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Battle of Fochart (1318 AD)
The Bruces in Ireland

By Tim Donovan

In 1315, Edward the Bruce, brother of King Robert, landed in Ulster where he crowned himself "King of Ireland" and appealed to the common Celtic heritage of the two nations for a joint effort against their common enemy, the English. This whole Irish adventure is often considered the most curious event in "Wars of the Bruces." However, Robert the Bruce, fresh from his staggering victory at Bannockburn, had many reasons to send his brother to Ireland with over 5,000 veteran warriors.

First, Ireland was an important source of supply, especially food and mercenaries, to the English in their wars with both the Scots and Welsh. Simply depriving the English of these vital supplies, while also controlling the Irish Sea, would be of inestimable value to the Bruce. Secondly, a closer look at who among the Scots were the major participants in the Irish adventure reveals that they came predominantly from the lands and clans that had not supported, or were outright enemies of, the Bruces. Finally, Edward the Bruce, rash, temperamental, and arrogant was most of all insatiably ambitious. He painfully desired a Kingly status to match his brothers. He had considered the Western Isles and even communicated with the Welsh on this matter before finally settling on Ireland as the realm to rule. Robert was most likely fortunate to rid himself of Edward while harrying the English at the same time.

The Irish of Ulster had long had close ties to Scotland and generally supported the Scots. However, many of the other Irish did not. The common refrain was that notwithstanding a common Celtic heritage the Scots were foreign invaders nonetheless, and less Noble than the ones they were accustomed to fighting, a begrudging compliment to the English. The Irish had good reason to be displeased with the Scottish invasion. The Scots were poorly supplied and being inexpert, as were the Irish, in siege warfare, resorted to plundering and wasting the land in an indiscriminate scorched earth campaign. This only added to the misery of a cruel famine that plagued all of Europe for the three years the Scots ravaged Ireland.

Initially things went well for the Scots and their Irish allies as Edward fought and won twelve consecutive battles and also successfully captured, following a year long siege, Carrickefergus Castle. He twice threatened but never attacked Dublin. The lack of supplies and the departure of many of the Highland Lords after the opportunities for plunder abated, found Edward in a very weak state when the resurgent Anglo-Irish and their allies attacked.

The Historical Battle

Weakened by famine, desertion, and constant warfare with the Anglo-Irish and hostile Gaelic Irish, Edward had retreated to Ulster to await reinforcements. Robert was reported to be assembling a large force to come to his brothers aid when the Anglo-Irish finally felt strong enough to give battle. Edward rashly, and it is said not wanting to share the glory with his brother, advanced on the English.

The Scots, Irish, and rebel English formed on a hill flanked by rough terrain. The Irish held the left flank across from the English bows while the Scots in the center faced the English bills. Rival Anglo-Irish factions glared at each other on the opposite flank.

The Irish withstood the arrows of the English longbows and then attacked and swept them away after their supply was depleted. On the opposing flank the rebel English held for a time but eventually broke while in the center Edward was ruthlessly cut down and the army broke and fled. Later his body was beheaded and quartered with the pieces being sent to all four corners of the realm.

The Scenario for DBA

I have always preferred BB DBA either with double or triple size DBA armies or armies of roughly 100-150 points as per DBM. The board should be expanded to 2 x 4 for 15mm or 4 x 6 for 25mm. For this battle I will use modified double size DBA armies. For players wishing to fight the scenario as a standard 12 element DBA battle, I have also included appropriate army lists and modifications for the rest should be simple and straightforward.

The Armies

Scots and Irish:

  • Big Battle DBA -- Scots: 1 Kn (Edward the Bruce), 4 Pk (schiltron), 2 Bd (Isleman), 1 Ps (archers), plus Irish: 1 Cv or LH (O'Neill), 1 LH, 2 Bd (Galloglaich), 2 Ax (Bonnachts), 2 Ps (Kern), plus Anglo-Irish: 1 Kn or Cv (Delacy's), 2 Cv, 2 Bd (bills), 2 Bw (Longbow), 1 Ax (peasants).

  • Standard DBA -- 1 Kn General (Edward Bruce), 4 Pk (Scots), 1 Bw or Ps (Scots Archers), 2 Ax (Bonnachts), 1 Ps (Kern), 1 Cv (Anglo Irish), 1 Bd (Bills), 1 Bw (Bows).

The army of the Bruce was much reduced by this time, only a handful of the original Pikemen were still alive while most of the western Highland Lords had long since departed. The Ulster Irish remained steadfast allies while the majority of the rebel Anglo-Irish were far from enthusiastic.

Anglo-Irish:

  • Big Battle DBA -- 3 Kn or Cv Generals (Edmund Butler, John de Birmingham, Roland Joyce), 4 Cv (men-at arms), 2 Lh (Irish Horse), 4 Bd (Bills), 4 Bw (Longbow), 4 Ax (Bonnachts), 3 Ps (Kern).

  • Standard DBA -- 1 Kn (General), 2 Cv (men-at-arms), 1 Lh (Irish horse), 2 Bd (Bills), 2 Bw (Longbows), 2 Ax (Bonnachts), 2 Ps (Kern).

The Anglo-Irish, led by the redoubtable Justiciar (King's Representative and nominal ruler in Ireland) Edmund Butler, who shadowed but did not engage the Scots while still inferior in numbers. He wisely preferred to utilize local Irish and Anglo-Irish troops to harass the marauding Scots till he was able to organize (that is adequately feed) a hasty coalition of forces from Meath that gave him superiority over then Scots and an opportunity to give battle.

Terrain & Deployment: Edward attempted to emulate Bannockburn by occupying a gentle hill that was flanked by woods and a stream. I would simply place a long ridge deep in the Scots and Irish deployment zone, woods on one flank and a stream on the other. Then scatter a few woods or bogs so that about a 1/3 of the board is covered by terrain.

Or, since the battle was a meeting engagement players can roll for attacker and defender as usual. The defender places compulsory terrain of 1 hill, 2 woods, and 1 bog (rough ground) and then 0-3 additional terrain pieces of terrain. After the defender places the compulsory and optional terrain the attacker chooses the edge to invade from . The defender now deploys his camp and half of his command followed by the attacker. The defender finishes deployment followed by the attacker, then dice for the initiative, high score has the option of moving first or second.

Command and Control: Both sides have three generals, each controlling a force of 8 elements. The Scots and Irish roll 2 dice and divide the sum among the three commands.

Edmund's strategy to date impressed me so allow the Anglo-Irish to roll three pip die, choosing the sum of any two to divide among the three commands.

Victory Conditions: Standard, 8 elements destroyed with generals and camps counting as 2 elements lost.

Background Resources

Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare: Middle Ages, Hooper & Bennet, 1996
Irish Battles, Hayes-McCoy, 1969, Barnes & Nobles
Medieval Historical Battles 732 to 1485, Peter Sides, 1993, Gosling
Medieval Ireland, Michael Richter, 1995, St. Martin's Press
Medieval Warfare Sourcebook, David Nicolle, 1995, Arms and Armour
The Wars of the Bruces, Colm MacNamee, 1997, Tuckwell

WRG:
DBM Army Lists, Book 4
DBA


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Last Update: March 17, 2000

My thanks to Tim Donovan for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.