Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Legend of Bannockbourn..

A quick stop at the airpot to pick up the car we hired and we were on our way to Inverness.
The drive was beautiful. Not quiet in the driver's seat, I turn navigator, Satnav in hand paying attention to every turn and every exit..
We discover that there are a few places maintained by the National Trust that we could stop by on our way.

Bannockburn: what lies in front of us are green fields , the grass merrily dancing in the wind.
The site of an epic encounter between 5500 Scots, led by Robert the Bruce and a 20000 strong English army; A pitched battle spanning over two days, which saw the significantly smaller Scottish army victorious.

Inside the heritage center, we read the account of how the war was won. A very long time ago I read the story of Robert the Bruce. For me as a child his lesson from a spider which refused to give up as it slid down a cave where he had taken refuge, was inspirational. Somewhere along the way, I just assumed the story was a story and nothing more. Remember what Tolkein says in Lord of the Rings.. :)
"History becomes legend and legend becomes myth" 
And so I came face to face with the legend of Bannockbourn.

The stories unfold... "Try Try Try Again.."

The castle at Sterling was under seige from the Scots. The advancing English army sought to end the siege. Large in numbers, an English victory seemed almost certain. The arresting painting by Jim Proudfoot stands at the center of the narration, splendidly detailed in its account of the battle; transporting me instantly to that time in history when Edward King of England proudly surveyed his massive army, confident that victory would be his...

That this battle would happen had been forseen a couple of months ago and Bruce undeterred, put his army into training. For every scot there were 4 English soldiers and it was imperative that every man be put to use the best way possible; The Scottish answer to the English challenge was a war formation called the schiltron- a shield troop, standing in an hedgehog formation, they stood their ground , spears spread outward resisting the onslaught of the English infantry....

Bruce's men positioned themselves along the Falkirk- Sterling road, blocking off Edward's advance to the Sterling castle.  They say, A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the English largely overlooked that their large army lacked co-ordination. Bruce led from the front. The initial English charge seeing the king, charged- a confrontation which Bruce deftly evaded , but it cost him his good battle axe..
the first day saw the Scots capture some key prisoners , denting the English morale..

The English finally crossed the Bannockburn; described by Sir Thomas Grey, the son of one of the knights captured by the Scots as 'an evil very deep tidal stream';  Their advance observed by the Scots, Bruce contemplated guirella warefare to overcome their superior numbers; but Sir Alexander Seton part of a small Scottish contingent fighting with the English arrived with news of the plummeting English morale and wise counsel

"Now is the time and now is the hour"...

The site of the battle..

And so on June the 24th , Bruce and his men moved in early, high in spirits; They were blessed by the Abbot of Inchaffray and they knelt in prayer, prompting Edward to remark "Ha, they kneel for mercy!" .  Was it safety in numbers that prompted this error in judgement? The English were totally unprepared for the early Scottish assault, and suffered early casualties. The Scots pressed ahead. With the river behind them, the English were on the back foot, and were being forced into a stretch that became narrower with the Scottish advance. An attempt by the English archers was thwarted by the Scots, who attacked under Keith , the charge of the cavalry saw they scatter...
Edward finally took refuge in the Castle of Sterling...

War is never kind. May perished in the swirling brown waters of Bannockburn. But this was a Scottish victory, heroic in every sense...

We walk out into what was once the battlefield. The exact site of the battle is still debatable, but two locations seem likely Dryfield and the Carse. As we walk on a little boy fights his sister .."I am Robert the Bruce", he says; summing up the importance of this pitched battle in childish eloquence.
The winners don't just get to write history, they also get to write pop culture :).
We leave with a sense of elation, something about this particular encounter with history leaves us happy..
As we drive on we would have a sadder date with history , in Culloden...

Meena Venkataraman

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