by Eric W. McBride,
Celtic Connection, September, 2007
Europe during the High Middle Ages was a most brutal time and the Fourteenth century was no exception. Though the threat of Viking Raiders no longer troubled the mainland, Europe was still recovering from the Mongol invasion of the previous century when the 1300s arrived. In western Europe, despite the Victories of Edward Longshanks in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the English were losing the war in France. Throughout the 13th century the French Kings were steadily consolidating their power and control over both the land and the rebellious or disloyal French Nobles.
Though these French Kings were gaining in power their position was still precarious. However, in one night King Philip le Bel, would take an action that not only firmly established himself and his Kingdom, but the ramifications of that act would significantly aid Scotland in its fight for freedom at Bannockburn. This single and horrific act can still be remembered seven hundred years later under the superstition of Friday the 13th.
Philip the Fair:
In 1285 Phillip the Fair would become King Phillip IV of France and began to greatly extend his Kingdom into English occupied territory. In 1295 Phillip entered into an alliance with Scotland through it’s Guardian William Wallace. From 1294 to1298 and 1300 to 1304 Philip began a very costly engagement with the English. Though he successfully defended an invasion of Northern France, he was no match for Edward Longshanks. Luckily for France, Edward was having to deal with rebellious Noblemen in Northern England as well as the resumption of Scottish fighting for Independence.
These indecisive wars with England were rapidly bankrupting France. In 1302 Phillip sustained a massive defeat at the Battle of Courtai, at the hands of Flemish pike men under English control. Seeking refuge from this defeat Philip fled to the Templar Knight’s Temple in Paris. Phillip was bedazzled by the show of wealth found within and vowed to one day acquire it. Two years later Phillip returned at the head of a large contingent of French Knights and gained a successful victory over the English at the battle of Mons-en-Pevele. Thus empowered, Phillip began to seek out allies in his upcoming confrontation with the Knights Templar.
Phillip had no love for the Templar Knights. Not only did he have an enormous debt to the Knightly bankers but as a young man he had been denied to gain admission into there secret order. Thus through political intrigue, and greed, Phillip openly accused the Knights Templar order of barbaric deeds, inquisition, and witch craft. Phillip also approached several Knights who had been expelled from the order and through bribery or blackmail used them as witnesses of Templar mis deeds. Finally the culmination of all of his manipulation came to fruit on Friday, October 13, 1307. With the death of the Pope, and Rome in Chaos, Phillip ordered the arrest of Jacques de Molay and Sixty of his Knights in Paris. Phillip also ordered the simultaneous arrest and execution of many thousands of Knights Templars throughout all of France. The political fallout was to say the least, enormous. Men who had been the protectors of literally thousands of villages and towns across France and all of Europe, suddenly found the local peoples superstitions turned against them and their wealth seized by greedy Noblemen of every Nation in Europe. A majority of these men were killed out right. Many others tried to disappear into the wilderness or disguise themselves. However, a number of them wishing to retain their ways, found refuge in the only country that was willing to take them; that of the Northern country of Scotland, which was at war with the English and at odds with the Pope.
In 1305, with no other option left to him the Earl of Carrick, in Southwest Scotland proclaimed himself King of Scotland to carry on the work began by William Wallace in the decade before. Robert the Bruce though crowned King of Scots, did not live a life of Luxury. Within a year he had sustained tremendous defeats along with the defections of the majority of his nobleman. In fact King Roberts Kingdom had at one time shrank to be only that of 10 men. As legend tells, King Robert regained his resolve by observing the efforts of a Spider and thus enlisted the aid of Highland Clans to continue his fight against the English.
Systematically, through using the same Tactics first applied by William Wallace, Robert the Bruce began to reclaim every castle and stronghold in Scotland with the exception of the Royal Castle at Sterling. It was during his siege of Sterling in 1314, that word came to him that King Edward II, son of the great Tyrant, was marching into Scotland with a monstrous Army, aimed at the total inhalation of the Scottish rebellion. Legend would have it that it was on the eve of the Battle; but more then likely it had been happening over some time. That Templar Knights came onto Scotland, and were willing to pledge allegiance to King Robert the Bruce and the defense of Scotland in exchange for a place of refuge from both the French and English Kings, as well as the new Pope. It is not known how many they numbered but it is mentioned that there were Templar Knights on the side of the Scots and the Battle of Bannockburn. Many historians now give credence to there being a significant force of Templars on the field of battle who helped turned the tide in the Scots Favor.
Despite the setbacks suffered by the Knights Templars they were still in 1314 the single most experienced and trained soldiers in all of Europe. As a united fighting force they were second to none. So much so that there presence now gives proof of how 17,000 Scots, with very little cavalry, defeated a combined English Army of over 50,000. In fact the English defeat was so decisive that over a third of all the Noblemen and Knights of England were killed outright and an equal number of them were captured, as was nearly King Edward II himself.
In gratitude for their contributions King Robert the Bruce ennobled their order and renamed it in Scotland as the Order of the Knights of St. Andrew. A Knightly order that still has remanence found today amongst those who call themselves Free Masons.