Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


30.4.12
  Dunstaffnage Castle - The Wars of Independence (Revised)

This is the continuation of the first post about Dunstaffnage Castle.
Revised and reposted (with additional photos), since I got hold of an interesting book (see Sources) that sheds some new light onto the matter.

Alexander Lord of Lorn, 4th chief of clan MacDougall, married Julienne Comyn, daughter of John Comyn of Badenoch, thus allying himself with the powerful Comyn and Baliol families. When John Baliol became King of the Scots in 1292, he made Alexander MacDougall - also known as Alexander of Argyll - the Sheriff of Lorn, and Alexander became a powerful representative of the Scottish king over a large territory on the west coast and the islands.

His namesake of the MacDonald line, Alexander of the Isles, threw his lot with King Edward I instead, in hope to gain the contested Lismore heritage of his wife (a sister of Alexander of Argyll - that was a marriage alliance that didn't work out). Over the next years gained in power while Alexander of Argyll's influence declined, esp, after John Baliol fell out of favour with Edward.

Dunstaffnage Castle, seaside view

The big turn of events came when Robert the Bruce assassinated John 'the Red' Comyn in February 1306,, a nephew of Alexander's wife, and from that moment on it was blood feud between the MacDougall chief and Bruce. Robert Bruce crowned himself king six weeks later, and Alexander then supported King Edward I of England against Bruce, together with the Baliol-Comyn factiion.

Alexander of the Isles had died sometime before 1306 (he most likely was killed by Alexander MacDougall of Argyll in battle in 1299) and left the leadership of the clan to his brother, Angus Óg. He may have joined Bruce because that brought him to the side standing against the MacDougalls, but since Angus stuck with Robert Bruce even during the years of his fall and exile, there may have been some genuine sympathy with King Robert and/or the 'Scottish cause'.

Entrance Hall

Alexander MacDougall and his son John of Lorn, also known as Iain Bacach (John the Lame or Crippled) defeated Bruce at Methven and Dalrigh in August 1306. King Robert had to leave his cloak and brooch in the grasp of an attacker but escaped. That brooch is still in possession of clan MacDougall. There are plans to partly restore Dunollie Castle (the pretty, vine-covered one you can see here) and add a museum where the Brooch of Lorn and other items connected with the history of clan MacDougall will be displayed.

Robert Bruce first fled to Dunaverty castle on Kintyre, which was either in his own possession or held by Angus Óg MacDonald - whatever the circumstances, Angus supported Robert and aided his escape when an English army laid siege to the castle. The inhabitants of the peninsula obviously were very sullen about the presence of an English army, too, King Edward I complained they were not supplying the besiegers. He really should not have been surprised, lol.

Bruce took to the mountains and spent the winter in exile. Details of his whereabouts are not clear, but it's likely that he spent some time on the Orkneys, then in Norse possession (his sister was Queen of Norway) and Ireland, forging new alliances and gathering fighting men. One of his supporters was Christiana of the Isles, daughter of Alan MacRuari of Garmoran, another descendant of Somarled.

Battlements

By spring 1307, Bruce had snuck back into his own earldom of Carrick. In May he defeated an English force at Loudon Hill; in July, King Edward I died, somewhat freeing Bruce's back. More Scottish chiefs and nobles started turning to Bruce's cause. One of them was Neil Campbell, son of the Chief Cailean Mor Campbell who had been killed by Alexander MacDougall in the battle of the Red Fort in 1196. In autum, Bruce made peace with the Earl of Ross, thus securing the vast lands of Sutherland and Caithness, and in June 1308, Galloway fell to his brother. The noose around the Comyn-Balliol-MacDougall faction drew closer.

There are some documents that prove that John of Argyll got money and supplies from the King of England to hire men ("22 men at arms and 800 foot soldiers") against Bruce. There's alos a story that John's bloodhound once got close enough to chase Robert Bruce near Cammock in Ayr. Well, by summer 1308, Bruce was done running and turned to bite back.

Inner bailey

In August 1308, Bruce defeated Johm MacDougall in the so-called Battle of Brander, though the exact locatiion was most likely the slopes of Ben Cruachan. It is said that John watched the battle from his galley (some sort of leadership that, but maybe he already was ill) and fled to Dunstaffnage afterwards. He could only have escaped from Loch Etive which grants a view to Ben Cruachan but not to the Pass of Brander which is only visible from Lch Awe, a freshwater loch wiith no connection to the sea and Campbell territory to boot.

Bruce and his second in command, James Douglas, had divided the troops to attack from land and water, with the land forces marching through Campbell territory while the naval forces were most likely provided by Bruce's Hebridean allies like Angus MacDonald. That tactic is another argument for the location of Ben Cruachan albeit I do wonder why they didn't just capture John MacDougall in his galley The accounts of the battle are more than a bit sketchy, as usual.

View towards Ben Cruachan

John escaped to Dunstaffnage Castle where obviously his father Alexander already had holed up. Bruce laid siege to the castle shortly after the battle and John MacDougall escaped by sea (according to Fordun, ~ 1360). Other sources (Barbour, The Brus, ~1370) have Alexander briefly submit, but return to Dunstaffnage, and it took a second siege to end the matter for good.

Alexander of Argyll was present at the Parliament in March 1309, likely as hostage of King Robert. There's also a letter (CDS vik. III p. 16) from John MacDougall to King Edward II (as reply to a letter Edward wrote in March 1308, that is, before the battle of Brander). In this letter John says that he had only 800 men against the 15,000 of Bruce and that he would try whatever his own ill health and the lack of allies allowed him to do but that he needed help - though help would not materialise; Edward had enough problems of his own. John likely was at Dunstaffnage when he wrote that letter.

Bruce at latest held Dunstaffnage in October 1309 when he issued a charte there, and both Alexander and John MacDougall were on the paylist of King Edward in 1309 (Alexander was in residence at Carlisle).

Ruined tower

RA McDonald tries to align the contradictory accounts. He assumes that Alexander submitted after the Battle of Brander and John may have agreed to a truce, and that the letter he wrote to King Edward dates to early 1309 (I think that is too late, closer after the battle would make more sense). The siege of Dunstaffnage thus dates to some time in October 1309 - at which point Alexander of Agyll must have been back in Dunstaffnage (fled, or released?). Bruce's intinerary of the preceeding months could point at him gathering a fleet to attack the castle.

Whatever the exact events; both Alexander and John were out of Scotland by the end of October 1309. Alexander was dead in 1311 when a letter of the king commanded the treasurer of Ireland to transfer money and command of soldiers to his son John. King Edward II made John of Lorn his Admiral of the Western Seas. John harassed the west coast and fought the clans siding with Bruce on sea, even managed to recapture the Isle of Man in 1315, though he lost it again to the Earl of Moray only two years later. John's efforts to conquer the Isles may also have been hampered by the lack of support from the Cinque Ports and other marine bases; he seems to have been forced to work with a too small fleet most of the time. Moreover, after he had won the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), King Robert put more effort in protecting the coast.

Remains of the outer bailey

Barbour tells that Bruce captured John in 13015 and that he died in caprtivity, but the English chamber records tell another story. John constantly received money from the king, with nice remarks like "compassionating the losses and suffering of John of Argyll, now dewelling in Ireland, at the hands of the Scottish rebels." (1315).

John MacDougall returned to London in 1316 and died on a pilgrimage to Canterbury in September 1317, having been of ill health for some time.

Angus Óg MacDonald fought beside Bruce at Bannockburn, but little is heard of him afterwards. King Robert rewarded his allies with lands and castles, and the MacDonalds gained some of the former MacDougall possesions. Dunstaffnage Castle remained a Crown possession, but Robert appointed Sir Arthur Campbell as constable.


Sources::
Historic Scotland guidebook to Dunstaffnage Castle
R. Andrew McDonald, Ths Kingdom of the isles, Scotland's Western Seaboard c.1100 - c. 1336. Linton, East Lothiahn, 1997

 
Comments:
Gabriele, John's letter to Edward II, dated sometime after 11 March 1308 (that's the date of a letter sent to him by Edward which he's responding to and which unfortunately no longer exists), is cited in CDS vol. III, p. 16: John says Bruce has appproached his territories by land and sea with 10,000 or 15,000 men, but that he himself has no more than 800 men to oppose him, and the barons of Argyll "gave him no aid."

Unfortunately I don't know when John returned to London, but I can try and find out for you!
 
Nice post! Thanks for putting that up! If you have an interest in following the powerful Comyn clan, I recommend you read 'Robert the Bruce's Rivals: The Comyns: 1212-1214' by Alan Young.
 
Thank you, Alianore.
The letter is mentioned in the guidebook but without quotation or source, so I wanted to make sure. It sounds like it was written before the Battle of Brander.
And no wonder the barons of Argyll gave him no aid - he'd killed the Campbell chief just two years earlier.
It would be great if you could find out which version of John's final weeks is correct. It's a good thing the website mentions both but if there IS a source in all those archives you have access to, that would be cool.

Narda,
thank you for your kind words and the book suggestion. We get the Bruce POV so often that the one of his enemies in Scotland should be interesting.
 
Great post on a man I know nothing about, so thankyou for educating me! Looks like both you and Alianore did some great work in bringing this man to light!
 
Thank you, Lady D. It's fun digging out characters that somehow didn't make it to their own chapter in the history books.
 
The MacDougalls of Lorn appear prominently in Nigel Tranter's Robert Bruce trilogy (as you'd expect). I didn't know about John of Lorn recapturing the Isle of Man in 1315. By the way, who was John Douglas, Bruce's second-in-command at Brander? Some relation of Jamie Douglas (The Good Sir James/ Black Douglas), I guess?
 
My bad, I meant James Douglas, and yes, he was of Black Douglas fame.

I suspect with all those photos somehow related to Bruce and the Wars of Independence I got, I need to get a good non fiction book about that subject. Now, how to find a well researched one .... ;)
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.

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