Scottish Wars of Independence

1296 to 1346
Scotland — versus — England

War of Independence, led by William Wallace, 1296-1305 War of Independence, led by Robert Bruce, 1306-1328 Second War of Scottish Independence, 1332-1346

The most famous period of Scottish History is the late 13th and early 14th centuries, when Scotland fought a series of battles to establish its independence from England. The two great heroes of the early war were William Wallace, a commoner, and Robert the Bruce, who after great difficulties, was crowned king of Scotland. At the time of the wars of independence, England was a vastly wealthier and more powerful nation than Scotland, and it had succeeded in at least partially subduing all of its near neighbors, including Wales and Ireland, and was intent on conquering France.

The idea that Scotland could and did stand against England, purely by force of indomitable will, was a source of great national pride in Scotland for generations thereafter. The war did not free Scotland from any further interference by England, nor did it provide her with particularly good government, but it established the Scots reputation as proud and unconquerable people, a legacy they embraced for centuries afterward.

First War of Scottish Independence—William Wallace : 1296-1305

William Wallace
England, under Edward I had brought both Wales and Ireland under its sway, and it desired also to expand its influence over Scotland. England's first strategy for taking over Scotland, was thwarted when the female heir to the Scottish throne, who was betrothed to the son of Edward I, died. The second attempt to assume control of Scotland by promoting a weakling king to the throne, and then running roughshod over the country, was thwarted by William Wallace, a commoner who refused to submit to the indignities of servitude to the English.

When the young queen of Scotland, known as the 'Maid of Norway' died, there was no direct heir to the Scottish throne. Edward I, the English king was quick to promote the cause of John Balliol, and just as quickly demanded he do homage to the English King for all the lands in Scotland, which no Scottish king had ever submitted to before. Balliol paid homage, but refused to provide soldiers to help Edward fight France, since Scotland was a long-time ally of France. Using Balliol's refusal as justification, Edward campaigned in Scotland, first reducing the fortress at Berwick-on-Tweed, and then defeating a large Scottish army at Dunbar. After these smashing victories, Edward experienced little further resistance, and much of the country submitted without further bloodshed. The English governors imposed on the country by Edward however, had little regard for the rights of the Scots, and within a year, William Wallace, a commoner whose wife was murdered by a local English sheriff, had raised a rebellion across the country.

The great victory of Wallace was at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, where his band of infantry soundly defeated an English Army. This was followed by the battle of Falkirk which would have likely gone in favor of the Scots, had more of the Scottish nobles decided to fight for the Scots instead of the English. Falkirk was victory for the English, but a relatively barren one, although it did convince Wallace of the futility of raising an army of commoners unsupported by the local barons. Wallace was later hunted down and killed and for several years, England reigned supreme in Scotland.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Dunbar (First ) English victory
Fought April 27, 1296, between the English, under Edward I, and the Scots under the Earl of Athol. The Scots were defeated, with a loss of 10,000 men. This defeat led to the surrender of Balliol, and Edward was proclaimed King of Scotland.
Battle of Stirling (First ) Scots victory
Fought September 1297, between the Scots, under Sir William Wallace and Sir Andrew Moray, and the English, 50,000 strong, under the Earl of Surrey. Wallace fell upon the English army as it was crossing a narrow bridge over the Forth, and practically annihilated it. This battle is also called the Battle of Cambuskenneth.
Battle of Falkirk (First ) English victory
Fought July 23, 1298, between the English under Edward I, and the Scots under Sir William Wallace. The Scots, who were greatly inferior in numbers, were strongly posted behind a morass, which at first greatly hampered the English attack. In the end, however, the English archers overcame the Scottish defense, and a final charge, led by the king in person, utterly routed them. Wallace escaped from the field, but was a fugitive for the rest of his life.

Short Biography
William Wallace Commoner who led resistance to Edward I's conquest of Scotland.
Andrew Moray Led a rising in North Scotland against Edward I and joined forces with William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling.
Edward I Competent and decisive king of England. Reformed government, pacified Wales and Scotland. Ruled 35 years.
John Balliol Appointed King of Scotland by Edward I on the condition that he surrender Scotland's independence.

Story Links
Book Links
Sir William Wallace  in  Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary  by  Cambridge Press
First Two Edwards  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
John Baliol—The Siege of Berwick  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Adventures of Sir William Wallace  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Wallace—The Battle of Stirling Bridge  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Wallace—The Battle of Falkirk  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Wallace, the Hero of Scotland  in  Historical Tales: English  by  Charles Morris

First War of Scottish Independence—Robert the Bruce : 1306-1328

Robert Bruce
From the time of Falkirk until Robert Bruce was involved in the Murder of his enemy Red Comyn, Scotland was under the control of the English. Instead of fighting for his independence Bruce tried to gain influence under Edward I. With the murder of Red Comyn however, who had been scheming with Edward against Bruce, he had burned his bridges with the English king. Bruce then openly defied Edward by having himself crowned king of Scotland without his leave. Edward immediately sent an army against Bruce, and in their first encounter, the Scots were routed so badly that Bruce needed to go into hiding for a year. When he finally re-emerged, he took a new approach to fighting the English, and had considerable success as a guerrilla fighter.

Once Bruce started winning battles, many Scots who had previously hesitated joined his cause. He took castle after castle, with many towns and fortresses garrisoned by Scots instead of Englishmen, surrendering without a fight. To add to his good fortune, Edward I was in very ill health and his son Edward II, had no compelling interesting in the Scottish war and willingly made peace. For several years after the death of Edward I, his son did not oppose Bruce's growing influence in Scotland, although neither Britain, nor any other monarchical power in Europe recognized him as an independent king. In 1314 however, Bruce besieged Stirling Castle, and the governor there agreed to submit to him on a certain date if England did not relieve him. This compelled the reluctant Edward II into action, and he raised an enormous army to meet the rebellious Scots in battle, and the famous battle of Bannockburn ensued. The Scots were outnumbered, outgunned, and nearly without cavalry, but they won a decisive victory against the English and followed this up with several incursions into English territory. Reluctantly England agreed to recognize Scotland as an independent kingdom, owing only a nominal allegiance to England. Under the reign of a strong king, Robert the Bruce, Scotland re-established its independence from England.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Methuen (First ) English victory
Fought June 19, 1306, when a small Scottish force, under Robert Bruce, was attacked and defeated by the English in superior force.
Battle of Loudon Hill (First ) Scots victory
Fought 1307, between the Scots, under Robert Bruce, and the English, under the Regent Pembroke. Bruce met the attack of the English cavalry with a line of spearmen, which they were unable to break, and they were driven off with heavy loss. Pembroke thereupon withdrew his army and returned to England.
Battle of Inverurie (First ) Scots victory
Fought 1308, between the Scots, under Robert Bruce, and the English, under Sir John Mowbray, with whom was a small force of Scottish sympathisers with the English claims, under the Earl of Buchan. The English were totally defeated and driven from the field with heavy loss.
Battle of Bannockburn (First ) Scots victory
Fought June 24, 1314, between the Scots' under Robert Bruce, and the English invaders under Edward II. Bruce's position was partly covered by a marsh, and further strengthened by pitfalls, in which the English cavalry were entrapped, and defeated with great loss. The king escaped with difficulty and the invasion was abandoned.
Battle of Inverkeithing (Second Independence ) Scots victory
Fought 1317, between the English invaders, and the Scots, under the Earl of Fife. The first onslaught of the English drove the Scots from their positions, but they were rallied by William Sinclair, Bishop of Dunkeld, and forced the English to retire to their ships.

Short Biography
Robert the Bruce Scottish nobleman who claimed the crown and led resistance to England at Bannockburn.
Edward II Weak and profligate son of Edward I. Lost all his father's holdings in Scotland.

Story Links
Book Links
Bruce and the Spider  in  Fifty Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
Black Douglas  in  Fifty Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
Robert Bruce and the Black Douglas  in  Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary  by  Cambridge Press
Battle of Bannockburn  in  Stories from English History  by  Alfred J. Church
Robert Bruce  in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  John H. Haaren
Robert Bruce  in  Patriots and Tyrants  by  Marion Florence Lansing
Robert Bruce  in  Heroes Every Child Should Know  by  H. W. Mabie
Bruce—The King Tries Again  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Bruce—The Fight at the Ford  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Bruce—How Two Castles Were Won  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Bruce—How the Castle of Edinburgh was Taken  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Bruce—How Sir Henry de Bohun Met his Death  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Bruce—The Battle of Bannockburn  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Bruce—How the Scots Carried the War into England  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Bruce at Bannockburn  in  Historical Tales: English  by  Charles Morris
Robert Bruce Wins at Bannockburn and Frees Scotland in  European Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan
Bannockburn  in  The Boy's Book of Battles  by  Eric Wood

Book Links
Story of Robert Bruce  by  Jeanie Lang

Second War of Scottish Independence : 1332-1346

Scottish Independence
With the death of Robert Bruce, and the rise of Edward III the situation in Scotland again became unsettled. Bruce, a very strong king, had left his kingdom to his young and weak son, David II, and Edward III, son of the weakling, Edward II, was a strong and willful king like his grandfather. He would not submit to the humiliation of losing Scotland, and with the help of Edward Balliol, grandson of the former 'King' of Scotland, he attempted to launch another war on Scotland. In general, the pitched battles during the second war of Independence went badly for Scotland, but the project of getting Scotland to submit went badly for England. Much of the country side was ravaged. Much of the population had retreated to the mountains, and fifteen years of war accomplished little other than to destroy much of the Scotland lowlands, and further impoverish the people. The war was greatly complicated by the fact that England and France were also at war, so the French offered to "help" the Scots resist the English, but their main objective was to move the battle to Scotland rather than France.

David II was either exiled, or imprisoned for much of his reign, and during this time Scotland was really ruled by Robert Stuart, the Grandson of Robert Bruce. When David II died without an heir, the Scot's insisted on crowning Robert II king, although naturally this was contested by England. Under Robert II, the war with England degenerated into periodic border raids, that are better described as ongoing . For the next century England was primarily occupied with the Hundred-Years War in France, and although Scottish-English relations were not good, and the Kings of England continually interfered in the affairs of Scotland, the Stuart line was not contested. Beginning with the reign of Robert II in 1471, the Stuarts ruled Scotland for over 217 years.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Dupplin Moor (Second Independence ) English victory
Fought August 12, 1332, between the Scottish barons, under Edward Baliol, and the forces of David, King of Scotland. Though largely outnumbered Baliol was victorious.
Siege of Halidon Hill (Second Independence ) English victory
Fought 1333, in the course of an attempt by Archibald Douglas, the Regent, to relieve Berwick, which was besieged by Edward III. The Scots were powerless against the English archers, and were defeated with a loss of 30,000, including the Regent, and four Earls. This defeat resulted in the submission of Scotland, and Edward placed Balliol upon the throne.
Siege of Dunbar (Second Independence ) Scots victory
This town was besieged, 1339, by the English, under the Earl of Salisbury, and was defended by Agnes, Countess of March, known as Black Agnes of Dunbar, whose husband, the Governor, was absent at the time. So vigorous was the defense, that Salisbury was compelled to withdraw from the siege.
Battle of Neville's Cross   English victory
Fought October 17, 1346, between the Scottish invading army, under David II, and the northern levies, under Henry Percy and Ralph Neville. The Scots were completely routed, with a loss of 15,000 men, and David and many of his nobles captured.

Short Biography
Black Agnes Countess of Dunbar, renowned for her heroic defense of Dunbar Castle.
David II of Scotland Son of Robert the Bruce. Captured by England and imprisoned for 11 years.
Robert II First Stuart King of Scotland. Crowned after acting as Regent for David II for many years.
Edward III Reigned for nearly 50 years. Invaded France, and won the Battles of Crecy and Calias.
Edward Balliol Son of John Balliol. Led and army into Scotland to reassert his claim to the crown.
Archibald Douglas

Story Links
Book Links
David II.—The Story of Black Agnes  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
David II.—The Battle of Neville's Cross  in  Scotland's Story  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

Image Links

Scots in the Battle of Bannockburn
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

A drive from the Bruce's spear made the rider fall back dead.
 in The Story of Robert Bruce

The Bruce drove his battle-axe crashing down on de Bohun's head
 in The Story of Robert Bruce

Bruce lifted his battle-axe high in the air, then brought it crashing down upon the helmet of Bohun.
 in Our Island Story

Hold you, hold you, brave Wallace! The English have hanged all your best men like dogs.'
 in Scotland's Story

At night, when they gathered round the watch-fires, the King would read stories out of old books
 in Scotland's Story

Full of new hope, Bruce sprang to land
 in Scotland's Story

Bruce brought his axe crashing down upon the head of Bohun
 in Scotland's Story

When a stone hit the walls, Black Agnes would bid her maids wipe the spot with a clean white cloth
 in Scotland's Story

Battle of Bannockburn
 in European Hero Stories