The slaughter and disgrace of the battle of Falkirk might have been repaired in other respects, but it cost the Scottish kingdom an irredeemable loss in the public services of Wallace.
Continuing William Wallace, Braveheart,
our selection from History of Scotland by Sir Walter Scott published in 1830. The selection is presented in three easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in William Wallace, Braveheart.
Time: July 22, 1298
This advance was doubtless made with the purpose of annoying the expected retreat of the English. Edward, thus apprised that the Scots were in his vicinity, determined to compel them to action. He broke up his camp, and, advancing with caution, slept the next night in the fields along with the soldiers. But the casualties of the campaign were not yet exhausted. His war-horse, which was picketed beside him, like that of an ordinary man-at-arms, struck the King with his foot and hurt him in the side. A tumult arose in the camp, but Edward, regardless of pain, appeased it by mounting his horse, riding through the cantonments, and showing the soldiers that he was in safety.
Next morning, July 22, 1298, the armies met. The Scottish infantry were drawn up on a moor, with a morass in front. They were divided into four phalanxes or dense masses, with lances lowered obliquely over each other, and seeming, says an English historian, like a castle walled with steel. These spearmen were the flower of the army, in whom Wallace chiefly confided. He commanded them in person, and used the brief exhortation, “I have brought you to the ring; dance as you best can.”
The Scottish archers, under the command of Sir John Stewart, brother of the Steward of Scotland, were drawn up in the intervals between the masses of infantry. They were chiefly brought from the wooded district of Selkirk. We hear of no Highland bowmen among them. The cavalry, which amounted to only one thousand men-at-arms, held the rear.
The English cavalry began the action. The Marshal of England led half of the men-at-arms straight upon the Scottish front, but in doing so involved them in the morass. The Bishop of Durham, who commanded the other division of the English cavalry, was wheeling round the morass on the east, and, perceiving this misfortune, became disposed to wait for support. “To mass, Bishop!” said Ralph Basset of Drayton, and charged with the whole body. The Scottish men-at-arms went off without couching their lances; but the infantry stood their ground firmly. In the turmoil that followed, Sir John Stewart fell from his horse and was slain among the archers of Ettrick, who died in defending or avenging him.
The close bodies of Scottish spearmen, now exposed without means of defense or retaliation, were shaken by the constant showers of arrows; and the English men-at-arms finally charging them desperately while they were in disorder, broke and dispersed these formidable masses. The Scots were then completely routed, and it was only the neighboring woods which saved a remnant from the sword. The body of Stewart was found among those of his faithful archers, who were distinguished by their stature and fair complexions from all others with which the field was loaded. Macduff and Sir John the Grahame, “the hardy wight and wise,” still fondly remembered as the bosom friend of Sir William Wallace, were slain in the same disastrous action.
Popular report states this battle to have been lost by treachery; and the communication between the earls of Dunbar and Angus and King Edward, as well as the disgraceful flight of the Scottish cavalry without a single blow, corroborates the suspicion. But the great superiority of the English in archery may account for the loss of this as of many another battle on the part of the Scots. The bowmen of Ettrick Forest were faithful; but they could only be few. So nearly had Wallace’s scheme for the campaign been successful, that Edward, even after having gained this great battle, returned to England, and deferred reaping the harvest of his conquest till the following season. If he had not been able to bring the Scottish army to action, his retreat must have been made with discredit and loss, and Scotland must have been left in the power of the patriots.
The slaughter and disgrace of the battle of Falkirk might have been repaired in other respects, but it cost the Scottish kingdom an irredeemable loss in the public services of Wallace. He resigned the guardianship of the kingdom, unable to discharge its duties, amid the calumnies with which faction and envy aggravated his defeat. The Bishop of St. Andrew’s, Bruce, Earl of Carrick, and Sir John Comyn were chosen guardians of Scotland, which they administered in the name of Baliol. In the meantime that unfortunate Prince was, in compassion or scorn, delivered up to the Pope by Edward, and a receipt was gravely taken for his person from the nuncio then in France. This led to the entrance of a new competitor for the Scottish kingdom.
The Pontiff of Rome had been long endeavoring to establish a claim, to whatsoever should be therein found, to which a distinct and specific right of property could not be ascertained. The Pontiff’s claim to the custody of the dethroned King being readily admitted, Boniface VIII was encouraged to publish a bull claiming Scotland as a dependency on the see of Rome because the country had been converted to Christianity by the relics of St. Andrew.
The Pope, in the same document, took the claim of Edward to the Scottish crown under his own discussion, and authoritatively commanded Edward I to send proctors to Rome to plead his cause before his holiness. This magisterial requisition was presented by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the King, in the presence of the council and court, the prelate at the same time warning the sovereign to yield unreserved obedience, since Jerusalem would not fail to protect her citizens, and Mount Zion her worshippers. “Neither for Zion nor Jerusalem,” said Edward, in towering wrath, “will I depart from my just rights while there is breath in my nostrils.”
Accordingly he caused the Pope’s bull to be laid before the Parliament of England, who unanimously resolved “that in temporals the King of England was independent of Rome, and that they would not permit his sovereignty to be questioned.” Their declaration concludes with these remarkable words: “We neither do, will, nor can permit our sovereign to do anything to the detriment of the constitution, which we are both sworn to and are determined to maintain” — a spirited assertion of national right, had it not been in so bad a cause as that of Edward’s claim of usurpation over Scotland.
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