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Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland
Chapter II - Earldom and Earls of Buchan
Section III


AFTER the surrender and submission of Comyn, the late Guardian there is no doubt that the Earl of Buchan had resolved to continue loyal to Edward I. His Earldom and its extensive territory were secure, and virtually his feudal powers within it remained in his own hands as before; therefore he had little occasion to feel grieved at the change. There is evidence that the Lord of Badenoch was content to remain a loyal vassal of Edward I., as his lands and feudal powers were still in his own hands. Thus, after what had taken place in Scotland during a few past years, he had good grounds for being content.

The Lords of Badenoch had a number of strong castles in their Highland territories, most of which were erected by the Comyns. The Castle of Ruthven, once a great stronghold, stood on a high isolated bank on the south side of the upper stretch of the Valley of the Spey. The island fortress of Lochindorb is on the islet in deep water in the centre of the loch. Lochindorb is two miles long and about half a mile in breadth. The islet is about an acre in extent which is all occupied by the curtain walls and the dilapidated towers of the castle. In its time it had been a strong place. The old Castle of Raits was another stronghold of the Comyns in Badenoch, the site of which is now occupied by a large modern building, called Belleville House. The old Castle of Roy was also one of the sites of the Comyns. It is placed on an eminence a short distance to the east of the Water of Nethy, and near the Free Church of Abernethy. It is a large structure in the form of a quadrangle with high walls, but it is now in ruins. These and other castles attest the power of the Comyns in this extensive Highland region; while the strongholds of the Earl of Buchan, (already mentioned,) show clearly that the Comyn clan was one of the most powerful in Scotland at the beginning of the fourteenth century.

Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, had assisted Edward I. in his last campaign, and supplied him with a battering-ram for the siege of Stirling Castle. He was a grandson of the Bruce who had fought out the contest in Edward’s court, for the Crown with the now deposed John Baliol. He was a young man, little over thirty years, and hitherto had shown a rather vacillating character. On the death of his father in the spring of 1304, he succeeded to the large family estates in England and Scotland, and was Lord of Annandale as well as Earl of Carrick. In June, 1304, he entered into a compact with Bishop Lamberton, in which they mutually agreed to assist each other against all their enemies. It appears that somehow this compact became known to Edward I., and Bruce, when attending the English Court, was questioned concerning it. He at once saw that his life was in danger, and one morning he mounted his horse and rode swiftly to Scotland.

Bruce arrived at his Castle of Lochmaben early in February, 1306. On the 12th of February, as a freeholder of the county, he attended the English judges who were holding their courts at Dumfries, and there he met the Lord of Badenoch, John Comyn, the late Guardian of Scotland— sometimes called "The Red Comyn." Bruce and Comyn entered the Greyfriars convent to have a private interview touching public affairs; and their conversation waxed warm. Bruce referred to the miserable state of Scotland—once an independent kingdom, and now nothing but a province of England. He then proposed that Comyn should take his lands and help him to be king; or if Comyn preferred it, Bruce was to take his lands and help him to be king. But Comyn demurred to such proposals, and professed loyalty to Edward I. Bruce charged him with betraying important secrets of his; their talk became bitter and hot, and at last Bruce drew his dagger and stabbed Comyn. He immediately turned from the convent, and rushed into the street shouting for a horse. His friends asked if anything was amiss. "I doubt," said Bruce, "I have slain Comyn." Instantly Kilpatrick, one of his followers, ran into the convent and slew the wounded man outright, and also killed his uncle, Sir Robert Comyn.

It may be that the murder of Comyn was unpremeditated; yet it removed the only competitor for the throne of Scotland whom Bruce had reason to fear. Comyn had claims to the Crown as his mother was a sister of John Baliol; and he was also a descendant of Donald Bane, a brother of Malcolm III., as before indicated. This relation to the old line of Celtic Kings would have given him a great advantage in the eyes of the people in the event of any struggle between the two for the throne of Scotland. Bruce had rashly committed himself and could not recede. He had assassinated one of the most powerful men in the kingdom, and incurred the bitter enmity of all his kin and numerous followers.

Immediately after these tragic deeds, Bruce drove the English judges and officials out of Dumfries and across the border. The news soon spread; the people of Galloway assumed a threatening attitude, and many of Edward’s officials fled from the kingdom. Bruce soon resolved on a bold step. He mounted the throne and was crowned King at Scone, on the 27th of March, 1306. But his followers were few in number, and consisted of—The Bishops of St Andrews, Glasgow, and Moray, and the Abbot of Scone; his four young and stalwart brothers; his nephew, Thomas Randolph of Strathdon, and his brother-in-law, Christopher Seton; the Earls of Athol, Lennox, and Monteith; Gilbert Hay of Erroll and his brother Hugh, Nigel Campbell of Argyle, David of Inchmarten, Robert Boyd of Kilmarnock, Sir John Somerville of Linton, David Barclay of Cairns, Alexander Fraser, Sir James Douglas, and Robert Fleming. This small party—the forlorn hope of the Scottish nation— had arrayed against it the hosts of England, the numerous followers of the Comyns, and many of the Scotch nobles.

The desperate nature of the enterprise on which Bruce had embarked soon appeared. His small force could not face the English army in the field; and he encamped in the wood of Methven, six miles from Perth. On the 19th of June, 1306, the English under Pembroke attacked Bruce, and, after a severe encounter, completely defeated him. Indeed Bruce himself narrowly escaped, while many of his followers were slain or taken prisoners. Edward I. ordered the prisoners to be immediately executed. Accordingly they were hanged and quartered. Bruce, with about two hundred of his followers, retired into the forest of Athole. But they were pursued as outlaws, and they soon began to feel the extreme miseries of their position. Bruce was forced to leave Athole to save his followers from starvation; and with great difficulty he moved by unfrequented tracts to Aberdeenshire. At Aberdeen he was joined by his wife and other ladies; but on the approach of a numerous body of the enemy, led by the Earl of Buchan, Bruce and his company betook themselves to the mountains of Breadalbane.

Amid these wilds they suffered extreme privation. As food was very scarce, they gathered wild berries; some of them hunted, and others fished, in order to preserve their lives; while their clothing was often in tatters, through living day and night for weeks and months exposed to the open air in these high altitudes. Bruce, with a number of his friends, had reached the head of the Tay, and were approaching Argyleshire - the district of the Lord of Lorne. This chief was related through marriage to the "Red Comyn," and, naturally, he was eager to vent revenge upon Bruce. Lorne, at the head of a strong body of his followers, attacked Bruce and his small company in Strathfillan. A severe encounter ensued; but Bruce’s company were overwhelmed by numbers and fell back. Gilbert Hay of Erroll and James Douglas were wounded, and many of their horses were killed. To avert the total destruction of his small band, Bruce commanded them to retreat through a narrow pass while he brought up the rear himself and repeatedly turned his horse and drove back the assailants, till at last the pursuit of the enemy ceased.

Winter was approaching, and they could not then subsist in this mountainous region. The Queen and a few attendants were conveyed, under an escort of mounted men, to the Castle of Kildrummy which they reached in safety. Bruce had only two hundred men on foot, and with these he resolved to seek refuge in Cantyre or some of the islands; and Sir Neil Campbell was sent forward to provide vessels and provisions for the voyage. The King and his men proceeded in the direction of Cantyre, but they were reduced to the utmost extremities for want of provisions. While wandering amongst the hills and woods in search of food, they met the Earl of Lennox, who, since the battle of Methven had heard nothing of the fate of Bruce, and the two men feelingly embraced each other. Lennox supplied his friends with provisions, and by his assistance they reached Cantyre, where Neil Campbell joined them. Angus, Lord of the Isles, warmly welcomed Bruce and his followers, and treated them with much hospitality; and also gave them the Castle of Dunaverty to live in and enjoy themselves after their wanderings and privations. Yet the emissaries of Edward I. and the Comyns were so numerous and so alert in their efforts to capture Bruce that he, with the fate of Wallace before him, did not deem himself safe, even in this castle, from the bitter and determined pursuit of his enemies. Accordingly, in the end of the year, 1306, Bruce, with a few of his followers, passed over to the small isle of Rathlin, on the northern coast of Ireland, and stayed there during the winter.

But death and ruin befell many of Bruce’s supporters and friends. The English troops scoured the country, and seized all suspected persons. Bruce’s wife and daughter were captured and imprisoned in England. The Countess of Buchan, a daughter of the Earl of Fife, had married John Comyn, Earl of Buchan. Because this lady had dared to assist at the coronation of Bruce, she was taken and conveyed to Berwick, and placed in a cage specially built for her; which hung in one of the centre turrets of the Castle of Berwick, where she could be seen by the people passing by.

The Castle of Kildrummy was besieged by the English and the Comyns. After a determined and heroic defence by Nigel Bruce, the King’s brother, it was taken. Nigel Bruce was conveyed in fetters to Berwick and there executed. The Earl of Athole and Sir Simon Fraser were carried to London and executed as traitors, and their heads placed upon London Bridge beside that of Wallace. Many others were seized and executed with all the shocking cruelties of the period; further, many of the people were struck down and slain without trial, evidence, or question; and for several years a frightful scene of bloodshed and cruelty prevailed throughout the kingdom.

In the spring of 1307 Bruce returned to Scotland, and recommenced the task of recovering the kingdom in his own district of Carrick and Ayrshire. For some time his position was very perilous. The emissaries of Edward I. and the Comyns were constantly hunting him, and he had several very narrow escapes. Subsequently he was joined at Cumnock, in Ayrshire, by Sir James Douglas, who had collected a body of men in his own barony. With his followers thus increased, Bruce resolved to give a good account of himself.

Early in May, Pembroke, the English commander, advanced into Ayrshire at the head of three thousand cavalry, with the intention of extinguishing Bruce. The young king, however, in his wanderings had acquired some experience, and he fixed on a position at Loudon Hill. After inspecting the ground, he limited the space for the evolutions of the English cavalry and at the same time protected both his flanks by three deep trencheson each side of his position. Beyond these trenches the ground was marshy. Having thus prepared the ground, he posted his six hundred spear-men, and coolly awaited the attack of the English cavalry. On the 10th of May the English cavalry, under Pembroke, advanced in two lines; and the first line, at full gallop, charged the Scottish spearmen. But they stood firm and unhorsed many of their assailants. The cavalry reeled and then broke, and retired in disorder upon the second line. Instantly the Scots, with their spears levelled, followed them at the double, and completely defeated them. Pembroke fled to the Castle of Ayr, and reported his defeat. After this, Bruce gained ground step by step.

In 1308 Bruce crossed the Tay and advanced northward to Aberdeenshire, with the object of reducing Comyn, the Earl of Buchan, who upheld the English authority in this quarter of the country. But he was attacked by a severe illness caused by the exposure and privation which he had endured; and the war operations were somewhat delayed. Bruce’s army proceeded by Inverurie, and in the march northward several skirmishes took place between his troops and the followers of the Comyns. His army retired into Strathbogie to obtain a supply of provisions and afford Bruce some rest. When he had partly recovered, the army returned to Inverurie.

At the same time the Earl of Buchan was in the field with a force numbering over a thousand men, and had advanced to the neighbourhood of Oldmeldrum. Comyn’s ally, Sir David Brechin, with a small party, rapidly advanced on Inverurie, and surprised some of Bruce’s outposts. When tidings of this reached the King, it greatly roused him. He instantly rose from his bed, called for his horse, and mounted, and led his army direct to Comyn’s position, which was on an eminence at Barra, in the parish of Bourtie. A severe battle ensued. But Comyn’s army was completely defeated, and his retreating followers hotly pursued for miles, and many of them slain. Bruce then proceeded with extreme severity to waste and destroy the possessions of the Comyns in Buchan. The Earl himself escaped to England, but the power of his kin and followers was utterly broken; and he was the last Earl of Buchan of the name of Comyn. Indeed, the very name of Comyn was for a time proscribed. As indicated in a preceding paragraph, the Earl of Buchan married Lady Isabel, daughter of Duncan, Earl of Fife, by whom he had a son, John, and two daughters. The Earl himself died in England in 1313, his son having died before him. His eldest daughter, Alice, married Henry, Lord Beaumont, and in right of his wife, he claimed the Earldom of Buchan.

The "Red Comyn" left a son, John, who was brought up with the children of Edward I.; and he accompanied Edward II. to Bannockburn, where he was slain when fighting against the Scots.

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