The Battle of Bannockburn took place on 23 and 24 June 1314 and was a defining moment in Scottish history. It marked a turning point in the Wars of Independence between Scotland and England: cemented King Robert the Bruce's grip on Scotland; weakened Edward II's grip on England; and, arguably, deferred the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland by nearly three centuries. Scotland was to suffer many later defeats at the hands of the English, most notably at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, but it can be argued that it was the outcome of the Battle of Bannockburn that allowed Scotland to retain sufficient separateness for a sufficient length of time to mean that, seven centuries later, Scottish independence could continue to be regarded as a legitimate and realistic aspiration by many Scots.
And yet the odds really were stacked against the Scots. The English army was far larger than the Scottish army, and came complete with archers who were justifiably feared across Europe, and heavily armoured knights. How was such an unlikely victory achieved by Robert the Bruce? Or should much of the responsibility lie with Edward II for his remarkable achievement in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? "Bannockburn: The Battle for a Nation" by Alistair Moffat is easily the best account we have read of the battle, and provides compelling and convincing answers to these questions.
But Alistair Moffat does a great deal more in his book as well. He sets out the historical background, of course, but for the most part he focuses on what actually happened and why. The result is a truly outstanding account that should be read by anyone with any interest in medieval warfare. Much of the credit for this can be attributed to the author's superb style. Many accounts of medieval battles can seem oddly remote from reality, as if we are seeing events through the eyes of a tapestry weaver. The Battle of Bannockburn that emerges from the pages of Alistair Moffat's book is very different. It is vicious, visceral, bloody and shocking. You can almost hear the cries of agony of the dying, and feel the desperation of the fleeing English troops who found themselves trapped by rivers. The nearest equivalent we've ever seen was the portrayal of "The Battle of the Bastards" in the ninth episode of the sixth series of "Game of Thrones", now an acknowledged TV masterpiece.
This book was initially published to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the battle in 2014. We missed it at the time, and are grateful that it has reappeared in paperback in 2016. The paperback comes complete with the original 2014 preface. It is a shame this was not re-written for the new edition as it gives the book a dated feel, with references to the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the 2014 Independence Referendum. Suffice it to say that prospective readers should not allow the preface to deter them from buying and enjoying this excellent book.