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Saber and Scroll

Abstract

For more than a century, historians have identified the Battle of Falkirk (1298) as a turning point in infantry tactics, not only for the Scots but also for warfare in the Western World. In his seminal work on military history, Hans Delbrück (1848-1929) wrote that Falkirk was unique, concluding “nowhere else in the Middle Ages do we find such great masses of foot soldiers who do not immediately break ranks when attacked by knights.” Delbrück was referring to the spearmen organized by Scottish Guardian William Wallace (d. 1305) in a battle that he lost against English King Edward I (r. 1272-1307). Delbrück is not alone in his assertion that Falkirk initiated, or at least preceded some revolutionary method for using foot soldiers, as the claim persists in numerous modern works. Remarkably, there was nothing new about the Scots’ tactics, but Falkirk remains popular in modern memory, predominately due to high profile participants such as Wallace and Edward, the former a national hero, as well as a dense library of contemporary and modern histories. In an attempt to neatly categorize transitions and trends in warfare, historians have erroneously identified Falkirk as the beginning of an era where infantry alone won battles, or at least stood up to cavalry, but in reality such infantry-centric achievements were occurring more than a century prior in the Western World.

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