Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Civil War

When Robert headed north in late 1307, the war became a civil war.
This raises the question – why was there so much opposition to Robert’s kingship from within Scotland.
Some answers to these questions can be found in the Competition for the vacant crown in the early 1290s. The main competitors were John Balliol and Robert Bruce (the future king’s grandfather). When Edward I eventually decided the case in favour of John Balliol, the Bruces remained aloof, and avoided recognition of John. When John with his Comyn advisors rebelled against Edward, the Bruces “flip-flopped” between support of Edward and sufficient support of the “Scottish” cause, to maintain the credibility of their claim to the throne. In contrast, from the start of the war with England to their final submission in 1304, the Comyn party had consistently supported the Scottish and Balliol cause. Another significant event during 1304 was the death of Robert’s father, and passing of the claim to the throne to him. The following year saw the capture and execution of Wallace.
There are various legends regarding what happened next, but it is an established fact that Robert met John (Red) Comyn at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries, and that there was a violent disagreement which resulted in the murder of John Comyn and his uncle, by Robert and his supporters. So he alienated, the Church, Edward I, the Comyns and their allies, at a stroke. With no other options left Robert was crowned King of Scots on March 25th 1306 at Scone. One of the great ironies was that he was crowned by Isabel of Fife, the wife of John Comyn Earl of Buchan.
As mentioned, in an earlier post, the year following his coronation was a disaster, but now following his successes against the English he was taking the war to his Scottish enemies.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A New Kind of War

As stated, in yesterday’s post the launching of the “Northern Campaign” saw a new phase in the War, two aspects of which I would like to discuss.
The first was the change in the strategy and tactics employed, and these would remain central to the Scottish war effort for the duration of the war.
The second which I will look at in a later post, was the fact that this phase of the war was pretty much a “Scottish” affair, and amounted to a short but violent civil war.

Till now the war had had a depressing predictability;
Scottish defiance, accompanied with some success which was followed by a massive English response resulting in the defeat of the Scottish field army and the capture and garrisoning of the Scottish castles.

Warfare at this time was dominated by two things, the castle and the mounted knight, neither of which Robert possessed in any numbers, or quality. Whether he contemplated these factors whilst watching the spider, it is not clear, but by the time of the campaign in the south west, he appears to have perfected a mobile style of warfare, where like the modern guerrilla he declined engagement unless circumstances were heavily in his favour.
As he moved north he continued this highly mobile style of warfare which seems to have intimidated his opponents into accepting truces. To this he added the strategy of destroying the castles as they fell into his hands.
The effect of this was twofold, firstly it did not dilute the mobile force by the need leave a garrison, which would be easily overwhelmed in the event of an enemy response. Secondly it denied the enemy a base of operations. The medieval castle was somewhat like a modern carrier battle group, just by existing it could “project power” and dominate its surrounding area.
So by a mixture of intimidation, skillful maneuvering, and the destruction of the enemy’s means of persecuting the war Robert would bring about the conditions for a decisive engagement on his terms.
This would continue to be his method of operation throughout the war, and when he did bring on a major engagement, he was always decisive, aggressive and victorious.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Robert Moves North

Following his success in the south west, and the death of Edward I, Robert moved north and embarked on a new phase of Scotland’s War of Independence. Previously the war had been predominantly a struggle between the Balliol party, led by the Comyns, and for a brief period by Wallace, and the administration of Edward I. This earlier stage was characterised by much “side changing” and “fence sitting”, especially by the Bruces who had no wish to see a successful Balliol cause, which would effectively end their claims to the throne. Now the roles were reversed and the Comyns and their allies were firmly in the English camp, and vehemently opposed to the Bruce Kingship.
So as Robert launched his “break-out” northwards the MacDougalls of Lorn found themselves threatened by the Kings forces on land and by the MacDonald galleys on the sea. Faced with what he believed was overwhelming force John of Lorn agreed a truce with the king who was then able to move north to the Great Glen and take Inverlochy castle. He then move rapidly up the great glean taking Urquhart castle on Loch Ness, before taking Inverness and Nairn castles in quick succession. During this period he also intimidated the Earl of Ross into accepting a truce, before moving on to besiege Elgin castle. As the castes were taken they were destroyed, to deny their use to the enemy, this was the start of a strategy, which would be key to final victory.