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Bannockburn

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2014.

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Bannockburn, a town and a quoad sacra parish, in the civil parish of St Ninians, Stirlingshire. The town is ½ mile W of Bannockburn station on the Caledonian railway, this being 2½ miles SSE of Stirling; by the Bannock rivulet it is cut into two parts, Upper and Lower Bannockburn. Only a village at the commencement of the present century, it has grown to a town through its manufactures-the spinning, dyeing, and weaving of carpets, tweeds, tartans, and kiltings. There now are two large and two smaller woollen works, which together employ between 700 and 800 hands, consume above 1,000,000 lbs. of wool per annum, and produce goods to a yearly value of £150,000. There is also a tannery; a cattle and horse fair is held on the third Tuesday of June; and in the neighbourhood five collieries were working -in 1879, Bannockburn, Cowie, East Plean, Greenyards, and West Plean, all of them belonging to the Carboniferous Limestone series. Bannockburn has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, two hotels, an Established church (c. 1838), a Free church (c. 1844), a U.P. church (1797), and a public school and Wilson's Academy, which, with respective accommodation for 270 and 236 children, had (1879) an average attendance of 169 and 132, and grants of £169, 3s. 6d. and £105,3s. In the presbytery of Stirling and synod of Perth and Stirling, the quoad sacra parish was constituted about 1838 by the ecclesiastical, reconstituted by the legal authorities in 1868; its minister's stipend is £150. Pop. of q. s. parish (1871) 3332; of registration district (1881) 4331; of town (1841) 2205, (1851) 2627, (1861) 2258, (1871) 2564, (1881) 3374.

The famous and decisive battle of Bannockburn was fought in the neighbourhood of the town, on Monday, June 24,1314. The Scottish army under the Bruce, mustering 30,000 disciplined men and about half that number of disorderly attendants, first rendezvoused at the Torwood, between Falkirk and Stirling. The English army, commanded by Edward II. in person, and reported to have been in the proportion of at least three to one to that of the Scotch, approached from the side of Falkirk, and encamped on the north of Torwood. The Scottish army, meanwhile, drew nearer Stirling, and posted themselves behind the Bannock. They occupied several small eminences upon the S and W of the present village of St Ninians; their line extending in a northeasterly direction from the brook of Bannock, on which their right flank rested, to the elevated ground ahove St Ninians, on which their extreme left rested. Upon the summit of one of these eminences, now called Brock's Brae, is a large granite stone sunk in the earth, with a round hole, about 4 inches in diameter, and the same in depth, in which, according to tradition, Bruce's standard was fixed, and near which the royal pavilion was erected. This stone is well known in the neighbourhood by the name of the Bored Stone; near it, on 25 June 1870, the Dumbarton and Stirling Oddfellows erected a flagstaff, 120 feet high. ` Thus the two armies, ' to quote from Nimmo's Stirlingshire (3d ed. 1880), ` lay facing each other, at a mile's distance, with the Bannock running in a narrow valley between them. Stirling Castle was still in the hands of the English. Edward Bruce had, in the preceding spring, besieged it for several months; but, finding himself unable to reduce it, had abandoned the enterprise. By a treaty, however, between Edward and Philip Mowbray the governor, it had been agreed, that, if the garrison received no relief from England before St John the Baptist's day, they should then surrender to the Scots. Robert was much dissatisfied with his brother's terms; but, to save his honour, confirmed the treaty. The day before the battle, a body of cavalry, to the number of 800, was detached from the English camp, under the conduct of Sir Robert Clifford, to the relief of the castle. These, having marched through low grounds upon the edge of the Carse, had passed the Scottish army on their left before they were observed. The King himself was among the first to perceive them; and, desiring his nephew, Randolph, who commanded the left wing, to turn his eyes towards the quarter where they were making their appearance, in the crofts N of St Ninians, said to him angrily, "Thoughtless man! yon have suffered the enemy to pass. A rose has this day fallen from your chaplet!" Randolph, feeling the reproof severely, instantly pursued them with 500 foot; and coming up with them in the plain, where the modern village of Newhouse stands, commenced a sharp action in sight of both armies, and of the castle. Clifford's squadron wheeling round, and placing their spears in rest, charged the Scots at full speed; but Randolph, having formed his infantry into a square with their spears portended on every side, and resting on the ground, successfully repelled the first fierce onset, and successive charges equally desperate. Much valour was displayed on both sides; and it was for some time doubtful who should obtain the victory. Bruce, attended by several of his officers, beheld this reencounter from a rising ground supposed to be the round hill immediately W of St Ninians, now called Cockshot Hill. Douglas, perceiving the jeopardy of his brave friend, asked leave to hasten with a reinforcement to his support. This the king at first refused; but, upon his afterwards consenting, Douglas put his soldiers in motion. Perceiving, however, on the way, that Randolph was on the point of victory, he stopped short, that they who had long fought so hard might enjoy undivided glory. The English were entirely defeated with great slaughter. Among the slain was William d'Eyncourt, a knight and commander of great renown, who had fallen in the beginning of the action. The loss of the Scots was very inconsiderable; some asserted that it amounted only to a single yeoman. Randolph and his company, covered with dust and glory, returned to the camp, amidst acclamations of joy. To perpetuate the memory of the victory, two large stones were erected in the field-where they are still to be seen-at the N end of the village of Newhouse, about a quarter of a mile from the S port of Stirling. Another incident happened in the same day, which contributed greatly to inspirit the Scots forces. King Robert, according to Barbour, was ill mounted, carrying a battle-axe, and, on his bassinet-helmet, wearing, for distinction, a crown. Thus externally distinguished, he was riding upon a little palfry, in front of his foremost line, regulating their order; when an English knight, who was ranked among the bravest in Edward's army, Sir Henry de Bohun, came galloping furiously up to him, to engage him in single combat, expecting by this act of chivalry to end the contest and gain immortal fame. But the enterprising champion, having missed his blow, was instantly struck dead by the king, who, raising himself in his stirrups as his assailant passed, with one blow of his battle-axe cleft his head in two, shivering the handle of his own weapon with the violence of the blow. The incident is thus recorded by Barbour, the best edition of whose Brus is by Cosmo Innes (Spalding Club, 1857):-

' "And quhen Glosyster and Herfurd war
With thair bataill. approachand ner.
Befor thaim ail thar com rydand.
With heim on heid, and sper m hand
Schyr Henry the Boune, the worthi,
That wes a wycht knycht. and a hardy a
And to the Erie off Herfurd cusyne;
Armyt in armys gud and fyne;
Come on a sted, a bow schote ner,
Befor ail othyr that thar wer:
And knew the King. for that he saw
Him swa rang his men on raw;
And by the croune. that wes set
Alsua apon his bassynet
And towart him he went in hy.
And [quhen] the King sua apertly
Saw him cum, forouth all his feris,
In hy till him the hors he steris.
And quhen Schyr Henry saw the King
Cum on. for owtyna baysing,
Till him he raid in full gret hy.
He thoucht that he suid weill lychtiy
Wyn him, and haf him at his will,
Sen he him horsyt saw sa ill.
Sprent thai samyn in till a ling
Schyr Henry myssit the noble king.
And he, that in his sterapys stud.
With the ax that wes hard and gud.
with sa gret mayne raucht him a dynt,
That nothyr hat na helm mycht stynt
The hewy dusche that he him gave.
That ner. the heid till the harnys clave.
The hand ax schaft fruschit in twa;
and he doune to the erd gan ga
All flatiynys. for him faillyt mycht.
This was the fryst strak off the fycht."

The Scottish chiefs blamed Bruce for thus risking the army's safety in his own, and Bruce had no answer to make, though, according to some histories, he flippantly evaded further censure by affecting to be chiefly concerned for the loss of his trusty battle-axe; but the doughty achievement raised his adherents' spirits as much as it depressed their adversaries.

'The day was now far spent, and as Edward did not seem inclined to press a general engagement, but had drawn off to the low grounds to the right and rear of his original position, the Scots army passed the night in arms upon the field. Next morning, being Monday, the 24th of June, all was early in motion on both sides. Religious sentiments in the Scots were mingled with military ardour. Solemn mass was said by Maurice, abbot of Inchaffray; who also administered the sacrament to the king and the great officers about him, while inferior priests did the same to the rest of the army. Then, after a sober repast, they formed in order of battle, in a tract of ground, now known as Nether Touchadam, which lies along the declivity of a gently rising hill, about a mile due S of Stirling Castle. This situation had been previously chosen on account of its advantages. Upon the right, they had a range of steep rocks, whither the baggage-men had retired, and which, from this circumstance, has been called Gillies' or Servants, Hill. In their front were the steep banks of the rivulet of Bannock. Upon the left lay a morass, now called Milton Bog, from its vicinity to the small village of that name. Much of this bog is still undrained; and part of it is now a mill-pond. As it was then the middle of summer, it was almost quite dry; but Robert had recourse to a stratagem, to prevent any attack from that quarter. He had, some time before, ordered numbers of pits to be dug in the morass and the fields on the left, and covered with green turf supported by stakes, so as to exhibit the appearance of firm ground. These pits were a foot in breadth, and from 2 to 3 feet deep, and placed so close together as to resemble the cells in a honeycomb. It does not appear, however, that the English attempted to charge over this dangerous ground during the conflict, the great struggle being made considerably to the right of this ground. He also made calthorps be scattered there; some of which have been found in the memory of people yet alive. By these means, added to the natural strength of the ground, the Scottish army stood as within an intrenchment. Barbour, who wrote about 50 years later, mentions a park with trees, through which the English had to pass before they could attack the Scots; and says, that Robert chose this situation, that, besides other advantages, the trees might prove an impediment to the enemy's cavalry. The improvements of agriculture, and other accidents, have, in the lapse of five centuries, much altered the face of this as well as other parts of the country; vestiges, however, of the park still remain, and numerous stumps of trees are seen all around the field where the battle was fought. A farm-house, situated almost in the middle, goes by the name of the Park; and a mill built upon the S bank of the rivulet, nearly opposite to where the centre of Robert's army stood, is known by the name of Park Mill. The Scottish army was drawn up in four divisions, and their front extended near a mile in length. The right wing, which was upon the highest ground, and was strengthened by a body of cavalry under Keith, Marschal of Scotland, was commanded by Edward Bruce, the king's brother. The left was posted on the low grounds, near the morass, under the direction of Walter, Lord-High-Steward, and Sir James Douglas, both of whom had that morning been knighted by their sovereign. Bruce himself took the command of the reserve, which was drawn up immediately behind the centre. Along with him was a body of 500 cavalry well armed and mounted; all the rest of the Scottish army were on foot. The enemy were fast approaching in three great bodies, led on by the English monarch in person, and by the Earls of Hereford and Gloucester, who were ranked among the best generals that England could then produce. Their centre was formed of infantry, and the wings of cavalry, many of whom were armed cap-à-pie. Squadrons of archers were also planted upon the wings, and at certain distances along the front. Edward was attended by two knights, Sir Giles de Argentine and Sir Aymer de Valence, who rode, according to the phrase of those days, at his bridle. That monarch, who had imagined that the Scots would never face his formidable host, was much astonished when he beheld their order and determined resolution to give him battle. As he expressed his surprise, Sir Ingram Umfraville took the opportunity of suggesting a plan likely to insure a cheap and bloodless victory. He counselled him to make a feint of retreating with the whole army, till they had got behind their tents; and, as this would tempt the Scots from their ranks for the sake of plunder, to turn about suddenly, and fall upon them. The counsel was rejected. Edward thought there was no need of stratagem to defeat so small a handful. Among the occurrences of this great day, historians mention one memorable episode. As the two armies were on the point of engaging, the abbot of Inchaffray, barefoot and crucifix in his hand, walked slowly along the Scottish line, when they all fell down on their knees in act of devotion. The enemy observing their posture, concluded that they were frightened into submission. " See ! " cried Edward, " they are kneeling; they crave mercy ! " " They do, my liege, " replied Umfraville; " but it is from God, not us. " " To the charge, then ! " Edward cried; and Gloucester and Hereford threw themselves impetuously upon the right wing of the Scots, which received them firmly; while Randolph pressed forward with the centre of the Scottish army upon the main body of the English. They rushed furiously upon the enemy, and met with a warm reception. The ardour of one of the Scottish divisions had carried them too far, and occasioned their being sorely galled by a body of 10,000 English archers who attacked them in flank. These, however, were soon dispersed by Sir Robert Keith, whom the King had despatched with the reserve of 500 horse, and who, fetching a circuit round Milton Bog, suddenly charged the left flank and rear of the English bowmen, who having no weapons fit to defend themselves against horse, were instantly thrown into disorder, and chased from the field:-

' "The Inglis archeris schot sa fast.
That mycht thair schot haff ony last,
It had baen hard to Scottis men.
Bot King Robert. that wele gan ken
That thair archeris war peralouss.
And thair schot rycht hard and grewous,
Ordanyt. forouth the assemble,
Hys marschell with a gret menye,
Fyve hundre armyt in to stele.
That on lycht horss war horsyt welle,
For to pryk amang the archeris;
And swa assaile thaim with thair speris,
That thai na layser haiff to schute.
This marschell that Ik of mute,
That Schyr Robert of Keyth was cauld,
As Ik befor her has yow tauld,
Quhen he saw the battaillis sua
Assembill, and to gidder ga,
And saw the archeris schoyt stoutly;
with aii thaim of his cumpany,
In hy apon thaim gan he rid;
And our tuk thaim at a sid;
And ruschyt amang thaim sa rudly,
Stekand thaim sa dispitously,
And in sic fusoun berand doun,
A d slayand thaim. for owtyn ransoun,
That thai thaim scalyt euirilkane.
And fra that tyme furth thar wes nane
That assembly schot to ma.
Quhen Scottis archeris saw that thai sua
War rebutyt. thai woux hardy,
And with aii thair mycht schot egrely
Amang the horss men. that thar raid;
And woundis wid to thaim thai maid;
And slew of thaim a full gret dele."
-Barbour's Brus, Book ix., v. 228.

A strong body of the enemy's cavalry charged the right wing, which Edward Bruce commanded, with such irresistible fury, that he had been quite overpowered, had not Randolph, who appears to have then been unemployed, hastened to his assistance. The battle was now at the hottest; and it was yet uncertain how the day would go. Bruce had brought up his whole reserve; but the English continued to charge with unabated vigour, while the Scots received them with an inflexible intrepidity, each individual fighting as if victory depended on his single arm. An occurrence-which some represent as an accidental sally of patriotic enthusiasm, others as a premeditated stratagem of Robert's-suddenly altered the face of affairs, and contributed greatly to victory. Above 15,000 servants and attendants of the Scottish army had been ordered, before the battle, to retire, with the baggage, behind the adjoining hill; but having, during the engagement, arranged themselves in a martial form, some on foot and others mounted on the baggage-horses, they marched to the top, and displaying, on long poles, white sheets instead of banners, descended towards the field with hideous shouts. The English, taking them for a fresh reinforcement of the foe, were seized with so great a panic that they gave way in much confusion. Buchanan says, that the English King was the first that fled; but in this contradicts all other historians, who affirm that Edward was among the last in the field. Nay, according to some accounts, he would not be persuaded to retire, till Aymer de Valence, seeing the day lost, took hold of his bridle, and led him off. Sir Giles de Argentine, the other knight who waited on Edward, accompanied him a short way off the field, till he saw him placed in safety; he then wheeled round, and putting himself at the head of a battalion made a vigorous effort to retrieve the disastrous state of affairs, but was soon overwhelmed and slain. He was a champion of high renown; and, having signalised himself in several battles with the Saracens, was reckoned the third knight of his day. The Scots pursued, and made great havoc among the enemy, especially in passing the river, where, from the irregularity of the ground, they could not preserve the smallest order. A mile from the field of battle, a small bit of ground goes by the name of Bloody Fold, where, according to tradition, a party of the English faced about and made a stand, but, after sustaining dreadful slaughter, were forced to continue their flight. This account corresponds to several histories of the Earl of Gloucester. Seeing the rout of his countrymen, he made an effort to renew the battle, at the head of his military tenants, and, after having personally done much execution, was, with most of his party, cut to pieces. The Scottish writers make the enemy's loss, in the battle and pursuit, 50,000, and their own 4, 000. Among the latter, Sir William Vipont and Sir Walter Ross were the only persons of distinction. A proportion almost incredible ! The slain on the English side were all decently interred by Bruce's order, who, even in the heat of victory, could not refrain from shedding tears over several who had been his intimate friends. The corpse of the Earl of Gloucester was carried that night to the church of St Ninians, where it lay, till with that of Sir Robert Clifford, it was sent to the English monarch. Twenty-seven English barons, 200 knights, and 700 esquires, fell in the field; the number of prisoners also was very great; and amongst them were many of high rank, who were treated with the utmost civility. The remnant of the vanquished was scattered all over the country. Many ran to the castle; and not a few, attempting the Forth, were drowned. The Earl of Hereford, the surviving general, retreated with a large body towards Bothwell, and threw himself, with a few of the chief officers, into that castle, which was then garrisoned by the English. Being hard pressed, he surrendered; and was soon exchanged against Bruce's queen and daughter, and some others of his friends, who had been captive eight years in England. King Edward escaped with much difficulty. Retreating from the field of battle, he rode to the castle, but was told by the governor that he could not long enjoy safety there, as it could not be defended against the victors. Taking a compass, to shun the vigilance of the Scots. he made the best of his way homeward, accompanied by fifteen noblemen and a body of 500 cavalry. He was closely pursued above forty miles by Sir James Douglas, who, with a party of light horse, kept upon his rear, and was often very near him. How hard he was put to, may be guessed from a vow which he made in his flight, to build and endow a religions house in Oxford, should it please God to favour his escape. He was on the point of being made prisoner, when he was received into the castle of Dunbar by Gospatrick, Earl of March, who was in the English interest. Douglas waited a few days in the neighbonrhood, in expectation of his attempting to go home by land. He escaped, however, by sea in a fisherman's boat. His stay at Dunbar had been very short. Three days after the battle, he issued a proclamation from Berwick, announcing the loss of his seal, and forbidding all persons to obey any order proceeding from it, without some other evidence of that order's being his.'

'The riches obtained by the plunder of the English, ' says Mr Tytler, ` and the subsequent ransom paid for the multitude of the prisoners, must have been very great. Their exact amount cannot be easily estimated, but some idea of its greatness may be formed by the tone of deep lamentation assumed by the Monk of Malmesbury. "O day of vengeance and of misfortune !" he exclaims, "day of disgrace and perdition ! unworthy to be included in the circle of the year, which tarnished the fame of England, and enriched the Scots with the plunder of the precious stuffs of our nation, to the extent of two hundred thousand pounds. Alas ! of how many noble barons, and accomplished knights, and high-spirited young soldiers, -of what a store of excellent arms, and golden vessels, and costly vestments, did one short and miserable day deprive us ! " Two hundred thousand pounds of money in those times amounts to about six hundred thousand pounds weight of silver, or nearly three millions of our present money. The loss of the Scots in the battle was incredibly small, and proves how effectually the Scottish squares had repelled the English cavalry. ' See also chaps. xxiii., xxiv. of Hill Burton's History of Scotland (new ed. 1876), and R. White's Battle of Bannoekburn (Edinb. 1871).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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