Robert the Bruce—The Story of the Battle of Bannockburn
After the death of Bohun there was no more fighting that day. All night long the two armies lay opposite each other, and very early next morning both were astir. The Scottish soldiers were formed in battle array, and then they knelt to receive the blessing of a holy friar who passed along their lines, his head and feet bare, and carrying a great crucifix in his hand.
"Think you, will these Scots fight?" Edward had asked one of his knights a short time before.
"Ay, that will they," was the reply, "to the last."
But now, seeing them kneel, Edward cried out, "They kneel, they kneel; they ask for mercy."
"They do, my liege," was the answer, "but it is from God, and not from us. Believe me, yonder men will win the day or die upon the field."
"So be it, then," said Edward, "let us to the fight." Then the trumpets were sounded, and the battle began in right good earnest.
The English arrows fell fast and thick till one would have said it snowed. But Bruce knew these deadly arrows of old, and was prepared for them. He sent a body of horse to attack the archers, and they, having no weapons except their bows and arrows, were soon scattered in flight. As the English cavalry advanced, the horses fell into the pits prepared for them, stuck fast in the bogs, or were lamed by the sharp iron spikes with which the field was sown.
Soon all was terrible confusion. The English began to waver. "On them, on them, they fail!" shouted the Scots, and charged more fiercely than before.
At this moment, when the English were beginning to feel themselves beaten, they saw what they thought was a fresh army come over the Gillies' Hill. Then they lost all heart. The confusion became complete. They fled.
This new army was, however, no army, but only the servants and camp followers who had grown tired of idly watching the battle. So with sticks for weapons, and with sheets tied upon tent poles for banners, they marched down the hill to join the fight.
The slaughter now became terrible, and the noise terrific. Banners were trailed in the dust, maddened, riderless horses rushed wildly through the flying ranks; broken armour and weapons strewed the ground. The groans of the wounded and the dying mingled with the clang of arms and the shouts of victory.
Many were slain upon the field, many fell over the rocky banks of the Bannock burn, others were drowned trying to cross the river Forth. Thirty thousand English perished that day.
The King fled with the others. First he fled to Stirling, but the Governor reminded him that there was no safety there, for he had promised to deliver the castle to the King of Scotland next day. So again Edward turned and fled away. He was followed closely by Douglas, but he reached Dunbar without being overtaken, and from there he escaped to Berwick in a fishing-boat, and so at last, after many dangers, landed safely in England.
The English left so much spoil behind them that it was said if the chariots, wagons, and wheeled carriages, which were laden with stores and spoil, could have been drawn up in a line, they would have reached for twenty leagues.
The Scots too made many prisoners. Bruce was far more kind to these prisoners than was usually the case in those wild days. Few, if any, were put to death, and those of them who had friends were soon bought back. For it was the custom then to ransom prisoners, that is, to buy their freedom. As numbers of the prisoners were knights and nobles, their friends paid such great sums of money for them, that it was said Scotland grew rich in one day.
To the noble dead, Bruce gave honourable burial instead of chopping their limbs in pieces, and placing them on the gateways and walls of castles throughout the kingdom, as was too often the fashion.
Now, too, Bruce was able to buy back, or rather exchange for English prisoners, his wife, daughter, and sisters, and the other noble ladies who had been kept in English prisons for eight years. So at last the Queen was Queen indeed, and not a mere Queen of the May as she had said so long ago.
By the battle of Bannockburn English power over Scotland was completely broken. Scotland was free at last. Robert the Bruce was seated firmly upon the throne. Although dark days came again, although the Kings of England again and again revived the old foolish claim of being Scotland's "over-lord," the freedom of the country was never more in real danger. So it is right that we should remember and honour the name of Bruce, as the name of Wallace. They stand together as the preservers of Scottish freedom.