LAST week we saw how the Battle of Halidon Hill on July 19, 1333, ended in the slaughter of thousands and the invasion of southern Scotland by the forces of Edward III of England and his “puppet” Scottish king, the usurper Edward Balliol.

The nation of Scotland, whose independence had been won at Bannockburn and confirmed in the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328, now faced what would be known these days as an existential crisis. The English occupation of Scotland under Edward III’s grandfather Edward Longshanks was still fresh in the Scottish collective memory. It must have seemed as though those dreadful days of suppression by the English were back to stay. Having triumphed in the only battle he would ever fight on English soil, Edward III proclaimed himself Lord Paramount of Scotland and the usurper Balliol made good his promises that he would hand over most of the south of the country to the English king.

One chronicle tells us that Balliol “acknowledged fealty and subjection to his English namesake, and surrendered Berwick as an inalienable possession of the English crown”.

He then added numerous castles and entire counties to slake the 20-year-old Edward’s thirst for conquest and booty.

In effect the Scottish border had been drawn back to a line between Edinburgh and Ayr, and the remaining Scottish leaders were divided over what to do – surrender to Edward III and Balliol or fight on in a guerrilla campaign against the occupying English forces.

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It was not just the number of men killed at Halidon Hill but the loss of leaders such as Archibald, Lord of Douglas, the Earls of Ross, Sutherland and Carrick and as many as 70 barons and 500 knights that weakened Scotland. Young King David II, the son of Robert the Bruce, was just nine-years-old and the remaining nobles of Scotland quickly decided that he should be sent abroad for his safety.

The best chronicle of that time was the one composed in Latin by monks at Lanercost Priory. I will be quoting from Sir Herbert Maxwell’s translation of the Lanercost Chronicle. It tells us that on September 17, with Edward III having returned to London in triumph “King” Edward Balliol held a Parliament in Perth.

“The King of Scotland held a parliament at S John’s Town in Scotland, wherein he utterly revoked and quashed all the deeds and grants of my lord Robert de Brus, who had forced himself treacherously and violently upon the throne, ordaining and commanding that all that he [Robert] had granted away should be restored to such of the original and true heirs who had not borne arms against him in the aforesaid wars.”

In one decree, Balliol had restored the lands of the “disinherited” and in effect had created a civil war in Scotland between his followers and those still loyal to the young King David. The loyalist lords met in Dumbarton Castle from where David and his wife Joan were sent to France where King Philippe VI received the royal children most warmly and gave them sanctuary in the Chateau Gaillard overlooking the River Seine in Normandy. The ruined castle still stands and is one of the most impressive such fortifications in France.

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Worse was to come from Balliol. Lanercost tells us that on June 19, 1334, “the King of Scotland came to Newcastle-on-Tyne, accompanied by the Earls of Atholl, Dunbar, Mar and Buchan, and there … the same Edward de Balliol, King of Scotland, performed his homage to my lord Edward the Third, King of England, in token of holding the kingdom of Scotland from him as Lord Paramount, and so from his heirs and successors for all time.”

In other words, in the eyes of its own king, Scotland was now no longer independent but a vassal state, and the countries of Berwick, Roxburgh, Peebles and Dumfries, the town of Haddington, the town of Jedburgh with its castle, and the forests of Selkirk, Ettrick and Jedworth were now annexed to the Crown of England.

With the true king in France, it fell to a succession of Guardians to fight the cause of the Bruce dynasty, chief among them being Sir Andrew Murray.

He was now the de facto leader of the Scottish resistance and there then began a campaign of guerrilla actions and the re-taking of English-occupied castles, just as Robert the Bruce had done in the years before Bannockburn.

It is annoying to historians that we do not have any contemporary accounts of what happened next from a Scottish point of view but inferences can be drawn from the later records of, for example, the Book of Pluscarden, and from contemporary English chronicles such as Lanercost which indicate that there was serious fighting between the Bruce and Balliol factions. Balliol wasn’t a great man in a fight, however, and took off back to England leaving David Strathbogie, the earl of Atholl, to be his general.

The Scottish writer John of Fordun was no fan of Atholl’s, stating: “But the great tyranny and cruelty this earl practised among the people words cannot bring within the mind’s grasp; some he disinherited, others he murdered: and in the end, he cast in his mind how he might wipe out the freeholders from the face of the earth.”

Atholl considered himself chief of the North of Scotland and like Edward III in the south of Scotland he began a policy of getting rid of the so-called “freeholders” who were a class of Scot that held their own lands, albeit in the feudal system, and whose traditions of arms-bearing made them the most effective fighters against the English.

Atholl went too far, however, when he laid siege to Kildrummy Castle in Aberdeenshire in then autumn of 1335. This was a Bruce stronghold that belonged to young King David’s aunt Christina who just happened to be married to Sir Andrew Murray.

The Guardian with a force of less than 1000 men swiftly marched north. Atholl stopped the siege and with probably 3000 troops went to confront Murray at Culblean forest. Some of the Bruce loyalists besieged in Kildrummy, including a man known to history as John of the Craig, marched to join Murray’s force, and it was the said John who took the small army around Culblean to combat Atholl’s army from the rear. And on St Andrew’s Day, 1335, this time there were no English archers to fear.

The Balliol faction were not popular in that area of Scotland, and it may have been that many local men had been forced into the service of Atholl against their will. They stood ready to fight but when Murray and his colleague Lord Douglas split their force in two and smashed into Atholl’s army in a devastating pincer movement, they soon broke ranks and fled.

David Strathbogie, the Earl of Atholl, died a foot soldier’s death, bravely making a last stand with a small group of knights. He was found skewered to an oak tree.

THE Battle of Culblean was the turning point in the Second War of Independence, not least because it put Edward Balliol out of the contest. Lanercost states that Balliol spent the winter of 1335 “with his people at Elande, in England, because he does not yet possess in Scotland any castle or town where he could dwell in safety”. He would soon be permanently removed as a threat of any kind, accepting a pension of £2000 a year and a home in England as the youthful Edward III had tired of the ageing Balliol.

The Scottish resistance had come a long way in a short time and it was at this point that Phillipe VI of France intervened. The Auld Alliance had been renewed regularly since the initial signing of the treaty in 1295, and Phillipe was already deep in the dispute with Edward III which would lead to the Hundred Years War. The French King began to organise an army to go to the assistance of the Bruce faction, and assembled a fleet to carry his soldiers. He also sent war parties to raid small English ports. Concerned about the prospect of war between two great Christian leaders, the Pope then asked Philippe and Edward to hold a truce with the Scots agreeing to this temporary peace until the next summer.

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As soon as the truce expired, Lanercost tells us that in early June 1336 “the King of England, who hitherto had been waiting in the south to see whether any French ships should happen to land in those parts, came to Newcastle with a very small following, boldly entered Scotland with them, not without danger, and reached Perth”.

“Having waited there for a short time, he took part of the army and marched beyond the Scottish mountains, burning Aberdeen and other towns, taking spoil and destroying the crops which were then nearly ripe for harvest, trampling them down with horses and troops, nor did he meet with any resistance.”

The patriotic English monk understates the damage done by Edward III who had become convinced that Philippe would invade England through Scotland where the best port was Aberdeen. It was razed to the ground and a great many of its people were killed.

The Scots under Murray were powerless to intervene, but Philippe VI could. He sent word to Edward III’s council that he would invade both Scotland and England with his huge army at the end of August and Edward III broke off his attacks in the north of Scotland and his campaign to subdue the Douglas family in Liddesdale. Eventually he went south, from early 1336 onwards the Scottish resistance grew apace. Perth fell to Murray and Douglas, followed by the supposedly impregnable Bothwell Castle.

Lanercost tells us: “Now the Scots, being aware that the King of England and the nobles of the country were in distant parts, assembled and besieged Bothwell Castle which the king had lately repaired; and because the aforesaid Sir Robert de Ufford, to whom, as well as to the warden, that castle had been committed by the king, was absent at the time, the castle quickly surrendered to the Scots upon these terms, that all those therein should be secure in life, limb and all their possessions, and receive a safe-conduct to England: all which was done.”

Other accounts say that Murray negotiated a financial deal with the troops there and what is definite is that when they marched out he destroyed Bothwell Castle as an effective fortress, and by then almost all of Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde were back in the hands of Bruce loyalists. France and England were now set on war, and for the rest of 1336, Edward III prepared for the war which would start in 1337 – nobody could have known it, but that war would last 116 years.

Edward being occupied with France left the Scots to rebuild their finances and their fighting forces and they duly harassed the English and the few remaining adherents to Balliol’s cause.

In 1338, Edward sent William Montagu, 1st Earl of Salisbury, to Scotland to set about containing the rampant Scottish resistance and he duly ran into one of the most fascinating women in Scottish history.

Black Agnes of Dunbar is such a compelling character that I have decided to give her a whole column to herself – as you will see next Tuesday, it is the least I can do for a woman who, to me, symbolises the pride and passion of Scottish patriotic womanhood.