A heroic Scottish song begins, "Scots who have with Wallace bled, Scots whom Bruce has often led..."

William Wallace's most famous battle was Falkirk (1298). Robert Bruce's was Bannockburn (1314). That is sixteen years apart.

How likely was a Scottish (or English) enlisted man (not noble or officer) to have fought in both battles, say as a teenager in 1298 and a thirty-something in 1314?

Edit: In response to a comment, I refer to earlier "enlisted men" who might have risen to "non-commissioned officer" at Bannockburn (or even Falkirk) or any other rank that a poor, rural uneducated "enlisted man" might normally aspire to.

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    By "officer" are you including non-commissioned officers or not? That's a critical distinction, as any enlisted men who remained in the service for that length of time would almost certainly be holding rank appropriate to that seniority sixteen years later. I would even venture that the majority of the most senior enlisted men at Bannockburn were veterans of Falkirk. Roughly 2/3 of the Scottish force at Falkirk survived according to Wikipedia, so it's not a battle of annihilation such as Cannae where reconstruction of the next force is per force made from scratch. Nov 14, 2020 at 15:18
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    Since the armies at both battles were organised on feudal lines, talking about the "enlisted" men and "non-commissioned officers" is anachronistic. Nov 14, 2020 at 15:50
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    @KillingTime: Nonsense. Nobles and their knights both arrived with their retinue of retainers, including men-at-arms both mounted and not, the most senior of which were already being referred to as sergeants or even sergeants-major. The modern distinction between commissioned and non-commissioned officers is simply a continuation of the Medieval distinction between senior commoners and the knights/nobility they served. The title (as ranks per se didn't exist yet) of sergeant-major refers to a role we might now refer to as chief-of-staff or executive assistant. Nov 14, 2020 at 16:01
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    @PieterGeerkens It's not nonsense. There was no system of commissions, therefore there were no commissioned officers and, therefore, no non-commissioned officers. The lower ranks didn't 'enlist' they were obligated to the service of their feudal lord. Therefore use of that terminology is anachronistic. Nov 14, 2020 at 16:05
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1 Answer 1


Short Answer

Indirect evidence suggests that it is certainly possible that there were some veterans of Falkirk (1298) who fought at Bannockburn (1314). Men could be enlisted on both sides up to the age of 60; thus, for example, a 20-year-old at Falkirk would have been 36 at Bannockburn, well within the enlistment age limit.

Whether they numbered just a couple, or a dozen, or a hundred plus, on either side is impossible to say. It should also be noted that there were a number of factors (aside from death) which would have limited the number of possible participants in both battles.


In Scotland, the servitum Scoticanum covered "able-bodied freemen aged between 16 and 60" so, whether Robert the Bruce used this or not to get soldiers, there is clear evidence that an able-bodied 60-year-old could serve. Robert's principal requirement was actually men who really wanted to fight ('wyn all or die with honour') so he would have welcomed any battle-hardened volunteers who had fought at Falkirk and who wanted revenge.

On the other hand, around 30% of the approximately 6,000 Scots at Falkirk were killed in the battle. Further, there had been numerous skirmishes and executions between 1298 and 1314, further depleting the likely number survivors from Falkirk. Nonetheless, the 16 year gap makes it plausible that some Scots fought in both battles. Even if we set an upper age limit of 40 at Bannockburn, men aged between 16 and 24 in 1298 could have fought in both battles. Robert himself, victor at Bannockburn, falls into this age group of 'possibles' (he was 24 in 1298), but the evidence indicates that he was not with Wallace at Falkirk.

In England, the range in the age of those who could be levied was also 16 to 60. The English army included four commanders who had fought at Falkirk (Aymer de Valence, Humphrey de Bohun, Robert de Clifford, Henry de Beaumont); they don't qualify according to the OP's criteria, but they brought enlisted men with them, some of whom would quite likely have been seasoned veterans.

However, somewhat reducing the possible number of English participants in both battles is that the English levies in 1314 were mostly from regions which had not been levied for Falkirk in 1298. The levies for Falkirk were from Lancashire, Chester and Wales but, for Bannockburn, Edward II had to cast a much wider net which included all the northern counties and the midlands; it is thus highly unlikely that any of the soldiers levied outside of Lancashire, Chester and Wales would have been at Falkirk.

On the age of soldiers, there is no archaeological evidence from Bannockburn to help us determine the age of the enlisted combatants. The best we can do is to look at the evidence from another medieval battle, Towton (1461), where

The remains of 38 individuals, including 28 complete skeletons, were recovered. The bodies recovered from the Towton mass grave belonged to men who ranged in ages from 17 to 50 years old; and had heights that ranged from five feet to six feet, with the older men being the tallest.

Source: 'A game of thrones written in bones: The skeletal collection from the Battle of Towton'. See also 'Osteological Analysis Towton Hall & Towton Battlefield Towton North Yorkshire'

The presence of older men at Towton suggests the possibility of there also being men at Bannockburn old enough to have fought at Falkirk.

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    Nice answer - but it seems to me you are looking at the statistics backwards. Of course those who fought at Bannockburn were almost all individuals who didn't fight at Falkirk. That is the nature of time, and increasing entropy. But consider the other way around: any who fought at Falkirk as young men, and survived to Bannockburn as healthy and able, were, I believe by your own facts, very likely to have also fought at the latter. That they were likely few in number made them likewise more valuable, and more sought after. Nov 17, 2020 at 15:27
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    @PieterGeerkens Yes, I see your point about looking at the statistics backwards. I started out by looking at Bannockburn in the hope that veterans of Falkirk might be mentioned there. I should have looked more at Falkirk to give more balance to the research. Nov 18, 2020 at 2:47
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    @PieterGeerkens Your point about the value of Falkirk survivors was uppermost on mind at first, but it's interesting to note that Bruce had no such men among his commanders while the English did. OK, that's ignoring other factors, but it seems clear from the prevailing narrative that one of the keys to the Scot's victory was Bruce's trust in the men he had moulded and who had fought with him since Falkirk. Neither of the two books on Bannockburn mention (non-noble) Falkirk veterans among these 'trusted men', though perhaps this is because there is simply no evidence. Nov 18, 2020 at 2:50

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