Battle of Stirling Bridge

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Battle of Sterling Bridge

The Battle of Stirling Bridge took place on September 11, 1297, when the Scottish forces of Andrew de Moray and William Wallace defeated the combined English forces of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey and Hugh de Cressingham near Stirling, on the River Forth.

The Battle

Battle Layout

Surrey had won a comfortable victory over a loose Scottish force at the Battle of Dunbar, and his belief that he was now dealing with a rabble seems to have affected his judgement. The bridge at Stirling was only broad enough to allow two horsemen to cross abreast. The Scots deployed in a commanding position dominating the soft, flat ground to the north of the river. Sir Richard Lundie, a Scots knight who joined the English after the capitulation at Irvine, offered to outflank the enemy by leading a cavalry force over a nearby ford, where sixty horsemen could cross at the same time. Cressingham, King Edward's treasurer in Scotland, was anxious to avoid any unnecessary expense in prolonging the war, and he persuaded the Earl to reject this advice and order a direct attack across the Bridge.

The Scots waited as the English knights and infantry made their slow progress across the bridge on the morning of 11 September. The disorderly Scottish army of 1296 was gone: Wallace and Moray's hold over their men was firm. They held back earlier in the day when many of the English and Welsh archers had crossed, only to be recalled because Surrey had overslept. The two commanders now waited, according to the Chronicle of Hemingburgh, until "as many of the enemy had come over as they believed they could overcome." When the vanguard, comprising 5,400 English and Welsh infantry and several hundred cavalry had crossed the Bridge, the attack was ordered. The Scots spearmen came down from the high ground in rapid advance towards Stirling Bridge, quickly seizing control of the English bridgehead. Surrey's vanguard was now cut off from the rest of the army. The heavy cavalry to the north of the river was trapped and cut to pieces, their comrades to the south powerless to help. Only one knight, the Yorkshireman Sir Marmaduke Tweng, showed great presence of mind and managed to fight his way through the thicket of spears back across the bridge; but over a hundred of his fellow knights were slain, including the plump Hugh de Cressingham, whose body was subsequently flayed and the skin cut into small pieces as tokens of the victory. Wallace himself took enough to make a new sword belt. Losses among the infantry, many of them Welsh, were also high. Those who could throw off their armour swam across the river.

Surrey, who had remained to the south of the river, was still in a strong position. The bulk of his army still remained intact and he could have held the line of the Forth, denying the triumphant Scots a passage to the south. But his confidence was gone. After Tweng's escape he ordered the bridge destroyed and retreated towards Berwick, leaving the garrison at Stirling Castle isolated and abandoning the Lowlands to the rebels. James Stewart, the High Steward of Scotland, and Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, whose forces had been part of Surrey's army, observing the carnage to the north of the bridge, withdrew. Then the English supply train was attacked at The Pows, a wooded marshy area, by James Stewart and the other Scots lords, killing many of the fleeing soldiers.

The site of the battle is believed to have been significantly upstream of the present-day Stirling Bridge, which was only built some time later.


The Battle of Stirling Bridge was a shattering defeat for the English: it showed that under certain circumstances, where the conditions were right, infantry could be superior to cavalry. It was to be some time, though, before this lesson was fully absorbed.

Scottish casualties in the battle are unrecorded, with the exception of Andrew de Moray. It is usually accepted that Moray was severely wounded in the fighting, and continued to exercise joint leadership with Wallace for a number of weeks after the battle, though perhaps in name only, finally dying some time in November. Wallace went on to lead a destructive raid into northern England, which did little to advance the Scots war, whatever effect it had on the morale in his army. By March 1298 he had emerged as Guardian of Scotland. His glory was brief: for King Edward himself was coming north from Flanders. The two men finally met up on the field of Falkirk in the summer of 1298, where Wallace was defeated.

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