Lay the Proud Usurpers Low; Sir Thomas Randolph and Sir James Douglas.
Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray (c. 1278 – 20 July 1332) and Sir James Douglas (also known as Good Sir James or the Black Douglas) (c. 1286 – 1330) were two of Scotland’s greatest soldiers during the Scottish Wars of Independence.
James was the eldest son of Sir William Douglas who had been the first noble supporter of William Wallace and who died c. 1298 as a prisoner in the Tower of London. Young James was subsequently sent to France for his own safety and was educated in Paris where he had been taken in as a squire by William Lamberton, the Bishop of St. Andrews. James returned to Scotland to find his family lands had been seized by the English crown. Lamberton presented James at the occupying English court to petition for the return of his land in 1304, but when Edward I of England heard whose son he was, he grew angry and Douglas was forced to depart, a landless outcast on the fringes of feudal society.
This was to prove a chaotic time in Scottish history. Wallace was caught and publicly executed in London in 1305. The following year, Robert Bruce, the Earl of Carrick, killed his rival, John Comyn, at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries. Bruce immediately claimed the crown of Scotland in defiance of the English king. It was while he was on his way to Glasgow to meet with Bishop Wishart, and then to Scone, the traditional site of Scottish coronations, that Bruce was met by young James Douglas, riding on a horse borrowed from Bishop Lamberton. Thus began a friendship which would not only last the rest of the two men’s lives, but would also cement the independence of Scotland.
Thomas Randolph was the son of a Chamberlain of Scotland and was also the nephew of Robert Bruce. On a wave of expectation following Bruce’s coronation, Thomas, along with James Douglas, eagerly joined the military campaign supporting their new king. But disaster swiftly followed. The Scottish army was routed and scattered at the Battle of Methven. Thomas was captured by Aymer de Valence during the chaos and only managed to save his own life by swearing allegiance to the English King. He subsequently became disillusioned with the Bruce’s claim as tales of the ambitions and allegedly cowardly actions of the, so called, new Scottish King circulated around the English court. Eventually, Thomas actively joined in the hunt for the Bruce.
Meanwhile, James Douglas had managed to escape Methven with Robert Bruce. They took to the hills with a small force and suffered yet more misfortune at a skirmish at Dalrigh from which they barely escaped with their lives into the mountains of the west. But these setbacks had provided a valuable lesson in tactics for James and his King. They knew that any Scots army would always be at a disadvantage in conventional medieval warfare against the numerically superior and better equipped English army. But James Douglas and Robert Bruce quickly learned that guerrilla warfare, using fast moving, lightly equipped and agile forces against their lumbering enemy could bring dramatic success.
James’ actions for most of 1307 and early 1308 in the borderlands were essential in keeping the invaders active in the South, freeing Bruce to campaign in the north. James soon created a formidable reputation for himself as a soldier and a tactician. He used the cover of Selkirk Forest to mount highly effective mobile attacks against the enemy and showed himself to be utterly ruthless in his relentless attacks upon the English. He became known to the invader as 'The blak Dowglas', a sinister and murderous force "mair fell than wes ony devill in hell." He became an early practitioner of psychological warfare and revelled in the knowledge that fear alone could do much of the work of a successful commander.
In a strange twist of fate, James captured Thomas Randolph whilst on one such raid in 1308 and was stunned to learn just how much his former colleague had turned against the Bruce. Thomas was promptly thrown in prison for a cooling off period. Initially he defied the entreaties of his uncle, King Robert. He taunted the Scottish King for showing cowardice by engaging in guerrilla warfare instead of standing and fighting in pitched battles. But, over time, he came to recognise and admire the qualities and honour that the Scottish king possesed. Eventually, he was persuaded to re-join the Scottish cause but was kept under the watchful eye of James Douglas. Thomas’ defection came to the attention of Edward II of England, who forfeited all his lands. Soon, a strong friendship based upon mutual respect and admiration grew between Thomas and James. Together, the exploits of their friendly rivalry would become legendary.
Thomas quickly earned King Robert’s trust once again and he rewarded Thomas by making him the 1st Earl of Moray and, also, Lord of the Isle of Man in 1312. He was now one of the Bruce’s most trusted lieutenants and accompanied him on most of his campaigns from this point.
In the years before 1314 the English presence in Scotland had been reduced to a few significant strongholds thanks to relentless Scottish campaigning. The Scots had no heavy equipment or the means of attacking castles by conventional means so they had employed many ingenious ruses and ambushes in recapturing these strongholds. James Douglas, in particular, had become a master of this art. Not to be outdone, however, Thomas also became active in this pursuit. His most famous achievement took place on 14 March 1314 when he carried out a daring night attack on Edinburgh Castle. By a brilliant feat of arms he captured and destroyed the castle after scaling the looming castle rock and climbing over the walls to open the gates to his accomplices.
Eventually, the most pivotal day of their campaign arrived. On the eve of the Battle of Bannockburn, June 23rd, 1314, Thomas was posted in a wood in charge of the van with orders to prevent the English cavalry from reaching Stirling. On the approach of a body of three hundred English horse, Thomas Randolph marched his men out of cover and drew his spearmen up in a square where they were attacked on all sides by the English, without success. Ultimately, the attackers were driven to retreat on the appearance of Sir James Douglas with reinforcements. James, however, held his men back, realising that Thomas’ men had already won the engagement and he did not want to lessen his friend’s well deserved glory by taking part.
On the morning of the 24 June, the day of the main battle, James Douglas was made a knight banneret by King Robert. Sir Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray was placed in command of the vanguard and Sir James Douglas was placed in command of the left wing (although this schiltron was nominally led by the young Walter Stewart). Edward Bruce, the king’s brother, took the right wing, and King Robert himself led the rear guard. Once the English army was defeated, James Douglas requested the honour of pursuing the fleeing English king and his party of knights, a task carried out with such relentless vigour that the fugitives "had not even leisure to make water". In the end Edward only managed to evade Douglas by taking refuge in Dunbar Castle.
Bannockburn effectively ended the English presence in Scotland but it did not end the war. Edward had been soundly defeated but he still refused to abandon his claim to Scotland. Bannockburn, however, left northern England open to attack and in the years that followed, many communities in that area would come to fear the names of Thomas Randolph and James Douglas.
James became expert in a new war of mobility, which carried Scots raiders as far south as Pontefract and the Humber. War ruined many ancient noble houses but it was the true making of the house of Douglas. James became the most significant of border fighters, winning engagements at Skaithmuir near Coldstream and Lintalee, to the south of Jedburgh. In a skirmish outside the walls of Berwick, James killed Sir Robert Neville, known as the 'Peacock of the North', in single combat. Thomas, meanwhile, accompanied Edward Bruce on his campaign in Ireland.
Such was James' status and reputation that he was made Lieutenant of the Realm, with the Steward, when Bruce joined his brother and Thomas Randolph in Ireland in the autumn of 1316. When Edward Bruce, the king's designated successor, was killed in Ireland at the Battle of Faughart in the autumn of 1318, James Douglas was named as Guardian of the Realm and tutor to the future Robert II, after Thomas Randolph, if Robert should die without a male heir. This was decided at a parliament held at Scone in December 1318, where it was noted that "Thomas Randolph and Sir James took the guardianship upon themselves with the approbation of the whole community." Sir James Douglas and Sir Thomas Randolph were now closely allied and the two became associated in a series of brilliant exploits.
In April 1318, James Douglas had been instrumental in capturing Berwick from the English, the first time the castle and its town had been in Scottish hands since 1296. This proved to be one humiliation too many for the English king and a new army was assembled, the largest since 1314, with the intention of recapturing Berwick, England’s last tangible asset in Scotland. Edward arrived at the gates of the town in the summer of 1319, his Queen, Isabella, accompanying him as far as York where she took up residence. Not willing to risk a direct attack upon this enormous enemy, Bruce unleashed James and Thomas on a large diversionary raid into Yorkshire.
It would appear that the two Scottish commanders had information of the Queen's whereabouts, for the rumour spread that one of the aims of the raid was to take her prisoner. As the Scots approached York she was hurriedly removed from the city, eventually taking refuge in Nottingham. With no troops in the area, the Archbishop of York set about organising a home guard consisting of a great number of priests and minor clerics. The two sides met up at Myton-on-Swale, with inevitable consequences. So many priests, friars and clerics were killed in the Battle of Myton that it became widely known as the 'Chapter of Myton.'
As a strategy, the Yorkshire raid had produced the result intended. Edward's attempt on Berwick was abandoned and he sought in vain to intercept the Scots on their return journey. Later in the year, Thomas and James again raided England, and at length Edward II signed a truce which was to last for for two years. Berwick was to remain in Scottish hands for the next fifteen years.
Both Thomas and James signed the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, a mark of their standing within the realm of Scotland at the time. Thomas’ name appears directly after Robert's on the famous document.
Edward II soon mounted what was to be his last invasion of Scotland, advancing to the gates of Edinburgh. Bruce’s scorched-earth campaign, however was so effective that the English were forced to retreat through starvation. Once again this provided the signal for a Scottish advance. Bruce, along with James Douglas and Thomas Randolph, crossed the Solway Firth, and advanced by rapid stages deep into Yorkshire. Edward and Isabella had taken up residence at Rievaulx Abbey. All that stood between them and the enemy raiders was a force commanded by the Earl of Richmond, positioned on Scawton Moor, between Rievaulx and Byland Abbey. To dislodge him, King Robert sent James and Thomas to attack from the front whilst a party of Highlanders scaled the cliffs on Richmond's flank and attacked from the rear. The Battle of Old Byland turned into a rout, and Edward and his queen were forced into a rapid and undignified flight from Rievaulx, the second time in three years that a Queen of England had taken to her heels.
In 1324, Thomas Randolph, by now a skilled and eloquent diplomat, was sent to meet the Pope in person at his court in Avignon where he successfully persuaded the Pontiff to recognise Robert as King of Scots. He also travelled to France in 1325, this time to persuade King Louis X to sign the Treaty of Corbeil, renewing the Franco-Scottish alliance
In 1327 the hapless Edward II was deposed in a coup led by his wife and her lover and was replaced by Edward III, his teenage son. This new political situation in England effectively broke the truce arranged with the former king some years before. Once again the Scottish raids began, with the intention of forcing concessions from the English government. By mid-summer James Douglas and Thomas Randolph were ravaging Weardale and the adjacent valleys. On 10 July a large English army, under the nominal command of the young king, left York to track down the swiftly moving raiders; an impossible task. The English commanders finally caught sight of their elusive opponents on the southern banks of the River Wear. The Scots were in a good position and declined all attempts to be drawn into battle. After a while, they disappeared in the night, only to reappear soon after having taken up an even stronger position at Stanhope Park. From here, on the night of 4 August, James Douglas led an assault party across the river in a surprise attack on the sleeping English. Panic and confusion spread throughout the camp: Edward himself only narrowly escaped capture, his own pastor being killed in his defence. The Scots outflanked their enemy the following night and headed back to the border. King Edward is said to have wept in impotent rage at their escape. His army retired to York and was disbanded. The Battle of Stanhope Park, minor as it was, was a serious humiliation, and, with no other recourse, the English opened peace negotiations. Thomas Randolph was very much involved in the negotiations which resulted in the Treaty of Northampton. Finally, England had recognised the Bruce monarchy and the independence of Scotland!
During King Robert's final years, he decreed that Thomas should serve as regent for his son, David. Thomas performed this role justly and wisely. Bruce also asked that Sir James, as his friend and lieutenant, should carry his heart to the Holy Land and be carried in battle against "God's foes" as a token of his unfulfilled ambition to go on crusade. When Bruce died in 1329, his heart was cut from his body and placed in a silver and enamelled casket which Sir James placed around his neck. Early in 1330, Douglas set sail from Berwick upon Tweed to carry out his king’s wishes.
He was hailed as a legendary warrior at every stage of his journey. Even former enemies on the field jostled with each other to meet the great man in person. But, in Andalucia in August of 1330, Sir James Douglas finally met his end at the battle of Teba. James' body and the casket with Bruce's heart were recovered from the carnage. His bones, the flesh boiled off them, were taken back to Scotland and deposited at St Bride's Church. It is some measure of the man’s reputation that the residents of Teba erected a monument to James in their main square and, to this day, almost 700 years after his death, host an annual “Douglas Day” to honour his memory. The heart of the Bruce was taken by Thomas, now the regent, and solemnly interred under the high altar of Melrose Abbey.
Sir Thomas Randolph died at Musselburgh on the 10th of July 1332, while preparing to resist an invasion by the English barons, only three years after the young new king’s accession.
Both these men must have been extremely remarkable individuals. Robert the Bruce, and Scotland itself, was extremely fortunate to have two of the most capable and formidable soldiers of the period supporting him. The struggle lasted decades during which time they were tireless in their efforts to retain Scotland’s liberty. To those in the know, both men deserve their highly respected places within the annals of Scottish history. It is time to let others know of their sacrifices.