Battle of Stirling Bridge
The English invasion of 1296 was bloody and devastating for Scotland. As the First War of Scottish Independence gathered pace, efforts to repel the English had a sad degree of inevitability: Scotland was being overrun.
John Balliol’s alliance with France placed Scotland in immediate peril; Berwick was sacked by King Edward I ’s men. Just a few miles away, the Earl of March’s castle was next. Balliol would pay and Dunbar would fall. The English troops, led by John de Warenne, the 7th Earl of Surrey, routed the Scots. King Edward claimed the castle. England were on the march.
More demoralizing was the capture of the Stone of Scone, taken to Westminster Abbey , a spoil of war, a relic of Scottish independence. If hope was in short supply for the Scots, they could at least find succour that John Balliol’s weakness as a general didn’t extend to all of its men: Dunbar may have been surrendered easily, but in William Wallace and Andrew de Mornay, Scotland had a steely resolve.
It was September 11th, 1297, and the English had yet to taste defeat. Stirling was a strategically important town. On the banks of the River Forth, it was the gateway to northern Scotland, England’s advances would have to be quashed there. Wallace and de Mornay’s uprising was a mere four months old, and already it was a more coherent military unit than the Scottish armies that fought in Dunbar and Berwick. Surrey’s confidence and the indomitable spirit of the Scots were to be his undoing.
His confidence was misplaced. Surrey arrived at the narrow, wooden bridge, it was clear that horsemen would be cheek and jowl crossing it – even in pairs, Surrey may have amassed great numbers of cavalry and infantry, but the bridge crossing would prove most treacherous. It would take hours for his army to cross, and after filing through the bridge’s passage they’d be dangerously exposed. It was on the Abbey Craig that the Scots lay in wait, there was no question of them surrendering, much to Surrey’s surprise. He even slept in, beginning the battle with the farcical advance then retreat of the English and Welsh infantry. The Scots bided their time.
The Scots spearmen acted swiftly; the English cavalry were swamped, they were trapped, and in turn, they were massacred. King Edward’s tax collector Hugh de Cressingham was put to the sword; a most hated individual, he was flayed, his skin cut into pieces and kept as a macabre token of a memorable victory. Even Wallace was said to have taken a piece. Surrey escaped; he did not cross the bridge. Andrew de Moray was slain, later buried at Fortrose Cathedral . The Abbey Craig is now home to the Wallace monument : in 1297, it was hope. It wouldn’t last.
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