Scotland's Story, Ch. 10 - Robert Bruce - history, Chapters 3 & 4

Story of Scotland Chapter Ten: Robert Bruce - the Bruce, Douglas, Randoph and Edward: band of brothers.

by Robert M Gunn© 2011/2012
All Rights Reserved, by all international copyright law exclusively to the author and ©Skye-Net, RM Gunn

Chapter Ten

The Story of Scotland's history: Chapter 10 - The Bruce, Douglas, Randolph and Edward: band of brothers.


[Note: The next four parts are 2 chapter reproductions from my book, "The Bruce, Bannockburn and Beyond" (out of print). You'll only find this here, and on my Facebook group]

The Bruce, Bannockburn and Beyond. - Chapters 3 & 4
By Robert M. Gunn

[Bruce stained glass] Bruce and Douglas -- Their Early Victories

On the slopes of Mulldonach, which towers over Loch Trool, Bruce and Douglas ambushed and defeated a much larger English force under the doughty Sir Aymer de Valence. This was Bruce's first victory over the English. It is commemorate by a huge granite stone above the north-east shores of the loch which was unveiled in 1929 on the 600th anniversary of the king's death.

Sir Aymer, however, was not easily discouraged and set his sights on capturing or defeating The Bruce at all costs. Within days he was advancing on Bruce who was encamped around Loch Enoch, the most remote and impenetrable Loch in the south of Scotland. He approached from the south end of Loch Doon while another of Bruce's deadly enemies, John of Lorn, was hunting him from Loch Trool with a bloodhound that had once been Bruce's. The king divided his men into three parties and ordered them to rendezvous at Craigencallie (Gaelic: Creagan Cailleach -- The crag of the Old Woman), a couple of miles east of Loch Dee. Bruce's own party had to disperse when they were spotted by Lorn's men from Dungeon Hill and Craignaw as they descended the Nick of the Dungeon, a steep rocky valley a mile east of Loch Enoch. Lorn sent five Highlanders in pursuit of the king and his young foster brother. They set upon the two but Bruce, who was considered a strong fighter long before Bannockburn, killed four of them and his brother dispatched the fifth. To escape from Lorn and the bloodhound, they made for the water to put the dog off the scent. In darkness they crossed the treacherous Silver Flowe, the biggest bog in Britain, wade across the Cooran Lane and came to a ruined house a mile or two south of where Backhill of Bush, a bothy for hill walkers, stands today.

There they met three men who purported to be the king's men. Bruce had his doubts for they were uncouth even by fourteenth-century standards. However, they were cooking a sheep and gave the starving Bruce and his companion a leg. Bruce told the youngest member of his men to keep watch while he snatched an hour's sleep in the warmth of the fire, but the young lad was exhausted and soon he too, was slumbering. The hiss of swords being unsheathed awoke Bruce and for the second time that day he fought for his life. Parrying and thrusting wildly, Bruce's sword found its mark three times as three enemies fell dead, but not before the young lad on guard was killed.

Bruce's Wa'

Sad, tired and hungry, Bruce arrived alone at Craigencallie the next morning. There followed his famous encounter with the widow of Craigencallie in a house which later became known as “Bruce's Wa'”. The legend goes as such: she asked him if he was the king and was delighted when he said yes. She gave him breakfast and dried his clothes before the fire. Thrice widowed, she said she would send her three sons by different husbands to soldier with him. Tradition has it, for each son to show their worth, they gave a display of archery. The eldest McKie, with a single arrow shot two ravens perched on a rock high above the house. The next son, Murdoch, shot a raven in flight. The third, McLurg, tried to shoot two birds in flight and missed them both.

All three, however, became Bruce's men. A few days later at Raploch Moor, most of which is now submerged by Clatteringshaws Loch, they played a prominent part in Bruce's second victory over the English. An army which greatly outnumbered the Scots had been sent there by King Edward. The widow's sons, however, suggested a ruse which had dramatic results. The previous evening they rounded up all the local cattle and drove them noisily around in the darkness to give the impression that Bruce's army was far larger than it was. Bruce attacked at dawn and the demoralized English were cut to ribbons. They were exhausted due to their lack of rest, thinking a huge Scots army was just over the hill. One English historian subsequently numbered the Scots at 10,000 whereas there were likely fewer than 300 of them. Edward's army mustered about 800 men.

The Bruce's Stone near Clatteringshaws Deer Museum is the only remaining relic of this victory. The king is said to have leaned against it and rested after the battle while his soldiers collected the booty. Raploch Moor was for Robert the Bruce the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end of his campaign for national freedom. At last people began to flock to his standard, the red rampant lion on a field of yellow, in droves.

A final note on Craigencallie:

As for the widow of Craigencallie, Bruce did not forget her, nor did he forget his days as a guerilla fighter in Galloway. Several years after Bannockburn he visited her and thanked her for the loyal service her sons had given him in his campaign to rid Scotland of English dominance. He asked how he could reward her for her timely aid.

"Just give me the wee bit hassock o'land between Palnure and Penkill," she said.

The "bit hassock" was rich farmland measuring about five miles by three, on the outskirts of Newton Stewart. It was divided between McKie, Murdoch and McLurg whose descendants were farming there well into the twentieth century.

Edward Tightens the Net, and the Battle of Loudon Hill

Bruce was not out of danger. The net about them was small-meshed, drawn in the north, east and south by Lorn, de Valence and MacDowall, but even so Sir James Douglas led a few men through the enemy lines, right beneath the enemy’s noses, on a northward foray into Lanark and his family lands. Douglas and his men surprised and killed most of the English garrison of Douglas castle whilst they were at Mass. As the rest were supping in the castle, and with a blood thirsty zeal that would have delighted his savage father, James Douglas, threw their bodies and their meal into the cellar, and burnt the castle above them in a grisly “fat-spitting barbecue” that was from thereon called the Douglas Larder. [Douglas, sneaking into garrison]

Douglas, Bruce's principle lieutenant and best friend, was henceforth known to the English as the Black Douglas, and he was the terror of the English. Gradually Bruce gathered around him more and more valuable allies: from the east the Celtic Earls of Lennox and Atholl; from the west Angus Og, the ancestor of Clan Donald, and the progenitors of the Campbells and Macleans.

The closing net soon held Bruce in the lovely tableland of hills and lochs that is now the National Forest Park of Glen Trool, country the he and the people that had joined his Gaels (Islesmen) must have known well. They used this knowledge to ambush and defeat a small body of horse under John Mowbray, and then exploited the victorious skirmish by breaking out northward into Ayr. Encouraged by spearmen who came to his standard, Bruce felt strong enough for a chivalrous encounter on an open field and in a knightly way. On May 10, 1307, he challenged de Valence at Loudon Hill, a lonely cone of heather and rock above the valley and east of Kilmarnock. He placed his men, less than a thousand perhaps, on the slope and between mossy grounds, their flanks further protected by shallow ditches. De Valence probably had far fewer than three thousand armored horsemen given him by Barbour, but they outnumbered the Scottish spearmen.

"Coats of armour all aglow, And hauberks (chain coat) gleaming white as snow, Were glittering in the morning air Like heavenly angels, shining fair." (Barbour)

Employing the technique of massed spearmen used first by Wallace, called Schiltrons (Skil-trons), Bruce faced de Valence on the battlefield for the first large showdown. De Valence led these steel warriors, visor down and lance couched behind a shield emblazoned with ten red marlets. They came up the side of a small burn in a heavy, vainglorious charge that became slower and slower as the slope rose higher.

Bruce had chosen his ground well. Stopped by the flanking ditches and the groundless moss, the brightly coloured knights were gaffed like salmon by the Scottish speared schiltron units, "till from their wounds the red blood ran". Unable to break Bruce's schiltron with sword or lance, the survivors turned into the dusk and ran with de Valence. It was Bruce's first real major victory, but he could not make profit by it. He defeated another body of horse three days later and boldly laid siege to Ayr, until de Valence came up with reinforcements and drove him back to another fugitive existence in the Galloway hills. Nevertheless, at the battle of Loudon Hill, Bruce showed conclusively that his schiltrons (or massed spearmen) had the measure of the English heavy cavalry. It was another shock to the proud English cavalry who still had not believed that Wallace's invention could continue to best mounted knights.

Edward I's Last Charge

The irritating news of Loudon Hill was brought to the sinking Edward at Lanercost, but Edward would not relinquish life while "King Hobb", as he called Bruce, still enjoyed it. There was some small cheer in a report that James Douglas wished to submit to Edward, and if this were true it indicates how even Bruce's most loyal friends were losing their taste for a heather war. It may have been a ruse. At last Edward decided to enter Scotland himself, believing that old and dying he could still do what his captains could not. On Whit Sunday, as he lay on his litter and watched the gathering of his army, four-hundred young knights rode gaily past him, their lances and their helmets dripping with fresh spring leaves. His spirits and his strength lifted by the sight, he arose and said that he would ride into Scotland. He gave the litter to God in thanks at Carlisle Cathedral, mounted his black war-horse and rode at the head of his army.

He travelled seven miles only, to Burgh-on-Sands. Weak from exhaustion and dysentery, he was lifted from his saddle. He died there in a mean town on the Solway shore, three miles of tide-water from Scotland, and at the age of sixty-eight. He was the most resolute and most inexorable enemy Scotland had known and would ever know, and perhaps the wisest military leader who ever attempted to conquer Scotland, and the cruelest.

It would be three hundred years before the kingdoms would be united as he had been attempted by force, and four centuries before the government proposed by his Ordinances would be given some reality. Even then, perhaps, it would be premature, for before the independence of a nation can be safely surrendered it must first flourish and its roots be preserved. But Edward had himself, unknown to him, given the Scots the will and desire to be free from tyranny by his harsh treatment of them. He had the chance to make them subjects, instead he made them feel enslaved.

With Edward’s own examples of cruelty and treachery against Scotland and his savage treatment of its heroes like William Wallace, he had fanned the flames of independence rather than blow out the tiny embers of will for independence as he intended.

With his dying breath he ordered that his body be boiled and his bones be borne at the head of his army in a leather bag until Scotland had been crushed. But his son, now Edward II, was not the man to carry out his father’s injunctions. The young Edward II promptly disobeyed his father’s requests and had both his father’s heart and bones taken to Westminster Abbey for burial.

As if the shrinking of the great Plantagenet's heart had contracted the limbs of his kingdom, the English armies were withdrawn from Scotland. The new King Edward was no hammer of the Scots but an amiable and frivolous young man, happier in the company of his Gascon favourite, Piers Gaveston, than with the life of dust, blood and steel which his father had imposed upon him. It was also fairly well known at the time that Edward II was homosexual, and in those days, sodomy was considered a crime equal or worse than murder. This truth has been kept fairly quiet over the centuries with bogus stories of Edward's prowess as a warrior and his later written transformation into a tragic but masculine king. In point of fact, Edward II was much more comfortable as a gallant legislator than a gallant warrior. His sexuality has been something of a curious controversy for centuries, dominating the English and many history books. It is curious why the transformation into a macho warrior was the desire, when simply telling the truth might have explained much more. Edward may have been homosexual who fathered (perhaps) five children, or bixexual. We shall never know. One thing we do know: he was not his father when it came to warfare, and Scotland could take some small comfort in that. But his generals and army were still impressive and strong.

For the moment Bruce could relax. He knew something about this new king, Edward II – quiescent, immoderate, indolent -- with no stomach for hard fighting. He knew it was time to take some decisive action, and he did.

Meanwhile, Aymer de Valence, who had served Edward I so loyally, was called home by Edward II with his knights and earls, and the defense of the south and west of Scotland, was left to Ingram de Umfraville and the MacDowall lords of Galloway. By English blandishments and Comyn threats, many Scots who had once supported the Balliol cause and later Bruce, were persuaded to take up arms against him. Among them were Stirling's gallant commander Oliphant and the young Thomas Randolph, Bruce's nephew, and a witness at his coronation. Bitter or benign imprisonment helped some lords to change their allegiance, and under a watchful eye of the Comyn clan, they were now Edward II's lieutenants, charged with the extirpation of Bruce. These wayward Scots and the remaining English held every major stronghold, and could not be subdued without siege-trains. The first phase of the struggle for independence that had ended on Burgh-on-Sands -- and now it had become a civil war -- fought on the open and suffering land between impregnable studs of stone.

The Bruce Moves, and So Do Forces to Stop Him

Bruce went north with three thousand men, many of them Ettrick archers (using shortbows), and spearmen lately in arms against him. He marched beyond the Tay and the Moray Firth, and without a battle he brought the Celtic Earl of Ross to a truce, and then using diplomacy, to comradeship. He turned southward again, to face John Comyn of Buchan, who had raised an army to end their blood-feud. Sick from exhaustion, from a strain that had not relaxed since his slaying of Red Comyn in Dumfries two years before, Bruce could no longer sit in the saddle. Like the old English king, he was carried on a litter at the head of his army, his brother Edward riding by his side. His weakness drained the strength of his men and many deserted, believing he was about to die. Of the thousand or fewer who remained, said Barbour, there was not one who would not have accepted the death of a brother in return for the life of the King. Too sick at last to be moved, even by litter, Bruce halted at Slivoch to the north-west of Inverurie in the valley of the Don.

When Buchan heard of the King's illness, and the wasting of his army, he advanced boldly upon Inverurie. It was Martinmas, and November snow fell upon the wood where Bruce's starving men had taken their stand, and upon Buchan's cold and dispirited army beyond it. For three days rival archers skirmished among the white and leafless trees, while the Comyn's forces grew in number, and then the King's men came out of the woods, led by Edward Bruce and grouped about the royal litter!

So defiant was their impudence, and so bold their bearing, that Buchan did not attack, and they carried their king northward to the hills of Strathbogie. Even in misery and sickness, Bruce had masterminded a mental bluff of his enemy. The implication was that if they wished to kill the king now, while he was weak on his litter, he would not stand in their way -- but neither would he hide from his own men. The sworn blood-enemy was rocked on his heels by the nerve and sheer bravery of The Bruce that he quietly backed down from the fight that day. Bruce had won that day without forming a battle line. But it was not over, not by a long shot. The enemies of Bruce were still numerous and they had the full backing of many powerful disgruntled warlords like the Comyns, MacDougalls, MacDowalls and of course, might and power of the most powerful army in Europe at the time, the Anglo-Norman English and their heavy cavalry. Bruce knew this bluff would only discourage the Comyn leader for a short time, and a battle with this major rival was inevitable. It would be fought, and it would be fought soon, and The Bruce could only hope that he was not ill and he'd be able to led his discouraged men.

Times like this make or break most ordinary men. Bruce was clearly no ordinary man for he had already endured far more than most kings ever do for freedom. He knew his quest was far from over, but he had a plan -- and this plan was about to be set into full swing -- if Robert Bruce of Scotland was still alive to lead the Scots.

Chapter 4

Bruce versus Comyn
[Bruce] The expected showdown and resultant battle between the Comyn forces and those of The Bruce came at Christmas, when Bruce heard that his enemies were boasting of the slaughter of one of his patrols. Like old Edward I, the still-ill Bruce, rose from his litter, saying "Their boast has made me hale and sound."

With seven hundred men he moved quickly eastward across the snow to Old Meldrum, where Buchan (Comyn) was camped by Barra Hill. The Comyn's men had time enough to stand to arms, but when Bruce's spears pressed upon them, said Barbour, "they quickly turned their backs to go, and fled and scattered far and wide."

Buchan was plainly a bad general, if not by some accounts, a coward. His flight eventually took him two hundred miles from Barra Hill to England. Bruce marched upon his unprotected province, the flat and bleak shoulder of Scotland. To the King and the terrible devastation that followed, the "Herschip of Buchan", was a strategic necessity; the subjection of castles and liquidation of garrisons. To his hungry and ragged men it was a joyful opportunity for rich loot and savage revenge.

"His men through Buchan did he send, To burn and slay from end to end. He ravaged it in such a way, That fifty years beyond that day The rape of Buchan still was grieved." (Barbour)

Bruce had adopted a reverse Norman-Edwardian policy; that of anti-incastellation. It had been a Norman and Edwardian (especially Henry II, III and Edward I) policy, generally called "incastlellation" which meant, essentially, mass construction of castles and fortifications as a means of military dominance over a region. Incastellation was the adopted policy of the Normans ever since the early days of the Norman conquest of Britain. They had used it most proficiently in Wales and parts of Ireland and now Scotland. Hitherto, the Scots had prevented much of the stone mason castle construction in Scotland, especially Highland Scotland, and under Edward I, incastellation had begun to show signs of a rebirth in Scotland as stone and mortar towers went up all over Lowland Scotland. These structures, often thought of as merely defensive fortifications, were in fact used by the Anglo-Normans as a base of operations of offense. The splendid English cavalry could quickly leave the castle on a sortie, attack with thundering power and lightening speed, and then retreat into the castle only to repeat the process over again until the surrounding lands were subjugated.

Robert Bruce had recognized the castles as the offensive weapons they were for the English, and set about tearing down and destroying hundreds of castles in Scotland. He has been chastised some by some historians for this action. It apparently was thought to be a waste of resources, but to the contrary, it was a smart, even necessary tactic. The Scots generally didn't have the resources, men, weapons, armor, etc., to use the fortresses in the same manner as the English. With a few notable exceptions, they set about destroying by siege, sword and fire all the vacant English and Scottish castles that the Scots had recently liberated. It was a drastic solution, but it was effective and Bruce was ahead of his time in his tactics to use his enemy’s strengths and weaknesses against them. This left the English without many safe harbors to mount offensive attacks into Scotland. To this day, the broken and shattered remains of Scottish castles litter the countryside, which is not quite the same picture as in Wales where the English castles have largely remained intact.

The savage revenge of Bruce's men, the terror and burning, which left great forests as black and monumental stumps, were effective. By bright midsummer all the north-eastern castles, with the exception of Banff, were in Bruce's hands, and lords who had fought for Edward and Comyn now knelt before Bruce in allegiance. He led an army in July against the MacDougalls, and found them on a brae-side at the head of Loch Awe, in some of the wildest and most beautiful country of the Western Highlands. One of Bruce's enemies, John of Lorne, was ready to fight the battle from a distance, from his galley on Loch Etive, but his kerns (often Irish squires) were placed for ambush in the narrow Pass of Brander where the River Awe rushes by the feet of Ben Cruachan. James Douglas sprang the trap against the MacDougalls. Bruce's trusted aid and right hand man, took his archers over the summit of Cruachan to the MacDougall’s rear. As Bruce led his army into the Pass and a cloud of arrows, Douglas came down the steep brown slopes of the brae. It was, by all accounts, a bitter and desperate battle, fought on a narrow field, said Barbour, that two horsemen could not ride abreast together. When the men of Lorn finally broke and ran they were drowned and slaughtered as they fought with each other to cross a bridge over the Awe. The galley of John MacDougall took him away safely.

Edward Bruce, and Robert's Nephew take the Field

In the south-west a fierce and reckless campaign by Edward Bruce had driven Ingram de Umfraville (the man who Edward had given some of Bruce's lands too) and the Galloway lords from the field and into the safety of their keeps. He captured his nephew Thomas Randolph, who still had spirit enough to taunt the Bruce’s, saying they fought with cowardice and deceit. He was quickly sent to prison for reflection, and was soon brought to the understanding of military guile and to the offer of his sword in his uncle's service. In March 1309, success persuaded the King to call a parliament at St. Andrews, where his newly loyal lords could formally acknowledge his authority and convey that fact to the Pope by way of Philip of France.

The Ethnic Make-up of Bruce's Supporters and Armies

It is interesting to take a quick look at the ethnic texture of his supporters at this time. Apart from some like the Douglas’s, the Keith’s, Burnett’s and the Boyd’s (all Lowlanders), they were largely Highlanders: Celtic families attracted to his banner by the strong pull of blood-feud and ancient myths. This is very different from Wallace's Lowland fighters. The fact that Bruce was also Gaelic speaking and had a Celtic mother played no small part in his Highland support as well. Some months later the clergy of Scotland also gave their support to the crowned and excommunicated (due to the murder in Greyfriars) King. (He was not excommunicated for helping Templars, as some like to suggest. It was for the slaying of Comyn on a church – holy ground.)

When Edward II had called his father's army back to England, Bruce took the opportunity to mount several campaigns of daring raids upon English-held castles and captured them; Edinburgh (taken by stealth at the dead of night by his nephew, Randolph), Caerlaverock, Perth, Brechin, Linlithgow and Roxburgh, while his brother Edward Bruce is said to have taken thirteen castles in Galloway alone.

The Response of Edward II

Edward's response to the unpleasant reversal of power in his northern province was weak and vacillating. The lieutenants he sent to Carlisle and Berwick in the autumn of 1309 were reluctant to cross the Border while the Gascon mounteback was whispering in their king's ear. The homosexual relationship of Gascon, Piers Gaveston and Edward II, hardly a secret at the time, did not help to inspire the fighting men of the English and southern Scottish borders to take up arms against Bruce for the king of England. The following summer he came himself, reinforcing his garrison at Perth with a large fleet, but the army Edward took across the Tweed in September 1310, trudged sullenly about the Lowlands without fighting a battle, weary from mud, wind and rain. Bruce simply withdrew before it, and wasted the country behind him. Why should he charge headlong into the might of the English forces and make their job that much easier? Edward's army, already malcontent with their leadership, was now finding this tactic of Bruce's more than just a little annoying. They clearly wanted to engage the Scots under Bruce in an open field of war, and use their superior numbers and large army of heavy horse to ride down the opposition, but Bruce simply refused to be drawn into that type of battle, unless it was of his own choosing and on his own ground. His continued guerilla raids on the Scottish border towns and harassment of the smaller garrisons of English was taking its toll on the English fighting spirit. This was perhaps the first type of continued evasive enemy tactics, later to be called "guerilla warfare", that the might of any European army had encountered by another force that was lead by a King! Wallace had used similar tactics, but Wallace did not represent all of Scotland as their king. The approval of these tactics and the success of these methods were humiliating and embarrassing to the English and anti-Bruce forces -- and the mental toll upon their morale, was exactly the effect Robert Bruce wanted.

Edward reached Linlithgow, quarreled with his barons, retired to Berwick, came back half-heartedly and retired again. His army trudged around with him in misery. He offered to treat with Bruce, broke his word or had it broken for him by Robert, and sent the unhappy Gaveston to reinforce Perth with two hundred men. He then went back to London, where his jealous lords and parliament were demanding the banishment of his ennobled Gascon pet. As England hung upon the edge of civil war, Bruce ignored another papal excommunication for his "damnable perseverance" in sin and crossed the Border on a whirlwind, burning Haltwhistle, Gilsland and the valley of the Tyne in eight days, driving home great herds of cattle. Shortly, he came back for another couple weeks of the bloody sport of which he had become master, defying the English wardens of the marches and so frightening the lords and merchants of Northumberland that they gladly bought a truce for two thousand pounds.

The Years 1309-1311

By the beginning of 1309, after the winter campaign against the blood-feud enemy, the Comyns in the north-east and a summer campaign against their allies, the MacDougall Lords of Lorne or Lorn, during which he seized the MacDougall stronghold of Dunstaffnage, he controlled most of Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde. Later the King of France, secretly recognized him that year, and Bruce held a triumphant Scottish Parliament in Fife, as King. The Scottish church also came out on his side, despite his renewed excommunication by the Pope. Then in 1311, he was able to raid and devastate the North of England, sacking Durham and Hartepool. During the next three years he drove the English, from their castles and garrisons from Perth, Dundee, Dumfries, Roxburgh and Edinburgh, leaving only Stirling alone in foreign hands.

The Year of Victories

The truce bought from Bruce lasted no longer than February 1312. Then the raids began again under the leadership of brother Edward Bruce and friend James Douglas, the burning of towns and the levying of blackmail, the driving of cattle and the ransoming of prisoners. Chester-le-Street was seized, and as mentioned Durham and Hartepool were sacked, and more money taken for the brief respite of truce. Edward II offered peace, and was refused, but could not turn to angry war. His rebellious barons hated Gaveston even more than Bruce at the moment. The Gascon was foolish or foolhardy enough to leave Berwick and come south to his King's aid at Scarborough, where they had a short and anguished reunion before Edward left to go fight his Barons. They avoided him, starved Gaveston out of his castle, and paid two Irishmen to hack his handsome head from his body. One principal cause of dissension was thus brutally gone, but the struggle between Edward II and his lords dragged on late into the year, when he was forced to stifle his grief and longing with an amnesty for Gaveston's murders. Undoubtedly, his father would have made other plans.

The Taking of Perth

The year had begun well and continued well for Bruce. Before his terrifying raids on England he had taken the walled and moated town of Perth from its commander, William Oliphant. It held out against him for nearly two months, sustained by English ships and garrisoned by stubborn men who jeered at him from their walls. Bruce marched his forces away for a week to reflect on what he had seen of the castles defenses. Remembering where the water reached no higher than his throat, he came back with a few men on a moonless night in early January. Bruce was the first in the water, wearing full armor and carrying a ladder and spear like the others. The Scots were on the wall before its hired watchman awoke and gave the alarm, and once there they soon took the entire town with spear and sword -- as usual -- Bruce fought right alongside his men, noble and commoner. "Next day", said the Lanercost chronicler, "Robert caused all the citizens of the better class who were of the Scottish nation to be killed, but the English were allowed to go free.”

Author's note: Bruce's clemency or cruelty at Perth has been successfully clouded by chroniclers. Barbour said he was merciful to all citizens, and John of Fordun (Scotchicronicon) said he killed all traitors, Scots and English. Again the truth may lie somewhere in the middle. If following Bruce's other examples are any guide, we may conclude he could when he felt necessary, be as ruthless as any other monarch of his age. It is quite clear from his treatment of other Scots who opposed him, that he had little tolerance for traitors of his nation. This at the very least made him consistent and extremely effective. Judging Robert by today’s standards would be ridiculous, so any further speculation on his motives for killing the Scots traitors is rather pointless.

What is clear is that some people were killed at Perth, and if there were Scots on the side of English present -- and that is very likely -- they would have been considered at the least the enemy and at worst, treasonable turncoats to the Scottish people. His solution for them may well have been death: such was warfare. The commander, William Oliphant was not killed, but was "bound and sent far away to the Isles", his noble defense of Stirling forgotten in this confusion of treacherous loyalties, or perhaps remembered by the man who had besieged him there too, and then in England's name. Upon Bruce's orders, Perth was destroyed, its moat filled in with its walls.

[Bruce mon over valley] By the end of the year 1313, a year of spectacular triumph in which Robert proved that his genius for war lay in mobility and surprise, in the skills of guerrilla fighting applied to field campaigns, the English and their Scottish partisans had lost all but a hand's-span of the strongholds they held at its beginning. Edward Bruce had taken 13 keeps, mostly of timber, in the south-west, and in the summer he had persuaded the constable of Stirling Castle to surrender his great fortress within a year, if he were not relieved before. Edward Bruce has suffered at the hands of some historians, who see his allowance of a year to pass to be relieved as proof that Edward had forced the English to come in force to Scotland -- thus Bannockburn. I don't completely agree with this scenario. Edward Bruce was not fighting with his brilliant brother or Douglas at this time. He had done a miraculous job in the taking of the thirteen fortresses in Galloway, and yet he is remembered by many, as letting the commander of Stirling have one year for its relief before surrendering. What else was Edward to do at this point in time? His king and brother were busy elsewhere in Scotland, and Edward Bruce was not equipped to lay effective siege to Stirling Castle at this time. He did the next best thing. He bought time. In the long run this did force the indecisive Edward II to action that would result in Bannockburn. Some historians claim that had he simply starved them out, Bannockburn could have been avoided. But this is nonsense. Eventually, the Might and Power of the most effective fighting force in Europe, the Anglo-Norman English, were bound to take the field, somewhere, against the Bruce's forces. Edward helped make the King of England’s decision a bit easier as to when and where he should act, but he did not cause it to happen by himself. Undoubtedly, the English forces would have invaded Scotland with all of their might and chivalry sooner or later. Perhaps the more accurate description of what Edward Bruce did by allowing Stirling Castle one year to surrender, was to force the hand of the English. This is what happened the following year.

Such victories, the violent raids into England, a sea-borne conquest of the Isle of Man (prompting a law that still exists today on the Isle -- that any Scotsman found on the Island could legally be killed), and a truce finally forced from Edward II by the threat of another invasion into his Northern counties, were fragile triumphs, however, and would be of value only if they gave Scotland the time, the unity and the strength to face the powerful English army which Edward II must bring to the relief of Stirling and the re-conquest of all that had been lost. Berwick was still his, the key of the Border lock and more English now than Scots, arrogantly proud of having thrown back an assault by Bruce, though its citizens should have given more credit to a barking dog that first sounded the alarm.

A brilliant Ruse

In Lent, 1314, Linlithgow was taken from the English by a ruse, when a farmer filled his hay-cart with armored men and halted it beneath a falling portcullis (iron barred gate). Edinburgh's castle fell soon after. This rock-heart of the country was taken by Thomas Randolph (Bruce's nephew), his thoughtful transference of loyalty to his uncle having been recently rewarded with the earldom of Moray and the possession of Man. It took place at the dead of night. Randolph and thirty men climbed the north face of the cliff, by a path that was inevitably given its name, rather than that of William Francis who suggested it, and who had used it when he was in the castle for a discreet descent to his nightly wenching. Once inside the castle, Randolph opened the gates to the rest of his men, and is said to have taken possession with a quick and masterful surprise. Barbour, writing sixty years later, had a slightly different image of it:

"A mighty struggle there was seen, With sundry weapons stout and keen They lay about with all their might, Till swords that had been fair and bright With blood were covered to the hilt, And many of them were killed."

1 3 1 4

It was the year that would forever change the struggling nation of Scotland. It was the year of Bannockburn. In less than a decade Robert Bruce's ambition had changed him from a self-serving claimant to a desperate murderer and an excommunicated fugitive, from a exile king to the general of armies, expert and mastermind of the art of surprise and guerrilla warfare, the master of a wide province, and now, by the irresistible compulsions of these metamorphic changes -- and in one climactic battle, he was to become the founder of a Nation's Independence, and a hero king for the ages.

NEXT : In the chapters, we will go to the actual battle of Bannockburn, in a in-depth look at the entire battle, from the opening days of the march north of Edwards army, to the first blows struck on the field. More detail will be given to the actual events of the battle, who was there, which Scottish clans and families actually fought for the Bruce and much more than you will find in most other history books.

* (C)opyright 1994/2012, RMG *

(Author-R.M. Gunn, Material under copyright, please do not copy.) End of Chapter’s ThreeOne and Four, "The Bruce, Bannockburn and Beyond". To be continued...

Next, in chapter 11 of "The Story of Scotland's History": Robert the Bruce Chapters 5-6, The Road to Bannockburn.

  • Chapter 11 -'Coming soon..', Robert Bruce (excerpted from the book, "Bruce Bannockburn and Beyond" Chapter 5-6

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