My Illlustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History and some Geology


11.12.16
  Kings and Stewarts - The History of Doune Castle, Part 1

We've had a look at the architecture of Doune Castle back in October. This post is going to deal with its history.

The name Doune derives from the Gaelic word dún, fort, but archaeological traces for a fortified structure on the promontory at the conflucence of the Ardoch into the Teith date no further than the 13th century and are now overlaid by the Duke of Albany's castle from the late 14th century. There was a Roman camp on the flat ground north of the castle, though, dating to the time of Agricola (about AD 83-55).

Doune Castle, Gatehouse Tower seen from the outside

To get an image of the time when the Stewarts of Albany rose to political power, we'll have to sort some geneaology again. King Robert I the Bruce had succession problems. His younger brother and heir Edward had died in 1318. His daughter Marjorie (with his first wife Isabella of Mar) had died the year before, but she left behind a son with her husband, Walter Stewart, the High Steward of Scotland, a boy named Robert for his grandfather. Sure, the boy was still in his crib, but at least he was male and closely related to the king, so Robert the Bruce had the parliament enact an entail that named baby Robert as his successor.

But then Robert the Bruce got lucky. In 1324, he produced a son of his own with his second wife, Elisabeth de Burgh. The boy was named David. Baby Robert was nine at the time, maybe old enough according to Mediaeval standards to realise that he just found himself ousted of the top job (1).

Great Hall and Gatehouse Tower

Robert the Bruce died in 1329, leaving behind an underage heir and an underage ex-heir - Robert's father Walter had died in 1327. So we got the usual power struggle of guardians; I'll spare you the details and lots of unfamiliar names.

David was married to Joan of the Tower, daughter of King Edward II and Isabella of France at the tender age of four (1328); the bride was seven. The marriage would last 34 years but remained childless.

The marriage also did not prevent Joan's brother Edward III from supporting Edward Balliol, an old rival of the Bruce clan, in his grasp for the Scottish crown. Edward III won the Battle at Halidon Hill in 1333 and Balliol became king. Robert Stewart, now aged 17, fought in the battle, commanding the centre. The battle was a disaster for the Scots; a number of high ranking nobles fell, among them the regent Archibald Douglas. Robert Stewart managed to escape to Dumarbarton Castle at the west coast. He had been brought up in the Gaelic speaking world around Renfrew and the Clydesdale and there he found allies for his attempt to regain his lands and his position.

Courtyard seen from the Lord's Hall
(through glazed windows, thus I could not avoid some reflections)

David and Joan fled to France where they stayed at Chateau Gaillard. Edward Balliol and the Disinherited, Scottish nobles who had lost their possessions under Robert the Bruce, faced the pro-Bruce magnates from the very beginning of Edward's kingship. Men like Robert Stewart, John Randolph Earl of Moray (both joined regents and often at loggerheads), and the Douglas family managed to build a following of minor nobles and tenants, some even from their former lands which Edward Balliol's followers had taken, and fought a sort of guerilla war. King Edward III of England had his hands full in France an could not lend sufficient support to Balliol. Eventually the supporters of King David prevailed, and king and queen could return to Scotland in summer 1341. David was now 17; old enough to rule by himself.

At that time, the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) was well underway. France and Scotland, both having problems with the supremacy of English kings, were allied in the so-called Auld Alliance. Under its terms King Philippe IV of France asked King David II to to attack the English in the north and create a second front. After King Philippe rather spectacularly lost the Battle of Crécy in August 1346, king David thought there would not be too many defenders in northern England and invaded Yorkshire in October. But he progressed so slowly that an army could rally. David lost the Battle at Neville's Cross near Durham to the English archers and managed to get himself captured. Earl Randoph fell in battle.

Gate tunnel with yett at the farther end

Robert Stewart escaped. The Lanercost Chronicle says he fled a coward, but maybe it was a prudent move - he was the heir of the king, after all, and at this point no one knew where David was (hiding under a bridge, as it turned out). He became regent again.

Edward Balliol saw a second chance, but he never got enough support to defeat the pro-Bruce faction. King Edward III could only give him limited military assistance due to his wars in France. Balliol ceded any claims to the Scottish crown to him in 1356 and Edward III made one last effort to subdue the Scots, the Burnt Candlemas chevauchée in the same year which petered out because of the lack of supplies (2).

King David was held in honourable captivity, was allowed his own household and contacts to Scotland. He also negotiated the conditions for his release. It only took King Edward and David 11 years. *grins* Main points were the restoration of the Disinherited, naming Edward's son John of Gaunt as heir, and the pay of a ransom. Meanwhile in Scotland, Robert Stewart and other magnates were busy playing the usual power games. But in one point they all agreed: No English Heir To The Scottish Throne.

King David was finally released in 1357 upon payment of a huge ransom (3) due in several rates. There was no more talk about naming one of King Edward's sons as heir. David left his unloved wife back in England with her brother. But he had no children with his later wives and mistresses, either.

When King David II returned, he - pretty successfully - tried to curb the power games of the magnates by granting and taking away fiefs and influential positions. He even imprisoned Robert Stewart for several months in 1368 to make it clear who was the king. The last decade of his rule was comparatively peaceful and economically stable despite the ransom that had to be collected anually (4). King David died in Feburary 1371. The Bruce dynasty ended with him.

Guardroom in the gate tunnel

Robert Stewart had used his time as regent to ensure the legitimacy of his children with Elisabeth Mure, among them John, Earl of Carrick (born 1337, the future Robert III); Robert, Earl of Menteith and Fife (born 1340, the future Duke of Albany, who commissioned the building of Doune Castle some time prior to 1381); and Alexander, Lord of Badenoch (born 1343, the future Earl of Buchan). He also married one daughter into the Douglas family, another wed John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles. David (* 1357), the eldest son of his second marriage was created Earl of Strathearn (5). Thus the Stewarts were in some way connected with two thirds of the important earldoms in Scotland.

(left: Gatehouse Tower

Robert Stewart was 55 when he finally became king, with three grown up sons to actively participate in ruling Scotland - not always in accord with their father, or each other (6). While King David II tried to dominate his nobles, Robert II delegated authority to his sons and else played the great families against each other. It worked quite well during the first years of his reign.

One problem were the English enclaves in the ever unruly Border lands (like Berwick. Roxburgh and Jedburgh) and Scots from that area who gave their allegiance to the English king. Officially, Robert condemned the Scottish attacks on English possessions but one can assume that he was not really unhappy about them, especially after the death of King Edward III in 1377, when retaliations were not to be excpected from his successor Richard II who had his hands full at home.

But matters went pear shaped in 1384. An Anglo-French truce that included Scotland under the Auld Alliance was ignored and English castles attacked and taken. John of Gaunt, an uncle of King Richard II led a punitive attack as far as Edinburgh. Robert's eldest son John Earl of Carrick and his ally, the Earl of Douglas, wanted to strike back - against the wishes of the king. Meanwhile in the north, Alexander Earl of Buchan, aptly nicknamed the Wolf of Badenoch, used his position as Justiciar and Lieutenant of the North not to keep order, but to enrich himself an run roughshot over the rights of the minor nobility, and King Robert was unable to curtail his activites. The king's council was not happy about these developments, removed the king's authority and appointed the Earl of Carrick as lieutenant of the kingdom.

It turned out that Carrick could not solve the problems, either. On the English front, the Scots won the battle of Otterburn in August 1388. Harry 'Hotspur' Percy of Northumberland was taken captive, but his most famous enemy, the Earl of Douglas fell. That left Carrick short a most important ally and the pendulum in the council swung back against him. The guardianship of Scotland was given to the king's second son, Robert Stewart Earl of Fife and Menteith.

Robert immediatiely took action; he removed Alexander of Buchan from his position as Jusiticiar in the North and appointed his own son Murdoch of Fife instead. The ailing King Robert II's last major political act was touring the northen part of his realm to reestablish feudal bonds. He died in April 1390.

Gallery in the Lord's Hall

Robert's son John Earl of Carrick became king and changed his name to Robert, which makes him Robert III of Scotland, since John was considered an unlucky name for a king. He was not a young man, either, and suffered from the consequences of a riding accident. So the role of his son, David Duke of Rothesay (* 1378), in governing Scotland was considerable. The other powerful man was the king's brother Robert Stewart, who now took the title of Duke of Albany. Other players in the game were the Douglas earls.

Problems between the de facto mightiest men in Scotland culminated in February 1402. David had allied himself with the deposed Alexander of Buchan and contested the Duke of Albany's influence. When David's lieutenancy expired, Albany - allied with Archibald 4th Earl of Douglas (7) - took David captive and imprisoned him in Falkland Castle where the Duke of Rothesay died a few weeks later, some say of starvation, others of dysentery. Albany was acquitted of any complicity in his nephew's death, which was blamed on 'divine providence', but rumours remain until today (8).

Fun fact aside: Duke of Rothesay and Earl of Carrick are presently among the titles in the collection of HRH The Prince Charles.

A Strife of Stewarts. :-) Painting in the Museum of Bannockburn

Whether or not the Duke of Albany was guilty of murder, or condoning murder, King Robert's younger son James no longer felt safe in Scotland. Plans were made to send him to France, but his cortège was intercepted by Archibald Douglas, and James was forced to hide out on the island of Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. I've seen the place, it is full of shrieking birds and bird poo, and no royal abode. When James finally found a ship bound for France, it was attacked by pirates and James was delivered to the English king Henry IV in March 1406 (9).

King Robert III died a month later. Maybe the fate of his youngest son was the last stroke to bring that ill and unhappy man down.

View from a passage way down to the Duchess' Hall (which is today missing its ceiling)

With King James captive in England, Robert Stewart of Albany became regent. But he kept having problems with other members of the nobility. One particularly troublesome enemy was Donald MacDonald, 2nd Lord of the Isles, with whom Stewart quarreled about the earldom of Ross which he wanted for his second son. That led to the battle of Red Harlaw in July 1411, with heavy losses on both sides, though Donald eventually withdrew. The Stewart forces were led by Alexander Stewart Earl of Mar, an illegitimate son of Alexander of Buchan.

(left: Kitchen Tower)

James met with another Scottish prisoner in England, a man I suppose he'd rather not have met: Murdoch Stewart of Fife, son of the Duke of Albany.

Murdoch (* 1362) had been appointed Justiciar of the North in 1389 and worked together with his father. In 1402, another of those border feuds with England erupted, and the Scots sent an army under Murdoch Stewart and Archibald Douglas down into Northumbria. It didn't end well. The Scots lost the battle of Homildon Hill near Newcastle; both Douglas and Murdoch Stewart were taken captive. The latter was sent directly to King Henry IV of England whilst Douglas remained with his favourite enemy, Harry Hotspur Percy until July 1403 when Hotspur lost the battle of Shrewsbury (10).

Robert Stewart was lucky that King Henry had his hands full with both internal and Welsh problems and left Scotland alone, else the king may have used the loss of several miliary leaders to invade the country. Murdoch returned after 12 years of captivity in England. James would have to wait longer, and he was royally pissed that there was ransom money to be had for Murdoch Stewart but not for him.

Robert Stewart Duke of Albany died, aged 80, in 1420. His obituary by Walter Bower, abbot of Inchcolm, describes him a kind and generous man, brave and prudent, an 'ornament of nearly all the virtues'. That is probably rather exaggerated, but it does serve as a counterpoint to the chronicles and research books that paint him solely as a power greedy monster and murderer. Robert Stewart could well have been both, greedy for power and generous, sometimes kind and sometimes cruel.

His edest son Murdoch took over the regency. Meanwhile, James was still languishing in England. Sure, his captivity did not involve dungeons and oubliettes, and he received a knightly education, but he nevertheless was a prisoner and wondered why the regent did not work harder on getting him out of this mess. One thing we know, when he finally did return to Scotland in spring 1224, he went after his Albany Stewart relations with a vengeance.

Henry IV had died in 1413. James got along rather well with his successor Henry V (11), even accompagnied him in a war to France (so much for the Auld Alliance). He married Joanna Beaufort, daughter of the Earl of Somerset and a niece of King Henry V - the match was one of the conditions for his return to Scotland, but it seems to have been a love match as well; James had it bad enough to write love poetry.

The Scottish nobles must have had mixed feelings about the return of their estranged king with his English wife and English habits, not to mention paying taxes to cover the ransom - again. His reign would see troubles and revolt, but the start was off with a flourish.

Stirling Castle, one of the main seats of the Stewart Kings

Murdoch Stewart and his sons Walter and Alexander - whom James had knighted upon his coronation - were arrested in autumn 1424, after Murdoch's brother John of Earl Buchan and their ally Archibald 4th Earl of Douglas had been killed in France (12). Murdoch's youngest son, James the Fat, escaped to Ireland from where he stirred a rebellion which failed. King James took this as reason to have them tried for treason and executed in Stirling Castle in May 1425. Murdoch's wife Isabella was confined in Tantallon Castle.

Interestingly, among the peers who sat in the jury that condemned the Albany Stewarts were the 5th Earl of Douglas and the Earl of Mar, who some years before had led Duke Robert's forced at Harlaw.

Doune Castle became a royal possession and served as hunting lodge and dower house for the next decades. More about the castle here.

Doune Castle, the curtain walls

Footnotes
1) But he was reinstalled as heir presumptive should David die without issue in 1326. Parliaments tended to be less optimistic than kings.
2) His fleet at Berwick was destroyed by a storm.
3) I've found different numbers in the sources, probaby due to the different coins which were in use then: 100.000 mark silver, or £ 66,666 pound. The ransom was never fully paid anyway.
4) Michael Brown paints a more positive image of David's reign than Tranter. I'm inclined to follow his detailed analysis - though presented in a very abbreviated form in this post - over Tranter's description.
5) There was another son who died early, and a bunch of daughters. Robert had more children from a second marriage to Euphemia of Ross.
6) Unfortunately, Brown's book ends with the death of King David II, so I had to rely on the rather biased Tranter, the short albeit less biased article on the Duke of Albany in the guidebook, and online sources for Robert II, Robert III, and James I. The time is past my main era of interest.
7) Archibald Douglas, great nephew of the Douglas earl who fell at Otterburn, was married to a sister of David of Rothesay.
8) I'm not going to decide for one side of the argument; there are reasons for both. For one, to rise to power the way Robert Stewart of Albany did took a ruthless streak, including political murder. On the other hand, David was not King Robert's only son, and I wonder if Albany would go so far as to kill several nephews to become king, though his ally Archibald Earl of Douglas did attack King Robert's younger son James s few years later, probably trying to prevent him from escaping to France. On the other side, death by dysentery is not impossible considering the hygienic conditions of the time. There could also have been a combination of not exactly starvation, but bad food - which implies lack of care for a prisoner of rank - and subsequent illness that led to David's demise.
9) Another unanswered question is whether someone alerted the pirates of James' whereabouts. The Stewarts had some experience with absentee kings, after all, and Henry IV might well prove a true descendant of Edward III and keep James in England for a long time. Which turned out he did.
10) Archibald Douglas sided with his former enemy against Henry IV - not at least because the king claimed all prisoners, something Harry Percy refused. Percy fell at the battle of Shrewsbury and Douglas ended up prisoner of King Henry. He was released on parole in order to collect his ransom in 1405; it was finally paid as late as 1408..
11) Henry V died in 1422, leaving behind his baby son Henry VI under the regency of his uncles.
12) The Battle of Verneuil. It was an English victory (the English were led by the Duke of Bedford) against the French and their allied Scottish army led by Archibald Earl Douglas and John Stewart Earl of Buchan, who was Douglas' son-in-law).

Literature
Michael Brown: The Wars of Scotland 1214-1371; The New Edinburgh History of Scotland vol. 4, Edinburgh 2004
Doreen Grove: Doune Castle; guidebook by Historic Scotland, Edinburgh 2007
Nigel Tranter: The Story of Scotland, Glasgow 1987
 
Comments:
I was expecting your lovely Christmas decorations picture. Instead, a real gem of a post on a fine Scottish castle. Very impressive! I need to do a tour of Scottish castles. Btw, the Welsh word for fort is Gaer - I expect you knew that.
 
Thank you, Anerje. There are a lot of castles in Scotland; I've seen but a few so far.

But I've posted the Christmas decoration pictures for years now. :-) Actually, I got something new so I might take a few more photos.


 
It won't be Christmas without your beautiful Christmas display - please post!
 
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The Lost Fort is a travel journal and history blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, as well as some geology, illustrated with photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.
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Location: Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)


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