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  • Writer's picturejulesfrusher

Bannockburn: the Scottish Army

Note: There are some details about the Battle of Bannockburn that we may never know for sure, such as the numbers involved on either side, the actual battle site (although we are a lot nearer to a conclusion now thanks to the most recent dig), and how the terrain looked in 1314. This is because records have been lost (or never existed) and the contemporary accounts that do exist vary in their details. However, from all I have read I have put together the most likely scenarios.
Arms of Robert Bruce

The army opposing Edward II was different to his own. The wilder landscape of Scotland and guerilla tactics that Bruce was so fond of dictated a different kind of soldier. Heavy horse cavalry was useless on mountainous, wooded and boggy ground, so this was one element of contemporary warfare that Bruce didn't possess. Instead he maintained a smaller contingent of lighter horses, with lightly armoured troops that could cope with the conditions that Bruce fought under. His men were mostly toughened, experienced fighters, used to discipline and working as a team. His commanders, too, accepted Bruce's command and did not fight amongst themselves to the detriment of the rest (unlike Edward's). Morale was high: Bruce knew the landscape well around Stirling, controlled the high ground on the approach and had time to drill his troops into a co-ordinated, deadly fighting force.

This was just as well, as Bruce was at a disadvantage when it came to numbers and equipment. Barbour mentions that Bruce had 6000 men in the field, however it is possible that he under-reported the number in order to enhance Bruce's reputation and victory. Once more we have to fall back on calculated guesswork. It has been estimated that, at that time, the total population of Scotland would have been around 400,000. G.W.S. Barrow estimates that out of that number around 80,000 to 100,000 would have been men of fighting age. However, nowhere near that number would have been able to have been called up, supplied and trained. Barrow is of the opinion that the largest number of men that Bruce could have practically fielded is 10,000, and that to have repulsed the English cavalry so proficiently, the ratio of Scot to English had to be at least 1:2.

Statue of Robert Bruce at the Bannockburn site

The main weapon of the Scottish infantry was the long, iron tipped pike (used to such brutal effect in the schiltrons), axes and swords. Bruce had archers too, but fewer than Edward's number of bowmen. As mentioned earlier, Bruce also had a small contingent of 500 light horse commanded by his marshal Sir Robert Keith. These animals were certainly not destriers because, as mentioned before, they were pretty useless on much of the Scottish landscape, plus a destrier's need for large amounts of good food would have been problematical in the harsh Scottish winter. Bruce's beasts were probably tough moor ponies, used to tough conditions, easy to manoeuvre, and inexpensive to keep.

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