Battle of Bannockburn.
Much has been written about Bannockburn, therefore this page will concentrate on the part that Douglas played.
He is first mentioned as riding forward toward the English line of march, on Sunday 23rd June 1314, along with the Marishal, Sir Robert Keith, in order to estimate the strength of the English army. What they saw was described by Barbour ".....so many braided banners, standards and spear pennons, and so many mounted knights all flaming in gay attire, and so many broad battles taking such vast space as they rode, as might, by their number and battle array, have dismayed the greatest and boldest and best host in Christendom". Bruce ordered Douglas and Keith to say that the English were in "ill-array" in order to keep up the spirits of his forces.
The next mention of Douglas is later the same day. The English force arrived in sight of Stirling late in the day, to find the Scots astride the old Roman road that led to Stirling. King Edward sent Robert Clifford and Henry Beaumont with 300 horse along the carse, below the roman road, either to strengthen the garrison at Stirling or to impede the Scot's retreat. Clifford and Beaumont led the force along a narrow bridle path leading to the castle. Within the gorge, which the path followed, the English Knights were well hidden from the Scottish positions. Once the force was sighted Randolph quickly gathered his men and charged down towards the English, blocking their path. He knew that there would be no option but to fight, as the English were horsed and would be confident of breaking the Scots lines. So, as the English cavalry gathered for the charge, within the Scots schiltrom spears were grounded and muscles strained in preparation for their impact.
The first wave of cavalry hit the Scots with tremendous force. Their lines held and many English Knights crashed to their deaths on the wall of spikes. The cavalry withdrew, gathered and charged again, but still they could not break through. This continued for some time, each charge weakening as more knights fell, their own dead blocking their path.
Meanwhile James Douglas, concerned for Randolph and his men persuaded Bruce to let him take a small division of reinforcements down to the battle. On approaching closer he saw it was not the Scots who were failing, but the English, who unable to break the schiltrom had given up charging and had now resorted to throwing their hand weapons at the Scots, though to little effect. So Douglas, in a chivalric gesture, seeing that it was Randolph's fight, and almost won, held his men and watched as his friend finished the English himself.
The English cavalry began to retreat. Suddenly the Scots, confident now of victory, did something before unheard of in medieval warfare, the schiltrom instead of remaining as a stationary defensive unit advanced in formation and went on the attack For the English knights this was the last straw. Exhausted, they now found their force split in two by the Scots advance and they scattered, one part of the squadron to the castle, the larger back to the main body of the army. Amazingly Randolph reported the loss of only one man.
Monday 24th of June, the morning of the battle, saw James Douglas receiving the honour of being created a Knight Banneret (senior cavalry commander), an honour only conferred on the battlefield. In front of the massed ranks of the army Bruce would have taken his sword and slashed off the forks of Douglas's knights pennon, to convert it to the Bannerets square standard.
Once battle was joined, Douglas was in command of the third schiltrom, on the left flank. This schiltrom initially suffered casualties from a body of Edward's Welsh archers, who had crossed the Pelstream burn in order to outflank the Scots. However these archers were soon driven off by Keith the Marishal and his 500 light horse. It is worth mentioning here that Douglas unlike modern day commanders would have been on foot in the thick of the fighting.
The Battle itself is well documented, suffice to say here that the Scots won the day and Edward fled the field accompanied by 500 mounted knights. Douglas on seeing the flight of the English King asked permission of Bruce to give chase. At this point, with large numbers of English sheltering under the castle rock and a possibility of reforming their ranks, Bruce could only spare 60 horse to accompany him. Fortunately Douglas met with Sir Lawrence Abernethy who, with 80 horse, had come to join the English. On being appraised of the situation he came over to the Scots and pledged his allegiance, thus Douglas more than doubled his force although still heavily outnumbered. Douglas caught up with the retreating English near Linlithgow but rather than taking the direct route to Berwick over the Lammermuir hills, Edward turned East towards Dunbar. This denied to Douglas many ambush point among the hills. He did however tail the English so closely, that according to Barbour they could not stop even to pass water and any whose horses broke down were quickly captured.
At Dunbar Edward and some of his chosen knights took refuge in Earl Patrick of Dunbar's castle, abandoning their steeds outside, then took ship for Berwick. The main body of the English knights were pursued another fifty miles by Douglas and Abernethy, even shedding their Armour to increase the speed of their horses did not stop more English falling into Scots hands. It is tempting to think, if Douglas had more men could he have captured the King of England ?