The Wars of Independence: Bannockburn, 1314 I

Hassall, John; Bannockburn; Glasgow Museums;

Hassall, John; Bannockburn; Glasgow Museums;


It is generally accepted by those interested in the history of Scotland that the battle of Bannockburn was a mistake, one which Robert the Bruce had not wished to fight, a commitment foisted upon him by his ebullient and chivalrous brother, Edward. In November 1313 Edward Bruce was besieging Stirling Castle, the most important Scottish stronghold in English hands. The Constable of Stirling Castle was a Scot, Sir Philip de Mowbray, in the pay of Edward II; he commanded a garrison of about 100 men. Mowbray had fought against Bruce at Methven in 1306 and was appointed governor of Stirling Castle in 1311. At the outset of the siege, Bruce invited de Mowbray to surrender the castle. De Mowbray refused. When Edward Bruce assumed command of the siege, he entered negotiations with de Mowbray, after which the two men concluded an agreement for the conditional surrender of Stirling. De Mowbray had intelligence that Edward II was raising an army to invade Scotland in 1314, so he proposed that he would surrender to Edward Bruce if the English army failed to be within three leagues (nine miles) of Stirling Castle on Midsummer’s Day, on the Feast of John the Baptist, 24 June 1314.

To understand Edward II’s mindset in the autumn of 1313, we must briefly revisit the events which occurred between 1304 and 1313, the focus being on the largely English-held south-east of Scotland, with particular emphasis on the earldom of Dunbar. As we saw in the previous chapter, Patrick, 8th Earl of Dunbar was one of the few staunch supporters of Edward I – more, it has to be said out of fear than love of the ruthless Hammer of the Scots. When Edward I appointed Dunbar as governor of Ayr Castle in 1304 many questioned the king’s judgement. Ayr Castle was a strategically important base. Dunbar had proved himself to be nothing short of incompetent, indecisive and something of a liability; for example, he was criticized by the pro-English garrison of Ayr who went to the trouble of sending Edward I a petition suggesting Dunbar be relieved of his command. The soldiers at Ayr complained of Dunbar’s lack of military skills and that he was doing nothing to counter the threat from nearby Turnberry Castle, held by Scottish forces. The Ayr petition does not mince words:

[The men at Ayr] have heard nothing from Earl Patrick whom the king has given the keeping of the country, at which they wonder much.

Despite Patrick Dunbar’s lamentable performance, Edward seems to have developed a fondness for his son and heir, also called Patrick. He sent a cask of wine to the young man’s wife Ermigarda and other gifts to the earl-in-waiting. When the 8th Earl died in 1308, his son Patrick, 9th Earl of Dunbar and 2nd of March, swore fealty to Edward II who ascended the throne of England when his father died at Burgh-on-Sands in 1307, leading yet another army against Scotland. By 1308 many of Dunbar’s knight-tenants had loosened their ties with England, declaring for Bruce. Those who remained loyal to ‘the King’s peace’ – meaning Edward II’s – began to pay heavily as a result of Edward’s ineffective ‘immunity’ which he declared would protect them from Bruce’s men foraging for food in the rich agricultural earldom of Dunbar which covered a fair portion of East Lothian and the Merse (Berwickshire). By 1313 only Patrick, 9th Earl of Dunbar and Sir Adam de Gordon supported Edward and even by then Gordon was beginning to waver. The Chronicle of Lanercost accused those Scots who remained loyal to Edward of doing so ‘insincerely’ and only to safeguard the lands they held of Edward in England. Despite their continuing presence in the south-east, with its castles of Jedburgh, Selkirk, Berwick, Dunbar and Yester, the English were sorely tried in their attempts to maintain order and offer protection from Bruce’s roving war-bands, which constantly plundered farms and carried off food and livestock. By autumn 1313 East Lothian and Berwickshire were close to exhaustion. The 9th Earl of Dunbar’s lands were not only being plundered by Bruce but were also at the mercy of the Berwick and Roxburgh garrisons – Dunbar’s supposed allies – whose rascally leaders demanded ransom money and food in return for their ‘protection’ from Bruce. By September 1313 Dunbar was a man at the end of his tether. In desperation he wrote an impassioned letter to Edward II, complaining bitterly about the blackmail and robbery suffered by his tenants. His letter is quoted in part:

Petition to the king by the people of Scotland [sic] by their envoys, Sir Patrick Dunbar, earl of March and Sir Adam de Gordon … Matters are daily getting worse, as for the ‘suffraunce’ [protection from molestation] they [Dunbar and Gordon] have [been granted] till this Martinmas [11 November] they had to give 1,000 qrs. [quarters, or about thirteen tons] of corn yet their livestock is plundered, partly by the enemy [Bruce] and partly by the garrisons of Berwick and Roxburgh, especially by Gilbert de Medilton [Middleton] and Thomas de Pencaitlande and their company at Berwick … when ‘upplaunde’ [people living in the hills] go to buy their vivers [provisions] in Berwick, the garrison spy out and seize them, Confining them in houses and carrying off others to Northumberland, holding them in concealment and ‘duresce’ [restraint] there till they get a ransom – and the Scots in Northumberland for resettling them … some of them at the end of their ‘suffraunce’ at Midsummer purchase from Sir Robert de Bruys [Dunbar refuses to acknowledge Bruce as king of Scotland] at his late coming, a truce of fifteen days, and on his [Bruce’s] retreat, after they had returned to their houses, the next morning the warden and the whole garrison of Berwick came and took the people in their beds, carrying them off dead and alive to Berwick, and held them to ransom viz. on their foray within the bounds of the earldom of Dunbar, both gentlemen and others, to the number of 30. Also 300 fat beasts, 4,000 sheep besides horses and dead stock [i.e. beef salted for the winter] … some of the Berwick garrison, with Thomas de Pencaitlande as ‘Guyde’ [i.e. leader] carried of [sic] some of the poor people to Berwick. Those who had wherewithal were ransomed; those who had nothing were killed and thrown into the Water of the Tweed.

A sorry tale indeed. But was it enough to bring Edward to Scotland with an army? Edward responded to Dunbar on 29 November 1313, promising that an English army would come to Scotland in the summer of 1314. We know that Edward was determined to engage Bruce in open battle and thus rid himself of the troublesome Scot. What is perhaps astonishing about Edward’s decision was that he had no intelligence of the deal struck between Sir Philip de Mowbray and Edward Bruce to relieve Stirling Castle by Midsummer’s Day 1314. It is certain that Edward knew of the siege of the castle but Dunbar’s letter surely played an important part in his decision and which, excepting two recent accounts, most historians have chosen to ignore. Of course it is true that Edward’s subsequent invasion was a matter of chivalry; he was only apprised of the de Mowbray-Edward Bruce arrangement less than four weeks before he took the field at Bannockburn. As to the troubles caused by his garrisons in southern Scotland, these were caused by Edward’s failure to pay or provision them, so they resorted to preying on their own allies to feed themselves.

It seems incredible that Edward contemplated an invasion of Scotland in 1314, particularly after Bruce’s capture of the castles of Roxburgh, Edinburgh and other lesser fortresses early in 1314. In February, Roxburgh fell to Sir James Douglas and Randolph, Earl of Moray, took Edinburgh the following month. With only the relatively strong castles of Berwick and Dunbar in English hands, why did Edward attempt a major invasion of Scotland, the first for several years? It was not solely to lift the siege of Stirling; he was determined to draw Bruce into a set-piece battle and settle the future of Scotland once and for all. But he was not the man his father had been …

Many English knights and pro-English Scots in the south-east of Scotland were growing weary and disillusioned (‘many say openly victory will go to Bruce’)6 defending a country where Bruce’s guerrilla form of waging war brought sudden – and bloody – attacks. When the English parliament met that autumn of 1313 Edward was granted a subsidy to finance his campaign. On 23 December summons were issued to the English magnates, minor officials and clergy to organize forces and muster at Berwick on 10 June 1314.

When Bruce learnt of his brother’s pact with Sir Philip de Mowbray, he was devastated. Bruce knew he had neither the manpower nor the weaponry to engage the might of England in a set-piece battle, particularly in defence of a castle he would have simply dismantled on its surrender. Bruce, the guerrilla leader par excellence knew that, realistically, he was unlikely to raise an army capable of engaging, let alone defeating, Edward in the open field. Edward Bruce had forced him into a corner and he was apprehensive at the prospect of meeting Edward on his terms rather than his own. A defeat in 1314 could easily topple him from his still shaky throne. At least he was consoled by the fact that, in addition to Roxburgh and Edinburgh, Linlithgow Castle had fallen to his forces. Now only a handful of minor castles held out for England, the only formidable strongholds being Berwick and Dunbar; these would be vital to Edward on his march north in the summer of 1314, acting as provisioning bases for his supply ships.

Edward was jubilant, confident of victory. If, as is certain, he knew of Bruce’s siege of Stirling Castle, at least he knew where to find the elusive Scottish army and smash it with his heavy cavalry, archers and foot soldiers, many of whom were veterans who had served under his father in Wales and France.

As the summer drew near Bruce intensified his preparations for a battle he was reluctant to fight. At least on this occasion, his peasant army possessed more than the crude farm implements many of the Scottish host army of John Comyn had to fight with against Edward I’s army at Dunbar in 1296. Also, the hard-won victories – albeit minor – at Glen Trool and Loudon Hill had forged a new fighting spirit in his men; a combination of experience, better weapons and armour, intensive training and, above all, the choice of favourable ground, would stand the Scottish army in good stead on the days of the fight at the Bannock Burn in Stirlingshire.

By 27 May Edward II and his vast army had reached the small Northumberland village of Newminster. It was there that he learnt of the compact signed by Sir Philip de Mowbray and Edward Bruce for the relief of Stirling Castle. Mowbray, given a safe-conduct from Bruce, appeared in person before the English king to deliver the news. Edward was delighted; now he knew precisely where Bruce’s army would be on 24 June, the day of the deadline for the relief of Stirling. At last he would be able to confront his elusive enemy and destroy him.

The sizes of the English and Scottish armies at Bannockburn have never been satisfactorily computed. English estimates are as low as 1,300 cavalry and 7,000 foot soldiers; other accounts give 3,000 cavalry and 15,000 foot8 and 2,000 cavalry with 15,000 – 20,000 foot. The latter figures are modern estimates and are probably more accurate than those given by near contemporary accounts which range from 60,000 to 100,000. A clearer estimate is given in the English Patent Rolls of the time which record 6,000 cavalry and 21,540 infantry – more realistic figures. The English baggage train was certainly impressive in size, giving an indication of Edward’s strength; the train was loaded with equipment, tents, weapons and provisions, some 160 wagons alone containing live poultry to feed his men.

The Scottish figures at Bannockburn are equally in doubt; some estimates are ridiculous at worst and dubious at best. Barbour’s The Brus gives 30,000, others nearer our time give 20,000. Modern estimates favour 500 light cavalry and 8,000 foot or between 4,500 and 6,000 in all. So, given the more realistic of both sets of figures, at Bannockburn Bruce was outnumbered by about three to one.

As mentioned earlier, Edward’s army contained many veterans from earlier Anglo-Scottish conflicts as well as those his father had fought in the process of subduing Wales. Among his prominentes were Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and hereditary High Constable of England, Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Buchan (a title given by Edward as Beaumont had married a sister of John Comyn of Buchan), Aymer de Valence who had fought and decisively beaten Bruce at Methven in 1306, Edmund de Mauley, steward of the royal household and, most importantly, the young Sir Henry de Bohun, Hereford’s nephew and cousin of the Earl of Gloucester. Others present in Edward’s army and veterans of encounters with Wallace and Bruce were Sir Robert de Umfraville, Earl of Angus, Sir Robert Clifford and Sir Thomas Gray of Heton. Hereford, Beaumont, Clifford and Valence had all been present on the field of Falkirk against Wallace in 1298.

Sadly, there are few contemporary accounts of what took place at Bannockburn. For much of the information, we have to rely on fourteenth century accounts written several years after the battle. Both Scottish and English chronicles are brief, often vague, contradictory and misleading. The main sources from the Scottish perspective are found in John Barbour’s The Brus, written about sixty years after the battle. (Barbour was only two years old when Bannockburn took place but he was fortunate to have met some of the veterans who were present on the field.) Barbour’s account is romantic and dramatic and, it has to be said, untrustworthy in many respects, on a par with Blind Harry’s account of William Wallace which is also full of romance and untruths. The English version of Bannockburn is recorded in Vita Edwardi Secundi (Life of Edward the Second) which was reputedly written by an anonymous author thought to be a secular clerk in Edward’s household, given his lofty style. Another fairly accurate account can be found in the Chronicle of Lanercost Priory in northern England; its unknown author(s) cover the period 1201 to 1346. Yet another reliable account is Scalacronica, written by Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, whose father was taken prisoner at Bannockburn. Thomas Gray junior was taken prisoner by the Scots in 1355 at the battle of Nesbit Moor; during his years in captivity in Edinburgh Castle he whiled away the hours writing a history of England and Scotland from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to 1362.

As to the site of the battlefield, its precise location has never been satisfactorily identified. As the Bannock Burn from which the battle takes its name runs from west to east to the south of Saint Ninian’s church near Stirling and its castle, it is more than likely that the second day of the battle on 24 June 1314 was fought on the north bank of the Bannock Burn, the Scots emerging from the Torwood woods in the west to confront Edward in the east. Bruce’s position on the second day of the battle was ideal ground for his foot soldiers but bad news for the English horsed knights and men-at-arms on whom Edward II relied to deliver the knockout blow to Bruce. The English foot soldiers were held in reserve to carry out a mopping-up operation of the wounded and disorganized Scottish spearmen. That was the master plan. It went horribly wrong.

The acres of woodland in the Torwood served to mask the strength – or, rather, the weakness of the Scottish army. The Carse of Balquhiderock, a boggy flood plain of the river Forth would also reduce the impact of the English cavalry. The old Roman Road which joined the road to Stirling offered the only dry, firm approach to Bruce’s position, which is why he had his men dig hundreds of metre-deep pits containing sharp stakes and calthrops – four-spiked iron balls intended to maim horses – on either side of it and elsewhere on the field, similar to what he had used at Loudon Hill.

It is nothing short of surprising that Aymer de Valence, whom Bruce had defeated at Loudon, failed to alert Edward II of the possibility of these well-camouflaged obstacles being present at Bannockburn; perhaps he dismissed the idea, thinking that Bruce would not use the same tactics again. This was to prove a grave error which was discovered when it was too late. The English destriers or war-horses came to grief when they encountered the leg-snapping pits hidden by a light covering of loose twigs, grass and turfs.

Let us now consider the formations Bruce employed to meet Edward’s army. He raised his standard at the Borestone, where he divided his force into three divisions, or battles. If we accept that the Scottish army numbered between 6,000 and 8,000, each battle organized in the schiltron formation would have contained between 2,000 – 2,500 spearmen, with a separate force of 500 light cavalry. On 23 June Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, commanded the vanguard, Edward Bruce the middle-guard with Bruce in charge of the rearguard, or reserve. The light cavalry was commanded by Robert Keith the Marischal (marshal) of Scotland and possibly Sir James Douglas. At the outset of hostilities, Randolph took up position with orders to guard the road which led to Saint Ninian’s Church; it is not entirely clear whether this position was in or near the Torwood, south of the Roman Road, or immediately in front of the Church, but either is possible. It could be argued that, in the early stages of 23 June, Randolph was in fact positioned in the Torwood, then made a strategic withdrawal to the second position on the approach of the English cavalry. The drawback to both positions was that Randolph’s schiltrons could be easily outflanked and isolated by the English coming up the road from Falkirk, one which branched off up the old Roman Road, a dry, hard surface ideal for heavy cavalry. Be that as it may, Bruce had set his trap skilfully; he had ordered his men to dig up the pathways through the woods and elsewhere, which would cause difficulties for cavalry and foot alike.

In the knowledge that Edward and his host did not cross the Border until 10 June, Bruce put the intervening weeks to good use, preparing his position and training his men to a peak of fitness. He also practised them in the art of fighting in schiltron formation which had served Wallace well at Stirling Brig and himself at Loudon Hill. The Roman Road was crucial in these operations, being firm and dry and leading to Stirling; Bruce accurately predicted that Edward would use the road to relieve the castle. Bruce’s preparations were designed to limit the use of the 6,000-strong cavalry divisions and prevent an all-out massive charge on his army which would have destroyed it.

One can but speculate what was in the mind of Robert the Bruce on the night of 22/23 June 1314. Was he confident of victory? Did he sleep soundly? He knew in his heart he had chosen good ground for his men, ground that would protect them as much as was possible from the awesome English heavy cavalry. As the hours ticked away, no doubt he held a last council-of-war with his brother Edward, Randolph, Douglas and Keith. Edward Bruce was confident; Randolph was keen to prove his mettle, all thoughts of his earlier criticism of the way his uncle waged war forgotten – or conveniently put aside for the moment.

The Wars of Independence: Bannockburn, 1314 II


First Day: Sunday, 23 June, the Eve of the Vigil of St John the Baptist

Early that bright, warm summer morning, Bruce’s camp was already astir. He sent the Black Douglas and Robert Keith to reconnoitre the approaching English army. What the two men saw on that soft June day must have turned their hearts to stone. Edward’s army was an awesome sight to behold, exceeding the armies his father had led into Scotland in 1296 and 1298. In haste Douglas and Keith galloped back to the Scottish camp to report to Bruce. We have no way of knowing how Bruce reacted to their news but he must have been seriously troubled by what they told him. Despite the extremely favourable position he held, Bruce knew that if he withdrew, not only would Stirling be relieved but, more importantly, his authority and standing in Scotland would be lost, perhaps forever. He must have taken comfort from the fact that, during the night, there had been no desertions from his small army. That day would test Bruce to an extent as never before: if he withdrew from Bannockburn the Scots would damn him for being a weak and opportunist king; if he stood and fought, he might be defeated and lose everything. Bruce knew his army was no match for Edward’s in terms of numbers but he placed his faith in the terrain he had chosen and the high morale of his troops. Also, he had four capable lieutenants in his brother Edward, Randolph, Douglas and Keith. And among his knights were David de Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl and Walter the High Steward of Scotland, his son-in-law.

As the hours ticked away the day became oppressively hot; the Scots lay in their concealed places, listening to the hooves of the enemy cavalry, the stamp of thousands of feet as the English army came into view. It must have been a terrifying sight. So many … De Mowbray’s garrison watching from the battlements of Stirling Castle must have felt relieved, knowing that, very soon, the Scottish siege would be lifted and Bruce’s army annihilated. Almost a month had passed since Sir Philip de Mowbray had been given safe conduct to warn Edward of the deadline for the relief of Stirling.

The vanguard of the English army was led by Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, and Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford; among their knights was Hereford’s nephew Henry de Bohun who would play a brief but dramatic part in the prelude to Bannockburn that day. Stirling was ten miles distant, the Torwood half that. Where were the Scots? All Gloucester and Hereford could see was Sir Philip de Mowbray and his escort coming towards them; no doubt Bruce had granted de Mowbray safe conduct under the conventional rules of chivalry which allowed the commander of a beleaguered castle to parley with the commander of the relieving force. Thus far Bruce was playing by the rules; it would be the first and last time in the battle about to commence. Perhaps Bruce entertained a forlorn hope that were de Mowbray granted an audience with Edward II he might persuade the king not to attack the Scots as the size of Bruce’s army was unknown. Mowbray was taken before Edward and informed him that the Scots were still in the vicinity, that they had destroyed the pathways through the woods and that Edward should advance with caution.

Edward was unmoved by de Mowbray’s pleas. He had not come all the way to Stirling to relieve a castle but to finally confront Robert the Bruce in a battle where he would defeat the Scottish king and regain control of the country. That day de Mowbray left Edward in jubilant mood, returning to the castle which he was certain would be relieved on 24 June. He was followed by the vanguard of Edward’s army led by Gloucester and Hereford. The plan was simple. The English first division of cavalry, the vanguard, would approach Stirling through the Torwood; the second division of 300 knights and men-at-arms led by Sir Robert Clifford would guard Gloucester’s right flank and proceed to Stirling Castle. With Clifford effectively to the rear of the main Scottish army, Bruce would be unable to withdraw in safety. The third division, led by Edward II himself, would remain in the rear as reserve, along with the thousands of foot soldiers who lagged behind the three cavalry divisions.

Gloucester and Hereford passed through the gloomy Torwood without incident, again relieved to emerge into the sunshine. Now the last obstacle was the woods beyond Torwood where Gloucester and Hereford rightly believed it was there they would confront Bruce and his army. The fact that the vanguard passed through Torwood without being attacked confirms that if Randolph had been positioned there he had withdrawn to the vicinity of Saint Ninian’s Church.

Advancing with caution and still fearful of ambush, Gloucester ordered forward the contingent of Welsh foot soldiers attached to his division. The Welshmen were led by Henry de Bohun, Hereford’s nephew who was keen to win acclaim in battle. The hot-blooded knight had boasted that he would either kill Bruce or take him prisoner.18 De Bohun was foolhardy enough to press forward ahead of the Welsh foot, keen to strike the first blow; he cantered into the woods and was immediately lost from view in the dark interior. Then suddenly he saw Bruce, seated not on a war-horse but a palfrey, more suited to the wooded terrain. De Bohun recognized Bruce from the gold circlet or crown on his basinet or helmet; Bruce was armed only with a war axe as he busied himself organizing his division, the Scottish rearguard. De Bohun could not believe his luck.

It is not known who saw whom first. De Bohun lowered his visor and put spur to his war-horse. Probably the first Bruce knew of his assailant was the thunder of hooves coming towards him; realizing de Bohun was alone he stood his ground. De Bohun increased his canter to a charge and lowered his lance; the combined weight of horse and armoured rider was formidable and should have ensured a kill as de Bohun aimed the tip of his lance at Bruce’s chest. Suddenly, at the last moment, the crucial moment, Bruce shifted his palfrey to the side so that the Englishman’s lance could not strike home. Then, as de Bohun drew level with him, Bruce raised himself upwards and, standing in the stirrups of his palfrey, brought his axe down on de Bohun’s head. The sickening impact not only cleaved de Bohun’s basinet but his skull, killing him instantly. The blow was so fierce that the axe-head snapped from its wooden shaft, buried in the luckless knight’s head. Bruce turned away to resume his positioning of the rearguard, shrugging off the rebukes from those Scottish lords who had witnessed the incident. They vociferously accused him of putting his life at risk. Bruce simply replied that he was sorry for the loss of his favourite axe.

Although, in terms of the battle to come, this was a minor incident, it could have had serious consequences for the Scots; it was obvious that only one man would emerge unscathed from the encounter. To the English, de Bohun’s violent death was a frightening spectacle; to the Scots, it was inspirational. Bruce’s men poured out of the woods brandishing spears, axes and swords, smashing into Gloucester’s and Hereford’s division. After a brief fight the two sides withdrew, neither having been beaten. However, the Scots had won a psychological victory, the English suffered a loss of face, which was almost tantamount to a defeat.

Next to be challenged that day was Sir Robert Clifford’s division which had slipped past Thomas Randolph’s division, sent to protect the road to Stirling Castle. The very move that Bruce had predicted had happened; either Randolph was taken by surprise or he was preoccupied with other matters. Bruce chided Randolph for his lapse. (As many who were schoolchildren of this author’s generation will remember, Bruce reputedly chided Randolph for his sin of omission by saying that ‘a rose has fallen from your chaplet’, a chaplet being a heraldic device consisting of a garland of leaves bearing four flowers.) Whatever the truth of it, Randolph made haste to correct his error, compounding his dereliction of duty by disobeying Bruce’s express orders not to engage the English on open ground. Perhaps courageous, Randolph’s order to his schiltron to move against Clifford was also foolhardy and could have brought grief to a third of Bruce’s army. Apart from the fact that the schiltron was the early equivalent of the British Army square used in the Napoleonic Wars, neither was intended to be a mobile formation; foot soldiers caught in open ground by cavalry stood little chance of surviving. The whole purpose of the schiltron was defensive but Randolph made an almost unthinkable decision; he ordered his schiltron to advance in formation towards Clifford and his associates, Sir Henry de Beaumont and Sir Thomas de Gray, with their 300 cavalry and Welsh foot soldiers in support.

The sudden appearance of the Scottish vanguard out of the woods unbalanced Clifford momentarily; he was thrown into indecision. There was a heated exchange between de Beaumont and de Gray as to how the English should respond to Randolph’s challenge. Beaumont was for pulling back to draw the Scots farther away from their protective woods. Gray disagreed. Beaumont accused him of being afraid, a taunt which stung Gray who reputedly said he would not flee out of fear and proved his point by charging Randolph’s schiltron, accompanied by a single English knight, William Deyncourt, perhaps like Henry de Bohun, keen to win acclaim. In the ensuing charge Deyncourt was killed and Gray was taken prisoner.

Shocked into action by this spectacle, Clifford and de Beaumont – both had engaged Wallace’s schiltrons at Falkirk in 1298 – led their men forward, attacking Randolph on every side. Bruce was horrified when he arrived on the scene to ascertain how Randolph was resolving his earlier error. Sir James Douglas begged Bruce to allow him to assist Randolph; Bruce refused at first, then relented. At the sight of the Black Douglas, the English lost their grip of an opportune situation and began to disengage, falling back, then scattered. Most of Clifford’s men sought refuge and safety in the main army.

At last the sun began to slip down behind the trees. It had been a long, gruelling and anxious day for both armies. For Bruce it had been one of unexpected success. He had achieved what he had set out to do – avoid having to commit his entire army against the might of Edward II in the open field. The Scots retired into the woods to a supper of bread and water, then a few hours of sound sleep. The English did not enjoy the same luxuries. All night they laboured in the boggy, waterlogged ground they occupied. During that short night a deserter from Edward’s army crossed over the Bannock Burn; Sir Alexander Seton defected to Bruce, advising him that all was far from well in Edward II’s camp and that if Bruce attacked the English the following day he would defeat Edward with ease. The only disappointment Bruce suffered that night was the defection of David de Strathbogie, the Earl of Atholl, who harboured animosity towards Bruce’s brother Edward.

In the English camp men were tired, yet they could not sleep. The foot soldiers were weary after a thirty-mile march from Falkirk in oppressive heat. The cavalry were dispirited by the loss of Henry de Bohun and the capture of Sir Thomas de Gray. That night Edward’s knights and men-at-arms did not lay off their armour and they kept their weapons close by, leaving their horses saddled and bridled.

Edward’s men were physically exhausted even before the bulk of his army had struck a blow against Bruce; they were also depressed and anxious, dispirited by the loss of two prominent knights. Only Edward II was ebullient, confident that on the morrow he would draw Bruce into the open and defeat him and his contemptible little army. Just one physical objective lay in his way – the Bannock Burn, a steep-sided, deep and marshy stream in 1314, unlike its modern descendant. Edward had to ford the stream before daybreak; he set his men the task of seeking all manner of wooden supports which would serve as walkways for his cavalry and infantrymen. Foraging parties scoured the vicinity of Stirling to obtain wooden doors, frames, roof beams from local cottages; even the thatch from these cottages was put to use to ensure a safe crossing of the Bannock Burn for Edward’s men.

That stifling hot night of June, one of the shortest of the year, Bruce delivered a speech worthy of Winston Churchill in 1940. Bruce reminded those present of their suffering at the hands of the English; he spoke of those who had lost brothers, relatives and friends in combat as well as those who languished in English prisons, including his own wife and family. Of the English he said that their glory was in possessions, whereas for Scotsmen their glory was in the name of God and victory in battle. Heartened by the news he had received from Alexander Seton, Bruce spoke of the low morale in Edward’s army, saying that if their hearts were cast down their bodies were worth nothing. He announced to his nobles and knights that the following day he intended to stand and fight but reassured those present that if they disagreed with his decision he would withdraw from the field. It was a clever speech which had the desired effect. With one voice his men said they were willing to stand and fight at his side. Bruce reminded the nobles that Edward had brought vast riches with him and that even the poorest among his army would enrich themselves with plunder in the event of victory. This was a skilful ploy, given the massive baggage train in full view of the Scottish army. Bruce ended his speech by reminding those present that they were not only fighting for their personal freedom and lives but also those of their wives, children and families as well as for their lands, not for the power Edward craved. That night the Scots slept well; their morale was high.

It was not so in the English camp on that shortest of nights. The reverses of that day hung heavily on the minds of some of the veteran leaders like Gloucester and Hereford. Both men knew that it was imperative that Edward’s army must be as close as possible to the Scottish army, hidden in the depths of the woods. It was imperative that the English commanders should find ground firm enough to bear the weight of war-horses and their heavily armoured riders. The Bannock Burn proved a difficult obstacle so that it took most of the night for the heavy cavalry to splash across the burn and scramble up the Scottish side. Those that crossed over got little sleep; it was feared that the Scots might make a night attack, so they stood to in full armour. The men who had negotiated the burn were exhausted physically; now the strain began to take its toll mentally. Seeds of doubt had been sown that day, with the unexpected and bloody deaths of de Bohun and Deyncourt and the capture of Gray. It was rare for horsed knights to be killed in battle but the English had lost two of their most prominent warriors in a single afternoon, even before the main battle. Furthermore, the English vanguard had been repulsed ignominiously by foot soldiers. The conscript levies of English foot knew that all was not well in their army; the common soldiers looked up to the knights both as their betters and masters, men for whom they worked and to whom they owed their livelihoods. The success of their lords in battle had elevated them, an aristocracy of warriors who had proven their worth in countless battles. But as the foot soldiers slogged their way across the Bannock Burn murmurs of discontent drifted above the quiet, running waters of the burn. Only Edward himself seemed unmoved, determined to engage Bruce in a battle he had craved for years.

The Wars of Independence: Bannockburn, 1314 III


Second Day: Monday, 24 June, Feast of John the Baptist

As the first rays of morning sunshine began to insinuate among the trees of the Torwod the English army, drawn up on the north bank of the Bannock Burn, witnessed a sight they had not expected to see. The entire Scottish army began to emerge from the woods, in full view. Then, in the growing light of the summer sun, thousands of Scots suddenly fell on their knees to celebrate Mass led by the Abbott of Inchaffray who then delivered a speech urging the Scots to fight for their freedom. The sudden appearance of the Scots took the English completely by surprise. On seeing the entire Scottish host drop to its knees, Edward asked his companion, Sir Ingram de Umfraville, a traitor Scot, if the Scots intended to fight, then he joked that Bruce’s men were begging for mercy. De Umfraville did not hesitate in his answer, saying that the Scots were not asking for mercy from Edward but from God for what they were about to do.

The English knights hastily made the final preparations for a battle they had not expected to fight that early morning. At the head of the vanguard flew the banners of Gloucester and Hereford; the main division led by Edward hoisted the royal standard of the Plantagenet king with its device of three gold lions or leopards on a field of crimson. Opposite, a great mast bore the royal standard of Scotland, a red lion rampant with a red bordure on a field of gold. Bruce positioned his three divisions with Randolph’s and Edward Bruce’s abreast, the two forming a Scottish front line several ranks deep, about 6,000 spearmen. Bruce took up his position in the rear along with Sir Robert Keith’s mobile unit of 500 light horse, ready to deploy wherever the English looked like outflanking Bruce’s two main columns. Then Bruce ordered the Scots to advance at a measured pace towards the English vanguard.

There was considerable consternation in the English front lines of horsed knights and men-at-arms. Apart from the astonishing spectacle of finding the Scots still to their front after the previous day’s skirmishing, some voiced their opinion that it was bad luck to fight on the day of the Feast of St John the Baptist and that the king should wait until the following day. Unsurprisingly, it was not the young, inexperienced knights who voiced this opinion but the veterans. Their plea for delay attracted scorn from the younger men who were anxious to gain honours for themselves. Chief among those countenancing caution was the Earl of Gloucester who made his disquiet known to Edward as to the state of mind in the army as well as arguing that Edward should respect the feast day. The English king was in no mood to entertain suggestions that he should delay the action. Edward even accused Gloucester of treachery and deceit when his leading commander begged him to wait until the next morning to attack Bruce. Gloucester responded by saying he was neither traitor nor liar, returning sullenly to the vanguard he commanded. It was evident that there was unrest in the high command and that veterans like Gloucester were showing signs of breaking under pressure.

As the Scottish army slowly but steadily advanced, the knights and men-at-arms made their final preparations to engage Bruce’s men. From their position, with the sun at their backs on that longest day – it is reckoned that Bannockburn was fought and won before 9am – the English cavalry could clearly see the thousands of Scottish foot soldiers, a solid mass bristling with spears. Curiously, despite the vital role the English archers had played in earlier battles such as Falkirk, they were hardly used in the battle, although some sources credit them with a role. Barbour’s The Brus has the English bowmen driven from the field by Robert Keith’s light cavalry but this is not confirmed by other accounts. If Edwards’s archers were engaged at all, it was against the smaller formation of Scottish archers who had the benefit of striking home with their arrows more than the English bowmen, whose arrows were embedded in nothing more than the stout trees in the woods.

Leading the vanguard of the English heavy cavalry, Gloucester and Hereford ordered their knights and men-at-arms to advance at the trot, then a canter until the order to level lances was given, probably by the sound of a recognizable trumpet call. From the outset the ground Bruce had chosen to fight the battle discomfited the English heavy horse which could neither deploy nor avoid bunching up in a heaving mass of men and horses. The already crumbling unity of Edward’s cavalry was compounded by the arrival of contingents of English foot soldiers. The Scottish schiltrons were packed so tight that they advanced like a thickset hedge which could not be breached. Then, suddenly, the Scottish spearmen halted, readying themselves for Edward’s by now charging cavalry, their lances levelled. The Earl of Gloucester was in the forefront; as he closed in on the Scottish vanguard he would have been close enough to see the grim, determined faces of the Scots in the front ranks, their spears bristling like a hedgehog. The English vanguard slammed into the solid phalanxes of Scots, a sickening, bone-crunching collision, with horses impaled on spears. Knights and men-at-arms were thrown to the ground, suffocating under the weight of their armour and the bodies of men and horses which began to pile up on them. Lances and spears that found their mark snapped in two, blood flew in the air, spraying both sides.

Gloucester had engaged Edward Bruce’s division on the Scottish right wing. On the left Randolph braced himself for the coming impact, the English waves breaking on the rock that was Bruce’s army. Moments after the English vanguard had smashed into the Scottish front line the main cavalry attack was launched, which rocked the Scottish spearmen. The foremost ranks began to show signs of crumbling, but Randolph rallied his men; the schiltrons all along the line held fast. Many English knights never struck a single blow that early June morning simply because in that close-packed, heaving mass of men and horses, they had no room even to draw sword. The grass grew slippery with blood, the waters of the Bannock Burn began to change colour …

The battle was now raging out of control of both Bruce and Edward II. It had degenerated into a desperate, vicious hand-to-hand fracas, a frenzy of men indiscriminately hacking each other to pieces. In the melee Gloucester was somehow isolated and found himself alone; a body of Scots rushed forward, slaying his horse and dragging him to the ground where he lay helpless, unable to rise on account of the weight of his armour. The Scots offered no quarter; when Gloucester’s body was retrieved later it bore a multitude of wounds. At the height of their blood-lust the Scots were clearly not taking prisoners, not even men as rich in ransom money as Gloucester. The English onlookers must have been devastated by the sight of a prominent noble of England being slaughtered, the first time this had occurred for many years; added to this was the ignominy of the rank of Gloucester’s slayers, mere common foot soldiers and countryfolk.

The constricted area of the field was now beginning to tell on Edward’s army, restricting its ability to manoeuvre; weight of numbers was becoming a hindrance. Some three English cavalry divisions, numbering about 5,000, had attacked the Scottish lines but failed to shatter their ranks. Behind them the rear echelons of perhaps a further 1,000 knights and men-at-arms pressed forward in their eagerness to join the fight. Beyond them the massed infantry closed in behind. The narrowness of the field caused the cavalry to bunch up; thus disorganized and constricted, the knights and men-at-arms to the forefront were literally driven on to the spears of the Scottish schiltrons. With the weight of those pressing from behind, English casualties began to mount up dangerously. Another disaster came with the death of Robert Clifford, perhaps desperate to save face after his defeat by Randolph the previous day. In that cauldron of slaughter, the loss of one man was of little import; there was only brief mention made of his death.

Trouble began to accumulate for Edward II; this time it came from the distant rear where thousands of troops as yet uncommitted to battle could hear but not see what was happening in the battle raging on the north bank of the Bannock Burn. Morale among the infantrymen was already low; they had learnt of the poor showing of the knights the previous day, nor was there any prospect of booty or renown for them even if Edward won the battle. It was at this point that an unplanned,unexpected but dramatic event took place on the Scottish side. Suddenly, a fresh army – or so it seemed to the disbelieving English – appeared from behind either the nearby Coxet or Gillies’ Hills. It was the ‘Small Folk’ – those given the task of guarding the Scottish baggage train – who came streaming over the hill bearing ‘banners’ – common camp blankets nailed to poles, hoping to enrich themselves by plundering the English dead and Edward’s huge baggage train. Some imaginative students of Scottish history interested in this aspect of Bannockburn have hazarded a theory that among the ‘Small Folk’ was a contingent of Knights Templars, the Military Order which had played a large part in European conflicts in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, particularly during the Crusades. Although sworn to chastity, poverty and obedience, the Order had grown over-mighty and wealthy, which had aroused jealousy and ill-will, especially among the hierarchy of senior clergymen, including the Pope himself. Philip IV of France was resolved to enrich himself with their possessions and obtained the consent to proceed thus by Pope Clement V whom he had placed on the Papal Throne. The French Templars were arrested and subjected to extreme torture by which was extracted evidence of outrageous moral offences and grave heresies. The Order was suppressed by Clement V in England, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy but, for some reason, not Scotland. As Bruce was under excommunication for his murder of the Red Comyn in 1306, some believe that he condoned those Templars living in Scotland and even invited the excommunicated Templars in Europe to settle in Scotland. There is no evidence to support the theory that they were present on the field of Bannockburn at Bruce’s side. If they had been, the appearance of even a small group of these medieval warriors in their distinctive white linen mantles with a red cross emblazoned on the left shoulder would have struck terror in the English army that day. The hard-nosed historian is unlikely to accept this theory, compelling though it is.

By now the crumbling English morale finally collapsed. Men began to drift away from the battle, crossing the Bannock Burn in droves. Crossing is too simple a word to describe the panic of the demoralized English; many fell into the waters of the deep ditch, drowning instantly, their bodies acting as a human bridge for those following and trampling them in their haste to gain the other steep side of the burn.

Despite the obvious fact that his battle was lost Edward II refused to concede victory to Bruce, nor quit the field. Aymer de Valence and a knight, Giles d’Argentan, entrusted with Edward’s safety, urged the King to depart the field. Were the king to be killed or taken prisoner the ignominy was too appalling to contemplate. Edward was led forcibly from the field, his guardians holding the reins of his war-horse. The Scots were menacingly close and could have easily overtaken the three men. Once Edward was joined by his royal retinue and a body of 500 cavalry, d’Argentan considered he had fulfilled his duty to the king. Turning his horse to face the Scots, he galloped into their midst and was dragged from his mount, then unceremoniously hacked to pieces.

Those English who managed to extricate themselves from this bloodiest of killing fields in the history of Scotland scrambled through marsh, plunging into stream and river, pursued by an uncontrollable horde of screaming Scottish spearmen intent on despatching as many as they could; they were determined that Bannockburn would finally finish the war and bring them freedom from English domination. Edward II ran with his demoralized troops, hoping to gain sanctuary in Stirling Castle. When he arrived at the gates he found them closed. The castle’s constable, Philip de Mowbray, had a ringside seat at Bannockburn; from the battlements he watched the horrifying spectacle unfold. He knew that his king had lost not only a battle but, also, under the laws of chivalry, he must in all conscience surrender Stirling Castle to Edward Bruce. De Mowbray duly did so, leaving Edward with no other option but to make his way to safety in the south as best as he could.

On the battlefield the Scots rounded up the important prisoners who would be ransomed, or become hostages to allow Bruce to negotiate for the release of his queen and family who had remained in English custody since 1307. This occurred in due course. Among the first of Bruce’s womenfolk to be released were his queen, Elizabeth de Burgh, his daughter Marjorie and his sister Christian. But that was in the future; Bruce was anxious to crown his spectacular victory with the ultimate prize – Edward II himself.

The terrified and frustrated king forced his way through the shattered remnants of his army with 500 horse, galloping to the one place he could expect refuge, the castle of Patrick, Earl of Dunbar. Edward was hotly pursued by the ‘Good Sir James’ (the Black Douglas), with only eighty light horse. Edward could have easily turned and stood against Douglas but he believed Sir James was only the vanguard of a much larger force of Scottish cavalry. Douglas pressed the fleeing English so relentlessly that they were unable to ‘make water’ i.e. attend to the call of nature.

With a greatly reduced escort – many of his men had deserted en route to Dunbar – Edward managed to reach the safety of Dunbar Castle, vanishing within its walls where Patrick Dunbar received him ‘full gently’. However, shocked by and apprehensive about Edward’s defeat, Dunbar could only offer the king a boat to take him to safety in Berwick. It is fruitless to speculate on the conversation which took place between Edward and Dunbar that day. Scalacronica, Sir Thomas de Gray’s account of Bannockburn written forty-two years later, stated that those closest to Edward who escaped with him to Dunbar were saved but the rest came to grief. Patrick Dunbar received the king honourably and, under feudal law, offered Edward his castle, even removing his own family and household. This was no altruistic gesture on Dunbar’s part; there was no doubt nor suspicion that Dunbar would do anything less than his ‘devoir [duty], for at that time he was Edward’s liegeman’. From Dunbar, Edward sailed to Berwick, then south. Even after Edward’s defeat the Earl of Dunbar briefly remained loyal to England; he would soon discover how lightly Edward valued his loyalty.

A contemporary account of Bannockburn stated that:

Our costly belongings were ravished to the value of £20,000; so many fine noblemen and valiant youth … all lost in one unfortunate day, one fleeting hour … Assuredly the proud arrogance of our men made the Scots rejoice in their victory.

The precise number of casualties on both sides at Bannockburn is difficult to quantify. One near contemporary account gives 30,000 English dead, a ridiculously over-inflated figure which has been challenged by historians closer to our own time.33 A recent excellent account of Bannockburn by David Cornell lists forty-seven men of the rank of knight and above in an appendix to his book Bannockburn: The Triumph of Robert the Bruce; among these are Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, Sir Giles d’Argentan, John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, William Deyncourt, Sir Edmund de Mauley, Steward in Edward II’s household, and Sir Henry de Bohun. Among the prominent captives were Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, Robert de Umfraville, Earl of Angus, Ingram de Umfraville, Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, Marmaduke Twenge and Gibert de Bohun. In addition there were 700 minor nobles and several clergymen. (Most important of all the prisoners was the Earl of Hereford; he was exchanged for Bruce’s ladies, as mentioned earlier, and the elderly Robert Wishart, bishop of Glasgow.) Scottish casualties of the rank of knight and above were light; the only nobles slain were Sir William de Vieuxpont (Vipont) and Sir Walter de Ross. Cornell states that the number of casualties among the ranks of ordinary spearmen is impossible to estimate; he also points out that the majority of casualties suffered by the English were not in terms of those killed but taken prisoner although in his view an ‘unprecedented number of English bannerets (men knighted on the field) and long-established knights were slain in the engagement’ (page 234, Bannockburn). It would be a pointless exercise to attempt to quantify the number of dead on both sides; a conservative ‘guesstimate’ of ten per cent for both sides would produce fatal casualties of English at 2,500 and between 600 and 800 Scots. But this is pure conjecture on the part of the author. The bulk of the English casualties were lost not in battle but in the frenzied attempts of men to escape the field, many coming to grief in the waters of the Bannock Burn and the surrounding marshland.

Safe in England, Edward’s response to the Earl of Dunbar’s courtesy was swift and callous. Possibly persuaded by his court favourites that, in writing to the king in the autumn of 1313, Dunbar’s letter begging Edward to come north to restore order was part of Bruce’s strategy to lure Edward north and that Dunbar was in fact a traitor in English eyes. Edward was not noted for his political acumen and relied to an almost criminal degree on the advice of favourites such as Piers Gaveston, the Gascon adventurer who was murdered by Edward’s nobles in 1312 for his overbearing attitude, his influence on Edward and that king’s generosity to a man who was hated for his arrogance and undeserved wealth.

Edward II declared Patrick, 9th Earl of Dunbar a traitor to the English crown on 25 June – the day after his flight from Bannockburn. Dunbar’s English lands were declared forfeit. Dunbar was now reviled by both Scots and English; in desperation the luckless earl had no choice but to seek peace with Robert the Bruce. It says much for Bruce that he waived his own rule that the Scottish lands of every Scottish noble absent from the field of Bannockburn would be declared forfeited. For some reason we can only guess at, Dunbar was allowed to keep his titles and lands in East Lothian, Berwickshire and elsewhere; he was even made welcome at Bruce’s court.

Robert Bruce’s period of probation was now at an end. Even the English Chronicle of Lanercost described him as King of Scotland, which Edward II still refused to do. In November 1314, at Cambuskenneth Abbey, King Robert declared that those earls, barons and knights not present on the field of Bannockburn and whose fealty to England remained intact would lose their Scottish estates. These men became known as The Disinherited. That day, Bruce’s words were uncompromising; all who

had not come into his faith and peace … are to be disinherited forever of lands and tenements and all other status in the Realm of Scotland. And they are to be held in future as foes of the king and the kingdom, debarred forever from all claims of hereditary right … on behalf of themselves and their heirs.

Bruce also extended his decree to include the English lands held by Scottish nobles from Edward II so that no Scottish male (or female) could thereafter be subject to dual allegiance to Scotland and England. (This is an important point which to a great extent challenges the view of many modern historians that ownership of English lands was never a major factor in the occasional lapses of loyalty in some Scottish nobles. It must be said that Bruce had scarcely a knight or noble in his army at Bannockburn who at one time or another had not sworn allegiance to England for possessions they held south of the Border.)

The English commentators on the reasons for the defeat at Bannockburn clutched at every straw borne on the wind they could imagine. It was the drunken Welsh foot soldiers, it was poor discipline, it was over-confidence, it was unchivalric quarrelling among Edward’s commanders. The anonymous author of Vita Edwardi Secundi demanded to know why knights unconquered through the ages had run away from mere foot soldiers. The apologists did not – or would not – acknowledge the fact that it was Bruce’s excellent choice of ground and his careful preparations which had won the day; Bannockburn was the prime example of Bruce’s eye for ground favourable to him, a genius he shared with the Duke of Wellington. The terrain at Bannockburn was heavily wooded, offering cover from the English archers as well as boggy ground which reduced the effectiveness of the English heavy cavalry. Bruce was now acknowledged in Scotland as her true King.

As for Edward, he was fortunate to escape from Bannockburn, then Dunbar but this eleventh hour blessing was mixed. Departing from Dunbar by ship he was probably accompanied by Aymer de Valence and Henry de Beaumont, the future leader of Bruce’s Disinherited who would cause much trouble for Scotland in the years to come. From Berwick the three men proceeded to York where they tried to come to terms with the calamity of Bannockburn, news of which quickly spread in England, then Europe, creating shockwaves that reverberated long after the defeat. Edward’s only consolation was that his personal shield and privy seal, both lost at Bannockburn, were returned to him by the magnanimous Bruce. In doing this Bruce was exercising his diplomatic skills; having beaten Edward in open conflict, he was intent on reaching a peaceful settlement with Edward and had no desire to further ruffle the English king’s bedraggled feathers. Bruce knew that, despite his spectacular military and political success, he was in no position to dictate terms to Edward. England was still a formidable adversary and could easily raise another army against Scotland – providing Edward enjoyed the support of the English parliament which met in September 1314. That parliament was presided over by the powerful Earl of Lancaster who had not supported Edward’s invasion of Scotland. The list of prominent names of those killed or ‘missing in action’ grew (as the records of the Great War of 1914 – 18 euphemistically described those killed without trace on the Western Front) those missing after Bannockburn were thankfully found to be Bruce’s prisoners. At least that was a consolation to their families.

After Bannockburn, Edward II never again enjoyed the power he had inherited from his father Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots. After a lacklustre rule of another thirteen years, Edward II was horribly murdered by his French Queen Isabella and her lover, the Earl of Mortimer at Berkeley Castle in 1327.

Before that, Bruce now in his late forties suffered from ill health, mainly due to years of living rough and endless fighting. As yet he had produced no heir to succeed him so, to avert the chaos which followed the death of Alexander III in 1286, an assembly was convened at Ayr in April 1315 to settle the succession question. Should Bruce die without a male heir it was agreed that he would be succeeded by his brother Edward and his heirs male. As a contingency, in the event of a ruler in his minority, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray would be appointed regent to administer the country. In 1315 Bruce’s daughter Marjorie by his first wife took as husband Walter, High Steward of Scotland. Pregnant in 1316, Marjorie died after a fall from her horse but her baby survived. Named Robert after his grandfather the King, the baby was declared heir presumptive to the throne of Scotland in 1318. The succession question was resolved in 1324 when Bruce’s queen, Elizabeth, gave birth to their son David.

Bruce carried the war to England yet again hoping to bring Edward II to the negotiating table and acknowledge him as rightful king of a free and independent Scotland. At the same time the Irish in Ulster opened negotiations with Bruce to assist them in their struggle with England; this gave Bruce yet another opportunity to carry his war against another part of Edward II’s empire. (It was announced that if Ireland fell to the Scots, Wales would be next.) In May 1315 Bruce’s brother Edward landed at Carrickfergus with an army of 6,000; he had varying successes against the English there, although he was crowned King of Ireland in 1316. During that year and the next Robert Bruce was in Ireland supporting his brother.

Sino-Soviet Border Clash 1929


Soviet 68th Separate Naval Aircraft Squad in 1929 – MR-1 type aircraft.



Universal (river and sea) gunboat of “Storm” type, designed and built in 1911, re-armed in 1920 with captured English 120-mm. cannons.


Press photo released from 1929 mentioning the clash and showing Soviet troops.

The Far Eastern crisis of 1929 had its origins in the arrangements which the Soviet Government, following in the footsteps of the Imperial Russian Government, had made with the Chinese over the ownership and rights of operation of the Chinese Eastern Railroad, which linked the Trans-Siberian line with Vladivostok across Manchuria. The Chinese had frequently objected to Soviet rights over this railway, but the rising power of the Nationalist Government in China under General Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang’s thorough defeat of his Communist allies in 1927 led him to believe that he could bring military pressure to bear on the Soviet Union itself. In 1928-1929 Chiang’s authority did not extent to Manchuria, which was ruled by the provincial warlord Chang Hsueh-liang, but the success of the Nationalists in south and central China brought about a meeting between the two leaders in which they plotted joint action against the Soviet concessions in Chang Hsueg-liang’s province. For once, the interests of the Soviet Government and the Japanese temporarily coincided, for the Japanese, who intended to occupy Manchuria themselves, had no objection to Soviet military action to weaken the provincial Manchurian Army, which was concentrated on the Soviet border by the summer of 1929, and threatened the security of the Soviet-operated railway.

Reasonably assured, therefore, that the Japanese would not intervene against the Red Army, the Soviet leaders prepared their forces for operations in Manchuria in July-August 1929. On August 7 the Revolutionary Military Council established the Special Far Eastern Army in the eastern part of the Siberian Military District, with its headquarters in Khabarovsk. Blukher, who had returned from China in 1927, was placed in command, and two new rifle corps were formed, the 18th in the Transbaikal sector and the 19th in the Maritime Territory. The new army had a strength of six rifle divisions and two cavalry brigades, which were still forming up when the Manchurian forces began to raid Soviet territory and installations. The Red Army, however, waited until the autumn before launching its counterattacks.

There were 3 separate operations – Sungari operation (subdivided by 2 stages – Laha-Susu operation and Fujing operation), Zhalainoer operation and Mishan operation.

There were Amur river flotilla and 2 rifle regiments of the 2-nd Priamurskaya rifle division of Special Far East Army – 6th Khabarovsky and 4th Volochaevsky regiments with a lot of avircrafts (com[aring to Chinese forces). They were prepared to land near the Laha-Susu in the mouth of Sungari River but at first aircrafts bombed Chinese men-of-war located in vicinity of Laha-Susuunder the flag of Admiral Shen Lie. Some of them were sunk, some of them fled, several gunboats (originally Russian paddy-wheel steamers captured by Chinese after 1917) tried to resist but were sunk by Soviet gunboats after a duelling. Then the Soviet soldiers were landed under ramparts of Laha-Susu and after the bombardment of the forts from Soviet gunboats assaulted it. In the evening all Soviet troops were evacuated and did not stay in China even for a night.

Remnants of Sungari flotilla of Shen Lie gathered in Fujing (or Fugdin in Nanai languages as this fort was built by Qing authorities in 1880th to engage Nanai tribesmen into the Eight Banner system) and by the 29th of October it became obvious that the second blow to destroy Sungari flotilla is necessary. So Red Army troops were regrouped and 6th Khabarovsky rifle regiment was substituted by 5th Amursky rifle regiment. After strong bombing Chinese men-of-war were sunk and soldiers destroyed most part of Chinese fortifications in Fugdin. In that time Soviet troops stayed in China for couple of days and then were evacuated. A larger operation was mounted by the 18th Corps at the junction of the Soviet, Chinese and outer Mongolian frontlines, where a concentration of Chang Hsueh-liang’s troops threatened the railway at Manchouli. Here three Soviet divisions and a cavalry brigade crossed the frontier on November 17, cut the railway between Dalainor and Hailar, and surrounded the Manchurian forces in the area. Heavy fighting to destroy the encircled enemy followed, in which cooperation among the Soviet infantry, tanks, and artillery broke down, resulting in heavy casualties. Some of the Manchurian units succeeded in breaking out of the encirclement, but the majority capitulated, and by November 27 the operations were over. Simultaneously, troops of the 19th Corps broke up a Manchurian concentration at Mishan, near Lake Khanka, 100 miles north of Vladivostok, although the Red Army, largely out of willingness to antagonize the Japanese, did not pursue their opponents beyond the confines of the immediate zone of operations.

According to “Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century”, the USSR sustained losses of 143 KIA, 4 MIA, and 665 WIA during the course of these operations. The book states that around 18,000 troops were engaged.

Dunbar 1296


The spirit of revolt in 1296 was far-reaching; just as the untimely death of Alexander III in 1286 had deprived the nobles and the Community of the Realm of a figurehead on whom the functioning of the feudal system depended, the Scottish nobles had taken a dangerous step in dismissing John Balliol as their lawful king. Men such as Sir John de Graham, John Comyn, 2nd Lord of Badenoch, John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan, Sir John de Soulis, Sir Andrew Murray of Bothwell, John de Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, Alexander, Earl of Menteith, Bishop William Lamberton of St Andrews and Bishop William Wishart of Glasgow were determined to resist the invader even without a resolute king to lead them in battle.

In April 1296 Patrick, 8th Earl of Dunbar was in Berwick, attending the war council convened by Edward I when news arrived there that Dunbar’s Countess Marjorie Comyn had handed over his castle to her brother, John Comyn of Buchan. Dunbar, who lived in perpetual fear and awe of Edward I, was devastated; not only had he lost face on account of his wife’s insolent act, but his pledge to hand over Dunbar Castle to Edward as a base for operations in the south-east was broken. Nothing appears to have been recorded about Edward’s views on the matter but, doubtless, he held Dunbar in contempt and would have shown it. No matter, he detached a portion of his large army under the command of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, and William de Beauchamp, 9th Earl of Warwick, the latter a veteran of Edward’s campaigns in Wales. Warenne and Warwick were given express orders to relieve Dunbar Castle; on 25 April, they marched out of Berwick with a force of 1,000 heavy cavalry and 10,000 infantry. It is not known if the Earl of Dunbar accompanied them.

Countess Marjorie Dunbar, daughter of the late Alexander Comyn, 2nd Earl of Buchan did not share her husband’s enthusiasm for Edward I. Whether she acted on impulse or was persuaded by her Comyn kinsmen to give up Dunbar Castle is not recorded; it is more than likely that, appalled by the reports of the massacre at Berwick, she decided to support her kinsmen. (According to one source the Earl of Mar declared Patrick Dunbar a traitor and persuaded Marjorie to surrender his castle as a matter of honour.) Dunbar’s brother Alexander, who was in command of the castle, knew he could not hold out against the Comyns with his pitifully small garrison; on 25 April he surrendered the castle to the patriots.

Dunbar Castle was placed in the charge of Sir Richard Siward, a man renowned and respected in feats of arms. Warenne and Warwick arrived at Dunbar Castle on 26 April and immediately laid siege to it from both land and sea. For a day the defenders did little more than glower at the besieging forces until Warenne learnt that the Scottish host commanded by the Comyns of Badenoch and Buchan was camped at the foot of Doon Hill, which overlooks Dunbar. Warenne left the siege of the castle to a few junior officers in command of a token force as he knew the garrison was hardly able to sally out; Siward and his defenders were going nowhere, expecting Warenne and Warwick to be defeated by the Comyns. Warenne led the bulk of his force, intent on engaging the Scottish host which he knew was camped about two miles south of Dunbar.

According to English chroniclers of the day the Scottish host numbered 40,000; the figure was probably closer to 4,000, with Warenne’s 10,000 nearer 1,000. Contemporary accounts tended to exaggerate the strengths of armies to make the victors more victorious, the defeated ignominious; it is thought that each army at Dunbar and in other conflicts was a tenth of the figures given by the chroniclers, a fact which many modern historians support. Whatever the precise strengths of the Scottish and English armies, the Comyns outnumbered Warenne and Warwick by four to one at least.

It is not entirely certain where the battle was fought. Some historians consider it took place near a part of Spott Glen in the vicinity of a farm called The Standards for obvious reasons. One has to question whether the name dates as far back as 1296. However, more recent research suggests the battle took place near Wester Broomhouse which is within a bowshot or two of Spott Glen and its continuation, Oswald Dean. The valley, a deep defile formed by glacial activity, runs from the east of Spott village to Broxmouth on the coast. It is a picturesque glen, watered by a small, unimpressive burn or stream; its sides are steep, covered by straggles of gorse and stunted, windswept hawthorn bushes. In spring it is a bleak place which even a profusion of primroses fails to soften. It was in this obscure glen that cold steel would determine the fate of King John Balliol and the nation of Scotland.

The Scottish host was camped on or near Doon Hill. On the morning of 27 April, Comyn of Badenoch would have easily discerned the approach of Warenne’s army, marching to Wester Broomhouse on the road to Spott Village. The dust raised by the men and horses would have pinpointed the English advance for more than a mile. The Scots waited, confident in the superiority of their numbers; however, apart from the fact that their largely untrained army was unaccustomed to warfare, it also lacked heavy cavalry and archers, crucial elements that day and in many to come in the Wars of Independence.

On that cold but bright spring day any flocks of sheep or cattle grazing in Spott Glen would have been driven away to safer fields. The English came on relentlessly, confident of victory and marching in good order. When Warenne reached Spott Glen or Oswald Dean the forward ‘battles’, as the medieval group formations – comparable to modern infantry battalions – were then known, descended into ‘a valley’ to form their line of battle. Changing from column to line was a delicate business; the most effective way of deploying an army into battle formation was to march it on to the field with units of the column wheeling right until the entire force was ordered to halt and then turn left to form a line facing the enemy. Although this sounds simple it would have been difficult to execute in the narrow confines of Oswald Dean. During this deploying movement the Scots thought Warenne was retreating.

Comyn of Badenoch appears to have planned no strategy or tactics other than to mount a frontal attack on the English; few if any troops were kept in reserve. For his part Warenne knew that his numerically inferior force would be hard-pressed to rebuff a frontal assault made by the superior number of Scots on the higher ground at the base of Doon Hill. He deployed his troops carefully, posting archers among the infantry in the front line; it was his intention to engage the Scottish left or right wing, then roll up the centre, a tactic Oliver Cromwell would use at Dunbar in 1650.

We can imagine the scene at Oswald Dean on that cold April day. Steel reflecting the weak sunshine, the only sound being that of neighing horses and the English pennons and banners snapping in the stiff wind that blew along the narrow valley. From his vantage point on Doon Hill Comyn of Badenoch had watched Warenne deploy his men; observing no further movement in the serried ranks of the English army, he ordered a full attack, launched from his strong position on the hill. (History would repeat itself in 1650). The Scottish van was packed with men and boys eager to engage the enemy; the undisciplined mass charged across the plain at the foot of Doon Hill, then down the slopes of Oswald Dean, blowing their horns to encourage those who followed. The precipitate charge was a disaster.

The unruly, screaming horde of peasants armed with inferior weapons – spades, scythes, axes and pitchforks – did not in the least confound the ranks of Warenne’s disciplined professionals. Warenne protected his flanks with his 1,000 cavalry, with archers interspersed among the front-line infantry. That day the English fought under the banner of Edward I and their protecting saints – John of Beverley, Cuthbert of Durham and Wilfrid of York.

The English infantry stood fast, confident that their flanks were well protected by the horse which could quickly deploy and scatter any Scots who attempted to get behind them. The infantry and archers, observing the undisciplined mob that was the Scottish vanguard, let confusion do their work for them. Too many men in a confined space at Oswald Dean reduced the effect of Comyn’s superiority in numbers, turning it to disadvantage. The order was given for the English archers to loose their deadly arrows that surely must have filled the sky. The shafts could scarcely fail to find a mark among the ragged mob leaping over Spott Burn in tightly packed, undisciplined bunches.

The foremost elements of the Scottish host were cut down in minutes, if not seconds; the fallen hindered the progress of those who followed. Dead and wounded began to pile up on the green sward. The tide of battle did not even remotely threaten the English foot, commanded by dismounted knights who no doubt stiffened their resolve by standing alongside their men, taunting the Scots. A welter of blood soon began to stain the turf at Oswald Dean.

The agony was over in less than half an hour. Hundreds – thousands, if the English chronicles of the day can be trusted – of dead eyes stared at the sky that dreadful April day. The English chroniclers numbered the Scottish dead in their thousands – 10,055, a suspiciously precise and high figure, even given the devastation wreaked by the English archers. We have little choice but to accept the contemporary English accounts, although it is often said that, in battle, the victors write the history. It made good propaganda for home consumption. Warenne’s army had been out-numbered, yet he had prevailed. There does not appear to be any record of the English casualties.

The shattered bands of survivors ran from the field, seeking refuge in the Border forests, leaving their wounded at the mercy of Warenne’s men. Among the undoubtedly numerous slain was Sir Patrick de Graham of Montrose who gave and expected no quarter; he alone was praised by the English for valiantly standing his ground. Another noble, Walter, Earl of Menteith, was taken prisoner and executed on Edward I’s orders; other prisoners included the Earls of Atholl and Ross, members of the oldest Celtic noble families in Scotland. Dunbar Castle surrendered the same day as the battle; sheltering within its walls were Sir Richard Siward, John ‘the Red’ Comyn, son of Comyn of Badenoch and many other ransomable notables. More than 100 knights were taken into captivity in chains; they were sent to no fewer than twenty-five castles in England, the most prestigious including the Red Comyn – and valuable in terms of ransom money – being imprisoned in the Tower of London.

As for Countess Marjorie, doubtless she was rebuked by her husband, Patrick, Earl of Dunbar for her contumacy although the marriage survived. As far as is known, no such rebuke came from Edward I; in point of fact, Edward showed an unusual clemency towards the wives and daughters of those taken prisoner in Dunbar Castle, even to the extent of awarding them pensions. The English king could be chivalrous when it suited him.

After the battle of Dunbar, Edward I conquered Scotland with almost derogatory ease. Scottish resistance collapsed like a house of cards. In the subsequent weeks the castles of Roxburgh, Edinburgh, Perth and Stirling surrendered. As for his part, King John Balliol – ex-king in Edward’s eyes – sent the English king a grovelling letter in which he confessed his fault, blaming his actions on false counsel. He apparently renounced the Treaty of Paris – the Auld Alliance – but this failed to pacify Edward; he was determined to humiliate Balliol to serve as a warning to any others attempting to gain the throne of Scotland and rise in rebellion. Balliol was attended by John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan at Montrose Castle, where, on 5 July, Balliol surrendered to Edward. When the English king learnt of the alliance Balliol had made with France he was enraged. In an ignominious ceremony, Edward stripped the hapless king of his royal trappings; this involved the physical removal of Balliol’s tabard – a knight’s decorated outer garment worn over armour and blazoned with his coat of arms – his hood and knightly girdle, a punishment usually meted out to a knight found guilty of treason. Balliol became known in Scotland’s history as Toom Tabard (Empty Coat); he was taken to the Tower of London along with his closest advisers, there to languish for a time before he was exiled to France, where he died in obscurity a few years later.

Edward was determined to strip Scotland herself of any symbols of her right to independence, along with every document held in the national archive supporting this claim. The Stone of Destiny at Scone, where many Scottish monarchs were crowned, the Holy Rood, the personal relic of Scotland’s only saint, Margaret, wife of Malcolm III, and many documents were taken over the Border. The Great Seal of Scotland (Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum) was broken up. This act tellingly revealed Edward’s utter contempt for the country; on destroying the seal, Edward is supposed to have commented that ‘a man does good business when he rids himself of a turd’.

Edward’s sojourn in Scotland did not last long. The country was prostrated; Edward appointed John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, as governor of Scotland and Hugh Cressingham as its treasurer. There is an interesting account of Edward’s brief stay at Dunbar which goes thus:

On the day of St George, 24 [sic] April [1296] (St George’s Day is actually 23 April), news came to the king that they of Scotland had besieged the Castle of Dunbar, which belonged to the earl [sic] Patrick, who held strongly with the king of England. It was upon a Monday that the king sent his troops to raise the siege. Before they came there, the castle had surrendered and they of Scotland were within when the troops of the king of England came there. They besieged the castle with three hosts on the Tuesday that they arrived before it. On the Wednesday, they who were within sent out privately [i.e. sent couriers to John Comyn, leader of the Scottish army] and on the Thursday and Friday came the host of Scotland all the afternoon to have raised the siege of the Englishmen. And when the Englishmen saw the Scotchmen [sic] they fell upon them and discomfited the Scotchmen, and the chase continued more than five leagues [about fifteen miles] of way, and until the hours of vespers [evening prayers] and there died sir [sic] Patrick de Graham, a great lord, and 10,055 by right reckoning. On the same Friday by night, the king came from Berwick to go to Dunbar, and lay that night at Coldingham [Priory] and on the Saturday [28 April] at Dunbar and on the same day they of the castle surrendered themselves to the king’s pleasure. And there were the earl [sic] of Atholl, the earl of Ross, the earl of Menteith, sir [sic] John [the Red] Comyn of Badenoch, sir Richard Suart [Siward], sir William de Saintler [Sinclair] and as many as fourscore [sic] men-at-arms and sevenscore footmen. There tarried the king three days.

The message that came loud and clear from the battle of Dunbar in 1296 was that patriotism alone was not enough. Edward had, however, forged a dangerous weapon. The rise of a strong and determined Nationalism would in time create a cohesive political and military force that would resist the kings of England for the next three centuries.

Edward I conquered Scotland in five months – April to August 1296, considerably less than the three wars over two decades he took to subdue Wales. In a parliament convened at Berwick on 28 August 1296, Edward made the final arrangements for the governing of Scotland. This time there would be no puppet king to interfere with whatever policy he might choose to adopt. In addition to Warenne and Cressingham, William Ormsby was appointed as Justiciar, or high judge. Edward also demanded the presence of every significant landowner in Scotland to pay him homage, accepting him as their liege lord. About 1,900 barons, knights and ecclesiastics answered his summons and attached their seals to what became known as the Ragman’s Roll, so-named because it was festooned with waxen or lead endorsements. The names of Robert Bruce the Elder and Bruce the Younger appear which is of some significance; much more important were those signatures which are absent – notably that of William Wallace, knight of Elderslie, who in 1297, in the brief but stirring words of the historian John of Fordun, ‘lifted up his head’.

Until 1296, Wallace was an obscure squire, living on the small estate of Elderslie, near Renfrew. His elder brother Malcolm held the land but the absence of their names from Ragman’s Roll is surprising. Lesser men than the Wallaces saw fit to sign the roll and swear an oath of allegiance, so it cannot be said that the Wallaces were considered lowly.

It is probable that the family de Waleys was of Norman origin who came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. William was the younger son of Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie by marriage to Margaret, daughter of Sir Reynold Crawford, Sheriff of Ayr. William was born in c.1270; little of his life is known to us save through The Actis and Deidis of the Illustere and Vailzeand Campioun Schir William Walleis, Knicht of Elderslie (Acts and Deeds of the Illustrious and Valiant Champion, Sir William Wallace etc.) by Henry the Minstrel, better known as Blind Harry. Written two centuries after Wallace’s death, Blind Harry’s account owes more to romantic fiction than fact which obliges us to rely on the equally imperfect and heavily biased accounts of contemporary English chroniclers.

William Wallace’s name comes to us first in 1297 when he appears to have been at odds with the by now occupying English administrators. Matters came to a head in May 1297, when the English murdered Wallace’s common-law wife, Marion or Marron Braidfute; in revenge, Wallace slew William de Hazelrig, Sheriff of Lanark. In the same month Warenne and Cressingham were absent on business in England; Justiciar Ormsby was holding court at Scone when Wallace and his small following broke into the place, looted it and very nearly took Ormsby prisoner. The idea persists that Wallace and his men were landless peasants, virtual outlaws, but this was not entirely the case. What mattered was that Wallace had shown the Scottish nobility it was possible to challenge England’s authority and succeed. Contemporary English chroniclers certainly portray Wallace as an outlaw, a view echoed by Patrick, 8th Earl of Dunbar who, if we can believe Blind Harry, reputedly said this of him:

This king of Kyll I can nocht understand

Of him I held niver a fur [long] of land.

It is thought that Kyll may derive from the Celtic coille, meaning a wood; Dunbar is therefore describing Wallace as a kind of Robin Hood, an outlaw of the forest.

While we rightly acknowledge Wallace as the dedicated, unflinching patriot that he undoubtedly remains in Scotland to this day, key leaders of the revolt against England were two of the former Guardians, Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow and James the Steward, the latter being Wallace’s feudal superior. They were joined by MacDuff, son of the Earl of Fife and Bruce the Younger, Earl of Carrick. After a farcical encounter with the English at Irvine in Ayrshire, Wishart and the Steward surrendered to the English commander. To his discredit, Bruce the Younger turned his coat for Edward I; he would continue in this fashion for nearly a decade, shifting his political position like a weather vane driven by the winds of change.

Only in the north was the revolt gaining momentum. Andrew Murray, son of a leading baron in Morayshire, was gaining a reputation for his bold and successful resistance to England’s authority. Murray and his father had been prominent on the field of Dunbar in April 1296; both had been taken prisoner but the younger Murray escaped from his prison in Chester Castle intent on continuing the fight. By early autumn 1297 the series of isolated outbreaks against English authority had become co-ordinated.

During the summer of 1297 Wallace had engaged in a period of intensive training of his raw levies; he taught them discipline and how to fight in schiltrons, tightly packed circular formations of men with long spears, the only effective defence against the English heavy cavalry. Because of Murray’s and Wallace’s successes, they were made joint Guardians of Scotland, acknowledged as ‘commanders of the army of the kingdom of Scotland and the Community of the Realm’.

The Battle of Largs


Detail from William Hole’s mural of the Battle of Largs, in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.



Reconstructed chieftain’s longhouse at Borg in the Lofoten Islands, Norway. Housing both people and livestock under one roof, the longhouse was the typical Viking Age dwelling.


It was the growing power of the kings of Scotland that finally brought Norse influence in Man and the Hebrides to an end. Around 1200, the Scots seized the island of Bute and signaled their intention to become a power in the Isles by building a state-of-the-art castle at Rothesay. The Scots king Alexander II (r. 1214 – 49) entered into negotiations with Håkon IV (r. 1217 – 63) to buy the Hebrides from Norway. The negotiations came to nothing. Håkon had restored political stability to Norway after years of civil wars and had adopted his own expansionist policy, which aimed at uniting all the Norse Atlantic colonies under his rule: giving up part of his kingdom was not part of his plan. Frustrated, in 1249 Alexander decided to seize the Hebrides by force, but his campaign was abandoned after he fell ill and died on the island of Kerrara, off Oban. Alexander’s son Alexander III (r. 1249 – 86) made a second offer to purchase the islands in 1260 but when this was rebuffed he sent the earl of Ross to invade Skye. Another Scottish force seized the island of Arran. Lurid accounts of Scots atrocities and the political chaos in the isles convinced Håkon that he needed to intervene personally to restore royal authority in the area. Apparently, at the height of his power – Greenland and Iceland had just submitted to Norwegian rule – Håkon set sail for the Hebrides in July 1263 with what was claimed to be the most powerful fleet ever gathered in Norway. King Magnus Olafsson of Man and Dugald MacRory, whose lands had been ravaged by the Scots, both greeted Håkon warmly when he landed on the Isle of Skye. Other chiefs and petty kings, opposed equally to both Norwegian and Scottish domination, were less enthusiastic and only submitted after Håkon’s forces wasted their lands. By late summer Håkon had thoroughly cowed the Hebrides and he moved his fleet to Lamlash Bay on Arran in the Clyde estuary, where it was well-placed to strike into the heartland of the Scottish kingdom. Alexander III sent a party of Dominican friars to negotiate with Håkon, but this was just a delaying tactic. The Scots deliberately drew out the negotiations, making offers that they knew would be unacceptable, waiting for the onset of autumn to force Håkon’s withdrawal. Some bored members of the Norwegian army carved their names in runes on the wall of a local cave to entertain themselves while they waited. When Håkon became impatient of making any progress he sent sixty ships to sail up Loch Long to Arrochar. From there, their crews dragged the ships across a narrow isthmus into Loch Lomond, whose shores they plundered for weeks. The rest of Håkon’s fleet anchored off the Cumbrae Islands, close to the Ayrshire coast.

At the end of September the weather turned bad. Ten ships returning from the raid on Loch Lomond were wrecked in a storm and on the night of 30 September/1 October a supply ship and a longship were driven ashore on the Scottish mainland at Largs, now a small seaside resort town. When day broke, the Scots tried to seize the beached ships but their crews fought them off until the main Norwegian fleet arrived and chased them away. The next morning King Håkon came on shore to supervise the recovery of the ships. While this was proceeding a large Scots force arrived and fierce fighting broke out as it tried to surround an isolated Norwegian scouting party on a hill overlooking the shore. The outnumbered Norwegians began to run back towards the ships in disarray, suffering many casualties, but they somehow managed to regroup and counter-attack. The Scots fell back under the unexpected assault, gifting the Norwegians enough time to reach their ships and escape. The Norwegians waited at anchor overnight and in the morning recovered their dead and sailed for home. The Battle of Largs had been in reality little more than a skirmish but, with the benefit of hindsight, it came to be seen as a decisive Norwegian defeat.

As he sailed north back through the Hebrides Håkon must have felt that his great expedition had been in vain. King Alexander’s delaying tactics had worked perfectly, he had reached no diplomatic agreement that would prevent the Scots interfering in the Isles and he had been forced to withdraw without even fighting a proper battle. He must have been painfully aware, too, that his authority over the chiefs and petty kings of the Isles would last no longer than it took him to sail home to Norway. Shortly after he arrived in Orkney in early November, Håkon was taken ill and, sending most of his fleet home, he took up residence for the winter in the bishop’s palace at Kirkwall. Håkon’s condition steadily deteriorated and he was soon bed-ridden. As the king lay dying, he gathered the shades of his Viking ancestors around him. He could not sleep, so to help the long winter nights pass more easily, Håkon asked his attendants to read him all the sagas of the kings of Norway beginning with the legendary Halfdan the Black, the father of Harald Fairhair. Shortly after he had finished listening to the saga of his grandfather King Sverre, Håkon lost the power of speech and three days later, in the early hours of the morning on 16 December, he died aged fifty-nine: he was the last Norwegian king to lead a hostile fleet into British waters.

Within a few months of Håkon’s death, Alexander led a fleet to the Isle of Man and forced King Magnus Olafsson to become his feudal vassal. When Magnus died in November 1265, leaving only an illegitimate son called Godred, the rule of Norse kings over Man came to an end. Alexander also sent fleets to plunder and burn their way through the Hebrides. Håkon’s successor, his son Magnus VI (r. 1263 – 80), concluded, rightly, that trying to maintain sovereignty over Man and the Isles would cost far more than they were worth. By the Treaty of Perth in 1266 Magnus gave up all claims to the Kingdom of Man and the Isles in return for a payment of 4,000 marks (approximately 20,000 pounds of silver), an annuity of 100 marks, and a Scottish recognition of Norwegian sovereignty over Orkney and Shetland. It is thought that Norse language in the kingdom died out soon after the Scottish takeover.

It proved to be just as hard for the kings of Scotland to control the Isles as it had been for the kings of Norway. The Scots easily crushed a Manx rebellion under Godred Magnusson in 1275, but in 1290 the Isle of Man was occupied by the English. Thereafter the island changed hands several times before passing permanently to the English crown in 1399. The Gaelic chieftains of the Hebrides defied pacification and in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the area was effectively autonomous under the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, who ruled from Finlaggan Castle on Islay. The lords maintained their authority with fleets of galleys called birlinns, direct descendants of the Vikings’ longships from which they differed only in having a stern-post rudder in place of a side rudder. Even after the lordship collapsed in 1493, the Hebrides remained turbulent and they did not finally come under firm government control until after the crushing of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. The Scots king James VI (r. 1567 – 1625) even considered genocide as a way to bring the islands under effective royal control.

The cession of the Kingdom of Man and the Isles to Scotland left Orkney and Shetland as the last Norse possessions in the British Isles. Although the islands were ruled by Scottish earls after 1236, their Norse character remained unaltered. In 1380 Norway and its Atlantic possessions came under the Danish crown through a dynastic union. The Danes took little interest in the islands until 1468 when King Christian I arranged the marriage of his daughter Margaret to the Scottish king James III. The cash-strapped Danish king could not afford to pay his daughter’s dowry and so offered the Orkney Islands to King James as surety for a loan of 50,000 Rhenish guilders. The following year Christian added Shetland to the bargain for an additional 8,000 guilders. It was Christian’s firm intention to redeem the islands as his agreement with King James included guarantees to preserve Norwegian law and customs, but the money was never paid so the arrangement became permanent. In 1471 King James abolished the earldom and annexed the islands as crown lands. The following year the bishopric of Orkney passed from the control of Nidaros to St Andrews. Gradually the islands became more Scottish in character. In 1611, Norwegian law was abolished and Norn, the local Norse dialect, finally died out in the eighteenth century, supplanted by English.

After Dunbar


Battle of Dunbar by Graham Turner


Battlefield of the Battle of the Hieton, Hamilton


After Dunbar, the New Model Army occupied various parts of Scotland, campaigning chiefly in the central belt, then in the Highlands. One area where the Covenanters were in strength was in south-west Scotland, so it was agreed that a Cromwellian presence was needed there. An English force commanded by Major General John Lambert, veteran of Dunbar, was garrisoned in Lanarkshire at Hamilton, in the Heiton (high town) area of the town. Colonel Gilbert Ker, another Dunbar veteran, led a force of Covenanters in a surprise attack on Lambert’s position on 1 December 1650. After some initial success, Ker’s men were repulsed with heavy loss. The battle of Hamilton is also known as the battle of Heiton; it is commemorated by a metal plaque fixed to Cadzow Bridge, installed by the Hamilton Civic Society. Following the subjugation of Edinburgh, the Cromwellian army crossed the Forth in July 1651, ferried by specially constructed flat-bottomed boats at the Firth of Forth’s narrowest point between South and North Queensferry. As North Queensferry stands on a narrow peninsula, it was rightly argued that it would provide a defensive bridgehead against any attempts by Leslie to contest an English landing in Fife. In July the local defences at the forts of Inchgarvie, Burntisland and Ferryhill sustained a systematic and prolonged bombardment. Under cover of darkness on the night of 16 – 17 July 1651, Colonel Robert Overton landed 2,000 assault troops in Inverkeithing Bay; Overton immediately began digging trenches while Major General Lambert organized the landing of a further 2,500 troops on 20 July. On learning of Lambert’s crossing, David Leslie ordered Sir John Browne of Fordell to lead 4,000 infantry to Inverkeithing, supported by 1,000 cavalry commanded by James Holborn of Menstrie to pin down Lambert at his bridgehead. The Highland elements of Fordell’s army were led by Sir Hector Maclean of Duart.


Inverkeithing II

The English occupied trenches on the Ferry Hills which rise about 240 feet above sea level; dominating these are Castland Hill and Meikle Hill which cover the coastal road to Rosyth and the road to Inverkeithing. Were the Scots to occupy these two eminences they would deny the English any movement forward but for some inexplicable reason Fordell chose to come off the hills to lower ground fronting the English trench system, from where shots were fired. Believing he was about to be attacked, Fordell ordered his men back to the higher ground. Lambert grasped this opportunity to send Colonel John Okey forward with his regiment of dragoons to attack the Scots’ rear. Fordell drew up his main battle lines on the Whins, three eminences or outcrops of moorland rolling outwards from Castland and Meikle Hills towards Inverkeithing Bay. For his part, Lambert deployed his men with the bulk of his strength concentrated on the right wing as the ground on his left was rocky, difficult terrain unsuitable for his cavalry. Okey commanded the right wing; the infantry were placed in the centre and left and Colonel Robert Overton commanded the reserve infantry to the rear of Lambert’s position.

It was at this point that Lambert learnt that Cromwell had fallen back on Linlithgow and that Fordell might receive reinforcements from Leslie at Stirling. Lambert knew that this was his time to make a concerted attack on the Scots, so he ordered forward his infantry. Due to a bottleneck in the narrow peninsula the English formations had to bunch together dangerously, their left offering an easy target for the Scottish horse. The cavalry, with their long Spanish lances, swept through the English foot with ease. Lambert immediately despatched Overton’s infantry reserve screened by a troop of horse to counter Fordell’s attack. The combined force of musketeers and pikemen soon drove off the Scottish lancers and the fighting on the English left was quickly over. Lambert was now able to concentrate the bulk of his army on Fordell’s position around the Whins. The crack, disciplined troops of the New Model Army soon put to flight the raw Scottish infantry; Fordell was left with only 200 horse and two infantry battalions to resist Lambert. Fordell was driven back to the level ground between Hillfield and Pitreavie. It was here, in the most heroic episode at Inverkeithing, that the Clan Maclean of Mull Regiment commanded by Sir Hector, 2nd Baronet Maclean of Duart, fought a fierce engagement to protect their chief. (Sir Hector’s ancestor, Red Hector of the Battles, had fallen in the battle of Red Harlaw in 1411.) The clansmen shouted their Clan slogan ‘Fear eil’ airson Eachainn’ (Another for Hector) until Maclean and 750 of his 800 clansmen lay dead on the field. Fordell’s casualties were between 800 and 2,000 dead, with 1,400 taken prisoner; Lambert’s losses were less than 200.

Although a battle on a much smaller scale than Dunbar the year before, the battle of Inverkeithing (also known as the battle of Ferry Hills) is considered of great importance and more decisive in Cromwell’s Scottish campaign of 1650 – 51 as it gave him control of Fife and the north-east. Also, Cromwell deliberately loosened his hold on the south-east, convinced that Charles II and David Leslie would take the opportunity to invade England; Cromwell rightly believed that once out in open unfamiliar territory in England, the Covenanter army would become easy prey. His brilliant deduction succeeded; on 3 September 1651, a year to the day of Dunbar, Oliver Cromwell decisively defeated Charles and Leslie at Worcester. As for Inverkeithing, a small cairn erected in 2001 by the Clan Maclean Heritage Trust commemorates the battle of 1651.

When Cromwell left Scotland in the summer of 1651, he ordered his able commander General George Monck to subdue the rest of Scotland, which Monck did with only 6,000 troops, although these scant resources were stretched to the limit. Even so, in the six months between August 1651 and February 1652, Monck took the key towns of Dundee, Montrose, Aberdeen and Inverness. After the final disastrous defeat of Charles II at Worcester, by the end of 1651 Monck’s forces in Scotland were doubled to 12,000.19 By February 1652, Monck had not only subjugated Scotland but pacified her. Monck’s achievement was indeed impressive and bears testament not only to his military skill but also, more importantly, his adroitness as a diplomat, an attribute he would put to good use in 1660.

In 1652 Monck was recalled to England to supervise the strengthening of the sea defences of Great Yarmouth during the Anglo-Dutch war; he would remain there until 1654 when he returned to Scotland. By that year there was open rebellion in northern Scotland by the Highland Clan chiefs chafing under the Cromwellian Commonwealth rule; there was even some unrest in Lowland Scotland. In 1653 the Clan chiefs had made it known to Charles II that they would rise for him, which prompted Charles to appoint Lieutenant Colonel John Middleton as his commander in chief. The Earl of Glencairn was made Middleton’s deputy while the latter travelled on the Continent raising arms and money for the coming rebellion.

Middleton, a Covenanter who had fought in the English Civil War on the parliamentary side, had also been an Engager with Charles I in 1646; now he had taken up the cause of Charles II, probably out of bitterness at the treatment meted out to the Engagers by the fanatical Archibald Johnston of Wariston, the witchfinder general and persecutor of the Engagers in 1650. When Middleton returned to Scotland in February 1654, he was joined by several Clan chiefs, notably the Earl of Atholl, Lord Kenmure and the Earl of Argyll’s heir, Lord Lorne. In April, Monck arrived to take command of the 15,000 strong Cromwellian forces, distributed throughout Scotland on garrison duties. Monck knew his objective of bringing order would have to be achieved quickly to discourage other Clan chiefs joining Middleton, Glencairn and Atholl. He organized his forces into five columns; his friend and colleague Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Morgan was given four of the columns, Monck himself commanding the fifth and largest. Monck began his campaign by torching hamlets and villages suspected of harbouring Royalist sympathizers, burning crops and driving off cattle. For the next three months, Middleton continued to elude both Monck and Morgan until the latter caught up with him in July.


Dalnaspidal Forest Looking south west to the Sow of Atholl (left) and Sgairneach Mhor (right)


Morgan had moved his columns eastwards from Braemar to Ruthven, marching south down the Spey Valley towards Dalwhinnie. At one point Monck and Middleton nearly joined battle but the former’s men were exhausted from their marching and counter-marching in pursuit of an elusive enemy. Middleton commanded a force of between 1,200 and 3,000; his intention was to march north to Caithness where he expected ships to bring reinforcements, arms and ammunition. Middleton’s route was by way of the western shore of Loch Garry and Dalnaspidal. However, on 19 July, Morgan surprised him at Dalnaspidal; he charged Middleton’s 800 horse which had somehow become separated from the infantry. Many of the Royalist troopers were killed and several more – about 300 – were taken prisoner. Middleton was wounded but managed to escape to Caithness, where he was unable to recruit more than a few hundred men. Dispirited, he took ship for the Continent, re-joining Charles II at Cologne in September 1654. Dalnaspidal was hardly a battle; Morgan’s losses were just four wounded. It was the last action in the Scottish civil war and brought the Royalist rising of 1651 – 54 to its close. By early 1655, most of the rebel leaders, including Glencairn, Middleton’s deputy, had submitted to Monck who treated them fairly. Scotland was once more at peace. For the time being.