“At Stir­ling, Wal­lace and Mur­ray res­cued Scot­land from a sit­u­a­tion of de­spair”

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries - An­drew M Spencer is a fel­low of Mur­ray Ed­wards Col­lege, Cam­bridge, and an af­fil­i­ated lec­turer in his­tory at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge

In many ways, vic­tory at Stir­ling Bridge was more im­por­tant in the battle for Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence than Ban­nock­burn. Though the lat­ter is more cel­e­brated, Robert Bruce’s vic­tory there in 1314 was at­tained from a po­si­tion of Scot­tish strength. At Stir­ling, how­ever, Wal­lace and Mur­ray res­cued Scot­land from a sit­u­a­tion of de­spair, and gave Scots the heart to carry on.

A year ear­lier, on 27 April 1296, the forces of John Bal­liol, King of Scots, had been routed in short or­der at Dun­bar and then melted away. What Scot­tish re­sis­tance re­mained in early 1297 was dis­parate and dis­persed across the coun­try. The English ad­min­is­tra­tion at Ber­wick was un­sure of where the main threat was com­ing from and how se­ri­ous it was. In­stead they were more fo­cused on ex­tract­ing money and men for the main mil­i­tary pri­or­ity of King Ed­ward I – an ex­pe­di­tion to the Low Coun­tries de­signed to force Philip of France to re­lin­quish the con­fis­cated Duchy of Aquitaine. That left Scot­land dan­ger­ously un­de­fended.

The Earl of Sur­rey’s army at Stir­ling was large but poorly trained and equipped, and much weaker than the one Ed­ward had led into Scot­land in 1296. Af­ter de­feat at Stir­ling, Ed­ward made en­forc­ing his hold on Scot­land a pri­or­ity, but the chance of a smooth as­sim­i­la­tion was gone. Seven­teen years later, and a stone’s throw away, de­feat at Ban­nock­burn con­firmed that the Scot­tish cam­paign was lost.

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