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

 


15.4.12
  Theodor Fontane, Archibald Douglas, 1854

We haven't had a poetry translation for quite some time, so I tried my hands on another of Theodor Fontane's ballads. He wrote several with a Scottish setting, and he had a soft spot for the Douglas clan - as fe. the detailed retelling of Sir Walter Scott's equally romantic take on them in The Lady of the Lake in his charming little travel book Jenseit des Tweed (Beyond the Tweed) testifies. Fontane's a bit free with the history, but it's a good ballad, and I have some photos to go with it.

(The German original can be found in the comments)

Stirling Castle

For seven years I've borne it now.
And no longer will I bear.
Wherever the world most beautiful,
To me it was waste and bare.

I will thus stand before his face
In this my humble guise.
He can't refuse the ardent pleas
Of a man who has grown old.

And if he bears the ancient grudge
Fresh like he first it felt,
Then come whatever there shall be,
And come what is my fate.

Stirling castle, main gate

Earl Douglas spoke, and on hard stone
He rested by the road.
He gazed towards the wood and fields
Until his eyes fell shut.

He was garbed in a byrnie hard and worn,
Covered by pilgrim's robe -
Lo! listen, from the woods a sound
Of horns and hunting hounds.

In a whirl of dust and gravel came
A-chasing harrier and men,
And ere the earl drew himself up,
Mount and rider were upon.

King James sat on his destrier proud;
Earl Douglas bent his knee.
The king felt reddening his cheek,
When Douglas called aloud.

Stirling castle, outer battlements (maybe James' playground)

Sire, look at me with grace.
And listen with restraint.
Whatev'r my brothers did to you:
It never was my crime.

Do not recall the Douglas-spite
So stubborn in your heart.
Remenber but your childhood time,
When I held you on my lap.

Oh, remember Stirling's castle yards,
Where I carved you toys to play
Where arrows I made, and first you rode
Your father's dappled bay.

Oh, remember the hall of Linlithgow,
The lake and the fowling place,
Where I taught you to hunt and fish and swim
And run with the deer apace.

Oh, remember all that once has been
And soften your stern mind.
I have atoned since severn years
That I'm of Douglas' kind.

Linlithgow, view towards the lake

I see you not, Earl Archbald,
I cannot hear your voice.
There is a rustling in the woods,
Whisp'ring of aulden time.

Sweet is the rustling to my ears,
And listening I will;
But in between there is a cry:
He is a Douglas, still!

I do not see you, nor hear your voice;
It's all that I can do.
A Douglas here in front of me,
A lost man he would be.

Linlithgow, one of the halls

King James spurred his mount ahead,
Uphill now led the way.
Earl Douglas took the bridle tight.
And stayed by the royal side.

The path was steep and hot the sun,
And heavy was his mail;
But though he almost broke to ground,
He still ran alongside.

Kimg James, I was your seneshall,
No longer will I be.
Grant me but to attend your mount;
Myself I will him feed.

Myself I'll water your destrier,
And make his bedding smooth.
But let me breathe anew the air
Of my forefathers' home.

Linlithgow, view into the inner yard

Or else, my king, take courage then,
And I will thank it thee -
And draw your sword and hit me well,
And let me perish here.

King James alighted from his horse -
A shine was on his face -
The broad sword he unsheathed with ease,
But never let it fall.

Take, it, my friend, bear it anew,
And guard again my rest.
Who loves his home so ardently,
Is true deep in his breast!

To horse, we'll ride to Linlithgow;
Once more you'll ride by my side.
There we will hunt and fisht with joy,
As in times gone by.

Stirling castle, main hall, interior

The Archibald Douglas of the ballad is the historical Archibald Douglas 6th Earl of Angus 1489-1557). He was one of the tutors of King James V (called King Jakob in the German version). Once James had enough of being tutored and escaped his guardians, Archibald, his brother George Douglas of Pittendreich, his uncle, and several other nobles had to flee into exile, and the king took it out on the remaining Douglases (like Archibald's sister, Lady Glamis). Earl Archibald did indeed try to return from exile, supported by King Henry VIII of England, but - contrary to the ballad - he could only do so afterr James' death in 1542.
 


7.4.12
  Only the Keep Remains - Grubenhagen Castle

Not much remains of Grubenhagen Castle, only the - partly restored to its former 18 metres - keep, an 19th century stable, and traces of the trenches around the outer ward. Nor could I find much reliable information that is supported by more than one source about the place, either.

(The keep)

We don't even know who built the castle - the most likely candidates are Heinrich the Lion of Saxony, or Count Rainald of Dassel. The Dassel family held the lands of what today is called the Solling which bordered to lands held by the Welfen, so the confusion may be understandable. Possessions in such border regions often changed and the castle is mentioned in chartes only at a later time. Rainald von Dassel, Archbishop of Cologne, was the Imperial Chancellor (Reichskanzler) of Friedrich Barbarossa, one of the emperor's most trusted men until his death in the malaria epidemic during the unfortunate Italian campaign in 1167. His brother Ludolf fell in a battle in the same war. Duke Heinrich of Saxony had refused to participate in that campagin and as a result his relationship with the emperor soured which ultimately led to his downfall and exile.

Whoever built the castle (or rather, commissioned it; I very much doubt Heinrich or Rainald personally carried a single stone up that damn slope); in the 13th century it is in the possession of the dukes of Braunschweig-Lüneburg and held as chatellains by the Grubo of Grubenhagen, a famliy from the ministeriales nobility. One of the Welfen sidelines took their name from Grubenhagen Castle though it never was their main seat (that was the Heldenburg in Salzderhelden). If anything this may be the one argument in favour of Heinrich the Lion having built the castle, because that would put it into the fold of ancient alllodial possessions of the Welfen, no matter whether the counts of Dassel may have held it during the time of Heinrich's exile. Sure, the family took the name only in the early 17th century, but it's still strange they picked an obscure castle over the ones like Salzderhelden or Herzberg where they actually lived.

Grubenhage was not a very large castle - more a border fortification as which it may have originally been intended. The inner bailey encompassed an oval of about 63 x 32 metres; of the outer ward nothing remains so we can't be sure about its size. The castle was surrounded by a double ditch and wall on three sides (the fourth is so steep it didn't need any defenses) and an old painting of the castle shows remains of a curtain wall with merlons around the inner bailey.

Another view of the keep (with the 19th century stable)

One member of the family who actually spent some time in the castle was Duke Erich I of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen (1383-1427). He was married to Elisabeth, a daughter of Otto the Quarrelsome from the Calenberg-Göttingen line of the Welfen family. Their eldest son, another Heinrich, may have gotten some of his granddad's genes since he started a feud with Landgrave Ludwig I of Hessia. The landgrave laid siege to the castle in 1447, getting two cannons up that hill, but to no avail. His attempt to take the nearby Heldenburg failed as well. But the army pillaged and burned the villages around Grubenhagen castle.

The summer palace in Rotenkirchen was rebuilt in 1520 as an agricultural property; the old castle fell into ruins. The place changed possession within the various lines of the Welfen family a few times over the next centuries. I'll spare you that mess of various Braunschweig-Someplaces. :)

The keep seen from the south gate (well, where the gate should have been)

In 1815, the property in Rotenkrichen and Grubenhagen Castle (what was left of it) came into the hands of Prince Adolphus Duke of Cambridge, Viceroy of Hanover. He was the 7th son of King George III and Queen Charlotte; his granddaughter, Mary of Teck, would become Queen Consort to George V and thus is the paternal grandmother of Queen Elisabeth II. I don't know if the castle still belongs to the family - there's a society taking care of it nowadays.

Duke Adolphus had the main house of the property in Rotenkirchen altered into an elegant hunting lodge and a stable built on the site of the castle - though I don't know why the poor horses had to trudge up that hill instead of being housed in the property stables. The palace was the summer residence of the Kings of Hanover until 1866 but the castle kept crumbling.
 


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, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction and Fantasy 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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