IN Sunday’s National, I told the story of how the forces of King David II lost the battle of Dupplin Moor in 1332, the first battle of the Second War of Independence. Hostilities involving the Scots and the English would not formally cease until 142 years later in 1474.

Most Scots know little about this period in our history and how very close Scotland as a nation came to extinction. The history of a war, as they say, is written by the victors, but the Scots suffered numerous defeats in the 14th century and we hear very little about them. That’s because history is more often written and re-written by the propagandists, and in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Scottish masters of the black arts were all in favour of the Bruce and Stewart dynasties and would barely hear a word said against them. And if you don’t believe my contention about propagandists, just look at the way Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and their friends in the press are already spinning a false narrative about the European Union being to blame for a No-Deal Brexit ... looking to their place of infamy in future histories of this period.

Over the next two Tuesday Back in the Day columns I am going to try to tell the story of the Second War of Independence which was also a Scottish Civil War between the true King, David II, and his supporters, against the would-be usurper, Edward Balliol, and his coterie of nobles, many of whom were on his side because he promised to restore the lands of which they had been disinherited for fighting against David’s father, King Robert the Bruce. For most of the time Edward Balliol was fighting with the support and active encouragement of Edward III of England, grandson of Edward Longshanks, the murderer of Sir William Wallace.

Edward III came to the English throne with what he saw as a huge cloud over himself, namely the signing in his name of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328 which guaranteed Scottish independence and surrendered all claim to English overlordship of Scotland. Its signing is generally seen as the closure of the First War of Independence, but the Second War would not be long in starting.

It is worth noting that Edward III and the English aristocracy called it the “turpis pax”, the shameful peace, and Edward became determined to regain the honour of the House of Plantagenet and subdue Scotland to boot. It’s a lesson from history that on such feelings of familial pride and shame are wars often made, and that’s true even now – would President George W Bush have invaded Iraq with Tony Blair’s backing if his father had not stopped before enforcing an earlier end to Saddam Hussein? After Dupplin Moor, Balliol and his superb English general Henry Beaumont moved quickly to try and exploit their remarkable victory over superior numbers at the Moor.

Thought not a contemporary account, the Liber Pluscardensis, or Book of Pluscarden, is probably the most reliable account of what happened next because the monks and scholars of the Abbey of that name had access to the writings of Walter Bower, author of the Scotichronicon, while the Liber was being produced in the early 1460s, the chief writer being a secular cleric called Malcolm Buchanan. They would also know how the clerics of the time reacted, as this history would be handed down within monasteries and abbeys.

The Liber states: “They then straight away marched to the town of Perth without any difficulty or opposition, and Edward Balliol came to Scone and was crowned king in the usual manner by Duncan, Earl of Fife, and the Bishop of Dunkeld and others their abettors. At the same time he assembled there the abbots and priors and prelates of the kingdom, from Fife and Fothryk (Forres), from Stratherne and Gowry, and they made their submission to him through fear rather than love.”

That is a very important point because the church’s theology of the time stated that if an oath was gained through coercion, it could be legally set aside by those forced to make it. Yet there’s no doubt that some who swore fealty to Balliol at his coronation actually meant it.

THE coronation of the usurper took place on September 24, 1332, and all of sudden from having no king when John Balliol abdicated, the country now had two kings, one of them the son of “toom tabard” Balliol.

Calling himself King of Scots, Balliol marched south with his mainly English army to Roxburgh where, on November 23, he pledged loyalty to Edward III as his overlord, and promised to marry Edward’s sister as well as ceding about half of Scotland to the English king as his personal fiefdom. Balliol’s treachery soon reached the ear of those nobles still loyal to young David II and they were quick to act.

The council of nobles, minus those who had sided with Balliol, met and appointed Sir Andrew Murray or de Moray, brother in law of Robert the Bruce and son of Wallace’s co-leader at Stirling Bridge, as Regent for King David II while Sir Archibald Douglas was made Guardian of Scotland. The young king was sent for safety to Dumbarton Castle in the lands of the loyal House of Lennox – it was arguably the most impregnable fortress in the land. Though but a boy, David II was already married to Princess Joan of England and she went with him.

The nobles also bought some time by saying they wanted to convene a Parliament to decide who would be rightful king. The likely truth is that Murray and Douglas, who would both lose everything if Balliol became king with the backing of Edward III, were plotting to find Edward Balliol and kill him, and the truce they agreed with Balliol was merely a diversion.

THE truce in force and knowing there would now be a Parliament that might elect him, Balliol grew over-confident and dismissed most of his troops who were probably anxious to be at home in England or the Continent rather than face a harsh Scottish winter.

We are not entirely sure who led the loyal forces against Balliol, but several chronicles tell the story of the Battle of Annan, also known as the Camisade of Annan, as it was a surprise attack.

Archibald Douglas and John Randolph, now Earl of Moray after the death of his brother, the 2nd Earl, at the Battle of Dupplin Moor, gathered about 1000 men at Moffat and on the night of December 16-17 1332, in a remarkable feat of arms they stormed to Annan and smashed into Balliol’s camp, slaughtering all who stood or slept in their way in a dawn raid. Balliol himself barely escaped with his life, fleeing to Carlisle bareback on his horse and without even time to put on his trews. It was a humiliating defeat for Balliol, and for a short few months most of Scotland was in the hands of the Bruce faction.

Balliol flung himself on the far from tender mercies of Edward III, and with his determination to be free of the “shameful peace” the English king used the breach of the truce as the excuse to mount a full-scale invasion of Scotland, half of which, don’t forget, had been promised to him by Balliol.

Edward III had succeeded his father, the loser of Bannockburn, in dubious circumstances – we probably will never know who killed Edward II or if it was really achieved by the thrusting of a red-hot poker into his back passage. Crowned in 1327 at the age of 14, Edward III was a puppet king at first, ruled over by his mother Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer, but after he turned 17, Edward, by then married to his wife Phillipa of Hainault who gave him a son – the future Edward the Black Prince – rebelled against Mortimer and had him executed, beginning his long personal reign over England. He was to become one of England’s great warrior kings, but had only just turned 20 when Balliol came to his court for assistance to gain his Scottish kingdom.

The Book of Pluscarden author was in no doubt about Edward III’s qualities or lack of them: “Edward Balliol, straightaway after his escape, went to Edward, King of England, for help and succour; and the latter, like a base faithless perjurer, breaking through the ties of the treaty of alliance and peace (Edinburgh-Northampton 1328), and like a palterer with his oath and a breaker of his word, unmindful of his salvation and regardless of his own promise ratified by his seal and oath, and against his own sister, promised him succour and quickly got together a large army being joined by Scottish partisans of the said Edward Balliol.”

There then followed one of the greatest humiliations in Scottish history, one that is rarely mentioned, or only briefly, in any of the Scottish chronicles. The English chronicles, however, such as Lanercost, are full of the Battle of Halidon Hill that took place on July 19, 1333.

To get the support of Edward III, Balliol confirmed his earlier promise to cede much of Scotland to the English crown and this time he included Berwick-upon-Tweed, the country’s most important port.

Needing no second invitation, Edward built up his forces during the Spring then marched his army north and linked up with Balliol to besiege Berwick. In one of those maddening chivalric deals of the era, the town commander, Sir Alexander Seton, agreed that if the port had not been relieved by July 11, he would surrender. Hostages were offered to ensure compliance, including Seton’s own son Thomas. The Guardian, Sir Archibald Douglas, got together a sizeable army and marched through Northumberland towards Bamburgh Castle where Edward III had lodged his queen and her court. He doesn’t seem to have felt she was in any danger as he did not break off the siege, even after Douglas managed to insert some armed men into the town as reinforcements. Duly encouraged, Seton with drew the offer of surrender and Edward III duly started hanging his hostages at the rate of two a day – Seton had to watch his own son perish on the scaffold. Douglas decided enough was enough, and decided to march on Berwick, swinging around to attack from the north at a place called Halidon Hill. He was a brave man, but no Bruce, and chose his battleground wrongly. The Scots seem to have depended on the same tactics that served Robert the Bruce so brilliantly at Bannockburn, namely to attack in formations of spearmen known as schiltrons, but Henry Beaumont’s shrewd use of superior English archery at Dupplin Moor the previous year now came into play and would indeed make English armies invincible on the battlefield for another century. His cavalry dismounted and prepared for battle on foot.

The Scots did not help themselves by leaving a good position so that they were forced to move their schiltrons through a mossy bog that slowed them down and gave the English longbowmen an easy target on which to rain down their arrows.

As the Scots tried to move up Halidon Hill they were cut to pieces, and the survivors of the attack turned and fled, only to be cut down by the knights who had remounted their horses.

Contemporary accounts say the Scots lost half of their 14,000-strong army, with English losses negligible. Berwick had to surrender, and there are accounts which say the English killed their prisoners, though this may have been later propaganda.

Edward III and Balliol marched into Scotland. The whole country lay at their mercy. Find out what happened next week.