The Battle of Stirling Bridge,
We all can recall the Battle of Stirling from the epic film “Braveheart”. How a tartan and warpaint clad William Wallace rallied his men to fight for freedom. How his brilliant use of long wooden spears devastated the English heavy cavalry, and how the Scots and English charged each other, lopping off heads and spilling blood. In reality Braveheart is quite possibly the most historically inaccurate film ever created by Hollywood and the real Battle of Stirling went much differently.
The real Battle of Stirling was actually the Battle of Stirling Bridge, which stretched over the River Forth. An army of 13,000 English led by John De Warenne, the 6th Earl of Surrey had been sent to crush the rebellious Scots, and victory was assured as the Scottish Army numbered little more than 2,300. Arrogance was rife that day, Sept. 11, 1297. Surrey looked across Stirling Bridge, a small wooden bridge so narrow only 2 horseman could cross abreast, and decided that a simple frontal assault would be the best course of action. On the other side of the bridge, in clear view, 2,000 Scottish Pikeman were waiting. An aside, they were not wooden spears like in Braveheart, the idea to use long spears was not new or innovative but a common sight on Medieval battlefied. Scottish pikemen were among the best in Europe. However to Surrey, the Scottish Army was little more than a ragtag band, undisciplined and cowardly, they could be easily ridden down regardless of the ground, or lack thereof, that was fought upon. Surrey ordered his army forward despite the fact that the small Scottish force had every single tactical advantage.
He sent a force of 5,400 Welsh and English infantry, as well as several hundred cavalry across the bridge. The English force made its way across the river and secured a bridgehead, at which point the Scots attacked. The small bridge negated every advantage of the English, creating an extremely narrow chokepoint that made their superior numbers a deadly hindrance, making their heavy armor and weapons useless, and limiting their ability to maneuver. The Scots pushed back the English bridgehead, bottling up the attack and forcing soldiers to move back onto the bridge against other soldiers and cavalry who were trying to move forward. From that point on the Scots only had to hold their ground, and poke, stab, and impale the helpless English with their long pikes. Caught between a rock and a hard, or should I say “sharp” place, the English and Welsh infantry either pressed forward to be skewered by Scottish spears, trampled each other, or jumped into the river only to drown due to their heavy armor and weapons. Sending in reinforcements only made the situation worse. Then in the midst of the battle a section of the bridge gave under the enormous stress of having an army on it, dumping hundreds of men in the river and stranding a large segment of the English Army on the Scottish. The Earl of Surrey could only watch in horror as his army was annihilated. He ordered the rest of the bridge destroyed as well as an immediate retreat. His army had lost over 5,000 men that day.
The resounding victory would be a major kudos to William Wallace, who was henceforth named Guardian of Scotland, and Mel Gibson, who won two Academy Awards . Wallace’s glory was short lived as Edward I would lead another army into Scotland, defeating Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. Wallace would later be captured, convicted of treason, then drawn and quartered. Mel Gibson would also be prove to be a nutcase some time after the premiere of Braveheart.