How crusading Templars gave Bruce the edge at Bannockburn

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Bannockburn has long been heralded as Scotland’s finest victory over the Auld Enemy.

The battle has been celebrated in verse and song ever since Robert the Bruce defied the odds to send King Edward II’s army “hameward tae think again” in 1314.

However, a historian now claims the credit lies not with the Scots but with a band of Templar knights from overseas.

Robert Ferguson, an American lawyer, says a new “statistical analysis” shows that a significant number of Templars arrived in Scotland from other parts of Europe and that they tipped the balance in Bruce’s favour.

The King of France ordered the arrest of any Templars in his country in 1307 – seven years before Bannockburn – and Pope Clement later ordered all European monarchs to follow suit.

Ferguson claims, citing a statistician he hired for his research, that at least 29 battle-hardened knights and sergeants would have ended up in Scotland, based on 335 avoiding capture, and that they influenced Bruce’s tactics. And he argues that the real figure could even be as high as 48.

He said Bruce progressed with unusual speed from small encounters with the English to a full-blown battle at Bannockburn with properly armed men.

Ferguson says he has built up a convincing case from the circumstantial evidence that is available.

“Given the battle plan that is commonly accepted for Bannockburn, I believe that the Templars were necessary,” he said.

“The existence of Templars at Bannockburn follows a consistent line of facts.

“There is now good evidence that a number of Templars, if not most of them, were aware that they were going to be arrested, and they escaped. There’s only two places they really could escape to, Portugal and Scotland.”

Ferguson’s new claims are made in his book The Knights Templar And Scotland, which will be published in the new year by The History Press.

Ferguson is a Californian attorney, a former professor of astronomy, and a former vice-president of his local Clan Ferguson Society. His book comes with an endorsement from Raymond Morris, laird of 14th century Balgonie Castle in Fife, who claims to be the “Grand Prior of the Scots” Templars.

“Every Templar should read it,” said Morris.

There are several Templar groups in modern Scotland.

“I’ve got about 150 people in America of Scots ancestry,” said Morris.

But Ferguson’s claims were met with scorn yesterday by historian Helen Nicholson, who teaches medieval warfare at Cardiff University and is an expert on the Templars.

It has been claimed before that Templars took part in the battle, and Nicholson said Ferguson’s theories drew on discredited Victorian historical fantasies.

Nicholson said the idea was “hardly more credible” than old claims that the kingdom of Scotland was founded by the Egyptian princess Scota, and that Ferguson’s theories reheated an old slur on Bruce’s achievements.

“The myth is being used to show that Robert the Bruce was a weak man who couldn’t win his own battles, rather than the inspirational military leader that he was,” she said.

“I think that the Scots should be fighting this myth.”

Nicholson, author of The Knights Templar On Trial, bluntly said claims of Templars fighting at Bannockburn in 1314 were “rubbish”.

“There are no records of any French-speaking knights appearing in Scotland in the early decades of the 14th century in a country where French speakers would certainly be noticed.” she said.

“The story has an unpleasant result for the Scots, because it makes out that Robert Bruce was incapable of defeating the ‘all-powerful’ English, without the help of foreigners.”

The Templars’ main fighting force was wiped out at the Fall of Acre in 1291, she said. By 1307, any left with fighting skills would have been in Cyprus.

“Bruce’s battle plan at Bannockburn would have followed best contemporary practice which, as the Templars also did the same, would have meant that there were some elements in common. This does not mean that Bruce had actually met any Templars.”

The Templars rose to prominence as knights of the Crusades, guarding revered sites and castles in the Holy Land.

But on Friday, 13 October, 1307, King Philip IV of France, heavily in debt to the order, ordered the arrest of its Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, and other French Templars. Many confessed to numerous sins under torture, and Pope Clement made his order the following year.

The writer Dan Brown drew heavily on Templar stories in his 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code, which was later made into a film, claiming that the order built Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh, and guarded many secrets there with their lives.

By Tim Cornwell

12 thoughts on “How crusading Templars gave Bruce the edge at Bannockburn

    chris said:
    February 1, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Even by the standards of templar pseudo-history this is a remarkably incompetent piece of work. The author has obviously no knowledge whatsoever of medieval Scotland, the book is crammed with suppositions and invention masquerading as historical facts and is well-supplied with material that is just plain wrong. If Mr. Ferguson actually paid for ‘statistical analysis’ then he should try to get his money back.
    Save a few bucks and buy some scottish history instead – try Ranald Nicholson, A. Barrell, F. Watson, A. Duncan, M. Brown, G. Barrow,A. Beam, S. Boardman, C. MacNamee…

    Raymond E.O.Ella said:
    February 27, 2010 at 9:20 am

    I agree with Chris (his posting lst.Feb., 2010), regarding supposition and invention, etc., e.g.,
    There was a Preceptor-Master of the Knights Templar named John de Husflete (Huseflete, Usflete and other scribe-forms) c.1304-1306 at Balantrodoch (now Temple village) in Scotland, he being English,!. It is documented and repeated by writers that “he fled overseas”, but he did not.
    To read his fate and the earlier fate of a Grand-Master of the Knights Templar named Brian de Jay, type Raymond E.O.Ella in a searchbox and click, then scroll-down to “Reedness & Ousefleet” and click.
    Note: this is not intended to be an advert.

    Kind regards,
    Raymond & Marie Ella, (Mr.& Mrs.).

    jamesjames said:
    May 21, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    would some peasants really beat the best army in europe.i dont think so.some templars could.

    bre said:
    September 9, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    I am a middle school teacher in NC and came across your site while researching the Crusades for my history class this year. I just wanted to thank you for the great information and articles.

    We would love it if you could write a couple articles for us, link to us to help us spread trusted resources to other teachers, or even if Tweet or “Like Us” on Facebook. Anything is much appreciated in our quest to spread trusted resources.

    Thanks and keep the great resources coming

    Bre Matthews

    Ian Garvie said:
    November 6, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    So a bunch of patriotic men in the early 14th cent couldn’t fight and defeat the vaunted english with their weak effeminate king and lords who were divided????

    What is this premise based on?

    To see if it could be possible, let’s look at the history of the English Empire and it’s defeats as nations grew sick of their domination. The Indians, The Afghans, the Irish.

    Please if you make statements back them up, don’t try to denigrate the actions of a great little country.

    Alba Gu Brath

    Raymond E.O.Ella said:
    February 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Many academics would agree that the Templars after their capitulation were not at Bannockburn, e.g., research by Dr.Helen Nicholson at Cardiff University being one expert, Helen concluding it was a myth invented in the early 19th century.
    Indeed, after their capitulation and because of wide-spread hysteria about the things they were thought to have done, most of them were preoccupied in saving their own lives, but many were caught and awaiting trial, e.g., some at York, but nothing could be proved against most of these at York and they then served penitence for what they “could” have done by being placed into other religious Christian establishments in the York areas. However, before their disbandantment the Templars were at various battles in Scotland and I would like to refer to a previous posting regarding a certain English Preceptor-Master during the “lull” between battles in Scotland before Robert the Bruce’s supremacy in uniting Scotland and removing the English, Bruce then known by his men has “Brave-Heart”, not William Wallace (Walice and other early scribe-forms), yet the recent film “Braveheart” makes some people think it was William.

    Ray & Marie Ella, (Mr. & Mrs.):
    (Raymond E.O.Ella, author-historian.).

    Raymond E.O.Ella said:
    February 20, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Extra on the English Preceptor-Master of the Knights Templar John de Usflete (junior) at what became Temple Village in Scotland, c.1304-6:
    Although he was named with those Templars awaiting trial at York, he was not accountable, so therefor he remained a fugative and possibily went overseas before those awaiting trial at York.

    Ray & Marie Ella, (Mr.& Mrs.).

    Raymond E.O.Ella said:
    February 21, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    The “lull” between wars with the Scottish and English shortly before the capitulation of the Order of the Knights Templar:

    Although the Templars would respect a monarchy of a country or leaders of provincial areas, their first allegiance was to their vows within their Christian-Faith, hence during the “lull” between battles/wars between the Scottish and English, there was a mixture of both Scottish and English Templars united because of this and the “lull”, e.g., at Balantradoch (Balanrodach, etc.) later known as Temple Village. Indeed, the Proceptor-Master there c.1304-6 named John de Usflete (Husflete, Huseflete, Usefleet, etc.) was a Yorkshireman and some other Preceptor-Masters were English also, so one could say they had taken-charge of the Scottish Templars but their faith was first priority.
    During the “lull” the English had temporary control over some areas of Scotland until Robert the Bruce’s supremacy over the clan-chieftains and he taking charge, resulting in he removing the English from Scotland and Bruce indeed uniting Scotland then he having a greater supremacy, but why he was ex-communicated by the Pope is conjectural.
    Sir John de Usflete (senior), father of the said Preceptor-Master was in the Welsh wars and later in Scotland with King Edward the lst, but this John died sometime between c.1302-4.

    Raymond & Marie Ella, (Mr. & Mrs.).

    Raymond E.O.Ella said:
    June 29, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    To view pictures in connection with the Templar John de Usflete (c.1304-6) go to “Flickr” and type Raymond E.O.Ella in their searchbox and click.
    Ray & Marie Ella, (Mr. & Mrs.)

    Raymond E.O.Ella said:
    July 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    It was reported in 1309 that John de Usflete (junior) fled overseas from Scotland. However, in 1316 he was with his family in Yorkshire, England. Once again, for new postings type Raymond E.O.Ella in a searchbox and click, then go to “Reedness & Ousefleet” and click.

    Ray & Marie Ella, (Mr. & Mrs.).

    Lin Robinson said:
    September 1, 2011 at 4:00 pm


    Mr. Ferguson writes a good story but absolutely untrue. There were no Templars at Bannockburn, at least not in a body. I will concede that a few may have attached themselves to Bruce but it is more likely they were fighting for Edward, and not as Templars but ex-Templars. They certainly had no influence on the outcome of the battle, if they were there at all.

    Jim Baines. said:
    February 22, 2012 at 8:40 am

    I agree with Raymond E.O.Ella about the film Braveheart and Robert the Bruce.
    The film makesout that Bruce was not in charge of himself and mainly answerable to the clan-chieftains, yet the latter would have been the case until Bruce had enough of some chieftains (who were trading with England so did not want any conflict), then Bruce became in charge of his own mind and united the Scottish-folk, this resulting in removing the English from Scotland.
    Robert the Bruce was truly a king of “all” Scotland and his troops having nicknamed him “Brave-Hearted”.

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