Archive for the ‘Great Figures of Medieval Scotland’ Category

Over nearly twelve years of studying the time of the Scottish Wars of Independence, the story of the attack on the bishops has long been familiar to me.  It is mentioned in passing in one of the volumes of The Blue Bells Chronicles.  (Westering Home, if I remember correctly.)  The short story is that churchmen were attacked in their travels and their money stolen.  Two of the Pope’s legates were with them.

I’ve never had cause to research that particular incident further, and yet never come across more details.  I was under the impression the ‘robbery’ happened on the Bruce’s orders.  Only now have I stumbled on more detail about that incident, while looking for other information.

For instance, the date: September 1, 1317.  To a high school student, this would be boring, unimportant information.  (I know this because I was once a high school student.)  To a historical novelist, this is utterly fascinating and imperative to how it fits in with what Niall or the Laird or Hugh is doing from August to September of 1317.  (I know this because I am a historical novelist, and history is so much more fascinating from this angle–although I wish that all history teachers made it as fascinating as it is!)

Where: On the road between Darlington and Durham, at one of three places–Rushyford, Ferryhill, or Ache–depending which report you read.

My secret source gives details on who was attacked: Lewis de Beaumont, second cousin to King Edward II and almost certainly some relation to the evil Simon Beaumont.  Lewis was on his way to be consecrated as Bishop of Durham.  (A bad place to be in those days, given the ongoing Scottish raids, but hey, I’m sure he knew what he was getting into.)  Riding with him were his brother, Henry, and two Italian cardinals they were escorting.

The cardinals were Luca Fieschi, Italian nobleman and distant relative of Edward II. (Now is that any big surprise to any student of medieval history?  Who was not related to Who in those days?) and Gaecline D’Eauze (or Deuse).  They had arrived in England in June of 1317 to try to establish peace between Bruce and Edward II.


It seems, on reading various accounts, that the real crime was attacking cardinals, moreso than attacking bishops.  The cardinals were quickly released, but the Beaumont Brothers remained as unwilling guests at Mitford Castle (which, side note, was razed not much later by James Douglas) until mid-October or December depending which source we believe.

medieval knights, medieval bishops, medieval clerics, sir gilbert middleton

And finally, the big question: Whodunnit?  All I read had hinted it was the Bruce’s doing, to acquire money and any papers they might have that might be of interest to him.  (Remembering, I have had little cause to dig deep into the incident.)  Pope John XXII blamed it on those pesky Scots, informing Ed 2.0 that Robert the Bruce had committed outrages on the cardinals (so far, I have not found the nature of those outrages) and seized and carried off the bishop.  He told the cardinals themselves that Bruce had torn up the Pope’s letters to ‘him,’ the him presumably being the bishop and also ‘laid violent hands on’ the bishop of Carlisle (which is across the country from Durham.

We now know (or should I say, I now know…) it was one Sir Gilbert Middleton who did the dastardly deed.  This was news to me!  (Please…remember I’ve never really looked into this particular incident.  Cause like…I’m totally sure all of you knew it was totally Sir Gilbert Middleton!  Like, who didn’t know that!)

Anyway, like the old mantra, the devil made me do it, for Pope John XXII, at least when it came to attacks on bishops and cardinals, the mantra was, the Scots made him do it!  But in fact, Sir Gilbert was a knight of Edward II’s own household–and who was, to all appearances, on reasonably good terms with Edward at least until January of 1317, at which point one Adam Shirlock, Messenger, was carrying messages between them.

Furthermore, it seems that Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, cousin and enemy of King Edward, was an ally of Sir Gilbert.  In addition, he had promoted a different candidate for bishop–and his candidate lost to Beaumont.  An axe to grind, perhaps?  Of course, in the days we’re talking about, grinding axes was much more literal than it is today.  So I need to be careful of my idioms.

It is possible Middleton himself was simply fed up with Edward.  There was growing discontent by this point over Edward’s favoritism toward Hugh Audley and Roger Damory–who had taken the place in his affections of the deceased and reviled Piers Gaveston.

Scalacronica tells us Sir Gilbert was angry with Edward for the arrest of his cousin Adam Swinburn–and that arrest ties into the other growing grievance among Edward’s nobles and knights.  He completely failed to protect his subjects in the north from the ongoing raids of the Scots.  Adam Swinburn, it seems, had been a little bit too blunt in his words to Edward.  (Another interesting post–just what did Adam say?)

In June of 1317–two to three months before the September 1 attack–several knights had staged a protest, at Westminster, of Edward’s shows of favoritism.

In short, there were many grievances against Edward, personal and political, from many people.  It’s like one of those stories where everyone wishes they’d committed the murder, the victim is so thoroughly hated by all!  It may have been Lancaster, it may have been Bruce, it may have been Middleton’s own idea.

And in fact, we don’t stop there.  Also accused were Sir John Eure and others who were likely Lancaster’s retainers (thus slanting the blame back toward him), John Middleton (Gilbert’s brother), and Marmaduke Basset along with a full 61 other men all of whom were “going to the Court of Rome [which was actually in Avignon at the time] on account of acts perpetrated in the Marches of Scotland, whereby they feel their consciences wounded.”

[Marmaduke came back without Proof of Absolution and had to go a second time.  And in another interesting historical morsel, it seems Marmaduke continued to have issues with the Bishop(s) of Durham.  In a record at the National Archives, dated between 1328 and 1340 we learn:

"Marmaduke Basset requests remedy because Wessington gave the manor of Offerton to his grandfather and the heirs of his body, but after his death William Basset entered as son and heir and alienated the estate, depriving him of his inheritance. The petitioner has often sued to the bishop of Durham for a writ of formedon."

Given that Lewis Beaumont died in 1333--on the same day Dr. Seuss would die many centuries later, which ought to be of vast interest to all and highly suggests a conspiracy--we don't know if the grievance was with the same Bishop of Durham who was abducted, or his successor.  But I find it an interesting connection that a man who appears to have played a role continued to be at odds with the man or the office.]


Regardless of who put him up to it, it was Gilbert who paid the price, when he was condemned on January 26, 1318, (January 24 according to another site) to be ‘hanged and drawn on the site on the site of the cardinals which he robbed.’  My secret source says the execution was likely carried out immediately.  Alas, poor Sir Gilbert (who we hardly knew)–it is you who will be drawn and hanged, not the Scots, not Lancaster, not Marmaduke or any of the 61 others.

This, to me, is the interesting question: with so many people involved in this attack, why was it only Gilbert who was executed?



  • 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 Book Festival in Appleton, Wisconsin
  • January 9, 2018: Talk with the Osseo Book Club
~ ~ ~
To learn more about my books, click on the images below
If you would like to follow this blog, sign up HERE
If you like an author’s posts, please click like and share
It helps us continue to do what we do

If you liked this post you might also like:
The Vampire of Melrose Abbey
The Green Lady of Stirling Castle
or other posts filed under

We started the story…

  • …of Inchaffray Abbey, and Bruce’s endowment to it in PART ONE, I talked about Bruce’s decision to give an endowment for a chapel to St. Fillan and a brief history of the early, awful months of 1306.
  • In PART TWO, I got into the detail of the Battle of Dalrigh, which, according to one source, is likely the 1306 event for which Bruce credited Fillan’s help.  I finished with:

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.

[Yes, I just used the quote feature to quote myself.  Now that I've been quoted, does that mean I'm famous?]The frustrations are that some things we just will likely never know for sure.  And that sources sometimes conflict.  The fun…is the same thing.  Mysteries and questions abound!In the case of Bruce’s endowment for the chapel to St. Fillan, his motivation is given in one paper (The Kingship of Robert I, 1306-29) as being ‘in thanks for the intercession of that saint during Bruce’s flight into exile through Perthshire in 1306.’  His source: S. Taylor’s ‘The Cult of St Fillan in Scotland’, in T.R. Liszka and L.E.M. Walker eds., The North Sea World in the Middle Ages: Studies in the Cultural History of North-Western Europe (Dublin 2001).  Not having access to that source, I don’t know what their basis is for linking the endowment to Dalrigh.

Wikipedia, without citing a source for his motivation in particular, says that the gift was in thanks for the miracle at Bannockburn, while Temple of Mysteries, the website of The Stone of Destiny: In Search of the Truth, says only that Bruce’s building of the ‘priory’ (it is called a priory, rather than a chapel here) so shortly after Bannockburn suggests repaying a favor.  He does not speak to which favor, but I would hazard he means the miracle at Bannockburn.

The remains of St. Fillan’s Priory

Regarding the use of the word priory, one site says Bruce ‘endowed a chapel’ which was ‘attached to’ the Inchaffray Abbey.  Temple of Mysteries says he built a priory.  This may not be different things, although the choice of words might infer different things on first reading.  We do know that the original Inchaffray Priory was created around 1200 by Gilbert, Earl of Strathearn and his first (known) wife.  It became an abbey about 1220.

And here we come to another Fun/Frustrating aspect of research: the rabbit holes!  What is the difference between an abbey and a priory?  In short, so as not to digress, a priory is generally considered a ‘lower level’ or subordinate to an abbey.  If you’d like to go down that rabbit hole yourself, you can read a bit more here.

My guess is that Bruce’s endowment for the chapel to St. Fillan does not need to be assigned as thanks for either his escape at Dalrigh or his miraculous victory at Bannockburn.  It may have been a more general thank you for both of these and possibly for more incidents that have not survived in recorded history.  [We sometimes seem to forget that just because our earliest sources mentioning Bruce praying to Fillan date from a hundred years after the fact, (as mentioned in Temple Mysteries) that does not mean that's the first written mention of it.  It may have been documented in multiple sources that did not survive.]

So my guess is that it was in thanks for both and possibly for more.

Bruce had long had a devotion to St. Fillan.  What becomes the interesting question to me is where this devotion started.  It’s not a question I have deeply researched, but it is mentioned in Temple Mysteries that St. Fillan was said to have suffered from leprosy.  Many sites claim Bruce did, too.  So the suggestion put forth is that the leprosy connection (not to be confused with the Rainbow Connection–Muppet reference for you young ‘uns.) is what led to Bruce’s affinity for Fillan.

I tend to side with those who say Bruce had a skin condition that was often erroneously called leprosy at some historical point or perhaps got garbled in translation somewhere along the line–but was not the Biblical leprosy we think of.  But a man with leprosy would likely not be living among others, as Bruce clearly did.  I suspect even for a king, such a thing would not be allowed, and if he had, he did, and it was–wouldn’t we hear about more noblemen around him having leprosy, too?

While I have not researched it in particular, I have also not, in my years of familiarity with St. Fillan, ever heard that he had leprosy.

I would offer that his devotion to Fillan may have begun with the blessing from the abbot at the Culdee Church and the Dalrigh escape.  Or perhaps it started earlier, which is why he credited Fillan with that escape.  Fillan was one of the great Celtic saints, and Bruce certainly had Celtic roots through his mother.

In the end, what we can safely say is that in the first three months of 1318, Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, endowed something–priory or chapel–dedicated to St. Fillan, in connection with Inchaffray Abbey, in thanks for the Saint’s help at some time or times plural.

As a writer, this gives enough information to be historically accurate and enough room to work it into the story.

More on St. Fillan: Temple of Mysteries  and A Family of Saints by Dmitry Lapa (the picture above is his–it was the only picture I could find anywhere of the ruins; lots of great pictures on his page.)

~ ~ ~
If you would like to read more medieval history, there’s a great deal more at my other blog.
To learn more about my books, click on the images below
If you would like to follow this blog, sign up HERE
If you like an author’s posts, please click like and share
It helps us continue to do what we do