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Stirling Bridge, Stirling, Scotland

Stirling Bridge, which crosses the River Forth below Stirling Castle in Scotland, was the site of the famous Battle of Stirling Bridge, between the forces of English King Edward I and Wiiliam Wallace, in 1297. Like most events dating that early, the specific circumstances and locations are mired in a mixture of propaganda and legend. However, the battle is significant, not just in Scottish but in all of European history, as being the earliest incident in which an overwhelming force of heavily armed knights was defeated by a few commoners armed with nothing but spears, and the strategic use of the small wooden bridge by the outnumbered locals was a major factor in the outcome.

The forces of English King Edward I occupied the stronghold of Stirling Castle south of the bridge. The rebels under William Wallace occupied a hill overlooking the north end of the bridge, and blocked any attempt by the English Army to move north into the Scottish Highlands to subdue the population there. The English, relying on their advantage in numbers and arms, decided to cross the bridge to engage the Scots on the northern side. However, the bridge was only nine feet wide, and moving an army of 10,000 across was going to take a long time. The Scots waited until about half of the army had crossed and massed in the field to the north, and then they attacked. The English tried to retreat, but the bridge was destroyed, splitting the English army in two and cutting off retreat.

A famous image displayed on several exhibition plaques around town, wherever the history of the battle is presented, is the Seal of the Burgh of Stirling. The seal depicts two armies brandishing weapons against each other from opposite ends of a seven-arched bridge, with a crucified Christ in between them. The Latin motto on the seal roughly translates as “the Britons stand protected by force of arms, and the Scots by the cross.” The image of the seal is depicted on an exhibition plaque overlooking the River Forth valley at Stirling Castle, in a relief inset into the cement in a plaza on the southern end of the current bridge, and in another relief plaque at the actual battlefield area on the northern end of the current bridge. The small seal itself, only a few inches across, is on display in the local Stirling Smith Art Gallery.

Although the current bridge was constructed more than 200 years after the battle, it serves as the focal point for tourists interested in the battle, William Wallace, and the Scottish Wars of Independence. There are historical plaques and observation areas on both ends, and monuments in a meadow on the northern end that is thought to be the actual battlefield area.

There is a full description of the bridge, and the battle, in my book, Bridgespotting: A Guide to Bridges that Connect People, Places, and Times.

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