Scottish Independence: Battle of Stirling Bridge

Fighting at Stirling Bridge
Battle of Stirling Bridge. Public Domain

Battle of Stirling Bridge - Conflict:

The Battle of Stirling Bridge was part of the First War of Scottish Independence.

Battle of Stirling Bridge - Date:

William Wallace's forces were victorious at Stirling Bridge on September 11, 1297.

Armies & Commanders:

Scotland

  • William Wallace
  • Andrew de Moray
  • 300 cavalry, 10,000 infantry

England

  • John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey
  • Hugh de Cressingham
  • 1,000 to 3,000 cavalry, 15,000-50,000 infantry

    Battle of Stirling Bridge - Background:

    In 1291, with Scotland embroiled in a succession crisis following the death King Alexander III, the Scottish nobility approached King Edward of England and asked him to oversee the dispute and administer the outcome.  Seeing an opportunity to expand his power, Edward agreed to settle the matter but only if he were made feudal overlord of Scotland.  The Scots attempted to sidestep this demand by replying that as there was no king, there was no one to make such a concession.  Without further addressing this issue, they were willing to allow Edward to oversee the realm until a new king was determined.  Assessing the candidates, the English monarch selected the claim of John Balliol who was crowned in November 1292.  

    Though the matter, known as the "Great Cause", had been resolved, Edward continued to exert power and influence over Scotland.  Over the next five years, he effectively treated Scotland as a vassal state.

      As John Balliol was effectively compromised as king, control of most state affairs passed to 12-man council in July 1295.  That same year, Edward demanded that Scottish nobles provide military service and support for his war against France.  Refusing, the council instead concluded the Treaty of Paris which aligned Scotland with France and commenced the Auld Alliance.

    Responding to this and a failed Scottish attack on Carlisle, Edward marched north and sacked Berwick-upon-Tweed in March 1296.

    Continuing on, English forces routed Balliol and the Scottish army at the Battle of Dunbar the following month.  By July, Balliol had been captured and forced to abdicate and the majority of Scotland had been subjugated.  In the wake of the English victory, a resistance to Edward's rule began which saw small bands of Scots led by individuals such as William Wallace and Andrew de Moray commence raiding the enemy's supply lines.  Having success, they soon gained support from Scottish nobility and with growing forces liberated much of the country north of the Firth of Forth. 

    Concerned about the growing rebellion in Scotland, the Earl of Surrey and Hugh de Cressingham moved north to put down the revolt. Given the success at Dunbar the previous year, English confidence was high and Surrey expected a short campaign. Opposing the English was a new Scottish army led by Wallace and Moray. More disciplined than their predecessors, this force had been operating in two wings and united to meet the new threat. Arriving in the Ochil Hills overlooking the River Forth near Stirling, the two commanders awaited the English army.

    Battle of Stirling Bridge - The English Plan:

    As the English approached from the south, Sir Richard Lundie, a former Scottish knight, informed Surrey about a local ford that would allow sixty horsemen to cross the river at once. After conveying this information, Lundie asked permission to take a force across the ford to flank the Scottish position. Though this request was considered by Surrey, Cressingham managed to convince him to attack directly across the bridge. As Edward I's treasurer in Scotland, Cressingham wished to avoid the expense of prolonging the campaign and sought avoid any actions that would cause a delay.

    Battle of Stirling Bridge - The Scots Victorious:

    On September 11, 1297, Surrey's English and Welsh archers crossed the narrow bridge but were recalled as the earl had overslept.

    Later in the day, Surrey's infantry and cavalry began crossing the bridge. Watching this, Wallace and Moray restrained their troops until a sizable, but beatable, English force had reached the north shore. When approximately 5,400 had crossed the bridge, the Scots attacked and swiftly encircled the English, gaining control of the north end of the bridge. Among those who were trapped on the north shore was Cressingham who was killed and butchered by the Scottish troops.

    Unable to send sizable reinforcements across the narrow bridge, Surrey was forced to watch his entire vanguard be destroyed by Wallace and Moray's men. One English knight, Sir Marmaduke Tweng, managed to fight his way back across the bridge to the English lines. Others discarded their armor and attempted to swim back across the River Forth. Despite still having a strong force, Surrey's confidence was destroyed and he ordered the bridge destroyed before retreating south to Berwick.

    Seeing Wallace's victory, the Earl of Lennox and James Stewart, the High Steward of Scotland, who been supporting the English, withdrew with their men and joined the Scottish ranks. As Surrey pulled back, Stewart successfully attacked the English supply train, hastening their retreat. By departing the area, Surrey abandoned the English garrison at Stirling Castle, which eventually surrendered to the Scots.

    Battle of Stirling Bridge - Aftermath & Impact:

    Scottish casualties at the Battle of Stirling Bridge were not recorded, however they are believed to have been relatively light.

    The only known casualty of the battle was Andrew de Moray who was injured and subsequently died of his wounds. The English lost approximately 6,000 killed and wounded. The victory at Stirling Bridge led to the ascent of William Wallace and he was named Guardian of Scotland the following March. His power was short-lived, as he was defeated by a King Edward I and a larger English army in 1298, at the Battle of Falkirk.