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Issue 84 - The Battle of Boroughmuir

Scotland Magazine Issue 84
December 2015


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The Battle of Boroughmuir

James Irvine Robertson recalls an all but forgotten skirmish from the 14th Century

The incident took place in the summer of 1335, six years after the death of King Robert Bruce and in the midst of the Second War of Independence. Edward III was busy trying to subjugate Scotland on behalf of Edward Baliol, son of the deposed John Baliol, whom the King of England wished to place on the throne as his puppet.

It was not going very well for him since the Scots were avoiding pitched battles and had split their forces into guerrilla bands to harry the English whenever an opportunity presented itself. Edward had made his headquarters at Perth on the River Tay where his army could be supplied by ship rather than have to forage for supplies in a countryside made barren by his adversaries.

King Edward had a friend, Robert of Artois, whose nephew Guy, Count of Namur, was aged 23 and had just succeeded his brother as head of one of the most powerful and well-connected families in Flanders. He was a knight, keen to make his reputation, and had already tasted warfare.

Along with some 300 others – fellow knights, men-at-arms and archers – Guy set sail to join Edward's army at Perth in search of sport and glory. He and his friends landed at Berwick and sallied north to link up with the English king.

Such a group of jingling armoured horsemen with lances, banners and pennants, making its leisurely way north through the sunny July countryside, was unlikely to go unnoticed. Scots scouts followed their progress as soon as they set off and, just south of Edinburgh, Guy and his party were bounced by a force commanded by the 29 years old John Randolphe, third Earl of Moray.

Moray was cousin to the 11 years old King David of Scotland, who was safely out-of-reach of Edward at the French Court. He was an experienced soldier, having been a survivor of the debacle at Halidon Hill a couple of years earlier when 4,000 Scots died and fewer than 20 English. He had also been appointed one of the two Regents of Scotland.

At Boroughmuir, on the edge of what is now known as the Meadows of Edinburgh, a fine engagement ensued. Richard Shaw, a Scots esquire, was challenged to single combat by one of the Flemish knights. Both fell, transfixed by the other's lance. When their armour was removed after the battle, it was revealed that the stranger was a woman.

The action was tilting towards Guy and his knights until the Scot’s forces received reinforcements under Sir William Douglas, known as the Flower of Chivalry, and Sir David of Annan who had been marauding from their base in the Pentland Hills. The invaders made a fighting retreat north towards Edinburgh, pausing regularly to turn and fend off the Scots as they nipped at their heels.

Edinburgh had received its charter from Robert Bruce a few years earlier, but it was not to become the capital of Scotland for another century. At the time, it contained some 400 dwellings, most straggling down the mile long tail east from the castle rock, each with a strip of agricultural land behind it.

Since the English capture of Berwick, Edinburgh had become the principal trading centre in the country with exports of wool, hides, and furs to the continent through its port of Leith.

The combatants entered the city. The clash of arms, the screams of the wounded and the clatter of hooves cleared the inhabitants from their houses to seek safety. Most of Guy's companions retreated up St Mary's Wynd, leaving a trail of dead and wounded. Sir David of Annan was galled by a wound and is said to have smote such a blow with his battle-axe that he split asunder both the enemy knight and his horse and smashed the cobbles beneath them.

Edinburgh had been recaptured from the English in 1311 by Moray's father and, following Bruce's policy of denying strongholds to the enemy, the castle had been razed. The Flemings, led by Guy, retreated up the precipitous castle rock to make a final stand. They slaughtered their horses to create a rampart and defended their position amid the ruins throughout the night against the attacking Scots. Without food or water and on condition that they would not be put to the sword, they surrendered the following day.

The Auld Alliance had been renewed by King Robert less than ten years earlier and Guy was related to the French Royal Family. As well as being politically wise, allowing him to live would mean there was money in ransoms to be had. Moray therefore escorted Guy and the survivors of his band to Berwick where he was released upon swearing that he would never again bear arms against King David in the Scottish Wars.

At Berwick, Guy met with Edward's Queen Philippa and they sailed together to Perth to meet the English King. But the Count had not covered himself in glory and, being unable to fight following his oath, was not much use to Edward. In fact the English chroniclers criticised him severely for so blithely entering enemy territory with such a modest army.

His reputation tarnished, the crest-fallen Guy returned home to Flanders and got himself killed the following year in a tournament. The Earl of Moray was captured on his way back from Berwick and spent the next five years in English jails.

The bones of the dead from the battle were found in 1867 at the edge of Boroughmuir when Glengyle Terrace was being built. And the war rumbled on for another 22 years until the Treaty of Berwick was signed in 1357.