Guest Author - Asha Sahni
It is 1297, and twelve years since the untimely death of a man who ruled Scotland with a firm hand. Alexander III, a king whose children died before him, met his end on a stormy night when his horse mistook the edge of a cliff for solid ground... Alexander’s legacy – his daughter’s daughter, Margaret, Maid of Norway, a child destined to marry the son of the English king, who dies on the Orkney Islands during her turbulent passage to claim the Scottish throne. What follows is not pleasant; several men, many with weak claims in terms of lineage, tussle for power, resulting in a weak puppet king and English regency.
Today, 11 September 1297, is a landmark in history. William Wallace, Scottish freedom fighter, has at his command several thousand men willing to die for their country. The trust these men put in their leader is well founded, for he proves an able strategist. The ground on which they choose to wait for the English favours Wallace’s troops. This is, for all his absence, King Edward of England’s battle. Edward, who has placed English men in positions of power to lord over Scottish clans. Edward, so busy with seemingly bigger troubles in France that he does not choose to attend this fight for nationhood. Edward, who has ransacked some of the greatest treasures of the north, including the Stone of Scone on which Scottish kings are made.
The site – Stirling, bordering the River Forth whose twists and turns are known to those who love her. Wallace places his men on high ground, close to a bridge that forms the only easy entrance to Stirling, a city which will in future be known as the gateway to the Highlands. This is not an easy crossing space for the English. The river is wide, fast and furious in its progress, spanned by a bridge that can take a maximum of two men side by side. This is a time when land boundaries frequently change hands and men may shift their allegiance with the wind; the Scots know they will be fighting several of their countrymen who have chosen to side with Edward. English leaders ignore the advice of a Scottish man who is part of their force, who understands the land, who suggests going down river to a ford will allow far greater numbers of troops to traverse the river at a time.
And so the English troops cross Stirling Bridge, a few at a time, to form at the other side under the leadership of Cressingham and Twenge. Wallace holds his troops in waiting until a goodly force masses the land by the bridge. As his men rise the English charge, uphill, to fall on pikes and arrows of men fresh for the killing. Others pile across the bridge behind them until it eventually breaks – some claim this is Wallace’s work, loosening the bridge’s foundations that they may fall at the crucial time in the battle.
What should have been a pre-established victory, with far greater troops, for the Enlgish turns tide to defeat. Wallace, ever cautious, has kept men by the ford who can meet or chase any English that choose to run that way. Greater knowledge of land and water allows Scottish forces to attack their foes on both sides of the river; leadership broken, English troops flee for their lives.
At the Battle of Stirling Bridge William Wallace proves himself a hero of his time, a man whose name will resonate through the ages.
Power is dangerous in these times and lands; seven years later Wallace, betrayed by a man of Scotland, suffers a painful and public death at the hands of the English in London. His severed head is placed atop London Bridge, his limbs distributed to corners of the kingdom as graphic evidence of what happens to those who oppose the rule of the English king.