Battle of the Pass  of Brander

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In August 1308 James Douglas met up with the king for a joint attack on the Macdougalls of Lorn, kinsmen of the Comyns, the climax to Bruce's campaign in the north. Two years before the Macdougalls had intercepted and mauled the royal army at the Battle of Dalry*.

But Alexander Macdougall was too old and sick to take part in the fighting and lay in his castle at Dunstaffnage. So, John Bacach led the MacDougall's and they set a trap for Bruce on the hill above the narrow pass where they awaited the arrival of their opponents in the narrow Pass of Brander, between Ben Cruachan and Loch Awe in Argyllshire.

Alexander Macdougall, too old and sick to take part in the fighting, lay in his castle at Dunstaffnage. John Bacach was left with the task of dealing with the expected onslaught. In the summer of 1308, possibly late August, his army took up position in the narrow Pass of Brander, where the River Awe slices through the southern slope of Ben Cruachan on its way down from Loch Awe. However, only Barbour's poem "The Brus" (late 14th century) places the battle; it does not mention the pass by name but the description fits. The large number of cairns around Bridge of Awe may give some support to the location.

John, who was recovering from an illness, observed his dispositions from a galley on Loch Awe. His men were hidden in the hillside, overlooking the narrow path through the pass. If they looked for a repetition of the Battle of Dalrigh they were to be disappointed, for Bruce had now learned enough of guerrilla warfare to sidestep so simple a trap. A party of loyal Highlanders, commanded by Sir James Douglas, climbed even higher up Ben Cruachan and – completely unobserved – positioned themselves in the enemy's rear. As the Macdougalls attacked they were caught in a vice, with King Robert coming from below and the Black Douglas from above. The men of Argyll wavered and then broke. They were chased westwards across the River Awe all the way back to Dunstaffnage, while John escaped down the Loch in his galley, eventually taking refuge in England, like the earl of Buchan. The Lord of Argyll surrendered and did homage to Robert Bruce, but the following year he joined his son in exile, dying in 1310 in the service of Edward II.

Returning south soon after, Douglas joined with Edward Bruce, the king's brother, in a successful assault on the castle of Rutherglen near Glasgow, going on to a further campaign in Galloway

The campaign of 1307 and 1308 ended the internal threat to the Scottish king. All of his Comyn enemies had been destroyed or exiled and their lands lost. The survivors no longer had a power base in Scotland, and were only able to continue the fight as volunteers in the English army. Nevertheless, a legacy of bitterness remained, eventually to return to Scotland in 1332, under immeasurably different circumstances.

An effigy, commemorating Robert the Bruce and the battle, is in St Conan's Kirk.

* The Battle of Dalrigh, also known as the Battle of Dail Righ, Battle of Dalry, or Battle of Strathfillan, took place in 1306. It was fought between the army of King Robert the Bruce and Clan MacDougall of Argyll. The MacDougalls were allies of Clan Comyn and the English. The battle occurred at the hamlet of Dalrigh (referred to as the “King’s Field” in Scottish Gaelic) near Tyndrum in Perthshire, Scotland. Bruce’s army, which had suffered defeat by the English at the Battle of Methven on June 19, was intercepted and nearly destroyed. Bruce himself narrowly escaped capture. The exact date of the Battle of Dalrigh remains unknown, but it occurred sometime between July and early August


Sources for this article include:

•  Barbour, John, The Bruce
•  Prebble, John The Lion in the North

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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024