Warfare between England and Scotland in the late 13th and early 14th centuries from the Scalacronica

In 1355, Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, warden of Norham Castle, was captured during warfare with Scotland. While being held at Edinburgh Castle, Thomas began writing the Scalacronica, a history of England up to the reign of Edward the Third, with the work ending in 1362. The sections included in this translation cover some the events where Thomas’ father, also named Thomas Gray, was involved, and the campaigns and warfare between Edward I and II against Scotland, including the battle of Bannockburn.

The said King Edward [the First] went to Scotland, invested the castle of Carlaverock and took it, after which siege William Wallace was taken by John de Menteith near Glasgow and brought before the King of England, who caused him to be drawn and hanged in London.

The said King caused the town of Berwick to be surrounded with a stonewall, and, returning to England, left John de Segrave Guardian of Scotland. The Scots began again to rebel against King Edward of England, and elected John de Comyn their Guardian and Chief of their cause. At which time ensued great passages of arms between the Marches, and notably in Teviotdale, before Roxburgh Castle, between Ingram de Umfraville, Robert de Keith, Scotsmen, and Robert de Hastings, warden of the said castle. John de Segrave, Guardian of Scotland for King Edward of England, marched in force into Scotland with several magnates of the English Marches, and with Patrick Earl of March, who was an adherent of the English King, came to Rosslyn, encamped about the village, with his column around him. His advanced guard was encamped a league distant in a hamlet. John Comyn with his adherents made a night attack upon the said John de Segrave and discomfited him in the darkness; and his advanced guard, which was encamped at a distant place, were not aware of his defeat, therefore they came in the morning in battle array to the same place where they had left their commander overnight, intending to do their devoir, where they were attacked and routed by the numbers of Scots, and Rafe the Cofferer was there slain.

Because of this news King Edward marched the following year into Scotland, and on his first entry encamped at Dryburgh. Hugh de Audley, with sixty men-at-arms, finding difficulty in encamping beside the King, went [forward] to Melrose and took up quarters in the abbey. John Comyn, at that time Guardian of Scotland, was in the forest of Ettrick with a great force of armed men, perceiving the presence of the said Hugh at Melrose in the village, attacked him by night and broke open the gates, and, while the English in the abbey were formed up and mounted on their horses in the court, they [the Scots?] caused the gates to be thrown open, [when] the Scots entered on horseback in great numbers, bore to the ground the English who were few in number, and captured or slew them all. The chevalier, Thomas Gray, after being beaten down, seized the house outside the gate, and held it in hope of rescue until the house began to burn over his head, when he, with others, was taken prisoner.

King Edward marched forward and kept the feast of Christmas [1303] at Linlithgow, then rode throughout the land of Scotland, and marched to Dunfermline, where John Comyn perceiving that he could not withstand the might of the King of England, rendered himself to the King’s mercy, on condition that he and all his adherents should regain all their rightful possessions, and they became again his [Edward’s] lieges; whereupon new instruments were publicly executed.

John de Soulis would not agree to the conditions; he left Scotland and went to France, where he died. William Oliphant, a young Scottish bachelor, caused Stirling Castle to be garrisoned, not deigning to consent to John Comyn’s conditions, but claiming to hold from the Lion. The said King Edward, who had nearly all the people of Scotland in his power and possession of their fortresses, came before Stirling Castle, invested it and attacked it with many different engines, and took it by force and by a siege of nineteen weeks! During which siege, the chevalier Thomas Gray was struck through the head below the eyes by the bolt of a springald, and fell to the ground for dead under the barriers of the castle. [This happened] just as he had rescued his master, Henry de Beaumont, who had been caught at the said barriers by a hook thrown from a machine, and was only just outside the barriers when the said Thomas dragged hires out of danger. The said Thomas was brought in and a party was paraded to bury him, when at that moment he began to move and look about him, and afterwards recovered.

The King sent the captain of the castle, William Oliphant, to prison in London, and caused the knights of his army to joust before their departure at the close of the siege. Having appointed his officers throughout Scotland, he marched to MS. England, and left Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, as Guardian of Scotland, to whom he gave the forests of Selkirk and Ettrick, where at Selkirk the said Aymer caused build a pele, and placed therein a strong garrison.

The next section begins in the reign of Edward the Second

At this time Thomas de Gray was warden of the castle of Cupar and Fife, and as he was traveling out of England from the King’s coronation to the said castle, Walter de Bickerton, a knight of Scotland, who was an adherent of Robert de Bruce, having espied the return of the said Thomas, placed himself in ambush with more than four hundred men by the way the said Thomas intended to pass, whereof the said Thomas was warned when scarcely half a league from the ambush. He had not more than six-and-twenty men-at-arms with him, and perceived that he could not avoid an encounter. So, with the approval of his people, he took the road straight towards the ambush, having given his grooms a standard and ordered them to follow behind at not too short interval.

The enemy mounted their horses and formed for action, thinking that they [the English] could not escape from them. The said Thomas, with his people, who were very well mounted, struck spurs to his horse, and charged the enemy right in the centre of their column, bearing many to the ground in his course by the shock of his horse and lance. Then, turning rein, came back in the same manner and. charged again, and once again returned through the thick of the troop, which so encouraged his people that they all followed him in like manner, whereby they overthrew many of the enemy, whose horses stampeded along the road. When they [the enemy] rose from the ground, they perceived the grooms of the said Thomas coming up in good order, and began to fly to a dry peat moss which was near, wherefore almost all [the others] began to fly to the moss, leaving their horses for their few assailants. The said Thomas and his men could not get near them on horseback, wherefore he caused their horses to be driven before them along the road to the said castle, where at night they had a booty of nine score saddled horses.

Another time, on a market day, the town being full of people from the neighbourhood, Alexander Frisel, who was an adherent of Robert de Bruce, was ambushed with a hundred men-at-arms about half a league from the said castle, having sent others of his people to rifle a hamlet on the other side of the castle. The said Thomas, hearing the uproar, mounted a fine charger before his people could get ready, and went to see what was ado. The enemy spurred out from their ambush before the gates of the said castle, so doing because they well knew that he (Sir Thomas) had gone forth. The said Thomas, perceiving this, returned at a foot’s pace through the town of Cupar, at the end whereof stood the castle, where he had to enter on horseback, [and] where they had occupied the whole street. When he came near them struck spurs into his horse; of those who advanced against him, he struck dawn some with his spear, others with the shock of his horse, and, passing through them all, dismounted at the gate, drove his horse in, and slipped inside the barrier, where he found his people assembled.

This King Edward the Second after the Conquest bestowed great affection during his father’s life upon Piers de Gaveston, a young man of good Gascon family; whereat his father became so much concerned lest he [Piers] should lead his son astray, that he caused him [Piers] to be exiled from the realm, and even made his son and his nephew, Thomas of Lancaster, and other magnates swear that the exile of the said Piers should be for ever irrevocable. But soon after the death of the father, the son caused the said Piers to be recalled suddenly, and made him take to wife his sister’s daughter, one of Gloucester’s daughters, and made him Earl of Cornwall. Piers became very magnificent, liberal, and well‑bred in manner, but haughty and supercilious in debate, whereat some of the great men of the realm took deep offence. They planned his destruction while he was serving the King in the Scottish war. He had caused the town of Dundee to be fortified, and had behaved himself more rudely there than was agreeable to the gentlemen of the country, so that he had to return to the King because of the opposition of the barons. On his way back they surprised and took him at Scarborough, but he was delivered to Aymer de Valence upon condition that he was to be taken before the King, from whose [Aymer’s] people he was retaken near Oxford, and brought before the Earl of Lancaster, who had him beheaded close to Warwick, whereat arose the King’s mortal hate, which endured for ever between them. Adam Banaster, a knight bachelor of the county of Lancaster, led a revolt against the said earl by instigation of the King; but he could not sustain it, and was taken and beheaded by order of the said earl, who had made long marches in following his [Banaster’s] people.

During the dispute between the King and the said earl, Robert de Brits, who had already risen during the life of the King’s father, renewed his strength in Scotland, claiming authority over the realm of Scotland, and subdued many of the lands in Scotland which were before subdued by and in submission to the King of England; and [this was] chiefly the result of bad government by the King’s officials, who administered them [the lands] too harshly in their private interests.

The castles of Roxburgh and Edinburgh were captured and dismantled, which castles were in the custody of foreigners, Roxburgh [being] in charge of Guillemyng Fenygges, a knight of Burgundy, from whom James de Douglas captured the said castle upon the night of Shrove Tuesday, the said William being slain by an arrow as he was defending the great tower. Peres Lebaud, a Gascon knight, was Sheriff of Edinburgh, from whom the people of Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, who had besieged the said castle, took it at the highest part of the rock, where he suspected no danger. The said Peter became Scots in the service of Robert de Bruce, who afterwards accused him of treason, and caused him to be hanged and drawn. It was said that he suspected him [Peres] because he was too outspoken, believing him nevertheless to be English at heart, doing his best not to give him [Bruce] offence.

The said King Edward planned an expedition to these parts, where, in [attempting] the relief of the castle of Stirling, he was defeated, and a great number of his people were slain, [including] the Earl of Gloucester and other right noble persons; and the Earl of Hereford was taken at Bothwell, whither he had beaten retreat, where he was betrayed by the governor. He was released [in exchange] for the wife of Robert de Bruce and the Bishop of St. Andrews.

As to the manner in which this discomfiture befell, the chronicles explain that after the Earl of Atholl had captured the town of St. John [Perth] for the use of Robert de Bruce from William Oliphant, captain [thereof] for the King of England, being at that time an adherent of his [Edward’s], although shortly after he deserted him, the said Robert marched in force before the castle of Stirling, where Philip de Moubray, knight, having command of the said castle for the King of England, made terms with the said Robert de Bruce to surrender the said castle, which he had besieged, unless he [de Moubray] should be relieved: that is, unless the English army came within three leagues of the said castle within eight days of Saint John’s day in the summer next to come, he would surrender the said castle. The said King of England came thither for that reason, where the said constable Philip met him at three leagues from the castle, on Sunday the vigil of Saint John, and told him that there was no occasion for him to approach any nearer, for he considered himself as relieved. Then he told him how the enemy had blocked the narrow roads in the forest.

[But] the young troops would by no means stop, but held their way. The advanced guard, whereof the Earl of Gloucester had command, entered the road’ within the Park, where they were immediately received roughly by the Scots who had occupied the passage. Here Peris de Mountforth, knight, was slain with an axe by the hand of Robert de Bruce, as was reported.

While the, said advanced guard were following this road, Robert Lord de Clifford and Henry de Beaumont, with three hundred men-at-arms, made a circuit upon the other side of the wood towards the castle, keeping the open ground. Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, Robert de Bruce’s nephew, who was leader of the Scottish advanced guard, hearing that his uncle had repulsed the advanced guard of the English on the other side of the wood, thought that he must have his share, and issuing from the wood with his division marched across the open ground towards the two afore-named lords.

Sir Henry de Beaumont called to his men: “Let us wait a little; let them come on; give them room!”

“Sir,” said Sir Thomas Gray, “I doubt that whatever you give them now, they will have all too soon.”

“Very well!” exclaimed the said Henry, “if you are afraid, be off!’

“Sir,” answered the said Thomas, “it is not from fear that I shall fly this day.” So saying he spurred in between him [Beaumont] and Sir William Deyncourt, and charged into the thick of the enemy. William was killed, Thomas was taken prisoner, his horse being killed on the pikes, and he himself carried off with them [the Scots] on foot when they marched off, having utterly routed the squadron of the said two lords Some of whom [the English] fled to the castle, others to the king’s army, which having already left the road through the wood had debouched upon a plain near the water of Forth beyond Bannockburn, an evil, deep, wet marsh, where the said English army unharnessed and remained all night, having sadly lost confidence and being too much disaffected by the events of the day.

The Scots in the wood thought they had done well enough for the day, and were on the point of decamping in order to march during the night into the Lennox, a stronger country, when Sir Alexander de Seton; who was in the service of England and had come thither with the King, secretly left the English army, went to Robert de Bruce in the wood, and said to him: “Sir, this is the time if ever you intend to undertake to reconquer Scotland. The English have lost heart and are discouraged, and expect nothing but a sudden, open attack.”

Then he described their condition, and pledged his head, on pain of being hanged and drawn, that if he [Bruce] would attack them on the morrow he would defeat them easily without [much] loss. At whose [Seton’s] instigation they [the Scots resolved to fight, and at sunrise on the morrow marched out of the wood in three divisions of infantry. They directed their course boldly upon the English army, which had been under arms all night, with their horses bitted. They [the English] mounted in great alarm, for they were not accustomed to dismount to fight on foot; whereas the Scots had taken a lesson from the Flemings, who before that had at Courtrai defeated on foot the power of France. The aforesaid Scots came in line of schiltroms, and attacked the English column, which were jammed together and could not operate against them [the Scots], so direfully were their horses impaled on the pikes. The troops in the English rear fell back upon the ditch of Bannockburn, tumbling one over the other.

The English squadrons being thrown into confusion by the thrust of pikes upon the horses, began to flee. Those who were appointed to [attend upon] the King’s rein, perceiving the disaster, led the King by the rein off the field towards the castle, and off he went, though much against the grain. As the Scottish knights, who were on foot, laid hold of the housing of the King’s charger in order to stop him, he struck out so vigorously behind him with a mace that there was none whom he touched that he did not fell to the ground.

As those who had the King’s rein were thus drawing him always forward, one of them, Giles de Argentin, a famous knight who had lately come over sea from the wars of the Emperor Henry of Luxemburg, said to the king: “Sire, your rein was committed to me; you are now in safety; there is your castle where your person may be safe. I am not accustomed to fly, nor am I going to begin now. I commend you to God!”

Then, setting spurs to his horse, he returned into the mellay, where he was slain.

The King’s charger, having been piked, could go no further; so he mounted afresh on a courser and was taken round the Torwood, and [so] through the plains of Lothian. Those who went with him were saved; all the rest came to grief. The King escaped with great difficulty, traveling thence to Dunbar, where ms. Patrick, Earl of March, received him honourably, and put his castle at his disposal, and even evacuated the place, removing all his people, so that there might be neither doubt nor suspicion that he would do nothing short of his devoir to his lord, for at that time he [Dunbar] was his liegeman. Thence the King went by sea to Berwick and afterwards to the south.

Edward de Bruce, brother to Robert, King of Scotland desiring to be a king [also], passed out of Scotland into Ireland with a great army in hopes of conquering it. He remained there two years and a half, performing there feats of arms, inflicting great destruction both upon provender and in other ways, and conquering much territory, which would form a splendid romance were it all recounted. He proclaimed himself King of the kings of Ireland; [but] he was defeated and slain at Dundalk by the English of that country, [because] through over confidence he would not wait for reinforcements, which had arrived lately, and were not more than six leagues distant.

At the same time the King of England sent the Earl of Arundel as commander on the March of Scotland, who was repulsed at Lintalee in the forest of Jedworth, by James de Douglas, and Thomas de Richmond was slain. The said earl then retreated to the south without doing any more.

On another occasion the said James defeated the garrison of Berwick at Scaithmoor, where a number of Gascons were slain. Another time there happened a disaster on the marches at Berwick, by treachery of the false traitors of the marches, where was slain Robert de Neville; which Robert shortly before had slain Richard fitz Marmaduke, cousin of Robert de Bruce, on the old bridge of Durham, because of a quarrel between them [arising] out of jealousy which should be reckoned the greater lord. Therefore, in order to obtain the King’s grace and pardon for this offence, Neville began to serve in the King’s war, wherein he died.

At the same period the said James de Douglas, with the assistance of Patrick, Earl of March, captured Berwick from the English, by means of the treason of one in the town, Peter de Spalding. The castle held out for eleven weeks after, and at last capitulated to the Scots in default of relief, because it was not provisioned. The constable, Roger de Horsley, lost there an eye by an arrow.

Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, traveling to the court of Rome, was captured by a Burgundian, John de la Moiller, taken into the empire and ransomed for 20,000 silver livres, because the said John declared that he had done the King of England service, and that the King was owing him his pay.

This James de Douglas was now very busy in Northumberland. Robert de Bruce caused all the castles of Scotland, except Dunbarton, to be dismantled. This Robert de Bruce caused William de Soulis to be arrested, and caused him to be confined in the castle of Dunbarton for punishment in prison, accusing him of having conspired with other great men of Scotland for his [Robert’s] undoing, to whom [de Soulis] they were attorned subjects, which the said William confessed by his acknowledgment. David de Brechin, John Logie, and Gilbert Malherbe were hanged and drawn in the town of St. John [Perth], and the corpse of Roger de Mowbray was brought on a litter before the judges in the Parliament of Scone, and condemned. This conspiracy was discovered by Murdach of Menteith, who himself became earl afterwards. He had lived long in England in loyalty to the King, and, returned home in order to discover this conspiracy. He became Earl of Menteith by consent of his niece, daughter of his elder brother, who, after his death at another time, became countess.

The King of England undertook scarcely anything against Scotland, and thus lost as much by indolence as his father had conquered; and also a number of fortresses within his marches of England, as well as a great part of Northumberland which revolted against him.

Gilbert de Middleton in the bishopric of Durham, plundered two Cardinals who came to consecrate the Bishop, and seized Louis de Beaumont, Bishop of Durham, and his brother Henry de Beaumont, because the King had caused his [Gilbert’s] cousin Adam de Swinburne to be arrested, because he had spoken too frankly to him about the condition of the Marches.

This Gilbert, with adherence of others upon the Marches, rode upon a foray into Cleveland, and committed other great destruction, having the assistance of nearly all Northumberland, except the castles of Bamborough, Alnwick, and Norham, of which the two first named were treating with the enemy, the one by means of hostages, the other by collusion, when the said Gilbert was taken through treachery of his own people in the castle of Mitford by William de Felton, Thomas de Heton, and Robert de Horncliff, and was hanged and drawn in London.

On account of all this, the Scots had become so bold that they subdued the Marches of England and cast down the castles of Wark and Harbottle, so that hardly was there an Englishman who dared to withstand them. They had subdued all Northumberland by means of the treachery of the false people of the country. So that scarcely could they [the Scots] find anything to do upon these Marches, except at Norham, where a [certain] knight, Thomas de Gray, was in garrison with his kinsfolk. It would be too lengthy a matter to relate [all] the combats and deeds of arms and evils for default of provender, and sieges which happened to him during the eleven years that he remained [there] during such an evil and disastrous period for the English. It would be wearisome to tell the story of the less [important] of his combats in the said castle. Indeed it was so that, after the town of Berwick was taken out of the hands of the English, the Scots had got so completely the upper hand and were so insolent that they held the English to be of almost no account, who [the English] concerned themselves no more with the war, but allowed it to cease.

At which time, at a great feast of lords and ladies in the county of Lincoln, a young page brought a war helmet, with a gilt crest on the same, to William Marmion, knight, with a letter from his lady-love commanding him to go to the most dangerous place in Great Britain and [there] cause this helmet to be famous. Thereupon it was decided by the knights [present that he should go to Norham, as the most dangerous [and] adventurous place in the country. The said William betook himself to Norham, where, within four days of his arrival, Sir Alexander de Mowbray, brother of Sir Philip de Mowbray, at that time governor of Berwick, came before the castle of Norham with the most spirited chivalry of the Marches of Scotland, and drew up before the castle at the hour of noon with more than eight score men-at-arms. The alarm was given in the castle as they were sitting down to dinner. Thomas de Gray, the constable, went with his garrison to his barriers, saw the enemy near drawn up in order of battle, looked behind him, and beheld the said knight, William Marmion, approaching on foot, all glittering with gold and silver, marvelous finely attired, with the helmet on his head. The said Thomas, having been well informed of the reason for his coming [to Norham], cried aloud to him: “Sir knight, you have come as knight errant to make that helmet famous, and it is more meet that deeds of chivalry be done on horseback than afoot, when that can be managed conveniently. Mount your horse: there are your enemies: set spurs and charge into their midst. May I deny my God if I do not rescue your person, alive or dead, or perish in the attempt!”

The knight mounted a beautiful charger, spurred forward, [and] charged into the midst of the enemy, who struck him down, wounded him in the face, [and] dragged him out of the saddle to the ground.

At this moment, up came the said Thomas with all his garrison, with levelled lances, [which] they drove into the bowels of the horses so that they threw their riders. They repulsed the mounted enemy, raised the fallen knight, remounting him upon his own horse, put the enemy to flight, [of whom] some were left dead in the first encounter, [and] captured fifty valuable horses. The women of the castle [then] brought out horses to their men, who mounted and gave chase, slaying those whom they could overtake. Thomas ms. de Gray caused to be killed in the Yair Ford, a Fleming [named] Cryn, a sea captain, a pirate, who was a great partisan of Robert de Bruce. The others who escaped were pursued to the nunnery of Berwick.

Another time, Adam de Gordon, a baron of Scotland, having mustered more than eight score men-at-arms, came before the said castle of Norham, thinking to raid the cattle, which were grazing outside the said castle. The young fellows of the garrison rashly hastened to the furthest end of the town, which at that time was in ruins, and began to skirmish. The Scottish enemy surrounded them. The said men of the sortie defended themselves briskly, keeping themselves within the old walls. At that moment Thomas de Gray, the said constable, came out of the castle with his garrison, [and,] perceiving his people in such danger from the enemy, said to his vice‑constable: “I’ll hand over to you this castle, albeit I have it in charge to hold in the King’s cause, unless I actually drink of the same cup that my people over there have to drink.”

Then he set forward at great speed, having of common people and others, scarcely more than sixty all told. The enemy, perceiving him coming in good order, left the skirmishers among the old walls and drew out into the open fields. The men who had been surrounded in the ditches, perceiving their chieftain coming in this manner, dashed across the ditches and ran to the fields against the said enemy, who were obliged to face about, and, then charged back upon them [the skirmishers]. Upon which came up the said Thomas with his men, when you might see the horses floundering and the people on foot slaying them as they lay on the ground. [Then they] rallied to the said Thomas, charged the enemy, [and] drove them out of the fields across the water of Tweed. They captured and killed many; many horses lay dead, so that had they [the English] been on horseback, scarcely one would have escaped.

The said Thomas de Gray was twice besieged in the said castle: once for nearly a year, the other time for seven months. The enemy erected fortifications before him, one at Upsettlington, another at the church of Norham. He was twice provisioned by the Lords de Percy and de Neville, [who] came in force to relieve the said castle; and these [nobles] became wise, noble and rich, and were of great service on the Marches.

Once on the vigil of St. Katherine during his Gray’s time, the fore-court of the said castle was betrayed by one of his men, who slew the porter [and] admitted the enemy [who were] in ambush in a house before the gate. The inner bailey and the keep held out. The enemy did not remain there more than three days, because they feared the attack of the said Thomas, who was then returning from the south, where he had been at that time. They evacuated it [the forecourt] and burnt it, after failing to mine it.

Many pretty feats of arms chanced to the said Thomas which are not recorded here.

From Scalacronica: the reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, as recorded by Sir Thomas Gray, and now translated by Sir Herbert Maxwell, (Glasgow, 1907), p. 23-26, 48-65.

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