The March to Stirling Castle

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 and any accounts may vary in their details. However, from all I have read I have put together the most likely scenarios.

 

Edward's march north to Stirling from the  second muster point of Wark

Edward’s march north to Stirling from the second muster point of Wark

Before any medieval army set out on a march, arrangements had to be made to keep it supplied with food (for both men and horses), arrows, carts, horses, ships, etc. The army that marched to Stirling was no exception. As Edward had had experience of Bruce instigating a scorched earth policy as he withdrew on previous campaigns, the king of England was determined to take what he needed with him. By spring he was already issuing writs for the purveyance of foodstuffs, oats, hay, brushwood, litter and wine and ale.

[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”raised” width=”250px” height=”” background_color=”#d4f9f9″ border_width=”2″ border_color=”#b1acac” ] Never in our time did such an army quit England. The multitude of carts stretched in a line would have taken up twenty leagues.
The Vita Edwardi Secundi[/dropshadowbox]Of course these all had to be transported to Berwick on Tweed in time for the muster so the ports of Dover, Hastings, Hythe, Romney, Winchelsea, Sandwich and Rye were ordered to send a good number of ships to the king to be used as supply vessels. In addition to the food, horses and men, carts were requisitioned to carry the food from Berwick to the north. And, as usual, the army needed those who would service it while on the march: clerks, carpenters, priests, engineers, physicians, launderesses, blacksmiths, grooms, armourers, etc. The list is a lengthy one, which is probably why Edward’s baggage train was so immensely long. Co-ordinating the logistics must have been a complete nightmare!

Baggage carts

Baggage carts

The original date for the muster had been June 10th, but this was delayed until the 17th, probably because some of the Welsh infantry needed more time to get there. It would have been noted by Edward that some of his most powerful earls were absent (Lancaster, Warwick, Arundel, Surrey and Oxford) but while this may have angered him, it did not delay his departure or dampen his mood. To encourage those lords who had faithfully turned up he promised Scottish lands and titles to individuals he thought deserved them.

From what little evidence we have from the chronicles, it seems that the weather was dry and warm as is usual for summer. In fact it was the last normal summer for a while (see my posts about the Great Famine). This would have made travelling easier on the horses and carts, although it would have been uncomfortably warm for those marching on foot.

[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”raised” width=”250px” height=”” background_color=”#d4f9f9″ border_width=”2″ border_color=”#b1acac” ] Short time was allowed for sleep, shorter for meals. Horses, horsemen and infantry, overcome by toil and want of food are not to be blamed for their failure in battle.
The Vita Edwardi Secundi
Of course, this is not quite true: aside from the 23 mile march, their 15 miles a day was uite comparable to the marching speed of most armies of that time. They also had plentiful provisions. I think the Vita was trying to think up excuses for the defeat![/dropshadowbox]Edward set out from Berwick and Wark with his army on 17th June and headed north towards the Lammermuir Hills, here taking the Roman road. On the night of the 18th, they camped at Soutra and the next day marched a good 15 miles to Edinburgh. Even with good roads, the baggage train was still slower than the troops and so Edward was forced to wait at Edinburgh until the 21st June. At least this delay gave his infantry and horses a chance to rest and also to resupply from the ships that had docked at Leith with provisions. Thirty five miles now lay between Edward and Stirling Castle: by the time he set off again on the 22nd, he had just two days until the deadline for the relief of the castle.

That day the army covered 23 miles – eight more than they were used to – and reached Falkirk. As the morning dawned on the 23rd, there were only ten miles between Edward II and Stirling castle: the end was in sight. Except, of course, there was that irritating little problem of Robert Bruce and his men trying to block their way. Not that Edward and his commanders worried about the Scots: guerilla warfare was more Bruce’s style, and when his men saw the size of Edward’s army, they’d probably run for their lives. So no, as far as Edward II and the English army were concerned, Robert the Bruce would be no problem at all.

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