On this day (23rd June) 700 years ago the Battle of Bannockburn began; as the army of Edward II, King of England, approached Stirling castle. Edward II was a much maligned king, and amongst his many sins he was accused of being a coward. However contemporary accounts of the battle seem to suggest that Edward II stayed with his defeated army until he was forcibly removed by his personal bodyguard, so the accusations of cowardice seem unfair.
Edward II undoubtedly lived in the shadow of his father, Edward I, who was referred to as ‘the Hammer of the Scots’. Edward I, after initial defeat, had beaten a Scottish army at Falkirk in 1298, which was led by William Wallace – he of Braveheart fame. However Robert the Bruce re-grouped after that defeat so that 16 years later he was able to re-assemble a new Scottish army.
Edward II may not have been a coward, but nor was he the military commander that his father had been. He had lost the support of many of his nobles, who refused to support his desire to conquer the Scots, and so much of his army of 20,000 was composed of foreign mercenaries. His isolation from many of the nobility of England may well explain his rashness. His decisions leading up to the battle and on the day itself were poor, indeed accounts suggest that there was no real strategy. His arrogance may well account for the exceedingly poor decision to put his army between 2 streams, which is generally considered suicidal in terms of military strategy. This alone probably explains why the defeat was so heavy. However praise must go to Robert the Bruce, who knitted together a formidable Scottish army. His tactics were new and his troops well-drilled.
The Scottish Government is trying to make much of their victory at Bannockburn, not least because it spurned the more famous Declaration of Arbroath, some years later. In the run-up to the referendum on Scottish Independence, it is obvious why the SNP would want to highlight the ability of the Scots to stand-up for themselves, particularly when it was against England. One cannot blame them for trying to remember such a famous victory, we did much the same last year on the 500 anniversary of Flodden Field.
Whatever the Scots try to make of the anniversary of Bannockburn, it is legitimate for the English to ponder what it tells us. Edward II’s army was bigger and better equipped, but it was an army of the King of England, rather than an English army. It was an army of conquest on a foreign soil. Perhaps it lacked the same commitment as the Scottish army, because there is nothing like fighting an invasion to stir people into supporting their homeland. The truth of this can be seen at Flodden Field (9th September 1513), where an invading Scottish army was utterly annihilated by an English army fighting to defend England.
I don’t accept the unionist propaganda of ‘we’re better-off together’, I believe in Scottish Independence, as I do in Independence for England. I believe England and Scotland can forge a new relationship as separate countries, rather than trying to mask the obvious antagonisms under the banner of ‘Britishness’.
What Bannockburn suggests to me, is that England should concentrate on its own problems and not try to invade some other country. This is likely to be a bloody and ultimately fruitless experience, as recent experience has shown. People will always make greater sacrifices to defend what they have, when compared to people trying to take something which is not theirs. This to me is the real lesson of Bannockburn, although many will accuse me of a ‘little Englander’ attitude.