Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!
Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front o' battle lour;
See approach proud Edward's power—
Chains and slavery!
Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave!
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!
Wha for Scotland's king and law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa',
Let him follow me!
By oppression's woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!—
Let us do or die!
'Scots Wha Hae',
by Robert Burns
Described in Burns' poem above, the Battle of Bannockburn is an essential period to know in Scottish history, and is seen as an "icon of Scottish nationhood". Fortunately, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has ensured that the story of this historical battle will continue to be told through their state-of-the art Visitor Centre. So, join us (along with our canine tour guides- Sawyer and Stirling) as we head to back in time to defend Scotland's independence!
Brief History of the Battle of Bannockburn
A detailed history of the Battle of Bannockburn goes beyond the scope of this article as there have been books written about it. However, we thought it helpful to provide a very brief overview to provide crucial context.
Let's set the stage before the 'main event' begins. It's the late 1200s/early 1300s and Scotland has been in a constant struggle for its independence (the 'Wars of Independence') against the invading English. The players in this fight include the infamous King of England, Edward I, who wants to unjustly bring Scotland under English rule. He receives pushback and resistance from the legendary Scottish patriot, William Wallace, who once famously stated, "I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject". He is joined by another man who is just as legendary in Scottish history- Robert Bruce.
Robert Bruce is inaugurated as the King of Scots at Scone in 1306, but has to continue Scotland's fight for independence against the invading Edward II (the son of Edward I). This eventually leads to Stirling and the Battle of Bannockburn on 23/24 June 1314. The saying at the time was that, "He who holds Stirling, holds Scotland". Therefore, the King of England, Edward II, set his eyes on the prize and made plans to march north. However, Edward and his soldiers were in for quite a surprise.
Battle of Bannockburn & Freedom Tour Today
We will continue our story of the Battle, but let's take a wee virtual visit to Bannockburn as it is today. The grounds of Bannockburn are free for all to visit and explore. In fact, our intrepid adventurers, Sawyer and Stirling, had a fantastic time exploring and even posed for a few pictures next to the magnificent statue of King Robert Bruce.
When you visit the grounds, there are informational boards that describe the Battle and some of the history. However, if you would like to get more detailed information, we recommend our friends at Freedom Tour Today- Steven and his canine companion, Molly. Steven and Molly provide a fantastic walking tour of the exterior of the Visitor Centre.
During his 'Bannockburn Battlefield Tour', Steven gives a fascinating overview of the Battle's history- pointing out key locations around the landscape, culminating with a tour around the historic monument and statue of King Robert the Bruce. If you go to the Visitor Centre, we highly recommend that you book Steven's tour. Please note that Freedom Tour Today is an independent business from the Visitor Centre and must be booked separately. Visit their website for more information.
Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre
Of course, the National Trust for Scotland's Visitor Centre also provides an excellent take on the interpretation of the Battle of Bannockburn, and we highly recommend that you take the time to book this fascinating and immersive experience.
Let's continue our journey into the past, where we last left off just before the Battle was to begin. When you first enter the guided experience, you receive a proper overview of the land as it was in June 1314. The NTS explains how knowing what was under the soldiers' feet is a crucial part of understanding the outcome of the Battle of Bannockburn. A Visitor Centre staff person guides you through the Battle using the map (pictured below) for better context.
Bruce's army (6,000- 7,000) was heavily outnumbered by Edward's (15,000- 20,000). However, a major benefit for the Scots was that they knew the vast swathes of land that surrounded Stirling Castle (that included farmland, forests, crags, bogs, rivers, and marshes). The Scots and English fought a two-day battle of gruelling hand-to-hand combat. However, in the end, King Robert Bruce's army was able to push the English back. While some English soldiers (including Edward II) were able to escape, many were infamously trapped in the bogs of the Bannock Burn.
One of the highlights of the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre experience is the auditorium with floor to ceiling screens that provide a truly immersive way to 'see' what it was like for those on both sides of the battle. The Trust used motion capture technology to have actors reenact the Battle to make the 3D animation more realistic. The result is incredible as you stand in the middle of the room, 'surrounded' by soldiers- feeling like you are truly in the middle of a medieval battle! You can hear the thundering of horses' hooves and arrows as they whistle by your head- providing a captivating experience.
As you walk around the main auditorium, you learn more about the people- soldiers and others who accompanied both the English and Scottish to battle. You can also see replicas of weapons used which provide a useful scale (I can't imagine the strength it would have taken to manage the spears).
You finish your guided tour outside of the auditorium with various artefacts related to the Battle on display. Of note are the last remaining fragments said to be from the Borestone that tradition holds is the stone that marked the spot where King Rober the Bruce once raised his Standard in 1314. The Borestone originally was located at the summit of the site, but was moved inside the Visitor Centre for preservation.
Robert Bruce's victory at Bannockburn was significant because it helped him cement his status as King of the Scots. Furthermore, the humiliating defeat of Edward II, led to his forced abdication. Importantly, the regency government for Edward III eventually recognised Robert Bruce as King of Scots in a treaty signed in Edinburgh on 17 March 1328, and agreed to treat Scotland as the independent nation it rightfully was. Of course, this wasn't the end of Scotland's fight for independence, but the events of the Battle of Bannockburn had effects that lasted for generations. It now is viewed as one of the most important events in the long history of Scottish nationhood.
If you would like to learn more about this key historical event, we highly recommend that you visit the National Trust for Scotland's Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre. Head over to their website for more information on how best to plan your visit.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!