It was a battle which turned the tide of history in Scotland’s favour and set the country on the path to independence for centuries to come.  

Tales of the battle of Bannockburn have become part of the fabric of Scotland’s history and its folklore, with the bloody events which unfolded on the 23rd and 24th of June, 1314, achieving almost mythological status as the decades have gone by.  

But now a new book by one of the foremost experts in the battlefield site is shedding new light on the story of two of the most pivotal days in the Scottish history, giving fresh insight into the mind of both commander Robert the Bruce and the actions and identity of the lowly ‘Sma Folk’ who turned defeat for the English into a bloody rout.  

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Dr Murray Cook, Stirling Council’s in-house archaeologist and an honorary Research Fellow at Stirling University, has spent years excavating around the battlefield and studying the accounts of the two days of battle which saw the Scottish army triumph against the Forces of Edward II.  

In his new book, "Bannockburn and Stirling Bridge: Exploring Scotland's Two Greatest Battles," Dr Murray details how he believes he may have pinpointed the location of the Robert the Bruce’s camp, which provided the crucial reinforcements on the final day of the battle.  

Though to have been on Ghillies Hill, to the rear of the battlefield, the discovery of an earthen bank during research for the book has lead Dr Cook to believe that the actual site of the camp was on Coxet Hill, closer to the English lines. 

The Herald:

Coxet Hill today

The hill itself is a remnant of medieval times, as it was planted with a ‘Copshot’ wood to hold birds for hunting by Alexander III, ironically the king whose death would be the spark that lead to the Wars of Independence.  

Dr Cook said: “The wood has a bank round it which has never been subject to excavation or survey. I intend to survey and dig on the anniversary on the battle, the first time ever.  

“Traditionally, the bigger Gillies Hill is thought to be the location of the Scottish camp for Bannockburn, but Coxet Hills is more likely.  

“The ‘Sma Folk’ are left behind by Bruce because they had not been trained by Bruce in his mobile schiltron.” 

The Battle of Bannockburn was fought over two summer days 707 years ago, and saw Bruce’s largest-ever assembled Scots army take on the knights, archers and men-at-arms of the English King Edward II.  

On the first day, an attack by the cavalry of the Earls of Hereford and Gloucester was repulsed by the Scots, with Robert famously defeating the knight Henry De Bohun in single combat by splitting his head with an axe.        

This was just a “bloody nose” for the English, Dr Cook says, with the decisive blow coming on the second day when the Scottish ‘schiltrons’ - huge groups of mobile, pike-wielding infantry – were able to trap the English cavalry on boggy ground and cut them to pieces.  

The Herald: The statue of Robert the Bruce at bannockburn and Dr Cook (inset)

But even in defeat, Dr Cook says the southern army could have survived to regroup by marching to Stirling castle. But the appearance of the ‘Sma Folk’ on the field – cooks, cleaners and camp followers – turned their retreat into panic and caused the army to be torn to shreds.  

He added: “They play a key role on day two, when their appearance to the west of the English turns a defeat into a rout as they were blocking the line of retreat to the castle. 

“Bruce had assembled his largest ever army so not unreasonable to assume that lots of others came to see or to volunteer.  

“Anyone who had not been trained in Bruce's revolutionary new technique, the mobile schiltron, IE marching in concert, would have tripped other people up. Remember at Falkirk Wallace had to tie his schiltrons togther!” 

The Herald:

Re-enactors display a schiltron

Dr Cook said that the site of the camp would have played a hugely important part of the battle, and showed that Robert the Bruce was a meticulous battlefield commander, who had a carefully-prepared plan to defeat the English.  

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He said: “The location is close (to the battle), the presence of the bank allows some form of defence if needed.  

“The thing with Bruce is he had studied Wallace, he knew what worked and what didn't. At this point all of his bothers bar one were dead, his sister was in a cage, his daughter and wife were prisoners.  

“A lesser man would've given up. He had been excommunicated, he was pinning everything, including of course his soul, on this battle.”  

Dr Cook added: “So day one is meticulously planned, he knows when and where the English are coming, he prepares the ground.  But all he achieves is a bloody nose for the English, the bulk of them hadn't fought.  

“It’s day two that's key, this is the key victory and astonishing that he even contemplated it. He risked everything.“ 

'Bannockburn and Stirling Bridge' will be published by Extremis Publishing on the 23rd of June – the anniversary of the first day of the battle.