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The Scottish Wars of Independence

Part II

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

1995

Synopsis:  This essay summarizes the history of the Scottish Wars of Independence from 1329 on.

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

When Robert I died at Cardross on the 7th of June 1329, he left a kingdom stronger than it had been for many years. Regular parliaments were being held, taxation was coming in and the booty taken from England filled the empty exchequer. There was peace with the barons (a plot had been uncovered and the traitors severely dealt with) but the service due to the king from his barons was regularised and ordered - a great improvement on the past.

The heir to the throne was Bruce's own son David, then aged five years old. David was crowned along with his young queen with full honours in 1331 (the first King of Scots to be anointed). Things did not go well for the young king however. The earl of Douglas was killed in Spain in 1330 fighting the Moors while taking Bruce's heart to the Holy Land. Randolph earl of Moray died in 1332 while preparing to meet an invasion from England. So, within just a few years of Bruce's death, two of the most experienced nobles available to the new king were dead. In the south, Edward III while swearing he would keep the peace, allowed Edward Balliol (son of John I) and the 'Disinherited' to sail from the Humber. Balliol sailed round the Scottish defence and landed at Kinghorn in Fife. They marched through Fife and in August met and destroyed at Dupplin the Scottish army under the new guardian, the Earl of Mar, who was left dead on the field.

Balliol was crowned at Scone and shortly after forced from Annan "one leg booted and the other naked". He won Edward's full support by offering up Berwick. In an attempt to relieve the town, Archibald Douglas was beaten and killed at Halidon hill by an English army in July 1333. The next year Balliol gave Homage to Edward and in addition gave up title to most of Southern Scotland. In desperation the Scots sent David to France where Philip VI had offered refuge. He would spend the next seven years in exile.

In David's absence, a series of regents kept up the struggle. Edward personally ravaged much of the north-east in 1336, but in 1338 the tide turned. While Black Agnes, Countess of March, held Dunbar Castle triumphantly for five months (famously wiping the battlements clean when struck by siege weapons) in this year, the big break for Scotland came when Edward claimed the French throne and took his army to Flanders. The Hundred Years War with France had begun.

So, in just nine years, the kingdom so hard won by Bruce had been shattered. Her experienced nobles were dead, and her king was in exile. The economy which had barely begun to recover from the earlier wars was once again in tatters. It was to an impoverished country in need of peace and good government that David returned. Sadly he would give neither.

When David returned, he was determined to live up to the memory of his illustrious father. He didn't keep to the truces with England and was constantly snipping at the border. In 1346, Philip VI appealed for a counter invasion of England in order to relieve the stranglehold on Calais. David gladly accepted and at Nevilles Cross he met and was soundly beaten by an English army. The Scots suffered heavy casualties and David was wounded by two arrows before being captured. He was sufficiently strong however to knock out two teeth from the mouth of his captor. After a period of convalescence, he was imprisoned in the Tower, to be joined later by Philip of France.

David was eventually released in 1357 for a ransom of 100,000 merks (1 merk was 2/3 of a Scottish pound) payable in ten years. The country was in a sorry state when David began levying new taxes (a reassessment of all lands and moveables was also made). She had been ravaged by war and also the Black Death. This actually produced a bit of theological difficulty as its onslaught in England had been regarded as just Heavenly punishment. The first instalment of the ransom was paid punctually. The second was late and after that no more could be paid. There was no money from France and David wasted what was collected.

In 1363, he went to London and agreed that should he die childless, the crown would pass to Edward (his brother-in- law) with the Stone of Destiny being returned for Edward's coronation as King of Scots. The Scot rejected this arrangement and instead offered to continue paying the ransom (now increased to 100,000 pounds). In 1366, a new assessment was made of both lay and clerical lands, and it was discovered that the value had shrunk to a half and two thirds respectively of their value in 1286. A twenty five year truce had been included in the new ransom terms, and in 1369, the treaty of 1365 was cancelled and a new one set up to the Scots benefit (the influence of the war with France again). The new terms saw the 44,000 marks already paid deducted from the original 100,000 with the balance due in instalments of 4,000 for the next fourteen years.

When Edward died in 1377, there were still 24,000 marks owed which was never paid. David himself had lost his popularity and lost the respect of his nobles when he married the widow of a minor laird after the death of his English wife. He himself died in February 1371.

David's reign saw several new features develop in Scottish society. The growing devolution of parliamentary authority to committees and commissions. The overhaul of the tax system resulted in a great increase in the revenue available to the king (customs duties quadrupled), and the entry of the royal burghs into politics. Legal reform also took place during David's reign. The greatest feature however was that despite the travails, Scotland had maintained and assured her independence.

David's successor Robert II was 55 when he took the throne. He been married twice (the first was possibly invalid) and had thirteen legitimate children, plus a great deal of illegitimate ones beside. All of whom had to be found positions or land. When he died in 1390, he was succeeded by his son John, who owing to the bad omens associated with the name took the title Robert III. Robert III was 53 on his succession and was to all intents and purposes not fit to be king. He had been kicked in the head by a horse in his youth which left him mentally disabled. When he died in 1406, he left one son and four daughters. James I succeeded aged 11 years old, and was actually captured at sea (during a truce) on his succession. He would not return to Scotland until 1424. During his absence, Robert Duke of Albany reigned as regent. He was interested only in the power of his new position and took full advantage of it. During his regime, the barons grew more powerful and there was corruption galore. When his son was captured by the English, Robert ransomed him, however, he paid little attention to ransoming the king. When Robert died, his son Murdoch took over, but he lacked his father's ability and a push was made to bring James home. On his return, James was a very angry young man. During his short active reign, he restored most of the crown's powers, revenged himself on anyone who he felt had not done enough to get him released and generally worked hard to put the realm back on an even keel. There were difficulties with the great nobles and he was murdered because of them in 1437. (Interestingly enough, had he not been losing his tennis balls between cracks in the floorboards, James would have escaped. As he fled his murderers, he hid in the drain under the floor of the tennis court, however, he had ordered it blocked up and so could not escape.)

James II became king of Scots at the age of six. The shock at the murder of James I saw a settling of the dust. The murderers were rooted out and mutilated, and the realm was generally run smoothly during his minority. When he took over, he showed a great acumen for the job and was skillful at restoring the health of the nation. It was a great disaster when he was killed at Roxburgh in 1460 when a cannon he was standing next to exploded.

James III was crowned at the age of 9 and was murdered before he reached 37 during a civil war which ended at the battle of Sauchieburn in 1488. During these reigns, the great noble houses rose and fell depending on whose side they chose in the murky world of Scottish politics. The sons of Robert II generally caused havoc. One, Alexander, the wolf of Badenoch, burnt Elgin cathedral and his son assumed the Earldom of Mar after he abducted the widowed countess. Most of the problems with the nobles were due to the long royal minorities. However, the administrative machinery continued to function despite its misuse and abuse. There was little direct fighting with England during this period. Scots fighting in France were executed for being in arms against their king when Henry V took James I with him to France. When he was released, James was treated as an ally. The suzerainty claim was occasionally dusted off and used, generally in support of a noble malcontent. The few battles which were fought were fought by the noble houses alone. Otterburn (1388) was a fight between an English army and the Douglasses. After the assassination of James I, the Douglasses bore the brunt of the fighting, however, when they were forfeited by James II, they fled to England.

Scotland relations with France were strengthened during this period. The Auld Alliance was repeatedly renewed with almost unaltered terms. However, while Scotland gave much in support of the alliance she generally received little in return. A great many Scots fought in France for the French king against the English during the Hundred Years War. So highly thought of were the Scottish soldiers (they were always the last off the field - if they left at all. At Verneuill a Scottish army under the 4th earl of Douglas was all but exterminated) that Charles VII formed his 'corps d'elite' the 'Garde Ecossaise' from their ranks. In 1445, he established a regular army of fifteen companies. At the head of them was the 'Gens d'Ordonnance' the Scottish Company. In these two companies generations of Scots fought with distinction.

While Scotland gave military aid to France, she received culture in return. It was to France that she looked when her own Universities were being thought of. St, Andrews (1412) had its curriculum based upon that of Paris, while its constitution was based on the universities of the Loire. Glasgow (1451) followed St. Andrews, and Aberdeen (1495) showed a great deal of Renaissance influence.

When James IV took the throne in 1488, the role of the king was changing. The old ideas were being replaced. Government was becoming more complicated and there was a greater reliance on 'small men' to oil the wheels of government. As the crown took more of an interest in everything, the only force able to hold off conflict was the force of the king's will. James IV had will in no small measure. By the force of his personality, he pushed Scotland forward. James was interested in everything, ships, guns, tournaments, clothes, music and even surgery.  He extracted a tooth, set a broken leg and carried out a bleeding. Alchemy was also an interest. His abiding loves however were good government, his subjects and warfare.

One of James' many reforms was in the legal system. James reorganised and restructured the legal system to run more efficiently and effectively. He made a conspicuous effort to control the highlands (the first king of Scots in a century who could speak Gaelic) he forfeited the Lord of the Isles in 1493 and made each chief responsible for his own people - an action that had little success. Having failed to control the Highlands through the use of justiciars, he made Huntly heritable sheriff of the north and Argyll of the south-west. The rise of the Gordons and the Campbells gained a gathering momentum from now on, as these two powerful families became government policemen.

James was a true renaissance monarch in many ways, above all his interest in warfare and in developing the military might of his kingdom set the tone for his reign. He banned golf and football so that the men might practice their archery. He ordered regular 'wapynschawingis' to ensure that every man possessed weapons according to his status. By 1508, he was casting good cannon in Edinburgh castle. He also loved his navy. In 1493 he ordered every burgh to provide a boat of 20 tons and a crew and was also building his own ships in new dockyards. The great 'Michael' was completed in 1511 and was the wonder of the age. By the end of his reign he had ten big and sixteen smaller ships. He lent 2,000 men to Denmark in 1502 and informed France that he could supply 4,000 fully equipped men in 1508. He also subdued the Highlands with a small force. Serious war however he did not engage in.

Much of the reason for James' success was the lack of interest in England for yet another war in Scotland. Henry VII was interested only in staying on the throne and made every effort to maintain the peace, including the marriage of his eldest daughter to James in exchange for perpetual peace. A peace which would last so long as Henry VII was alive.

When Henry VIII took the throne, the atmosphere changed. Henry was determined on a war with France and despite a great deal of diplomatic effort on James' part in aid of peace, war broke out in 1512 although James would take no action until 1513. When Henry left for France in the summer of 1513, he left England well prepared for any attack by James. A last attempt by James to get peace was made in August 1513. The envoy was treated with contempt by Henry and rejected on August 12. On August 22, James crossed the border.

James reduced several castles, including Norham with his new guns and took up a fortified position on Flodden Edge overlooking the river Till. Surrey, in charge of the English forces, attempted to lure James down from the hillside to no avail marched around the Scots until they had threatened to block off the Scots supply routes. On a rainy miserable day, the Scots finally gave battle. The Scots guns were manoeuvred round the hill but could not depress enough to do any damage to the English lines. By contrast, the English guns were wreaking havoc in the Scottish line. The order was finally given to charge, and in a mass the Scots slid down the slope and attacked a well prepared enemy. James was killed and along with him nine earls, thirteen barons, an archbishop, and most of the other nobility. Thousands upon thousands of ordinary Scots were also slain. Surrey himself lost two-thirds of his own picked retinue in the battle.

James' body was taken to London where Henry planned a splendid funeral. The funeral never took place and the embalmed head was eventually hacked off by Elizabeth's master-glazier who used it as a pot-pourri until he tired of it.

The long term ramifications of Flodden were great. The loss of so many nobles in one day was a huge blow. Organisation for defence was put in place and in Edinburgh orders went out that women were not to wail in the streets but were instead to go to church, and that everyone must help to build the city wall (which still stands today in places). The new lords made arrangements for the gathering of war material and for the coronation of the new king. Henry however, made peace with France in 1514; a peace in which Scotland was included.

Flodden's greatest impact would be in the collective psyche when future problems arose with England. There was no rush to war, indeed there was every attempt made to avoid it at all costs. The 'Flodden Complex' would affect Scottish domestic and foreign policy for many years afterwards.

This has been a brief and not very complete coverage of the period between the death of Bruce and the death of James IV nearly two hundred years later. I have touched on some important points, and skirted round others for the sake of space and interest. Much of this period (and afterwards) is very complicated. The inter-relations and conflicts amongst the noble families and the crown are confusing and at times often incomprehensible. Further study of the period covered is recommended for anyone interested in it.

Bibliography

Basic
R. Nicholson Scotland - The Later Middle Ages (ISBN 0-9018-2484-4)
M. Lynch Scotland - A New History (ISBN 0-7126-3413-4)
More Detail
A. Grant Independence and Nationhood - Scotland 1306-1469 (ISBN 0-7131-6309-7)
J. Wormald Court Kirk & Community - Scotland 1470-1625
Even More Detail
N. MacDougall James IV (Excellent Book. Published by John Donald, Edinburgh 1989)
L.J. MacFarlane William Elphinstone and the Kingdom of Scotland, 1431-1514 (Aberdeen, 1985. Invaluable study of this enigmatic bishop and of the times.)