The Second War of Independence

Irvine's role in the initial stages of the Second War of Scottish Independence, 1332-1335


  1. King Edward Balliol in Irvine.

  2. The Battle of Halidon Hill and the Stewarts of Dreghorn and Perceton.

  3. The uprising in the south-west of Scotland.

  4. The 'Great Offensive' of 1335 - King Edward III in Irvine.

The Second War of Scottish Independence (1332–1357) was essentially a conflict between two rival kings and their supporters; David Bruce, son and heir of King Robert the Bruce, and Edward Balliol, eldest son of John Balliol, who ruled as King of Scots prior to Bruce.

David Bruce was just five years old when his father died in 1327 leaving Scotland in the hands of a series of guardian regents. Edward Balliol took advantage of this situation by invading Scotland and claiming the Crown for himself. Balliol performed homage and fealty to King Edward III of England, who attempted to nullify the gains made by Robert the Bruce in his struggle for Scottish independence. Edward III had almost been captured during a Scottish raid in the north-east of England in 1327, an incident which left him, in the words of one chronicler, “wonder sore afraiede”. When the young king heard the Scots had escaped he wept tears of frustration. The Chronicles of England recounts how the king was “wonder sory and ful hertly wepte with his yonge eyne”. This incident, which occurred in the year of his coronation, had a lasting impact on Edward III and the early years of his reign were marked by warfare with Scotland. Edward repudiated the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton which had brought an end to the First War of Independence, describing it as a “shameful peace”. According to historian Ranald Nicholson, Edward III was motivated by “opportunism and revenge” in his war with the Scots.

The Second War of Independence began with the English-backed invasion of Scotland by Edward Balliol. Balliol led a group of nobles, known as 'the Disinherited', whose lands had been confiscated by Bruce after the Battle of Bannockburn. The Chronicle of Lanercost estimates the size of Balliol's army at between 1,000 and 2,500 men. Balliol and his allies defeated the supporters of David Bruce at the Battle of Dupplin Moor, near Perth, on the 11th August 1332. The victorious Balliol was crowned King of Scots at Scone on the 24th of September.

Seal of Edward Balliol, King of Scots.  (image source)  

King Edward Balliol in Irvine

After occupying Perth, the newly crowned Balliol led his army through southern Scotland in order to crush any opposition to his rule and to join up with his supporters in Galloway. The passage of Balliol's army through Cunninghame and Irvine was recorded by the Scottish poet Andrew of Wyntoun in his Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland, composed in the early 15th century:

When Edward the Ballyoll crownyd wes then,

Off Saynt Jhonystown [Perth] the Inglis men

Ordanyd keparis ; and syne thai

Sowthwart held on fast thare way

Till Kwnyngame [Cunninghame], and till Irewyne [Irvine]

Extract from the Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland by Andrew of Wyntoun, edited by David Laing (1872).

Seal of Edward Balliol.  (image source)

Edward Balliol reached Irvine in early October, just days after being crowned King of Scots at Scone. According to the 15th century chronicle of Walter Bower, known as the Scotichronicon, Balliol was joined by “many nobles” at Irvine, including Alexander Bruce, Earl of Carrick, nephew of Robert the Bruce.

The Balliols had long been associated with Irvine, the historic caput or 'capital' of Cunninghame. Edward Balliol's grandfather, John de Balliol, acquired the lands of Cunninghame in 1233 when he married a daughter of Alan, lord of Galloway. In 1260 John Balliol and three other members of the Balliol family were witnesses to an agreement between Godfrey de Ross and the burgesses of Irvine concerning the lands of Armsheugh in the eastern part of Irvine parish. [1]

After stopping at Irvine Edward Balliol and his forces continued south to Annan in Galloway. Balliol's victory was short-lived however. Later in the year, on the 17th of December, Balliol was attacked at Annan by a group of Bruce loyalists led by Sir Archibald Douglas, forcing him to flee to England.

The Battle of Halidon Hill and the Stewarts of Dreghorn and Perceton

Balliol returned to Scotland in March the following year with a large English force and began besieging the strategic town of Berwick. King Edward III arrived two months later to personally conduct the siege.

The brothers, Sir Alan Stewart of Dreghorn and Sir James Stewart of Perceton, were among the force led by the Guardian of Scotland, Sir Archibald Douglas, which aimed to break the siege of Berwick. Alan and James Stewart had both been granted their lands by Robert the Bruce after the Battle of Bannockburn. They were joined by another Ayrshire noble, Alexander Bruce, Earl of Carrick, who had returned to the Bruce side after having been an ally of Edward Balliol.

King Edward stationed his army on a five hundred foot high hill named Halidon two miles north-west of Berwick. The Scottish army which attacked the English at Halidon Hill was divided into three divisions, with Alan and James Stewart fighting in the third division led by Archibald Douglas, according to the Scotorum Historia of Hector Boethius.

The Scots ascending the hill were soon assailed by a barrage of arrows, as recounted by the Lanercost chronicler:

Now the Scots marching in the first division were so grievously wounded in the face and blinded by the host of English archery, just as they had been formerly at Gledenmore [Dupplin moor], that they were helpless, and quickly began to turn away their faces from the arrow flights and to fall.

Those who made it to the summit became hemmed in by the English and, with the rear ranks suffering under a hail of arrows, many lost heart and became disorganised, fleeing back downhill. By the end of the battle thousands of Scots lay dead, with many earls, barons and knights among the slain, including Alexander Bruce of Carrick, Alan Stewart of Dreghorn, James Stewart of Perceton, and their leader Archibald Douglas.

The deaths at Halidon of Alan and James Stewart and Alexander Bruce of Carrick, are recorded in several medieval chronicles, including the Liber Pluscardensis (Book of Pluscarden), the Scotorum Historia of Hector Boethius, who notes the nobility and piety of the Stewart brothers, and by the poet Andrew of Wyntoun in his Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland.

Excerpt from Wyntoun's
Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland.  The last four lines refer to the Stewart brothers, Sir Alan Stewart of Dreghorn, Sir James Stewart of Perceton and Sir John Stewart. Little is known of Sir John Stewart. In The Stewarts of Appin (1880) he is styled Sir John Stewart of Daldon.

In the Annals of Scotland Lord Hailes lists Alan and James Stewart among the “persons of eminent rank” slain at Halidon. Given the nature of the feudal system, there are likely to have been a number of other men from Dreghorn and Perceton, whose names have gone unrecorded by the chroniclers, who also fought and died at Halidon Hill.

After the defeat at Halidon both Robert Stewart, the High Steward of Scotland, and David Bruce were conveyed to the safety of Dumbarton castle. In May 1334 David sought refuge in France where he was to spend the next seven years.

Uprising in the south-west of Scotland

Edward Balliol granted large tracts of land to Edward III stretching from the Solway Firth to the Firth of Forth and paid homage to the English monarch at Newcastle. The annexation of large parts of southern Scotland to the crown of England was one of the reasons for the uprising against Balliol in 1334, which began when Robert Stewart captured the castle of Dunoon. Thereafter resistance broke out in Bute and Ayrshire, before spreading to Galloway and other parts of southern Scotland, forcing Balliol and his English officials to take refuge in Berwick. In Cunninghame, Sir Godfrey Ross, Balliol's sheriff in Ayrshire, was attacked and persuaded to join the Bruce party.

Edward III responded to the uprising by assembling an army of some four to five thousand men at Roxburgh in the Borders. Here he set about rebuilding Roxburgh Castle, which had been dismantled by Robert the Bruce during the First War of Independence, before pillaging and laying waste lands between the Tweed and the Forth, possibly raiding to the west as far as Galloway. According to John Capgrave's Chronicle of England the king's army “distroyed the lond even onto Galowey”.

The Scots petitioned the king of France for help and a truce was brokered which was to last from Easter to Midsummer. Edward III used this time to gather his forces for an even greater invasion of Scotland.

The 'Great Offensive' of 1335 - King Edward III in Irvine

Edward III and Edward Balliol mustered their forces at Newcastle and Carlyle throughout June and the first week of July. The invasion, known as the 'Great Offensive', began on the 11th of July with Edward Balliol marching up the east coast and Edward III advancing along the west coast. The overall strength of the army was over 13,000 men, one of the largest armies ever assembled by Edward III and the biggest to invade Scotland during Edward's fifty year reign.

The invasion forces encountered little resistance with those who lived in the path of the oncoming armies fleeing to the hills with their animals and moveable goods. The medieval Chronicle of Lanercost describes the destruction and looting that occurred:

Each king entered Scotland by a different route ; nor did they find anyone so bold as to resist the force of either of them. Wherefore they freely marched through all the land on this side of the Forth and beyond it, burning, laying waste, and carrying off spoil and booty.

The Scottish historian and philosopher David Hume covered the uprising against Balliol and the subsequent invasion of Scotland in his work The History of England (1778):

...the Scots revolted from Baliol, and returned to their former allegiance under Bruce. Sir Andrew Murray, appointed regent by the party of this latter prince, employed with success his valour and activity in many small but decisive actions against Baliol; and in a short time had almost wholly expelled him the kingdom. Edward was obliged again to assemble an army and to march into Scotland: The Scots, taught by experience, withdrew into their hills and fastnesses: He destroyed the houses and ravaged the estates of those whom he called rebels: But this confirmed them still farther in their obstinate antipathy to England and to Baliol

The devastation inflicted by Edward's forces is also highlighted by Scottish historian David Dalrymple in his work The Annals of Scotland (1779):

Through the mediation of France, some overtures had been made for a treaty with the Scots ; but the English parliament rejected all terms of peace, and Edward again invaded Scotland.  Whilst he cruelly ravaged the country, Balliol and Earl Warenne, on another quarter, prosecuted the war with equal inhumanity.

After passing through the Dalswinton forest in Galloway, the army of Edward III traversed Nithsdale before invading Ayrshire.  On the 15th of July king Edward was in Irvine. The king's presence in Irvine was recorded by the donation of 6s. 8d. to the Carmelite friary where he had stayed.  It is not known how long king Edward stayed at Irvine though it is interesting to note that while it took about four days for the king and his army to travel from the Borders to Irvine they didn't reach Glasgow for at least another eight days. This gap leaves open the possibility that Edward III may have stayed in Irvine for several days.

15th century watercolour of Edward III. (source: Encyclopaedia Britannica)

King Edward's donation to the Carmelite friary of Irvine is recorded in the Wardrobe book of Richard Ferriby, keeper of the Wardrobe to Edward III. This document, which contains the earliest known reference to the Carmelite friary at Irvine, and appears to be the only record of a King of England staying at Irvine, is cited by Cowan and Easson in Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland (second edition, 1976). [2] The Carmelites were a mendicant order of friars relying on donations of alms. King Edward's donation may have been a token gesture, with one historian describing the amount as “a pittance”. [3]

In Edward III and the Scots: The Formative Years of a Military Career, 1327 to 1335 historian Ranald Nicholson gives details of the expanded royal household during the offensive of 1335. This gives an idea of the force which would have accompanied the king at Irvine. The king's retinue of almost a thousand persons comprised 44 knights and 5 standard-bearers, 372 men-at-arms and esquires, 253 mounted archers, including the 162 archers of the king's bodyguard, 60 foot archers, 140 boys and runners, 65 servants or 'valets', 10 fletchers (arrow makers), 9 pavilioners and 7 messengers.  King Edward's retinue may have been larger than the entire population of Irvine.  In The History of Irvine John Strawhorn suggests the population of Irvine probably didn't reach 1,000 until the early 16th century.

Edward III used naval power to blockade the Scots, with a particular focus on blockading Dumbarton castle on the Clyde. English ships were also sent north to supply Edward's land forces in Scotland. There may have been as many as 189 ships with 6,000 mariners serving in the summer campaign of 1335. [4] It would seem likely that Irvine harbour, then located in the vicinity of Seagate, was used in some capacity. The harbour of Ayr is known to have been used during the attacks on Arran and Bute later in the campaign.

(image source)

On the 23rd of July the two armies of Edward III and Edward Balliol joined up at Glasgow, where a council of war was held, before heading north-east and advancing on Perth, as described by James Taylor in his Pictorial History of Scotland (1859):

One part of the English army, led by the king himself, entered Scotland by Carlisle, while another, commanded by Baliol, advanced by Berwick. After ravaging the country with unsparing cruelty, the two divisions united at Glasgow, and marched on the town of Perth. They met with no organized opposition, and the country through which they passed was completely deserted, the inhabitants with their cattle having retired, by order of the regents, to the inaccessible fastnesses among the mountains.

Edward III returned to England in September, travelling from Perth to Edinburgh, where a garrison was established and work begun on rebuilding the castle, before continuing south to Berwick. The death of David of Strathbogie, Balliol's key ally in the north, at the Battle of Culblean on St. Andrew's Day 1335 was a turning point in the war. Although conflict between the Bruce and Balliol factions continued for many years the attention and resources of Edward III were diverted to war with France. In 1337 Edward claimed the Crown of France and in doing so started what became known as the Hundred Years War. The chronicler John of Fordun remarked that in this year “happily for the kingdom of Scotland, was begun a very fearful and savage war between the kings of England and France.”

Detail from Edward III Crossing the Somme (1788) by Benjamin West, showing king Edward and his knights engaging French forces at the River Somme prior to the Battle of Crécy in 1346.  This was one of a series of eight paintings by Benjamin West depicting scenes from the life of Edward III.  For details of the arms and armour and the historical narrative West consulted the works of antiquarians and historians including Francis Grose and David Hume.

1. Muniments of the Royal Burgh of Irvine  xxx, 7  Three years later John Balliol founded Balliol College in Oxford.

2. see also Candy, Christopher A. (2004) The Scottish wars of Edward III, 1327-1338  vii, 101.  In John Strawhorn's History of Irvine - Royal Burgh and New Town (1985) there is a reference to King Edward I reputedly camping at Irvine for eight days in 1300. This is based on a misreading of “Swynam” in Walsingham's Historia Anglicana as “Irvine” by Patrick Tytler in his History of Scotland (1828). There is no mention of Irvine in the Itinerary of King Edward the First, and “Swynam” appears to be a misspelling of Twynham/Twynholm in Galloway where Edward I spent eight days in July/August 1300.

Rowlands, Kenneth W. The friars: A history of the British medieval friars Book Guild, 1999

4. Lee Lambert, Craig. Taking The War To Scotland And France: The Supply And Transportation Of English Armies By Sea, 1320-60  119

Boethius, Scotorum Historia (1575 version), A hypertext critical edition by Dana F. Sutton. The University of California

Brie, Friedrich. (ed.) The Brut, or, The Chronicles of England. London, 1906

Candy, Christopher A. (2004) The Scottish wars of Edward III, 1327-1338, Durham theses, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online:

Capgrave, John. The Chronicle of England London, 1858

Cowan & Easson. Medieval religious houses, Scotland: with an appendix on the houses in the Isle of Man (second edition) 1976

Dalrymple, David, Sir. Annals of Scotland. Third Edition, Volume 2. 1819

Hume, David. The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688  Volume 2. 1778

Laing, David. (ed.) The Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland by Andrew of Wyntoun  Volume 2. Edinburgh, 1872

Lee Lambert, Craig. Taking The War To Scotland And France: The Supply And Transportation Of English Armies By Sea, 1320-60 Being A Theses Submitted For The Degree Of Doctor Of Philosophy. March, 2009.

MacDougall, Norman.  An Antidote to the English: The Auld Alliance, 1295-1560  Tuckwell Press, 2001

Maxwell, Herbert. (ed.) The Chronicle of Lanercost, 1272-1346 : Translated, with notes  1913

Nicholson, Ranald. Edward III and the Scots: The Formative Years of a Military Career, 1327 to 1335  Oxford, 1965

Nicholson, Ranald. Scotland: The Later Middle Ages. The Edinburgh History of Scotland. Volume 2. 1974

Ramsay, Sir J. H., The Genesis of Lancaster; or, The three reigns of Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II, 1307-1399  Oxford, 1913

Rowlands, Kenneth W. The friars: A history of the British medieval friars  Book Guild, 1999

Skene, William F. (ed.) John of Fordun's Chronicle of the Scottish Nation  Edinburgh, 1872

Skene, Felix J.H. (ed.) Liber Pluscardensis  Historians of Scotland series.  Edinburgh, 1877

Stewart, John. The Stewarts of Appin 1880

Taylor, James. The Pictorial History of Scotland, From the Roman Invasion to the Close of the Jacobite Rebellion A.D. 79 – 1746  London, 1859

Watt, D.E.R. (ed.) Walter Bower's Scotichronicon  Book XIII

Muniments of the Royal Burgh of Irvine  Published by the Ayrshire & Galloway Archaeological Association, 1890.

Text, excluding quotes and extracts, copyright © John Loney


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