THE object of this new series is to pick a certain date in the week ahead and relate the history of an event which occurred in Scotland, or involved Scots, on that date in previous years.

Today, for instance, we could have started with the Battle of Flodden which occurred on September 9, 1513, but that would be a downer, to say the least, so let’s begin with Tuesday, September 11, which will be the 721st anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge, a rousing occasion for Scotland’s new Sunday National newspaper to celebrate.

The second most important victory for the Scots in the Wars of Independence took place on September 11, 1297, almost 18 months after Scotland had been effectively conquered and occupied by King Edward I of England in brutal fashion, all but destroying Berwick and slaughtering the Scottish army at Dunbar.

The film Braveheart about the life and death of Sir William Wallace got many things wrong, including its battle at Stirling not having a bridge, but it did realistically portray the sheer savagery of mediaeval warfare.

It also left out the vital role played by Sir Andrew de Moray, usually known as Murray – who is not in the film at all.

There are many facts about Wallace we do not know – including his height – so sadly we have to rely on English chronicles for the facts, such as they are, about the man and his deeds. My own personal favourites as sources are the near contemporary Lanercost Chronicle and the Scalacronica written in the 1350s by Sir Thomas Grey or Gray. Both he and his father fought in the Wars of Independence and his father, also Thomas Grey, had personal knowledge of Wallace – he was with William de Heselrig when Wallace murdered that sheriff.

Other sources such as the mid-14th century Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough as well as Peter Langtoft’s chronicle in rhyme, plus the contemporary English financial records, give plenty evidence of what happened in 1297.

We also have The Wallace by Blind Hary, but the English chronicles are incredibly biased against the Scots so The Wallace is a hagiography.

Wallace’s assassination of Heselrig and his troops – Thomas Grey was wounded and left for dead, but survived – meant he was in open rebellion against the English occupiers of Scotland, and many Scottish patriots rose with him. Significantly many aristocrats did not, largely because they had sworn oaths of loyalty to King Edward Longshanks, and such an oath was not to be broken lightly.

Enter Sir Andrew Murray, who had sworn no such oath and indeed had fought against Edward’s army in 1296 and had been imprisoned in Chester Castle after Dunbar, though he managed to escape. With his own father in chains in the Tower of London, Moray led another uprising in the north of Scotland in the name of King John Balliol.

That summer, Scotland’s two new rebels went on the warpath, and Murray was particularly successful in a campaign of skirmishes and sieges. Then he linked up with Wallace and the two men prepared for a battle they knew was coming.

Longshanks was more concerned about his planned French campaign but ordered his northern army under John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, and Hugh de Cressingham, the hated tax collector of the occupier forces, to destroy the two Scottish forces of Wallace and Murray, which had combined just north of English-occupied Stirling Castle.

Despite the claims of an army of 50,000 the English probably had no more than 12,000 footmen and 3000 on horse, but still considerably outnumbered Wallace and Murray’s combined force of around 8000-9000.

The two Scottish commanders set their men in position on the northern side of the wooden bridge over the River Forth at Stirling and at this point English arrogance was their undoing.

Confident they could easily beat their opponents, Cressingham led the English over the bridge, while Surrey stayed behind, ready to follow.

When Wallace and Murray saw how the English had divided, they led their entire Scottish force in a rampaging charge, with Wallace confronting the vanguard and Murray leading his men on horseback and on foot to surround the half of the English army that was over the bridge.

In panic, Cressingham and his troops tried to turn back but the bridge duly collapsed under the weight of men and horses. The Scots forded the river downstream and routed the rest of the English army who either fled or drowned in the river.

It was a one-sided slaughter. Thousands were killed, including Cressingham who was flayed from head to foot, with the Lanercost Chronicle reporting that Wallace took a broad strip of his skin “to make therewith a baldrick for his sword”.

Sadly, the Scottish casualties included Murray who was wounded and died two months later. His loss would be keenly felt by Wallace.

Stirling Bridge was a stunningly important victory, for it showed that at the correct place and time, the Scots could beat the English. It was a lesson which Robert the Bruce learned in time for Bannockburn 17 years later.