A Tale of Two Sieges: Women and Warfare during the Scottish Wars of Independence

Beth Reid

The year is 1335 and the second stage of the Scottish Wars of Independence is in full swing.

In northern Scotland, two separate sieges connect two mighty bastions of north eastern power–Kildrummy Castle and Lochindorb Castle. Notably, the defence of both castles were led by two key elite women of fourteenth-century Scotland: Christina Bruce, sister of the late Robert I, aunt to David II, and wife to the Guardian of Scotland; and Catherine de Beaumont, Countess of Atholl, and daughter of one of the last major Gaelic heiresses of Scotland. The Scottish Wars of Independence erupted in c.1297 in reaction to Edward I of England’s attempted subjugation of Scotland, following a Scottish royal succession crisis. This first stage of the wars raged until c.1328 with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton under the reign of Robert I of Scotland. Despite this treaty, war again raised its ugly head by 1332. Edward Balliol, son of the former King of Scots, John Balliol, raised an army with the support of Edward III of England. Much of Balliol’s support was made up of the ‘Disinherited’–the nobility whose Scottish lands and titles were made forfeit for opposing the reign of Robert I. This ‘Disinherited’ host was significant in the outbreak of the second stage of the wars in the wake of Robert’s death, seeking to take back what they believed was rightfully theirs. Despite a poor start—which included the young David II fleeing to France, Balliol being crowned King of Scots, and an English invasion of Scotland—by 1335 the Bruce party were making a comeback led by Andrew Murray, Guardian of Scotland. Murray’s loyalty to the Bruce kings can be connected through his marriage to Robert I’s sister, Christina Bruce. Christina had been a staunch supporter of her brother’s claims to kingship and was no stranger to the horrors of warfare, being held captive in England from c.1306 to c.1314. Her marriage to Murray secured a key ally for the Bruce regime, which continued into the early years of David II’s reign. One of the primary ‘Disinherited’ opponents to the Bruce regime was David Strathbogie, claimant to the earldom of Atholl. Strathbogie had executed an infamously relentless campaign across northeastern Scotland to retake the lands and titles he believed were his. In 1335, he initiated a siege at Kildrummy Castle, the administrative seat of the earldom of Mar. Strathbogie’s motivations for taking Kildrummy were clear: control a centre of northeastern power and expand his influence in the region. Above all, Kildrummy conveniently happened to be under the keepership of Christina Bruce herself. By targeting Kildrummy, Strathbogie was directly attacking the Guardian of Scotland’s wife and a close blood relative to the Bruce crown.
A Tale of Two Sieges: Women and Warfare during the Scottish Wars of Independence
Modern day Kildrummy Castle

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A Tale of Two Sieges: Women and Warfare during the Scottish Wars of Independence
Modern Day Lochindorb Castle

​​Despite Strathbogie’s ruthless treatment of the north east and his persistent ambition, his siege of Kildrummy was ineffective against Christina’s leadership

Experienced in managing the household at Kildrummy, Christina was able to utilise the castle’s resources, natural surroundings, and carefully designed defensive features to resist Strathbogie’s forces until she was finally relieved from siege by Murray, who had rushed north to challenge Strathbogie. Murray and Strathbogie’s forces met at the Battle of Culblean, which ended with the latter’s defeat and death on the 30th November 1335. This was a significant victory for the Bruce party, made possible by Christina’s successful defence of Kildrummy against Strathbogie. In the aftermath of Culblean, Murray pursued Strathbogie’s widow, Catherine de Beaumont, who took refuge in the island stronghold of Lochindorb Castle. As the daughter of an English baron, Catherine’s precarious position in northern Scotland in the wake of her husband’s death could be seen as a foreign English countess fleeing for safety. However, Catherine was certainly no stranger to the politics and geography of northern Scotland due to her heritage from her mother, Alice Comyn, one of the final Comyn claimants to the earldom of Buchan. Catherine would defend Lochindorb for a period of seven months in a similar fashion to Christina Bruce at Kildrummy, utilising the castle’s geographical strengths and defensive system. Scottish chronicle accounts note that Catherine endured the siege with ‘other ladyis’, which again demonstrates the responsibilities undertaken by elite women during warfare. In the end, Murray was forced to abandon his siege of Lochindorb when Edward III of England himself came north to relieve Catherine. Ultimately, Christina and Catherine’s successful defences of their castles demonstrate that female leadership in fourteenth-century warfare was not only heard of, but an expected duty of elite women. Furthermore, these events point to this as a period in which women were regarded as acceptable targets in warfare. As such, their capability to participate in military events should indeed be expected.
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A Tale of Two Sieges: Women and Warfare during the Scottish Wars of Independence

Beth Reid

Beth Reid is an author, historian, and content creator specialising in the history of medieval Scotland and pursuing a mission to make Scottish history more accessible. After completing her undergraduate degree in Scottish history, she went on to achieve a Master of Research in Historical Research, with her research focusing on the lives of elite women in fourteenth-century Scotland. She continues this research in her upcoming book for Pen & Sword, 'Women in the Scottish Wars of Independence'. Beth runs a microblog on Instagram and has written for Hidden Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, The History Corner, and The Historians Magazine.
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