3.3 Scottish Wars of Independence: Battle of Stirling Bridge

On September 11, 1297, Wallace's army met the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The Scots were hopelessly outnumbered by the English who were led by the Earl of Surrey. The Earl of Surrey's army had 3,000 cavalry and 7,000 infantry. The Scots had 300 cavalry and 6,000 infantry.

stirlingAt the start of the battle, the English needed to cross a narrow wooden bridge at the River Forth to reach the Scottish army. The Scots waited patiently for the English on the other side. The English were over-confident. So much so they didn't apparently consider the risks of crossing so narrow and flimsy a bridge. The bridge on the River Forth was only wide enough that three soldiers walking side by side could cross at a time. The problem of getting across the bridge safely was compounded once the English added horses to the mix.

The Scots understood quite well how silly it was for the English to cross the bridge the way they did. The bridge offered many advantages to the Scottish side: firstly, the nearby Stirling Castle was strategically important for launching a full-scale invasion of the north; the castle's importance meant the English would follow no other path into Scotland which allowed the Scots time to prepare the site for battle; secondly, the narrow bridge offered the Scots obvious tactical advantages because the English could not make use of their superior mobility (cavalry); and lastly, the soft meadows and fields on the north bank of the River Forth were completely unsuitable for the use of heavy cavalry. Ultimately, the plan was to allow half of the English army to cross before attacking. This meant the English army would be divided into two by the river and the smaller Scottish army could press its advantage. The tiny bridge made it impossible for the English to rush forward and assist their forward members. The Scottish plan succeeded.

stirling bridgeDuring the battle one of Wallace's captains led a mass charge of infantry against the English position at the bridge. The charge caused many English to attempt a retreat back across to the safety of the other side. The weight of England's armored horse and soldiers caused the wooden bridge to collapse. Heavily armored English soldiers drowned in the river. Those English unwisely remaining on the Scottish side of the river were completely annihilated by the Scots. By the end of the battle the Scots killed 5,000 English infantry.

The Scots victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge boosted the morale of the Scottish army. Regrettably for the Scottish side Andrew Moray, Wallace's ally, was slain at the battle.