Perhaps ‘forgotten’ is the wrong word. Several historians have, after all, dealt with the period in question in some depth. But there can be little doubt that the war that commenced in 1332 – only three years after the death of King Robert I (‘Robert the Bruce’) in 1329 and the supposed ‘end’ of the First Scottish War of Independence – rests in the shadow of its more illustrious predecessor. In particular, popular awareness and understanding of the events of these years seems somewhat absent.
In part this is because the figures involved in the second war are often eclipsed in the public consciousness by those who rose to prominence during the First War of Independence. There is no William Wallace, no Robert Bruce, and no Edward I. In their place we have the lesser known Andrew Murray of Bothwell, John Randolph, earl of Moray, King David II, and (King) Edward Balliol.
There is also a distinct lack of Scottish battlefield victories. The second war has no Stirling Bridge and no Bannockburn. What it appears to have instead is a succession of major defeats that litter the historical landscape, including those at Dupplin Moor (1332), Halidon Hill (1333) and Neville’s Cross (1346). But it does have smaller-scale victories, such as Culblean (1335) and Nisbet (1355), as well as the successful recapture of English-held castles and towns, and the recommencement of devastating raids into English territory that once again witnessed Northern England communities paying large sums of money to the Scots to be left in peace.
Perhaps most importantly, there is no source from the time that provides the well-crafted narrative of Scottish survival and success against the odds that the first war found in the work of John Barbour’s epic, The Bruce.
But the story of Scotland’s Second War of Independence is one of remarkable Scottish resilience against a revitalised and resurgent English kingdom that deserves greater attention. Led by the young King Edward III, English armies invaded Scotland in 1333, 1334, 1335, 1336, 1337 and 1338. Scottish castles fell rapidly into English hands, and southern Scotland was ceded to England, including the sheriffdoms of Berwick, Roxburgh, Selkirk, Edinburgh, Peebles and Dumfries. That this did not come to pass was a result of dogged resistance and recovery by those fighting for the young Scottish monarch, Robert I’s heir, King David II.
Those loyal to the Bruce king faced other problems, aside from the English. The second war saw not only a resumption of Anglo-Scottish conflict, but also a return to the civil war that had dogged the early years of Robert I’s reign. Civil war recommenced in 1332 when Scotland was invaded by a group of men known collectively as the Disinherited. These were a mix of English and Anglo-Scottish nobles who had lost out during the reign of Robert I and whose lands in Scotland had been granted to others loyal to Bruce’s kinship. The death of the warrior king and the succession of his son as a minor afforded the Disinherited an opportunity to take back their lands. They were headed by another throwback to the previous conflict – Edward Balliol. Son of King John of Scotland (John Balliol), Edward sought the ultimate prize – the Scottish throne itself.
It should also be recognised that some Scots welcomed Balliol’s return to his kingdom, as well as the return of the Disinherited. Not all Scots had been happy with Robert Bruce’s seizure of the throne and with his subsequent grant of various lands to his supporters. Some Scots continued to harbour support for their old lords. Such opposition to the Bruce kingship had largely melted away as a result of Robert I’s success in making his kingship a reality, but it had not disappeared completely. We do not yet know the full extent of pro-Balliol/anti-Bruce feeling in Scotland at this time, but the fact that it existed at all is largely underappreciated. So too is the fact that the overall Wars of Independence were not simply a conflict against England and the English, fought by the united people of Scotland as part of a patriotic cause against the invading outsider.
This reality was problematic for John Barbour and other Bruce propagandists in the fourteenth century, who largely wrote anti-Bruce figures out of the historical record. It is perhaps just as problematic for some Scottish nationalists today. Despite the ‘Yes’ campaign’s attempts to avoid the past and instead focus on the future during the 2014 Independence Referendum, it remains that many nationalists associate the fourteenth-century Anglo-Scottish conflict with their own sense of Scottish identity. The number of nationalists who attend commemorative events relating to Bannockburn, Stirling Bridge, Wallace and Bruce bear witness to this. And given the recent announcement of ‘Indyref2’ it will be interesting to see if appeals to history are more prominent this time around.
But with debates around Scottish identity, Scottish nationalism and, indeed, Scottish history now front and centre once more, it is of vital importance that this conflict does not languish in the shadows. To allow such only ensures that we will continue to misunderstand our own past. Scotland’s history is complex, its medieval history perhaps more so because of its temporal distance from the present day. But to understand medieval Scotland, the Wars of Independence need to be reconsidered, and understood in their entirety. Long after Wallace and Bruce, after Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn, the war between Scotland and England, and between Bruce and Balliol, continued to be fought. And those who fought in those later years deserve some recognition alongside their more famous predecessors.
Dr Iain MacInnes is a lecturer and programme leader in Scottish History at the University of the Highlands and Islands. He has recently published his first monograph on the subject of Scotland’s Second War of Independence, 1332-1357.