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The History of Stirlingshire
Chapter IX. First Battle of Falkirk (1298)

The news of this northern revolution caused Edward speedily to listen to proposals of a truce made him by France, that he might have leisure to reduce Scotland. Instantly on his arrival in England, he assembled a numerous and well-disciplined army, amounting, according to the common accounts, to above 80,000 foot, besides a fine body of cavalry, most of them veteran troops, newly brought over from the French war. He marched northward at their head, having under him, as general officers, Bohun, Earl of Hereford, High Constable of England; Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, Chief Marshal; the Earl of Lincoln, and Antonius de Beck, the warlike Bishop of Durham. This numerous host arrived at Temple-Liston, now known by the name of Kirkliston, two miles south of Queensferry, where they encamped, and abode near a month, waiting for the arrival of ships, which had been appointed to attend them with provisions, but were detained by contrary winds. The Scots were, meanwhile, making vigorous preparations for defence. An army of 30,000 collected by Wallace and other chiefs, rendezvoused near Falkirk, waiting for the enemy. They had chosen their ground in a situation apparently advantageous, with a morass, impassable by cavalry, in front, and, where the morass ended, a sort of fortification, with palisadoes driven into the earth, and tied together with ropes.

The scarcity of provisions had become so great in Edward’s army, that he had thoughts of returning to Edinburgh; but, receiving intelligence that the Scottish army had taken post within six leagues of his camp, he resolved to attempt a decisive stroke, and ordered the troops, hungry and hard bestead as they were, to march forward with the greatest celerity. Setting out, accordingly, from Kirkliston at three in the afternoon, they arrived at Linlithgow that evening, and encamped on the east of the town, on ground part of which still remains in its uncultivated state, and is known by the name of Burgh-Moor. As the tents and baggage had been left in the former camp, the army, including the king, lay all night on the bare ground. Nor had the horses any provender, except the furze and grass of the moor. The English contemporary historians mention an accident which that night befell their sovereign. As he lay fast asleep, a horse, trampling upon him, broke two of his ribs. Concealing his anguish, however, he mounted at daybreak, and led the army through the town. They had no sooner passed Linlithgow, than they descried, on the hills of Muiravonside, several bodies of armed men, whom they took for the Scottish army. They marched up in battle array to attack them. Upon their arrival, it was found that the Scots had retired, having been only the outposts and scouting parties, who, upon the approach of the enemy, had fallen back to the main body at Falkirk.

Reaching the summit of the hills, the whole English army halted till the Bishop of Durham had said mass. It was the 22nd of July, and St. Magdalen’s day. They now observed the Scottish army two miles off, forming in order of battle upon a gentle eminence near Falkirk. When mass was ended, the king proposed that the army should take some refreshment. The troops, however, would listen to no delay, but insisted on being led forward to action. Edward consented, in the name of the Holy Trinity.

The English advanced to the charge in three great bodies. The first was led by the Earl Marshal and the Earls of Hereford and Lincoln; the second by the Bishop of Durham, with whom Sir Ralph Basset de Drayton was joined in command; and the third, which was probably intended as a corps de reserve, was commanded by Edward in person. The Scottish army also stood in three divisions, commanded by as many leaders, who, beside Wallace, were John Cumyn of Badenoch and Sir John Stewart of Bonkill, brother of the High Steward of Scotland. English writers say that there were four bodies of the Scots, each drawn up in the form of an orb, with their spears advanced horizontally, as the most effectual defence against a numerous cavalry; that the intervals between the orbs were planted with archers; and that a small body of cavalry was stationed behind the rest of the army.

Hitherto the Scottish leaders had acted with apparent unanimity. An obstinate dispute, however, arose about the chief command, which each now claimed as his right – Wallace, as guardian of the kingdom; Cumyn, because allied to the crown, and having a numerous vassalage; and Stewart, as supplying the place of his brother the Lord High Steward. We are not informed how the ill-timed dispute was ended. Each, probably, continued to exercise an independent command over the body he had brought into the field. It is commonly asserted that Cumyn was so irritated because the supreme command was not decreed to him, that he marched his ten thousand off the field, without fighting; and that only Wallace and Stewart, with their divisions, remained to receive the enemy, who approached in a highly martial style.

The first line of the English, led on by the Earl Marshal and the Earls of Hereford and Lincoln, advanced with great ardour; but, not having reconnoitred the ground, were somewhat retarded by the morass in front of the Scots. Turning a little to the left, however, they found firm ground, along which they charged. The Bishop of Durham, who, with Sir Ralph Basset, commanded the second line, perceiving the morass, turned to the right, and made a circuit; but, more nearly inspecting the warlike posture of the Scots, he proposed to stop until the third division, commanded by the king, had advanced. Delay, however, did not suit Basset’s ardour, who insisted that the troops should instantly charge, and called out to the bishop, "Go to mass, if you please, and we shall conduct the military operations of the day." They advanced, accordingly, and charged the left wing of the Scots almost at the moment Bigod had charged the right.

The Scots made so brave a resistance, that the English cavalry, who were not chiefly employed, could not, for some time, make any impression upon their ranks. Supported, however, by the infantry, who, advancing, poured terrible showers of arrows among them, the horsemen, attacking them with their lances, at last threw them into great disorder. The division commanded by Stewart was surrounded, and, after a gallant defence, mostly cut to pieces, together with their leader, who was mortally wounded, and fell from his horse while giving orders to a company of archers. Wallace, for some time, stood his ground, against the whole power of the enemy, with amazing intrepidity; till Robert Bruce, who, with a body of cavalry, had taken a circuit round a hill, was ready to fall upon his rear. This obliged him to begin a retreat, which he accomplished, with great valour and military skill, to the Carron. He crossed the river, in view of the victorious army, at a ford near Arthur’s Oven.

Such is the account which the generality of the Scottish writers give of Wallace’s behavior. There are not wanting, however, some who represent it very differently. These tell us, that, in the recent altercation about the post of honour, much opprobrious language had passed between Stewart and Wallace. Stewart is said to have upbraided his friend with aspiring to a dignity far above his rank; and compared him to the owl in the fable, who, having dressed herself with borrowed feathers, affected not only a beauty above her kind, but a dominion over the whole winged tribe. Wallace, it is added, was so irritated, that he led off his ten thousand to Callendar Wood, where they stood idle spectators of the combat. Thus, as Comyn also had gone, none remained to oppose the advancing foe, except Stewart, who resolved to devote himself for his country, and, with the greater part of his division, perished. Nor, according to this account, could Wallace be prevailed upon, by all the entreaties of Sir John Graham, and the other officers, to interfere for Stewart’s relief. At last, indeed, he began to reflect upon the danger in which, by giving way to passion, he had involved himself; and, perceiving that the only alternative now left, was, either tamely to yield himself up to the victorious army, or cut his way through them to Torwood, he resolved to attempt the latter, and, by many signal exertions of courage, and great slaughter of the enemy, succeeded.

This account, although it leaves him in full possession of his valour, and other military talents, entirely strips him of his patriotism, and represents him sacrificing the public interest to private passion. It brings to mind the brutal Achilles refusing to fight for his country because he had quarrelled with Agamemnon. It is utterly irreconcileable with Hemingford’s narrative, which places the English army, immediately before the battle, almost upon the same ground which this account makes Wallace occupy.

That an unhappy difference had arisen between the Scottish leaders, before the battle, cannot be denied. Nor is it easy to conceive what could have induced the Scottish writers to fabricate a tale so dishonourable to Wallace, generally their favourite. The most plausible method of conciliating this account with that by the English historians, is to suppose that the dispute had happened the day before; and that, if Wallace had carried his resentment so far as to retire, yet, afterwards relenting, he had joined the army. In this case, it might have been his division that the English saw upon the heights west of Linlithgow, and which, upon their approach, fell back to the main body at Falkirk. Fordun expressly says, that Cumyn forsook the rest of the leaders; and in Goodal’s edition of that author, there is no mention of any dispute between Wallace and Stewart; but in the various readings it is intimated, that, in Hearn’s manuscript, the loss of the battle is ascribed to the jealousy and pride of two of the Scottish commanders.

Bruce pursued Wallace to the river; and like one of the ancient warriors, loudly called out to him, as he stood upon the opposite bank, to grant him a private interview. The other assented; when each, walking to a place where the channel was narrow, and the banks very steep, stood, with the stream between them, and held a conference that opened Bruce’s eyes to a just view of his interest, and that of his country. He had represented to Wallace the madness of taking up arms against so powerful a monarch, and charged him with having a view to the crown. The other replied, with great warmth, that he utterly abhorred such views; and that the welfare of his country was the sole motive by which he was animated. He concluded by telling Bruce that he had brought much misery upon his country, and been altogether blind to his own interests, in siding with the English. This conference sank deep into the mind of Bruce, and convinced him of the foolish part he had hitherto acted.

The loss of the Scots was very great; and seemed to threaten inevitable ruin to their land. We are not to give credit, however, to the exaggerated relations of the English writers, some of whom make the number of slain amount to fifty or sixty thousand, beside a great many prisoners. The Scottish writers generally state the loss at above ten thousand, amongst whom, besides the valiant Sir John Stewart of Bonkill in Berwickshire, was Sir John Graham of Dundaff in Stirlingshire, who, for courage and military skill, was reckoned next to Wallace, and commonly styled by that hero his "Right Hand." To the English it was a dear bought victory. Nor was it very glorious. An army of veteran, well marshalled troops had fought one almost thrice inferior to them in numbers, and chiefly composed of raw undisciplined peasants, whose leaders had been so divided by ill-timed altercation as not fairly to co-operate. Although, perhaps, we are not to give entire credit to the Scottish accounts, which make the victor’s loss amount to thirty thousand, yet he certainly lost a great number. Particular notice is taken of the Master of the Knights-templars in England, and of the Master of the same order in Scotland, together with a Templar of great renown, Frere Brianjay, whose horse, happening to stick fast in the mud, had exposed its rider to a mortal wound.

The scene of this bloody encounter lies about midway between Falkirk and the Carron. Hemingford, the English monk, who had his information from eye-witnesses, has given the most particular account extant of the motions and allocations of both armies. He says, what we have already mentioned, that the English halted upon heights, a good way westward from Linlithgow, till mass had been said by the Bishop of Durham; that they there observed the Scottish army forming in order of battle, upon a gentle eminence near Falkirk; and that there was a small rivulet between the two armies, when thus situated.

The heights upon which the English halted could be no other than those west of Maddiston, and south of Callendar Wood; and the rivulet none else than Westquarter Burn, which, though small, has such steep and rugged banks, that cavalry could not have conveniently passed.

The eminence upon which the Scots were drawn up must have been the ridge of ground east of Mungal, and which is distinctly seen from the heights of Callendar; what cannot be said of any other eminence in the near neighbourhood of Falkirk. Our historian informs us, in front of the Scots, there lay a morass, having firm ground at either end. This slough, which terminated at the north end of the Terrace Plantation, is still visible, running along the south side of the above-mentioned eminence, and intersected by the Forth and Clyde Canal. It is known by the name of Mungal Bog. It exactly answers the description given by Hemingford, who calls it "lacus bituminosus," undoubtedly meaning a peat-bog. Add to this, that tradition is uniform in pointing out the fields in the neighbourhood, as the scene of the action; and that, closely adjoining to this morass, there is a tract of ground called Graham’s Moor, from the brave Sir John de Graham, who fell on this memorable occasion. At the east end of the bog, we find Brian’s Ford, or, as it is now pronounced, Bainsford, supposed to have received its name from Brianjay, the knight-templar, who was slain there.

Robert Bruce, according to Fordun, had made a circuit round a long hill, to attack his more patriotic countrymen in the rear. His route must have been westward, along the hollow in which Westquarter Burn runs; and then on, by Roughcastle, and Caermuirs.

No monuments are to be seen near the field; but, on the summit of a hill, a mile south-east of Callendar Wood, a stone is erected, well known in the neighbourhood by the name of Wallace’s Stone, and a little to the east, is a tract of ground called Wallace’s Ridge. Common tradition reports, that the stone is erected where Wallace, incensed by Stewart’s opprobrious language, had stood, an idle spectator of the battle, and that his soldiers were posted on the above-mentioned ridge. If this was more stone, however, has any reference to that hero, it probably erected where he had taken post before the battle; and, as the place can be seen from Linlithgow, we may reason that it was possibly the corps under his command which the English had thence descried. On the north side of the stone is inscribed, "Hic stetit, 11 die August, A.D. 1298"; while on that facing the south, "Erected to the memory of that celebrated Scottish hero, Sir William Wallace, 3rd August, 1810." The original slab, which was 3 feet high, 18 inches broad, and 3 inches thick, stood a short distance to the west.

In the old churchyard of Falkirk, lie the remains of Sir John de Graeme, of Dundaff, the bosom friend of Wallace. Surrounding the four blocks of stone over his grave there is now a cast-iron railing, surmounted by a Gothic cupola, and which unites in the centre with a gilded coronet and the Scottish lion rampant. North and south is the family crest, with the words "ne oubliez"; east and west, a shield with the motto, "Virtus vivit post funera." On the topmost of the gravestones may be read the following Scottish inscription: -

"Heir lyes Sir John the Grame, baith wight and wise,
Ane of the cheefs who reskewit Scotland thrise;
Ane better knight not to the world was lent
Nor was gude Grame, of truth and hardiment."

Below, on a raised tablet, are also the Latin lines: -

"Mente manuque potens et Vallae fidvs Achates,
Conditure hic Gramvs, bello interfectvs ab Anglis.
22 Julii anno 1298."

Or literally – "Here lies Graeme, strong alike in head and hand. The faithful friend of Wallace. He was slain in battle by the English, 22nd July, 1298."

When Cromwell’s soldiers were here, one of the officers, who was anxious to know the "meaning" of the above, was, however, furnished with the following translation by James Livingstone, the parish schoolmaster: -

"Of mind and courage stout,
Wallace’s true Achates,
Here lies John the Grame,
Felled by the English baties."

There is another edition of it in "Watson’s Historical Collection," London, 1657: -

"Here lies the gallant Graham,
Wallace’s true Achates,
Who cruelly was murdered
By the English baties."

The word "batie," signifying dog, seems to have been contemptuously aimed at the "Roundheads."

Over the tombstone there has lately been fixed a well-executed casting of the two-handed sword used by the hero on his last war-field. The following are its inscriptions: - On one side of the blade, "Casting of the sword used by Sir John de Graeme at the battle of Falkirk, 22nd July, 1298," and, on the other side, "Cast at Falkirk ironworks, 3rd May, 1869, from the original in the possession of the Auchterarder, No. 46, Lodge of Freemasons." The length of the sword over all is now 5 feet 4 inches, and of the blade 4 feet. But as it was originally 6 inches longer, the extreme length, at one time, would be 5 feet 10 inches.

It may be permitted to subjoin a few Latin verses in memory of Graeme, by a Scottish poet of the seventeenth century – John Johnstone; more especially as the printed work whence they are transcribed is scarce: -

"Joannes Graemus eques, omnium laborum Vallae socius, occidit
ad Varium Sacellum, 1298. Vallam alloquitur.
Me tibi do, Valla socium bellique laborumque;
Accipe me in numerum nunc quoque magne tuum.
Eheu! praecipites ruimus discordibus armis,
In diversa trahunt ambitio, ira, dolus.
Te seauor usque, libens haec tecum pignora dextrae,
Hancque animam patriae do voveoque meae.
Nec dixisse satis, quin haec mea pectora morti
Offero. Scis, nostrum haud dicere sed facere."

Another brave soldier sleeping here is Sir John Stewart, of Bonkill. A plain, coffin-shaped block of stone, however, is all that marks his grave. Inscribed on its rugged face are the words – "Here lies a Scottish hero, Sir John Stewart, who was killed at the battle of Falkirk, 22nd July, 1298." It is supposed that the body lies a few feet to the south or west of the present position of the stone.

Wallace, after his conference with Bruce, visited the remains of his mangled army, which had halted at Torwood. He then retired towards Perth; burning the town of Stirling, and laying the country to waste, to distress the enemy for want of provisions, should he attempt to pursue.

Arriving at Perth, he resigned his office of Protector, dismissed the army, and returned to private life. We have few certain accounts of him subsequently. He was, some years afterwards, arrested by Sir John Monteath of Ruskie, and delivered by him into the hands of Edward, who put him to death in London, on the 23rd of August, 1305, in a manner so cruel as to reflect the utmost disgrace upon that monarch. His defence against the charge of high treason was, that he was not the born subject of the English king; nor had he sworn allegiance to him, but, unshackled by engagement, had levied war in the support of his country’s freedom. The following lines in praise of Wallace, as hero and patriot, are by the Scottish poet recently quoted: -

"Gulielmus Vallas, custos regni post Alexandrum III., occidit
Londini a suis proditus 1305.
Robore, mente, animis ingens, ingentior, ausis,
Quem tibi quem dederint saecula prisca parem?
Romani arma gerunt, subnixi viribus orbis:
Vires, arma, orbis dextera sola tua.
Nil non pro patria geris, et pro te haec nihil unquam;
Illi cuncta sibi pro patria in patriam
Fata ferunt secum: fatus tu fervidus instas:
Imperium his, tibi sors destinat invidiam,
Quod neque Mars unquam potuit, neque callidus hostis,
Viribus ille suis, fraudibus iste suis;
At, scelus O! potuit gens hoc malefida tuorum!
Sic vixti, et fatis immoreris patriae."

Four days after the battle, Edward advanced to Stirling, which he found in ruins. Taking up his abode in the convent of Domincans, he stayed there two weeks, and from thence sent a detachment in pursuit of the Scots as far as Perth, which they found also burned. After planting a strong garrison in the castle, he returned southward; for, notwithstanding his victory, his army was so shattered, and provisions so scanty, that he saw it necessary to march home with all speed. His route was by Falkirk to Abercorn, and thence to Carlisle, through the forest of Selkirk, which appears to have then extended over the greater part of the south of Scotland.

A number of entertaining incidents are told of the battle; a few of which we shall subjoin. Wallace made the following very short and simple speech to his soldiers: - "There is Edward. Run if you can." During the retreat, he kept in the rear with 300 of his best cavalry, and performed many valorous acts in repelling the pursuers. He kept a constant eye upon such as were the most forward in the pursuit, cut off many of them, and among others, the Knight-templar Brianjay. Wallace and Bruce once encountered. The combat was terrible, and brings to our remembrance the rencounters of Homer’s warriors. Wallace, at a stroke, broke the other’s spear, and, at a second, cut off his horse’s head. To apologise for the romantic appearance of such feats, we are told, that the strength of this hero was equal to that of four ordinary men; and that nothing was proof against his sword, one blow of which, when it had chanced to hit fair, never failed to cleave both head and shoulders.

When the retreating army had arrived at the Carron, the flowing tide made them suddenly halt. At the call, however, of their leader, still employed in repelling the pursuers, they entered the river, and keeping close together, got all safe through. Honourable mention is made of Wallace’s horse. Covered with wounds, and spear-heads sticking in his flesh, the generous quadruped had just strength sufficient to carry his master across the river, and then instantaneously expired.

Some accounts mention a second conference of Bruce with Wallace, as having taken place at the chapel of Dunipace, the morning after the battle. They speak of a jest also, passed upon Bruce, and co-operating with Wallace’s reasoning to alienate his affections from the English. At a repast in the evening of the battle, an English officer seeing much blood upon Bruce’s clothes, and some of it mingling with the morsel he was putting into his mouth, said, "See the Scot eating his blood," which Robert considered a double entendre.

But, according to Mr. Chalmers, Robert, the future King of Scotland, was not in the battle of Falkirk. He had, indeed, repeated on the sword of Becket, at Carlisle, the oath he had taken at Berwick, to be faithful to Edward. Soon after, however, he had joined the Scottish army; and, with some other principal men, felt the necessity of yielding to the English commander, five weeks before the battle of Stirling. Wallace resented what he thought pusillanimous, and made Bruce give surety for his good behavior. When Edward had invaded Scotland in 1298, he summoned Bruce to attend him; but in vain. Nor did Bruce join Wallace, whatever might have been his inclination; but he kept garrison in Ayr Castle while his friends were fighting at Falkirk. As Mr. Fordun, who flourished under Robert II., and is the most faithful of the old Scottish historians, has asserted Robert Bruce’s presence in this battle, and specified several of his actions there, it is concluded by the writer of that monarch’s life in the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, that it was the elder Bruce, who was then alive. Such, indeed, is possible.

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