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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Monday 3 February 2014

Bannockburn 1314

This year is the 700th anniversary of Robert the Bruce’s (or De Brus when I am winding up Nationalist pals!) great victory at Bannockburn on 23/24 June 1314. It makes a change for me doing a project based on a battlefield that I can visit easily, rather than some obscure part of the Balkans.

Obviously, this will be a big anniversary here in Scotland. The visitor centre and the Bruce statue is undergoing a major refurbishment (with state of the art 3D experience) and there will be a range of events. The archeologists have also been busy and are due to publish a new report prior to the anniversary date. I suspect it will be a popular display game on the Scottish wargame show circuit and GDWS will add to that with our planned game, based on the less well known first day of the battle. We are aiming for the Carronade show at Falkirk on 10 May. Very appropriate as the English army marched through Falkirk the day before the battle.

As always we start with the research. Despite the many books written on the Scottish wars and the battle itself, the primary sources are very limited and confusing. There is even controversy over where the battle was fought. The traditional site for the main action on the second day, as set out by Oman and others, is now regarded as unlikely in favour of the Carse further to the East. Just as well as the archeologists will struggle to get beneath the housing scheme. We do not protect our battlefield sites well!

I have started with Peter Armstrong’s Osprey Campaign book, not least for the excellent maps and drawings. Osprey’s MAA 151 is also helpful, as always primarily for the colour plates and illustrations. Aryeh Neusbacher’s book is well written and nicely illustrated, but the content has been criticised. Not least by Chris Brown’s book that analyses the sources in some depth and, to my mind at least, provides the most credible description of the battle so far. There are a couple of new books out, and no doubt more to come, that I haven’t got round to reading yet.

Fortunately for us, the first day of the battle is less contentious. The advance guard of the English army, commanded by the Earls of Hereford and Gloucester charge Robert the Bruce’s schiltron at the ‘entry’ to the New Park, a wooded hunting park in those days. They are repulsed after a fierce fight and this is where the famous single combat between Bruce and de Bohun takes place. 

Meanwhile, Clifford’s force takes a more easterly route skirting the New Park, it is thought, along ‘The Way’, through the Wood of Balquhiderock towards St Ninian’s Kirk. Moray’s schiltron may not have seen them until quite late due to the wood and he advanced to intercept. There are two possible sites for this clash, but either way the English were repulsed and the bulk of the force is likely to have returned to the main body of the army that was arriving late afternoon and evening.

I use the word ‘English’ army as a generalisation. Our modern understanding of national sentiment should not be transplanted to medieval times. The English army included many Scots. Not just the Balliol/Comyn faction that Bruce had usurped for the throne, but many notables from south-east Scotland who sided with the English King. 

The next step is building the armies, in 28mm of course. We have done a number of feudal battles in recent years so some figures will transfer easily. The story that a unit of Templars fought for Bruce is almost certainly fantasy, but its a good story and a few of those we painted for the Battle of Muret last year might sneak into the line! The main painting task is the Scottish schiltrons. I have one unit, but others will be added from Old Glory, Claymore Castings, Front Rank, Black Tree and Curtey’s to give plenty of variety.

Scenery is quite straightforward with woods and burns (streams) being the dominate characteristics of the site, as well as St Ninian’s Kirk.

Anyway, less talk and more painting is needed if this project is going to get off the ground!

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