The Anglo-Scottish Wars of medieval ages were one of the longest-running conflicts of the whole human history, lasting with great intensity for at least three centuries. Since England and Scotland shared a land border on the isolated island of Great Britain, the two inevitably had to fight each other every so often after the two countries were unified in a meaningful way by the end of the tenth century. England being the larger of the two nations, it was often the Germanic English who invaded the Celtic Scots most of the time. The first such major war known to us in detail is known as the First War of Scottish Independence. It should be noted that the name is quite anachronistic, since the modern concepts of nation, state or independence did not exist back then. The war was simply fought by the Scottish nobles to retain their autonomy under the Kingdom of Scotland, in opposition to the efforts of King Edward I of England to subjugate them to his authority.
Outbreak of a Major War
Border conflicts between England and Scotland were common throughout the thirteenth century, as before. In 1237, the Treaty of York was signed to remedy this situation and the frontier was temporarily settled. Twelve years later, the long and prosperous reign of Alexander III of Scotland began, which ended with his death in 1286. The following period was, unfortunately, followed by chaos as over a dozen claimants to the throne emerged, in particular after the death of the child Queen Margaret of Norway on her way to Scotland. The dispute lasted for over two years, and was eventually resolved with the arbitration of Edward I of England, who ruled in favour of John Balliol. However, Balliol proved to be a weak ruler, unable to respond adequately to the increasing ambitions of the English king in Scotland, until he was effectively stripped of his duties by the Scottish nobles in July 1295. Scotland’s alliance with France in February 1296 functioned as the tip of the iceberg. Edward, who was already preparing, launched a full-scale invasion of his northern neighbour shortly afterwards, knowing little that the ensuing war would last for over three decades (and more broadly, for three centuries).
Occupation and Resistance
The campaign of 1296 could not have gone better. The English army smoothly captured the port of Berwick, and establishing it as a base, soundly defeated the Scottish army largely due to the highly-mobile English cavalry at the Battle of Dunbar. As town after town fell to Edward in the aftermath of the battles, the Scottish nobility pledged allegiance to the English king and surrendered King John to England.
By the next year, however, it was clear that many in Scotland had no intention of forfeiting their liberty to the hated Anglo-Saxons. Two resistance leaders gained particular prominence; Andrew de Moray led a huge guerrilla band based at his hereditary castle at Avoch deep in the Highlands, while William Wallace operated more openly in the heart of the Central Belt of the lowlands, harassing the English garrisons in the area. Soon, the two joined forces and drove away what little English forces were present in Scotland. Edward retaliated by sending a loyal Scottish detachment under Robert the Bruce, among others. Bruce, however, decided to change sides and tremendously boosted the morale and strength of the Scottish army. Almost all of Scottish territory had been reclaimed when another English army launched a second invasion in late-1297.
Second and Third Invasions
The second English invasion of 1297 ended in disaster for England at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, where superior tactics gave the Scottish forces a resounding victory, although, unfortunately, Moray died of his wounds sustained during the action. Wallace took his revenge by invading northern England and committing some pretty horrendous atrocities against English civilians. In honour of the victory at Stirling Bridge, Wallace was declared the Protector of Scotland, reigning on behalf of the imprisoned King.
In July 1298, Edward finally personally led an army against Scotland, after having made peace with France. Wallace’s forces were crushed at the Battle of Falkirk, after which he fled in embarrassment and soon resigned from formal command. Edward, however, failed to take full control of Scotland and was forced to return to England.
Scottish Surrender and Revival
Once again, Edward led yet another invasion of Scotland in 1300, but returned after only capturing the Castle of Caerlaverock. Another campaign next year was followed by similarly-little progress, after which a truce of nine months was signed. Interestingly, Robert Bruce betrayed the Scots and joined Edward during this truce, disappointing many. In secret, however, he was still very loyal to the Scottish cause and began plotting for the long term …
It was the campaign of summer 1303 that eventually led to the subjugation of Scotland for the first time after 1296. William Wallace continued his guerrilla activities, but was eventually captured and executed in 1305. On the other hand, Bruce’s conspiracy was in full swing by now. Eventually, he fled to Glasgow in 1306 and was crowned as the King of Scotland on 25th March. Defeated at the Battle of Methven, Bruce went into hiding (where famously saw the spider), but resumed his efforts at regaining the independence of Scotland the next year, after the old King Edward I of England finally passed away on 7th July 1307.
The situation remained relatively calm after 1307, as King Robert the Bruce united most of the Scottish nobles under his careful leadership. The next king of England, Edward II, was not nearly as ambitious as his father, and allowed the stalemate to continue until 1314, when Bruce threatened to capture Stirling Castle. Edward II gathered a huge army and invaded Bruce’s territory later that year. At the Battle of Bannockburn, however, the superior English army proved to be a spectacular failure against the more disciplined Scottish troops, who forced Edward II to retreat with enormous casualties. Bruce was so emboldened that he ordered an invasion of Ireland, to liberate the fellow Celtic island from English control, but this three-year long campaign ended in failure. By now, Scotland was effectively independent once again, but this independence was only recognised by England under the next monarch, Edward III, in 1328. Not for long though, since England used the restoration of House of Balliol as an excuse for yet another war only four years later, sparking the Second War of Scottish Independence.