Monday, July 20, 2009

Of Comrades and Bon Accord

One of the problems with the Battle of Barra is knowing who participated. Everyone loves a winner so we have no shortage of candidates who “assisted” the King, and a dearth of those who supported the Earl.
So who were the “lesser” men who participated?
I have come up with some possible participants on the Royal side, but none for the Earl of Buchan. (No surprises there then!!)

Names which in later years would be synonymous with the north east, Keith and Gordon, are often credited with receiving their lands for service at Barra, but in May 1308 they still served the “dark side”. (That is not to minimise their later service to the King, – Keith would be one of the heroes of Bannockburn).
One who received NE lands in the 1320s was William de Irwyn (Drum), who is said to have joined Robert in 1306, and served him throughout the war, becoming his armour bearer and later secretary. Although there is no direct evidence of his presence it is reasonable to assume that as the King’s armour bearer he would have been at Robert’s side at Barra, and if the tales of him requiring to be held upright in the saddle by two men were true, one would surely have been William.

Another likely candidate is Gilbert de la Hay of Erroll, later to be High Constable of Scotland. Gilbert is said to have been with Robert from the start and was amongst those who came north with him in 1307.
An interesting tale is retold by the Rev. John Davidson, in his 1878 Inverurie and the Earldom of the Garioch, of an Inverurie farmer named Benzie, (I’m sure he meant Benvie – see everyone loves the winner!!!!!!) who with his eleven sons assisted Robert at Barra. He concedes that the tale is very similar to the founding legend of the Hays.
That legend tells of the battle of Luncary in the year 980, when Kenneth III, was battling a Danish invading force and his army fled, until confronted by a father and his two sons carrying plough shears. They taunted the fleeing Scots with their cowardice, compelling them to return to the fight, assisted by their three plough wielding countrymen. With the Danes defeated and the kingdom saved from invasion, the father is said to have sat down exhausted and wounded, crying out Hay! Hay!, which became the family name. Needless to say this tale probably contains little truth, because like many of the Scottish aristocracy the Hays were Norman, and did not arrive in England till 1066, so could not have assisted Kenneth. The tale may incorporate, and embellish, the family history of an older Celtic line that was assimilated through marriage. The Hay arms are three red escutcheons (shields) on white, which are said to represent the father and two sons.

Malcolm Earl of Lennox, is also reported to have travelled north with the king, and is another possible participant.

The Rev. Davidson also mentions a document as follows:
“ It is a formal declaration by an antiquarian of credit, that he had perused documentary evidence of the facts connected with the Fergusons of Inverurie, now a widespread family. One writing bore that Walter Fergus of Crichie received hospitably in his own home the great avenger of his country, King Robert Bruce; and with his three sons and dependants, in the memorable battle of Inverurie, in the year 1308, afforded ready and manly aid, on account of which distinguished assistance King Robert gave him ample possessions of the adjacent lands of Inverurie”
I have found no other reference to the above.

One of the outcomes of the victory at Barra was the capture of Aberdeen, probably sometime in July/August 1308.
Local folklore has the citizens of Aberdeen rushing to the aid of their king and assisting in the defeat of the Earl of Buchan. Another tale has them storming the castle and killing the English garrison. It is said that the origin of the city's motto," Bon Accord" was that it was the watch-word for the citizens engaged in the taking of the castle.
However there is no historical evidence for these stories, which may have been a way to explain Robert's endowment of the "freedom lands"* to the city, in the 1319.

I believe that the endowment was given for the many services the city performed after it's liberation by the royal forces. (There will be more about Aberdeen’s contribution to the war in a later post).

So in the final analysis we can only be sure of the main protagonists, the Bruce brothers on one side and Comyn, Moubray, and Brechin, on the other. It is highly unlikely that the citizens of Aberdeen participated, but there is a good probability that William de Irwyn and Gilbert de la Hay were with their King.
As for the others?; well my money is on James de Benvie leading the final charge. :)

* The freedom lands of Stocket were given to the city in 1319 and were the foundation of the present day "common good fund".
For information on the Freedom Lands see:

Further details of the freedom lands,  see Aberdeen city council web site.

NOTE: The battle of Inverurie mentioned above is the same as the battle of Barra.


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