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Old 06-08-2021, 07:16 PM   #91 (permalink)
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Fail of the Century - The Great Famine (1315 - 1317)

It really must have sucked living in the first half of the fourteenth century in Europe. Not just because of the conditions, the poverty and the really poor wifi signal, but from halfway through the second decade up to more than halfway through the century famine and plague ravaged the land. As already related, the horror of the Black Death swept through Europe like, well, a plague from about 1347 to nearly 1352, wiping out over 200 million people, and this on the back of an already weakened Europe which had succumbed to a series of famines that raged from 1315 onwards. It’s amazing anyone survived.

Not that famines were new or unknown. France suffered from three separate ones before “the big one”, and a staggering six after it, some of them occurring during, and after, the time of the Black Death, while in England - yes, famine in England! - there were three. Life expectancy in Europe had dropped by 1345 to a mere seventeen years (though admittedly that was at the height of the Plague) from a relative high in 1276 of thirty-five. A spate of unseasonably cold and wet weather, coupled with poor harvests and climbing food prices, to say nothing of an explosion in population and the poor being confined to working on land that was hardly arable, all the best land kept for the nobility, pushed Europe along a steadily-descending spiral into almost constant and perpetual hunger. Nobody had enough to eat, and those who did did not care about those who had nothing. No social welfare, no land reclamation projects, no mechanical assistance to farming, and no mercy from the vagaries of fate.

It all led, in 1315, to what became known as The Great Famine, which was to last for two years and cover all of Europe. Heavy rain in the spring and summer of that year led to bad or in some cases no harvests, no fodder for livestock, and, market forces doing what market forces do, the scarcity of food pushed the price of any that was available beyond the reach of the ordinary worker. In fact, in France, the price of a simple loaf rose so steeply (increasing by, wait for it, three hundred and twenty percent!) that bread could not be purchased, in a stark future echo of events that would lead to revolution there four hundred and fifty years later. England didn’t fare any better, with reports from Bristol in 1315 speaking with horror of people being so hungry they ate their children, and new arrivals in the local gaol being fallen upon and devoured by the starving prisoners already there. Don’t believe me? Don’t blame you. But here.

(From the Bristol Annal: Bristol Archives)
there was: 'a great Famine of Dearth with such mortality that the living coud scarce suffice to Bury the dead, horse flesh and Dogs flesh was accounted good meat, and some eat their own Children. The Thieves that were in Prison did pluck and tear in pieces, such as were newly put into Prison and devoured them half alive.

See? Even Edward II found it hard to find bread, and you know there’s a problem when the royal bakery is empty! The year dragged wearily by, but its successor brought no relief, as the rain continued to fall, harvests continued to fail, and some families, unable to sustain their own children, turned them loose to fend for themselves. The horrid word was whispered throughout the continent, though who can say if cannibalism was actually practiced? Then again, who can say it wasn’t? If you’re hungry and desperate enough…

And on it persisted, with 1317 as wet as the two previous years, though finally in the summer the rain stopped, but by then most of the damage had been done. It would take another eight years before things would begin to stabilise, and another ten after that the rats would arrive. Ironically, in some ways the famine could be seen as a necessary tool that reduced the overpopulation of Europe and allowed the meagre food supply eventually to stretch further, having to feed fewer people. An anonymous poem penned in 1321 probably said it best:

When God saw that the world was so over proud,
He sent a dearth on earth, and made it full hard.
A bushel of wheat was at four shillings or more,
Of which men might have had a quarter before...
And then they turned pale who had laughed so loud,
And they became all docile who before were so proud.
A man's heart might bleed for to hear the cry
Of poor men who called out, "Alas! For hunger I die ...!"


Poem on the Evil Times of Edward II, Anon.

The Great Famine and, later, the Black Death, served to weaken the power of the Catholic Church for, although in the latter (and presumably the former too) the plagues were blamed on man’s sins and pride, the Church was unable to deliver its flock from the wrath of God, and so became something of a clay idol; people had before placed all their trust in the priests, the Pope and his ministers, expecting to be saved if they only repented. But in the face of famine and the Black Death the Church was as powerless as the lowest commoner, and Popes died as easily as paupers, and people began to see the Church was not, after all, the all-powerful, indefatigable entity it claimed to be.

The arrival of the Great Famine began to turn the tide against Edward, as his troops began to succumb to the disease and food ran out, and his own general impatience for battle would lead to his and his brother’s defeat and death in the Battle of Faughart. Sadly there is no real account of what should have been one of the most important battles of Bruce’s career and of the Scottish Wars of Independence, but it seems that Edward took on a much larger force than he could cope with - reckoned around 20,000 - without waiting for reinforcements to arrive from Scotland, and perhaps like the Grand Old Duke of York in the song, he marched them up to the top of the hill at Faughart but did not get a chance to march them down again, as he was slain with most of his men by the English. In possibly an ironic twist, the battle took place close to the town which had been the site of one of the greatest massacres by the Scots, Dundalk.

Despite the defeat of his armies and the death of his brother, Robert the Bruce did manage one victory - two if you include outliving not only Edward I but his son too - in having the Pope formally recognise the independence of Scotland (even if England did no such thing) in 1324 and affirming Robert as King of Scots. Edward II died in 1327 and was replaced by his son Edward III. Robert continued invading and harrying England, and in 1328 the two kings met for the battle which would decide the first War of Scottish Independence.

The Battle of Stanhope Park

The power behind the throne: waiting in the shadows

Edward II’s marriage was not good. His wife, Isabella, known as the She-Wolf of France, had had enough of the king and taken a lover, the exiled Roger Mortimer, who had risen against him. While on a diplomatic mission to her native France it is believed Isabella hooked up with Mortimer and the two began to plot the downfall of her husband. Returning to England with a small army, and threatening to disinherit his son Edward III, then only thirteen, Isabella and Mortimer forced Edward II to abdicate, later, according to some accounts, having him murdered, and then taking the crown for themselves, nominally naming the young prince as the new king.

In June 1327 a large Scottish force led by Thomas Earl of Moray, Black Douglas and the Earl of Mar raided across the border into England, and Mortimer along with the young prince raised a large army to meet them. Typical disagreements arose within the English ranks, especially with some mercenaries from the country of Hainault (modern France/Belgium border) which depleted the English ranks as they fought among each other. Having sorted out their differences, Mortimer moved to intercept the Scots.

Except, he didn’t.

The Scottish army would not be pinned down; like ravaging ghosts they plundered and burned and pillaged the countryside, their passage marked by towering plumes of smoke that rose into the summer sky, but they never engaged the English force and wherever Mortimer went, there the Scots were not. As a result of this somewhat retreading of William Wallace’s original guerilla war supplies began to run low in the English camp and the mood soured. Finally an English scout was captured by the Scots, and sent back with a message to Mortimer that they were ready to do battle. After all the uncrowned king of England had done to try to take his enemy by surprise and catch them at a disadvantage, it was now the Scots who were dictating the terms of the battle, and they met him as directed on the banks of the Wear river, near Stanhope Park.

Apparently all of what follows is true!

The Scots had occupied the high ground, and therefore had the advantage over their enemy. The English sent longbowmen up the river to try to ford it and attack Bruce’s men but they were scattered by cavalry. The English next asked the Scots if they didn’t agree that it really wasn’t cricket, you know, their having the advantage of the higher ground, and wouldn’t they be terrific chaps and just come on down onto the plains where everyone would be equal, and the armies could battle it out, man to man? Unsurprisingly, the Scots yelled back “Nae thanks son, we’re braw here lad!” And stayed where they were.

Unbelievable.

I can imagine the Tommie at the Somme shouting over to the Germans in their machine-gun nests: “Now look chaps, this really isn’t fair is it? Why not climb out of those trenches and we’ll duke it out here in No-Man’s Land to see who deserves to be the masters of Europe?” Or Osama being told he was being a really bad sport, hiding up there in the mountains where the Americans couldn’t catch him, and would he not just do the decent thing and come out and take what was coming to him like a man? Oh, the hilarity of these chivalrous English!

Anyway, unprepared to maintain the traditional stiff upper lip and charge into a hopeless cause in a blaze of very brief glory, the English remained where they were, the Scots remained where they were, and nobody attacked anyone for three days. Bor-ing! I thought they told me when I joined up that it would be non-stop fighting, burning, attacking, cheering, with maybe the odd spot of raping thrown in! Anyone want a game of cards? What do you mean, you didn’t bring cards? Now I’m really depressed! When are we going to see some action?

Well, kind of never, lad. The king did get something of a surprise - nearly died of terror really (well he was only a teenager, and barely that) when the Scots slipped down in the night and - wait for it! - cut the guy ropes of his tent, collapsing it, then sodded off back up the mountain! While the English then slept in full body armour, expecting an attack, the Scots buggered off back across the border, negotiating bogs the English had thought impassable, and when they woke up in the morning the English army was alone. D’oh! The discomfort of tossing and turning in armour all night, for nothing! I need to scratch so bad!

The strangest battle I ever read of, I must say. You can’t say not a shot was fired or that nobody died (consider the luckless archers of Edward III) but in general there was a three-day do-nothing, where the Scots grinned down at the English and the English glared up at the Scots, and then the Scots went home. And yet, this battle - or, to be fair, the combined effect of the Bruce rampaging throughout northern England - was the final nail in the coffin of Edward’s resistance to the idea of Scottish independence. All but bankrupted by the war and the constant invasions, hardly able to pay even the mercenaries mentioned above, and humiliated and smarting from his treatment, he, or rather, Mortimer and Isabella, had no option but to accept King Robert’s terms and the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton was ratified in 1328, making Scotland an independent and sovereign kingdom and Robert its rightful king. This drew to a close 32 years of fighting, invasion, counter-invasion and pillage which constituted the First Scottish War of Independence, and a year later King Robert died, leaving Scotland in the hands of his young son, David.

But Edward had never agreed with the terms of the treaty (he had been excluded from the negotiations and from the signing by Mortimer and Isabella) and by the time he had grown to his majority and properly established his royal power he had Mortimer arrested, imprisoned in the Tower of London and later executed without trial, being hanged at Tyburn.

Two years later, the Second War of Scottish Independence began. This would last another quarter of a century.
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Old 06-11-2021, 04:53 PM   #92 (permalink)
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are come on..need the next chapter...
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Old 06-11-2021, 06:30 PM   #93 (permalink)
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Old 06-11-2021, 06:47 PM   #94 (permalink)
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The Second War of Scottish Independence (1332 - 1357)

Old Grievances: Bailol II

Originally chosen by Edward I as King of the Scots, John Bailiol had been forced to abdicate and now his son wanted revenge. He pressed Edward III, newly established as the actual power in England following the arrest of Mortimer, to restore to him his ancestral lands. Edward duly sent a request to the new king of Scotland, David II, the late Robert the Bruce’s son, but no reply came, so Edward said to Edward (yeah they were both Edwards - bloody English. And Scots!) “get in there and fill yer boots, son,” and Bailiol was not slow to accept the offer, marching into Scotland in 1332 where he met the forces of Donald, Earl of Mar. Well, when I say met…

See, our man Edward Balioil had gone to Scotland with a pretty piddling small army - about 1,500 - in the mistaken belief that he would be hailed as a saviour by the Scots and they would all flock to his banner. This failed to happen, and he even miscalculated by somehow offering Mar the chance to join him. The Earl, with about ten times as many men as the would-be usurper (or perhaps that should be re-usurper, since his dad was king originally?) descended on them as they tried to get off their boats, fighting them, as a famous statesman would note six hundred years later, on the beaches. Nevertheless, despite the negligent size of their force, Bailiol fought Mar off, and the Scots legged it to Perth. Perth in Scotland that is, not Perth in Australia.

Also with Bailiol was the heir of the deposed Earl of Buchan, Henry Beaumont. Having helped themselves to weapons from a burgled Scottish armoury, they too proceeded to Perth where they faced off against the much larger Scottish force. Bad enough that it was - by some estimates - more than thirty times their size (though more likely ten, still a huge disparity), but that was only Mar’s lot. The lads commanded by the Earl of March (note that “ch” - not the same guy!) were already on their way, no doubt had they mobile phones they would have been texting Mar to “save sum 4 us!” So Bailiol and Beaumont knew they were in a pretty hopeless cause. The hoped-for Scottish support had not materialised, and here they were, standing against an army far larger than they had expected.

The Scots were so confident that they began to dance and get drunk, even before battle had been joined, but the English snuck into their camp that night and did for them. Sadly for Bailiol and his men, it was just a minor camp they had attacked, and when they saw in the morning that the main force of Mar’s army was still ready to engage them, they were, not to put too fine a point on it, more than a little upset. However it was, as it seems to have been down through history more often than not, disagreements among their commanders which undone the Scots.

Robert Bruce - another one; this one a bastard son of the dead king - saw the English crossing the river and immediately accused Mar of being in league with them. He had no doubt been aware of the overtures Bailiol had made to the earl with a view to joining him, and although Mar had declined the English commander’s kind invitation, Bruce was up in arms about it. Mar, for his part, told Bruce that far from being a traitor, he would prove how loyal he was by being the first to strike a blow against the enemy. Two can play at that game, thought Bruce, and, not to be outdone, charged his own schilltron at the English.

It was something of a mistake.

You see, what somebody should have told the young bastard is that if you ride too fast for everyone else to keep up with you, well, everyone can’t keep up with you. Consequently, his rather rash charge led to him leaving a lot of his men behind in the Scottish dust, which levelled the playing field a little between him and the English. However the Scots seem to have scorned wearing helmets, or at least visors, which was not a good idea when you’re facing a bunch of archers! Exposing their flank to the English as they charged, Bruce’s men, blinded by the arrows, began to veer closer together. Mar, of course, was not so hasty.

Um.

Well actually he did the same thing, coming up behind Bruce’s men and actually crashing into them in his haste. The English must have been rolling on the floor laughing, seven hundred years before the internet. The Scots, who had vastly outnumbered them at the outset, were doing their work for them! This extract from Wiki explains it all: The struggle continued from a little past dawn until after noon. In the centre of the Scottish mass the result was literally suffocating; men were pressed too tightly together to be able to breathe and any who lost their footing were trampled to death. Contemporary accounts speak of more than a thousand Scots being smothered without coming into contact with the English. One claimed that "more were slain by the Scots themselves than by the English. For ... every one fallen there fell a second, and then a third fell, and those who were behind pressing forward and hastening to the fight, the whole army became a heap of the slain."

But an Englishman does not stand idly by and watch the enemy destroy himself, so in they waded, adding to the confusion, and it’s said they had to climb over heaps of dead Scots to get at the living ones. By evening it was all over. Bruce and Mar had both fallen, and the hugely superior army had been routed and had fled, leaving Bailiol and Beaumont to take Perth and fortify it as their base. Never in the field of human conflict had so few triumphed over so many with such hilarious results, maybe.

Despite having far fewer men, the English are reported to have lost less than a hundred while the number of deaths on the Scottish side vary in different accounts from two or three thousand to fifteen, though it can probably be accepted that that last one is an exaggeration. Nonetheless, the only surviving high-ranking Scot was the Earl of Fife, who was captured and changed his tune (sorry), going over to the English side. Guess he realised which side his haggis was buttered on. Sorry again.

Late for battle, the Earl of March turned up a week later, but by then the city of Perth was under Bailiol’s control and impregnable. Edward Bailiol was crowned King of Scotland on September 24 1332, but he would not have time to get comfortable on the throne, deposed by David II six months later. For the next four years he could arguably be called the yo-yo king, as he was on and off the throne more times than a man with chronic diarrhea. Edward III would finally take a personal hand in trying to subdue Scotland, and the second war for the country’s freedom would go on for another twenty-five years.

To some degree, what Bailiol had hoped for did come to pass, though kind of in retrospect, as with the defeat and death of Bruce and the Earl of Mar, many Scottish nobles did in fact swear their loyalty to him, as the new crowned king. Among these were Archibold Douglas, half-brother to the famous Black Douglas who had kept the high ground at Stanhope Park against Mortimer, and who was now Guardian of Scotland. Feeling he could let his guard down, now that this powerful former enemy was on his side, and perhaps rather foolishly, the new king dismissed most of his men, sent letters to Edward III proclaiming his subservience to him and Scotland’s to England (makes you wonder why they wanted an independent country in the first place if all they were going to do was stick their tongues down the back of Edward’s breeches, but however), promising to support him in his future wars.

Soon after, Douglas attacked. In concert with the Earl of Moray, Simon Fraser and, um, Robert II - who was King David’s nephew and next in line to the throne they took him so completely by surprise that the greater part of his men were wiped out and, in another slice of what I’m going to be calling hilarious history, Edward had to escape through a hole in the wall and ride to Carlisle buck naked! His brother Henry was killed, and so ended the Bailiol line of succession in Scotland, not that that would stop Edward making frequent visits to try on the crown a few times more.

Invasion! V - The Return of the return of the kings: Edward, Edward and the Siege of Berwick

Long seen as the gateway to and from Scotland, Berwick had undergone major fortifications since it had been sacked in 1296, and was now in good shape to withstand a long siege, which was just as well, as that’s exactly what happened. Crossing over the border with Bailiol and other disgruntled Scottish nobles, Edward marched to cut Berwick off by land, as his navy had already done by sea. With him he brought people to build siege engines, and operated a scorched-earth policy to ensure that even if the siege were broken temporarily, no food would be available to the defenders. In his army was a man who had defended Berwick against the English, been captured and agreed to work for them; his knowledge of the castle and the town proved invaluable.

Catapults and trebuchets were used to great effect, and historians believe that Berwick had the dubious honour of being the first British town to be shelled by cannon fire. Hilarious history rears its humorous head again, as we learn that the defenders, hoping to burn the ships in the harbour blockading them, set alight driftwood soaked in tar, but instead managed to burn down most of the town! Oops!

The siege began at the start of May, by June the defenders had requested a temporary truce which, under perhaps the odd rules of chivalry, was granted, on the condition that Berwick had one month in which to be relieved, and if not they agreed to surrender. I suppose everyone needed a well-earned break. Meanwhile Douglas tried diversionary tactics, striking into England and taking the town of Tweedmouth, declaring to Edward III that if he did not withdraw his forces from Berwick he, Douglas, would devastate England. “Oh yeah?” the king probably didn’t reply, though he literally could have, “You and what army?” To which of course Douglas would have said “This one!”

But enough humour; war is a serious thing, and this siege was about to get even more serious.

In order to ensure the compliance of the Scots in the truce Edward had taken twelve hostages, including Thomas Seton, son of Sir Alexander, Governor of Berwick. When the Scots claimed they did not have to surrender, even though the named date had now passed, as Douglas was relieving them (though not exactly charging at Edward’s forces, it must be said) the king snapped back that no, that wasn’t how it was at all. Relief had to come from Scotland, from that side of the border, and Douglas had marched from England, so no deal. To reinforce his point, he had a gallows set up outside the gates of the town and hanged Thomas, promising that he would hang two more hostages every day until Berwick surrendered.

New and more specific terms for a potential surrender - with attendant promises of safe conduct for the defenders - were hammered out between the two parties, the defence of the town and the governorship having now passed to Sir William Keith. This time, however, only a four-day window was allowed.

I find it odd, I must say, when I read that the Scottish army under Douglas outnumbered the English by two-to-one that he didn’t attack them directly. Instead, he marched to Bamburgh, where the queen was staying, and laid siege to it, hoping to goad Edward into abandoning his position to save his damsel in distress. Not going to happen though. “She’s a big girl, and can take care of herself,” thought the king, and stayed where he was. Unable to take the town by force, Douglas realised he could no longer avoid battle (why was he trying to?) and headed off to meet Edward’s forces.
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Old 06-11-2021, 06:59 PM   #95 (permalink)
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The Battle of Halidon Hill

One thing Scots did not apparently like was not being able to choose the battleground; it seems in most of the battles in which they were defeated the enemy had either forced or tricked them there, or had the advantage when they arrived. There was also the time issue. Whereas before, if conditions were not favourable the Scottish could often postpone or delay battle (witness the shouting and drinking at Stanhope Park) but here there was the town of Berwick to consider. Keith’s new treaty with the king specified that the town would be surrendered if relief did not arrive by July 19, and this was… July 19. So basically D-Day. No delaying, no talking or negotiating, no trickery or retreating or regrouping. It was put up or shut up.

Coming down one slope, across marshy ground and then climbing up Halidon Hill, Douglas’s forces were again beset by those pesky arrows, and blindness and panic was the order of the day. Apparently they had still to learn about helmets or visors. All that awaited those who did not fall down or off the mountain was a cohort of spear wielders, and the Scots were broken and defeated quickly, Douglas falling on the field. All survivors were executed on the orders of Edward III, including those taken prisoner. The king was no longer a boy, and he wasn’t fucking around with these rebels!

Believing his work done here, Edward headed back to London while Bailiol was crowned for the second time, though that wouldn’t last long. Granting back all the lands Bruce had taken from the disinherited lords, he opened new wounds and ensured that conflict against his rule would rage across Scotland for years.

With friends like these… Wolves in the throne room: Edward Bailiol is deposed for the second time

It would seem that, in common with much of humanity, when there was no common enemy to fight the Scots fell to bickering and quarrelling among themselves, and it wasn’t long before the new/restored King Edward was facing opposing factions within his own power structure. Much of this centred on three nobles, former allies of his - Richard Talbot, husband to one of the deposed Comyns, Henry de Beaumont, heir to the territory of Buchan, and the unfortunately-named David III Strathbogie, another of the Comyn line. Sounds like a supersonic jet fighter with a bad cold. Anyhow, these three took exception to a decision their king made vis a vis some land that rightfully belonged to the nieces of Alexander de Mowbray, and they decided to do something about it.

That something was rarely try to talk to the king or send a strongly-worded letter, of course, and so these three went over to the side of David II. It didn’t do them much good, as Bailiol defeated them, but aware that his fragile and tenuous grip on the throne of Scotland was slipping he called for help from his patron, and Edward III duly answered the call, though neither could have been prepared for what happened next.

Just what we need: more Frenchmen! Philip steps in

King of France, Philip VI had given shelter to the deposed King David II, and was prepared to honour the terms laid down by Philip IV when the Scots signed a treaty with him against Edward I. He sent his ambassador, the Bishop of Avalanches, sorry Avranche, to demand an explanation from Edward as to why he was harassing the poor Scots. Edward invited the bishop to go talk to them, and see what a surly lot they were, impossible to negotiate with, and perhaps sample some of that foul-tasting haggis they were all so fond of, and see if he personally did not want to invade and conquer them. The bishop demurred on that point, but did go to talk to Edward Bailiol, encountering the usual factions and jockeying for position and intrigue and backstabbing and disloyalty that must have made him feel right at home, pining for the court of France, or even for the Holy City.

Meanwhile, Edward massed his armies, waiting for the truce the bishop finally worked out to run out, and for him to bugger off back to France, which he did, in July 1335. The Scots, knowing King Edward (the English one) well, had been expecting his attack and mustered their own forces, ready to meet him.

Invasion! VI - The return, this time, of just the one king: Edward strikes back

With his largest army yet assembled - about 13,000 men - and with the help of King Edward Bailiol, the English king had little trouble defeating the Scots and took Perth, where he settled for a time. Back in France, King Philip VI was unimpressed with the news brought back to him by his bishop (it seemed failure was an option) and gathered his own fleet to sail to bonny Scotland and help out the braw wee lads his pre-pre-pre-something-decessor had sworn to in the Treaty of Paris. Before sending the men on their way (about 6,000) he gave Edward III one last chance: if he would allow France and the Pope to arbitrate the independence of Scotland, he would keep his men at home. Edward told him to stick it, do his worst, come at me bro, and Philip came at him.

The Bogie man cometh - the Battle of Culblean

Back in Scotland, with the departure of King Edward, Bailiol’s men set about settling some scores, with David Strathbogie attempting to wipe out all the freeholders who had been awarded land in the time of William Wallace, and who formed the nucleus of the supporters of David II, Robert the Bruce’s son and Bailiol’s rival claimant for the throne. He went a little far though when he attacked the castle of the wife of the Guardian of Scotland, Andrew Murray, who rushed to its defence. Although Murray had about a third as many men as Strathbogie, he also had superior knowledge of the terrain and, one would assume, the safety of his lady in question (although accounts seem to note he was more interested in preserving the castle for its strategic importance: charming!), he prevailed and Strathbogie was defeated, killed in battle, as was one of the few remaining Comyns.

Edward, meanwhile, receiving intelligence of the progress of King Philip VI, and fearing that his old enemy would attempt to make Scotland a base from which he could launch an attack on England, set off to secure the town of Aberdeen, the most likely place where the French might land. In terms of invasion forces, this one was much smaller than those Edward had previously mounted, a mere 800 men, but with most of the resistance to his rule eliminated and Edward Bailiol still on the throne, if barely hanging on there, there wasn’t too much in the way of organised opposition for the English king to worry about, and he burned Aberdeen to the ground. It was a wasted effort. Philip’s privateers had already attacked the town of Orford, on the Suffolk Coast, in the south of England, and when he received news of the attack Edward quickly made his way there, abandoning Scotland for now.

Too late to do anything though by the time he got the word, Edward headed back over the border and wintered at Clyde, carrying on his campaign against the Scots there, determined that Philip should have no base in Scotland. He was, in fact, laying plans to invade France in the spring. Back to England he went to lay his plans, while the Scots wreaked more mischief in his absence, putting Edward Bailiol on an even shakier footing than he had occupied before; with no English king to come to his rescue, and his allies rapidly deserting his cause in their droves, to say nothing of the French taking an interest (surely with a view to restoring David to the throne) it couldn’t be long before he was on his way out again.

As is almost always the case in such wars, the ordinary citizen suffered the most, and indeed, at the hands of his own people, as Andrew Murray, in an attempt to smash Bailiol’s power forever, laid waste to all around him, seemingly without a care as to what people were to do to feed themselves, find shelter or live. However in 1338 the people were granted some respite when Murray died, though William Douglas continued the fight.
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Old 06-12-2021, 10:29 AM   #96 (permalink)
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Goliath vs David: The return of yet another king

Aided by the French king, David II returned to Scotland in 1341, having reached the majority age of eighteen, and everything was roses as all the Scots accepted him. Well, not quite. Not even close actually. Almost on his arrival he ran into opposition, and even those who were ready to support him turned out to be just as ready to oppose him if they didn’t get what they wanted. Eager to impose his authority, the young king made a few decisions that didn’t go down too well, and would help Edward III by causing trouble for David without his having to take a hand in things. He had in fact been busy fighting Philip’s forces, and had won a major victory, so major in fact that the French king feared an English invasion, and asked David to instead invade England, to draw Edward’s attention and forces away from him. David duly obliged.

Invasion! VII - Done up like a kipper

Despite all the infighting and doubt within his people, the Scottish king was able to gather together a pretty massive force of 12,000 men and headed south. Delays in preparation though allowed the English time to muster and they were ready for him when he attacked. They met in what would be David’s first battle with the English king, and also turned out to be his first defeat.

The Battle of Neville’s Cross

With the bulk of Edward’s forces fighting in Normandy, Philip VI advised David that he would have an easy time of it, catching the English both unawares and under-manned, calling England at the time a “defencess void”. This would, however, not turn out to be the case. The main problem here was that the English were expecting this; the Scots themselves had said they would break the truce (which none of the three nations honoured in any way and was more or less just words on a page if anything) as soon as France told them to, so it was a matter of when rather than if. Relying on the (faulty) intelligence from the French court, David marched south and was more than surprised when William Douglas almost literally stumbled over the army assembled by the Archbishop of York, in the process losing more than half his men. Reporting to David at the monastery they were in the process of sacking, Douglas gave him the news and David rode to meet the English.

The Archbishop’s force had been swelled by a further 3,000 men from Yorkshire, now numbering about 7,000 in all, and Lord Ralph Neville took command of the whole army. David took the higher ground, as the kings and leaders before him had always done, and relied on his schilltrons, with axemen and even cavalry officers in front of them. His cause was not helped by the sudden and cowardly desertion of two of his commanders, Robert Stewart, the illegitimate son of the Bruce, and the Earl of March, Patrick Dunbar, leaving David’s flank very much exposed and no doubt plunging Scottish morale into the depths of despair.

Perhaps because of terrain not being in their favour, perhaps because the battle had been thrust upon them rather than their being able to prepare for it, or perhaps even due to David’s being, after all, a young man, untested in battle-hardened conditions - and certainly no thanks to the desertion of the two commanders - despite their (originally) superior numbers the Scots were routed, and David himself badly wounded and captured by the English.

Most of the Scottish military hierarchy and nobles were either killed or captured, and the Battle of Neville’s Cross was a serious blot on the new king’s copybook; his first chance to show his people what he could do, and it resulted in what can only be termed a massacre, decimating the Scottish nobility and leading to the imprisonment of their king.

Fail.

Epic fail.

Some noteworthy points before we go on. How true some of this is I don’t know, but accounts say that King David hid after the battle, taking refuge under a bridge, and was only discovered when his reflection was seen in the water flowing under the bridge. He subsequently did at least have enough fight in him to knock the teeth out of one of his captors. During the battle he took arrows in the face, and though removed, parts of them remained and gave him headaches for the rest of his life, as well as, presumably, being a constant reminder of his abject failure as a leader.

Although nobles were traditionally ransomed, Edward wanted to break the Scottish monarchy and so refused to allow many of the more high-profile prisoners be ransomed, keeping them captive instead. Much of this did not go down well with his own people, for if there is one thing that trumps loyalty to the king it is loyalty to the pocket, and take money out of that pocket and you may very well be storing up trouble for yourself. Many lower-value prisoners were executed out of hand, but Edward had a special hatred for the Earl of Menteith, John Graham, who had previously sworn fealty to the English king. Seeing this as treason, Edward had Menteith tried and condemned as a traitor, then drawn, hanged, beheaded and quartered.

The Holy Rood of St. Margaret, originally taken by Edward I and brought to England, later restored to Scotland, was again taken from David and given to Durham Cathedral.

War is over, if you want it - The end of the Second War of Scottish Independence

With the imprisonment of David went the last real hope of Scotland’s achieving independence from England. Edward Bailiol popped up again like a bad penny, but Edward III didn’t really have much time for him, trying instead to convince the captive David to nominate one of his own sons as his heir, which would have solidified England’s hold over Scotland. David himself, at a mere eighteen years old, had no children, but refused constantly to allow this. He must have wished he had stayed in France! Mind you, the French were not doing so well either, as Edward beat them back on their native soil. That’s not really relevant though to the history here, so we won’t be going into that (don’t want to stray too far off the beaten track, and we’ve wandered a long way already).

Perhaps oddly, considering they ran from battle (though probably few survived to tell the tale, and those who did, with their king defeated and a prisoner of the English, probably knew to keep their mouths shut) the Scottish then rallied behind Robert Stewart and Patrick Dunbar, while Edward tried unsuccessfully to get David to see sense and give him Scotland. Not sure why he thought the king would do this, given how hard he and his predecessors had fought to keep their country free of English influence, but he seems to have made a good fist of it, even adding a ransom demand into the bargain, all of which were turned down. David was even allowed leave England to supposedly ratify a treaty whereby Scotland would become a fief, or dependent kingdom, of England, but the parliament decided against it, literally ruling that the freedom of their king was less important than the freedom of the nation, and sent him back with a thanks but no thanks message.

Invasion! VIII - The Final Countdown

While Edward was again away dealing with those pesky French, Stewart and Dunbar, with French support and encouragement, launched another invasion of England, which was again poorly-defended, most of its army having joined their king in the battle against France. They took the town of Berwick, and when Edward heard what had happened he returned to England as soon as he could, invaded Scotland again, retook the castle and kicked the Scots out. He then went on something of a rampage, destroying Edinburgh and burning most of Lothian. But in the end he realised he wasn’t really going to subdue Scotland, and would have to settle for a treaty instead.

The end of the second war of Scottish independence reads to me not so much of triumph but of exhausted acceptance, on both sides. For over seventy years, the two nations had fought, made war, invaded each other, and now, finally, at the end, with victory against the French seeming more in his grasp than ever and Scotland divided with the capture of their king, Edward realised it was time to draw a line under this long conflict. In a treaty which probably satisfied nobody, but did the job, and bringing it all back to where it both started and eventually ended, the Treaty of Berwick was signed in 1357. David was released to go home to Scotland, Edward had now only to fight a war on one front, and Edward Bailiol, the eternal fly in the ointment of the Scottish monarchy, was old and ill, and would die ten years later, childless and mostly forgotten.
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Old 06-12-2021, 04:02 PM   #97 (permalink)
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Got some catching up but whether here or offline I can at least read something worthwhile on this place..sure realise now I am never gonna fit in here....bonsoir adios bye....take care and nice to have met you.....
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Old 06-12-2021, 07:06 PM   #98 (permalink)
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Aw, sorry to see you go Dianne. Feel free to keep reading my journals and keep in touch with me if you wish. Au revoir mademoiselle!
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Old 06-13-2021, 10:18 AM   #99 (permalink)
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So why did we get so distracted with the history of Scotland, you ask? You may remember (or you may not; it’s been some time now as I went through this) that I was trying to show how the Scottish had as much reason to hate the English as we do. They too fought for their independence, but were thwarted by their southern neighbours at every turn. They were occupied, oppressed, in some cases almost ethnically cleansed by successive English kings, but I suppose at least they weren’t persecuted along religious lines in the way we were. Nevertheless, it’s clear now, or it should be, why, given a choice between supporting the people who shared the landmass they were on or those of an entirely separate island to the west, Scotland would always consider Ireland to be allies, comrades in arms, fellows in suffering under the English tyrannical boot.

Which brings us back to here.

Skeletons in the Field: Ireland’s Forgotten Famine 1740 - 1741

When we think of famine in Ireland, when we recall the hardships that forced hundreds of thousands of our forebears to abandon our native country and seek sanctuary in America, when we talk of coffin ships and bodies piling up in the streets and the inhumanity of the English landowners, we do something of a disservice to those who died in the previous famine, which took place almost a century the Great Famine, but was, in many ways, worse.

While there had been, as already related, widespread famine across Europe in the earlier centuries, no single country was hit as hard in the eighteenth century than Ireland. This was due to many factors, some of them to do with nature, but more to do with humanity, or rather, the lack of it. The baser parts of humanity - greed, lack of compassion, inequality, brutality, thoughtlessness and prejudice - all helped contribute to one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in Irish history, though sadly not the last. By the time it was finished, it would have wiped out almost twenty percent of the population of Ireland, almost half a million people, making it even more devastating, in ratio, to the Great Famine of 1845-1852.

The principle cause of the famine was the weather, and a reliance by the Irish upon crops that formed the basis of their diet. Grain and potatoes were the staple of Irish families, sometimes (though not by any means always) supplemented by fish or duck, but usually only in coastal areas where such game could be found. After relatively mild winters over the previous decade something called The Great Frost hit Europe. Nobody knows what caused it exactly, though links have been suggested with volcanic activity. Wherever it came from, it froze the land, freezing over rivers like the Shannon, Liffey and Boyne, and even inside it was freezing, indoor temperatures (though few records survive from the time) stated to be -12 Celsius (10 Fahrenheit) while the single outdoor reading spoke of “thirty-two degrees of frost.” All across Europe lakes, waterfalls, rivers froze, fish died and howling winter winds battered the continent.

People tried to keep warm but it wasn’t easy. There were no coal deliveries for months due to both the coal factories in Cumbria and South Wales freezing, and the quays to which they would have been taken also in the grip of the relentless ice, and when deliveries did resume, perhaps not surprisingly, coal prices had skyrocketed. People desperately salvaged any wood they could find to burn, stripping hedges, ornamental trees and nurseries. Not only that, but had there been any wheat it could not have been milled into bread to feed the hungry populace, as the mill wheels had frozen in place.

To be fair to them and give credit where it’s due, the Protestant landowners did not stand idly by, providing coal and meal to the poor, and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Duke of Devonshire, issued an order prohibiting the export of grain outside of Ireland, other than to England. To be cynical about it, these measures were likely not taken out of the goodness of the gentry’s hearts; they needed these people to work in their factories, mills and fields, and probably feared that too many deaths would impact upon their business, and therefore their pocket. Still, they did a hell of a lot more than their successors would a century later.

Things went from bad to worse as the potato crop failed, all potatoes destroyed by the frost, and this was followed in the spring by a drought, as the expected rain did not make an appearance, and in addition corn and wheat crops failed, leading to the elimination of virtually the entire food supply in Ireland. The harsh drought, coupled with the ferocious winter winds, which continued into the spring, also killed off much cattle, sheep and other animals, and rural dwellers had no recourse but to descend on the cities, begging on the streets and leading, eventually and rather inevitably, to conflict.

The trouble was that, for some reason, the country folk had not considered that their urban counterparts might be just as hungry and helpless as they were. Hungry they were, helpless, not quite. In mid-April a band descended on the docks at Drogheda and damaged a ship loaded with oatmeal which was bound for Scotland. Exports were quickly stopped after that. What didn’t stop was the unrest, anger and indignation at the authorities, with stories going around of food being hoarded, provided to the more well-off. Food riots broke out, first in Dublin and then all over the country. Many people were shot in an attempt to control these outbreaks.

Some respite seemed finally at hand in Autumn, as the cold decreased and cattle began to recover, but they were weak and few gave milk or birth, then in October a huge blizzard hit the country, and the expected rains finally arrived - no longer welcome - leading to large-scale flooding. These were backed up by freezing temperatures which turned the rain to ice and clogged up the rivers, proving a hazard to shipping. With the weather so unpredictable and harsh, those who had food to sell knocked its price way up, or hoarded what they had for fear they might not be able to get any more. Food riots again exploded. The country was on the edge of famine.

From the Caledonian Mercury, 1740

Dublin, Jan. 11. The Frost still continues here very severe. Numbers are in Want, the Hardness of the Season not permitting them to work ; and Letters from all Parts of the Country give most melancholy Accounts of its Effects, the Mills being stopt they cannot get their Corn grinded, and the Poor whose chief Support is Potatoes are in extreme Want, they being mostly spoiled in the Ground. All the Rivers in and about Cork in Ireland are so frozen up, that People frequently walk 3 Miles upon the Ice. There are Tables and Forms on the Liffey, at Dublin., for selling Liquors . It was also intended to roaft an Ox upon it: And the Thermometer was many Degrees of Cold more than ever known.

Poet William Dunkin put it in more flowery, but no less deadly language in 1742, in his poem The Frosty Winter of Ireland, in the Year 1739--1740
:

…Beneath the glassy gulph
Fishes benumb’d, and lazy sea-calves freeze
In crystal coalition with the deep.
…The long resounding waves
Of naval ocean, whitening into foam
Boil from the nether bottom, and uprol
Successive, fluid mountains to the stars.
Not sandy shores at other times expos’d
More shatter’d prows, or billow-broken keels:
But if the waves had haply roll’d to land
Some, warm with vital motion, and a-broach
With oozy brine, they stiffen at the breath
Of Boreas, marrow-piercing, and adhere
In senseless union, to the frozy rocks.


Apart from those dying of cold or pure starvation, there were many deaths due to other associated diseases, such as typhus and dysentery, as related in The Newcastle Courant which reported
…an uncommon Mortality among the poor People by Fevers and Fluxes, owing no doubt in a great Measure to their poor Living, the Price of Corn being risen to an excessive Rate…

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, along with the Chief Justices and the Lord Chancellor, passed legislation to reduce the price of corn, and Archbishop Boulter, one of the aforementioned Chief Justices, used his own money to arrange to feed the poor. Those found to be hoarding private stocks of grain were induced to share it among the hungry poor, and Kathleen Connolly, the widow of the Speaker William Connolly, already having made efforts to feed the poor on her own initiative, provided work for those who had none. Another Chief Justice, Henry Singleton, also put his hand in his pocket to help the needy.

A curate in County Monaghan, Patrick Skelton, described the scene of the famine: "Whole parishes are almost desolate, and the dead have been eaten in the fields by dogs for want of people to bury them. Whole thousands in a barony have perished, some of hunger and others of disorders occasioned by an unnatural, putrid and unwholesome diet."

The weather finally began to turn near the latter half of 1741, and though the harvest was not exactly great, at least there was one. Life began slowly to return to some semblance of normality; the dead could be buried, losses counted and arrangements put in place to ensure something like this, an event which was called “The Year of Slaughter”, or in Irish, bliain an áir, never happened again.

Except, of course, it did.
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