A Short Summary of Ed’s 1322 Campaign and Why He Lost

I’ve now done all of the serious stuff on this Scottish Campaign of Edward’s so now I’ll try and sum it all up in a much shorter post.


After the two year truce of 1319 ended in December 1321, Robert Bruce started, rather annoyingly, to get up to his old tricks again – popping over the border to do a spot of terrorising and to running a protection racket for northern towns that could afford it.

Edward was rather hacked off about this (not as much as his northern subjects though, I’ll bet) and so decided to invade Scotland to teach that nasty Bruce a lesson. The following then happened:

1. Edward spent a lot of time mustering his forces and making preparations regarding supplies etc (Good). This took rather a lot of time, in which Bruce managed to pop over for yet another visit (Bad).

2. Edward gathered one of the largest armies ever to march into Scotland (Good). That huge army needed huge amounts of food and drink and organisation (Bad)

3. Edward gathered one of the largest armies ever to march into Scotland (again, Good). An army is not much good if it doesn’t have an enemy to fight – the Scots simply vanished (Bad)

4. Edward sent large amounts of supplies by sea (Good). He hadn’t managed though to deal with the Flemish fleet who were intent on disrupting said supplies (Bad).

5. Edward had probably counted on feeding his army off the land (Sort of Good). Bruce operated a ‘scorched earth’ tactic in order to deny them this opportunity (Bad).

6. Edward took his family and comforts north with him (Good – for Edward anyway). Bruce’s tactics meant that Isabella became stranded at Tynemouth and Ed lost most of his baggage train at Byland (very Bad).

7. Edward thought he was safe at Byland, where his army controlled the (very) high ground (Good). Bruce had men who were practically born rolling down mountains and who loved nothing more than a spot of climbing (very, very Bad).

8. Edward lacked experienced commanders (apart from Harclay, who didn’t get there and to whom Ed probably wouldn’t have listened anyway, and Pembroke who didn’t seem to do much) because they had either died or been executed after Boroughbridge (from Bad to Worse). Bruce’s commanders were experienced and able (oh the Woe!)

9. Edward was sadly lacking in his father’s talents – and enthusiasm – for war (I’m not even going to bother to comment any more – you get the drift). Robert Bruce was a seriously, seriously excellent leader, warrior, tactician – one of the best of his time. It was a bit like putting Cheltenham Town football (soccer) team up against Manchester United and expecting them to win (no disrespect to the Robins by the way – they are good enough in their own league!).

So, although Edward wasn’t as completely ill prepared and stupid during this campaign as some have made out, he was always going to be the under-dog. Maybe if Flanders had backed off from his shipping, if his army hadn’t starved and become ill in Scotland, if the weather had been better (it seems that it was pretty stormy and wet throughout that time), if he hadn’t dismissed most of his army before Byland, if he had sent Isabella further south sooner, if… I could go on, but I won’t.

There are also other issues associated with this campaign. The first is the alleged ‘abandonment’ of Isabella to the Scots at Tynemouth by Edward – supposedly at the behest of Hugh Despenser. Alianore has already done a magnificently researched post on this subject here, so I won’t duplicate it (especially as our blogs are soon merging into one web-site). Suffice it to say that Edward and Hugh made strenuous attempts to rescue the queen and her ladies (which included Hugh’s wife) – but Isabella rejected the first men sent (because they contained some of Hugh’s men) and the second contingent were captured at Byland. Thus Isabella made the decision to take a ship (and we know how dodgy THAT was) to safety and in the process two of her ladies died.

The second issue is the appearance of Edward’s illegitimate son, Adam by his side on the campaign. From records we know that Edward paid for his armour and equipment, but after this battle he doesn’t appear anywhere else again, leading to speculation that he might have died at some point around then. The third issue is the ‘treachery’ of Andrew de Harclay some months later when he decided to draw up a treaty between England and Scotland without asking Edward first! Both of these also have their own posts, so if you want to read more, either go here (for Adam), or here (for Harclay).

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5 Responses to A Short Summary of Ed’s 1322 Campaign and Why He Lost

  1. Enjoyed the summary! I wonder how well other leaders would have fared opposite Robert Bruce–probably not as well as some would have us think!

  2. Alianore says:

    Also enjoyed the summary! Poor Edward though, having to face Robert Bruce. Really, really not an evenly-matched fight there!

  3. Anerje says:

    Loved the summary!

  4. Anerje says:

    And it's worth adding what a fool Isa was – refusing to be rescued! Although, she was probably thinking of propaganda kudos:> yes, it was all that nasty Despencer's fault;>

  5. Carla says:

    I doubt that many commanders would have made much of a showing against Robert Bruce and his lieutenants. Poor Edward was probably never going to be an exception.
    On the subject of large armies, there's a (probably apocryphal) tale about Count Belisarius, who commanded Emperor Justinian's Byzantine army in the 500s. On being informed that his enemy had an army of 50,000 men,

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