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”

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