Wars of Independence - The Kingdom Of Fife

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Wars of Independence

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William Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland after the Battle of Falkirk in favour of Robert Bruce making Bruce joint Guardian alongside John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, and often referred to as the 'Red Comyn'. Both men had been former competitors for the Crown of Scotland and where John's Comyn's father, known as the 'Black Comyn' had claimed descent from Donald III of Scotland, and where his mother was Eleanor Balliol, eldest daughter of King John Balliol. In addition, he married Joan de Valence, daughter of William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke and uncle to Edward I. His claim to Kingship was thus a strong one whilst being one of the most powerful nobles in Scotland. Bruce claimed to be a decendent of David I and where William Lamberton, Bishop of St Andrews, was appointed as a third Guardian to contain this rivalry in 1299.

Bruce resigned as Guardian in 1300 and was replaced by Sir Gilbert de Umfraville, Earl of Angus. In May, 1301, Umfraville, Comyn and Lamberton resigned as joint Guardians and were replaced by Sir John de Soules as sole Guardian and who campaigned for the return of King John Balliol. Soules was regarded as a 'neutral' with little interest in either Comyn of Bruce political camps.     

In July, 1301, Edward I attacked Scotland again and captured Bothwell and Turnberry Castles but acheived little beyond that. In January, 1302, he agreed to a nine month truce and returned to England. Bruce submitted to Edward I during this period of time alongside other nobles although he had been supportive of the rebellion until that time.

In 1303, Edward invaded Scotland for the seventh time, marching to Edinburgh, then Perth where he halted for a short time, and then onwards to Dundee, Brechin, Montrose, and Aberdeen. His march continued through Moray then southward towards Dunfermline in Fife. All leading Scots with the notable exception of William Wallace, had submitted to Edward and including John Comyn. The new deal was that all laws and liberties of Scotland would remain as they were at the time of King Alexander III and where alteration, if deemed necessary, would involve advice from Scottish nobles.

Satisfied that the Scottish nation had been subjugated, Edward I returned southward to England and yet returned in 1304 when a small number of Scots, about 30 of them, seized control of Stirling Castle and where Edward was forced to lay siege to the castle. For four months, the tiny garrison led by William Oliphant held out while every conceivable type of missile was launched against the castle walls. Ultimately though, and for unknown reasons and most likely starvation, the garrison surrendered to the English on 20th July 1304.

More than a month before this happened, William Lamberton, Bishop of St Andrews and Robert the Bruce met and swore a secret oath and whereby Lamberton made it known that the Church had examined the problem concerning the absence of King John Balliol and where, after considerable thought and advice, it had been decided that it was the right of the people to appoint or dismiss their King and without recourse to Papal dictates or blessings. In "friendship and alliance against all men", he made it known the Church preferred Bruce over Comyn to be King and where they would act as necessary to establish this course of events. Together, they forged a pact in which, 'if one should break the secret pack, he would forfeit to the other a sum of ten thousand pounds.' and which was an incredible amount of money at that time.

By any standard of the period, this was highly explosive political and religious intrigue of the highest calibre and hence the need for the greatest secrecy. In England, policy decisions by the Church were the preserve of the Pope and where such policy was carried out by the Bishops and lesser officers of the Church. In Scotland, there was a much lesser obligation or recognition of the Pope and largely because of the different origins of religion between the two regions. In effect, Lamberton was offering the Crown of Scotland providing Bruce had the majority support of the people and where the Church could be highly influential towards this aim. Despite both Bruce and Comyn having surrendered to English, it seems both were now ready to fight for a Scottish nation rather than be subdued and integrated like Wales had been by the 'Statute of Rhuddlan' signed in 1284.

It may have been a desperate act by the Scots as Edward I set about destroying Scotland in the same way he had steadily dismantled Wales. Homage was demanded under duress and force from the nobles and the burghs, and a parliament was convened to elect those who would meet later in the year with the English parliament to establish how the governance of Scotland would be conducted. The Earl of Richmond, Edward's nephew, was appointed to lead this new subordinate government of Scotland. Whatever chance of this succeeding ended when William Wallace was captured, taken to London and executed.

This murder sent sent shockwaves throughout the British heartland and where some of Edward's former supporters began to turn against him. In the case of Robert Bruce, there is physical evidence in the shape of documents to suggest that Edward I didn't entirely trust him and where Edward may have thought Bruce was plotting behind his back.

According to normally reliable sources of Barbour and Fordoun, a secret agreement was sworn in the summer of 1305 in which John Comyn agreed to forfeit his claim to the Scottish throne in favour of Robert Bruce upon receipt of the Bruce lands and in the wake of any rebellion led by Robert Bruce. Comyn quickly betrayed this agreement by informing King Edward and where the latter moved to arrest Bruce while he was attending his court. Luckily, Edward’s son-in-law, Ralph de Monthermer, and a good friend of Robert Bruce, learned of this intent and sent twelve pence and a pair of spurs to Bruce. Bruce took the hint and departed London during darkness and fled back to Scotland.

On the 10th February, 1306, Bruce and Comyn agreed to meet at the Greyfriars Abbey in Dunfries and where Bruce accused Comyn of betraying their agreement. Their argument escalated into violence and where Robert Bruce stabbed John Comyn unto death although some accounts say that news of John Comyn's survival prompted several Bruce supporters to return to the chapel and complete the murderous act. In haste, Robert Bruce hurried from Dumfries to Glasgow, where, kneeling before Bishop Robert Wishart, he made a full confession of his violence and sacrilege and was granted absolution by the Bishop but excommunicated for his crime. Robert Bruce was cornered into a situation where he could either fight to become King or else retreat into the woods and try to fight as an outlaw. He chose the former option and knowing that everything and everbody he had ever known was at risk.

Just seven weeks after the murder, and on the traditional site of the mound beside Scone Palace, Bishop Wiliam Lamberton, lowered the Crown of Scotland onto the head of Robert Bruce and charged him with the duty of King of Scotland. It was a ceremony in which several nobles arrived too late to see the coronation so it was thus repeated on the next day for their benefit. In both cases, the ceremonial robes that Bishop Wishart had hidden from the English were used and where the 'Stone of Destiny' normally beneath the throne was absent. Edward I had removed this to England to prevent such a ceremony but legend has it that a monk cut a similar piece of rock from the bed of the River Tay and offered that to Edward. If true then the current location of the Coronation Stone remains unknown and has, perhaps, become irrelevant in modern times.

News concerning the death of John Comyn arrived at the Court of Edward I some thirteen days after the murder had taken place and he seemed surprised by the turn of events. On 5th April 1306, King Edward appointed Aymer de Valence, Comyn's brother-in-law, plenpottentiary and assigned full powers in his personal absence to raise the Dragon Banner and signifying that no quarter or mercy would be given to Robert Bruce or anyone aiding, assisting and participating of his cause. On 20 May, Edward I knighted the Prince of Wales and two hundred and fifty others while warning them to prepare for war. In the following banquet, two decorated swans were presented to the King. Edward then vowed, ‘by the God of Heaven and these swans' to avenge Comyn's death and the treachery of the Scots. On his demand, the newly created knights took a similar oath while preparations for yet another invasion into Scotland began.

On the orders of King Edward I, Aymer de Valence moved quickly, and by the middle of summer he had made his base in Perth and where his army was swelled by many supporters of John Comyn. King Robert came from the west, ready to meet his foe in battle. Valence was invited to leave the walls of Perth and join Bruce in battle, but Valence declined.

The new Scottish King, apparently ready to accept the gentlemanly chivalrous convention of feudal warfare took his army a few miles north to Methven and where they retired for the night. Incredibly, few pickets or sentries were posted and it was either a naive blunder or an act of faith that nearly cost him his life. During the night and before dawn on the 19 April, the English army led by Aymer de Valence left Perth and headed for Methven and where they made their surprise attack at dawn when most Scots were still asleep. In minutes, the Scottish force was decimated with survivors forced to flee for their lives. Robert Bruce survived and was able to avoid capture. Some time later and according to popular legend, he took temporary refuge in cave and where he became fixated by the sight of a spider carefully respinning a web after it had been destroyed by a storm. It seemed like a sign indicating that he should try again.

For a time, it seems he and his brothers, Edward, Thomas and Alexander alongside his loyal Commanders like Sir Neil Campbell and the Earl of Lennox retreated to Rathlin Island near Ireland before reforming their policy and chose to adopt what would be called 'geurilla tactics' in modern times and returning to the tried and proven methods William Wallace had applied before. It was decided that they would return to Scotland in two groups and the first group, led by Thomas and Alexander met with disaster at Loch Ryan. Both brother were captured and surrendered to the English and both were subsequently executed. The second group including Robert Bruce landed successfully and initially established a camp in Glen Trool.

News of his return travelled far and fast and in April 1307, a small force led by Sir Philip Mobray tried to reach the camp of Bruce along a narrow pathway and where Bruce ambushed the English forces with heavy loss of life but with no casualties in the Scottish side. In May 1307, Robert Bruce positioned his swelling army close to Loudoun Hill in Ayrshire and in readiness to meet with English forces led by Aymer de Valence; the same leader who had defeated his army at Methven and if Aymer de Valence believed that he would merely repeat his former success then he was in for a major shock. Robert Bruce had learned many hard lessons since Methven and had chosen this battlefield carefully.

The area was largely a muddy bog with a highway comprising several causeways and thus limiting where armoured battle hores could tread in safety. In some ways, the Battle of Loudoun Hill bore similarities to that of Stirling Bridge where armoured horses were constrained to a narrow area and where the Scots took advantage of the local geology and where Amyer de Valence took refuge in Bothwell Castle after his defeat. Robert Bruce had scored his first major victory yet probably knowing it would invite a major response from England.

Edward I gathered a new army at Carlisle, but he had been ill with dysentry of late and while camped just South of the Solway Firth at Burgh By Sands, and close to the Scottish border, King Edward the First of England, alleged 'Hammer Of The Scots' died while expecting his successor to continue the work he had begun. In his will, Edward I had requested that his body be boiled and his bones be carried north during the campaign until the Scots had been subdued. Neither request came to fruition. The invasion was cancelled and the body of King Edward I was entombed in Westminster Abbey.

Even by English standards, King Edward II, was a lacklustre leader who might have been homosexual or bisexual and perhaps lacking confidence after a life under such an overbearing parent. His close association with Piers Gaveston, a Gasgonian Knight, and banished by his father returned under his rule and has certainly drawn close scrutiny from several historians. From what has been recorded about him, he comes across as a weak and effeminate character and a pale shadow of his father in terms of leadership when confronted by similar dillemmas. It may explain why Robert Bruce was able to accomplish so much within such a short time in the wake of the death of Edward I.

Soon after the death of Edward I, James Douglas attacked South-West Scotland on the side of Robert Bruce and while Bruce headed Northward and closer to many Comyn lands. He captured Inverlochy and Urquhart Castles before burning Inverness Castle to the ground. His army marched East towards to take Elgin but where his best efforts were intially unsuccessful.

In the latter part of 1307, Robert Bruce moved his forces into Aberdeenshire but with limited success near Banff and where he was temporarily afflicted with a bout of serious illness. Upon his recovery, the Scottish army turned Westward to take Balvenie and Duffus Castles. Tarradale Castle located on the Black Isle area near Inverness was a highlight of the campaign and where support for the Comyn was strong. John Comyn, Third Earl of Buchan, was compelled to respond and made his stand on a battlefield near Inverurie in May 1308 and where he was compelled to flee towards England. This left the way open for Robert Bruce to defeat the English garrison stationed in Aberdeen and to the ‘Harrying of Buchan’.

The town of Buchan had a relatively large population in 1308 and was one of  Clan Comyn’s most important commercial centres especially in terms of fishing and agriculture. Bruce ordered the town to be totally destroyed and most Comyn castles in Moray, Aberdeen and Buchan were destroyed leaving the Comyn power base in ruins. Having succeded in the North, Robert Bruce turned his army southwards and towards Argyll and Kintyre; regions controlled by Clan Dougall and who were relatives of the Comyns.

Suitably alerted to this development, Clan Dougall made ready to fight the Bruce advance within the Pass of Brander near Loch Awe. In this, they underestimated how Robert Bruce had become a seasoned professional soldier and military strategist less likely to fall for attempts at ambush. In darkness, a large force led by ‘Black’ James Douglas climbed high above the local army so that, when the Battle of Brander Pass took place, the army of Clan Dougall, found itself caught between two forces and was quickly defeated. Dunstaffnage Castle was captured soon afterwards.  

Robert Bruce ordered ‘scorched earth’ policies to be inflicted in Argylle and Kintyre in reponse to where Clan Dougall had captured his brothers, Thomas and Alexander, during their landing in Loch Ryan, and had handed them over to the English for execution in Carlisle.

Overall, the military campaigns of Robert Bruce ended one hundred and fifty years of Comyn rule in the North and South-West of Scotland. In March, 1309, Robert Bruce held his first Parliament at St Andrews in Fife where he controlled almost all of Scotland North of the River Tay and many lands to the West. In 1310, the Church openly recognised Bruce as King at a general council and despite his ongoing excommunication.

His campaign continued onwards, capturing Linlithgow Castle in 1310 and Dumbarton in 1311. Perth fell in 1312 and then Castle Rushen in Castletown, Isle of Man, in the summer of 1313 and because of its strategic importance to either side in the ‘Wars of Independence’. In March 1314, ‘Black’ James Douglas took Roxburgh and Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray, captured Edinburgh Castle and leaving Stirling Castle as one the last outposts of English influence in the Scotland.

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