So now we’ve laid some of the ground work, the background to Bruce’s Heavenly Help
. Bruce is at perhaps the lowest point of his life, not merely personally, but in the outlook for his country in its stand against England.
Indeed, Bruce had few followers. The country was torn apart, Comyn supporters against Bruce supporters–and news of the murder would do nothing to heal that divide. On April 5, Edward I in England gave Aymer de Valence the dreaded power to raise the Dragon Banner, which meant No. Mercy.
On May 20, the Oath of Swans
, a great feast, was held in which the 22-year-old Edward II and 250 other young men were knighted in preparation for the move against Bruce.
On June 19, at the Battle of Methven, Bruce’s small army was routed by Aymer de Valence. He had little to begin with and much of it was destroyed.
So we begin to see why Bruce might feel that he required…and received…saintly intervention. The Battle of Dalrigh happened in the summer of 1306, after Methven, sometime between late July and early August. The date is unknown. [And we are a people who love dates! The fruits, the romance, and the history!]
His clansmen are feuding each other instead of uniting against Edward I. He has, in a moment of passion, killed a man on consecrated ground, further alienating those he needs to draw together, in addition to the lifelong guilt he will feel. His followers are few–yet they’re all Scotland has. And now a great number of even those few have been killed or captured. Added to the guilt of killing John Comyn in a moment of anger, he now carries the guilt that these men have died as a result of his decision to fight Edward I.
Imagine Bruce at this moment. His country is torn. It has had no true king since Alexander’s death in 1286–twenty years!
With very little left, Bruce and his followers–those who have not been killed or captured–race west toward the Mountains of Argyll, seeking refuge, a chance to pause, regroup, decide what to do. They travel through Glendochart, either up Earnside or Tayside, and along the way stop at a small church at Strathfillan. This particular church was a church ‘of the Culdees,’ the original church of St. Fillan, with no allegiance to Rome–a good thing since Rome (which would, in three years, actually be in Avignon) had ex-communicated him.But the abbot of this church blessed him and warned him he was in dangerous country. This was the land of the MacNabs–a powerful clan and allies of both the MacDougalls and the Comyns. Uh-oh–yeah, the guy Bruce just killed.They hit the road and sure enough, Clan MacNab had already seen them and passed word on to the MacDougalls. And so, at their weakest moment, they met Clan MacDougall (yeah, those MacDougalls!*) the powerful descendants of Somerled. (His brothers Ottumled and Winterled didn’t fare quite as well, historically speaking, and are all but forgotten.)
[* Seriously, I have nothing against the MacDougalls. I picked the name at random back in 2005 and found out by dumb luck it fit well historically and, hey, someone had to be the bad guy. Given that my life is a Study in Irony, I’m pretty sure I will end up marrying a MacDougall. I mean–that would be ironic, right? So if you’re a MacDougall and want to marry me, I guess we may as well just send out the invitations right now and skip all that in between stuff. Because…my life is a Study in Irony. Really…someday I’ll write a post about being kicked out of organ lessons.]
Ahem…back to the Bruce. Ottumled and Winterled didn’t actually exist. Somerled and his powerful descendants did–in great numbers–and they intercepted the very distressed Bruce and his battered battalion.
At perhaps the most desperate moment of his life, physically and emotionally, already feeling guilt about killing a man on consecrated ground, already feeling guilt about his friends and followers who trusted him now dead or in captivity because of his actions, Bruce meets–at Strathfillan (or Strath Fillan if we want to be more obvious about it) a superior force of Clan MacDougall.
Reports say there were a thousand of Clan MacDougall, led by Alexander’s son (no, not that Alexander, and not that son–Duncan is dead. Remember that–to begin with (at least in Book Five) Duncan was dead.) Where were we? Yes, a thousand MacDougalls led by Lame John, or John Bacach, or Iain Bacach (because One Moniker is Never Enough) driving in against Bruce’s 500 remaining men, with Valence’s army riding in fast from the east. Bruce could not retreat. He had no choice but to fight, outnumbered two to one–and worse if Valence arrived.
We must not forget morale. Not only were Bruce’s men badly outnumbered, they were without a doubt already demoralized from the staggering defeat at Methven, the loss of so many close friends, and one would think, growing doubt that they had any chance at all.
Except–they had two things on their side. One was James Douglas–between seventeen and twenty-two years old at the time. But James Douglas was the Chuck Norris of early 14th Century Scotland. He would later go into battles more heavily outnumbered than two to one (Skaithmuir for example).
The other thing? Faith: Prayer. The Saints. Heaven. God.
I started this series on St. Fillan and Inchaffray by saying the medieval world was one in which the physical and the supernatural lived much more closely entwined than we generally do today. Bruce was a man of great faith. We see this throughout his life and he would without a doubt have prayed. Whether he already had an affinity for St. Fillan or whether that started at Dalrigh, I have not yet dug into.
So what happened? Well, the battle, not surprisingly, did not go well for Bruce. His surviving horses were killed. James Douglas
(yes, even the unstoppable James “the Norris” Douglas) and Gilbert Hay were both injured. In the midst of battle, Brucefound himself fighting alone against three MacDougalls, trapped between a hill and a loch (Lochan nan Arm according to tradition) in a space so narrow he couldn’t turn his horse.
[Another side note: one tradition says that Lochan nan Arm got its name because, in their rush to retreat, Bruce’s men threw their weapons into the loch. I have not at this point seen an explanation why warriors would throw away their weapons. I know…they’re heavy, they make running more difficult, and yet…it’s all you got against the enemy! I am not taking the time to research it at this exact moment in time, but if you have great links or information regarding that, please leave them in the comments.]
The fighting was so close that one of the MacDougalls managed to tear off the brooch that held Bruce’s cloak. One tradition is that that particular man was almost immediately killed, and when his body was found, he was still clutching Bruce’s cloak, with the brooch. It is still held today by the MacDougalls, and known as the Brooch of Lorn.[One source says the one held by them today only actually dates to the 1500s and is therefore a replica. Again, something worth noting, but also something I’m not researching today.]
Despite all this, Bruce’s army managed to escape, crossing the River Fillan at Cronachar’s Ford (Ath Cronachar).
And so, having been caught at Strathfillan and retreating across the River Fillan–is this the ‘help’ of 1306 for which Bruce is endowing a St. Fillan chapel at Inchaffray Abbey? Given he only had so many desperate flights across Perthshire in 1306, and given a strath and a river both named after Fillan and given his somewhat miraculous escape–it stands to reason.
So twelve years later (yeah, I know, twelve years, but hey, he was dealing with an awful lot in those twelve years) in the first three months of 1318, he endowed a chapel to St. Fillan, a chapel attached to Inchaffray Abbey.Now comes the fun (or frustrating) part of research. The more answers we find, the more questions arise, and all too often, those answers conflict with one another. We’ll get into some of those tomorrow, along with more on Inchaffray itself and St. Fillan. CLICK HERE
for PART THREE.
For more detail on the battle of Dalrigh, and questions of how we know what we know and our sources, see The Tree of a Son of Skye’s article on the battle of Dalrigh
- Sunday, June 18, 10 am: Books and Brews with Scott, owner of Eat My Words Bookstore
- June 24, 2017, 3 to 5 pm: Reading at Eat My Words Books with Michael Agnew
- October 2017: Author Talk and luncheon at Lawrence University
- October 16, 2017: speaker at Fox Cities Book Festival in Appleton, Wisconsin
- January 9, 2018: Talk with the Osseo Book Club
~ ~ ~
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