The Bruce's In Ireland, pt.3

"The Bruce Bannockburn and Beyond" (excerpt3)


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Aftermath & The Bruce's in Ireland

Bannockburn was a devastating defeat for the English. The Earl of Gloucester, thirty-four barons, and over two-hundred knights were among the dead not to mention thousands upon thousands of regular infantry. Nearly a hundred other knights had been captured, to be ransomed over the next year.

Robert Bruce was the undisputed King of Scotland. In the aftermath, the Scots paid back the English for all those years of invasion. They swept south and raided northern England as far as Durham and Richmond in Yorkshire. They drove back herds of cattle and wagons of loot. The English dared not confront the Scots and Northumberland was left to fend for itself.

Bannockburn was an evil, miserable and a calamitous day for the English, said the melancoly Lanercost chronicler, and "the name of Bannockburn would stick in Englishmen's throats for may years." More than this, "Robert de Brus was commonly called king of Scotland by all men because he had acquired by force of arms."

The battle of Bannockburn was a decisive victory -- the most crucial military success in all of Scottish history. It did not end the war between Scotland and England, but it put Robert Bruce firmly in the ascendant. He had already demonstrated considerable skill as general and leader; he had been fighting for a just cause; his reputation was beginning to make an impact in the courts and palaces of Europe. And now this massive victory enhanced it. At home the people had a king to admire, to respect and in the end to love.

Having totally defeated the English at Bannockburn, the Scots had the scent of victory in their nostrils. They had suffered invasion after invasion at the hands of the English aggressors: now they went over to the offensive. The English and their Scottish sympathisers were driven out of Scotland, with the exception of the royal stronghold close to the border at Berwick. With Randolph and Douglas at their head, Scottish raiding parties poured over the borders, burning Appleby, laying waste the whole of Tynedale, and on one occassion attacking the doors of Richmond castle. A year later Durham was burned and Hartepool sacked.

Robert Bruce and wife
[Bruce & wife] Following the sweetness of victory came warmer pleasures. Bruce's wife and daughter came home from England, part of a bargain by which the Earl of Hereford, captured in flight, was exchanged for fifteen Scots in English hands. Among them too was Bishop Lamberton, and old Robert Wishart, now blind from his long imprisonment. The defences of Stirling Castle, surrendered by de Mowbray, were destroyed, and for the rest of the summer across Lothian and Lowland shires English and Welsh soldiers were hounded from their fugitive holes and murdered by the country folk and Scottish soldiers. A parliament met at Cambuskenneth, in an abbey founded by David and two miles from the still stinking battlefield, and it passed a sentence of forfeiture upon all Scots who had fought for the English that Midsummer Day and in the years before, and upon all who would not now "stand forth" and declare their allegiance to Robert King of Scots.

Now that Bruce had made himself secure it was time to determine his succession. He had no son, and although there was his daughter Marjorie by his first wife, he had too much sense of history, past and recent, to entrust the crown to a woman (as the thinking ran then). A national assembly of clergy, earls and barons, meeting at Ayr, decided with her consent that should the king die without a son the throne would go to his brother Edward, and his male heirs. This was the slip-side of succession peculiar to Pictish tradition, and it may have pleased his northern earls more than it did Marjorie and her young husband, Walter the Steward.

The Bruce's had paid bitterly for this triumph, in conscience and in blood. Three brothers brutally executed, ten years of war, treachery, and hardship. Nor had the two days' battle on the Bannock burn ended that war. Edward II recognised neither Scotland's independence nor her king, but the advantage and the initiative were now with the Scots. The northern counties of England were again raided and burnt, Edward Bruce and Douglas going over the Border like riotous schoolboys year by year, driving cattle and levying "blackmail", a term coined from the border wars. Although they would take no great castles they kept the country in a state of bewildered terror. From their bloodthirsty behaviour, and the equally brutish response of the English knights, Walter Scott would later weave his romantic verse. And this action of raiding across the borders would lead to over 300 years of what is now called "Border Reiving" which reached it's violent height in the 16th century.


A Grander Strategy

The victory at Bannockburn also allowed Robert to consider a grander strategy. He sent his brother, Edward, to Ireland. Some said this was merely an excuse to rid Scotland of a strong rival to Robert's throne, providing Edward Bruce with the chance to win a crown of his own. However, it also made good strategic sense. It shows in this sense, an act of attempted Celtic unification, that has long been glossed over or denied. The English estates in Ireland had been a source of warriors and supplies for the armies of both Edward I and Edward II. It was also part of a general Scots determination to master the Irish Sea. For, as soon as Edward Bruce had landed in Ireland, his fleet was returned to Robert who used it to secure the homage of the Norse-Scots lords of the Western Isles, which he got.

Such a life as Edward Bruce had led, fired his ambition (some say rash ambition), for greater achievements. When the titular king of Tyrone, whose power to make the offer was in doubt, invited Edward Bruce to take the throne of Ireland; he gladly accepted, and sailed across with Thomas Randolph and Robert's permission. Some of the peole rose for him, not so much in love as from a natural desire to be rid of the English and Anglo-Irish.*

*Note: The Anglo-Irish were a hearty mixture of Anglo-Norman invaders who went on to Ireland to seek their fame and fortune outside of England. They had fought with the native population, of course, but many well-to-do Irish lords saw an alliance with this new type of "English" as a way to rid Ireland of the dreaded Saxons. The Anglo-Normans formed alliances with powerful Irish warlords and over time became intermarried and were known as the Anglo-Irish, with more or less, a certain loyalty to the English crown. They ran Ireland as if it were their own kingdom, and killed at random Irish peasants and took over the Irish clergy and replaced it with Anglo-Irish Bishops approved by England. They became more dreadful than the hated Saxons, who were by now racially mixing into the Irish culture. Thus when Edward Bruce arrived in Ireland, the climate was rife for war.

Anglo-Irish warlords and now Scottish settlers and invaders, including the ever famous Scots gallowglass from the Western Isles. The stage was set for confrontation in Ireland for the next 290 years, but Edward would have to deal with it right away.

The O'Briens, the O'Tooles, O'Carrols and other Ulster clans carried him to Dublin on the wave of their fierce victories, and there crowned Edward Bruce High King of Ireland.

Celtic Unification?

King Robert the Bruce
[Bannockburn's final moments] In Ireland, Robert Bruce hoped to arouse a sense of Celtic brotherhood. He sent before Edward a remarkable letter addressed to all the Irish chieftains.

"We and our people and you and your people", he proclaimed," free since ancient times, share the same national ancestry and are urged to come together more eagerly and joyfully in friendship by a common language and by common custom. We have sent to you our beloved kinsman (Edward Bruce), the bearer of this letter, to negotiaite with you in our name about permanently maintaining and strengthening the special friendship between us and you, so that with God's will your nation may be able to recover her ancient liberty."

These are the actual words of Robert the Bruce's letter to the Irish. Many have had strong doubt that the Bruce's truthfully ever tried to foster a Celtic revival and unification between Ireland and Scotland. It seems this notion is too controversial for many present experts, but rest assured, the intent was indeed to unite the Celtic people under a common banner using the common language and heritage as a basis for the unification. Whether or not this idea of Robert and Edward Bruce's was a good one is still in question, but clearly that was the intent, and the above quote from Robert's letter is the proof. Also clearly, the medieval Scots were aware of their Irish ancestry and now wished to call upon that valued Gaelic aspect of their nationhood to overthrow the Norman-Saxon English and the Anglo-Irish warlords. In the wake of Bannockburn, the Irish were indeed tempted by the successful independence of the Scots. The O'Neills of Ulster were particularly keen to hit back at the English and offered Edward Bruce their kingship.

Donal O'Neill called upon fellow Irishmen to support Edward Bruce against the,

"sacrilegious and accursed English who, worse than the inhuman Danes, are busy heaping injuries of every kind upon the inhabitants of this country." He noted that their past disunity had made the Irish vulnerable: "we, being weakened by wounding one another, have easily yielded ourselves a prey to them. Hence it is that we owe to ourselves the miseries with which we are afflicted, manifestly unworthy of our ancestors, by whose valour and splendid deeds the Irish race in all past ages has retained its liberty."

But not all went smoothly. Since even the native Irish could not agree on his proper right to the title, Robert arrived with a large army to persuade them, and soon taught them that there was perhaps little difference between an English and Scots overlord.

Edward Bruce lands in Ireland

Landing at Lough Larne in Ulster, Edward Bruce led an army of 6,000. A small force, it nevertheless comprised veteran warriors of the War of Independence and soon defeated the local Anglo-Irish barons. A few Irish chieftains immediately allied themselves with Bruce, but others had to be beaten into submission. Despite a call for Celtic unity, this would become a campaign as much against the native Irish as against the English. The Scots progress through the country sent out ripples of mayhem. An army from Connacht arose to confront him, but was split by Edward Bruce playing one Irish clan against another so that Connacht itself plunged into civil war. In 1316, Dundalk, Edward Bruce was officially crowned High King of all Ireland. He now invited his brother to survey his newly conquered territory. Robert Bruce arrived with a powerful and intimidating force of gallowglass from the Western Isles, notoriously ferocious Norse-Gaelic mercenaries from the Hebrides. So far, Robert's masterplan had worked well. With Edward in Ireland, the Western Isles under Robert's control, rumours soon spread that the Bruce's were soon to land in Wales and restore their ancient liberty. An all-Celtic movement seemed imminent, unifying the Celts against Edwardian England. Encouraged by such thoughts, the Welsh rose in revolt under Llywelyn Bren, Edward II could not even trust his Welsh archers and all ideas of a counter-attack against Scotland had to be forgotten as he defended his lands in Wales and Ireland.


Back in England

Meanwhile back in Scotland and England the raids by Scottish forces under Douglas, Randolph and others continually ravaged the already raw and vulnerable Northern counties keeping the English constantly on the defensive, never successfully able to mount a counter-attack.

This could not go on. Under pressure from the peers of the northern counties, Edward II began to prepare for yet another campaign; but Bruce, with his usual brilliance, was one jump ahead of the English. After an eleven-week seige he captured Berwick, the last bastion of English influence in his homeland. And in the early summer, as Edward's army ponderously assembled, he crossed the border with a number of lightening raids burned Northallerton, Boroughbridge and Knaresborough, his incursions only ceasing when they reached York. By the time the English army were in the borderlands Bruce was safely back in Scotland, his efforts richly rewarded with English cattle and booty. Having understandably little confidence in their royal general, the various commanders in Edward II's army would not even enter Scotland, and eventually took their contingents home.


Edward Bruce now King of Ireland

[Irish Resist]
Back in Ireland, it was customary that a High King parde all around the country to secure his homage and respect. Early in 1317, Edward Bruce set out with his brother again on just such an expedition. They received a rough welcome. The earl of Ulster set an ambush. Allowing Edward Bruce's vanguard to proceed through forestland, he then set his archers on Robert's rear. Robert was not provoked and maintained his warriors in good order -- except for his nephew Sir Colin Campbell: he spurred his horse on towards the Irish despite the likelihood of a trap. Robert dashed after him and stunned him with a blunt weapon before he could be surrounded. At that moment, more warriors emerged from the forest and a fierce struggle ensued. Only the discipline and military expertise of the Scots saved them from the superior numbers of the Irish warriors.

The people of Dublin, fearing that Edward Bruce would march on them next, demolished and set fire to the suburban buildings outside their walls so as to deprive the Scot's army of any cover. It was a decision they were later to regret, for they destroyed many important buildings in their panic, including the king of England's Irish manor. But, Edward had little time for a seige and had decided to bypass the stout defences of the city. The Bruce's advanced into Munster, for here Irish clansmen promised that the entire countryside would rise to their side. But mutual suspicions overrode these ambitious plans and famine prevented any successful campaigning.

Edward Bruce was forced to turn back and consolidate his base in Ulster. After such an anti-climax, Robert returned to Scotland. The shockwaves of Bannockburn had begun to recede and Edward II was able to act with more confidence in the support of his barons. A small force of Genoese crossbowmen was sent to Ireland to encourage the cause of the English.

Through a generous attitude to enemies and a consolidation of feudal privileges, King Edward II managed to increase his influence among the Anglo-Irish. A royal mission to the Pope had also brought benefits. Archiepiscopal vacancies in Ireland were filled by men favourable to king Edward of England and all supporters of both Bruces were excommunicated. It appeared that Edward II was far more astute at politics than warfare.

Donal O'Neill, self-styled king of Ulster and "true heir by hereditary right of all Ireland", wrote to Pope John XXII with the Irish point of view. He detailed how the English dominated his land and treated the Irish as inferior beings. He recorded the fact that the English said it was no worse to kill an Irishman than a dog. But there were few other Irish who saw the Bruce invasion as a welcome blow against the English. Many Irish viewed Edward as yet another alien adventurer and preferred to do buisness with the English simply because they had been longer established. A chronicler of Connacht summed up Bruce's army as: "Scottish foreigners less noble than our own foreigners." As for the ideal that both Irish and Scots should unite under a common Gaelic banner, this seems to have been soon forgotten by both sides in the powerplay that followed invasion. Among the remote tribesman of the Irish mountains who did join Edward Bruce, the prospect may have appealed of fighting alongside warriors speaking a similar Celtic language.

But, by 1318, Edward Bruce still only had the support of a few Ulster opportunists. The action of English privateers in the Irish sea had broken the dominance of the Scots and reinforcements from Scotland could no longer be depended on. Nevertheless, Edward Bruce was a potent political force and, supported by the de Lacy family, he rode southwards at the head of an Irish-Scots army over two-thousand strong. An Anglo-Irish force under Richard Clare, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, met him at Faughart, just north of Dundalk.

Edward Bruce was heavily outnumbered and his senior knights advised him to wait for reinforcements. But Bruce was impatient for a victory that would give him greater political control. His Irish allies refused to join him in the foolhardiness and suggessted they harry the English with raids while Bruce awaited extra men that were expected. Again Edward ignored this sound advice, sent his warriors into battle. The vanguard and mainguard became spread out, their thin numbers annilhilated piecemeal by the Anglo-Irish.

Loyal to death, Edward Bruce's knightly retainers charged alongside their leader as the reargaurd rumbled forward. Having belated thoughts of mortality, Edward exchanged his conspicuous royal armour for the plain garb of a lowly knight. The Scots fought bravely, but inevitably were overwhelmed. According to legend, the English found the body of the lowly knight clad in Royal armour and presumed it to be Edward Bruce. His head was cut off, salted in a bucket, and sent to Edward II. But Bruce had not escaped the slaughter. His body lay elsewhere on the battlefield. As the Gaelic prisoners were led away, a Scots knight, Sir Philip Mowbray regained consciousness and broke away with other captives. They carried the heavy news of Edward Bruce's death, Robert last brother, home to Scotland.

The Bruce
[*] After the death of his vainglorious brother, Bruce held his kingdom for eleven more years and until death, but under almost constant opposition and assualt from without. He held it by the consent of the mass of its people and the majority of its barons. Four years before Bannockburn the Scots clergy at Dundee had declared that the nation would live and die with a king who, "possessing the right of blood and endowed with the other cardinal virtues, is fitted to rule and worthy of the name of King and the honour of the Kingdom". By the sword, they said, had Robert restored the realm. Now after Bannockburn, success was all, the throne was his and doubt was buried with the dead at Bannockburn.

He would have preferred peace, but Edward II was stubborn in defeat and Scots reckless in victory. A Border war continued fretfully across the Solway and the Tweed, the ill-protected and ill-supported northern shires of England resisting when they dared, or buying peace when they could not. On either side of that arbitrary frontier, men of the same stock, same racial ancestory, built their tall black towers, thumbed their noses at each other, and plunged into a reiving (stealing, robbing) way of life that was to last for over three centuries. Scots armies went south like bandits, intent on blood and plunder, but Bruce's tactics in carrying the war to the land of his opponent were wise, not spiteful. England might survive the bleeding of its northern counties, for its arteries flowed from the south, but the heart of Scotland was within reach of the Border and bled from every raid across it.


Celtic Unification does Take Effect in Ireland

In that second decade of the 14th century, it seemed as if the Celtic realms of Britain and Ireland might rise together and throw back the descendants of the Normans and Saxons. In the real event such a dream did not come true, and the English held onto many of their Celtic possessions. But the struggle had not been in vain. In Ireland, English control had been further weakened. Irish chieftains now contested the land as strongly as the Anglo-Irish barons. Although some admitted the overlordship of the English king, all were united in their determination not to be ruled by a middle strata of Anglo-Irish adventurers.

Norman dynasties were bundled out of several Irish estates. A Gaelic revival was under way that would eventually reduce the power of the English to the Pale -- the royal territory around Dublin. The authority of the great Irish lordships emerged intact from the Celtic highlands. Already, in 1258, an attempt had been made to restore the high kingship of all Ireland. In 1327, after the Bruce attempt at Celtic unification, Leinster -- the heartland of the Anglo-Irish support -- had thrown itself behind the MacMurroughs [a strongly Celtic family] and elected one of them king of Leinster, the first since the Norman conquest [1066]. Military victories were paralled by a resurgence of Gaelic culture that engulfed the Anglo-Irish and ensured that the Celtic tongue and law were dominant in Ireland until the coming of the Tudors.

[Statue of Robert Bruce]

The Bruce dream of a united Celtic Britain and Ireland had failed, but in its failure it had sparked a Celtic Irish revival that was not to be denied. In the failure, an Irish Celtic culture was, perhaps, saved for all time.

Robert the Bruce ruled for another eleven years, finally getting long awaited offical recognition as King only a year before his death. It seems the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320, had finally been taken seriously by even the Pope. Robert would remain, somewhat sadly, the most distinguished and successful king ever to rule Scotland. Just before his Robert's death, he gathered those of his friends and advisors around him, warning of the foolhardy risks of facing future English armies in a direct confrontation such as had occurred, with success, at Bannockburn. But with the deaths of his able lieutenants, James Douglas on crusade in Spain, and Thomas Randolph in Scotland, Bruce's warnings were forgotten -- or ignored.

Next, chronologically, the English and Scots face off again at Dupplin Moor, Berwick and Halidon Hill. These battles, with a background history, are online to read under the topic "The Second Scottish War of Independence".



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