It was the year of 1297. The First War of Scottish Independence was well underway, and Scots under the leadership of William Wallace managed to drive English forces out of the highlands. As English garrisons burned, it became clear to the English King Edward I that another show of force, similar to that of the last year at Dunbar was needed. He ordered one of his most capable commanders John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, to gather an army and move north, capture Wallace and end the rebellion.
Earl of Surrey’s first objective was to relieve Dundee, the only remaining English stronghold north of the River Forth. He arrived at the Stirling bridge over Forth at the beginning of September 1297. He delayed his crossing for a few days, fearful of the ambush on the other side prepared by Wallace and Andrew Moray, another prominent Scottish leader. Their force arrived at the bridge before Surrey’s and had taken the high ground on the north bank of Forth.
English army consisted of English, Scottish, and Welsh knights, supported by Welsh longbowmen and foot soldiers. John de Warenne had some 9,000 men under his command, 2,000 of which were mounted knights. The opposing side had 6,000 men at the most, and only about 300 of them were cavalry. Not only Scotts were outnumbered, but their cavalry was vastly inferior to the English one.
English force was made of Edvard’s veterans from his campaigns in France, Wales, and Scotland. These were battle-hardened men, well equipped and well lead, used to fighting and confident in victory. The latest addition to English armies were Welsh bowmen, armed with a longbow, a weapon that gave them an unprecedented range and accuracy on the battlefield.
Facing them were Scottish peasants, armed with whatever was available to them. They were amateurs and lacked any significant army training, but their morale was very high and they were led by two excellent commanders, William Wallace and Andrew Moray.
Finally, de Warenne ordered a crossing for early morning on September 11th. At first, it went well, and a large part of English army crossed the narrow bridge uncontested, only to be called back without explanation. As it turned out, English commander John de Warenne overslept. As you can imagine, the news didn’t do wonders for the English morale.
When the commander joined his forces, another crossing was attempted. Wallace and Moray didn’t interfere with the maneuver and let the English slowly gather on the north bank. Their only chance of victory was to defeat English army piecemeal and don’t let them use their superior heavy cavalry. Once they deemed that a portion of English soldiers were on the north bank and they felt confident they could defeat them, Scots charged. The Battle of Stirling begun.
English tried to stop Scottish advance by a cavalry charge, but not enough knights made it to the other side, and the charge was easily brushed aside by the Scottish spearmen. They quickly reached the bridge and managed to cut off the Englishmen on the north side from reinforcement. In the ensuing melee, almost 2,000 English soldiers were killed, with only a handful of infantry managing to swim back across the river. All the knights that crossed the river were killed by the Scotts. The notable exception was Sir Marmaduke Thweng, who fought his way back across the bridge.
The end result of the battle of Stirling was a devastating English defeat. Despite having a far superior army in terms of both numbers and quality, John de Warenne managed to lose the battle and half of his army. His defeat placed the entire Lowlands under Scottish control and opened North England to the Scottish raiders, an opportunity they didn’t miss. It was also a rare occurrence that an almost infantry army defeated armored knights, although the circumstances were highly specific.
The battle was a huge morale boost for the Scotts. After years of defeats and humiliation at the hands of English, they finally managed to strike a blow against the invaders. Although Bannockburn was a far more influential battle, it was at Stirling that Scotts showed the world and themselves that they aren’t defeated and that they still had some fight left in them. To this day, the battle of Stirling holds a special place in the hearts of Scotsmen.