Edward II. of Caernarvon—The Story of the Battle of Bannockburn
AFTER the death of Bohun there was no more fighting that day. The sun soon set, and during the short summer night the two armies lay opposite each other, silently waiting for the dawn.
When day broke, the whole plain was astir. Trumpets sounded, drums beat, and as the English army advanced, they seemed to roll onward like mighty waves. "No hand but God's can save us from so great a host," said the Scots. And, as a holy abbot with bare feet and head passed along the lines to bless them, they knelt in prayer.
"See," cried King Edward, "they kneel! they ask for mercy!"
"True," replied the knight to whom he spoke, "they ask for mercy, but from Heaven, not from us. These men will conquer, or die on the field."
The fight began and long and fiercely it raged. The Scottish horse scattered the English archers, and the English horse fell into the pits which Bruce had caused to be dug. The English army was already in confusion when suddenly, over the brow of a neighbouring hill, there appeared what seemed to them another Scottish army.
Then the English fled. Blind with fear they rode, hardly knowing where. Many were drowned while trying to cross the river Forth, others fell over the rocky banks of the Bannock till the stream was choked with the dead.
The new army which had so frightened the English was no army at all, but only the servants and camp-followers whom Bruce had separated from the soldiers and sent to wait behind the hill. They had grown tired of watching and doing nothing, so they tied cloths on to poles for banners, armed themselves with sticks, and came to join the fight. They came just at the right time, for the English, already beginning to feel that the battle was lost, fled before this new host.
Edward, although he was no coward, fled too. He went first to Stirling, but the Governor would not let him stay there. "Have you forgotten, my lord," he said, "that to-morrow I must yield up the castle to the King of Scots? If you remain here you will become his prisoner."
So Edward rode south, attended only by a few knights. One brave man rode with the King until he thought he was safe, then drawing rein, "Farewell, my liege," he said, "I am not wont to flee," and turning he rode back, and fell fighting with his face to the enemy.
The King fled on, and he had need to flee fast. For, when it became known that he had left the field, he was hotly pursued as far as Dunbar, which was still in the hands of the English. From there he went in a little fishing-boat to Berwick and so reached England and safety.
Upon the field many of England's noblest men lay dead, many were wounded, many taken prisoner. So much spoil fell into the hands of the Scots, and so much money was paid to them as ransom for their prisoners, that it was said that Scotland became rich in one day. Scotland became not only rich but free in one day, for if the battle of Bannockburn did not quite end the war, it showed what Scotsmen loving their country could do, and in the dark days which were still to come they never again despaired.
The battle of Bannockburn is the greatest battle ever fought on Scottish ground. It is great not because so many noble men fell upon the field; but because at one blow it made the Scots free.
Beaten and angry Edward returned to England, and the rest of his life was dark and miserable. He ruled so badly that at last the nobles put him from the throne, and crowned his little son, who was also called Edward.
Edward II., King no longer, was sent as a prisoner from castle to castle. No one loved or cared for him, and each new gaoler treated the poor, fallen King worse than the last, till one night terrible shrieks rang through the castle in which he was imprisoned. In the morning Edward II. was found dead. He had been murdered.