Edward must have looked like a giant as he stared down from the hill overlooking Falkirk. As trumpets blared and drums pounded, the blustery wind would have been blowing his beard strewn with silvery grey whiskers wildly and his long hair would have whipped around his face. His handsome, twisted mouth would have been smiling but it would have been the smile of a man who wonders which bug to squash first. As the two armies clashed below, they would have seen him high above them, a clear blue sky behind him, his hair blowing, mail gleaming and that evil smile on his battle-weathered face. He would have been thinking that vengeance was best taken piece by piece.
Edward knew he should have left his grievance with France behind him but it had been beyond his resources to stay in France and struggle with the Scots at the same time. So he'd left his commander in the north, John Warenne, Earl of Surrey in charge to deal with the Scots while he returned to France. On 11th September 1297, Warenne found himself face to face with William Wallace on one side of Stirling Bridge and his own troops on the other side.
From his refuge in the Scottish Highlands, Wallace had been watching and seething at the treatment from the English King Edward I. He’d been holding back his raggedy army of men who had been itching for a fight and he wasn’t about to hold them back another day. Wallace had behind him the spirit of a race as set and resolute as any man and what they lacked in experience they made up for in cold-bloodedness and determination. He was about to show Edward what it was like to face a race of people who were fierce in their patriotism and who would never give up without a fight.
In hindsight, Warenne should have listened to his knights. Only one hour before, he’d watched as Wallace and his band of brigands glared at him from the other side of the bridge. He’d listened in silence as his officers urgently tried to convince him of the dangers of deploying across that bridge, especially with Wallace waiting and watching. They argued that it would take eleven hours to move their entire army across to the other side. In that time, they would be open to attack and totally vulnerable. And what if Wallace met them halfway and attacked before the passage was complete?
Warenne was a battle-hardened commander but he made a fateful mistake that day. He refused to listen to his officers and he ordered his troops to cross the bridge anyway.
As predicted, Wallace watched eagerly as the accumulation of the English troops marched slowly cross the bridge. He had no experience as a leader but he did what any good commander would have done. He waited for the exact right moment and then he hurled his full force at them.
The English were dumbfounded. Harder for them to believe was that their mighty English army had been defeated by a band of peasants, and Scottish amateur peasants at that. In the chaos, 5,000 Englishmen were slaughtered.
On his return to England, Edward found Wallace was the new ruler of Scotland. Wallace was proving to be his equal in every way. He was ruthless, brutal and he played dirty. Edward had released the monster and Wallace was the result. Before, Edward had been angry. Now, with everything he had been forced to give up in France, he wanted absolute revenge. There would be no truce with Scotland and there would certainly be no mercy.
Edward wasn’t about to let a repeat of Stirling Bridge happen. This time he was fully prepared. He had his full cavalry and his Welsh archers and from his vantage point, he watched as they relentlessly rained arrows into the Scottish lines, sending Wallace and his band of brigands fleeing into the hills. The battle was lost for the Scots almost as soon as the first arrows began to fall.
As Edward listened to the screams of men below in the valley, his mind was planning Wallace's death. First he would strip him naked and drag him backwards through the city at the heels of a horse. Then he would be castrated, eviscerated and his bowels burned before him. After that, he would be beheaded and his body would be cut into four parts while his head would be first dipped in tar and then placed atop London Bridge.
As far as Edward was concerned, Scotland was dead. What he didn't realise was as far as Scotland was concerned, they had only just started.