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Battle of Bannockburn, 1314

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Edward II versus Robert Bruce: A Scottish army under Bruce advances against the encamped English army under Edward unexpectedly. Edward’s knights only have to break through a line of Bruce’s pikemen four ranks deep, assuming this many survive a barrage from the feared English longbowmen. How will Bruce exploit the battlefield’s terrain to even the odds? Click on images below to view PowerPoint presentation. | Legend |
 
 
This is one of the battles one can identify as the reason for this or that nation existing today, in this case the Scottish one. While this is true in hindsight, one must keep in mind that the significance of the battle at the time was not one of victory of the Scottish nation over the English nation, but a battle between factions within Scotland and England. Nationhood and nationalism are extremely young concepts in the scheme of history that one must resist forcing upon the past.
 
The English were utterly defeated by the Scottish at Bannockburn (see below for why) but it likely made them stronger consequently. The English learned to dismount their knights and men-at-arms, while maintaining the deadly firepower of the longbowmen: “soon this irresistible combination . . . would become known as the English manner of fighting” (Armstrong, 2005: 90). The English regained military superiority at the Battles of Dupplin Moor and Halidon Hill in 1332 and 1333 respectively, and retained it for most of the Hundred Years’ War. This was likely only possible due to the knowledge gained from their defeat, as is so often the case; Prussian re-organization and re-orientation following their defeat at Jena-Auerstedt in 1806 immediately comes to mind.
 
The intense class divisions within the English army doomed it in this battle. As the sum of its parts, the English army outclassed its Scottish counterpart; however, the relationship between these parts, how they work together matters more. By allowing the nobility and their knights lead the charge, Edward ignored the conceptual triangle of weapons systems which often governs warfare, not unlike rock-paper-scissors. In this war, longbowmen decimate pikemen (as at Falkirk in 1298), cavalry run down longbowmen, and pikemen repulse cavalry. At Bannockburn, each of these formulae played out: Bruce was able to match up his units with those they can defeat, using all of his army’s parts to their fullest potential.
 
Of the Scottish units, Bruce’s longbowmen’s role in the battle cannot be understated. They screened the deployment of the schiltrons, preventing the English longbowmen from thinning their already dangerously thin ranks. The Scottish longbowmen also also fired a deadly and demoralizing rain of arrows into the packed English masses on the verge of collapse. Armstrong argues plainly that, “it may have been their fire that tipped the scales at the climax of the battle. Their contribution to the victory has been much undervalued” (2005: 65).
 
 
I was forced to discount a great deal of sources when determining numbers. Estimates of the English army are typically around 20,000 even as recent as Reese (2000: 68). However, this estimate and others before it are based on the number of English troops summoned to fight. This means that just because this many lords were charged with sending this many levies does not mean they sent even half that amount (Delbruck, 1982/1921: 441). I thus rely on Armstrong’s detailed order of battle (2005: 43).

The most significant controversy within the accounts of this battle is the role of the Scottish “small folk.” Some sources describe the appearance of 2,000 camp followers and half-trained levies moving towards the battlefield as decisive because the English believed them to be Scottish reinforcements, thus contributing to their collapse (Reese, 2000: 167; Heath, 1984: 56). Reid doubts they had any effect at all (2004: 39) and Scott (1982) does not even mention them. Between these sources, they disagree as to whether the appearance of the small folk was on their initiative or Bruce’s. Armstrong argues that the small folk did advance towards the battlefield from the Scottish rear, which concerned Bruce because there was a reason he did not want these rabble involved in the battle in the first place, and that they had little to no effect on battle (2005: 69). The whole story of the small folk sounds to me like the plot of a poorly depicted battle scene in a Hollywood movie and I have chosen to omit this event which appears utterly blown out of proportion.

The frustrating part of visually depicting this battle is my perceived failure to properly illustrate the cramped terrain and its effect on the battle. To me, it just did not turn out as well as Kulikovo in which cramped terrain was also a theme. Unfortunately, the process of animation is not one you can suddenly go back and change painlessly because you want to tweak it without a real solution to the problem in the first place.


- Jonathan Webb


Works Consulted
 
Armstrong, Peter. Bannockburn 1314: Robert Bruce’s Great Victory. London: Praeger, 2005.
 
Delbrück, Hans. History of the Art of War Within the Framework of Political History: The Middle Ages Vol. 3. Translated by Walter J. Renfroe Jr. Westport: Greenwood, 1982.
 
Dupuy, Trevor N. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 
3500 BC to the Present, Fourth Edition. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
 
Heath, Ian. Armies of the Middle Ages Vol. 1: The Hundred Years’ War, the Wars of the Roses and the Burgundian Wars 1300-1487. Sussex: Flexprint, 1982.
 
Reese, Peter. Bannockburn: Scotland’s Greatest Battlefield Triumph. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2000. 
 
Reid, Stuart. Battles of the Scottish Lowlands. Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2004.
 
Sadler, John. Scottish Battles: From Mons Graupius to Culloden. Edinburgh: Canongate, 1996.
 
Scott. Ronald McNair. Robert the Bruce: King of Scots. London: Hutchinson, 1982.
 
Images
 
Edward II: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_II_of_England
 
English cavalry: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_145_figure_1.htm
 
English longbowmen: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_145_figure_1.htm
 
English spearmen/pikemen: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_145_figure_1.htm
 
Robert Bruce: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_I_of_Scotland
 
Scottish cavalry: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_111_figure_1.htm
 
Scottish longbowmen: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_140_figure_1.htm
 
Scottish pikemen: http://www.dbaol.com/armies/army_140_figure_1.htm
 

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  1. 2 Comments to “Battle of Bannockburn, 1314”

  2. Thanks! Medievals was the period that made me interested in historical tactics. :)

    By SEXTO NOBLE DE KHARÉ on Oct 9, 2012 at 8:28 am

  3. Despite the morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims, the fact remains that Countries exist because of wars fought against their neighbours or rivals. Independence is largely secured through the employment of armed forces and the willingness to fight if threatened, this alone prepares us all for such an eventuality.

    I commend you on your site it contains a lot of quality information and is well done.

    http://www.greatmilitarybattles.com/index.html

    By Gerald on Jun 5, 2013 at 10:06 pm

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