Archive for the ‘Bannockburn’ Category

The medieval mind saw things rather differently than many people today.  It was a world, I believe, where the physical and the supernatural, or spiritual, lived in…dare I say…communion?  No pun intended.  (But never look a gift pun in the mouth!)Other blog posts here have discussed saints and miracles.  And more will in the future.  My current research is on the early months of 1318.  Where might Niall be?  The last we saw him in Westering Home, he’d been sent on a distasteful mission by the Bruce to retrieve papers from the unfortunate Adam Newton.  We will find out in the opening pages of The Battle is O’er that the Bruce sends Niall, Hugh, Lachlan, and Owen home to Glenmirril, lest they be seen and remembered as the culprits.But we can be sure Niall will not just sit home until The Big Event at the end of The Battle is O’er.  So what is he doing?

He can’t go to Rome to see the Pope because the Pope is now in Avignon.  Is there a reason he would go to see the Pope at all?  Quite possibly.  The Popes had definitively taken England’s part, and as Pope John XXII wanted the war between England and Scotland cleared up so he could get going with a crusade, there were frequent messages back and forth from Avignon to both Scotland and England.  Scotland would certainly have sent messages in return.

Inchaffray Priory, Maurice, Abbot of Inchaffray, Robert the Bruce

In researching the question, I came across one detail that references St. Fillan’s saintly help.  In the first three months of 1318, Bruce was likely busy with a lot of administrative work, including resettling of lands and offices, making appointments, and spending a fair amount of time in Arbroath.  In these three months, he endowed a chapel to St. Fillan, attached to Inchaffray Priory, in thanks for help he attributed to the saint during his flight through Perthshire in 1306.

St. Fillan is fairly well known for the miracle the night before battle at Bannockburn.  Maurice, the abbot of Inchaffray Priory plays a part in that act.  But what happened in Perthshire in 1306?  (And does it stay there?  No, obviously not since we’re about to read it here!)

My guess is that the ‘help’ referred to in 1306 concerns the Battle of Dalrigh.  Dal righ means Field of the King, and comes from the battle fought there by King Robert in the summer of 1306.  It is technically accurate to say Robert the Bruce was king at that time.  However, it was in name only.  Sort of like–because he said so.

The weeks leading up to his coronation were just not the kind of weeks any of us would want.  First, there was his apparent betrayal by John Comyn to Edward and a hasty flight to escape capture.  Then he killed John Comyn at the altar at Greyfriars on February 10–I believe in moment of high tempers rather than pre-planned, but it meant a hasty flight to Scone and a shotgun coronation, so to speak, before the Pope could find out and excommunicate him, because an ex-communicated man cannot be anointed king.

There were few at his coronation, and Elizabeth, his wife, is reported to have said, “Alas, we are but king and queen of the May.”  Or, according to other sources: ’It seems to me we are but a summer king and queen whom children crown in their sport.’

Due to length…let us leave off there and continue with PART TWO tomorrow!  But we are getting to Inchaffray Priory and St. Fillan in PART THREE…I promise!  [And in the meantime, I'm still not sure what Niall is doing in these three months!]


  • Sunday, June 18, 10 am: Books and Brews with Scott, owner of Eat My Words Bookstore
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  • 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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It was a hot and muggy July in 1314 at Stirling Castle on the eastern coast of Scotland. Good King Robert, the Bruce, had just won a great victory at Blàr Allt a’ Bhonnaich  or the Battle of Bannockburn, sending England’s Edward II, his pride and his army crushed, home to think again. But at Stirling Castle within sight of the battleground, midges swarmed around hundreds of men, sweat-drenched as they tunneled under the walls and fired the supports. Great billows of smoke rose in columns. Walls and towers crashed to the ground.

Well, that’s how I imagine it anyway.

It was not the English who were destroying the huge Scottish castle which had surrendered to the Scots on June 25, the day after the battle. The English needed castles to try to control the Scottish countryside and its stubbornly independent people. Instead, King Robert the Bruce was slighting the last of the great Scottish castles as he had been doing for the past six years. There was only one way to deny the English those strongholds. Destroy them. (Slight is used in the old sense of “to level with the ground” and is the common term for leveling a castle)

The English built the great castles of Wales to suppress the Welsh people. Scotland already had great castles such as Berwick, Stirling, Edinburgh and Roxburgh which the English could use for that purpose. The early days of the Scottish War of Independence had proven to King Robert that he could not hope to hold the castles against the overwhelming numbers the English could bring against him. The English needed castles them to hold Scotland. The Scots didn’t. It was their home.

The Scots fought a different kind of war as explained in a famous verse called Good King Robert’s Testament:

On foot should be all Scottish war.

Let hill and marsh their foes debar

And woods as walls prove such an arm

That enemies do them no harm.

In hidden spots keep every store

And burn the plainlands them before,

So, when they find the land lie waste

Needs must they pass away in haste

Harried by cunning raids at night

And threatening sounds from every height.

Then, as they leave, with great array

Smite with the sword and chase away.

This is the counsel and intent

Of Good King Robert’s Testament

Earlier in 1314, Sir James Douglas, Lord of Douglas had captured Roxburgh Castle, one of the largest in Scotland, after one of his infamous sneak attacks, and the king sent his brother with an entire army to slight it. Not wishing Douglas to get one up on him, for they were well-known for competing with each other, Sir Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, captured Edinburgh Castle which was also promptly slighted on King Robert’s command.

However, this wasn’t new, but a longstanding policy of King Robert’s. The first of the castles that I know of to be destroyed was James Douglas’s own Douglas Castle which Douglas first burned, probably in 1307, and then completely slighted a year later after the English had rebuilt it.

This policy became a fixture. In the north of Scotland, castles could be strongholds for King Robert’s domestic enemies, the Comyns and their allies, so those were destroyed. In the south of Scotland,  castles were essential to English war policy. That was where most of the great royal castles were and capturing them took much longer. But captured they were, one by one. After the Battle of Bannockburn, only Berwick Castle remained standing until 1318.

By the end of 1314, Scotland, in effect, was a kingdom without castles.



About J.R. Tomlin:


Born in the US, in Texas to be specific, to a Scottish father and American mother, J. R. grew up spending time both in Texas and Scotland, mainly in  Edinburgh where her grandparents lived. Her first memory of writing is a poem in the second grade, and she long had an ambition to be a poet, which was given up when she realized that her poetry was pretty bad. Instead she went into journalism. She attended the University of Texas at Austin and now lives in the rainier clime of the US Pacific North West. Her historical novels of Scotland include Freedom’s Sword and A Kingdom’s Cost.