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The Battle of Dunbar 1296

Shouts and screams filled the air this cold day. Like wildfire the panic spread through the town, peasants, nobles, merchants all pushed frantically towards the town hall, desperate to find safety. To the South on the crest over-looking the town of Berwick, stood King Edward I of England at the head of his army, an army brought to exact his harsh judgement on the people of Berwick. They were in no hurry, they stared with impunity at the doomed townsfolk who congregated at the center where a hasty defense was being organised. The King turned to address his subjects, resplendent in his magnificent armor.

“For failure to comply with the demands of their King, I sentence this town to doom, and let it be a message to all Scots of my authority and justice. Forwards fellows, burn the town to cinders”

The English Army moved in unison as it descended upon Berwick. Walk turned into jog, jog turned into run and finally, at the outskirts of the town the English let out their great war-cry, piling into the town with merciless power. Houses were plundered, villagers were murdered and slowly, like a plague of impending doom the fires crept ever closer to the town center. Broken and in panic, the few troops garrisoned at the town were slain effortlessly and their screams punctured the air. Men ran out of fear, abandoning weapons, helpless elders or wounded comrades.The town was in rout, the blood of its people running through the streets. Berwick was ablaze, the great column of smoke a signal to all of Scotland that the English were here, to punish them and jeer at their dead. King Edward sat atop his great Destrier, smiling to himself as he watched the sacking of the town. He had stirred the might of Scotland from its slumber, and he punish them all for their disloyalty. He spread his arms out, facing North, as if daring the Scots to come out. They did.

John Le Grant and Robert Le Grant marched with defiance as they headed South. News of the sacking of Berwick and the slaughter of its populace had reached the rest of Scotland within days, and the nobles had responded by summoning their soldiers for battle. Barons and Knights from across the land had come to fight the English, to exact harsh vengeance on those who would desecrate their town and with these Knights and Lords came their esquires, young men eager to win their spurs in the service of their lord. John and Robert were under the service of John Comyn of Badenoch, the famous Baron of the North and the first to respond to Scotland’s call to arms. The Earl of Buchan led the column Southwards, a vast column of mounted Men-at-Arms and Knights moving quickly to meet the English. John stared with awe at this great force, as did esquires all along the column who felt the excitement of the situation. Excitement turned to somber reflection as they passed the smoldering town of Berwick, little more than ruins, ash and lost souls. The hatred of the English fueled the Scottish Army as it drove deeper South, intent on killing and pillaging. They felt invincible as they reached English lands, and with conviction in their hearts, they poured into Northumberland bent on showing English the wrath they had dared incur.

For days, the Scottish Army rampaged through Northumberland, uncontested and unchecked, ravaging the landscape. Pillaging bands of Nobles ran amok throughout the land, relentlessly sacking villages and murdering the people whom dwelt within them.

“English cowards, where is there great army now!” screamed an esquire as Sir John of Badenoch and his men lay waste to yet another village. More men took up this esquires jeer of defiance, roaring and yelling their victorious raid into English lands. To John and Robert le Grant, it seemed that the English had deserted its people, that the souls of Berwick had been avenged and both were as jubilant as the rest as Northumberland burned. Sir John of Badenoch shared the enthusiasm of his men, they had done well, England was made a fool of and Scottish countrymen tread with impunity across their lands. He led his men to the nearby castle of Dunbar where other Earls were reforming and no doubt celebrating their successes. The men and Knights of Badenoch rested well in Dunbar castle, drunk on victory and ale. The rest of the army was spread across Northumberland, their King content on letting them savage the land, confident that the English would not come now.

At the head of 11 000 Knights, the Earl of Surrey marched North to reclaim Dunbar and defeat the Scottish force.

Within days, the Scot’s within Dunbar Castle found themselves besieged by a vastly superior force of English Knights, fresh and gleaming in their armour and surcoats. There was little hope for the garrison at Dunbar to hold off an assault for long and there was a strong likely hood they would all be slaughtered in such an attack. The Earls went out of the Garrison that day to meet with the English commanders, offering to surrender if after 3 days they had not been relieved. The English accepted these terms and at the same time, a messenger was sent to Haddington where most of the Scottish army was regrouping, asking with all haste to relieve the besieged force and turn the English. Filled with enthusiasm and eager for victory, the Scottish army left for Dunbar, yet not at full strength as many were still spread across the land looting. The Earls were content on letting the army rush to Dunbar and its aid, confident that their victorious streak would continue. The mounted Men-at-Arms and Knights rode at the head of the column, eager to close the distance to the English.

On April the 27th, 1296, the Scottish Cavalry came into contact with the English Cavalry. The Scottish cavalry commanded a strong position on High ground to the west of the English position and had the clear advantage in a charge. For the English Knights to meet them, they had to negotiate and cross a gully at the bottom of the slope which caused a deformation of their ranks. The Scottish rashly assumed that the English were leaving the field and were quick to break formation to run down the English Cavalry. The Scottish charge was disorderly, broken and without any real command, much to the dismay of the Garrison at Dunbar who could see the magnitude of their comrades mistake. The English cavalry were not leaving the field, instead they had reformed and advanced in perfect order towards the Scottish cavalry. The English spurred their horses into a charge, maintaining perfect, impenetrable order. The clash between cavalry was short, and sudden. There was a terrible clang as metal collided with metal and the screams of men thrown from their horses, yet there was no ensuing battle. The Scottish charge had smashed into the English and dissipated instantly, their charge lacking the force and cohesion to hit the English. The English counter charge swept the Scottish off their feet, routing them instantly. There was little bloodshed in the engagement, the initial impact alone sealed the fate of the Scottish army. The routed Scot’s fled West into Selkirk Forest with the jeers of the English on their backs. Triumphant cheers roared towards the battlements at Dunbar where the garrisoned force looked on with dismay, it was over.

Dunbar surrendered its garrison and all, including John and Robert le Grant were taken captive and would go on to serve the King in France. As for the Scottish, their war against the English had only just begun.


About Dan Thompson

We all seek comfort in writing and I am no different. I am a student of Archaeology at Durham University, and am fascinated by our past, yet looking forward to our future. I am a firm believer that you can learn a great deal from history that in turn allows you to pave a better future. Some will say, that delving too far into the past is counter-productive to what can be achieved today, but I disagree. Some tell me that I am a futurist, a Transhumanist. Perhaps, I am not sure myself yet, certainly I think that Bio-technology and cybernetics is definitely the future. Debating the moral conflicts that will come into play when that future does arrive is rather interesting. The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers of technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the related study of the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies. This all fascinates me. At the end of the day, I am just a 17 year old with an open mind prone to daydreaming. I will let you be the judge of my personality.


2 thoughts on “The Battle of Dunbar 1296

  1. Can’t wait for the next instalment… good to see this kind of initiative …. may the wind be on your back.

    Posted by balnastraid | October 28, 2011, 9:27 pm
  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    Posted by Gerald | March 30, 2015, 8:52 pm

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