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Battle of Dunbar, 27 April 1296

Battle of Dunbar, 27 April 1296

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Battle of Dunbar, 27 April 1296

Battle in which Edward I defeated John Balliol, king of Scotland. Balliol had been appointed king of Scotland by Edward at the request of the Scottish lords, but had proven unable to withstand the demands of Edward I and of his own Scottish advisors. After his defeat, Balliol surrendered his throne to Edward.

Battles of the Anglo-Scottish Wars

:Rickard, J (27 August 2000), Battle of Dunbar, 27 April 1296

Battle of Dunbar, 27 April 1296 - History

C astles F orts B attles

Castle is located next to Dunbar Leisure Centre. No sign-posts but the castle is clearly visible from the road. The leisure centre had a car park or alternative on-road parking is possible.

Situated on a rocky outcrop projecting into the Firth of Forth, there has been a fortification on the site since at least Roman times. During this period a timber fort was occupied by the Votanidi tribe and later became part of the Kingdom of Northumbria which stretched from the Forth to the Humber. Later taken by Picts, little is known about it until AD 849 when it is recorded as owned by Kenneth MacAlpin. He had seen off his competitors to become King of both Picts and Gaels against a backdrop of Viking raids.

The medieval fortress probably evolved from the earlier defences but is generally credited to Gospatric, Earl of Northumbria or his son, also Gospatrick, who took the title Earl of Dunbar. The former had been a magnate of Northumbria but had been expelled following William I's 'Harrying of the North' in 1069/70. The castle continued to be developed over the subsequent centuries and became a substantial fortification that comfortably withstood an attempted assault by King John of England in 1214.

Dunbar Castle was the scene for the first major battle of the First War of Scottish Independence (see below). In 1292 Edward I had arbitrated between rival claimants for the Scottish throne and had ultimately chosen in favour of John Balliol an individual Edward was confident would be his vassal. However, Edward's excessive demands for men and money to support a war with France placed the new Scottish King in an impossible position. He was left little choice but to rebel and sought to agree a mutual defence pact with France. Outraged Edward raised an army to deal with the threat and by March 1296 the two countries were at war the Scots launched a failed attack on Carlisle Castle on 26 March but this was followed by a brutal English assault on Berwick on 30 March. The sacking of the latter, Scotland's largest port and a thriving mercantile community, was designed to awe King John into submission. After one month militarising Berwick, Edward commenced preparations for penetration into southern Scotland and a key installation along the coastal road was Dunbar Castle. Although owned by Patrick, Earl of March - who supported Edward I - the castle itself had been handed over by the Earl's wife, Marjory Comyn, to the forces of King John. The castle was besieged by John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey prompting the Scottish garrison to send a frantic plea to help to King John. He duly detached the mounted elements of his army, under the command of John Comyn, but the subsequent battle was a disaster with the Scots routed and over 100 high status prisoners taken. With the arrival of Edward I and the main English army on 28 April 1296, Dunbar Castle surrendered to the English. Later that year King John capitulated to the Edward I and was stripped of his throne. Thousands of other Scottish magnates would subsequently pay homage direct to Edward I at a gathering at Berwick Castle.

Despite the English victory at Dunbar, which saw the Scottish throne left vacant, the Wars of Scottish Independence continued. William Wallace rebelled the following year and starting a guerrilla war against the English which reached its high point at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297). Although Wallace was defeated, another rebellion, this time led by Robert the Bruce, started in 1306. Edward I's death, a Burgh-by-Sands on his way north to suppress the revolt, led to a change in fortune for the Scots the new English King, Edward II, was no substitute for his father. In the first years of his reign he would lose control of almost all the castles in Scotland until finally, prompted into action by a siege of Stirling Castle, he brought and army north. At the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), Edward was decisively defeated requiring him to flee the battlefield. Refused entry into Stirling Castle, Edward rode at speed to Dunbar pursued all the way by the Scots. He left his horses outside the castle's gates and took a fishing boat back to England.

Dunbar Castle was slighted after 1314 to prevent further military use - its coastal location and port facilities being regarded as too useful for the English with their significant maritime assets. However, whilst the First War of Scottish Independence ended in 1328, peace did not last long. Once Edward III had overthrown Roger Mortimer, Earl of March he keenly restarted the war. A significant English victory at Halidon Hill (1333) saw southern Scotland re-conquered and Dunbar Castle was fortified once more. However, it was later recaptured by the Scots and, under the command of Agnes Randolph, successfully withstood a five month siege as the English tried to re-capture it.

Dunbar Castle was taken into Crown ownership following the forfeiture of George II, Earl of March. By this time the castle was ruinous but substantial rebuilding was initiated. The upgrades were significant enough to enable the castle to withstand another English assault, led by Henry Percy, in 1435. Another attack in 1448 saw Dunbar Castle badly damaged once more and it is unclear what rebuilding took place before the castle was purposely slighted in 1488 to again deny its use to the English.

Dunbar Castle was rebuilt in 1515 during a period of fighting between England and Scotland. The conflict continued sporadically through the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI culminating in the war of the Rough Wooing an attempt to force a marriage alliance between Edward VI and Mary, Queen of Scots. In 1547 the English had significant success at the Battle of Pinkie but the English commander - Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset - was unable to press home his advantage. The following year though he did raid into Scotland attacking Dunbar Castle and leaving the site ruinous.

The castle was extensively upgraded by Marie de Guise, widowed Queen of James V, between 1550 and 1560. These upgrades restored the castle to a first rate fortification and accordingly her daughter - Mary, Queen of Scots - made regular use of the site during her reign. Of note she chose it as the location to rally her supporters following the murder of her unpopular Italian secretary, David Riccio, at Holywood Palace. Another important visit occurred in April 1567 when she arrived there with James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. He had allegedly kidnapped Mary and had taken her first to Hailes Castle and then onto Dunbar. Whether this action was with the connivance of the Queen or not is disputed. Either way, it spelled the end for her regime with key magnates rising in rebellion. On 15 June 1567 at Carberry Hill near Edinburgh she surrendered to her opponents and was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle where she was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son, James. Whilst she escaped and rallied her forces she was defeated at the Battle of Langside, fought on 13 May 1568, and fled to Carlisle Castle in England. Bothwell fled to Dunbar Castle and then abroad to Norway hoping to enlist the support of Frederick II of Denmark. However, the King imprisoned him and he was never released.

Bothwell left some of his supporters to hold Dunbar Castle and Regency forces besieged the castle in September 1567. They were eventually ejected but Dunbar Castle was once again slighted to prevent any reoccurrence with some of the stone robbed to rebuild the quay side at Leith. The castle was never rebuilt and suffered further destruction when the Victorian harbour, complete with its own gun battery in the north-east corner, was built in 1844. This created a new entrance for the harbour with ships sailing through what was once the centre of the medieval castle. What is left has been closed to the public since 1993 when a portion collapsed into the sea.

The ruins of a medieval fortress albeit in a poor state of repair with a portion having been destroyed to create an entrance for the harbour. No access is allowed to the ruins but the exterior can be viewed the surrounding area. With regards the battlefield there is no monument but a good view of the terrain can be seen from Spott Loan.

Perched on a rocky outcrop, Dunbar Castle evolved from a Dark Ages fort into a substantial medieval fortress. When the castle was besieged by English forces in 1296, it became the scene for the opening engagement of the Wars of Scottish Independence - the first Battle of Dunbar. It subsequently had a turbulent history and was attacked on many occasions.

Battle of Dunbar (1296)

After the sack of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Edward I of England rushed to conquer the rest of Scotland, and his next objective after Berwick was Dunbar Castle. The castle's owner, Patrick IV, Earl of March was English, but his wife was sympathetic to the Scots, and she allowed for the Scots to use it as a base. Edward sent the Earl of Surrey, Balliol's own father-in-law, to invest the stronghold with a large force of knights.

The defenders of Dunbar requested assistance from King John, whose army was encamped at nearby Haddington. The King sent the majority of his army to assist in the relief of Dunbar, leading to a battle between the mounted men-at-arms of both sides. The Scots mistakenly believed that the English were withdrawing from the battlefield as the English knights crossed a gully intersected by the Spott Burn, leading to the Scots launching a disorderly downhill charge against them. However, the English advanced in perfect order, and the Scots were routed in a single charge. About 100 Scottish lords, knights, and men-at-arms were taken prisoner, and one English source claimed that 10,000 Scots died in battle at Dunbar. The day after the battle, King Edward appeared in person, and Dunbar Castle surrendered.

The battle ended the war between England and Scotland, with the fortress of Roxburgh surrendering without a fight. Only Edinburgh Castle held out for a week against Edward's siege engines, and John reached Perth on 21 June, where he received messages from Edward asking for peace. John and his son Edward Balliol were sent into English captivity, and John's vestments of royalty were stripped from him, while the Stone of Scone and other relics of Scottish nationhood were taken back to London by King Edward.

On this day in Scotland

The Battle of Dunbar was fought on the 27th of April, 1296.

There have been two battles called 'The Battle of Dunbar' and to distinguish between them, they are referred to as 'Dunbar 1' and 'Dunbar 2'. The second is also referred to as “Cromwell's greatest victory” and could perhaps be called “Leslie's greatest defeat” and the first, which concerns this post, could also count amongst a list of someone's 'greatest defeats' – the Scots didnae win!

The history of battles is never impartial, with omissions and exaggerations being rife, especially in contemporary reports. The historic record often depends on whether the winners or the losers wrote the report. If the losers left anyone behind capable of writing up the events, that usually means some truth can be gleaned from studying both versions. However, a common misconception concerning Dunbar 1, namely that Robert the Bruce fought on the side of the Norman-English on the 27th of April, 1296, has nothing to do with partiality. The error derives from
mischievousness as there is no evidence Bruce did fight. Nevertheless, both Robert the Bruce's father and the man himsel' were on Edward's side in that 1296 campaign.

The road to Dunbar began with two events. One was the conclusion of the Treaty of Paris, which was sealed between the French and the Scots, represented by their King, John Balliol, and many of his nobles, on the 23rd of February, 1296. Apart from that treaty, which effectively lasted 300 years, the other was Balliol's refusal to concede to the demands of Edward I of England. Longshanks, considering himself Balliol's overlord, had demanded Scottish troops be raised on his behalf in support of his campaign in Gascony. Balliol's twofold salute served only to annoy Edward, who promptly ordered his feudal army to assemble at Newcastle-upon-Tyne for the 1st of March, 1296.

The army of the 'Hammer of the Scots', said to number 35,000 men [25,000-30,000 infantry and 5000 cavalry], marched on Berwick-upon-Tweed, then in Scottish hands. Edward had reached Wark Castle by the 25th of March 25, where he paused for Easter and received oaths of fealty from some Scottish-based nobles loyal to his cause, including both Bruces and the Earl of Dunbar and March. While Edward had been storming northwards, a strong Scottish force, assembled near Selkirk on the 18th of March, crossed the border and struck the first blow. Led by the Earl of Buchan and John 'the Red' Comyn, the Scots attacked Carlisle on the 26th of March, but were unable to breach the town's defences, which were held for Edward I by Robert the Bruce's father.

The English sacked Berwick, then a rich Scottish burgh, on the 30th of March, slaughtering over 7,000 [11,000 in one account] of its 12,500 [11,000-16,000] inhabitants men, women and children. Edward paused at Berwick for the better part of a month, despite Balliol further winding him up by sending a message renouncing his homage. Edward's contemptuous response to that message, received on the 5th of April, has been recorded as “Oh foolish knave! What folly he commits. If he will not come to us, we will go to him.” Meanwhile, in retribution for Berwick, the Scots, moving south and eastwards after their failed attempt on Carlisle, raided deep into Northumberland. By the 8th of April, the Scottish army had burned villages and abbeys in Tyneside, Redesdale and Coquetdale. Then, turning back into Scotland, the leadership sought refuge and respite at Dunbar Castle.

The castle of Dunbar belonged to the Earl of Dunbar and March, another Scot who was with Edward's army, but his fortress was opened in welcome by his wife, Marjory Comyn, sister of the Earl of Buchan, who displayed some of the gumption seen later from 'Black Agnes'. With possession of castles being an obsessive medieval tactic, Edward sent John de Warenne, the 7th Earl of Surrey, who was, incidentally, John Balliol's father-in-law, to take the castle. As the English approached, a large part of the main Scottish army, under the command of the 'Red' Comyn, left its encampment at Haddington and marched east towards Dunbar to occupy a position on high ground west of the town.

Arriving on the field on the 27th of April, the English force, numbering 10,000 [10,000-12,000], advanced against the Scots. As they were crossing a gully and a small stream known as the Spot Burn, the English ranks appeared to Comyn to be in disarray. Whether or not Comyn actually thought they were retreating, he could be forgiven for taking his chance in the circumstances. Unfortunately, by the time the Scots' downhill surge closed on the enemy, Surrey's lines had managed to reorganise and reform on Spottsmuir. A disciplined counter by Surrey's cavalry drove off its Scottish counterpart and somehow, his infantry was able to withstand the Scottish attack and, in an all too repeated cliché, force it into ill disciplined flight in the general direction of Selkirk Forest.

Sir Walter Scott refers to “the disgraceful flight of the Scottish cavalry without a single blow” and the Lanercost Chronicle states that they “ showed their heels so readily.” In 'Robert Bruce's rivals: The Comyns, 1212-1314' Alan Young refers to Fordun, who says the Scottish Earls “fled scathless from the field” because of their loyalty to Robert the Bruce, the Earl of Carrick. That's very likely to have been retrospective propaganda by a Bruce apologist. The truth has got to be that the Scots force was far less than the 40,000 mentioned elsewhere as, significantly, the followers of those Scots nobles 'loyal' to Edward wouldn't have been present. Without those men, Scotland couldn't field anywhere near that sort of number. Actual numbers were probably fairly even, but the English had far more cavalry and that surely won Surrey the day.

Casualties at Dunbar 1 are not known with certainty, albeit the English sources claim over 10,000 Scots died. We do know that Sir Patrick Graham stood and fought to his death. Amongst those sent into captivity in England were the 'Red Comyn' himself the Earls of Atholl, Mentieth, and Ross and about 130 lords, knights and esquires. Dunbar Castle was surrendered and Edward was soon in control of Roxburgh, Edinburgh, Stirling, and Perth. Thanks to the man who would be King, Lochmaben Castle was also captured, notionally on behalf of Edward Longshanks.

Balliol effectively surrendered at Kincardine Castle on the 2nd of July and was forced to hand over 'the keys to his kingdom' at Montrose, on the 8th of July, 1296. John Balliol and his son Edward were also sent south into captivity. Soon after forcing Scotland's major nobles and churchmen to swear allegiance, Longshanks departed, leaving de Warenne and Sir Hugh Cressingham in charge of Scotland and infamously carrying in his baggage train a second 'Ragman's Roll' – and the 'Stone of Scone'.


There is little evidence to suggest that Dunbar was anything other than an action between two bodies of mounted men-at-arms (armoured cavalry). Surrey's force seems to have comprised one formation (out of four) of the English cavalry the Scots force led in part by Comyns probably represented the greater part of their cavalry element . The two forces came in sight of each other on 27 April. The Scots occupied a strong position on some high ground to the west. To meet them, Surrey's cavalry had to cross a gully intersected by the Spott Burn. As they did so their ranks broke up, and the Scots, deluded into thinking the English were leaving the field, abandoned their position in a disorderly downhill charge, only to find that Surrey's forces had reformed on Spottsmuir and were advancing in perfect order. The English routed the disorganised Scots in a single charge. The action was brief and probably not very bloody, since the only casualty of any note was a minor Lothian knight, Sir Patrick Graham, though about 100 Scottish lords, knights and men-at-arms were taken prisoner . According to one English source over ten thousand Scots died at the battle of Dunbar, however this is probably a confusion with the casualties incurred at the storming of Berwick . The survivors fled westwards to the safety of the Ettrick Forest. The following day King Edward appeared in person and Dunbar castle surrendered. Some important prisoners were taken: John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, and the earls of Atholl, Ross and Menteith, together with 130 knights and esquires. All were sent into captivity in England.

Today in History – April 27th Battle of Dunbar, Tea Act, Independence and many more

The battle of Dunbar was a part of the first war of Scottish Independence. King Edward I of England invaded Scotland to punish King John Balliol for not supporting English military action in France. The two forces came in sight of each other on 27 April and over ten thousand scots died at this battle and the war effectively ended with English victory.

The first Spanish settlement in the Philippines established in Cebu City.

Cebu city, in south-central Philippines, is one of the largest cities with a bustling port. On April 27, 1565, Miguel López de Legazpi and the friar Andrés de Urdaneta found the first-ever Spanish settlement in the Philippine archipelago and for six years Cebu remained the Spanish colonial capital. The city still retains the flavor of its Spanish heritage.

The unpopular Tea Act passed by the British parliament.

On April 27, the British parliament passed the Tea Act that was designed to save East India Company from bankruptcy by decreasing the tea tax paid by it to the British Government. After it took effect, even the untaxed Dutch tea entering in colonies through smuggling became more expensive than the East India tea. Colonists viewed this act as taxation tyranny and showed outrage by forming the Boston Tea party.

It was fought on 27 th April, 1813 in York that is present-day Toronto, the capital province of Upper Canada during War of 1812. The Americans captured the town, fort and dockyard but suffered heavy casualties. They had a clear victory yet it was not a decisive strategic result.

President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus.

Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ to give military authorities the power they needed to deal with rebels. According to this order, for silencing the dissenters, commanders were then given the power to detain and arrest those who deemed to threaten military operations without arraignment or indictment.

A Mississippi River side-wheel steam-powered riverboat named Sultana, caught fire and burnt down after one of its boilers exploded. At least 1,238 of the 2,031 passengers died in this casualty. It was one of the worst maritime disasters in United States history.

Sierra Leone got independence.

Sierra Leone is a country on the southwest coast of West Africa. After an armed rebellion named the Hut Tax War of 1898, led by Sierra Leonean people against British rule, the nation finally achieved independence on 27 April 1961.

The April Revolution or Saur Revolution was led by People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDFA) against Afghan President Mohammed Daoud Khan on 27-28 April. Daoud and his family were killed in this war.

On April 27, 50,000-100,000 students marched through streets. They were from different universities of Beijing and they marched all the way to Tiananmen Square. They made their way through the barriers and the lines set up by police and also received widespread support from people. The goal was to end corruption, achieve freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of association and the methods they adopted included hunger strike, sit-in yet hundreds of people were killed and thousands were wounded both inside as well as outside the Square.

There is always a little more to learn and a little more to the day than meets the eye!

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Battle of Dunbar, 27 April 1296 - History

The Battle of Dunbar was the only significant field action in the campaign of 1296. King Edward I of England had invaded Scotland in 1296 to punish King John Balliol for his refusal to support English military action in France.The battlefield is currently under research to be inventoried and protected by Historic Scotland under the Scottish Historical Environment Policy of 2009.

After the sack of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Edward rushed to complete the conquest of Scotland, remained in the town for a month, supervising the strengthening of its defences. On 5 April, he received a message from King John renouncing his homage, to which he remarked, more in contempt than anger, "O' foolish knave! What folly he commits. If he will not come to us we will go to him."

The next objective in the campaign was the Earl of March's castle at Dunbar, a few miles up the coast from Berwick. March was with the English, but his wife, Marjory Comyn, sister of the Earl of Buchan, did not share her husband's political loyalties and allowed her fellow Scots to occupy the castle. Edward sent one of his chief lieutenants, John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey, John Balliol's own father-in-law, northwards with a strong force of knights to invest the stronghold. The defenders sent messages to King John, bivouacked with the main body of his army at nearby Haddington, asking for urgent assistance. In response the army, or a large part of it, advanced to the rescue of Dunbar. John, who was showing even less skill as a commander than he had as a king, did not accompany it. The campaign of 1296 was now to enter its final phase.

There is little evidence to suggest that Dunbar was anything other than an action between two bodies of mounted men-at-arms (armoured cavalry). Surrey's force seems to have comprised one formation (out of four) of the English cavalry the Scots force lead in part by Comyns probably represented the greater part of their cavalry element. The two forces came in sight of each other on 27 April. The Scots occupied a strong position on some high ground to the west. To meet them, Surrey's cavalry had to cross a gully intersected by the Spot Burn. As they did so their ranks broke up, and the Scots, deluded into thinking the English were leaving the field, abandoned their position in a disorderly downhill charge, only to find that Surrey's forces had reformed on Spottsmuir and were advancing in perfect order. The English routed the disorganised Scots in a single charge. The action was brief and probably not very bloody, since the only casualty of any note was a minor Lothian knight, Sir Patrick Graham, though about 100 Scottish lords, knights and men-at-arms were taken prisoner. According to one English source over ten thousand Scots died at the battle of Dunbar, however this is probably a confusion with the casualties incurred at the storming of Berwick. The survivors fled westwards to the safety of Selkirk Forest. The following day King Edward appeared in person and Dunbar castle surrendered. Some important prisoners were taken: John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, and the earls of Atholl, Ross and Menteith, together with 130 knights and esquires. All were sent into captivity in England.

The battle of Dunbar effectively ended the war of 1296 with the English winning. The remainder of the campaign was little more than a grand mopping-up operation. James, the hereditary High Steward of Scotland, surrendered the important fortress at Roxburgh without attempting a defence, and others were quick to follow his example. Only Edinburgh Castle held out for a week against Edward's siege engines. A Scottish garrison sent out to help King John, who had fled north to Forfar, were told to provide for their own safety. Edward himself, true to his word, advanced into central and northern Scotland in pursuit of King John. Stirling Castle, which guarded the vital passage across the River Forth was deserted save for a janitor who stayed behind to hand the keys to the English. John reached Perth on 21 June, where he received messages from Edward asking for peace.

John Balliol, in surrendering, submitted himself to a protracted abasement. At Kincardine Castle on 2 July he confessed to rebellion and prayed for forgiveness. Five days later in the kirkyard of Stracathro he abandoned the treaty with the French. The final humiliation came at Montrose on 8 July. Dressed for the occasion John was ceremoniously stripped of the vestments of royalty. Antony Bek, the Bishop of Durham, ripped the red and gold arms of Scotland from his surcoat, thus bequeathing to history the nickname Toom Tabard (empty coat) by which John has been known to generations of Scottish schoolchildren. He and his son Edward were sent south into captivity. Soon after, the English king followed, carrying in his train the Stone of Scone and other relics of Scottish nationhood.

Who won the battle of Dunbar 1296?

King Edward I of England had invaded Scotland in 1296 to punish King John Balliol for his refusal to support English military action in France.

Battle of Dunbar (1296)

Date 27 April 1296
Location near Dunbar, Scotland
Result Decisive English victory English occupation of the Scottish Lowlands

Also Know, who won the first war of Scottish independence? king Robert the Bruce

Similarly one may ask, what happened at the Battle of Dunbar?

Battle of Dunbar, (September 3, 1650), decisive engagement in the English Civil Wars, in which English troops commanded by Oliver Cromwell defeated the Scottish army under David Leslie, thereby opening Scotland to 10 years of English occupation and rule.

Did the Scots win their freedom?

Scotland Fights Its Way to Freedom, 700 Years Ago. Ragtag Scottish forces routed a large English army 700 years ago today at the Battle of Bannockburn, paving the way for the kingdom's independence. Although a Scottish rebellion then broke out led by William Wallace, Edward I once again emerged victorious.

Battle of Dunbar

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Battle of Dunbar, (September 3, 1650), decisive engagement in the English Civil Wars, in which English troops commanded by Oliver Cromwell defeated the Scottish army under David Leslie, thereby opening Scotland to 10 years of English occupation and rule.

The execution of Charles I, king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, in January 1649 created a constitutional crisis. While England became a republic, the rest of Charles’s dominions—including five colonies in North America—recognized his eldest surviving son, Charles II, as king. The Scots mobilized an army to press his claims, but in June 1650 Cromwell decided on a preemptive strike and led the army of the English Republic toward Edinburgh. On his way up the country, it was reported that the only people Cromwell encountered were women, children, and old men, as Leslie had called all men of fighting age to Edinburgh. Leslie ultimately commanded a force of 23,000 troops to oppose Cromwell’s army of 11,000 infantry and cavalry. Leslie also had enacted a scorched-earth policy ahead of the English advance, and Cromwell’s plan to resupply his army by sea was frustrated by foul weather.

Cromwell, after a war of maneuver near Edinburgh, was compelled by heavy rain and want of supplies to withdraw to Dunbar. There, Cromwell found an English flotilla that provided his troops with tents and provisions. Leslie pursued and took up a strong position on Doon Hill, commanding the English line of retreat toward Berwick. The situation was dire for Cromwell his army was outnumbered and enfeebled by sickness, and some of his officers had advocated withdrawal by sea. Leslie, however, fared little better. Occupying bare hills and running low on rations, the Scots did not have the luxury of waiting out the English. Leslie’s force descended from the heights on September 2 and began to edge toward his right, in an effort to confront, and then surround, the English.

The Scots had assumed that Cromwell’s army was a beaten force. In reality, Cromwell’s New Model Army veterans had weathered the campaign far better than Leslie’s much larger force of raw recruits. Cromwell also took the field at Dunbar with some of his most capable lieutenants: George Monck, Charles Fleetwood, William Packer, and John Lambert all played key roles in the battle to come. English commanders immediately spotted two weaknesses in the Scottish troop deployment. First, the Scottish left wing was crowded against the steep slope of Doon Hill and incapable of maneuvering effectively. Second, a slight depression created some “dead ground,” or a natural trench, in front of Leslie’s position that enabled Cromwell’s troops to redeploy under cover. That night, despite driving rain, English troops moved in front of the Scottish line to create an overwhelming superiority against their right wing.

At dawn the following day, shouting a biblical quotation, “Now let God arise, and his enemies shall be scattered” (Numbers 10:35), Cromwell launched his attack. The Scots were surprised in their bivouacs but quickly formed up and at first repulsed the English advance. Cromwell himself arrived with his reserves, and soon the whole English line advanced again. The fresh impulse enabled it to break the Scottish cavalry and repulse the infantry, and Leslie’s line of battle was gradually rolled up from right to left. Driven into broken ground and penned between Doon Hill and a ravine, the Scots were indeed helpless. The battle was over in an hour—fewer than 100 Englishmen perished, against some 3,000 Scots killed and about 10,000 made prisoners.

Southern Scotland now surrendered to the English, who abolished all native institutions of government and created a new administration at Dalkeith, just outside Edinburgh, to rule the conquered territory. Monck remained in Scotland as commander in chief. Within two years the Scottish Highlands and islands had also been brought under English control. For the first time, England, Scotland, and Ireland became part of a single state, a republic ruled by a single government (in London) that sent elected representatives to a single parliament (in Westminster). This integration depended entirely on force, however—10,000 English troops occupied Scotland. The return of Charles II in 1660, two years after Cromwell’s death and 10 years after Dunbar, led to the demobilization of the New Model Army and the restoration of separate governments in Edinburgh and Dublin.

Dunbar 1296

The spirit of revolt in 1296 was far-reaching just as the untimely death of Alexander III in 1286 had deprived the nobles and the Community of the Realm of a figurehead on whom the functioning of the feudal system depended, the Scottish nobles had taken a dangerous step in dismissing John Balliol as their lawful king. Men such as Sir John de Graham, John Comyn, 2nd Lord of Badenoch, John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan, Sir John de Soulis, Sir Andrew Murray of Bothwell, John de Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, Alexander, Earl of Menteith, Bishop William Lamberton of St Andrews and Bishop William Wishart of Glasgow were determined to resist the invader even without a resolute king to lead them in battle.

In April 1296 Patrick, 8th Earl of Dunbar was in Berwick, attending the war council convened by Edward I when news arrived there that Dunbar’s Countess Marjorie Comyn had handed over his castle to her brother, John Comyn of Buchan. Dunbar, who lived in perpetual fear and awe of Edward I, was devastated not only had he lost face on account of his wife’s insolent act, but his pledge to hand over Dunbar Castle to Edward as a base for operations in the south-east was broken. Nothing appears to have been recorded about Edward’s views on the matter but, doubtless, he held Dunbar in contempt and would have shown it. No matter, he detached a portion of his large army under the command of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, and William de Beauchamp, 9th Earl of Warwick, the latter a veteran of Edward’s campaigns in Wales. Warenne and Warwick were given express orders to relieve Dunbar Castle on 25 April, they marched out of Berwick with a force of 1,000 heavy cavalry and 10,000 infantry. It is not known if the Earl of Dunbar accompanied them.

Countess Marjorie Dunbar, daughter of the late Alexander Comyn, 2nd Earl of Buchan did not share her husband’s enthusiasm for Edward I. Whether she acted on impulse or was persuaded by her Comyn kinsmen to give up Dunbar Castle is not recorded it is more than likely that, appalled by the reports of the massacre at Berwick, she decided to support her kinsmen. (According to one source the Earl of Mar declared Patrick Dunbar a traitor and persuaded Marjorie to surrender his castle as a matter of honour.) Dunbar’s brother Alexander, who was in command of the castle, knew he could not hold out against the Comyns with his pitifully small garrison on 25 April he surrendered the castle to the patriots.

Dunbar Castle was placed in the charge of Sir Richard Siward, a man renowned and respected in feats of arms. Warenne and Warwick arrived at Dunbar Castle on 26 April and immediately laid siege to it from both land and sea. For a day the defenders did little more than glower at the besieging forces until Warenne learnt that the Scottish host commanded by the Comyns of Badenoch and Buchan was camped at the foot of Doon Hill, which overlooks Dunbar. Warenne left the siege of the castle to a few junior officers in command of a token force as he knew the garrison was hardly able to sally out Siward and his defenders were going nowhere, expecting Warenne and Warwick to be defeated by the Comyns. Warenne led the bulk of his force, intent on engaging the Scottish host which he knew was camped about two miles south of Dunbar.

According to English chroniclers of the day the Scottish host numbered 40,000 the figure was probably closer to 4,000, with Warenne’s 10,000 nearer 1,000. Contemporary accounts tended to exaggerate the strengths of armies to make the victors more victorious, the defeated ignominious it is thought that each army at Dunbar and in other conflicts was a tenth of the figures given by the chroniclers, a fact which many modern historians support. Whatever the precise strengths of the Scottish and English armies, the Comyns outnumbered Warenne and Warwick by four to one at least.

It is not entirely certain where the battle was fought. Some historians consider it took place near a part of Spott Glen in the vicinity of a farm called The Standards for obvious reasons. One has to question whether the name dates as far back as 1296. However, more recent research suggests the battle took place near Wester Broomhouse which is within a bowshot or two of Spott Glen and its continuation, Oswald Dean. The valley, a deep defile formed by glacial activity, runs from the east of Spott village to Broxmouth on the coast. It is a picturesque glen, watered by a small, unimpressive burn or stream its sides are steep, covered by straggles of gorse and stunted, windswept hawthorn bushes. In spring it is a bleak place which even a profusion of primroses fails to soften. It was in this obscure glen that cold steel would determine the fate of King John Balliol and the nation of Scotland.

The Scottish host was camped on or near Doon Hill. On the morning of 27 April, Comyn of Badenoch would have easily discerned the approach of Warenne’s army, marching to Wester Broomhouse on the road to Spott Village. The dust raised by the men and horses would have pinpointed the English advance for more than a mile. The Scots waited, confident in the superiority of their numbers however, apart from the fact that their largely untrained army was unaccustomed to warfare, it also lacked heavy cavalry and archers, crucial elements that day and in many to come in the Wars of Independence.

On that cold but bright spring day any flocks of sheep or cattle grazing in Spott Glen would have been driven away to safer fields. The English came on relentlessly, confident of victory and marching in good order. When Warenne reached Spott Glen or Oswald Dean the forward ‘battles’, as the medieval group formations – comparable to modern infantry battalions – were then known, descended into ‘a valley’ to form their line of battle. Changing from column to line was a delicate business the most effective way of deploying an army into battle formation was to march it on to the field with units of the column wheeling right until the entire force was ordered to halt and then turn left to form a line facing the enemy. Although this sounds simple it would have been difficult to execute in the narrow confines of Oswald Dean. During this deploying movement the Scots thought Warenne was retreating.

Comyn of Badenoch appears to have planned no strategy or tactics other than to mount a frontal attack on the English few if any troops were kept in reserve. For his part Warenne knew that his numerically inferior force would be hard-pressed to rebuff a frontal assault made by the superior number of Scots on the higher ground at the base of Doon Hill. He deployed his troops carefully, posting archers among the infantry in the front line it was his intention to engage the Scottish left or right wing, then roll up the centre, a tactic Oliver Cromwell would use at Dunbar in 1650.

We can imagine the scene at Oswald Dean on that cold April day. Steel reflecting the weak sunshine, the only sound being that of neighing horses and the English pennons and banners snapping in the stiff wind that blew along the narrow valley. From his vantage point on Doon Hill Comyn of Badenoch had watched Warenne deploy his men observing no further movement in the serried ranks of the English army, he ordered a full attack, launched from his strong position on the hill. (History would repeat itself in 1650). The Scottish van was packed with men and boys eager to engage the enemy the undisciplined mass charged across the plain at the foot of Doon Hill, then down the slopes of Oswald Dean, blowing their horns to encourage those who followed. The precipitate charge was a disaster.

The unruly, screaming horde of peasants armed with inferior weapons – spades, scythes, axes and pitchforks – did not in the least confound the ranks of Warenne’s disciplined professionals. Warenne protected his flanks with his 1,000 cavalry, with archers interspersed among the front-line infantry. That day the English fought under the banner of Edward I and their protecting saints – John of Beverley, Cuthbert of Durham and Wilfrid of York.

The English infantry stood fast, confident that their flanks were well protected by the horse which could quickly deploy and scatter any Scots who attempted to get behind them. The infantry and archers, observing the undisciplined mob that was the Scottish vanguard, let confusion do their work for them. Too many men in a confined space at Oswald Dean reduced the effect of Comyn’s superiority in numbers, turning it to disadvantage. The order was given for the English archers to loose their deadly arrows that surely must have filled the sky. The shafts could scarcely fail to find a mark among the ragged mob leaping over Spott Burn in tightly packed, undisciplined bunches.

The foremost elements of the Scottish host were cut down in minutes, if not seconds the fallen hindered the progress of those who followed. Dead and wounded began to pile up on the green sward. The tide of battle did not even remotely threaten the English foot, commanded by dismounted knights who no doubt stiffened their resolve by standing alongside their men, taunting the Scots. A welter of blood soon began to stain the turf at Oswald Dean.

The agony was over in less than half an hour. Hundreds – thousands, if the English chronicles of the day can be trusted – of dead eyes stared at the sky that dreadful April day. The English chroniclers numbered the Scottish dead in their thousands – 10,055, a suspiciously precise and high figure, even given the devastation wreaked by the English archers. We have little choice but to accept the contemporary English accounts, although it is often said that, in battle, the victors write the history. It made good propaganda for home consumption. Warenne’s army had been out-numbered, yet he had prevailed. There does not appear to be any record of the English casualties.

The shattered bands of survivors ran from the field, seeking refuge in the Border forests, leaving their wounded at the mercy of Warenne’s men. Among the undoubtedly numerous slain was Sir Patrick de Graham of Montrose who gave and expected no quarter he alone was praised by the English for valiantly standing his ground. Another noble, Walter, Earl of Menteith, was taken prisoner and executed on Edward I’s orders other prisoners included the Earls of Atholl and Ross, members of the oldest Celtic noble families in Scotland. Dunbar Castle surrendered the same day as the battle sheltering within its walls were Sir Richard Siward, John ‘the Red’ Comyn, son of Comyn of Badenoch and many other ransomable notables. More than 100 knights were taken into captivity in chains they were sent to no fewer than twenty-five castles in England, the most prestigious including the Red Comyn – and valuable in terms of ransom money – being imprisoned in the Tower of London.

As for Countess Marjorie, doubtless she was rebuked by her husband, Patrick, Earl of Dunbar for her contumacy although the marriage survived. As far as is known, no such rebuke came from Edward I in point of fact, Edward showed an unusual clemency towards the wives and daughters of those taken prisoner in Dunbar Castle, even to the extent of awarding them pensions. The English king could be chivalrous when it suited him.

After the battle of Dunbar, Edward I conquered Scotland with almost derogatory ease. Scottish resistance collapsed like a house of cards. In the subsequent weeks the castles of Roxburgh, Edinburgh, Perth and Stirling surrendered. As for his part, King John Balliol – ex-king in Edward’s eyes – sent the English king a grovelling letter in which he confessed his fault, blaming his actions on false counsel. He apparently renounced the Treaty of Paris – the Auld Alliance – but this failed to pacify Edward he was determined to humiliate Balliol to serve as a warning to any others attempting to gain the throne of Scotland and rise in rebellion. Balliol was attended by John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan at Montrose Castle, where, on 5 July, Balliol surrendered to Edward. When the English king learnt of the alliance Balliol had made with France he was enraged. In an ignominious ceremony, Edward stripped the hapless king of his royal trappings this involved the physical removal of Balliol’s tabard – a knight’s decorated outer garment worn over armour and blazoned with his coat of arms – his hood and knightly girdle, a punishment usually meted out to a knight found guilty of treason. Balliol became known in Scotland’s history as Toom Tabard (Empty Coat) he was taken to the Tower of London along with his closest advisers, there to languish for a time before he was exiled to France, where he died in obscurity a few years later.

Edward was determined to strip Scotland herself of any symbols of her right to independence, along with every document held in the national archive supporting this claim. The Stone of Destiny at Scone, where many Scottish monarchs were crowned, the Holy Rood, the personal relic of Scotland’s only saint, Margaret, wife of Malcolm III, and many documents were taken over the Border. The Great Seal of Scotland (Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum) was broken up. This act tellingly revealed Edward’s utter contempt for the country on destroying the seal, Edward is supposed to have commented that ‘a man does good business when he rids himself of a turd’.

Edward’s sojourn in Scotland did not last long. The country was prostrated Edward appointed John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, as governor of Scotland and Hugh Cressingham as its treasurer. There is an interesting account of Edward’s brief stay at Dunbar which goes thus:

On the day of St George, 24 [sic] April [1296] (St George’s Day is actually 23 April), news came to the king that they of Scotland had besieged the Castle of Dunbar, which belonged to the earl [sic] Patrick, who held strongly with the king of England. It was upon a Monday that the king sent his troops to raise the siege. Before they came there, the castle had surrendered and they of Scotland were within when the troops of the king of England came there. They besieged the castle with three hosts on the Tuesday that they arrived before it. On the Wednesday, they who were within sent out privately [i.e. sent couriers to John Comyn, leader of the Scottish army] and on the Thursday and Friday came the host of Scotland all the afternoon to have raised the siege of the Englishmen. And when the Englishmen saw the Scotchmen [sic] they fell upon them and discomfited the Scotchmen, and the chase continued more than five leagues [about fifteen miles] of way, and until the hours of vespers [evening prayers] and there died sir [sic] Patrick de Graham, a great lord, and 10,055 by right reckoning. On the same Friday by night, the king came from Berwick to go to Dunbar, and lay that night at Coldingham [Priory] and on the Saturday [28 April] at Dunbar and on the same day they of the castle surrendered themselves to the king’s pleasure. And there were the earl [sic] of Atholl, the earl of Ross, the earl of Menteith, sir [sic] John [the Red] Comyn of Badenoch, sir Richard Suart [Siward], sir William de Saintler [Sinclair] and as many as fourscore [sic] men-at-arms and sevenscore footmen. There tarried the king three days.

The message that came loud and clear from the battle of Dunbar in 1296 was that patriotism alone was not enough. Edward had, however, forged a dangerous weapon. The rise of a strong and determined Nationalism would in time create a cohesive political and military force that would resist the kings of England for the next three centuries.

Edward I conquered Scotland in five months – April to August 1296, considerably less than the three wars over two decades he took to subdue Wales. In a parliament convened at Berwick on 28 August 1296, Edward made the final arrangements for the governing of Scotland. This time there would be no puppet king to interfere with whatever policy he might choose to adopt. In addition to Warenne and Cressingham, William Ormsby was appointed as Justiciar, or high judge. Edward also demanded the presence of every significant landowner in Scotland to pay him homage, accepting him as their liege lord. About 1,900 barons, knights and ecclesiastics answered his summons and attached their seals to what became known as the Ragman’s Roll, so-named because it was festooned with waxen or lead endorsements. The names of Robert Bruce the Elder and Bruce the Younger appear which is of some significance much more important were those signatures which are absent – notably that of William Wallace, knight of Elderslie, who in 1297, in the brief but stirring words of the historian John of Fordun, ‘lifted up his head’.

Until 1296, Wallace was an obscure squire, living on the small estate of Elderslie, near Renfrew. His elder brother Malcolm held the land but the absence of their names from Ragman’s Roll is surprising. Lesser men than the Wallaces saw fit to sign the roll and swear an oath of allegiance, so it cannot be said that the Wallaces were considered lowly.

It is probable that the family de Waleys was of Norman origin who came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. William was the younger son of Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie by marriage to Margaret, daughter of Sir Reynold Crawford, Sheriff of Ayr. William was born in c.1270 little of his life is known to us save through The Actis and Deidis of the Illustere and Vailzeand Campioun Schir William Walleis, Knicht of Elderslie (Acts and Deeds of the Illustrious and Valiant Champion, Sir William Wallace etc.) by Henry the Minstrel, better known as Blind Harry. Written two centuries after Wallace’s death, Blind Harry’s account owes more to romantic fiction than fact which obliges us to rely on the equally imperfect and heavily biased accounts of contemporary English chroniclers.

William Wallace’s name comes to us first in 1297 when he appears to have been at odds with the by now occupying English administrators. Matters came to a head in May 1297, when the English murdered Wallace’s common-law wife, Marion or Marron Braidfute in revenge, Wallace slew William de Hazelrig, Sheriff of Lanark. In the same month Warenne and Cressingham were absent on business in England Justiciar Ormsby was holding court at Scone when Wallace and his small following broke into the place, looted it and very nearly took Ormsby prisoner. The idea persists that Wallace and his men were landless peasants, virtual outlaws, but this was not entirely the case. What mattered was that Wallace had shown the Scottish nobility it was possible to challenge England’s authority and succeed. Contemporary English chroniclers certainly portray Wallace as an outlaw, a view echoed by Patrick, 8th Earl of Dunbar who, if we can believe Blind Harry, reputedly said this of him:

This king of Kyll I can nocht understand

Of him I held niver a fur [long] of land.

It is thought that Kyll may derive from the Celtic coille, meaning a wood Dunbar is therefore describing Wallace as a kind of Robin Hood, an outlaw of the forest.

While we rightly acknowledge Wallace as the dedicated, unflinching patriot that he undoubtedly remains in Scotland to this day, key leaders of the revolt against England were two of the former Guardians, Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow and James the Steward, the latter being Wallace’s feudal superior. They were joined by MacDuff, son of the Earl of Fife and Bruce the Younger, Earl of Carrick. After a farcical encounter with the English at Irvine in Ayrshire, Wishart and the Steward surrendered to the English commander. To his discredit, Bruce the Younger turned his coat for Edward I he would continue in this fashion for nearly a decade, shifting his political position like a weather vane driven by the winds of change.

Only in the north was the revolt gaining momentum. Andrew Murray, son of a leading baron in Morayshire, was gaining a reputation for his bold and successful resistance to England’s authority. Murray and his father had been prominent on the field of Dunbar in April 1296 both had been taken prisoner but the younger Murray escaped from his prison in Chester Castle intent on continuing the fight. By early autumn 1297 the series of isolated outbreaks against English authority had become co-ordinated.

During the summer of 1297 Wallace had engaged in a period of intensive training of his raw levies he taught them discipline and how to fight in schiltrons, tightly packed circular formations of men with long spears, the only effective defence against the English heavy cavalry. Because of Murray’s and Wallace’s successes, they were made joint Guardians of Scotland, acknowledged as ‘commanders of the army of the kingdom of Scotland and the Community of the Realm’.

Watch the video: Battle of Falkirk 1298 War of Scottish Independence (August 2022).