Archive for the ‘Medieval Weapons and Warfare’ 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.

 

 

 

 

Throughout history, the story of the American colonists’ fight for freedom has been repeated: small and weak countries fighting against those bigger and larger.  The Scottish Wars of Independence are one such example.

Since 1286, Edward I, king of England, had involved himself in Scotland’s affairs, claiming to be overland of the country.  With the death of Alexander III, king of Scots, and in the absence of a clear heir, Edward chose John Baliol as the new king, thinking to have himself a puppet on the throne.  However, after a string of offenses and humiliations, Baliol refused to send troops for the English king’s war against France.  This provoked the sack of Berwick in March 1296, the vicious murder of the men, women, and children of the town of Berwick, that is said to have ended only when Edward saw his troops butchering a woman in the very act of giving birth.  (Good to know he had some standards.)
By 1297, open revolt was spreading across Scotland.  During the winter of 1296-97, Andrew de Moray, the younger, had escaped captivity by the English and begun raising men against them.  In May 1297, William Wallace killed the English sheriff in Lanark, gathered like-minded men to join him, and received the blessings of Bishop Wishart, the bishop of Glasgow, in his stand against the English.  Around the same time, Edward discovered that William Douglas had defected to the Scottish cause, and sent Robert Bruce, the young Scottish Earl of Carrick, to attack Douglas’s castle.  Instead, Bruce joined forces with Douglas and others standing against England.
He soon found himself side by side with several Scottish lords, William Douglas, James the Steward, Bishop Wishart, and William Wallace.  On July 9, 1297, they gathered on the northern banks of a loch near Irvine, prepared to fight the oncoming English.  The English army, led by Henry Percy and Robert Clifford, gathered on the southern banks.
The fun and frustration of research is the many versions of an event which are told.
One colorful, but unlikely, version of the Capitulation at Irvine is that the bickering of the Scottish troops became so intolerable to the English that they simply left the field.
A more common story of what happened at Irvine is that the Scottish lords objected to being led by one they considered their social inferior.  Infighting broke out among the Scottish ranks, resulting in the Scottish lords capitulating to the English, rather than being led by their inferior.  Wallace, unable to fight without the lords, disappeared into the north.
G.W.S. Barrow, in Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland paints a somewhat different picture, reporting that Douglas, as soon as English troops were seen, sent envoys asking if they were authorized to accept surrender.  One Richard Lundie was so disgusted with this immediate capitulation that he changed sides then and there and joined the English.
However, Barrow points out that the Scots spun out surrender negotiations for a month, during which, Wallace, unhindered by the English, was busy elsewhere laying more plans and gathering men.  The end result was that the nobles once again agreed to swear allegiance to Edward I.  You’d think by now Edward would understand that forcing oaths of allegiance from the Scottish nobles was an exercise in futility.
However the events of Irvine are interpreted, the Scots went on, as the American colonists would four hundred years later, to successfully fight off the much stronger country of England.
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