Battle of Loudoun Hill
Ayrshire and Arran The 10th of May 1307 AD
Edward I ’s grip on Scotland tightened with emphatic victories at Berwick , Falkirk , and Dunbar . He had brought the Scots to heel – earning the name, ‘Hammer of The Scots’. For Scotland, defeat was a wearying pattern. Yet as subjugation loomed, there would be an invigorating rebellion afoot. One which flourished in Balliol’s absence: for placed in papal custody, Balliol could become a cause – his shambolic rule could not have roused such panoramic support from his countrymen. A new sense of patriotism was taking hold; no matter how many Scots would swear fealty to the English king, individuals like Andrew de Moray and William Wallace were taking up arms.
Victory at Stirling Bridge emboldened this insurgency. Wallace and de Moray routed a vast English army under the Earl Of Surrey’s command. Dunbar was avenged. Scotland had hope but was still without a king. Wallace died fighting to restore Balliol to the throne, but his gruesome execution paved the way for a new leader, a new age of resistance.
The re-emergence of Robert The Bruce ignited those internecine squabbles that had left Scottish politics turbid and spoiled in the years following King Alexander III’s death. A man once vying for the throne with Balliol, Bruce could sense an opportunity. He had previously recognised Edward I as his feudal overlord, but rather than a surrendering of his patriotism, this owed more to pragmatism. It smacked of Bruce biding his time. The end of Wallace left the Scottish resistance in need of coherent leadership. Robert Bruce’s chicanery made him a worthy adversary of Edward I’s.
In an act which saw him excommunicated and hostilities with the Balliol-supporting Comyns, he murdered John ‘The Red’ Comyn, in Greyfriar’s church, Dumfries . For many, Bruce had gone too far. Declaring himself king in March 1306, it was time to engage Edward I’s army. The English moved north in great number. The early exchanges saw the new king defeated by Edward I. In the Battle of Methven, Bruce’s troops were routed, and under the command of Aymer de Valance the English advanced. Bruce went into hiding.
Part of folklore, Bruce is said to have taken refuge in a cave on Rathlin Island, wherein he watched a spider try fruitlessly to bridge a gap with its web. Again the spider tried, and through its persistence, it triumphed. Inspired by the spider, he would run the gauntlet of his many enemies and return home to Ayrshire.
Whether the story of Bruce and the spider is true or not is irrelevant; he had learned his lessons from the defeat at Methven, and the English would be tackled on his terms. Taking cues from Wallace in the art of guerilla warfare, Bruce used local knowledge to his advantage. Scorched earth policies would make the marauding English armies weak, and by the volcanic plug of Loudoun Hill in Ayrshire, he would defeat Aymer de Valance. Like Wallace’s victory at Stirling , Bruce would corral the English through a narrow gap between trenches. The only approach would be from across heavy bogland. Burns and his men lay in wait, pikemen puncturing the English stride. Just over a month later and the elderly Edward I died. Loudoun Hill was Bruce’s first major victory over the English. It would not be his last.
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