Stirling was in fact the key of Scotland, and its danger roused England out of its civil strife to a vast effort for the recovery of its prey. Thirty thousand horsemen formed the fighting part of the great army which followed Edward to the north, and a host of wild marauders had been summoned from Ireland and Wales to its support. The army which Bruce had gathered to oppose the inroad was formed almost wholly of footmen, and was stationed to the south of Stirling on a rising ground flanked by a little brook, the Bannock burn which gave its name to the engagement. Again two systems of warfare were brought face to face as they had been brought at Falkirk, for Robert, like Wallace, drew up his force in solid squares or circles of spearmen. The English were dispirited at the very outset by the failure of an attempt to relieve Stirling, and by the issue of a single combat between Bruce and Henry de Bohun, a knight who bore down upon him as he was riding peacefully along the front of his army. Robert was mounted on a small hackney and held only a light battle-axe in his hand, but, warding off his opponent's spear, he cleft his skull with so terrible a blow that the handle of the axe was shattered in his grasp.
At the opening of the battle the English archers were thrown forward to rake the Scottish squares, but they were without support and were easily dispersed by a handful of horse whom Bruce had held in reserve for the purpose. The body of men-at-arms next flung themselves on the Scottish front, but their charge was embarrassed by the narrow space along which the line was forced to move, and the steady resistance of the squares soon threw the knighthood into disorder. "The horses that were stickit," says an exulting Scotch writer, " rushed and reeled right rudely." In the moment of failure the sight of a body of camp-followers, whom they mistook for reinforcements to the enemy, spread panic through the English host. It broke in a headlong rout. Its thousands of brilliant horsemen were soon floundering in pits which had guarded the level ground to Brace's left, or riding in wild haste for the border. Few however were fortunate enough to reach it. Edward himself, with a body of five hundred knights, succeeded in escaping to Dunbar and the sea. But the flower of his knighthood fell into the hands of the victors, while the Irishry and the footmen were ruthlessly cut down by the country folk as they fled.
For centuries after, the rich plunder of the English camp left its traces on the treasure and vestment rolls of castle and abbey throughout the Lowlands.
Terrible as was the blow England could not humble herself to relinquish her claim on the Scottish crown. With equal pertinacity Bruce refused all negotiation while the royal title was refused to him, and steadily pushed on the recovery of his southern dominions. Berwick was at last forced to surrender, and held against a desperate attempt at its recapture; while barbarous forays of the borderers under Douglas wasted Northumberland. Again the strife between the Crown and the baronage was suspended to allow the march of a great English army to the north; but Bruce declined an engagement till the wasted Lowlands starved the invaders into a ruinous retreat. The failure forced England to stoop to a truce for thirteen years, in the negotiation of which Bruce was suffered to take the royal title. But the truce ceased legally with Edward's deposition. Troops gathered on either side, and Edward Balliol, a son of the former king John, was solemnly received as a vassal-king of Scotland at the English court.
Robert was disabled by leprosy from taking the field in person, but the insult roused him to hurl his marauders again over the border under Douglas and Randolph. An eye-witness has painted for us the Scotch army, as it appeared in this campaign: "It consisted of four thousand men-at-arms, knights and esquires, well mounted, besides twenty thousand men bold and hardy, armed after the manner of their country, and mounted upon little hackneys that are never tied up or dressed, but turned immediately after the day's march to pasture on the heath or in the fields.... They bring no carriages with them on account of the mountains they have to pass in Northumberland, neither do they carry with them any provisions of bread and wine, for their habits of sobriety are such in time of war that they will live for a long time on flesh half-sodden without bread, and drink the river water without wine. They have therefore no occasion for pots or pans, for they dress the flesh of the cattle in their skins after they have flayed them, and being sure to find plenty of them in the country which they invade, they carry none with them.
Under the flaps of his saddle each man carries a broad piece of metal, behind him a little bag of oatmeal: when they have eaten too much of the sodden flesh and their stomach appears weak and empty, they set this plate over the fire, knead the meal with water, and when the plate is hot put a little of the paste upon it in a thin cake like a biscuit which they eat to warm their stomachs. It is therefore no wonder that they perform a longer day's march than other soldiers.*' Against such a foe the English troops who marched under their boy-king to protect the border were utterly helpless. At one time the army lost its way in the vast border waste; at another all traces of the enemy had disappeared, and an offer of knighthood and a hundred marks was made to any who could tell where the Scots were encamped. But when found their position behind the Wear proved unassailable, and after a bold sally on the English camp Douglas foiled an attempt at intercepting him by a clever retreat. The English levies broke hopelessly up, and a fresh foray on Northumberland forced the English court to submit to peace.
By the Treaty of Northampton the independence of Scotland was formally recognized, and Bruce acknowledged as its king.
The pride of England, however, had been too much aroused by the struggle to bear easily its defeat. The first result of the treaty was the overthrow of the government which concluded it, a result hastened by the pride of its head, Roger Mortimer, and by his exclusion of the rest of the nobles from all share in the administration of the realm. The first efforts to shake Roger's power were unsuccessful: a league headed by the Earl of Lancaster broke up without result; and the King's uncle, the Earl of Kent, was actually brought to the block, before the young King himself interfered in the struggle. Entering the Council chamber in Nottingham Castle, with a force which he had introduced through a secret passage in the rock on which it stands, Edward arrested Mortimer with his own hands, hurried him to execution, and assumed the control of affairs. His first care was to restore good order throughout the country, which under the late government had fallen into ruin, and to free his hands by a peace with Franee for further enterprises in the North. Fortune indeed, seemed at last to have veered to the English side; the death of Bruce only a year after the Treaty of Northampton left the Scottish throne to a child of but eight years old, and the internal difficulties of the realm broke out in civil strife.
To the great barons on either side the border the late peace involved serious losses, for many of the Scotch houses held large estates in England, as many of the English lords held large estates in Scotland; and although the treaty had provided for their claims, they had in each case been practically set aside. It is this discontent of the barons at the new settlement which explains the sudden success of Edward Balliol in his snatch at the Scottish throne. In spite of King Edward's prohibition, he sailed from England at the head of a body of nobles who claimed estates in the north, landed on the shores of Fife, and, after repulsing with immense loss an army which attacked him near Perth, was crowned at Scone, while David Bruce fled helplessly to France. Edward had given no open aid to the enterprise, but the crisis tempted his ambition, and he demanded and obtained from Balliol an acknowledgement of the English suzerainty. The acknowledgement, however, was fatal to Balliol himself. He was at once driven from his realm, and Berwick, which he had agreed to surrender to Edward, was strongly garrisoned against an English attack.
The town was soon besieged, but a Scotch army under the regent Douglas, brother to the famous Sir James, advanced to its relief, and attacked a covering force, which was encamped on the strong position of Halidon Hill. The English bowmen, however, vindicated the fame they had first won at Falkirk, and were soon to crown in the victory of Crécy; and the Scotch only struggled through the marsh which covered the English front to be riddled with a storm of arrows, and to break in utter rout. The battle decided the fate of Berwick, and from that time the town remained the one part of Edward's conquests which was preserved by the English crown. Fragment as it was, it was always viewed legally as representing the realm of which it had once formed a part. As Scotland, it had its chancellor, chamberlain, and other officers of State; and the peculiar heading of Acts of Parliament enacted for England " and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed" still preserves the memory of its peculiar position. Balliol was restored to his throne by the conquerors, and his formal cession of the Lowlands to England rewarded their aid.
During the next three years Edward persisted in the line of policy he had adopted, retaining his hold over Southern Scotland, and aiding his sub-king Balliol in campaign after campaign against the despairing efforts of the nobles who still adhered to the house of Bruce. His perseverance was all but crowned with success, when the outbreak of war with France saved Scotland by drawing the strength of England across the Channel. The patriot party drew again together. Balliol found himself at last without an adherent and withdrew to the Court of Edward, while David returned to his kingdom, and won back the chief fastnesses of the Lowlands. The freedom of Scotland was, in fact, secured. From a war of conquest and patriotic resistance the struggle died into a petty strife between two angry neighbours, which became a mere episode in the larger contest between England and France.