Scottish Loss at Stirling Bridge: A Historical Counterfactual

  By Emperor Barbarossa, March 2007; Revised
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Battle of Stirling Bridge
Battle of Stirling Bridge

The date was September 11, 1297. On this date, two armies fought against each other outside of the Scottish town of Stirling. One was an English army led by the Earl of Surrey and Hugh de Cressingham, while the other was a Scottish army led by Andrew de Moray-an experienced Scottish knight-and William Wallace, a rebel with some tactical experience. The Scots would in the end have a great victory. Before the battle, England had invaded Scotland. William Wallace led a rebellion in the South of Scotland, while Andrew de Moray led a revolt in the North of Scotland. Before the battle, Andrew de Moray arrived with his troops to help Wallace fight the English army advancing on Stirling. But what if Andrew de Moray had arrived late? After all, it was his decision to use the bridge as a weapon during the battle.

Possible Scenarios

What implications would this have had on the future world? If the Scots lost this battle, would there have been a King Robert the Bruce? Would Scotland have given any aid to France? Would the English have later been able to conquer France without a constant Scottish threat? Would there ever have been a Stuart monarchy, or the famous Jacobite Rebellions? How would Ireland have been subdued? Would it have been easily conquered by a combined Anglo-Scottish force? What of America, how would it have been colonized? Would there have been a larger British Empire? All of these scenarios could have played through had Andrew de Moray not appeared at Stirling Bridge.

The Battle and its Aftermath

It is the month of September, 1297. William Wallace is faced alone against a large English army. On fields outside the town of Stirling, a great battle is about to take place. William Wallace is heavily outnumbered, and he does not have many troops. He decides to fight, seeing no aid from Andrew de Moray, the Scottish rebel of the North.

The Scots prepared for the worst. The English arrows rip into the Scottish lines. The heavy English knights then charge into the Scots. However, the Scots use their tactic of a schiltron to defeat the English charge. It is then that the Longbowmen continue to fire on the Scots. Without any way to stop the Longbowmen from firing, hundreds of Scots are killed. The English charge, and the Scottish infantry, with low morale, are decimated. William Wallace, in the melee, is defeated.

With the rebellion in the Scottish south defeated, the English in the end defeat Andrew de Moray’s rebellion. The nobility of Scotland, seeing a total of three (including Baliol’s demise a year earlier at Dunbar) does not attempt another such reckless rebellion. Though throughout the years, there are still some rebellions against English rule in Scotland, Scotland, like Wales, is now a part of the Kingdom of England.

Effect on the Scottish identity

Would this flag have even existed in the modern day world?
Would this flag have even existed in the modern day world?
Now, of course, with a successful English conquest of Scotland, there would have been a limited Scottish identity. Scotland, in essence, would have a very similar identity to Wales currently. They would have some sort of recognition, but they would not have such an identity as they do today. Scots would be called English (though due to ignorance, they are sometimes today sometimes considered English), and thus, we probably would not have the great poetry of Robert Burns, whom wrote in the romantic language of Scots. There would be no Auld Lang Syne, not Robert Louis Stevenson, and no Walter Scott. Each of these men may have been born, and would have written books and poems, but they would not be similar to their actual writings.

Effect on the Hundred Years’ War

Would the French have won the Hundred Years’ War without Scottish aid? Though the French did not depend on Scottish aid during the Hundred Years’ War, they definitely did get it. With Scotland now ruled by England, the English would most probably have recruited Scots to fill the ranks of their infantry. With this swing in numbers in Henry V’s army, could Henry V have conquered France? The answer, of course, cannot be determined. However, without the constant threat of border wars from Scotland, it would have been much easier to carry out an invasion in Europe. Therefore, because the issue is to cloudy, this counterfactual assumes the Hundred Years’ War has the same historical result, an ultimate French victory.

Effect on British monarchial History

With Scotland subdued, there probably would not have been a Stuart monarchy, and thus, no Jacobite rebellions. The first King of Great Britain would not have been James I, a Scot, but, rather, Edward I.  During Elizabeth’s reign, it cannot be determined whether Elizabeth would have had an heir. On the contrary, there may have been an English Civil War to determine the next monarch. Surely, the Stuarts would not have been directly involved in this rebellion. Since Scotland was already subdued, there would have been no other related monarchy on the island Great Britain, and thus, there would have been no Stuart claim to the throne. There also would have been no such rebellions (Jacobite insurrections) in support of the Stuarts.

Effect on Ireland

The question now goes to Ireland. The Scots did help defend Ireland during the Middle Ages against English invasions by supplying them with mercenaries, called by the Irish gallowglasses. These mercenary warriors may still have appeared in some form, but, other Scots would have been a part of those English invasions. Maybe Ireland would also have been subdued in the Middle Ages. They would have then been, just as the Scots and Welsh before them, “English.” There would have also been revolutions, but with many Anglo-Scottish soldiers in Ireland, English rule would have lasted. This means there would have been no Michael Collins, no IRA, and no separation of Ulster.

Effect on the British Empire

Now the question is the colonization of America. It would have been completely different. Not only would there have been more men to colonize it, but there may not have been such a Puritan involvement. Let us not forget that the Stuart monarchy (which we assume in this counterfactual would not have existed) was responsible for the anti-Puritan policies that led to the Puritan immigration. There would not have been a Nova Scotia, per say. The “English Empire” would have possibly named the place a number of different things, but, not “Nova Scotia” or “New Scotland.” Possibly, Canada and the United States would not exist as two separate entities. They might just call themselves something like “the United Provinces of America”, or simply “New England.”  Also, the so-called “English Empire” would have probably have been larger due to the larger population it had to begin with.

Effect on other Nations

            If England had completely subdued Scotland during the early Middle Ages, would there have been what some historians call a “Scottish Diaspora” during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? If not, then Scotland would not have been known as a “mercenary factory.” During this time period, Scotland provided many mercenaries and merchants to Northern and Eastern Europe. One man who had a brigade of Highland Scots was Gustavus Adolphus. Would his campaigns have turned out differently if he had not had this prized brigade? Would the Dutch, quoted by many historians as to hiring many Highland mercenaries have the same history as they do now? All of these questions cannot truly be answered, or determined. But without Scottish mercenaries, Europe’s history surely could have changed.


In conclusion, the Battle of Stirling Bridge, if it had a different result, could have changed history as we know it. Scotland has had an effect on many different nations throughout history. With it an English entity, our world would be much different today. Maybe we would not golf, or curling. The bagpipe may not have its fame (strictly the Scots and Irish bagpipes, the latter being based off of the former) that it does today. With Andrew de Moray not appearing at Stirling when he did, not only would Scottish history be changed, but world history as we know it would be completely different.