Prestwich, M., Edward I, 1997, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, ISBN 0-300-07157-4 (pbk.)
- Reid, S., Battles of the Scottish Lowlands;2004;Pen & Sword Books Ltd.;Barnsley;ISBN 1-84415-078-X.