On 11 September 1297, the Scottish forces, under the joint command of Moray and Wallace, met those of the king of England, commanded by John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The Scottish army deployed to the north-east of the bridge, and let the vanguard of Surrey’s army cross before attacking it. The English cavalry proved ineffective on the boggy ground around the bridge, and many were killed. The bridge collapsed as reinforcements tried to cross and the English on the opposite side of the river then fled the battlefield. The Scots suffered relatively light casualties, but the death from wounds of Andrew Moray dealt a profound blow to the Scottish cause. Stirling Bridge was the first key victory for the Scots.
After clearing the English out of Scotland, Wallace turned his mind to the administration of the country. One of his early intentions was to re-establish commercial and diplomatic ties with Europe and win back the overseas trade which Scotland had enjoyed under Alexander III. Any evidence of his administrative acumen was probably destroyed by Edward’s officials after his execution. There is, however, one Latin document in the archives of the Hanseatic town of Lübeck, which was sent on 11 October 1297 by “Andrew de Moray and William Wallace, leaders of the kingdom of Scotland and the community of the realm.” It told the merchants of Lübeck and Hamburg that they now had free access to all parts of the kingdom of Scotland, which had, by favour of God, been recovered by war from the English.
Only one week after this document was signed, Wallace picked up the sword to mount an invasion of England. Crossing into Northumberland, the Scots followed the English army fleeing south in disarray. Caught between two armies, hundreds of refugees fled to safety behind the walls of Newcastle. The Scots laid waste a swathe of countryside before wheeling west into Cumberland and pillaging all the way toCockermouth, before Wallace led his men back into Northumberland and fired 700 villages. On his return from England, laden with booty, Wallace found himself at the pinnacle of his power
In March 1298, Wallace was knighted, reputedly by one of the leading nobles of Scotland, and was appointed Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland in the name of the exiled King John Balliol. Although the Scottish nobles appeared to have accepted Wallace’s leadership after the Battle of Stirling Bridge and his English expedition, he had little faith in their support and set about dismantling the system of feudal vassalage and replacing it with a proper militia which would owe allegiance to Scotland rather than to each chief. He also began preparations for what must surely follow: a confrontation with Edward.
In January 1298, Philip IV of France had signed a truce with Edward that did not include Scotland, thereby deserting his Scots allies. Edward returned to England from campaigning in France in March and called for his army to assemble. He moved the seat of government to York and on 3 July he invaded Scotland, intending to crush Wallace and all those daring to assert Scotland’s independence. On 22 July, Edward’s army attacked a much smaller Scottish force led by Wallace nearFalkirk. The English army had a technological advantage. Its longbowmen decimated Wallace’s spearmen and cavalry by firing scores of arrows over great distances. Many Scots were killed at the Battle of Falkirk, although it is impossible to give a precise number. Although Edward failed to subdue Scotland completely before returning to England, Wallace’s military reputation was ruined. He retreated to the thick woods nearby and resigned his guardianship in December.
William Wallace was sent to Europe to try to gain further support for the Scottish cause. Wallace went to France to seek the aid of Philip IV, and he possibly went on to Rome. William Lamberton, Bishop of St Andrews, was appointed as a third, neutral Guardian to try to maintain order between Bruce and Comyn. The Scots also recaptured Stirling Castle.
In May 1300, Edward I led a campaign into Annandale and Galloway. With the success of the English at Falkirk, Edward must have felt in a position to bring Scotland under full control permanently. To do this required further campaigning to follow-up on the success of 1298, eliminating the last opposition and securing the castles providing the focus for further resistance. The English took control of Caerlaverock Castle, but apart from some small skirmishes, there was no action. In August, the Pope sent a letter demanding that Edward withdraw from Scotland. Due to the lack of success, Edward arranged a truce with the Scots on 30 October and returned to England.
That year, Robert Bruce finally resigned as joint guardian and was replaced by Sir Ingram de Umfraville. In May 1301, de Umfraville, John Comyn and William Lamberton resigned as joint guardians and were replaced by Sir John de Soulis as sole guardian. Soulis was appointed largely because he was not part of either the Bruce or the Comyn camps, and was a patriot. He was an active guardian, and made renewed efforts to have John Balliol returned to the Scottish throne.
In July 1301, Edward launched his sixth campaign into Scotland, aiming to conquer Scotland in a two-pronged attack, with one army commanded by his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, the other and larger under his own command. The prince was to take the southwestern lands and the greater glory, so his father hoped. But, while the prince held cautiously to the Solway coast, the Scots, commanded by de Soulis and de Umfraville, attacked Lochmaben in early September and threatened the king’s forces at Bothwell, all the while maintaining an awareness of the prince’s whereabouts. Though Edward captured Bothwell in September, and the prince had earlier helped in capturing Robert the Bruce’s Turnberry Castle, Edward I and his son met to winter at Linlithgow without having damaged the Scots’ fighting ability. In January 1302, Edward agreed to a nine-month truce.
It was around this time that Robert the Bruce submitted to Edward I, along with other nobles, even though he had been on the side of the patriots until then. There are many reasons which may have prompted his turning, not the least of which was that Bruce may have found it loathsome to continue sacrificing his followers, family and inheritance for John Balliol. There were rumours that Balliol would return with a French army and regain the Scottish throne. Soulis supported the return of Balliol as did many other nobles, but the return of John as king would lead to the Bruces losing any chance of ever gaining the throne themselves. Also, Robert’s father was old and ill, and may have wished his son to seek peace with Edward, who, he was convinced, would be victorious over the Scots. The elder Bruce would have seen that, if the rebellion failed and his son were against Edward, he would lose everything; titles, lands, and probably his life. Edward also came to see that he needed a Scottish noble like Bruce as a friend, rather than as an enemy at this time; he was facing both excommunication by the Pope for his actions and a possible invasion by the French.
However, though recently pledged to support Edward, it is interesting to note that Robert the Bruce sent a letter to the monks at Melrose Abbey in March 1302 which effectively weakened his usefulness to the English king. Apologizing for having called the monks to service in his army when there had been no national call up, Bruce pledged that, from now on, he would “never again” require the monks to serve unless it was to “the common army of the realm,” for national defence.
More serious to the Scottish patriots than the apparent defection of Bruce was the loss of support from Philip IV of France and subsequently, the Pope. Philip faced revolt at home and became too involved in his own difficulties to care about the Scots. He had also created a schism with the Pope, whose support for the Scots faded without Philip’s influence. It seemed that Philip had such difficulties that he was willing to sign a peace treaty with Edward excluding the Scots, an act that the Scots knew would spell their doom. A powerful Scottish delegation, led by Soulis, went to Paris that autumn to try to head off such an event. In his absence, Comyn was appointed as Guardian.
Meantime, while Robert Bruce outwardly maintained his loyalty to Edward, he was secretly advancing his own ambition and, while assisting Edward in the settlement of the Scottish government, on 11 June 1304, with both having witnessed the efforts of their countrymen at Stirling, Bruce and William Lamberton made a pact that bound them, each to the other, in “friendship and alliance against all men.” If one should break the secret pact, he would forfeit to the other the sum of ten thousand pounds. Though both had already surrendered to the English, the pact signaled their commitment to their future perseverance for the Scots and their freedom. They now intended to bide their time until the death of the elderly king of England.
Scotland lay defenceless and Edward set about amalgamating her into England. Homage was again paid to Edward by the nobles, and a parliament was held in May 1305 to elect those who would meet later in the year with the English parliament to establish rules for the governance of Scotland by the English. The Earl of Richmond, Edward’s nephew, was to head the subordinate government of Scotland and control the castles of Roxburgh and Jedburgh. Justices were to be appointed in pairs, one Englishman and one Scot. Militarily strategic localities were to be controlled by English sheriffs and constables, but most others by Scots. A council was formed to advise the Earl of Richmond, including Bruce, Comyn and Lamberton. For all the apparent participation by Scots in the government, however, the English held the real power.
While all this took place, William Wallace was finally captured at Robroyston near Glasgow on 3 August 1305. He was delivered to the English by retainers in the service of Sir John Menteith. Wallace had been easily the most hunted man in Scotland for years, but especially for the past eighteen months.
He was quickly taken through the Scottish countryside, his legs bound beneath his horse, towards London, where, after a show trial, the English authorities had him executed on 23 August 1305, at the Elms of Smithfield in the traditional manner for a traitor. He was hanged, then drawn and quartered, and his head placed on a spike on London Bridge. The English government displayed his limbs separately in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling, and Perth.
ROBERT THE BRUCE KING OF THE SCOTS: Bruce arrived in Dumfries and found Comyn there. At a private meeting with Comyn on 6 February 1306 at the Greyfriars Church, Bruce reproached Comyn for his treachery, which Comyn denied. Furious, Bruce drew his dagger and stabbed, though not mortally, his betrayer. As Bruce ran from the church, his attendants, Kirkpatrick and Lindsay, entered and, finding Comyn still alive, killed him. Bruce and his followers then forced the local English judges to surrender their castle. Bruce realised that the die had been cast and that he had no alternative except to become either a king or a fugitive. The murder of Comyn was an act of sacrilege, and he faced a future as an excommunicate and an outlaw. However his pact with Lamberton and the support of the Scottish church, who were ready to take his side in defiance of Rome, proved to be of great importance at this key moment when Bruce asserted his claim to the Scottish throne.