Warfare between England and Scotland in the late 13th and early 14th centuries from the Chronicle of Lanercost

The Chronicle of Lanercost covers the period 1201 to 1346. The sections given below involve the ongoing warfare in Scotland between Edward the Second and Robert the Bruce. The author has a somewhat erroneous account of the battle of Bannockburn, but also includes a description of the siege of Berwick, which the author claims to have seen personally, and a ten day siege of Carlisle.

The said Robert, then, taking note that the king and all the nobles of the realm were in such distant parts, and in such discord about the said, accursed individual [Piers Gaveston], having collected a large army invaded England by the Solway on Thursday before the feast of the Assumption of the Glorious Virgin [August 12, 1311], and burnt all the land of the Lord of Gillesland and the town of Haltwhistle and a great part of Tynedale, and after eight days returned into Scotland, taking with him a very large booty in cattle. But he had killed few men besides those who offered resistance.

About the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin [September 8, 1311], Robert returned with an army into England, directing his march towards Northumberland, and, passing by Harbottle and Holystone and Redesdale, he burnt the district about Corbridge, destroying everything; also he caused more men to be killed than on the former occasion. And so he turned into the valleys of North and South Tyne, laying waste those parts which he had previously spared, and returned into Scotland after fifteen days; nor could the wardens whom the King of England had stationed on the marches oppose so great a force of Scots as he brought with him. Howbeit, like the Scots, they destroyed all the goods in the land, with this exception, that they neither burnt houses nor killed men.

Meanwhile the Northumbrians, still dreading lest Robert should return, sent envoys to him to negotiate a temporary truce, and they agreed with him that they would pay two thousand pounds for an exceedingly short truce: to wit, until the Purification of the Glorious Virgin [February 2, 1312]. Also those of the county of Dunbar, next to Berwick, in Scotland, who were still in the King of England’s peace, were very heavily taxed for a truce until the said date.

In all these aforesaid campaigns the Scots were so divided among themselves that sometimes the father was on the Scottish side and the son on the English, and vice versa; also one brother might be with the Scots and another with the English; yea, even the same individual be first with one party and then with the other. But all those who were with the English were merely feigning, either because it was the stronger party, or in order to save the lands they possessed in England; for their hearts were always with their own people, although their persons might not be so.

In the same year the said Robert de Bruce, King of Scotland, came with a great army in the month of August to the monastery of Lanercost, and remained there three days, making many of the canons prisoners and doing an infinity of injury; but at last the canons were set at liberty by himself.

Now, while the aforesaid things were getting done with Piers, the march of England had no defender against the Scots, and therefore they rendered tribute to Robert in order to have peace for a while. Meanwhile, however, the Scots burnt the town of Norham, because the castle did them great injury, and they took away men as prisoners and also cattle.

When Robert de Bruce heard of this discord in the south, having assembled a great army, he invaded England about the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and burnt the towns of Hexham and Corbridge and the western parts, and took booty and much spoil and prisoners, nor was there anyone ms. who dared resist. While he halted in peace and safety near Corbridge he sent part of his army as far as Durham, which, arriving there suddenly on market day, carried off all that was found in the town, and gave a great part of it to the flames, cruelly killing all who opposed them, but scarcely attacking the castle and abbey. The people of Durham, fearing more mischief from them, and despairing of help from the king, compounded with them, giving two thousand pounds to obtain truce for that bishopric until the nativity of John the Baptist; which, however, the Scots refused to accept unless on condition that they might have free access and retreat through the land of the bishopric whensoever they wished to make a raid into England. The Northumbrians also, fearing that they would visit them, gave them other two thousand pounds to secure peace until the aforesaid date; and the people of Westmoreland, Copland, and Cumberland redeemed themselves in a similar way; and, as they had not so much money in hand as would pay them, they paid a part, and gave as hostages for the rest the sons of the chief lords of the country. Having achieved this, Robert returned to Scotland with his army.

Now the oft-mentioned Robert, seeing that thus he had the whole March of England under tribute, applied all his thoughts to getting possession of the town of Berwick, which was in the King of England’s hands. Coming unexpectedly to the castle on the night of S. Nicholas [December 6th], he laid ladders against the walls and began to scale them; and had not a dog betrayed the approach of the Scots by loud barking, it is believed that he would quickly have taken the castle and, in consequence, the town.

Now these ladders, which they placed against the walls, were of wonderful construction, as I myself, who write these lines, beheld with my own eyes. For the Scots had made two strong ropes as long as the height of the wall, making a knot at one end of each cord. They had made a wooden board also, about two feet and a half long and half a foot broad, strong enough to carry a man, and in the two extremities of the board they had made two holes, through which the two ropes could be passed; then the cords, having been passed through as far as the knots, they had made two other knots in the ropes one foot and a half higher, and above these knots they placed another log or board, and so on to the end of the ropes. They had also made an iron hook, measuring at least one foot along one limb, and this was to lie over the wall; but the other limb, being of the same length, hung downwards towards the ground, having at its end a round hole wherein the point of a lance could be inserted, and two rings on the two sides wherein the said ropes could be knotted.

Having fitted them together in this manner, they took a strong spear as long as the height of the wall, placing the point thereof in the iron hole, and two men lifted the ropes and boards with that spear and placed the iron hook (which was not a round one) over the wall. Then they were able to climb up by those wooden steps just as one usually climbs ordinary ladders, and the greater the weight of the climber the more firmly the iron hook clung over the wall. But lest the ropes should lie too close to the wall and hinder the ascent, they had made fenders round every third step, which thrust the ropes off the wall. When, therefore, they had placed two ladders upon the wall, the dog betrayed them as I have said, and they left the ladders there, which our people next day hung upon a pillory to put them to shame. And thus a dog saved the town on that occasion, just as of old geese saved Rome by their gaggle.

Robert, having failed in his attempt on Berwick, marched with his army to the town of St John, [Perth] which was then still in the King of England’s hands; and he laid siege thereto, and on Monday of the octave of Epiphany [January 10, 1313] it was taken by the Scots, who scaled the walls by night on ladders, and entered the town through the negligence of sentries and guards. Next day Robert caused those citizens of the better class who were of the Scottish nation to be killed, but the English were allowed to go away free. But the Scottish Sir William Oliphant, who had long time held that town for the King of England against the Scots, was bound and sent far away to the Isles. The town itself the Scots utterly destroyed.

After the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist [June 24th], when the English truce on the March had lapsed, Robert de Bruce threatened to invade England in his usual manner. The people of Northumberland, Westmoreland and Cumberland, and other Borderers, apprehending this, and neither having nor hoping for any defence or help from their king (seeing that he was engaged in distant parts of England, seeming not to give them a thought), offered to the said Robert no small sum of money, indeed a very large one, for a truce to last till the feast of St. Michael [August 15th] in the following year.

Now at the beginning of Lent [February 28, 1314] the Scots cunningly entered the castle of Roxburgh at night by ladders, and captured all the castle except one tower, wherein the warden of the castle, Sir Gillemin de Fiennes, a knight of Gascony, had taken refuge with difficulty, and his people with him; but the Scots got possession of that tower soon afterwards. And they razed to the ground the whole of that beautiful castle, just as they did other castles, which they succeeded in taking, lest the English should ever hereafter be able to lord it over the land through holding the castles.

In the same season of Lent they captured Edinburgh Castle in the following manner. In the evening one day the besiegers of that castle delivered an assault in force upon the south gate, because, owing to the position of the castle there was no other quarter where an assault could be made. Those within gathered together at the gate and offered a stout resistance; but meanwhile the other Scots climbed the rocks on the north side, which was very high and fell away steeply from the foot of the wall. There they laid ladders to the wall and climbed up in such numbers that those within could not withstand them; and thus they threw open the gates, admitted their comrades, got possession of the whole castle and killed the English. They razed the said castle to the ground, just as they had done to Roxburgh Castle.

Having accomplished this success, they marched to Stirling and besieged that castle with their army.

On Tuesday after the octave of Easter [April 16, 1314], Edward de Bruce Robert’s brother, invaded England by way of Carlisle with; army, contrary to agreement, and remained there three days at the bishop’s manor house, to wit, at Rose, and sent a strong detachment of his army to burn the southern and western districts during those three days. They burnt many towns and two churches, taking men and women prisoners, and collected a great number of cattle in Inglewood Forest a: elsewhere, driving them off with them on the Friday; they killed few men except those who made determined resistance but they made attack upon the city of Carlisle because the knights and country people who were assembled the Now the Scots did all these wrongs at that time, because the men of that March had not paid them the tribute which they pledged themselves to pay on certain days. Although the Scots had hostages from the sons and heirs of the knights of that country in full security for covenanted sums, yet they did not on that account refrain from committing the aforesaid wrongs.

Now about the feast of Pentecost [May 26th] the King of England approached the March of Scotland; also the Earl of Gloucester, the Earl of Hereford, the Earl of Pembroke, and the Earl of Angus, Sir Robert de Clifford, Sir John Comyn (son of the murdered John), Sir Henry de Beaumont, Sir John de Segrave, Sir Pagan de Typtoft, Sir Edmund de Mauley, Sir Ingelram de Umfraville, with other barons, knights, and a splendid and numerous army, if only they had had the Lord as ally. But the Earl of Lancaster and the other English earls who were of his party remained at home with their men (except those with whom they were bound in strict obligation to furnish the king in war), because the king as yet had refused to agree with them or to perform what he had promised before. Arid whereas when his noble father Edward went on a campaign in Scotland, he used to visit on his march [the shrines of] the English saints, Thomas of Canterbury, Edmund, Hugh, William, and Cuthbert, offering fair oblations, commending himself to their prayers, and also bestowing liberal gifts to monasteries and the poor, this [king] did none of these things; but marching with great pomp and elaborate state, he took goods from the monasteries on his journey, and, as was reported, did and said things to the prejudice and injury of the saints. In consequence of this and other things it is not surprising that confusion and everlasting shame overtook him and his army, which was foretold at the time by certain religious men of England.

Thus before the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist [June 24th], the king, having massed his army, advanced with the aforesaid pomp towards Stirling Castle, to relieve it from siege and to engage the Scots, who were assembled there in all their strength. On the vigil of the aforesaid Nativity [June 23rd] the king’s army arrived after dinner near Torwood; and, upon information that there were Scots in the wood, the king’s advanced guard, commanded by Lord de Clifford, began to make a circuit of the wood to prevent the Scots escaping by flight. The Scots did not interfere until they the English were far ahead of the main body, when they showed themselves, and, cutting off the king’s advanced guard from the middle and rear columns, they charged and killed some of them and put the rest to flight. From that moment began a panic among the English and the Scots grew bolder.

On the morrow an evil, miserable and calamitous day for the English; when both sides had made themselves ready for battle, the English archers were thrown forward before the line, and the Scottish archers engaged them, a few being killed and wounded on either side; but the King of England’s archers quickly put the others to flight. Now when the two armies had approached very near each other, all the Scots fell on their knees to repeat Paternoster, commending themselves to God and seeking help from heaven; after which they advanced boldly against the English. They had so arranged their army that two columns went abreast in advance of the third, so that neither should be in advance of the other; and the third followed, in which was Robert. Of a truth, when both armies engaged each other, and the great horses of the English charged the pikes of the Scots, as it were into a dense forest, there arose a great and terrible crash of spears broken and of destriers wounded to the death; and so they remained without movement for a while. Now the English in the rear could not reach the Scots because the leading division was in the way, nor could they do anything to help themselves, wherefore there was nothing for it but to take to flight. This account I heard from a trustworthy person who was present as eye-witness.

In the leading division were killed the Earl of Gloucester, Sir John Comyn, Sir Pagan de Typtoft, Sir Edmund de Mauley and many other nobles, besides foot soldiers who fell in great numbers. Another calamity which befell the English was that, whereas they had shortly before crossed a great ditch called Bannockburn, into which the tide flows, and now wanted to recross it in confusion, many nobles and others fell into it with their horses in the crush, while others escaped with much difficulty, and many were never able to extricate themselves from the ditch; thus Bannockburn was spoken about for many years in English throats.

The king and Sir Hugh le Despenser (who, after Piers de Gaveston, was as his right eye) and Sir Henry de Beaumont (whom he had promoted to an earldom in Scotland), with many others mounted and on foot, to their perpetual shame fled like miserable wretches to Dunbar Castle, guided by a certain knight of Scotland who knew through what districts they could escape. Some who were not so speedy in flight were killed by the Scots, who pursued them hotly; but these, holding bravely together, came safe and sound through the ambushes into England. At Dunbar the king embarked with some of his chosen followers in an open boat for Berwick, leaving all the others to their fate.

In like manner as the king and his following fled in one direction to Berwick, so the Earl of Hereford, the Earl of Angus, Sir John de Segrave, Sir Antony de Lucy and Sir Ingelram de Umfraville, with a great crowd of knights, six hundred other mounted men and one thousand foot, fled in another direction towards Carlisle. The Earl of Pembroke left the army on foot and saved himself with the fugitive Welsh; but the aforesaid earls and others, who had fled towards Carlisle were captured on the way at Bothwell Castle, for the sheriff, the warden of the castle [Sir Walter Gilbertson], who had held the castle down to that time for the King of England, perceiving that his countrymen had won the battle, allowed the chief men who came thither to enter the castle in the belief that they would find a safe refuge, and when they had entered he took them prisoners, thereby treacherously deceiving them. Many, also, were taken wandering round the castle and hither and thither in the country, and many were killed; it was said, also, that certain knights were captured by women, nor did any of them get back to England save in abject confusion. The Earl of Hereford, the Earl of Angus, Sir [John] de Segrave, Sir Antony de Lucy, Sir Ingelram de Umfraville and the other nobles who were in the castle were brought before Robert de Bruce and sent into captivity, and after a lengthy imprisonment were ransomed for much money. After the aforesaid victory Robert de Bruce was commonly called King of Scotland by all men, because he had acquired Scotland by force of arms.

About the same time died King Philip of France.

Shortly afterwards, to wit, about the feast of St. Peter ad Vincula [August 1st], Sir Edward de Bruce, Sir James of Douglas, John de Soulis and other nobles of Scotland invaded England by way of Berwick with cavalry and a large army, and, during the time of truce, devastated almost all Northumberland with fire, except the castles; and so they passed forward into the bishopric of Durham; but there they did not burn much, for the people of the bishopric ransomed themselves from burning by a large sum of money. Nevertheless, the Scots carried off a booty of cattle and what men they could capture, and so invaded the county of Richmond beyond, acting in the same manner there without resistance, for nearly all men fled to the south or hid themselves in the woods, except those who took refuge in the castles.

The Scots even went as far as the Water of Tees on that occasion, and some of them beyond the town of Richmond, but they did not enter that town. Afterwards, reuniting their forces, they all returned by Swaledale and other valleys and by Stanemoor, whence they carried off an immense booty of cattle. Also they burnt the towns of Brough and Appleby and Kirkoswald, and other towns here and there on their route, trampling down the crops by themselves and their beasts as much as they could; and so, passing near the priory of Lanercost, they entered Scotland, having many men prisoners from whom they might extort money ransom at will. But the people of Coupland, fearing their return and invasion, sent envoys and appeased them with much money.

Now about the feast of St. Michael [September 29th] the Earl of Hereford, who had married the King of England’s sister, returned from Scotland, and in exchange for him were released the Bishop of Glasgow, the Earl of Mar (who had been reared in England), and the wife, sister, and daughter of my lord Robert de Bruce. Howbeit, the Earl of Mar, having arrived at Newcastle, refused to go with them into Scotland, preferring to remain in England. From day to day sundry prisoners were released from the hands of the Scots, but only through very heavy pecuniary ransoms. About the feast of our Lord’s birth [December 25th] the Earl of Angus was released, also Sir John de Segrave, and a little later Sir Antony de Lucy.

Meanwhile the Scots occupied both north and south Tynedale: to wit Haltwhistle, Hexham, Corbridge, and so on towards Newcastle, and Tynedale did homage to the King of Scots and forcibly attacked Gillesland and the other adjacent districts of England.

At this time also the Scots again wasted Northumberland; but from the aforesaid Nativity of Our Lord until the Nativity of St. Johns the Baptist [June 24, 1315] the county of Cumberland alone paid 600 marks in tribute to the King of Scots. The Scots, therefore; unduly elated, as much by their victory in the field as by the devastation of the March of England and the receipt of very large sums of money, were not satisfied with their own frontiers, but fitted out ships and sailed to Ireland in the month of May, to reduce that country to subjection if they could. Their commanders were my lord Edward Bruce, the king’s brother, and his kinsman my lord Thomas Randolf, Earl of Moray, both enterprising and valiant knights, having a very strong force with them. Landing in Ireland, and receiving some slight aid from the Irish, they captured from the King of England’s dominion much land and many towns, and so prevailed as to have my lord Edward made king by the Irish. Let us leave him reigning there for the present, just as many kinglets reign there, till we shall describe elsewhere how he came to be beheaded, and let us return to Scotland.

The Scots, then, seeing that affairs were going everywhere in their favour, invaded the bishopric of Durham about the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul [June 29th], and plundered the town of Hartlepool, whence the people took to the sea in ships; but they did not burn it. On their return they carried away very much booty from the bishopric.

Also, a little later in the same year, on the feast of S. Mary Magdalene [July 22nd], the King of Scotland, having mustered all his forces, came to Carlisle, invested the city and besieged it for ten days, trampling down all the crops, wasting the suburbs and all within the bounds, burning the whole of that district, and driving in a very great store of cattle for his army from Allerdale, Copland, and Westmoreland. On every day of the siege they assaulted one of the three gates of the city, sometimes all three at once; but never without loss, because there were discharged upon them from the walls such dense volleys of darts and arrows, likewise stones, that they asked one another whether stones bred and multiplied within the walls. Now on the fifth day of the siege they set up a machine for casting stones next the church of Holy Trinity, where their king stationed himself, and they cast great stones continually against the Caldew gate and against the wall, but they did little or no injury to those within, except that they killed one man. But there were seven or eight similar machines within the city, besides other engines of war, which are called springalds, for discharging long darts, and staves with sockets for casting stones, which caused great fear and damage to those outside. Meanwhile, however, the Scots set up a certain great berefrai like a kind of tower, which was considerably higher than the city walls. On perceiving this, the carpenters of the city erected upon a tower of the wall against which that engine must come if it had ever reached the wall, a wooden tower loftier than the other; but neither that engine nor any other ever did reach the wall, because, when it was being drawn on wheels over the wet and swampy ground, having stuck there through its own weight, it could neither be taken any further nor do any harm.

Moreover the Scots had made many long ladders, which they brought with them for scaling the wall in different places simultaneously; also a sow [A siege engine which was constructed to contain men, who, when the sow was wheeled up to the wall, should proceed to sap the foundation under shelter] for mining the town wall, had they been able; but neither sow nor ladders availed them aught. Also they made great numbers of fascines of corn and herbage to fill the moat outside the wall or, the east side, so as they might pass over dry-shod. Also, they made long bridges of logs running upon wheels, such as being strongly and swiftly drawn with ropes might reach across the width of the moat. But during all the time the Scots were on the ground neither fascines sufficed to fill the moat, nor those wooden bridges to cross the ditch, but sank to the depths by their own weight.

Howbeit on the ninth day of the siege, when all the engines were ready, they delivered a general assault upon all the city gates and upon the whole circuit of the wall, attacking manfully, while the citizens defended themselves just as manfully, and they did the same next day. The Scots also resorted to the same kind of stratagem whereby they had taken Edinburgh Castle; for they employed the greater part of their army in delivering an assault upon the eastern side of the city, against the place of the Minorite Friars, in order to draw thither the people who were inside. But James of Douglas, a bold and cautious knight, stationed himself; with some others of the army who were most daring and nimble, the west side opposite the place of the Canons and Preaching Friars, where no attack was expected because of the height [of the wall] and the difficulty of access. There they set up long ladders rich they climbed, and the bowmen, whereof they had a great amber, shot their arrows thickly to prevent anyone showing his head above the wall. But, blessed be God! they met with such resistance there as threw them to the ground with their ladders, so that there and elsewhere round the wall some were killed, others taken prisoners and others wounded; yet throughout the whole siege no Englishman was killed, save one man only who was struck by an arrow (and except the man above mentioned), and few were wounded.

Wherefore on the eleventh day, to wit, the feast of S. Peter ad Vincula [August 1st], whether because they had heard that the English were approaching to relieve the besieged or whether they despaired of success, the Scots marched off in confusion to their own country, leaving behind them all their engines of war aforesaid. Some Englishmen pursuing them captured John de Moray, who in the aforesaid battle near Stirling had for his share twenty-three English knights, besides esquires and others of meaner rank, and had taken very heavy ransom for them. Also they captured with the aforesaid John, Sir Robert Bardolf, a man specially ill-disposed to the English, and brought them both to Carlisle Castle; but they were ransomed later for no small sum of money.

In the Octave of the Epiphany [January 14, 1316] the King of Scotland came stealthily to Berwick one bright moonlit night with a strong force, and delivered an assault by land and by sea in boats, intending to enter the town by stealth on the waterside between Brighouse and the castle, where the wall was not yet built, but they were manfully repulsed by the guards and by those who answered to the alarm, and a certain Scottish knight, Sir J. de Landels, was killed, and Sir James of Douglas escaped with difficulty in a small boat. And thus the whole army was put to confusion.

About the feast of the Nativity of S. John the Baptist [June 24, 1316] the Scots invaded England, burning as before and laying waste all things to the best of their power; and so they went as far as Richmond. But the nobles of that district, who took refuge in Richmond Castle and defended the same, compounded with them for a large sum of money so that they might not burn that town, nor yet the district, more than they had already done. Having received this money, the Scots marched away some sixty miles to the west, laying waste everything as far as Furness, and burnt that district whither they had not come before, taking away with them nearly all the goods of that district, with men and women as prisoners. Especially were they delighted with the abundance of iron which they found there, because Scotland is not rich in iron.

Now in that year there was such a mortality of men in England and Scotland through famine and pestilence as had not been heard of in our time. In some of the northern parts of England the quarter of wheat sold for forty shillings.

After the Scots had returned to their own country, their King Robert provided himself with a great force and sailed to Ireland, in order to conquer that country, or a large part thereof, for his brother Edward. He freely traversed nearly all that part of it which was within the King of England’s dominion, but he did not take walled towns or castles.

From: The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, translated by Sir Herbert Maxwell (Glasgow, 1913)

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