The Capitulation of Irvine

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Since 1286, Edward I, king of England, had involved himself in Scotland’s affairs, claiming to be overland of the country. With the death of Alexander III, king of Scots, and in the absence of a clear heir, Edward chose John Baliol as the new king, thinking to have himself a puppet on the throne. However, after a string of offenses and humiliations, Baliol refused to send troops for the English king’s war against France. This provoked the sack of Berwick in March 1296, the vicious murder of the men, women, and children of the town of Berwick, that is said to have ended only when Edward saw his troops butchering a woman in the very act of giving birth.

By 1297, open revolt was spreading across Scotland. During the winter of 1296-97, Andrew de Moray, the younger, had escaped captivity by the English and begun raising men against them. In May 1297, William Wallace killed the English sheriff in Lanark, gathered like-minded men to join him, and received the blessings of Bishop Wishart, the bishop of Glasgow, in his stand against the English. Around the same time, Edward discovered that William Douglas had defected to the Scottish cause, and sent Robert Bruce, the young Scottish Earl of Carrick, to attack Douglas’s castle. Instead, Bruce joined forces with Douglas and others standing against England.

He soon found himself side by side with several Scottish lords, William Douglas, James the Steward (1), Bishop Wishart, and William Wallace. On July 9, 1297, they gathered on the northern banks of a loch near Irvine, prepared to fight the oncoming English. The English army, led by Henry Percy and Robert Clifford, gathered on the southern banks.

One colourful, but unlikely, version of the Capitulation at Irvine is that the bickering of the Scottish troops became so intolerable to the English that they simply left the field.

A more common story of what happened at Irvine is that the Scottish lords objected to being led by one they considered their social inferior. Infighting broke out among the Scottish ranks, resulting in the Scottish lords capitulating to the English, rather than being led by their inferior. Wallace, unable to fight without the lords, disappeared into the north.

G.W.S. Barrow, in Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland paints a somewhat different picture, reporting that Douglas, as soon as English troops were seen, sent envoys asking if they were authorized to accept surrender. One Richard Lundie was so disgusted with this immediate capitulation that he changed sides then and there and joined the English.

However, Barrow points out that the Scots spun out surrender negotiations for a month, during which, Wallace, unhindered by the English, was busy elsewhere laying more plans and gathering men. The end result was that the nobles once again agreed to swear allegiance to Edward I. You’d think by now Edward would understand that forcing oaths of allegiance from the Scottish nobles was an exercise in futility.

The English had already figured out that you couldn’t assume that Scots would keep oaths taken by force of arms.

As part of the surrender, both Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick, and Sir William Douglas, le Hardi, agreed to turn over their eldest children as hostages for their good behaviour. They agreed to do this.

They didn’t. The Bruce hid his infant daughter, probably with one of his sisters. The Douglas sent his eldest son, James, (later, 'The Good') to France.

Within weeks both the Bruce and the Douglas were in open rebellion once more. A short time later the Douglas was taken prisoner and died from maltreatment in the Tower of London, defying the English to his death.

1.  William Steward was a brother-in-law to William Le Hardi, as was Alexander de Lindsay, who was also present.
2.  The Capitulations of Irvine is housed in the National Archives, Kew Surrey, England.




Sources for this article include:

• Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, G.W.S. Barrow
• Under the Hammer: Edward I and Scotland, 1286-1306. Fiona Watson (1998).
• The History of Irvine: Royal Burgh and New Town. john Strawhorn (1986).

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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024