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Issue 55 - Return of the Disinherited

Scotland Magazine Issue 55
February 2011


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Return of the Disinherited

James Irvine Robertson looks at events after the Bruce's death

The Second War of Independence was launched with an invasion by the Disinherited, those barons who had their Scottish lands forfeited following the Treaty of Edinburgh of 1328 when the English government acknowledged the independence of Scotland and Robert Bruce as its king. He died the following year and in the hiatus of power that followed the Disinherited saw their chance to remove his infant son, David, from the throne and install Edward, the son of John Balliol, in his place.

With the tacit support of Edward III of England, the small force of invaders landed in Fife and a large Scots army gathered to repel them. The battle of Dupplin Moor which followed provided the template for the major clashes of the war. Most of the foot soldiers on the English side were Welsh archers provided by Edward. The Scots schiltroms were enticed into a valley lined by bowman and were destroyed. The Scots losses have been estimated at 13,000 men, the English at 33.

Edward Balliol marched to Scone where he was crowned King of Scots. He acknowledged King Edward as his liege lord and ceded most of southern Scotland to him. Edward now led an official invasion army north and met the Scots just north of Berwick at Halidon Hill. The Welsh archer was the king of the battlefields of Europe for a century. Edward was perfecting their use. Again these bowman decimated the Scots and survivors were mopped up by the English cavalry. Douglas was killed. David fled to France and the protection of the French king under the ‘Auld Alliance’.

Led the new Guardian, Sir Andrew Murray, son of the hero of the Battle of Stirling bridge, the Scots had learned to avoid formal battles. They retired to the hills and conducted guerrilla warfare. Balliol’s success had led to rivalry among the Disinherited as they jockeyed for territory and the Scots were able to regain the ascendancy as they picked them off.

In 1335 Edward led a large army north but the Scots laid waste to the countryside ahead of him and refused to confront him. The English king reached Perth before retreating. The following year he pressed further north burning Aberdeen and still unable to find a Scots force to fight while Murray continued his policy of isolating Balliol’s allies and destroying castles that they could use.

By spring 1336, the Scots were in control of the country north of the Forth; by summer their forces were raiding into England. Edward, now in France in the initial stages of the 100 Years War, sent an army north but it achieved nothing and withdrew.

In 1339 Baliol’s forces surrendered.

In 1341 King David reached 18 and returned from France with his queen. With fighting the English in temporary abeyance, the Scots nationalists were now arguing bloodily among themselves for power and land.

The king took over government and rather ham-fistedly made peace between his underlings.

He also won his spurs on raids into England. Over in France Edward’s campaigns against King Philip VI were going well, culminating in the battle of Crécy in 1346 where his archers gave him an overwhelming victory. Philip appealed to the Scottish king to relieve the pressure upon him by invading England. Gathering 12,000 men, David crossed the border, burning and plundering his way south This removed any element of surprise and the Archbishop of York mobilised an army of some 3,000. The two forces met at Neville’s Cross near Durham. The long bows won again. Robert Stewart withdrew when he saw the battle was going against the Scots. Douglas and King David were captured. The latter would remain a prisoner in England for 11 years.

Fighting died as the Black Death ravaged Europe. Stewart now ran Scotland, building a power base that would eventually allow him to be crowned King Robert II. Balliol came north again and managed to re-establish Edward’s authority over the border counties and some areas would remain under English control for a generation. But Edward was still much more interested in his war with France and, with the Scots king in his custody, it seemed to be a good time to broker a peace that would be to his advantage. He offered David back to the Scots for £40,000, acknowledgement that he was their overlord, restoration for the Disinherited barons and the naming of Edward’s younger son as his successor. No, replied the Scots. By 1354 the English king was asking only the payment of a ransom for David’s return north but the Scots, led by Robert Stewart still turned him down. In 1355 with French help, the Scots captured Berwick.

Edward had left his French interests in the capable hands of his son, the Black Prince. The king came north with Balliol, retook Berwick and burned the Lothians, including Edinburgh and Haddington. The Scots kept out of his way until his army withdrew. With France on the decline and her king now a prisoner of the English, the Scots decided to accept an offer of peace and the return of King David. The Treaty of Berwick in 1357 officially ended the war. The Scots had to pay a ransom of 100,000 merks, payable over ten years.

Two installments were handed out before the country ran out of money. A reduction was negotiated and the two countries remained at peace for the next 14 years. At least during the following centuries, it was never suggested that Scotland was anything but an independent nation.