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Bannockburn: Scotland’s Greatest Battle for Independence, by Angus Konstam, Aurum Press, London, 2014, $29.99

Konstam argues that Bannockburn, as a rare victory over the English, is a patriotic talisman central to the Scottish psyche, though not necessarily fatal to the union with England as the United Kingdom.

Disputes over feudal rights prompted an invasion in 1296 by Edward I of England to end Scotland’s independence. Nobleman William Wallace mounted early resistance against Edward until killed in 1305. Resistance continued under Robert the Bruce, who had himself crowned king in 1306. He outlasted Edward I and tasked his son and successor Edward II. In 1314 Robert’s brother Edward besieged Stirling Castle, one of the few remaining English strongholds in Scotland.

Edward II sought to relieve Stirling with about 17,000 men and was confronted at Bannockburn by Bruce at the head of about 6,000 men. Konstam refers to the medieval standard of spearmen, archers and cavalry, respectively, as rock, paper and scissors. Bruce innovatively used the rock (spearmen) to smash Edward’s scissors (cavalry) on the confined, marshy ground of Bannockburn to win an improbable victory.

Konstam posits that had the Scots not prevailed, Britain would have risen to dominance centuries earlier to subsume Scottish identity, instead of working out the eventual union between proud equals. While not the last word on the subject, Bannockburn is a well-documented, objectively argued and engagingly written account that includes three useful maps and 14 color photographs.

—William John Shepherd