3.4 Scottish Wars of Independence: Battle of Falkirk

On April 1st, 1298, England invaded Scotland at Roxburgh. The English plundered a region known as Lothian regaining some castles but failing to find Wallace's army. The Scots used a scorched-earth policy in their own country: this means they burned their own food and homes so the English invaders couldn't make use of them.

The two armies eventually met again at a place called Falkirk (place your mouse over the diagram below). Wallace arranged his spearmen into four schiltrons—circular, hedgehog formations surrounded by a defensive wall of wooden stakes. These schiltrons made it impossible for the larger English cavalry to attack the Scottish infantry. Despite experiencing some initial setbacks, the English gained the upperhand: English longbowmen firing from a distance on the Scottish formations gradually weakened and created holes in the schiltrons. The English cavalry dashed into the holes effectively destroying the defensive formations of the Scots.

battle of falkirk

Wallace escaped capture by fleeing into the nearby Callendar Wood; however, his military reputation suffered badly from the defeat. John Graham, Wallace's greatest captain, was killed at Falkirk. According to one account, during his flight Wallace fought and killed Brian de Jay, master of the English Templars, in a thicket at Callendar.

By September 1298 Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland in favour of Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick. Bruce reconciled with English King Edward I in 1302. But Wallace opposed any reconciliation with the English.

In 1298, Wallace sailed to France and approached France's King Philip V for help against England. Philip offered nothing more than sympathy for the Scots. Wallace then approached Pope Boniface VIII in 1300 to ask for the Church's help in stopping the war with England. The Pope apparently called Wallace a warmonger and demanded the Scots quit fighting the English. The Pope was unwilling to support the Scots because he needed Edward I's support to fight the Muslims during the Ninth Crusade.

In 1303, an ambassador from Scotland requested Wallace and his men return home from France. Wallace obeyed the request. Having heard rumours of Wallace's return the English surrounded Elcho Wood (where Wallace was believed to be hiding). The English knew Wallace was at this location because one of his own men fed the English the information. The English chased Wallace and a small band of his men in the woods but did not catch him. At around this time, Wallace discovered and killed the man whom he suspected of betraying him.