Guardian of Scotland after routing the Earl of Surrey's men at the Battle of Stirling Bridge , William Wallace gave the Scots hope. It was something that'd been in short supply since the First War of Scottish Independence began.
Scotland's alliance with France courted England's wrath. To King Edward I , the Treaty of Paris in 1295 was effectively a declaration of war; yet by 1298, it had evaporated. King Philip VI had made his peace with England. Peace – albeit temporarily – with the French allowed Edward to focus on the subjugation of a Scotland that was once again politically isolated.
It could be argued that England's defeat at Stirling , while a boost to Scotland, helped unify the country under Edward. Previously, his aggression towards Scotland and France had divided opinion among English nobility. But Wallace's raids on northern England brought the war to English soil, and such provocation could not be ignored. Edward amassed a formidable army, calling on Welsh archers and Gascon crossbowmen before heading north through Roxburgh and Lothian. The second invasion of Scotland would be a stern test of both nations' resolve. Wallace, aware of the threat, prepared accordingly. His scorched earth policies were a bane to the invading army. Edward's army were tired; hunger and disease weakened his men, morale was falling, his ranks increasingly fractious.
The Welsh contingent in Edward's army were driven to dissension. At Temple Liston they rioted; 80 were slain by the English, quelling their mutiny. Edward's luck would soon change: receiving information on Wallace's position was the green light for battle. For his beleaguered troops the waiting was over.
William Wallace was well-versed in defending cavalry charges. Forming his spearmen into schiltrons – great batteries of men arranged with pikestaffs, like a porcupine – the first raids were repelled. While the spearmen stood firm, his archers were scattered. Edward's army may have been wearied, but they were huge in number, hugely intimidating and, on this occasion, not to be denied.
The Scottish schiltrons were now exposed: the cavalry may have left little impression, but Edward's archers and crossbowmen picked them off. This was a black day for Scottish independence. All was not yet lost; despite the heavy losses, Wallace escaped. Alive, and on the run, his influence was diminished, defeat casting an ominous pall over Scottish politics.
Though Wallace would soon resign as Guardian of Scotland; his story was far from over.
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