The Scottish army did not amount to the third part of the force of the English; and Wallace, who dreaded this great disparity, and knew how much Edward was likely to suffer by the protraction of the war and the want of provisions, at first thought of a retreat, and hastened to lead off his soldiers; but he soon found that the English were too near to admit of this being accomplished without certain destruction; and he therefore proceeded to draw up his army, so as best to avail himself of the nature of the ground, and to sustain the attack of the English. He divided his infantry into four compact divisions, called Schiltrons, composed of his lancers. In the first line the men knelt, with their lances turned obliquely outwards, so as to present a serried front to the enemy on every side. In this infantry consisted the chief strength of the Scottish army, for the soldiers stood so close, and were so linked or chained together, that to break the line was extremely difficult. In the spaces between these divisions were placed the archers, and in the rear was drawn up the Scottish cavalry, consisting of about a thousand heavy-armed horse.
After hearing mass, the King of England, being informed of the Scottish disposition of battle, hesitated to lead his army forward to the attack, and proposed that they should pitch their tents, and allow the soldiers and the horses time for rest and refreshment. This was opposed by his officers as unsafe, on account of there being nothing but a small rivulet between the two armies. "What then would you advise?" asked Edward. "An immediate advance," said they; "the field and the victory will be ours." In God's name, then, let it be so," replied the king; and without delay, the barons who commanded the first division, the Marshal of England, and the Earls of Hereford and Lincoln, led their soldiers in a direct line against the enemy. They were not aware, however, of an extensive moss which stretched along the front of the Scottish position, and on reaching it, were obliged to make a circuit to the west to get rid of the obstacle.
This retarded their attack; meanwhile the second line, under the command of the Bishop of Durham, being better informed of the nature of the ground, in advancing inclined to the east with the same object. The bishop's cavalry were fiery and impetuous. Thirty-six banners floated above the mass of spears, and showed how many leaders of distinction were in the field; but Anthony Beck, who had seen enough of war to know the danger of too precipitate an attack, commanded them to hold back, till the third line, under the king, came up to support them. "Stick to thy mass, bishop," cried Ralph Basset of Drayton, "and teach not us what we ought to do in the face of an enemy," On then, replied the bishop—" set on in your own way. We are all soldiers to-day, and bound to do our duty." So saying, they hastened forward, and in a few minutes engaged with the first column of the Scots; whilst the first line, which had extricated itself from the morass, commenced its attack upon the other flank. Wallace's anxiety to avoid a battle had, in all probability arisen from his having little dependence on the fidelity of the heavy-armed cavalry, commanded by those nobles who hated and feared him; and the event showed how just were his suspicions: for the moment the lines met, the whole body of the Scottish horse shamelessly retired without striking a blow.