Battle of Dunbar
As the blood dried on the streets of Berwick , King Edward I rebuilt the town’s defences and plotted the sec-ond phase of his invasion. Berwick’s sacking was a brutal comeuppance for Scotland, whose early alliance with the French was as disastrous as King John Balliol’s reign.
At a time when Scotland needed an iron hand, Balliol’s grip was limp. His country would learn that King Alexander III’s death – and subsequent collapse of Scotland’s line of succession – held Scotland’s freedom hostage to fortune. With Robert Bruce and John Balliol vying for the throne, Scotland was engineering its own downfall, the country was being torn apart.
The Guardians of Scotland may have had their hands forced by the threat of civil war, but referring judgement on the ascension to the Scottish throne to Edward was a grave error: his judgement inferred authority over Bruce and Balliol – they paid homage to the king; Balliol was crowned king at Berwick. Edward had lassoed Scotland’s politics: his influence would grow, Scottish sovereignty would wilt under his shadow.
Scotland, straining at Edward’s leash, defied the king; it would not support his assault on Flanders. Balliol was placed in the wardship of Scottish nobility. In the search for an ally, Scotland signed a treaty with King Philip VI of France, formalising their allegiance, and infuriating Edward. The First War of Scottish Independence would exact England’s revenge.
Three days of slaughter at the battle of Berwick were an emphatic display of Edward’s wrath. The Earl of March’s castle at Dunbar was next.
The battle was another disaster for the Scots. A chaotic Scottish resistance was swiftly quelled. John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, led a cavalry charge that routed the Scots at a canter. Although less bloody than the massacre at Berwick, Edward’s lancing of Dunbar exposed Scotland’s heartland, subjugation was imminent.
Edward wasn’t finished. True, Robert Bruce liberated some of his Ayrshire homeland, but this was a country being dismantled. And with a fugitive king, it was being humiliated. Roxburgh and Edinburgh castles fell. Symbols of Scottish sovereignty were looted; a nation was losing its identity. The Stone of Destiny, upon which Scottish monarchs were crowned, would be taken to Westminster , the crown and the Black Rood of Saint Margaret were seized. The arrest of John Balliol completed the indignity. The puppet king was stripped of his robes by the Bishop of Durham at Montrose . He would be forever known as Toom Tabard, ‘empty coat’.
It was hard to imagine a swing in Scotland’s fortunes. But from the ashes of Edward’s first invasion, there were embers of patriotism that would be harder to extinguish. Captured at Dunbar and taken to Chester , patriot Andrew de Moray would make an escape that ignited an insurgency. He and William Wallace were to carry the fight to the English. Stirling , and the Earl of Surrey would bear witness to Scotland’s new age of rebellion.
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