Battle of Inverurie (1308)
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (April 2008)|
|Battle of Inverurie|
|Part of Wars of Scottish Independence|
|Scottish Royal Army||Scottish opponents of Bruce|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Robert Bruce||John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Inverurie, also known as the Battle of Barra, was fought in May 1308 in the north-east of Scotland. Though part of the wider Wars of Scottish Independence it is more properly viewed as an episode in a brief but bitter civil war. The battle was a victory for the Scottish King Robert Bruce over his chief domestic enemy, John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan. It was followed by the Harrying of Buchan, a violent act of destruction, at least equal to, if not greater than, some of the excesses practiced elsewhere by the English. The battlefield is currently under research to be inventoried and protected by Historic Scotland under the Scottish Historical Environment Policy of 2009.
In February 1306, for reasons that are still unclear, Robert Bruce and his supporters murdered John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, also known as the Red Comyn. Comyn was a nephew of the former King John Balliol and had been a leading player in the wars against the English. His death automatically meant that his extensive network of family and associates would regard Bruce as an enemy, his seizure of the Scottish crown notwithstanding. Men, in other words, who had been hitherto in the forefront of the struggle against the English occupation of Scotland were now to see Bruce as the greater enemy. Chief among these was Comyn's cousin and namesake, John Comyn, Earl of Buchan. The alliance against the new Scottish king was so strong that it is almost certain that his cause would have been overwhelmed but for the death in July 1307 of Edward I of England. His son, Edward II, soon preoccupied with political problems at home, left his Scottish allies unsupported at a critical time. Bruce, a masterly soldier as well as a politician, acted quickly, on the assumption that the English were bound to return in strength for the campaigning season in 1308.
One by one King Robert knocked out his domestic enemies, beginning with the Balliol party in Galloway. From the south of the country he punched through the English held central lowlands, making his way by the western route through Argyllshire through the Great Glen towards Inverness and the north-east, towards the territory held by Buchan. He had under his command some 3000 men, at least according to a letter sent by the Earl of Ross to King Edward. It's almost certain that Buchan would have been unable to match such a force, but he was saved from immediate destruction when Bruce was overtaken by an unspecified illness, which kept him out of action for a considerable time. During this period much of his army melted away, leaving him with no more than about 700 men by the spring of 1308.
Although Buchan made some attempt to take advantage of the situation by attacking the king's camp at Slioch, his actions were at best desultory and half-hearted. Unfortunately the only accounts we have of the whole campaign in Aberdeenshire are from sources uniformly hostile to Buchan. In John Barbour's narrative he appears especially dim. It is certainly true that his skills as a soldier were at best second-rate, as he allowed the Bruce party to capture castles one by one virtually unmolested. But it also seems to be true that the forces at his disposal, especially his peasant levies, were unreliable, which explains the rapid collapse of his army in the decisive encounter of the northern war.
The Hill of Barra
During his illness, King Robert was carried from place to place by his supporters. In May 1308, his army made camp at Inverurie near Oldmeldrum. On the 22nd Buchan gathered his forces, ready to attack Bruce the following day. The size of his army is unknown; but he at least had the advantage of surprise. However, when the attack came it was partial and un-coordinated, providing some additional support for the contention that he had little capacity as a commander. His army made camp at Meldrum, to the north-east of the enemy. At dawn on the 23rd David de Brechin made a surprise attack on Bruce's camp. His men galloped over the bridge on the River Ury at Balhalgardy right into the streets of Inverurie. Taken completely unprepared, Bruce's sentries were quickly cut down, those who survived taking refuge in the nearby castle. It was the decisive moment which, if followed through, might have brought victory. But Buchan's main force was still too far away to take advantage of this opportunity. More seriously, Brechin seems to have been the only man ready for action, as the rest the army was at best half-prepared. Bruce, who was still ill, rose from his bed and prepared a counter-attack. As the enemy approached Buchan hastily drew up his forces astride the road to Inverurie, between Barra Hill and the marshes of the Lochter Burn. His unreliable feudal levies were placed to the rear, with the knights and men-at-arms taking up a position to the front. The levies seem to have been given the assurance that Bruce was too ill to take to the field in person; and their shocked reaction when he came into sight-in the fashion of El Cid-explains why Buchan's army collapsed so quickly. John Barbour describes the scene in his rhyming narrative;
The king came on in fine array
With much display his foes stood set
Until the ranks were nerly met.
But when his foemen saw the king
Advancing without lingering,
A little on their reins they drew.
The king by this time right well knew
That in their hearts they were distressed,
And with his banners forward pressed.
Thus they retreated more and more.
And when the small folk with them saw
Their leaders all retreating so,
They quickly turned their backs to go,
And fled and scattered far and wide.
Their lords, that still were side by side,
When they beheld the small folk flee,
And the king advancing steadily,
Themselves became disheartened so
That they, too, turned their backs to go.
A short while stayed they side by side,
And then they scattered far and wide.
Buchan made some attempt to steady the line, but he too soon joined the flight, pursued by Bruce's men as far as Fyvie. The fugitive earl took his flight all the way to England, where he died the same year. The Battle of Inverurie ended active resistance to King Robert in Aberdeenshire. He was not, however prepared to risk leaving a potentially hostile district in his rear, and took drastic action which was to last in living memory for some fifty years beyond the event.
Immediately following the battle, Bruce ordered his men to burn to the ground farms, homes and strongholds associated with the Comyns in the violent and bloody Harrying of Buchan.
- "Inventory battlefields". Historic Scotland. Retrieved 2012-04-12.
- Barbour, John, The Bruce, trans. A. A. Douglas, 1964.
- Bower, Walter, Scotichronicon, ed. D. E. R. Watt, 1987-96.
- Fordun, John of, Chronicles of the Scottish Nation, ed. W. F. Skene, 1872.
- Barrow, G. W. S., Robert Bruce and the Communuity of the Realm of Scotland, 1976.
- Barron, E. M., The Scottish War of Independence, 1934.
- Meldrum, E, Bruce's Buchan Campaign, in Deeside Field, vol. 5, 1966.
- Marren, P, Grampian Battlefields, 1990.