Sunday, June 22, 2008

Of Acre and Annandale

One legend has Robert Bruce (father of the King), participating in the 9th crusade to Acre.


He and his companion-in arms Adam de Kilconquhar, apparently travelled to the Holy land for the 9th Crusade, but Adam died or was killed in 1270, and Robert returned to Scotland with the sad duty of informing his widow. One of the leaders of the crusade was Prince Edward of England, (Later Edward I who featured prominently in earlier posts), so it may be that Robert was part of his following. It should be noted that, Scottish –English relations of this time were relatively cordial, and that the Bruces, like many of those who would be participants in the War of Independence, were powerful Anglo-Scottish nobles, who owed allegiances to both Kings.

Robert returned to Scotland and in one romantic account, meets the widow (Lady Marjorie of Carrick) out riding with her ladies, who on seeing the handsome young knight, surrounded him and took him captive to her castle, where she kept him until he agreed to marry her. Robert obviously succumbed to the charms of the Lady, and there may have been some thoughts of the Earldom that would come with any marriage. (As seen in earlier post the Bruces were not shy in pursuing their dynastic advancement).
But let us not spoil the mood – they were married 1271, and the union would produce Scotland’s Hero King.

However there is a problem with the chronology, the 9th crusade did not effectively start until mid 1271, and by then Robert must have been back in Scotland, thinking of marriage, so it seems unlikely that he an Adam were involved in any of the fighting.
It is known that the couple married without Royal consent, which resulted in temporary dispossession, and the payment of a fine to resolve the issue, so maybe the above story is a distraction to take attention away from the issue of permission.

But what the heck !!! – You know the motto of this blog “Print the Legend”

Meanwhile Prince Edward was busy campaigning and forming alliances, in the Holy land, but when news of the death of his father, Henry III, reached him in 1272, he returned to England to assume the throne. Acre would hold out for another twenty years, but by the opening years of the 14th century the last crusaders were ejected from the Holy land and Scotland was on the verge of final subjugation.

Siege of Acre 1291
So the stage was set and all that remain was for the Hero King to fulfill his destiny

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Detour via Akka

One of the beauties of a blog is that you do not have to be sequential or ordered.
So I am taking advantage of the fact that we have just returned from a Bahá’í pilgrimage to the Haifa/Akka area of Israel, to exploit a tenuous connection between Robert Bruce (the father of the King) and Akka, (medieval Acre) where he is alleged to have participated in the 9th Crusade.
I “penned” this post whilst sitting in a restaurant on Ben Gurion Ave. looking towards the Bahá’í terraces on Mount Carmel, but due to internet issues was not able to post at the time
. (See picture below)

The Bahá’í Faith is the newest of the world religions, who’s world centre is located in Haifa.

The Shrine of the Bab and the Bahá’í terraces

So what is the connection?

Bahá’u’lláh, is the latest of the Messengers of God, who brought new spiritual and social teachings for our time. His essential message is of unity. He taught the oneness of God, the oneness of the human family, and the oneness of religion

“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”

Bahá’u’lláh was born in Iran in 1817, and was destined to suffer imprisonment and exile for the majority of his life, because of his teachings. His coming was announced by the Bab (The Gate), who was martyred in Iran and whose remains rest in the shrine pictured above. Bahá’u’lláh was initially exiled to Bagdad, and subsequently to Constantinople (Istanbul), Adrianople (Edirne), and finally to the prison city of Akka, which is located across the bay from Haifa. Bahá’u’lláh and his family arrived in Akka after an arduous
journey on the 31st of August 1868, only to be confined, in the citadel, under appalling conditions. Akka like everywhere in the middle east , has a long and varied history, and in recent years the remains of Knights Hospitaller building buried under the cell block levels where Bahá’u’lláh and his family were confined, have been excavated and work is on going to preseve and present them.
The Knights Hospitaller Courtyard viewed fom the enterance to Bahá’u’lláh's cell block

The outside of Bahá’u’lláh's cell block

Bahá’u’lláh was finally allowed more freedom and spent his remaining years in more comfortable circumstances, in Akka, and later at the mansion of Bahji, where he passed away on 29th of May 1892. Since his passing the Faith has been lead by his Son, Great-Grandson, and now the Universal House of Justice, and has spread Bahá’u’lláh’s healing message throughout the world.

“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth"

(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Some thoughts

Looking towards Lawel hill from Barra hill

I have not posted for some time, because we have been on holiday, (vacation) and did not have reliable internet. We were in the Haifa/Akka area of Israel and will post some information on a connection with Robert the Bruce, in my next post.
But now that the excitement of the anniversary and the traveling are over, I need to get back to the subject of the blog, “The Battle of Barra”
I looked at the “official” version, in an earlier post, but what can a review of the general military facts of the period, and the various legends which have come down to us, tell us?
As my favourite history podcast presenter, Dan Carlin says, the big advantage of not being a professional historian is the greater scope to look at the, “what ifs”, and the maybes. (Dan’s history podcasts are very simulating and cover wide range of topics, from ancient to modern; but no Scottish ones yet – why not Dan? ) If you are interested in history check it out at
The “official” version has the hero king rise from his sick bed , and immediately lead his army against the enemy, who are defeated by resolute leadership and courage.
However the distance from Inverurie Bass to the Bruce Field, is about 4 miles a the crow flies and would certainly be more for a marching army, which puts it at the upper end of the average daily distance covered by medieval infantry. This is not to say the distance was not achievable, on the same day, by forced march, or if most of the force consisted of troops, who travelled on tough ponies and then dismounted to fight.
We also do not know the site of the battle, although local folklore gives us two sites, one “The Bruce Field” and the other “Comyns Camp”, both of which were featured in earlier posts, but do not seem to be likely sites. Two local legends mention Lawel Hill, which is located to the south of Barra hill, placing it closer to Inverurie than either of the other two, so there may be some justification in locating the battle site on that side of Barra hill.. The first relates to the death of Sir Thomas de Longeuville. (Which will have a post to its self).
The second relates to a night march by way of Lawel hill, where the royal army gathered up cattle and drove them towards the Earl’s position. They then tied clothes and lanterns to their horns and stampeded them into the enemy.
We know that on two subsequent occasions Robert divided his force prior to battle, and whilst he launched a frontal assault on the enemy, one of his trusted lieutenants led a smaller force to fall upon the enemies’ rear, the combined assaults causing a complete collapse of the enemy. Both battles, Pass of Brander later in 1308, and Byland 1322, were deep in enemy territory, so maybe Robert tested this tactic first, whilst “playing at home” in the Garioch.
So a possible sequence of events could have been as follows.
After David de Brechin’s attack the royal army prepared to march, whilst scouts located the enemy. The obvious choice of leader for the flanking force would have been Edward the king’s brother. So with the enemy located in the Meldrum area, where they would spend the night, the King with the infantry, and Edward with a smaller mounted force set out. Edward gathered cattle as discussed earlier, and then waited, possibly in woods on Lawell hill, until his brother arrived with the main force. When he learned that the king was approaching the earl deployed his troops and awaited the assault. The King’s men formed-up and advanced on the enemy position. With the enemy probably already somewhat unsteady, in the face of the veteran’s advance, Edwards force burst out of the woods and fell upon the enemy rear. Caught between the two forces the Earls army disintegrated, and as Barbour says;
“Quha had gud hors gat best away”

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Final Report Card

Having made it back to Houston, I have some time to catch-up with the events of our whirlwind trip. As always it was not possible to fit everything in, but as well as the visits already reported, we were able to meet several members of the MBHS, and visit the memorial.

Evelyn and Colin very kindly opened their home, which has a wonderful panoramic view of Barra hill

On my first visit I met John Pirie, who was the inspiration behind the memorial.
He brought several aerial pictures, and was able to provide details of the original location of Bruce’s Seat (pre 1950s), and the location of the rock pile where it lay for half a century, before being rescued by the MBHS.
We were able to view the locations, through Colin’s binoculars, from the comfort of the living-room. Colin also directed us to a website where it is possible to “zoom – in” and view Barra hill in great detail.
The conversation roamed over a wide range of topics, about which John was a mine of information.

The second visit allowed us to meet Doug Smith, Jenny Beber and Jim Presley, all of whom were involved in making the memorial possible.
We had a very stimulating conversation on the battle and the numerous other MBHS projects, past and present.
Doug also recounted his memories of moving the stone figures, from Bourtie Kirk yard to inside the Kirk, during the 1950s. (More of that in a later post).
We also discovered that Jim’s sister lives close to us in the Tomball area, near Houston.But, “nae man can tether time nor tide”, and we had to say our farewells and head back to Aberdeen

On Saturday we visited my son Graeme’s new flat, in Aberdeen, and then brought him out to Meldrum, where we got our first close-up view of the memorial.This was followed by a visit to Haddo House, and then lunch, with Graeme, Neil and their Mum at Lochter outdoor activity centre.

Our trip was closed out with a visit to my parents in Forfar, where we had a mini family reunion,
I took the opportunity to visit the site of another little known, but significant battle; Nechtansmere, which is located close to Dunnichan, and was the site of a decisive Pictish victory over the Nothumbrians in 685. I was a little disappointed that the centennial memorial was looking a little shabby. I hope future Meldrum generations will sustain the work of the present MBHS.

On the way back to Aberdeen we visited a dreich, wet and windswept Dunnoter castle

Thanks to everyone who made this a wonderful trip.