Archive for the ‘Battles’ Category

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.


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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.

 

 

 

 

Once again, we have a winner!  An e-mail has been sent out to the winner of the Freedom Hop.

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July 10 is a date that was to have great impact on the Scottish Wars of Independence.  Before Robert the Bruce became one of Scotland’s greatest kings, there was John Balliol, king of Scots.  In the wake of Alexander III dying without a clear heir, the Scottish lords, fearing bloody disputes among the 13 competitors for the throne, called in Edward I of England to settle the matter.  The strongest claims to the throne came from John Balliol and Robert the Bruce, grandfather of the later king of Scots who fought at Bannockburn.

 

Edward chose John Balliol.  Even today, historians discuss who had the stronger claim, and many do say that he did.  However, Edward’s motives were not so pure.  He had declared himself overlord, or Lord Paramount of Scotland, and believed Balliol would be a suitable puppet king.

 

Almost immediately upon the new king’s coronation on November 30, 1292, Edward I began a series of actions designed to undermine and humiliate Balliol.  In 1294, Edward demanded that Scotland send troops to help fight England’s war against France.  King John refused.  Rather, his council of twelve made a treaty with France known as the Auld Alliance.

 

Edward, on finding out, took a break from fighting the French to march north and sack the town of Berwick on March 30, 1296, killing thousands of men, women, and children over the course of three days.

 

Very shortly after his men finished their bloody massacre, Edward received a message from King John, renouncing his homage to the English king.  Edward is reported to have said, O foolish knave!  What folly he commits!  If he will not come to us, we will go to him.

 

And so Edward turned his army on the Earl of March’s castle at Dunbar, just north of Berwick.  The Earl of March sided with Edward, but his wife, Marjory Comyn, sister to the Earl of Buchan, felt otherwise, and allowed the Scots to use the castle.

 

On April 27, the English defeated the Scots at Dunbar.  In the following months, more castles fell to England, and finally, on July 10, John Balliol was captured by the English in a churchyard in Strathaco.  There, Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham, tore Scotland’s red and gold arms from Balliol’s surcoat, and Balliol was forced to abdicate the throne of Scotland and sign documents admitting to allying with Edward’s enemies, and giving the kingdom of Scotland to Edward.

 

It was a dark day for Scotland.

 

But it was not the end.

 

Perhaps Edward would have done better to allow John Balliol some nominal kingship, for from this void rose the great heroes of Scotland’s Wars of Independence: William Wallace, Andrew de Moray, James Douglas, Robert the Bruce, and many more.