Battle of Long Hermiston Moor
Douglas of Edinburgh Castle and Halybarton of Dirleton Castle at the
battle of Long Hermiston Moor in 1406.
Some 25 miles east of
Edinburgh is the small coastal town of North Berwick. Beside the sea
shore sits a ridge known locally as 'Castle Hill' ,which conceals in
it's grassy mound the almost non-existent remains of the little
known North Berwick
castle. The castle was held by three noble families, the
MacDuffs, the Stewarts and the Lauders. The first 13th century
'Castle' was a wooden motte and bailey built by the MacDuffs Thanes
of Fife, who's principal seat was MacDuff 's castle on the Fife
coast. In 1304 King Edward I of England stayed at Macduff's castle
in Fife then held by Michael Wemyss, a MacDuff descendant. By 1306
Michael sided with King Robert the Bruce (1306-1329) resulting in
MacDuff's castle being attacked by the Earl of Pembroke. Which goes
some way to explain the illegal occupation of North Berwick castle
by Pembroke's troops around the same time. By 1312 the local church
pledged support to King Edward II of England (1307-1327), probably
induced by the English presence on 'Castle Hill' .
King Robert the Bruce defeated King Edward II at the
battle of Bannockburn near
Stirling castle. Edward
fled down the coast passed Edinburgh and on towards Dunbar pursued
by James the 'Black' Douglas. The English garrison at North Berwick,
on hearing of their King's flight and the approach of the 'Black '
Douglas, deserted their posts; "they gave up this castle and retired
to the castle of Dunbar",
as Lord Dunbar was still in league with the English and ships could
safely dock here to evacuate Edward and his men to 'South Berwick'
(Berwick on Tweed), which was still in English hands since the
massacre of the entire Scots population in 1296. Because Dunbar was
too strong for Douglas to besiege, he probably slighted North
Berwick, as like the Bruce he had a policy of destroying castles in
the Lowlands to prevent them from being used by the English as
stepping stones for re-invasion.
During the reign of King
Robert II of Scots (1371-1390) the Stewart Earls of Fife held the
Barony of North Berwick with it's 'Castle'. In 1373 North Berwick
was granted a charter as a Royal Burgh since it was the key ferry
port to and from Fife. In the late 14th century a stone tower with
barmkin was raised on the site by the Lauder family, who also
constructed a keep on the Bass Rock island some three miles east of
North Berwick in the Firth of Forth. For some unrecorded reason the
'Castle Hill' appears to have been abandoned in favour of the more
secure Bass Rock castle some time before the 1420's and may have
been used as a quarry by the Lauders, who by 1426 had added 'a
curtain wall and a landing stage' to their Bass castle. Also their
manor house of Tyninghame was reconstructed around this time, so
little remained of the 'Castle' when the site and lands around were
given to the church in 1435. The Lauders were originally Constables
of Tantallon castle, a great
coastal fortress perched on the cliffs east of North Berwick. The
principal seat of the 'Red' Douglas family. However in 1406 the
Lauders came into conflict with their Douglas masters over the
ownership of Tantallon, which may explain the sudden disappearance
of 'Castle Hill'. The background to this conflict is complex.
In 1388 James 2nd Earl of
Douglas was killed at the battle of
Otterburn. His title should then have passed to his young half
brother George the 'Red' Douglas of Tantallon. However the title was
seized by Archibald the 'Grim'
Douglas (an illegitimate son of the 'Black' Douglas). There was
even an attempt to seize Tantallon by the Stewart faction through
the 2nd Earl's brother-in-law Malcom Drummond. But the Lauders with
the young 'Red' Douglas's mother and her kin the Sinclairs of
Herdmanston refused Drummond entry by show of force. They along with
the Lyndsays of Byres also blocked any Stewart claim to Tantallon.
Though the Stewarts held the nearby Barony of North Berwick the
castle of Tantallon was originally built by
William 1st Earl of Douglas
around 1360 and was therefore a Douglas stronghold.
Drummond's failure to become keeper of Tantallon, resulted in him
seeking English help in pursuing his own land claims to the Douglas
estates. However, as he led his English army into Scotland, he was
ambushed by Archibald the 'Grim' 3rd Earl of Douglas. With his
forces destroyed, Drummond is thought to have fled to France as his
body was never recovered from the battlefield. The 'Red' Douglas
then became 1st Earl of Angus,
when his mother resigned her title to give him the status required
to hold Tantallon in his own right. The Stewarts then agreed to his
continued occupation of Tantallon.
These double dealings were
not only confined to the nobility but extended to the Royal Stewart
household. In 1402 Prince David was 'arrested' by his Uncle the Duke
of Albany and his brother-in-law
Archibald 4th Earl of Douglas to keep the peace. But as the
Prince was 'long guarded' at Falkland castle he died of starvation.
Since King Robert III of Scots (1390-1406) was a sick,weak willed
man his brother Albany escaped punishment for this crime and
continued to plot the King's overthrow and the murder of young
Prince James (later King James I of Scots 1406-1437).
February 1406,Sir David Fleming with Robert Lauder and a 'strong
band' of the 'leading men of Lothian' accompanied by Prince James as
a symbol of Royal authority marched on Tantallon castle. It appeared
King Robert or rather his lackeys were re-asserting the Stewart
claim to Tantallon made and abandoned in 1388. As plots were afoot
to kill the Prince, Tantallon was an ideal coastal stronghold to
hide the him until he could be shipped to France. The Sinclairs of
Herdmanston acting as protectors of young
William the 'Red' Douglas 2nd
Earl of Angus refused the Royal party entry. The violent verbal
barrage between the gatekeeper and Fleming exploded into actual
violence which 'shocked' the Royal army into a quick flight to
Robert Lauder's North Berwick castle. Expecting an assault by the
Tantallon garrison the Prince was rowed out to the even safer Bass
Rock castle to await a ship to France. Fleming and the Royal escort
appeared trapped. To the east was Tantallon, to the south
Herdmanston castle and Byres castle both held by garrisons loyal to
the 'Red' Douglas faction. To the west was Dirleton castle held by
the Halyburtons whose loyalties were doubtful. Beyond that lay
Edinburgh castle held by Archibald Douglas's brother
James the 'Gross' Douglas who as an ally of the Duke of Albany
wanted Prince James dead so Albany could become King.
great haste, the Royal army raced passed Dirleton, flying the Royal
banner implying the Prince was present. The army was shadowed by the
Halyburtons and the Sinclairs who had already sent riders to
Edinburgh castle which
drew out the 'Black' Douglas army from there. After a lengthy
pursuit, the Royal force was 'overtaken' at the battle of Long
Hermiston Moor and after 'a terrible fight' routed with their leader
David Fleming killed.
No doubt the rebel army was sent by the
Duke of Albany as Prince James was the only stumbling block to his
goal of seizing the Scots throne. The rebel army marched on 'Castle
Hill' to check the location of the Prince, though there is no
written record of a siege of North Berwick or of the Bass castle as
the rebels were unwilling, or unable, to assault the Bass, which was
said to be a 'fortress'. It may have been the case that the 'Red'
Douglases sacked 'Castle Hill' because the Lauders had betrayed
Later Prince James boarded a ship the 'Maryenknecht',
to France but was intercepted off Flamborough Head by the English
and held captive for 18 years. On hearing of his son's plight,
heartbroken King Robert died. His brother Albany then took control
of the Kingdom as 'Governor'.
Eventually, in 1424 Prince
James, now King James I of Scots, returned to Scotland. In that same
year the 4th Earl of Douglas, ally of the Stewarts of Albany, was
killed in France at the battle of Verneuil. In the confused
aftermath of his death King James moved quickly, sending Robert
Lauder to seize Edinburgh castle from the 'Black' Douglases. Then,
when the time was right, the Duke of Albany was arrested, taken from
his home of Doune castle near Stirling down to Caerlaverock castle
in Dumfries by the new 5th Earl of Douglas, who unlike his
predecessor was in subjection to his King. Albany's son Walter was
taken to the Bass castle by the Lauders, his wife the Duchess of
Albany was imprisoned in Tantallon castle's dungeon by the 'Red'
Douglas and his father-in-law, the Earl of Lennox, was held at
Edinburgh castle, also by the Lauders.
The stage was set for
James's revenge. The Duke of Albany, his son and his father-in-law
were all reunited at Stirling castle, then beheaded. Bizarrely the
three heads were taken first to the Bass castle, then the Lauders
shipped them to Tantallon castle where the 'Red' Douglas in turn
threw the heads into the dungeon beside the Duchess in an effort to
drive her insane. No one knows what pain and grief she must have
experienced as she peered in the half-light to identify the head of
her husband, then her son, then her father in turn. Likely the King
was present to hear her despairing cries. Soon after the 'Red'
Douglas took pity on the Duchess and moved her to a more comfortable
chamber, where at his insistence she signed an acknowledgement to
say what the King had done was just as the Stewarts of Albany were
rebels. This kept the King happy as he moved on to seize Albany
Douglas continued to confine the Duchess within the
bounds of his castle for her own safety, since King James was such a
volatile character and, given his later treatment of the MacDonalds
and the Dunbars, could turn on the Duchess at any time if she were
left unprotected. Ironically the Duchess outlived the King, who was
murdered by rebel Lords at Perth. She then re-asserted herself as
Duchess of Albany, reclaiming most of her stolen lands.
in North Berwick only the name 'Castle Hill' hints at where King
James I as a boy sought sanctuary from the Stewarts of Albany in
1406 which led to such bloody reprisals when he became an adult.
Contributed by: Andrew
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