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Battle of Glascune

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A part of Scottish Military History

Contents

Battle of Glascune (1391 or 1395)

There are variable dates provided for this battle Tytler[1] suggests it occured in 1395 while Angus Mackay[2] suggests it occurred in 1391. The history of the Clan Donnachaidh, who had three "chieftains" at the battle suggests 1394. It certainly occurred after 1390 when Sir David Lindsay, one of the combatants on the field, is known to have jousted, in London, against the English champion, Lord Welles, in a remarkable duel on St. George's Day (April), 1390.

Background

Robert II, King of Scotland was the first Stewart King. Robert's sons, John, Earl of Carrick, had become the foremost Stewart magnate south of the Forth just as Alexander, Earl of Buchan was in the north. These two nobles wielded extraordinary power and were uncontrollable by their father. In 1384 the Earl of Carrick was appointed the king's lieutenant after having influenced the general council to remove Robert II from direct rule. His administration saw a renewal of the conflict with England and, in 1388, the Scots defeated the English at the Battle of Otterburn. However the Scots' commander, James, Earl of Douglas, a powerful ally to the Earl of Carrick was killed. Prior to this event John Stewart had been badly injured by a horse-kick and had lost significant prestige, particularly amongst his Highland supporters. This and the loss of his powerful ally, Douglas, saw a turnaround in support in favour of his younger brother Robert, Earl of Fife, and in December 1388 the council transferred the lieutenancy to Robert, Earl of Fife, who would later be the Duke of Albany. In 1389 he had his son, Murdoch Stewart, appointed as Justiciar North of the Forth, and father and son would now work together to expand their family interest, bringing them into violent confrontation with other members of the nobility such as Donald McDonald, 2nd Lord of the Isles, conflict which would lead them to Harlaw in 1411.

He, John, Earl of Carrick, became King Robert III in Aug 1390 but without authority to rule directly. Anarchy prevailed through much of Scotland.

Friction in the North

Tytler records[3] that the character of Robert III was not essentially different from his father but that the accident which left him lame ensured that he would never gain the full respect of the nobility. Further, as only the second Stewart king; the barons, particularly the other Stewarts, who surrounded his throne had, until very recently, seen his father and himself as equal and were not prepared to surrender their “entitlements”. The Earl of Buchan, Alexander Stewart, (also Earl of Ross by right of his wife) in particular, was ruthless and was judged to be little less than a cruel and ferocious savage, a “species of Celtic Attila”. He went by the common appellation of the "Wolf of Badenoch" is sufficiently characteristic of the “dreadful attributes which composed his character, and who issued from his lair in the north, like the devoted instrument of the divine wrath, to scourge and afflict the nation”. He was noted for running a band of Highland mercenaries that invoked terror and ferocious retribution wherever the Earl commanded. In support of his endeavours he used a number of the Highland clans, particularly Clan Mackay and Clan Donnachaidh.

Even prior to the coronation of Robert III the potential threat to internal peace had come into play. Firstly, in April 1390, John Dunbar, Earl of Moray and his fellow northern landowner Sir David Lindsay of Glenesk (Kincardineshire), both absented themselves from Scotland to attend a tourney in England at the invitation of Richard II of England (Lindsay was a noted jouster). At the same time Bishop Bur, Bishop of Moray, who had conflict with the Earl of Buchan over Buchan's, Euphemia Ross, treatment to his wife, was threatened by Buchan and thus turned to Thomas Dunbar, Sheriff of Inverness and son to the Earl of Moray, for protection. This offered Buchan an opportunity to exact revenge on Bur for his comments on Buchan's estrangement with his wife and Buchan's mistress, an aunt of Angus Mackay. Thus in May and June, 1390, Buchan destroyed the town and abbey at Forres in Moray and then destroyed the cathedral at Elgin. He burned the cathedral, the monastery of the Greyfriars, St Giles parish church and the Hospital of Maison Dieu.

This, too much even for his brothers, brought retribution. It brought together Robert III with Robert Stewart, Earl of Fife and younger brother to Robert III, and the church. Buchan was forced to plead for forgiveness and he lost the Lordship of Urquhart (along Loch Ness) and it allowed the church to support a divorce with his wife which cost him the claim to the Earldom of Ross. Thus the difference in dates. This action, by Alexander Stewart, in 1390 and the consequence through to 1392, allows Tytler to claim it was Duncan Stewart, son to Alexander Stewart that led the raiding force at the battle, or it occurred before and, in which case, Alexander Stewart led the force.

The Battle

The battle was a consequence of a raid by Stewart, and his allies, into the rich Buchan farmlands, near Erroly (Airlie). Predictably there is no real detail regarding the battle Tytler records that in 1395 a natural son, Duncan Stewart, son to Mairead inghean Eachann (daughter to Iye Mackay), his "handfast wife", “whose manners were worthy of his descent, and who, at the head of a wild assemblage of katherans, armed only with the sword and target, broke across the range of hills which divide the counties of Aberdeen and Forfar, and began to destroy the country, and murder the inhabitants, with reckless and indiscriminate cruelty”.[4] His force was predominantly clansman of the Mackays under Angus Mackay. It seems possible, as mentioned in a piece by James Robertson for the Scotland Magazine,[5] that it started with a dispute regarding the ownership of the lands of Glenesk, held by Sir David Lindsay. The story suggests that a Robert, son of Duncan of Atholl, disputed the right of Sir David to sole ownership the lands of Glenesk. Robert’s brother-in-law was the late Sir Alexander Lindsay, David’s father, and their respective wives were co-heiresses to these estates; Robert did not receive his full share, he thought. He appeals to Duncan Stewart and Stewart suggests a raid on the lands of Glenesk. Thomas, Patrick and Gibbon were Robert’s younger brothers. Along with Duncan Stewart, they led 300 men, armed with claymores and targets, and attacked without warning – killing, stealing cattle, plundering grain stores. Columns of smoke from burning cottages and barns marked their passing.

As a result Sir Walter Ogilvy, then sheriff of Angus and held much of the lands of Airlie,[6] along with Sir Patrick Gray and Sir David Lindsay of Glenesk, and others of the Mearns, collected their followers, “and although far inferior in numbers, trusting to the temper of their armour, attacked Stewarts men at “Gasklune, near the Water of Isla””.

Glen Isla is the most westerly of the Angus Glens, and the only one that is a through route, between Badenoch and Angus, for a large body of troops. The actual battle site of Glasclune is lost although Scott[7] notes that “they [the Highlanders under Stewart] were engaged in plundering the county of Angus..... [and that Ogilvy] trusting to the superiority of arms and discipline, the knights rushed on the invaders, at Gasclune, in the Stormont” which would seem to place it south of Blairgowrie and west of Coupar Angus, near the junction of the Isla with the Tay.[8]

Scotts suggests that the whole of Ogilvy's force did not exceed sixty men[9], and Stewart's highlanders, the Mackays and the Robertsons,[10] were above three hundred.

The battle seems to have been short and sharp:

Ogilvy, his brother, and many of his kindred, were overpowered and slain. Lindsay, armed at all points, made great slaughter among the naked Catterans; but, as he pinned one of them to the earth with his lance, the dying mountaineer writhed upwards and, collecting his force, fetched a blow with his broad-sword which cut through the knight's stirrup-leather and steel-boot and nearly severed his leg. The Highlander expired, and Lindsay was with difficulty borne out of the field by his followers.

It was Sir Walter Ogilvy of Auchterhouse[11] that was the sheriff killed at the battle and Sir Walter Ogilvy of Lichtoun, who was his “uterine” brother, that died with him. The same source states it to have been the battle of Glenbrierachan or Glasklune in 1392. Glenbrierachan was a Stewart holding so could account for the destination.

A similar account is held under “Disturbances in Sutherland”[12] where it is given that it was Alexander Stewart, later Earl of Mar, quoting Wynton “a desperate conflict took place, which was of short duration. The caterans fought with determined bravery, and soon overpowered their assailants. The sheriff, his brother, Wat of Lichtoune, (William) Young of Ouchterlony, the lairds of Cairncross, Forfar, and Guthry, and 60 of their followers, were slain. Sir Patrick Gray and Sir David Lindsay were severely wounded, and escaped with difficulty”. The story is the same and it is possible that both Duncan and Alexander (although he would have been young at the time) Stewart were there. It seems improbable that Alexander Stewart was at this battle. Although Stewart's men escaped the field Duncan and a number of his men were captured, brought before Sir James Crawford, the Justiciary of Scotland, and executed, Alexander would not have escaped this justice.

The Book of Mackay suggest that amongst the highlanders that fought that day were John Mathyson, Morgownde Roryson and Michael Mathowson with their followers. These were the families of the Mathiesons of Sutherland and the Morgans (Clan Morgan/Mackay) of Strathnaver.

Footnotes

  1. History of Scotland; Tytler, vol 1 page 345
  2. #S-1 Angus Mackay; page 52
  3. History of Scotland; Tytler, vol 1 page 344.
  4. History of Scotland; Tytler, vol 1 page 345.
  5. http://www.scotlandmag.com/magazine/issue33/12007927.html
  6. Not so, his lands were around Auchterhouse, Airlie and Craigs of Glen Isla being held by Ogston of that Ilk.
  7. Minstrelsy of the Scottish border (3rd ed); Sir Walter Scott, Notes on the Battle of Otterburn, No. 74. See: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12742/12742-h/12742-h.htm
  8. An old map (Pont, Timothy, 1560?-1614?; Strathardle; Glenshee and Glenericht abt 1590; see: http://maps.nls.uk/detail.cfm?id=290 ) shows a “Glashclun” to the west of Coupar Angus and on the River Isla.
  9. But this seems unlikely as other commentaries suggest Ogilvy lost around 70 men at the battle.
  10. Clan Donnachaidh had three of their chieftains at the battle; Thomas, Patrick and Gibbon.
  11. The Scots Peerage; Balfour Paul; Vol 1, page 108.
  12. See: http://www.electricscotland.com/history/genhist/hist27.html. The same source, based on Sir Robert Gordon's work, discusses a Nicholas as Earl of Sutherland but no Nicolas existed as Earl casting doubt on the other material.

Sources

  • Source S-1Angus Mackay. The book of Mackay. Vol. I. Edinburgh: Norman Macleod, 1906. Open Library


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Surely the battle of Glasclune was fought in late 1391 or early 1392, the latter being most probable as the law process of Medieval Scotland was swift. It would have taken only a few weeks to identify the participants and thus by 25 March 1392 at Perth King Robert III was able to issue a proclamation under the Great Seal naming the Highland caterans and those whom Sir Walter Ogilvy sheriff of Angus had led to repel the raiders. See the translation of the proclamation in the biography of Sir Walter Ogilvy of Auchterhouse Ogilvy-10
posted by Jack Blair
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