Born 1231, John de Warenne, the sixth Earl of Surrey, was one of the more important English noblemen who featured in the First Scottish War of Independence, which started in 1296. Born into a prominent English family his early life was blighted by the deaths of both his father and mother by the time he was eight years old.
Following this, the young de Warenne was made a ward of the royal court and had a guardian appointed to safeguard his interests. He was later to marry Henry III’s half-sister.
During The Second Barons War, de Warenne changed sides on a number of occasions, which was not uncommon in medieval times, but finally settled on the side of England’s Edward I.
Warden of the kingdom and land of Scotland
From then on, de Warenne was firmly placed as one of Edward’s most trusted nobles and military advisers, campaigning for the monarch in several wars against the Welsh and assisting in the diplomatic manoeuvres of treaty-making with the Scots.
In 1286 de Warenne marched north with Edward and skillfully routed the Scottish army at the battle of Dunbar. Following this accomplishment Edward awarded him the title of ‘warden of the kingdom and land of Scotland’.
In 1297, de Warenne, despite being a rather elderly 66 years, led the English back to Scotland but met with defeat at the hands of William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
He returned to Scotland the following year and had several notable successes prior to Edward taking control of the English army which crushed the Scots at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298.
John de Warenne died in Kent on 29 September 1304.
The Battle of Stirling Bridge, 11 September 1297, part of the Scottish Wars of Independence, proved to be a symbolic but short-lived victory for William Wallace and the Scots against the might of the English and their king, Edward I.
Scottish leaders, William Wallace and Andrew de Moray, had arrived at Stirling in early September 1297, and immediately took up positions on the north side of the river close to the imposing heights of the Abbey Craig, a vantage point overlooking the snaking river Forth and Stirling Bridge.
Edward I’s English army arrived in fine style and must have been a splendid sight, with its banners fluttering in the breeze, vast baggage trains and knights in full regalia on their huge war horses. Vastly outnumbering the Scots, they took position to the south, somewhere between Stirling Castle and the approach to the bridge. (Pictured: Edward I).
Sides are drawn
Much has been written about the battle, and a great deal remains shrouded in mystery. Some estimates put the English force at 50,000 strong but this is unlikely given that the same source believes their casualties to have been around 5,000. This would still have left the English with an impressive force, easily capable, in the right conditions, of defeating the Scots. More likely is a figure between 10-18,000, with about 500-1,000 heavy cavalry. This included a contingent of Welsh bowmen, recently recruited to Edward’s army after his conquest of Wales. They were equipped with the most up to date weaponry of the day, the longbow, which gave them a huge advantage with their accuracy and range.
King Alexander III came to the Scottish throne in 1249, at the age of just 7 years, following the death of his father, Alexander II.
The early years of Alexander III’s reign were dominated by a power struggle between two factions who had their own designs on his kingdom. However, when he reached the age of 21 and was able to rule in his own right, Alexander showed his strength as king by continuing his father’s aspirations of gaining control of the Western Isles, which until then had been under the domination of Norway.
A wealthy nation
Alexander went on to preside over a Scotland which was a wealthy nation in its own right within northern Europe. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure were built and people in general had good standards of living. But all this good work and the Scotland’s stability were undone due to an unfortunate series of events.
He had married Margaret of England, daughter of Henry III, at the age of ten, and eventually they had three children together. All three of these children were to die before Alexander III, the two sons before they could father any children and his daughter, who was married into the Norwegian royal family, died in childbirth, leaving Alexander with only a granddaughter as an heir.
Born around 1249, King John Balliol ruled Scotland from 1292 until his abdication in 1296. He was perhaps best known by his unfortunate nickname, Toom Tabard, or Empty Shirt (or Coat), having been unceremoniously stripped of his office by England’s Edward I, the ‘Hammer of the Scots’.
The death of Scottish king, Alexander III, from a riding accident on 19 March 1286, left Scotland without a king. All three of Alexander’s children had predeceased him. There was one grandchild, his three-year-old granddaughter, Margaret, the Maid of Norway, and prior to his death, Alexander had made efforts to have Margaret recognised as his legitimate heir to the Scottish throne. This would have secured his dynastic line, but fate had one more card to play against the unfortunate Alexander.
During the crossing from Norway to Scotland in 1290, the young Margaret took ill and died. Thus came down the curtain on a golden age for Scotland. The chain of events would eventually lead to a thirty-year war against England, one of the most powerful states in Europe, and would devastate a once wealthy country. (Pictured, Edward I welcoming Alexander III as a guest of the English parliament.)
Political Void and the Ragman Rolls
The disastrous deaths of Alexander and his heirs in such a short space of time left Scotland with a power vacuum and several candidates willing to fill it. No less than fourteen contenders put themselves forward as potential heirs to the Scottish throne, among them Robert de Brus (grandfather of Robert the Bruce), John Balliol and England’s Edward I (pictured).
Edward himself knew that his own claim was weak but his chance to take control of the Scottish throne, by a more circuitous means, came when the Scottish magnates requested that he arbitrate in their dispute as to who had legitimacy to rule.
‘We come here with no peaceful intent, but ready for battle, determined to avenge our wrongs and set our country free. Let your masters come and attack us; we are ready to meet them beard to beard.’
This, in 1297, was the manner in which William Wallace was reported to have lured the English into the first significant defeat they had suffered in 30 years – at the battle of Stirling Bridge.
William Wallace was the younger son of a minor landowner from the west of Scotland, and is perhaps the best known character from the early battles of the Scottish Wars of Independence.
Wallace was born some time around 1274 and was only a teenager at the time of the death of Alexander III, king of Scotland.
Fighting the English
William Wallace grew into a huge young man; estimates place him at six feet seven inches tall. This would truly have made him a giant of the era and afforded him an enormous advantage in a medieval battle, where strength was of great importance. He wasted little time in using this muscle as he would fight the English at any given opportunity, killing them with impunity and without mercy.
If the Scottish armies’ glorious victory at Stirling Bridge, 11 September 1297, was a spectacular affront to the superpower of the day, then the defeat at the Battle of Falkirk on 22 July 1298, was normal service resumed as far as England’s king, Edward I, was concerned.
Infuriated by the defeat at Stirling, the English monarch mustered another army, larger than before and extremely well organised.
William Wallace (pictured) knew that the English forces were far superior. He would probably have known that achieving such a success as at the Battle of Stirling Bridge was unlikely, as Edward I himself was in command now and it is doubtful that he would be drawn into a similar trap that lost him the battle at Stirling.
Wallace, then, contented himself with a scorched earth policy. He burned the villages of his own country, destroyed the crops of the farms and moved the people and their animals to the north, out of the reach of Edward.
Scorched earth was an effective, if not extreme, solution to the military problem Wallace faced. His army was more disciplined than the Scots rabble that had faced John de Warenne at the Battle of Dunbar, but it was still little match for the English in a pitched battle on equal terms.
Robert the Bruce had been king of Scotland since March 1306 but his land was still populated by several English garrisons and under constant threat from his southern neighbour and its king, firstly Edward I until his death in 1307, then his son and successor, Edward II. The Scots rallied behind Bruce and between 1306 and 1314 they set about recapturing the castles and towns of Scotland that were still under English control. After eight years of successful guerilla warfare and a number of plundering raids into northern England, Bruce felt ready to meet the mighty English in open battle.
Robert the Bruce prepares
The ground that Robert the Bruce (pictured) chose for the battle, which was to determine the fate of his country and crown, was that which would give him the best advantage against the superior forces he was likely to face.
He took up position just to the north of the Bannock Burn with the thickly wooded New Park giving cover to his rear. The English army, advancing from the south, would have to cross the burn in order to engage the Scots, but with areas of swamp on either flank they would be severely restricted in their movement.
The Scots army was standing directly in the path of the English host, and their goal of saving the garrison at Stirling castle could only be achieved by a frontal assault against Bruce’s well-drilled spearmen.
The Scots were drawn up in three infantry formations, or shiltrons, with a small contingent of cavalry. A large number of camp followers were also nearby, although these were largely unarmed and unsuited for battle. Indeed, King Robert had dismissed many men who were willing to fight for him but, unable to afford suitable weapons or armour, had come ill prepared.
Edward I of England, Hammer of the Scots, born 17 June 1239, was at 6 foot 2, a giant of a man for the time, earning him the nickname Edward Longshanks. He was 33 by the time he came to the throne following the death of his father, Henry III, in 1272.
Edward I has been described variously through time as a murderer, pagan, ambitious and self-serving. He was also an astute political leader, a good soldier and had the virtues of fairness and moderation in many instances. An intelligent man, he was fluent in English, French and Latin and after the chaotic years of his father’s rule, was an ardent reformer.
He was also an excellent administrator and a good negotiator and held the respect of his subjects.
As a young man, Edward and his father were, during 1264-5, held captive by his uncle, Simon de Montfort during the Barons’ War. But he was less a prisoner and more of a confined guest. When offered a number of new horses to try out, Edward took the opportunity to make his escape. Edward organised an attack against de Montfort which resulted in his uncle’s death at the Battle of Evesham.
Edward married twice, first as a fifteen-year-old to Eleanor of Castile, then, ten years after her death in 1290, to Margaret of France, a woman forty years his younger. Between them, his wives bore him at least 20 children. Edward was still fathering children as a 67-year-old.
Few figures from the time of the First Scottish War of Independence (1296 to 1328) are more confusing than Robert the Bruce. Feted as a Scottish hero and the man who delivered independence to the Scots from the hated English king, Edward I, and hailed as the heroic victor at the crucial Battle of Bannockburn (1314), the Bruce has remained a pivotal figure in Scottish history.
The truth about the man is far less flattering. It shows Robert the Bruce as a self-serving man who was interested in only one goal, seizing the crown of Scotland for himself.
The Earl of Carrick
Robert the Bruce was born on 11 July 1274, the son of Robert de Brus, 6th Lord of Annandale, and grandson of Robert de Brus that had contended the Scottish throne during the Great Cause. In 1292, following the death of his mother, Robert the Bruce was given the position of the Earl of Carrick. That same year Edward I chose John Balliol as the king of Scotland ahead of Robert.
During the early part of the First Scottish War of Independence, the young Earl allied himself to Edward I. This was probably to give himself a better chance to seize the crown for himself when, presumably, Balliol was defeated and deposed.