Battle of Dalrigh
The Battle of Dalrigh, also known as the Battle of Dail Righ, Battle of Dalry or Battle of Strathfillan, was fought in the summer of 1306 between the army of King Robert I of Scotland against the Clan MacDougall of Argyll who were allies of Clan Comyn and the English. It took place at the hamlet of Dalrigh (the "King's Field" in the Scottish Gaelic language) near Tyndrum in Perthshire, Scotland (not to be confused with Dalry, Ayrshire). Bruce's army, reeling westwards after defeat by the English on June 23 at the Battle of Methven, was intercepted and all but destroyed, with Bruce himself narrowly escaping capture. The battle took place sometime between July and early August, but the exact date is unknown.
By the late 13th century, the Clan MacDougall had emerged as the most powerful of the descendants of Somerled, a former king of the Hebrides. Alexander MacDougall, the head of the family, was related by marriage to King John I of Scotland and his nephew John Comyn. He attained high office when John was king, being appointed Sheriff of Lorn in February 1293. Alexander managed to extend his power still further at the expense of the MacDonalds of Islay and the Campbells of Loch Awe, whom he defeated in battle sometime in the mid-1290s. The outbreak of the War of Independence in 1296 placed the MacDougalls on the side of the Scottish patriots. This changed in the most dramatic fashion in February 1306, when Robert Bruce killed John Comyn. Soon after Bruce seized the crown, and the MacDougalls and other families with Balliol and Comyn associations became allies of the English.
The King's Field
In June 1306, Robert Bruce and his army were caught unprepared in their night camp on June 23 at the Battle of Methven, west of Perth, by Aymer de Valence, an English general acting for Edward I. What was left of his army retreated westwards, towards the mountains of Argyll. When they reached Strathfillan they found their path blocked at Tyndrum by a large force of Macdougalls, said to have numbered 1000 men, commanded by Alexander's son, John of Lorne, also known as John Bacach-'the Lame.' We do not know Valence's exact location at this time, but it is likely that his army was not far to the east in pursuit of his defeated enemy. Unable to retreat Bruce's little army of 300 to 500 including women, the aged, etc. and a guard of Highland men was forced into battle in disadvantageous circumstances in western Perthshire near the border with Argyll. The exact site of the battle is known in Gaelic as Dail Righ-the King's Field-though it is uncertain if this was the name at the time or added afterwards by the chroniclers. Locals have placed the battle at a number of local place-names (Lasantulich, Dalchaisnie, Inverchaddan and names with Sasunnaich).
The only sources we have for the Battle of Dalrigh are pro-Bruce, and tend at every turn to put a favourable interpretation upon the King's actions. John Barbour has him 'boldly waiting' to engage John in battle, though 'his followers were all too few'. However, Bruce's army had just been defeated and would have needed time to recoup; so it is possible that the Macdougalls took him by surprise. Barbour provides some justification for such an interpretation, providing no description of preparations or dispositions-as he does elsewhere-, just an account of a quick and very close engagement.
Bruce's remaining horses were killed by the Macdougall axemen, who also wounded many of his men, including Sir James Douglas and Gilbert de la Hay. Under considerable pressure Bruce did his best to disengage;
They thereupon withdrew. In this
There was no mark of cowardice.
They kept together; and the king
Was ever busy rescuing
The rearmost of his company.
With skill and valour there wrought he,
And safely all his men withdrew.
He daunted those that would pursue
So none durst leave their cloe array,
For he was never far away.
Bruce was so heavily involved in action with the rearguard that he found himself at one point alone and under attack between a hill and the lochside, a pass so narrow that he could not turn his horse. According to tradition, Bruce was so hard pressed that one of his assailants tore off the studded brooch that fastened his cloak. Known as the "Brooch of Lorn" it was in possession of the Campbells until 1826 when it was turned over to the MacDougall family.
For the king to be placed in such a position, seemingly unsupported, provides some further evidence of the weakness of the royal forces. The enemy was fought off and the army retreated to safety; but not long after it ceased to exist as an organised military force.
After Dalrigh, Bruce, now styled dismissively as 'King Hob' in English propaganda, was little better than a fugitive, closely pursued by his many enemies, both domestic and foreign. For a time his party took refuge in the mountains of Atholl. From here the king sent Queen Elizabeth, his daughter Marjorie Bruce, his sister, Mary, and Isabella MacDuff the Countess of Buchan to the relative safety of Kildrummy Castle, near the River Don in Aberdeenshire. With James Douglas and a few others he then escaped southwards into the territory of his friend Maol Choluim II, Earl of Lennox. From here he was helped to cross over to the Kintyre Peninsula by way of Bute, where he was aided by Aonghus Óg Mac Domhnaill, chief of the Macdonalds and a bitter enemy of the Macdougalls. Bruce was given temporary refuge in Dunaverty Castle, a location far too exposed and dangerous to remain in for long. He fled from here into a very uncertain future, not fully reappearing on the stage of history until the early spring of 1307. The recovery of his cause from this point counts as one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of warfare. Two years after Dalrigh the Macdougalls were destroyed at the Battle of Pass of Brander.
- Way, George and Squire, Romily. (1994). Collins Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia. (Foreword by The Rt Hon. The Earl of Elgin KT, Convenor, The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs). pp. 216 - 217.
- Way, George and Squire, Romily. (1994). Collins Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia. (Foreword by The Rt Hon. The Earl of Elgin KT, Convenor, The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs). pp. 250 - 251.
- Site Record for, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland
- MacDougall, Iain, "The Brooch of Lorn" in "Communications and Replies", The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 3, No. 9 (Oct. 1905), pp. 110–115, Edinburgh University Press
- Barbour, John, The Bruce, trans, A. A. H. Duncan, 1964.
- Bower, Walter, Scoticronicon, ed. D. E. R. Watt, 1987–96.
- Fordun, John of, Chronicles of the Scottish Nation, ed. W. F. Skene, 1872.
- Barrow, G., Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, 1976.
- Barron, E. M., The Scottish Wars of Independence, 1934.
- Traquair, Peter Freedom's Sword p. 139