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