On 22 July 1298 the English King Edward I decisively defeated a small army of Scots under the command of William Wallace at Falkirk, which resulted in the resignation of Wallace as a Guardian of Scotland and brought Robert the Bruce into the forefront of the First War of Scottish Independence.
The English would have had to have worked hard to lose the Battle of Falkirk. Not only were the Scots badly outnumbered, they were up against the longbow. While the ingenious schiltron fighting formation of the Scots – wherein spearmen created groups of shields and pikes called hedgehogs — had proved the undoing of the English cavalry in other battles, but the hedgehogs could not withstand the English longbow.
The English cavalry first attacked Wallace’s mounted troops in a pincer movement and the sheer numbers of the English forces crushed the Scots kights. The English also decimated the Scots archers, but the schiltrons held – withstanding the English attack against the overwhelming odds.
Tragically, just when the English knights had been broken by the schiltrons and there was a chance (however slim) of a victory for Wallace, the Scottish nobleman John Comyn (a rival of Robert the Bruce for the Scots throne) took his vassals and went home instead of jumping into the fray.
Had Comyn been bribed by Longshanks? Was he trying to kill Wallace? Was he just saving his army from what was clearly a lost cause? The historical debate rages without certain answers.
Surrounded by English cavalry, the valiant Scotsmen in the hedgehog formations continued to fight. Nonetheless, they were doomed. Arrows rained down on Wallace’s troops from above in deadly barrage. The longbow can send a iron-tipped arrow through an armored horse, let alone the body of a Scotsman. If the Scots raised their shields to ward off the arrows, the English horsemen and infantry could strike. If they maintained the schiltron, there was nothing above them to stop the arrows. They were slaughtered.
Astoundingly, Wallace and some of his men escaped into Torwood Forest, and Edward’s exhausted troops could not pursue them and withdrew to Carlisle. Wallace lived to fight another day, but would be captured a little more than 6 years later in August 1305, when he was captured at Robroyston (now inside the bounds of modern Glasgow). Wallace would subseuently be hanged, drawn, and quartered by a vengeful Edward I.