Battle of Falkirk

The Battle of Falkirk (Blàr na h-Eaglaise Brice in Gaelic), which took place on 22 July 1298, was one of the major battles in the First War of Scottish Independence. Led by King Edward I of England, the English army defeated the Scots, led by William Wallace. Shortly after the battle Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland.[6]

Battle of Falkirk
Part of the First War of Scottish Independence

A British illustration of Antony Bek's charge
Date22 July 1298
Result English victory
Kingdom of Scotland Kingdom of England
Commanders and leaders
William Wallace
John of Bonkyll 
John de Graeme 
Macduff of Fife 
Edward I of England

6,000 men

15,000 men[2]

Casualties and losses
Around 2,000 killed[4] 2,000 killed[5]


King Edward learned of the defeat of his northern army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.[7] After concluding a truce with the French king, Philip the Fair in October 1297,[8] he returned to England on 14 March 1298 to continue the ongoing organising of an army for his second invasion of Scotland which had been in preparation since late 1297.[9] As a preliminary step he moved the centre of government to York, where it was to remain for the next six years. A council-of-war was held in the city in April to finalise the details of the invasion. The Scottish magnates were all summoned to attend, and when none appeared they were all declared to be traitors. Edward then ordered his army to assemble at Roxburgh on 25 June. The force counted 2,000 armoured cavalry and about 12,000 infantry[10] receiving wages, though, after the manner of medieval armies there would have been many more serving without pay either as a statement of personal independence, forgiveness of debts to the crown, criminal pardons or just for adventure,[11] including 10,900 Welshmen[12] armed with the longbow.

Edward advanced into central Scotland and Wallace's army shadowed the English, intending to avoid battle until shortages of supplies and money forced Edward to withdraw, at which point the Scots would harass his retreat. Edward's own supply fleet was delayed by bad weather, and when the army reached central Scotland it was both tired and hungry. The Welsh infantry in particular were badly demoralised. While the army was encamped at Temple Liston, near Edinburgh, they erupted in a drunken riot that was broken up by the English cavalry, who killed 80 Welshmen. Edward faced the prospect of the kind of ignominious retreat that became a regular feature of his son's campaigns in the succeeding reign. As he was on the point of falling back on Edinburgh he received intelligence that Wallace had taken up position in the wood of Callendar near Falkirk,[13] only thirteen miles away, ready to pursue the retreating English. Edward was delighted: As God lives... they need not pursue me, for I will meet them this day.


The First Battle of Falkirk Monument (2000)[15]
Scots Wha Hae

The Scots army, again made up chiefly of spearmen as at Stirling, was arranged in four[16] great armoured 'hedgehogs' known as schiltrons.[17] The long spears (pikes) pointed outwards at various heights gave these formations a formidable and impenetrable appearance. The gaps between the schiltrons were filled with archers[16] and to the rear there was a small troop of men-at-arms, provided by magnates.

On Tuesday 22 July, the English cavalry, divided into four battalions, (also described as battles),[18] finally caught sight of their elusive enemy. The left was commanded by the Earls of Norfolk, Hereford and Lincoln. The right was under the command of Antony Bek, Bishop of Durham, while the King commanded the centre, still a little distance to the rear of the vanguard. Once in sight of the enemy, Norfolk and his colleagues began an immediate attack, but on encountering a small marsh to the front of the Scots position, made a long detour to the west before being able to make contact with the right of Wallace's army. Bek tried to hold back his own battalion to give the King time to get into position but he was overruled by his impatient knights, who were anxious to join their comrades on the left in an immediate attack. In a disorganised pell-mell the cavalry finally closed on the Scots, on the right and left.

The Scots bowmen commanded by Sir John Stewart of Bonkill,[19] the younger brother of the High Steward of Scotland,[20] stood their ground and were quickly destroyed.[19] But the schiltrons held firm, with the knights making little impression on the dense forest of long spears, and a small number of riders being killed under their horses. King Edward arrived in time to witness the discomfiture of his cavalry and quickly restored discipline. The knights were ordered to withdraw and Edward prepared to employ the tactics that the Earl of Warwick had used to defeat the Welsh spearmen at the Battle of Maes Moydog in 1295. The Scottish light cavalry charged the English heavy cavalry, but were completely outnumbered and destroyed.

John de Graeme's Memorial
Sir John De Graeme tomb, Falkirk Old Parish Church

Edward's longbowmen were brought into place and quickly overcame the inexperienced force of badly armed Scottish archers. The schiltrons were an easy target; they had no defence and nowhere to hide.[19] The hail of arrows was supplemented by crossbow and slingshot.[19] Unable to retreat or attack, the battle was lost for the Scots almost as soon as the first arrows began to fall, the arrows came at a pace of up to 14 arrows per minute per long bowmen. The English cavalry waited, this time observing the King's command, until the Scots ranks were thin enough to allow them to penetrate the Scottish formation[21] and cause whatever damage they could.[21] The English footsoldiers, who had been advancing during the English barrage on the Scottish formations, closed the distance and the schiltrons finally started to break and scatter. [21] A great many Scots were killed, including Macduff, son of the Earl of Fife. The survivors, Wallace included, escaped as best they could, mostly into the nearby forest of Torwood where their pursuers could not safely follow.


Casualties among the Scottish leaders were not particularly heavy, but did include Wallace's second-in-command, Sir John de Graham, as well as Sir John Stewart of Bonkill, and Macduff of Fife. [20]

The Falkirk Roll of Arms

The Falkirk Roll is a collection of the arms of the English bannerets and noblemen present at the battle of Falkirk. It is the oldest known English occasional roll of arms, and contains 111 names and blazoned shields.[22]

Following are a collection of modern illustrations of the Falkirk Roll based on the blazons published in Henry Gough's book, Scotland in 1298. Documents Relating to the Campaign of King Edward the First.[22]

Possible battle sites

The site of the battle is uncertain.[23] There have been three proposed sites: at Campfield,[24] around the modern Central Retail Park;[25] south of Callendar Woods, as depicted in the diagrams above;[26] and at Mumrills, the site of the Antonine Fort.[27][28]


  1. Barrow, G. W. S. Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, 1976 and Fisher, Andrew (2002), William Wallace (2nd ed.), Edinburgh: Birlinn, ISBN 1-84158-593-9
  2. UK. Battlefields, Battle of Falkirk
  3. UK. Battlefields, Falkirk I
  4. Fisher, Andrew (2002), William Wallace (2nd ed.), Edinburgh: Birlinn, ISBN 1-84158-593-9
  5. Prestwich p. 481
  6. Armstrong 2003, p. 80.
  7. Armstrong 2003, p. 34.
  8. Keen 2003, p. 28.
  9. Armstrong 2003, p. 60.
  10. Armstrong 2003, p. 69.
  11. Paterson, Raymond Campbell For the Lion:History of the Scottish Wars of Independence John Donald Publishers Ltd (29 August 1997) ISBN 978-0-85976-435-3 pp. 21, 165
  12. "The Welsh soldier: 1283–1422", University of Southampton
  13. ""The Battle of Falkirk", Foghlam Alba". Archived from the original on 16 July 2015. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  14. Murison, Alexander Falconer (1900). Sir William Wallace. New York: C. Scribner. p. 105. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  15. "Callendar Park Appendix 4 : Historical Monuments". Falkirk Local History Society. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  16. Armstrong 2003, p. 67.
  17. Manning, Scott (2013). "Historiography of Falkirk (1298) as the Predecessor to Infantry Dominance". Saber and Scroll Journal. 2 (3): 84–94. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  18. Armstrong 2003, p. 73.
  19. Armstrong 2003, p. 77.
  20. Armstrong 2003, p. 79.
  21. Armstrong 2003, p. 78.
  22. Gough, Henry (1888). Scotland in 1298. Documents Relating to the Campaign of King Edward the First. London: Alexander Gardner. pp. 131–157. ISBN 0853880107.
  23. Scott, Ian (25 July 2015). "Battle of Falkirk site's smoking gun". The Falkirk Herald. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  24. "Falkirk, Campfield". Canmore. Historic Environment Scotland. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  25. "Site of the Battle by OS". Central Retail Park from zoomable 25 inch OS map with opacity slider. Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  26. "Site of the Battle by OS". South of the Woods from zoomable 25 inch OS map with opacity slider. Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  27. "Site of the Battle by OS". Mumrills from zoomable OS map with opacity slider. Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  28. Beers, Roy (8 July 2018). "Does a mystery site at Mumrills hold the answer to Falkirk's most tragic secret?". Falkirk Herald. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  • Armstrong, Peter (2003), Stirling Bridge and Falkirk 1297–98 – William Wallace's rebellion (Campaign 117), Osprey Publishing, ISBN 9781841765105
  • Keen, Peter (2003), England in the Later Middle Ages, Routledge, ISBN 0415272939


  • Bain, J., The Edwards in Scotland, 1296–1377, 1961.
  • Barrow, G. W. S. Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, 1976
  • Barron, E. M. The Scottish War of Independence, 1934.
  • Brown, C., "William Wallace", 2004.
  • Morris, J. E. The Welsh Wars of Edward I, 1994.
  • Nicholson, R. Scotland-the Later Middle Ages, 1974.
  • Oman, C., The Art of War in the Middle Ages, 1898.
  • Prestwich, M., Edward I, 1997, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, ISBN 0-300-07157-4 (pbk.)
  • Reid, S., Battles of the Scottish Lowlands;2004;Pen & Sword Books Ltd.; Barnsley; ISBN 1-84415-078-X.
  • Fordun, John "Chronica Gentis Scotorum (Chronicle of the Scottish nation)", 1363, Translated from the Latin text by Felix J. H. Skene. Ed. by William F. Skene. 1872:

CI - Battle of Falkirk. :

In the year 1298, the aforesaid king of England, taking it ill that he and his should be put to so much loss and driven to such straits by William Wallace, gathered together a large army, and, having with him, in his company, some of the nobles of Scotland to help him, invaded Scotland. He was met by the aforesaid William, with the rest of the magnates of that kingdom ; and a desperate battle was fought near Falkirk, on the 22d of July. William was put to flight, not without serious loss both to the lords and to the common people of the Scottish nation. William, wishing to save himself and his, hastened to flee by another road. But alas ! through the pride and burning envy of both, the noble Estates (communitas) of Scotland lay wretchedly overthrown throughout hill and dale, mountain and plain. Among these, of the nobles, John Stewart, with his Brendans ; Macduff, of Fife ; and the inhabitants thereof, were utterly cut off. But it is commonly said that Robert of Bruce,—who was afterwards king of Scotland, but then fought on the side of the king of England—was the means of bringing about this victory. For, while the Scots stood invincible in their ranks, and could not be broken by either force or stratagem, this Robert of Bruce went with one line, under Anthony of Bek, by a long road round a hill, and attacked the Scots in the rear ; and thus these, who had stood invincible and impenetrable in front, were craftily overcome in the rear. And it is remarkable that we seldom, if ever, read of the Scots being overcome by the English, unless through the envy of lords, or the treachery and deceit of the natives, taking them over to the other side.

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