The victory at Bannockburn helped secure Scotland's
independence - and Robert the Bruce's crown.
Bannockburn and Robert the Bruce are inextricably
linked in Scottish history. Bruce's battles against the English for
nearly two decades are epic, but there are some perceptions that are
not always based on historical investigation and can be
It is true that Bruce and his forces were severely
outnumbered when Edward II sent some 25,000 men north to crush the
Scottish insurrection once and for all at Stirling, culminating in
the Battle of Bannockburn on 23-24 June 1314. However it is not the
case that the smaller force was ill-equipped or unskilled.
Writing in the 1370s, the archdeacon of Aberdeen,
John Barbour, explained why the English archers fled from the Scots
contingent of horse at the battle of Bannockburn:
And against armoured men to fight
May naked [unarmoured] men have little might
What kind of armour was available to the combatants
on both sides, and why were the Scots popularly believed to be a
poorly equipped rabble?
An English chronicler noted of the Scottish foot
soldiers that 'each was furnished with light armour, not easily
penetrable by a sword'. More detail about this kind of armour comes
from an arming act passed in 1318. It states that anyone owning £10
worth of property (yeoman farmers) should either have a habergeon
(mail shirt) or a good sufficient 'acton, a basnet & gluffis of
playt'. The acton (from Arabic kotyn, or cotton) was
a heavily padded jacket stuffed with material.
London regulations from 1322 order this to be 'olde
lynnen or new cotton'. The bascinet is a simple round or conical
helmet and 'gluffis of plate' is the Scots term for gauntlets. It is
of note that a similar English arming act demands almost exactly the
same equipment for foot soldiers in the king's army.
Dr David Caldwell, curator of medieval armour at
the Royal Museum of Scotland, has highlighted the significance of
the terms of the act as they 'indicate precisely the minimum
requirements of soldiers of that time'.
John Barbour, in his poem The Brus (circa
1375-1377), describes an English knight as clad in 'armys gud &
fyne'. University of Glasgow Professor Archie Duncan, in his version
of the poem, mentions the unlikelihood of knights having plate armour
at this time as the 'mail hauberk was still universal'. The hauberk
and its short-sleeved diminutive - the habergeon - would continue in
use, but it is clear that additions to this protection were being
acquired by those who could afford them.
Edward I, the 'hammer of the Scots', must have been
wearing something more substantial than just mail when a crossbow
bolt stuck in his armour at the siege of Stirling in 1303. It may
well have been a 'pair of plates', a kind of flack jacket made up
from many pieces of metal. This is evidenced by the increasing
number of seals and tomb effigies that display chains attached to
the torso to which weapons can be attached.
An English knight, writing in captivity at
Edinburgh Castle, recounted how an enemy of the king 'struck the
said Bruce with a sword in the chest, but he, being in armour, was
The same year as Edward's experience with the
crossbow bolt, his son, the fashion-conscious prince of Wales, sent
his armourer into London to do some shopping for the forthcoming
Scottish campaign. Helms of various types were acquired as well as
'two crests of gilt copper painted with the prince's arms' and
thigh-pieces embroidered with the same in silk. Along with these
were purchased a pair of 'plate quisses, poleyns, and sabaters' -
armour for the thighs, knees, and feet. He also bought gauntlets and
white leather shammies for polishing the breastplates.
The armour of the English knights would prove a
hindrance as the tide of the two-day Bannockburn clash turned
against them. According to an English source, the headstrong earl of
Gloucester, who was killed in the fray, was so 'borne down by the
weight of his body-armour he could not easily arise'. An idea of the
weight of armour can be found in a bulk order made by the French
king in 1384. He requested habergeons weighing eleven kilos or more
(twenty-five imperial pounds). A Yorkshire knight, according to the
poet Barbour, even hid his armour in a bush so that he could make
A contemporary Latin poem speaks of the English
knights glorying in their horses. Barbour's allusion to 'trappyt'
horse is suggestive that they were armoured too. Another
chronicler's verses on the battle include this line about the river
near the battle: 'Forth buries many men well-equipped with arms and
The battle was undoubtedly a rich haul for the
victorious Scots. Barbour describes how the corpses were stripped
naked of clothes and armour. Successive English kings tried to
institute an arms blockade through foreign diplomacy, and with
decrees and inquests to punish unscrupulous arms dealers.
The Scots were not poorly equipped before the
battle and their supplies were certainly improved by its outcome.