Archive for the ‘Medieval Times Outside 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?



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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.
Dalrigh today

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. 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.
dalrigh, field of the king, robert the bruce, methven, time travel fiction

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'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
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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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