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The Scottish Wars of Independence

Part I

Ewan J. Innes, MA(Hons Scot. Hist.) FSA Scot


Synopsis:  This essay summarizes the history of the Scottish Wars of Independence up to 1329.

Please see my copyright policy if you wish to cite any part of this essay.

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The man behind that rebellion was Robert Bruce, earl of Carrick, and now lord of Annandale. The death of Bruce's father had left him the claim to the throne, a claim he now determined to take on forcibly.

To put Robert Bruce into perspective, we should perhaps look at him in a little detail. The Bruce family had ties both north and south of the border. The abbey of Guisborough in Northumberland was a Bruce foundation. Bruce "the competitor" was involved a great deal with the English court and held extensive lands in England. he acted as a justiciar for Edward in the north of England. His son also was involved in the English court and was keeper of Carlisle castle for a while. The young Robert Bruce was brought up at Edward's court and had extensive knowledge of it and was also a favorite of Edward. However, he was also an angry young man feeling that his family had been deprived the crown of Scotland. In the early years of the rebellion, Bruce was in many ways hamstrung by both a desire to fight for Scotland, and also well aware that the fight was being carried out in the name of Balliol. He, along with most Scottish nobles, changed sides on more than one occasion depending upon how the wind blew.

By early 1306, however things had changed. He was now the head of his family and therefore did not have any ties to prevent him claiming the throne for himself. In addition, he was faced with a crisis. While in London, news reached him that John Comyn, lord of Badenoch, had let Edward know of a plot that Bruce was hatching to claim the throne. Bruce received a few minutes warning and fled to Scotland. In a church in Dumfries, Bruce met Comyn, argued with him and then killed him at the alter. This act changed things dramatically, he was left with no option but to claim the throne as quickly as possible, and then deal with the Comyn wrath as king.

He rushed to Scone, passing by Glasgow to be absolved for the sacrilegious murder of Comyn. he was hurriedly crowned at Scone and shortly after defeated by a small English force at Methven, outside Perth. Sending his wife and sister north, Bruce fled West with the remains of his small army. He was defeated again by Lame John MacDougall at Dal Righ in Argyll, and fled to the isles.

Where Bruce spent the winter of 1306/7 is unknown. Any island from Rathlin to Orkney has been said to be the location. It is probable that we should look at a Hebridean location for this sojourn. Probably in the lands of Angus Og MacDonald, certainly his wife and sister were attempting to flee for a boat when the were captured at Kildrummy castle and imprisoned.

The situation was bleak for the new king, his kingdom was overrun by English troops, moreover the north of the country was very hostile to him. Over the winter, plans were laid for the new year.

1307 brought the turning point in Scotland's fight for independence. Bruce landed at Turnberry, to discover the area overrun with English soldiers. A group of troops under his younger brothers were captured and beheaded. Then, a stroke of genius. At Loudon hill in Lanarkshire, Bruce defeated a large troop of English soldiers. Edward in an extremely angry mood order an army put together for a campaign to put down Bruce. Edward was however ill, the army marched north but never made it to Scotland. Edward died on the Solway cursing the Scots. He ordered his body boiled and the bones taken with the army. His son, now Edward II took the more pragmatic view and marched south again.

Bruce was now free to deal with his enemies within Scotland. A battle on the slopes of Ben Cruachan in Argyll put paid to any involvement from the MacDougalls and then it was the turn of the Comyns.

During the later part of 1307 and into 1308, the lands of the Comyns in Buchan and Badenoch were raided, burnt and generally destroyed. The Comyns were then forfeited and their lands granted out to Bruce supporters. By the new year, Bruce was in undisputed control of Scotland, now he could turn his hand to riding it of the English. In this he was aided by the ineptitude, disinterest and political problems of Edward II. There was no effective English invasion of Scotland until 1314. By which time the only castles in English hands were Stirling and Berwick.

Stirling was, due to an agreement with the garrison, to be surrendered by midsummer 1314. The English got round to putting an army together, advanced to Stirling and were annihilated by Bruce and an army 1/3 of the size. Scotland was to all intents and purposes free.

It would be 1329 before this was finally admitted to by the English king. However, when the news came that the English had agreed that Scotland was free and Scottish kings could be anointed, Bruce was dead. He had achieved more in his reign than many others had. He had united a realm behind him. From now on there would be no conflict of loyalties between Scots who held land on both sides of the border. After 1318, all Scots landholders had to decide which lands they wanted and swear fealty to the relevant king. If they wanted their Scottish lands then they forfeited their English lands and vice-versa.

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