Society - History
By: - at May 18, 2013

The First War of Scottish Independence

Scottish Independence WarThe First War of Scottish Independence began during the Middle Ages when England attempted to claim Scotland for its own. It succeeded in gaining control over Scotland until the nation rebelled. Robert the Bruce became a great Scottish hero as he aided many military campaigns against the English and led many into battle for freedom, eventually liberating his country. In a similar way, Sir William Wallace, became immortalized for his bold military maneuvers and became the beloved champion of Scottish rebels. Although, the First War of Scottish Independence resulted in 5 years of Scottish freedom after the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, the English aristocracy felt humiliated by the terms of the treaty and it was nullified by Edward III of England. This sparked the discontent which would later result in the Second War of Scottish Independence.

King Robert the Bruce
King Robert the Bruce
Robert the Bruce was born in Turnberry Castle, Ayrshire on July 11, 1274. He lent support to William Wallace during his conquests and became a brave Guardian of Scotland. In 1302, King Edward I “Longshanks” of England offered a truce to the Scots which Bruce accepted and joined the English in their ‘Scottish Council’. During a quarrel with John Comyn, a claimant to the Scottish throne, Robert the Bruce got exceedingly angry and murdered him thus, declaring himself King of Scotland. Fearing excommunication, Bruce traveled to Glasgow to reconcile with the patriot Bishop of Glasgow, Robert Wishart. Instead of excommunicating him, Wishart pardoned him and advised the people to fight for him. They both traveled to Scone where Bruce was crowned King on March 25, 1306 and began a guerilla war with Edward I. The Declaration of Arbroath was written and sent to the pope in Rome pleading Scottish freedom during this time. Having defeated Edward in 1314 at Bannockburn and in 1322 during the invasion by Edward II, the thirty years of the War of Independence were finally ended and Scotland declared a free nation. Robert the Bruce died at Cardross on July 7, 1329. His body was buried at Dunfermline Abbey but his heart was embalmed and taken on a crusade to the Holy Land. The crusade, led by James Douglas, returned to Scotland when their leader was killed in Spain. It was eventually buried by Melrose Abbey and a new stone placed over the top of it. On the stone was inscribed, in old Scottish, ‘A noble hart may hae nae ease, gif freedom failye’ - a noble heart may have no ease if freedom fails. Robert the Bruce risked his title, his lands, his wealth and his title for kingship as well as ex-communication from the pope and Catholic Church for the liberation of Scotland.

Robert the Bruce’s Military Campaigns
The First War - Scottish Army
Edward Bruce, brother of Robert, invaded Ireland and led a series of revolts against its mother-country, England. Robert the Bruce sent reinforcements, weapons and food to him as assistance in his battle for freedom in Ireland. In 1316 he was crowned the King of Ireland, although most of the Irish clans would not pay homage to their new ruler. He led a small army comprised of several large Irish clans into battle against the English. They were significantly outnumbered and in 1318 were defeated. Robert the Bruce also assisted a minor civil war in England providing defense troops to aid the rebel leaders although little is known about the subject.

In addition, Robert the Bruce fought his most celebrated war, the First War of Scottish Independence. The First War of Scottish Independence began in 1297, when William Wallace rose to prominence and began leading many influential revolts against the insatiable English. When he was executed in 1305, Robert the Bruce stepped up and took his place as leader of the Scottish revolution. Killing off any rivals to the throne, Robert the Bruce was crowned king of Scotland by the patriot Bishop of Glasgow, Robert Wishart, in 1306. He then launched a guerilla war against England for Scottish freedom. Initially, he was not triumphant but as his support grew he seized a large number of fortresses-graciously allowing the enemy soldiers to return to their homelands. After overpowering the English in the Battle of Bannockburn, King Edward III of England signed a treaty which declared Scottish Independence.

The Scottish Battles for Freedom
Scottish Battles for FreedomAfter being defeated in the Battle of Methven, Robert the Bruce abandoned his army and fled to the Orkney Isles. Without their commander they were slaughtered and many of Bruce’s leading captains being imprisoned. He eventually revealed himself and began attacking the English with small raiding parties due to the lack of supplies in Scotland. On May 10, 1307, the English army, under the command of Amyer de Valence, who had defeated the Scots in a previous battle, made its way toward the Scottish army through a bog. Bruce’s men had dug parallel ditches that limited room for walking and forced the opposing soldiers to march in a long tight column. Bruce’s soldiers swarmed downhill and massacred the English army as they stepped out of the narrow path. Amyer de Valence managed to escape, seeking refuge at Bothwell Castle.

In the summer of 1308, during both the Scottish Civil War and the First War of Scottish Independence, John Macdougall of Lorn led clan Macdougall to battle King Robert the Bruce. They planned a simple ambush similar to that of the Battle of Dalry, in which King Robert I had been defeated. However, he now had enough knowledge of guerrilla warfare to know that they awaited his arrival on a small hillside near to Loch Awe. Having gained loyalty from a group of Scottish Highlanders commanded by Sir James Douglas, he instructed them to attack the Macdougall clan from the top while he confronted them from the bottom. John Macdougall was trapped and his clan obliterated. The Lord of Argyll admitted defeat and paid homage to Bruce as king but the next year he was banished from Scotland along with his son, eventually dying in 1310.

The Battle of Bannockburn was a significant triumph for Scotland that decided the fate of the entire war and declared Scottish freedom - albeit without a written document. During this battle, Robert the Bruce adopted similar tactics to that of the Battle of Loudoun Hill. It was during this battle that an English commander observed Robert the Bruce seated on his horse with no armor and no weapons save a battle-axe. The area around him was deserted so the commander charged at him aiming his lance at his heart. Bruce stood his ground and as the commanding officer came near he raised the blade and struck it through the commander’s head with such force that he bore open his head along with his metal helmet. Noting the enormity and disorganization of the English army, Robert the Bruce sent his soldiers into the tightly packed mess until the enemy formations began to crumble. The Scottish army began to chant ‘Lay on! Lay on! Lay on! They fail!’ It was heard by Robert the Bruce’s camp followers who snatched up their weapons and charged into the English. To the fatigued enemy army, this seemed like a reserve soldiers and they gave up all hope of victory.

Sir William Wallace

Sir William Wallace:
Sir William Wallace

Robert the Bruce was certainly not the only famous rebel leader. William Wallace was born around 1270 A.D. in Ellerslie (present day Elderslie), Scotland to Sir Alan Wallace, Laird of Ellerslie and Auchinbothie. He had also an elder brother, Malcolm, and a younger brother, John.

Political Background
During Wallace’s childhood, Scotland was under the rule of King Alexander III, who had settled Scotland in a time of military peace and economic stability and independence. He died in 1286, however, and his heir and granddaughter, Margaret of Norway died soon after. This led to a period of instability known as the “Great Cause” in which the government of guardians (initially established by Scottish lords to govern until Margaret reached an age suitable to rule) appealed to Edward I of England to decide between the contenders for the throne. This dissension seemed to be the prolepsis of a civil war, and as a result, King Edward was summoned by the Scottish nobles to mediate. However, before undertaking the affair, he demanded that the rivals for the throne acknowledge him to be “Lord Paramount of Scotland”. Eventually, the weak John Balliol was found to have the strongest legal claim to the throne and was crowned king. Edward I continued to veto or alter the adjudications of the Scottish Lords and attacked the Scottish border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1296. By July, he had forcibly coerced Balliol to relinquish his throne and gradually used his power to force Scotland under the thumb of English rule.

William Wallace spent his childhood at Dunipace near Stirling, where his uncle, a priest cared for him and here Wallace led a contented and quiet life as the son of nobility.

Infamous Battle of Stirling Bridge
Infamous Battle of Stirling Bridge

He grew to be a large man of approximately two metres in height who was very powerful physically and wise. Both he and his brother Malcolm were trained in the art of combat and horsemanship. The Life of Sir William of Ellerslie Carrick described William Wallace in an awed description, seeming to rival Homer’s depiction of Achilles:

“All powerful as a swordsman and unrivaled as an archer, his blows were fatal and his shafts unerring: as an equestrian, he was a model of dexterity and grace; while the hardships he experienced in his youth made him view with indifference the severest privations incident to a military life.”

Modern-day Stirling, Scotland with Old Stirling Bridge and the Abbey Craig
Modern-day Stirling, Scotland with Old Stirling Bridge and the Abbey Craig
By Kim Traynor via Wikimedia Commons

Wallace’s father was murdered in a fight with English troops in 1291 when William was 21 years old. This event contributed to Wallace’s lasting desire to fight for the cause of Scottish freedom. He spent the next part of his life as an outlaw, viciously confronting the English on occasion. In 1297 the English sheriff of Lanark, Sir William Haselrig, murdered Marion Braidfute, his wife. In his anger Wallace took revenge by killing the Sheriff and some others with the assistance of John Graham. By April the entire of North Scotland was under revolt. Andrew de Moray led a small army to destroy every English garrisoned fortress from Banff to Inverness.

The news of William Wallace’s attack had spread throughout Scotland and many rebels joined together under his leadership. Supported by the Bishop of Glasgow, the rebels planned an attack on Scone to defeat the Justiciar of Scotland, William Ormesby, who was appointed by the English. Ormesby was warned of the coming attack and fled. While laying siege to a castle, William received news that the English army was advancing north led by the Earl of Surrey. Wallace and de Moray traveled to Cambuskenneth Abbey with their armies and combined their forces while they awaited the English. On September, 1297 the English and Scottish armies met in the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This was the first significant success for the Scots. William Wallace spoke to the surviving English:

Knight William Wallace‘I’m William Wallace, and the rest of you will be spared. Go back to England and tell them…Scotland is free!’

In March 1298, William Wallace was knighted and became the official Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland. But, on July 22, 1298, King Edward ‘Longshanks’ I of England sent a large army to attack William Wallace’s significantly smaller army. Wallace’s army was decimated by Edward’s cavalry and spearmen and he fled to the nearby forest, resigning his supervision in December. He was found and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered on August 23, 1305 at the Elms of Smithfield in the traditional conduct for all outlaws. The four remaining parts of his body were exhibited separately in Berwick, Stirling, Newcastle and Perth and his head was displayed on a stick on London Bridge as a warning to all people, both Scots and English. Sir William Wallace of Ellerslie prepared the way for Scottish freedom.

The Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton
Thirty years later, in 1328, the treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton was signed by the rulers and several important nobles of both countries. It officially declared Scotland liberated and a made truce between the two opposing countries. The terms of the treaty stated that, in return for £100,000 sterling, England would acknowledge Scotland to be an entirely independent nation and recognize Robert the Bruce and his successors as its lawful rulers. However, the treaty was disliked by much of the English nobility and was abrogated in 1333 by Edward III, sparking the discontent that would eventually lead to the start of the Second War of Scottish Independence.

COOL FACT:  Did you know the movie "Braveheart" was made to showcase this exact war?  I recommend watching it if you haven't yet!





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The First War of Scottish Independence

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