July 22, 1298

Falkirk, Lothian

English troops under Edward I vs. Scots under William Wallace

The roots of the conflict lie many years before. King Alexander of Scotland died mysteriously in 1286, leaving the child Margaret of Norway as his heir. Edward I extracted a promise of marriage between Margaret and his own son, but when Margaret died on her way back to Scotland there was no obvious heir.

The Scots asked Edward to mediate between the various claimants to the throne. Edward was scrupulously fair in his arbitration, but he extracted oaths of fealty from all the claimants. The two men with the best claims were John Balliol and Robert Bruce. Edward chose Balliol, and immediately began to show that he intended to manipulate his choice at every opportunity.

Balliol rebelled and allied with France. Furious, Edward marched north, took Balliol prisoner, and occupied Scotland. William Wallace raised the Scots in revolt again and routed the English under the Earl of Surrey at Stirling Bridge. Edward marched north and met Wallace's men at Falkirk.

Wallace had his pikemen adopt a new formation, later called a "schiltron". This was a square (or circle) formation, with the front line kneeling, so that the English cavalry would meet a bristling wall of pikes. The English quickly dispersed the Scot cavalry and bowmen, but the schiltron turned them back.

Now Edward unleashed his own new tactic, the longbow. His bowmen poured a rain of arrows upon the Scots, and opened huge gaps in the schiltron. The damage done, the English cavalry crushed the Scottish force. Wallace and his barons escaped, but the carnage among the pikemen was terrible.

Scotland was Edward's to hold - at least until a new Scottish champion arose, in the form of Robert Bruce, son of the failed candidate for king (see above). William Wallace carried on his fight until he was eventually betrayed and executed at Smithfields, London.

The longbow dominated European warfare for the next two centuries, and its devastating power helped the English to later triumphs at Crecy and Agincourt.

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