I have Brought You to the Ring – William Wallace at Falkirk
Wallace knew that his army could not defeat the invading English army in open battle when they returned to Scotland, this time under the leadership of King Edward himself. Smarting at his army’s defeat the previous year at Stirling Bridge, Edward had gathered a truly impressive force. Over 2,000 armoured cavalry and 12,000 infantry receiving wages, plus many more fighting men serving without pay, followed him into Scotland. Some fought as a statement of personal independence, some for forgiveness of debts to the crown, some for criminal pardons or just for adventure. He also had a huge force of Welshmen armed with the dreaded longbow.
Edward advanced into a central Scotland that had been laid waste before him by Wallace’s forces. The Scots also shadowed the English, intending to avoid battle until shortages of supplies and money forced Edward to withdraw, at which point the Scots intended to harass his retreat. Edward's own supply fleet was delayed by bad weather, and when the army reached Edinburgh it was exceptionally demoralised, tired and hungry. The Welsh infantry erupted in a drunken riot that was broken up by the English cavalry, who killed 80 Welshmen. Still the Scots army could not be located and Edward faced the prospect of an inglorious retreat. But, just as he was on the point of falling back, he received intelligence that Wallace had taken up position in the nearby Callendar Wood, near Falkirk, and were preparing to pursue the retreating English. Edward was delighted: “As God lives... they need not pursue me, for I will meet them this day!” he exclaimed. He moved his army through the night and finally came face to face with Wallace the following morning.
The Scots were caught by surprise and Wallace knew he could not possibly win the forthcoming battle. His forces were vastly outnumbered and lacked the heavy cavalry of the English. On the morning of 22nd July, 1298, less than a year after his victory at Stirling Bridge, he formed his men into four massive schiltrons with his bowmen placed in between. His small force of lightly armoured Scottish knights waited on horseback. As the enormous English host assembled before him, Wallace is said to have called out to his men, “I have brought you to the ring – now dance the best you can.”
The battle turned into a massacre when the Welsh longbow men unleashed a withering hail of fire into the Scottish ranks. The Scottish cavalry fled the field and Wallace was forced to flee the field of battle. Scottish casualties were cataclysmic and Wallace subsequently elected to resign the Guardianship.