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Death of Alexander...

In the year 1286 Alexander 111, King of Scots, fell to his death from the cliffs at Kinghorn,Fife. The peace of Scotland was shattered. What followed was a struggle for national liberation.

The death of the king, and later his only heir the Maid of Norway in 1290, meant that Scotland was left without any clear successor to the throne. But there were many claimants amongst the powerful Anglo-Norman noble families of Scotland. The strongest amongst these were Robert the Bruce "the Competitor" and John Balliol the younger.

Toom Tabbard...

Civil war was avoided when Edward 1, king of England, was invited to judge which of the claims was the stronger. A shrewd judge of character, he chose John Balliol, suspecting that he would be easier to control. John Balliol's reign was marked by weakness and timidity in the face of Edward's bullying tactics. When John eventually stood up to the English in 1296, his army was annihilated. Upon his submission to the English king, his royal coat of arms was publicly stripped from him, earning him the name Toom Tabbard meaning empty coat or King Nobody.

Edward's Domination...

The English now dominated the land through their occupation of the many royal Scottish castles,

like those at Kirkcudbright and Dumfries. Where these large stone castles once stood, now lie grassy mounds and banks. Edward received the submission of the Scottish aristocrats, merchants and clergy, recorded in the Ragmans Roll. Strong new castles like Lochmaben Castle and Tibbers Castle were also set over the Scots by Edward and his supporters. From strongholds such as these, English overlords ruled Scotland as a province of England. Scottish resistance did not entirely disappear, however. Covertly supported by the Comyns and the Scottish Church, William Wallace pursued a campaign of guerilla warfare, harassing English troops and destroying their castles wherever he could. In 1297, Wallace razed Tibbers Castle to the ground. Wallace had spectacular success defeating and English Army at Stirling Bridge in September, 1297 but within a year he was heavily defeated at Falkirk.

Castles of Scotland 13th century...

In 1300, south west Scotland became the target of a major English campaign to destroy the support for the Bruces and Comyns who were still in revolt. The Scottish garrison of Caerlaverock Castle were the first victims, chosen probably because of their success in harassing the English troops at Lochmaben Castle.

Powerful siege weapons were brought by sea and with a force of 87 knights and 3,000 foot soldiers, Edward 1 battered the small Scots garrison into submission. He was not remembered as "Hammer of the Scots" for nothing. Edward's army pushed further west into Galloway, occupying Kirkcudbright Castle where his fleet of 58 ships dropped anchor. They continued west as far as Wigtown at the river Cree but failed to bring the men of Galloway to battle and returned to England.

In the next few years, however the uprising against the English gradually fizzled out and by 1304 all the local leaders, including Robert the Bruce had all but submitted. Dumfries and Galloway was once again being governed as part of England. In 1305 William Wallace defiant to the last, was betrayed by his own countrymen and horribly executed by the English. It must have seemed to the English king that Scotland had finally been quelled. News from Dumfries shattered this peace.

A Fragile Kingdom...

There was no love lost between Robert the Bruce and John Comyn but they may have been involved in an agreement to rid Scotland of Edward once and for all. Something brought the two men together at the Church of Grey Friars in Dumfries on Thursday, February 10, 1306. Was the meeting called to finalise their agreement or did Bruce suspected Comyn treachery? We do not know. But the trappings of friendship were superficial as the pair moved away from their supporters to talk in private before the high altar. It was not long before the old enmity was stirred and Comyn was heard to shout “You lie.” Bruce’s angry reaction was instantaneous and Comyn fell to the floor his life blood draining away. The enormity of the crime, murder within the hallowed precincts of a church, left Bruce with little option. His only chance of survival was to go for the throne of Scotland.

Calling his men he rode from Greyfriars Church to Dumfries Castle, capturing it and the English officials within. Other castles like Tibbers Castle were also captured before Bruce was crowned Robert 1, King of Scots on 25 March 1306.

Within a matter of months, however, Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, had been reduced to a hunted fugitive within his own kingdom, "King Hob" to the English. His army had been slaughtered, all his castles captured and not only the English but his Scottish enemies, keen to avenge the murder of the Red.

A fugitive King returns...

Return of Robert I to mainland - February 1307

The renewed campaign did not start well. In February, 1307, Bruce’s brothers, Thomas and Alexander, landed with a force of warriors from Ireland and Kintyre at Loch Ryan but they were ambushed and slaughtered by the men of Galloway under Dougal MacDowall, chief of that family.

Bruce's captured brothers were taken to Carlisle to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the same terrible execution that William Wallace had suffered.

The Old King Dies...

Not long after this, in July 1307, Edward 1, bedridden and dying raised a great army to deal with the Bruce once and for all. But he did not reach the border. He died within sight of Scotland and his army was disbanded by his son Edward 11 who returned to London.

With the English preoccupied with their own affairs, Bruce's men raided the lowlands of Galloway to quell his fiercest Scottish enemies. In 1308 and 1313, the forces of Robert the Bruce and his brother Edward descended on Galloway like a whirlwind of destruction. Every castle was captured and destroyed and every enemy slaughtered, vanquished or driven out.

The Final Years...


With his Scottish enemies dealt with, Robert the Bruce turned his full attention to the English in Scotland. With bold captains like his brother Edward, Thomas Randolph and the Black Douglas, Robert the Bruce set about capturing and destroying the few castles still held by the English. It was in 1314, trying to rescue Stirling Castle, one of the last English strongholds, that Edward 11 and his army of 20,000 men were utterly defeated at Bannockburn. The historic victory was not, however, the end of the struggle. It gave the Scots the upper hand but Edward was in no mood to recognize the country as an independent state. In fact it was another 14 years before that recognition came with the Treaty of Northampton and Edinburgh, signed just months before Bruce died.