Something it is important to realise when researching history, is that your sources are biased in all sorts of ways. They also stand a good chance of being wrong about some things, for various reasons such as relying on stories, hearsay or second hand accounts of something.

In fact Scottish history is full of examples of occurences around which massive myths accumulate; there is a modern industry based around Wallace, tartans and the like, spurred in the part by the film Braveheart, and by the maunderings of a number of people who treat their sources with worship and wishful thinking rather than scepticism. See for instance the battle of Roslin, taken by some as being a major defeat of the English by the Scots which was airbrushed out of history for various reasons, often related to the Knights Templar and the holy grail. They rely upon casualty figures exaggerated in later sources to the scale of thousands, when modern historians, using English sources, see it as a wee battle involving only a few hundred on either side. It had some importance because of the importance of who was killed there, but it certainly was nowhere near as important as the other well known battles of the first wars of independence.

In this post I will point out a couple of examples brought up by Chris Brown in his book “Bannockburn 1314”. Chris has been on a bit of a crusade against the Braveheart folk for years, and has at least got the academic chops to back it up, having done a PhD on history in the early 14th century that you can download from the British library Ethos service.

Anyway, on pages 58-59 of the paperback of his book “Bannockburn 1314”, Brown writes, regarding the old stories about the ‘small folk’, camp followers and people guarding the camp joining in the battle, that “…but it is clear from those accounts closer to the event than Barbour that the ‘small folk’ played no part in King Robert’s victory. One of the weaknesses of trying to find a place for every piece of information available from chronicles is the danger of adding items to the narrative that are clearly not valid. The chronicler Bower tells us that the English army included slingers and brought caltrops, though no contemporary material indicates slingers for this battle any more than for any other campaign of the wars of independence.”

Brown is correct, I’ve books presenting the evidence he is basing this statement on; there are various surviving records of the English armies in Scotland in the previous 20 years and nobody mentions slingers. If you think about it, why would a modern army with archers, spearmen and heavy cavalry need such an old, out of date and comparatively less dangerous weapon such as a sling anyway? If anything you might expect a few amongst the Scots, who were comparatively less well equipped.

He continues:
“Even so, numerous accounts of the action have not only included slingers, but maps have been produced to show their location on the field. Curiously, although Bower also tells us that the English army was equipped with bombards, no writer has found such a place for them in the narrative, though they have just as much prominence as the slingers or the caltrops.”

Thus the peril of picking and choosing what you use! Of course it is entirely sensible to do so, but that doesn’t mean you should uncritically accept what you judge to be correct and ignore what you judge to be incorrect. Also, if you are attempting to write good history you should look at all the sources, which for Bannockburn includes English ones as well.