The Pipers of Bannockburn

The throne of Scotland was left vacant after Alexander III died falling from a cliff while ridding a horse in the year 1286. When no clear heir was apparent, the King of England set his sights on the land to the north. Anyone familiar with the motion picture ‘Braveheart’ knows the story of Scotland’s struggle for independence. In the final moments of that film Robert the Bruce, a nobleman and an obvious choice for the throne, led an army onto the battlefield crying, “You’ve bled with Wallace, now bleed with me!” In slow motion the warrior Scots storm the field and the narrator states, “They won their freedom.”

This epic battle that turned the tide for Scottish independence was fought on a marshland between Bannock Burn and Pelstream Burn. These burns sat near the banks of the river Forth, not far from Stirling Castle. On Sunday June 23, 1314 a force of 25,000 English soldiers met an army of Scotsmen numbering only about 9,000.

The battle was fought over two long days and although the first skirmishes were relatively small, they set the stage for the major engagement. It was a game of gaining position and at the end of the first day the Scots had the advantaged ground.

It is worthy of note that in one of the first clashes between the two forces an English Knight, Henry De Bohun, identified Robert Bruce and led a solitary charge at him. The Bruce, who was mounted on a pony, was addressing his troops at the time. The Scots noticed the lone Knight bearing down on Robert and shouted a warning. At the last possible moment the Bruce’s pony sidestepped the heavy warhorse and Robert dispatched the rider with a single blow. Robert had swung his mighty battle-axe breaking it upon the Knight’s helmet. Without missing a beat, Robert then proceeded to show his men the broken weapon and proclaimed it had been his favorite axe. His advisors cautioned him not to ride in front of the men, fearing another close call might be one too many, but the Bruce refused showing more concern for the loss of his battle axe. His speech and the display of the splintered axe was enough to stir the troops onto victory the following day when the Scots, outnumbered, achieved a complete rout of the English force.

Though their names have been forggotten, it is said that the pipers on the field that day played a traditional air entitled, ‘Hey Tuttie Tatie.’ Over four centuries after the battle the poet Robert Burns penned lyrics to the tune based an the words the Bruce uttered to his men on the eve of battle. It was originally called ‘Robert Bruce’s Address to the Troops at Bannockburn,’ but is now known by the title taken from the first line of the poem, ‘Scots Wha Hae.’

About The Author

Ian is an acclaimed writer, producer, and director of documentary films and multimedia events. He is also a competitive bagpiper and has produced large scale multimedia concerts and pipe band recordings. It is his combined passion for film and piping that endow him with a unique and personal perspective for the Pipes of War project.


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