September 2011 – New information on Wallace and the Guardians

New information on the Guardians’ appointment in 1286 and on Wallace’s rising in 1297

Professor Dauvit Broun, Principal Investigator

In the Feature for August a new Latin chronicle comprising origin-legend, king-list, genealogy and an account of events year-by-year was introduced and attention drawn to its final element, an account of the years 1285 to 1327. It was explained that, although most of its material is also found, sometimes word for word, in larger chronicles (Gesta Annalia and Bower’s Scotichronicon), it nonetheless has some nuggets of information that are not otherwise known. In this Feature we will look at two examples which contribute something new to our understanding of Wallace’s role in the rising in 1297 against English occupation following Edward I’s conquest the previous year, and, first, a new perspective on the government of Scotland following Alexander III’s sudden death in 1286 with only a young granddaughter in Norway as his heir. For the sake of convenience I will refer to the new chronicle as the ‘Schøyen chronicle’, in recognition of the fact that it survives only in a manuscript in the Schøyen collection, Oslo.[1]

The appointment of guardians in 1286

In Gesta Annalia (copied by Bower) we are told that, following the death of Alexander III on 19 March, a parliament was called at Scone, where six guardians were appointed to form the government of the kingdom. These were: two earls (Duncan, earl of Fife, and Alexander Comyn, earl of Buchan and justiciar—although Gesta Annalia and Bower wrongly call him John), two bishops (William Fraser of St Andrews and Robert Wishart of Glasgow), and two barons (James Stewart and John Comyn of Badenoch).[2] As far as Gesta Annalia is concerned, there was also a pleasing symmetry in the fact that three were from north of the Forth (Alexander Comyn, Bishop Fraser and Earl Duncan), and three from south of the Forth (Bishop Wishart, James Stewart and John Comyn). This geographical balance has been accepted as what was intended at the time, with three having special responsibility for north of the Forth, and three for south of the Forth.[3] Documents, however, were issued in the name of all six guardians: the earliest, dated 25 September 1286, concerns ownership of a pasture in Panmure, Angus.[4] It is curious, if only three of them were responsible for north of the Forth, that such a routine document should be issued in the name of them all. The fact that they evidently acted together as a governing council raises a question about their number, especially if English example (which Scots are bound to have been aware of) is considered. When governing councils were established in England in 1258 and 1264, care was taken to ensure that there was an odd number in order to ensure that there would be a majority when a contentious issue arose.[5] The same might be expected, at least when the guardians were initially appointed.

Seven guardians?

A more serious doubt that the guardians were appointed to represent a balance not only geographically but also among bishops, earls and barons, is the account of the parliament at Scone in the Schøyen chronicle. Even though there is a hole in the text where the scribe could not read the manuscript he was copying,[6] the sense is clear enough:

Anno gracie mo cco lxxxovio ad quindenam post Pascha ordinatum est parliamentum apud Sconam ubi congregati sunt tam maiores quam minores [blank] eiusdem vii custodes videlicet episcoporum Sancti Andree Glasguensis Dunkeldensis, Duncanum comitem de Fyfe, Alexandreum comitem de Buchane Johannem Comyn’, Jacobum senescalum Scocie.

‘In the year of Grace 1286, on the fifteenth day after Easter [28 April], a parliament was held at Scone where great men and lesser came together [     ] of it, seven guardians: namely, the bishops of St Andrews, Glasgow, Dunkeld, Duncan earl of Fife, Alexander earl of Buchan, John Comyn, James steward of Scotland.’

This was known to Bower, who referred to the seventh guardian, the bishop of Dunkeld, as an alternative tradition to the one he gave from Gesta Annalia.[7] If the author of Gesta Annalia (i.e., of the section from 1285)[8] saw this passage reproduced in the Schøyen chronicle, however, he chose to ignore it. And yet, there are details that are more accurate than in Gesta Annalia: the date of the parliament (Gesta Annalia gives 2 April, which would not allow the required 40 days notice to have been issued following Alexander III’s death on 19 March),[9] and the correct name (Alexander) for the earl of Buchan. This, and the other indications that the Schøyen chronicle is a credible source (discussed in the Feature for August), mean that its evidence that there was a seventh guardian, the bishop of Dunkeld, needs to be taken seriously.

The bishop of Dunkeld

It is very unfortunate that this bishop (like the two other bishop-guardians mentioned in the chronicle)  is not named. Bower adds a suggestion that the bishop of Dunkeld was only appointed as a replacement for the earl of Fife, who was killed in 1289.[10] But this is merely an attempt to reconcile the statement that the bishop of Dunkeld was a guardian with the idea that there were six of them. The Schøyen chronicle allows us, for the first time, to see the passage from which Bower (or his source) took the information about this ‘extra’ guardian. This makes it clear that, if the bishop of Dunkeld was ever a guardian, it was from the very beginning. And yet, as we have seen, on 25 September a document was issued by all the guardians, and only six were named: the bishop of Dunkeld was not among them.

It is not difficult to make sense of this if we examine what is known about the bishop of Dunkeld at this time. His name was William, and he was confirmed and consecrated on 13 December 1283. His last recorded appearance was on 18 May 1285. His successor, Matthew Crambeth, was confirmed and consecrated on 10 April 1288.[11] William must, therefore, have died sometime after 18 May 1285 and before 10 April 1288—at least a few months, and quite possibly a year or two, before 10 April 1288, if we allow for Matthew Crambeth’s election and the procedure of seeking papal confirmation. All the parts of this jigsaw would fit together, therefore, if it was supposed that seven guardians were appointed at the parliament of 28 April 1286, but that Bishop William of Dunkeld died shortly afterwards, sometime before 25 September 1286.

If Bishop William was guardian only for a short while, it may not be surprising that this was forgotten. The guardians continued as six until 10 September 1289, when Earl Duncan of Fife was assassinated.[12] If there were originally seven, however, then this would mean that we need to reappraise the idea that the guardians were chosen in order to balance north and south of the Forth, and with the intention of having equal numbers of bishops, earls and barons. The idea of a geographical balance, in fact, would seem to be no more than a later interpretation by the author of Gesta Annalia or one of his sources. The evidence, instead, points to a process of selection whose only criterion may have been the importance of the individuals concerned. If so, it would seem that, as far as the greater and lesser men at the parliament at Scone were concerned, it made sense to look to the three most senior bishops for leadership at this very difficult time. The result was a governing council which, by having an odd number of members, would be better able to make decisions.


The rising of William Wallace

Geoffrey Barrow, in the standard account of the first War of Independence, tells us all that we know about William Wallace’s first act of rebellion against Edward I: ‘Some time during May Wallace slew the English sheriff of Lanark, William Hesilrig, and this gave the signal for a general revolt’.[13] This is confirmed in the Schøyen chronicle, where for the first time we are given the exact date: 3 May. But there is also a surprise. The sentence reads:

Anno Domini mo ccico viio Surgunt Scoti videlicet Willelmus Wallace et Ricardus de Lundy subsidium eis congregates et interfecerunt vicecomitem de Lanark die Inuentionis Sancte Crucis

‘In the year of Our Lord 1297, the Scots rose up, namely William Wallace and Richard of Lundie, who had gathered together a band of men,[14] and they killed the sheriff of Lanark on the day of the Finding of the Holy Cross [3 May]’.

It could never have been guessed from other sources that Wallace was not the sole leader in this act. This new information casts his early career in the fight against Edward I in a clearer light. Before we consider this, however, we must ask: who is Richard of Lundie?

Richard of Lundie at Irvine

This is not the only time that Richard of Lundie was prominent in the rising of 1297. When, by the end of June, an English force led by Henry Percy and Robert Clifford reached Irvine, where the most prominent leaders of the rebellion—Robert Bruce (the future king, then earl of Carrick), James Stewart, and Robert Wishart, bishop of Glasgow—were based with a force of knights and infantry, Richard of Lundie was one of them. But not for long. Bruce, Stewart and Wishart decided against a fight, and began to negotiate with the English for terms of surrender. Richard of Lundie and his men, by contrast, came over to the English at once, ‘saving their life and limbs, lands and goods, and [on condition] that they would be pardoned everything [they had done] up to that very day’.[15] Richard of Lundie’s immediate capitulation has always seemed odd, not least because he (unlike the others, but like William Wallace) had never yet done fealty to Edward I.[16] It has been suggested, for example, that Lundie was disgusted with the craven conduct of the leaders at Irvine, and preferred decisive action, one way or another.[17] If, as we now know, Richard of Lundie and his men had the blood of the sheriff of Lanark on their hands, however, the decision by Bruce, Stewart and Wishart not to fight but to sue for peace would have put Lundie in an awkward position. He could either wait for the negotiations to lead to surrender, and risk being left out of the peace if he was identified as the perpetrator of a grave crime against Edward I’s authority, and suffer the consequences, or he could negotiate his own terms while there was still some advantage to the English commanders in accepting him—but, if so, he would have to surrender immediately. He may even have hoped that the blanket pardon which he asked for and was given (conditional on Edward I’s approval) might be deemed to include his part in the killing of the sheriff of Lanark, if that became known to the English.

Richard of Lundie at Stirling Bridge

Be this as it may, his decision to join the English meant that, when the Scots, led by Wallace and Andrew Murray, prepared for battle at Stirling Bridge on 11 September, Richard of Lundie was with the force that John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, Edward I’s lieutenant in Scotland, had finally brought north to extinguish the rebellion which Richard de Lundie himself and Wallace had ignited on 3 May. Not only that: according to the chronicle of Walter of Guisborough, in a passage written not more than a few years after the event, Lundie offered to take a contingent of 500 horse and a small proportion of the infantry to the Drip Ford, where sixty (some manuscripts say forty) could cross the River Forth at the same time.[18] Once they were on the north bank of the river, he said that they could attack the Scots in the rear and so make it safe for the main English force to cross the fateful bridge at Stirling. Had Lundie’s advice been acted upon, it is more than likely that the outcome of the battle would have been different. As is well known, of course, Warenne listened instead to the treasurer, Cressingham’s, insistence that time was money and should not be wasted by such a diversion.

Nothing is heard thereafter of Richard of Lundie in contemporary sources.[19] An English song about the battle blamed the defeat on his treachery and the treachery of the earl of Lennox.[20] Did he swap sides again once he saw the way the battle was going? Do we hear no more of him because he fell in action? Whatever the answer to these questions may be, it is not hard to imagine how his name disappeared from other accounts of Wallace’s killing of the sheriff of Lanark. This would have been natural if, by the time Gesta Annalia and later chronicles were written, his name was unrecognised. Wallace’s name, by contrast, had come to epitomise the rising itself. It is striking that, for an English chronicler writing not long after Wallace became guardian in 1298, it already seemed as if Wallace had been sole leader from the start.[21] A salutary parallel to how Lundie’s role in killing the sheriff of Lanark was forgotten is the way that chroniclers remembered Wallace alone as the leader at the battle of Stirling Bridge—even Guisborough ,writing only a few years afterwards.[22] Were it not for the survival of letters issued in the name of Andrew Murray and William Wallace in the weeks following their victory, Murray’s position as joint leader with Wallace would have been lost to History.[23] The fact that Richard de Lundie’s role as co-leader with Wallace at the beginning of the great revolt was preserved at all in the Schøyen chronicle is a further indication that this text gives us our earliest access to the pool of Scottish chronicle-material that was originally generated during the first War of Independence.

Wallace as leader

Now that we know that William Wallace was not sole leader of the band that killed the sheriff of Lanark on 3 May 1297, a pattern in his early career comes into view. The next major event was his attack on the English justiciar, William Ormsby, at Scone. In this he was joined by William Douglas, who was not only a knight, but lord of Douglas. In the Battle of Stirling Bridge he was joint commander of the Scottish army with Andrew Murray, son and heir of Andrew Murray, a major lord in the north and justiciar (the highest legal officer under the king). Although Wallace led his own band (for example, they were reported as in Selkirk Forest on 23 July),[24] in the three occasions where representatives of English rule—sheriff, justiciar, and then lieutenant—were attacked, he shared the leadership with a knight or lord. Two conclusions can be drawn from this. The first is that he must have been commander of a particularly effective force if other leaders, who were of higher status, were happy to cooperate with him. He led his men as far afield as the Tay in the north and Selkirk in the south, and they played a part in all the main actions of the revolt. This was a remarkable achievement: whereas the other leaders could have called on at least some retainers, Wallace would have had no natural following at all. The second point is that, although William Wallace was the common denominator in the attacks at Lanark and Scone and the battle of Stirling Bridge, it is unlikely that he was seen, or would have seen himself, as the main leader of Scottish resistance to Edward I. We can guess that, at Lanark and Scone, his knightly co-leader would have been the senior partner. We do not need to guess that this was so at Stirling Bridge: it is shown in the documents issued by Wallace and Andrew Murray. Murray’s name comes first, even though he was mortally wounded (or even dead) at the time. It was, of course, the death of Andrew Murray and the astonishing victory at Stirling Bridge that propelled Wallace into the solitary prominence that secured his remarkable place in History. Only a couple of months later the other joint leaders were either dead, imprisoned (Douglas was incarcerated at Berwick in July), or, in the case of Richard of Lundie, last heard of in the English army. When Wallace killed the sheriff of Lanark on 3 May 1297 he would surely have had no idea that he would, within six months, be leading the government of Scotland, a fact that was, in due course, formally recognised by his appointment as sole guardian in the name of the absent King John, an unprecedented position of authority for anyone to have wielded apart from the king himself. In the aftermath of Edward I’s defeat of the Scots at Falkirk on 22 July 1298, we may guess that it would have seemed natural to Wallace as much as anyone else that he should yield the guardianship to Robert Bruce, the future king, and to John Comyn, King John Balliol’s nephew, when, sometime before the end of 1298, they showed that they were together now ready to lead the country.

[1] See August Feature of the Month for details. I am grateful to Martin Schøyen for permission to quote from the manuscript and publish this discussion of the chronicle.

[2] Gesta Annalia, ch. 68, in W. F. Skene (ed.), Johannis de Fordun Chronica Gentis Scotorum (Edinburgh 1871), 310; Felix J. H. Skene (trans.), W. F. Skene (ed.), John of Fordun’s Chronicle of the Scottish Nation (Edinburgh, 1872), 305. Norman F. Shead, Wendy Stevenson & D. E. R. Watt with others (ed.), Scotichronicon by Walter Bower in Latin and English, vol. vi (Aberdeen 1991), 2–3.

[3] G. W. S. Barrow, Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, 4th edn (Edinburgh 2005), 20.

[4] Joseph Stevenson (ed.), Documents Illustrative of the History of Scotland, 2 vols (Edinburgh 1870), i. 25; P. Chalmers and C. N. Innes, Liber S. Thome de Aberbrothoc, 2 vols (Edinburgh 1848–56), i. 332–3 (Cartae Originales, no. 7).

[5] I am grateful to David Carpenter for this point.

[6] Alternatively, a line may have been omitted in the manuscript the scribe of the Schøyen chronicle was working from.

[7] Shead, Stevenson & Watt (ed.), Scotichronicon by Walter Bower, vi. 8–9.

[8] For the diagnosis that Gesta Annalia represents what were originally two chronicles, one up to 1285, the other from 1285, see Dauvit Broun, ‘A new look at Gesta Annalia attributed to John of Fordun’, in B. E. Crawford (ed.), Church, Chronicle and Learning in Medieval and Early Renaissance Scotland (Edinburgh 1999), 9–30.

[9] Gesta Annalia, ch. 81; Skene (ed.), Johannis de Fordun Chronica Gentis Scotorum, 319; Skene (trans.), John of Fordun’s Chronicle of the Scottish Nation, 313.

[10] Shead, Stevenson & Watt (ed.), Scotichronicon by Walter Bower, vi. 8–9.

[11] D. E. R. Watt & A. L. Murray, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae Medii Aevi Ad Annum 1638 (Edinburgh 2003), 125.

[12] Barrow, Robert Bruce, 4th edn, 431 n. 35.

[13] Barrow, Robert Bruce, 4th edn, 107.

[14] Subsidium in a military context typically means an auxiliary force. Maybe the word is used here because the men led by Wallace and Lundie were seen as irregulars.

[15] salvis eis vita et membris, terris et catallis et quod condonarentur omnia usque ad eundem diem: Harry Rothwell (ed.), The Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough, previously edited as the Chronicle of Walter of Hemingford or Hemingburgh. Royal Historical Society Camden Series vol. 89 (London 1957), 298.

[16] Lundie’s lack of fealty to Edward I is stated explicitly in the chronicle of Walter of Guisborough.

[17] Something along these lines is suggested in Barrow, Robert Bruce, 4th edn, 110.

[18] Rothwell (ed.), The Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough, 300–1. For a discussion of the battle and English accounts of it, see Michael Prestwich, ‘The battle of Stirling Bridge: an English perspective’, in Edward J. Cowan (ed.), The Wallace Book (Edinburgh 2007), 64–76.

[19] This is not the impression you get from Blind Hary’s Wallace, where Richard of Lundie remains a prominent supporter of Wallace. I am grateful to George Mair for alerting me to this. It is important to stress, however, that Blind Hary’s Wallace was written as a work of historical fiction in the 1470s, and cannot be treated as a source for the Wars of Independence.

[20] Thomas Wright (ed. & trans.), The Political Songs of England: from the Reign of John to that of Edward II, Camden Society (London 1839), 171.

[21] H. T. Riley (ed.), Chronica Willelmi Rishanger, Rolls Series (London 1865), 383–4. For the dating of this passage, see A. A. M. Duncan, ‘William, son of Alan Wallace. The documents’, in Edward J. Cowan (ed.), The Wallace Book (Edinburgh 2007), 42–63, at 53.

[22] Rothwell (ed.), The Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough, 299–300.

[23] Joseph Stevenson (ed.), Documents Illustrative of Sir William Wallace, Maitland Club (Edinburgh 1841), 159; E. L. G. Stones (ed.), Anglo-Scottish Relations (Oxford 1970), no. 26.

[24] Stevenson (ed.), Documents Illustrative of the History of Scotland, ii. 202 (no. 453).

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10 Responses to September 2011 – New information on Wallace and the Guardians

  1. Jenny says:

    I wish there was a new presentation on the History Channel to set the record straight about William Wallace. Instead Americans use “Braveheart” the movie as history.

  2. Joe says:

    Very interesting stuff, this has truly changed my opinion on Wallace’s role as a military leader.

  3. Daniel says:

    I agree Joe!

  4. Andy S says:

    Was William Wallace real? I thought he was just an imaginary character like Robin Hood! Shows you what i know… afterall History isnt really my speciality. Jenny, Joe or Daniel you seem to know about History, would you enlighten me more?

  5. I recently came across your post and read it. After reading it I felt I should admire your hard work so just wanna say very well written. Good on you.

  6. steveybee2k6 says:

    I personally believe Wallace’s contributions to the struggle for independence have been exaggerated.

  7. KDawg says:

    I agree, Andrew Murray contributed so much more to the wars and recieves no credit for it.

  8. Mel says:

    Wallace’s attempts should not be undermined though, he needed aristocratic backing/co-commander to have legitimacy due to his low social status.

  9. Katie says:

    i love history and i may not be scottish or irish but i love the history facts on william wallace and anything that is about him i wish i lived in scotland or i was scottish because i think william wallace is a hero along with the others that fought with him but i am glad that somethings got cleared up about william wallacec in history yes i like the movie but woulld rather know the facts and see the history instead

  10. Vxfsts says:

    I believe William Wallace was crucial, even if he did need noble backing. He was the most consistent fighter for Scottish Independence who lived longer than Murray etc. It is also impossible to know who out of Murray and Wallace came up with the tactics for Stirling Bridge, or whose idea it was to open up trade with Germany etc.

    Very interesting finds though.

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