Wars of Independence

The Bruce

The torch of freedom and nationhood had been taken up by Robert de Brus – an Anglo-Norman, “the Hammer of the English.” He was an opportunist of the first order, and he was very familiar with Western Strathearn. He, like other Scottish Kings, had been crowned in 1306 at nearby Scone, but he had to fight for his crown and his throne. He lost a battle at Methven due to treachery, and withdrew into the Highland fastness probably by way of Comrie. He lost a brooch as he fought off rivals from Argyll and Lorne at Lochan-Nan-Arm, Dalree, near Crianlarich, and lost his battleaxe in De Buhan’s head, all before routing “proud Edward’s army” at Blar Allt a’ Bhain-chnuic, Bannockburn, on June 23/24, 1314.

The glory of Bannockburn has been well recorded. Twenty one Highland clans fought on the side of the Bruce. They were: Cameron, Campbell, Drummond, Fraser, Grant, MacDonald, MacFarlane, MacGregor, Mackay, Mackenzie, Mackintosh, MacLean, MacPherson, MacQuarrie, Menzies, Munro, Robertson, Ross, Sinclair, Stewart and Sutherland. It is interesting to note that the Campbells and the MacDonalds were on the same side! Other clans fought for Edward and these included representatives from the clans; Cumming, (Comyn), MacDougall of Lorne, MacNab, McNaughton, and a few others. It should be recalled that officially at this time, certainly according to the English, there was no King of Scotland. Balliol had died in 1313 the year before the great battle and no replacement King had been established. Bruce saw this as an opportunity…and grabbed it. Oh, and by the way, in light of all the revisionist history going around these days, can I have my castles and estates back?!

On the start of the second day, the 24th June, at about four o’clock in the morning the Scots roused themselves and, as it was the feast day of St. John the Baptist, they celebrated mass. They then moved forward and all knelt for a final blessing rendered by their priests. On seeing this Edward said, “They kneel for mercy.” Sir Ingram de Umfraville replied, “For mercy yes, but not from you, from God for their sins. These men will win all or die.” “So be it,” replied the haughty monarch. The Scottish army and Bruce himself were blessed by the sacred arm bone of St. Fillan of Dundurn, so it could be concluded that a man from our district, long since dead, inspired the Scots to win the day and their country.

Bannockburn – The Finale

Robert the Bruce, the Borestone, Bannockburn

Edward was lucky to escape and his subsequent struggles were of historic proportion, and quite unlucky. He fell out with his wife who had taken a French lover. The two of them managed to capture Edward and incarcerate him in a Welsh castle. He must really have upset her and as the saying goes, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!” It was decided that it would be better all around if he moved on to the world beyond but there must be no evidence of a wound or taint of murder. Being highly creative and innovative they decided to insert a red-hot poker up his rectum. This was accomplished no doubt with some slowness and delicacy, and Edward was removed from the scene. Who said that the English lacked class! The King’s end (sic), rear and final (really sick)...would not be unlike those who have had an operation for hemorrhoids!

Edward 11 and his Wife - Isabella, Daughter of Philip 11 of France

All of these Highland clans on Bruce’s side were well rewarded for their efforts on his behalf. It is from this venture we see the reinforcement and rise in our area of the Clan system with its cadet branches, septs and affiliated others who were less strong, and less powerful. The Murrays of Atholl with cadet branches at Ochtertyre and Abercairney, the Campbells of Argyll with their cadet branches at Breadalbane, Edinample, Aberuchill and Lawers, the Stewarts of Ardvorlich who were awarded their mountain estate as a reward by Bruce’s son, King Robert the Second, the Drummonds who originated in Hungary, and latterly Drymen, moved into vast acreage operating from Drummond Castle, the MacLarens at the north end of Loch Earn, and then there were, of course, the MacGregors who were given little land…and resented it! In other words, the whole of Strathearn was carved up between these dynasties and lesser lights. Today only the Stewart descendents hold on to their lands at Ardvorlich. All the others have changed hands. These “spoils of war” account for more than 95% of the current land area. Also, it is at this time, that the Clan system was very much more formalized.

The interesting and odd thing about the clan system was that it was based on the old notion of feudalism. Power was manifested in a Highland chief who had possessions such as castles, lands and estates, sheep, and cattle – all supported by thousands of serfs or slaves or servants, controlled by tacksmen! Tacksmen were often close blood relatives of the land owners. Noble clan families intermarried creating strong political bonds. Through these political associations larger tribes were inveigled to do their part in the thieving and killing, as well as doing a little on the side for themselves! Politics and position were the order of the day, with everything being wrapped up in pride and prestige, and all brought into order by the blowing of bagpipes and the beating of drums! The time was ripe for more organized internecine warfare. It was ably supported by wide scale theft, depredations of one sort or another differing in size and scope, and outright expansionism! Whilst this had been going on for hundreds of years before Bannockburn in 1314, it was to develop into an art form which lasted until the demise of the Stuarts in 1746. This unhappy lot who offered only misery and mayhem to just about everyone were replaced by Germans! And for many…the misery continued!