'He who rules Stirling Castle rules Scotland' and looking up at the 400ft rock face to its battlements Bruce marvelled yet again at its natural strength. However, he was here today because of a bargain made by his brother Edward a year ago, with the keeper of Stirling Castle. The agreement stated that if the Scots siege of the Castle was not broken by the English within twelve months, then it would be handed over to Bruce without fighting, King Robert also gazed fearfully to the south where the van of a huge English army had been reported. This was not a fight that Robert would choose, as he had neither the men nor the arms to challenge the might of England. However, a bargain had been struck in his, and Scotland's, name, so a battle it would be, whatever the cost!
The English army it was said, although exaggerated, contained no less than 93 Lords and Barons, 20,000 cavalry, 2000 Armoured Knights, 3000 Longbow-men and numberless foot soldiers. Indeed due to the size of the force, King Edward the Second had been forced to wait before invading until mid-summer to ensure that there would be enough fodder to support his army. Against this mighty host Bruce's resources were indeed pitiful; 4000 Light Cavalry, 100 Heavy Cavalry, less than 500 archers and about 10,000 foot soldiers. He had the great benefit of the battleground of his choice and the ground around the Bannock burn offered some comfort. The small hillocks and large bogs would hinder the English armoured might and in the few days before the battle Bruce had his army dig pits and trenches across any dry stretches of land, which he covered in turf, where enemy cavalry could deploy. He had also planned where his Scottish Cavalry would charge over firm ground to scatter the English longbow-men. Now he could do nothing more than pray for God's help, talk to his trusty spearmen, reassure his cavalry and trust that the English army could be made to fight in the wet mosses where it would be at maximum disadvantage. Tomorrow would be June 21st 1314, the longest day of the year. Bruce was in no mood to use the 4 hours of darkness for sleep; tense and exited he paced back and forward checking and rechecking in his mind the tactics for the coming day.
By mid-morning there was no doubt that the English army was on the march and all eyes turned eastwards. They had little time to wait. Rounding a shoulder of land along the ancient Roman road of Antonine, which drove its causeway above the marshlands of the Firth of Forth, the English van came into view in a swirl of banners and glittering spear points; it was a hot, windless day and soon the sound of trumpets could be clearly heard. Bruce commanded a swift dispersal of his army to their agreed positions and led a small group of about 300 light cavalry forward to accurately assess the situation. Two miles from Stirling the two armies stopped to weigh their opponents. Suddenly about 400 riders detached themselves from the English army and charged straight for Bruce's small reconnaissance party. When only about 300 yards apart the leader of the English attack spotted Bruce's gold crown and his shout rang out 'The Bruce! it is the Bruce! Himself! He is mine! Mine!. Back, Back I say'. A Bohun! A Bohun! he yelled as he levelled his lance and spurred his charger forward.
What a predicament. Bruce was mounted on a light garron and was clad in only in chain mail; his heavy armour, his shield and his sword had been left at his camp with his heavy war horse. He had only a light battle axe, but to refuse single combat at this stage in a battle, with the eyes of both armies upon him was unthinkable. His adversary, Sir Henry de Bohun, was a man with a formidable reputation despite his youth and the nephew of the Earl of Hereford, commander of the English Army.
Just before the two horsemen met Bruce tossed his battle axe from his right to left hand and de Bohun judged the attack would come from his left; he veered slightly to the right. But he had judged wrongly. Bruce, a formidable fighter with the battle axe, kicked his garron across the front of the charging knight, flung his axe back to his right hand , rose high in his stirrups and struck de Bohun on the crown of his crested helm. The blow was fatal, splitting his skull and de Bohun's body crashed to the ground, breaking Bruce's axe off at the head.
A mighty cheer rose from the Scottish ranks as the army recognised a most favourable omen. By the following afternoon the English army had been routed with its heavy cavalry bogged down in the swamp and the longbowmen chased into the reeds, denied the chance to intervene. Bruce had indeed truly stuck a blow for freedom!