The battle of Bannockburn was a battle that oddly enough neither side wanted to fight. Robert the Bruce had no interest in fighting a pitched battle with the English, his entire strategy had been based on avoiding just such an outcome, whilst he engaged in a guerilla campaign that wore down the English and allowing the piecemeal acquisition of territory. Neither was Edward II, the king of England particularly interested in fighting the Scots. Since his accession to the throne in 1307 he had demonstrated little interest in pursuing his father's ambition of bringing Scotland under his control and was currently more interested in gaining revenge on his cousin Thomas of Lancaster who had earlier led the revolt of the Lords Ordainers and killed his favourite Piers Gaveston in 1312.
Unfortunately Edward Bruce, Robert's rather less strategically minded brother struck a deal with Philip de Mowbray, the governor of Stirling Castle, whereby de Mowbray agreed to surrender the castle if an English army did not appear within three miles of the castle inside the next year. Robert was reportedly furious with his brother as this almost guaranteed that a large English Army would soon be on its way to Scotland. (The true motives of Philip de Mowbray must be regarded as a little suspect as he was later to be found supporting Edward Bruce in his invasion of Ireland.)
Edward II was therefore forced to raise an army to save himself from the embarrassment of losing Stirling Castle, but he does not appear to have anticipated any trouble from the Scots, and appears to have only raised an army with the specific intention of later bringing his cousin to heel. English enthusiasm for this Scottish expedition was in any event somewhat muted and many of the Lords Ordainers answered Edward’s summons to attend by reminding him that the Ordinances of 1311 required that war should only be undertaken with the approval of parliament, and simply declined to go.
Robert the Bruce need not have worried as the battle of Bannockburn turned out to be a complete disaster for the English with the resulting Scottish victory virtually guaranteeing the success of Bruce's long struggle for independence.
The defeat was a devastating psychological blow to the English which threw the kingdom into a state bordering panic, at which point Thomas, Earl of Lancaster stepped forward and claimed that the whole disaster was a direct result of Edward's failure to uphold the Ordinances of 1311. When Parliament met at York in September 1314, Edward found himself entirely in the hands of the Lords Ordainers and surrendered the government to his cousin Thomas. The Ordinances of 1311 were put into effect, with Thomas replacing the king's ministers and sheriffs with his own nominees. Strict controls were placed on the king's household and Edward was reduced to living on the allowance of £10 per day which was permitted to him. Although Edward remained king it was Thomas who made the decisions as the Lincoln Parliament of 1316 declared "that the lord king should do nothing grave or arduous without the advice of the council, and that the Earl of Lancaster should hold the chief place in the council".
Meanwhile Bruce, his confidence boosted by his victory, began a programme of raids into the north of England. Little was done by the government to counteract these raids as Thomas seemed reluctant to act and even when in 1316, the Earl of Lancaster finally got around to organising an army at Newcastle to march against the Scots, he went home again as soon as the king refused to accompany him. The problem was, as one contemporary annalist put it "neither trusted the other"; Thomas was unwilling to commit himself to military action in the north if this left Edward free to organise opposition back home.
To make matters worse heavy rains during the summer of 1315 ruined the harvest and in the following year famine raged, especially in the north, where of course Scottish raids exacerbated the problem. Various small wars broke out in the Welsh Marches, the town of Bristol was effectively in revolt for two years, whilst Edward Bruce had crossed over to Ireland where he was busily undermining English control of that island. There was even a minor revolt in Lancashire where some of Thomas' own vassals under the leadership of one Adam Banaster rose against him.
Even with the crushing of Adam Banaster's revolt (Banaster was captured and his severed head presented to Thomas) further strife continued. Thomas had never particularly got on with his wife, Alice Lacy
, and in the May of 1317 with the assistance of William de Warenne she ran away. A small private war therefore broke out between the two Earls as Thomas exacted revenge against de Warenne's estates. This did nothing to improve matters particularly as Edward Bruce
was gaining ground in Ireland
and there where fears that he would soon cross over into Wales
and continue his work there.
The final straw was the capture of Berwick in April 1318 when the Earl of Douglas took Berwick castle after a three month siege, following which he similarly took other northern fortresses at Wark, Mitford and Harbottle. The Scots then marched through Northumberland and Durham into Yorkshire, burnt Northallerton and Boroughbridge on their way, pocketed the sum of a 1,000 marks for agreeing to leave Ripon alone, before going home again.
The Treaty of Leake
It was now evident that despite all his posturing Thomas was scarcely more competent than Edward when it came to running the country and that something had to be done. Of course the king had not been idle in the meantime, and was busy in secret negotiations with the pope to obtain an absolution from his oath to uphold the Ordinances, and gradually building up his support once more depending on new favourites such as William Montague, Hugh Audley and Roger Amory.
It was at this point that Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, former Lord Ordainer broke away from his old allies and began constructing a middle party between the two other factions. With the fall of Berwick, Aymer de Valence seized his chance and stepped forward to take charge. On the 9th August 1318 at Leek in Staffordshire, Aymer brokered a deal whereby Thomas agreed to relinquish power, in return for which he received a pardon for himself and his followers in respect together with the grant of lands in north Wales and Yorkshire previously held by his arch enemy Warenne. In October 1318, a Parliament at York confirmed the Treaty of Leek, the Ordinances were confirmed once more and a new council of seventeen appointed, including eight bishops, four earls, four barons, and one banneret. The four earls being Pembroke, Arundel, Richmond, and Hereford, whilst the one banneret being Thomas' nominated representative.
With matters now apparently settled, some effort could now be expended on settling the Scottish problem and Edward II gathered a force of some 8,000 at Newcastle in June 1319 with the aim of recovering Berwick from the Scots In August the army and the fleet moved northwards and laid siege to Berwick. However the wily old Earl of Douglas launched a diversionary raid into Westmoreland and penetrated into Yorkshire. There the Archbishop of York William of Melton organised an army, but was well and truly beaten at the white battle of Myton in Swaledale. With the siege of Berwick going precisely nowhere, at Christmas Edward decided to give up and go home, satisfying himself with a two year truce with the Scots.
Of course, Edward bore no particular regard for the Earl of Pembroke and his supporters and with the likes of William Montague, Hugh Audley and Roger Amory banished from court as a result of the Treaty of Leake, Edward turned to the two Hugh Despensers, father and son, to begin building a court party and re-establishing his personal control of the government. Thereafter it was the Despensers who were to take the leading role in subsequent events.
This is part of an attempt to write a narrative account of the reign of Edward II, preceded by the Lords Ordainers, to be followed by Contrariants and the Deposition of Edward II.
- T. F. Tout The History Of England From The Accession Of Henry III To The Death Of Edward III (1216-1317) (Longmans Green and Co. 1905)
- Alexander Rose Kings in the North (Phoenix, 2003)
- Ian Mortimer The Greatest Traitor (Plimlico 2004)
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)