Battle of Falkirk site’s smoking gun

Knights attack the Scottish spearmen at the Battle of Falkirk
Knights attack the Scottish spearmen at the Battle of Falkirk

Another week, another anniversary. On July 22, 1298, William Wallace and his gallant Scottish army were destroyed by the might of King Edward’s powerful force of archers and heavy horsemen somewhere to the east of the town.

I say ‘somewhere’ because the location of the huge encounter has never been identified, though many sites have been proposed which fit in with the limited information we have from eyewitness accounts.

Our Victorian forefathers felt sure it was in the vicinity of Victoria Park but that idea was dismissed a long time ago. More recent observers have suggested Polmont Hill where the ski slope is today, or the so-called ‘behind the woods’ site near Woodend Farm on the Hallglen to Laurieston road.

There is certainly some circumstantial evidence to support both ideas but in the absence of something more concrete we can prove nothing. Despite the fact that hundreds of soldiers died no common burial pits have been discovered or at least none have been reported.

No artefacts that would point to one site or another have emerged from the ground, or at least not until now! Today I can exclusively reveal (I have wanted to write that for years!) that one of the possible sites has at last yielded one small scrap of evidence which might help solve the centuries old mystery.

My favourite candidate has always been the sloping ground opposite the Beancross Restaurant on which the Romans built the Antonine Fort of Mumrills. It mirrors the shape of the land where we are told Wallace drew up his phalanx rings or schiltroms to face the charging English horsemen. Each year Geoff Bailey and his team of volunteer archaeologists walk the land in search of the shards of pottery and other Roman remnants that rise up each spring beneath the ploughshare.

This year one little item which caught the eye was a small metal object identified as a decorative part of a horse harness with a distinct red chevron patterned shield. It was not a mystery object because such things are not uncommon and it was immediately identified as dating from the 13th century and was exactly the kind of thing that would be part of the equipment of the knights who rode to Falkirk with Edward.

It is hard to believe that it could have arrived here at any other period though of course it may have been lost as the successful English knights pursued the fleeing Scots from another place.

However, I really want to believe that it is the smoking gun that confirms Beancross as the true location of the battle. Fortunately we know the names of many of the 100 plus noble families who made up the English horsemen and what their coats of arms looked like.

Interestingly one of them, the Welsh knight Gilbert de Clare, Lord of Glamorgan, who was at Falkirk with Edward has markings very similar to our little harness pendant and I for one am quite happy to believe that it fell from his horse in the heat of battle.

As ever, Geoff is more cautious. He points out that a number of similar finds have this chevron marking and dear old Lord Gilbert couldn’t have lost them all. Maybe the expert examination of the find which is going on at present will provide an answer but in the meantime I am happy to settle for what we have at the moment. It’s the result I’ve been waiting for half my life!