The Battle of Bannockburn Experience

The Battle of Bannockburn Experience Enjoy a guided tour through a series of films and exhibits and witness the sights and sounds of medieval battle first hand. The experience also explores the stories of some of the people who fought, as well as debunking common myths and misconceptions.

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Happy Boxing Day everyone! We hope you all had a lovely day yesterday! We thought today we would look at a late Christma...

Happy Boxing Day everyone! We hope you all had a lovely day yesterday! We thought today we would look at a late Christmas present that King Robert gave to his 'marischal' Robert Keith (a veteran of Bannockburn) on this day in 1324.

The Keith family originated in East Lothian and had been hereditary marischals (marshals) of Scotland since the end of the twelfth-century. Originally, the role involved managing supplies and provisions for the royal household, but over time these more mundane aspects of the role had faded. The marischal still played a practical function as a administrator of justice during wartime, and he also had ceremonial duties at tournaments and oversaw judicial combats. Robert Keith had inherited the role from his father in 1293 and had fought for the 'patriotic' cause in the early years of the First War of Scottish Independence. However, he had been captured by the English in 1300 and afterwards submitted to the English. This early submission seems to have made him seem more trustworthy to the English authorities, and he was given considerable responsibility as Edward I sought to establish a workable English-backed Scottish administration after 1304. Keith did not immediately defect to the Bruce cause after King Robert's inauguration in 1306, but by Christmas 1308 he had abandoned his English patrons and was present for Bruce's first parliament at St Andrews in 1309. Probably his most famous contribution to Scottish history, recorded by the late fourteenth-century Scottish poet John Barbour, was leading a group of around 500 'light' cavalry at the Battle of Bannockburn, scattering the few English archers who had managed to get into a good position for shooting at the tightly-packed Scottish spear formations. In the years after Bannockburn, Keith was rewarded for his service with grants of land in north-east Scotland (forfeited by Bruce's rivals the Comyns), and his name also appears on the Declaration of Arbroath.

The gift that Keith received from the king on Boxing Day 1324 served as a rationalisation of Keith's widely-spread lands and helped to clarify the succession of these lands in the event of Keith's death. Bruce had been at Berwick-upon-Tweed since at least 1st November and spent the entire Christmas period there (not until 24th January 1325 is he found to have moved on to Arbroath). On 7th November ('the Wednesday after the Feast of All Saints' as the charter puts it), Keith resigned all of his lands to King Robert, a common practice in cases like this where the crown and a landowner wanted to 'reset' the terms by which certain estates were held. The lands in question were Keith Marischal and Keith Simon in East Lothian, Covington in Lanarkshire, the forests of Aden and Kintore, 'Inuerpefrie' and four 'davochs' in Strathbogie in Aberdeenshire, as well as the office of marischal itself. Then on 26th December, King Robert re-granted all of these possessions to Keith and his *male* heirs. Keith had had a son, John, but John had sadly died by the end of 1324. It may be that this is what had prompted Keith and the king to clarify their preferred line of succession for the Keith estates. The charter identified Keith's grandson and namesake Robert (John's son) as Keith's heir, adding that if the younger Robert should die without heirs then the lands would pass to the elder Robert's brother, Edward Keith. It seems that with his son dead Robert Keith feared that his estates would pass to a female relative and through them would pass out of the Keith kindred altogether. King Robert meanwhile was probably anxious to guarantee that his marischal would be someone who, by the standards of the time, would serve as an active military asset. Thus, the charter emphasises that Keith's heirs should have 'the surname of Keith' and be capable of 'bearing arms'.

In the event, Robert Keith survived not only his son John and King Robert, he also outlived his grandson as well. When he died - probably in his sixties - in 1343 or 1344, he was succeeded by his brother Edward, just as the charter of 1324 had stipulated. From 1309 right up until the king's death in 1329, Keith had been one of Bruce's closest councillors. Recent research has even shown that statistically Keith appeared in more surviving documents associated with Bruce than any other individual. While the re-grant was primarily motivated by the socio-political anxieties outlined above, we'd like to think that it also reflects a genuine friendship on the part of the king and his marischal.

For our final #PretendToBeATimeTravellerDay post, Caitlin - one of our Visitor Service Assistants - has decided that she...

For our final #PretendToBeATimeTravellerDay post, Caitlin - one of our Visitor Service Assistants - has decided that she'd like to take a look at how the battle was understood by later generations of Scots:

If a wis a time traveller, ad go back tae the 1370s; tae the court eh Robert II eh Scotland an hear John Barbour’s poem, ‘The Brus’, recited fur the first time. ‘The Brus’ is wan eh the four main sources that describe the Battle eh Bannockburn, an a quote fae it is included in the Experience here at the centre. It wis written in Older Scots, an is actually the oldest survivin poem written in Scots!

A studied Scottish Language an Literature at uni so ma main reason fur this bein ma time travel destination is simply cause it’d gie me chills tae hear the poem in its original context! Of course, it wid also be really informative in seein how Robert I (The Bruce himsel) an the Battle eh Bannockburn wur viewed by his descendants an their contemporaries.

For #PretendToBeATimeTravellerDay, Callum - one of our battle coordinators - would like to get his information straight ...

For #PretendToBeATimeTravellerDay, Callum - one of our battle coordinators - would like to get his information straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak:

As a historian, I don't think I'd really like to be a time traveller. We spend all our time making deductions about how thinks were in the past, what people thought and did and why they did them, I'd be too frightened to go back and find out that we'd got it all wrong!

Even so, I don't think I'd be able to resist the opportunity to go back and talk to the man himself, King Robert. Even though that is probably a bit of an obvious choice. I'd love to have been there in May 1314 when he learned of the deal with the garrison at Stirling Castle, which brought him to Bannockburn in the first place. Was he really as angry about it as the Scottish poet John Barbour would later claim? Or had he always planned to try to bring Edward II to battle in 1314?

While I wouldn't much fancy the fighting that came afterwards, I would have loved to have been on the front line of the Scottish schiltron in the New Park on Day #1 of the battle. Was Bruce's face-off with Sir Henry de Bohun really as dramatic as the Scottish account makes it seem? Or did he just kill Sir Henry while the young knight was trying to flee, as one English chronicle claims? And was he really so upset about breaking his axe?!

Finally, I'd love to be able to talk to the king on that fateful night between 23rd and 24th June. How did he feel about the Scottish successes of the first day? How confident was he that the plan he had been working on for weeks ahead of the battle? Was he really still thinking of retreating (as one English account suggests) until a key English defection convinced him otherwise? What did he think the best possible outcome would be, and what was he planning to do if it all went wrong?

For our second #PretendToBeATimeTravellerDay post, Kirsty - one of our Visitor Service Assistants - would like to learn ...

For our second #PretendToBeATimeTravellerDay post, Kirsty - one of our Visitor Service Assistants - would like to learn more about one of the (arguably) more shady characters on the battlefield:

The Turncoat

If I was a time traveller, I would travel back to the hours of darkness between the 23rd and 24th of June 1314. It was then that a critical manoeuvre was made by a Scottish knight by the name of Alexander Seaton. Initially fighting for the English, he is said to have been ‘disgusted by the lack of leadership and dispiritedness among the English barons and knights, made his way to Bruce’s camp and gained an audience of the king’. He tells Robert the Bruce that if he and his army continue to fight the battle in the morning, they will win. Before this exchange took place, King Robert was set to retreat to an area of safety in the west. Seton’s actions contributed to a change in the course of Scotland’s history.

Before defecting, I would like to ask Sir Alexander:

What is his real motivation to change sides?
How well does he think he will be received by Robert The Bruce?
How will he get to the Scots camp without being seen/questioned regarding his movements?

Today is #PretendToBeATimeTravellerDay, so to celebrate we've asked some of our staff to think about what they would do ...

Today is #PretendToBeATimeTravellerDay, so to celebrate we've asked some of our staff to think about what they would do if they could travel back in time to learn a little bit more about the history of the Battle of Bannockburn. To start, Warwick - one of our battle coordinators - considers what it would be like to talk to the English archers at Bannockburn:

If I was to travel back to the time of Bannockburn, I would want to meet with a company of archers within the English army. Too often when looking at history we too often look at kings, nobles and personalities as making history, without considering the common man (or in our case, soldier).
We know little of the individual soldiers who made up a medieval army. By talking to them, we would be provided with a unique perspective of history not often considered from the top down analysis available to historians today who know all the facts.

For starters, I would ask our archers about how they perceived Edward II. Too often portrayed as weak, corrupt and nepotistic, an ineffective general who met an ignominious end, did the common soldiers in the English army perceive Edward in such a light? Edward had campaigned in Scotland prior to Bannockburn, but was unable to flex his muscles as a general. Often described as appearing very similar in appearance to his father, would the common soldiery in the army have considered Edward as an apparent martial figure worth looking up to? Alternatively, would tensions, seeded amongst barons, over Edward’s preferential treatment of Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser, filter down to baronial retainers?

What would the archers make of their enemy, the Scots? Would the archers feel a moral imperative to fight the Scots and in so doing, protect their families? On the other hand, the irregular type warfare enacted by Bruce, retreating in the face of larger English armies, must have given some confidence to English soldiers. If Bruce wasn’t willing to fight, was this seen as a reflection of his military skill, or an admittance of English superiority? But would his military skill also be apparent?

How did the archers perceive themselves? Having broken down Wallace’s schiltrons with relative ease at Falkirk, the archers must have felt superiority in arms to their counterpart men-at-arms. While not holding the reputation attached to them during the later Hundred Years Wars, the archers must still have held pride in their skill with the bow, a skill not everyone could pick up. Moreover, what was the common soldiers’ perception of ethnicity and nationality within a fourteenth-century army? Would there be intermingling between rival retinues, or would there be mutual suspicion? While we don’t know the answer to this, we do know that the knight before the Battle of Falkirk, a drunken brawl broke out in camp between English and Welsh soldiers, a precedent that might shed on light on later relations.

In the face of two minor victories on the 23rd June, that evening were the common soldiery aware of the relative insecurity they faced? Could they see the bad ground they had been placed on, compared to the men-at-arms and nobility of the army; was a societal rift formed? Were the common soldiery aware of the disparity amongst the English commanders? Were they even provided with orders for the morning? Also, what was the feeling amongst the English camp? Fear and demoralisation? Or fatalism and professionalism, steeling yourself for what is to come, making sure that you as the individual, can at least give a good showing?

What rituals would the archers have been performing? Every man faces battle differently? Fatalistic, black humour takes hold? Would they be waxing their bow strings, oiling their bows, ready for the coming battle? Or clutching at pilgrim badges and lucky rabbits feet, trying to draw some luck from their confines?

We don’t have a time machine, but these are the great unseen histories history books cannot begin to shed light on. By knowing the lowly soldier and archer, we could see a different, more personal facet of what life was like in a medieval army. By understanding this, we would claw history away from the big personalities and understand that it is normal history who make history in extraordinary circumstances.

On this day in 1318, an entail was drawn up and ratified by a Scottish parliament at Scone clarifying the intended succe...

On this day in 1318, an entail was drawn up and ratified by a Scottish parliament at Scone clarifying the intended succession of the Scottish crown. This was a time of growing crisis for the Bruce administration, and the document was part of King Robert's strategy to diminish the threats facing him at that point.

1318 had started well for King Robert. In early April, the Scots had overrun the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and by June the castle there had also surrendered to them. This restored the border as it had been before the war began, a hugely important symbolic moment in Bruce's struggle against the English. Then in July, King Robert had been present for the consecration of the new cathedral at St Andrews, a building that had been 156 years in the making. In the summer of 1318 therefore it seemed that the Bruce administration was at the height of its physical power and was divinely-appointed to emerge victorious from the on-going struggle. Storm clouds were looming however. The fall of Berwick convinced Edward II's domestic opponents, who had been causing problems for the English king ever since Bannockburn four years early, to unite behind a renewed military effort to recover Berwick from the Scots. Worse still, in October 1318 King Robert's younger brother Edward Bruce was killed in battle at Faughart near Dundalk in Ireland. This represented a major threat to the future prospects of the Bruce dynasty and forced the king to seriously re-evaluate his domestic position.

Although he had several children by 1318, King Robert as yet had no legitimate son. According to a similar entail drawn up in 1315, if King Robert died without a male heir of his own then Edward Bruce would have become king. With Edward dead, the terms of the 1315 entail stipulated that on Bruce's death the crown would pass to any offspring of King Robert's daughter Marjory and Sir Walter Stewart. Luckily for Bruce, Marjory had given birth to a son - named Robert after his grandfather - around 1316, although she had apparently died during or shortly after the birth. This still presented a particular problem for Bruce, since in the context of the ongoing conflict with England, since the Scottish political community expected their king to be a confident and capable war leader, a role that a two year old would obviously struggle to fill. Nonetheless, King Robert set to work trying to consolidate his position in light of this latest setback, and the entail of December 1318 is key part of this response.

The 1318 entail reiterates the point, already made in the 1315 entail, that ideally King Robert expected to have had a legitimate son before he died, and that this child should succeed as king. However, in the event that Bruce had no legitimate son at the time of his death, the crown would be inherited by his grandson Robert Stewart, described in the document as 'the son of the lady Marjory of honourable memory (bone memorie)'. This is the earliest surviving written reference to Robert Stewart, who as we have seen would still have been an infant at this stage. The entail stipulates that if the new king was still underage at the time of Bruce's death (which would be quite likely in the case if Robert Stewart succeeded him and even more likely if an as yet unborn son became king), then King Robert's nephew Thomas Randolph, early of Moray, was to serve as guardian of the realm until the young man reached maturity. This echoed a similar clause in the entail of 1315. If Randolph should die, either before Bruce or before the new king came of age, then Sir James Douglas was to step in as guardian, which had not been part of the arrangements in 1315. Randolph and Douglas were both very experienced and formidable war leaders - veterans of Bannockburn as well - and had been close councillors of the king for some time. They could thus be counted on to govern the realm in keeping with Bruce's wishes and were more than capable of continuing the conflict with England if need be. Crucially, by ratifying the entail in parliament, Bruce was making the entire political community of Scotland endorse it, meaning that if anyone tried to interfere with these plans in future the royal administration could accuse them of breaking their word.

Broadly speaking, Bruce's plan paid off. Although it did not prevent some Scots plotting to forcibly remove Bruce from power - likely in an effort to place Edward Balliol, John Balliol's adult son, on the throne in his place - the entail appears to have reassured the bulk of the community that the Bruce dynasty was stable enough to weather future attacks. King Robert and Queen Elizabeth did indeed have twin sons - John and David - in 1324, and in 1329 David succeeded his father as King David II. The entail of 1318 were still in effect however (and had probably been reiterated in a third entail in 1326), and David would spend much of his reign trying to frustrate Robert Stewart's claim to be king. Ultimately, David would be unsuccessful in doing so, and when he died with no offspring of his own in 1371 Robert Stewart became King Robert II. The picture here comes from a mid sixteenth-century work known as the Forman Armorial and shows him with his second wife, Euphemia Ross.


Glasgow Road, Whins Of Milton

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Friday 10:00 - 17:00
Saturday 10:00 - 17:00
Sunday 10:00 - 17:00




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