The Battle of Loudon Hill was won by Robert the Bruce, on the 10th of May, 1307.
Loudoun Hill is a volcanic plug in East Ayrshire, which is located near the head of the Irvine Water, east of Darvel. Apart from the fact that there is a great view from the top of Loudon Hill, over Ayrshire to the firth of Clyde and Arran, there are several things to say about this hill, which has stood witness to a lot of history, from the earliest of times.
The remains of an iron-age homestead are located at the foot of the south-east slope and, nearby, at Allanton Beg, a Roman fort was built. In 1679, a large Conventicle was held in the vicinity of this hill and, in 1905, a viaduct, which crossed the valley from Allanton and carried the Caledonian Railway, was opened. Several historical battles have been fought around Loudoun Hill, including one, in 1296, in which Sir William Wallace soundly defeated an English force. Wallace was declared an outlaw after the Battle of Loudoun Hill, but that didnae stop him achieving his great victory at Stirling Bridge the following year. However, this episode concerns another battle; one in which King Robert the Bruce inflicted even greater punishment on the English than Wallace did over a decade earlier. Don’t mention Loudon.
William Wallace died fighting to restore King John Balliol to the throne and free Scotland from the yoke of English domination. Whilst Wallace had been somewhat sidelined, and suffered betrayal and gruesome execution, there had been a period of jostling for power and infighting overlapping that of the English domination. The primary tensions were between the well established, national political leaders, the Comyns and their supporters, on the one hand, and the vacillating upstart, Robert the Bruce and his following, on the other. Despite having previously recognised Edward I as his feudal overlord, Scotland’s internecine squabbles had presented ‘the Bruce’ with an opportunity. In reality, it was a case of ‘now or never’ for Robert the Bruce if he was ever going to claim what his grandfather, ‘the Competitor’, had always claimed as the family’s birthright – the Scottish crown.
As hostilities with the Balliol-supporting Comyns escalated, Robert the Bruce killed John ‘The Red’ Comyn, in Greyfriar’s Kirk, Dumfries, on the 10th of February, 1306. Comyn’s death is commonly considered to have been murder, however, nobody knows what went on inside the Kirk and the killing could easily have been self defence. In any event, it was an act that saw Bruce excommunicated; for many, Bruce had gone too far. For Bruce, he had only one place to go. In March, 1306, Robert the Bruce declared himself King. Bruce was crowned twice at Scone, on the 25th and the 26th of March – just to make sure – in “the presence and with the agreement of four bishops, five earls and the people of the land.” As Walter of Guisborough further records, “The wife of the Earl of Buchan, who was the daughter of the Earl of Fife, to whom by hereditary right it belonged to place the crown on the head of the new king, secretly withdrew from her lord, …so that she might exercise that office.”
Of course, those events weren’t too pleasing to Edward I. Once he had “heard and learnt” of the coronation of the new King of Scots, “on the feast of Pentecost” the English King sent the Lord Henry de Percy, the Lord Aylmer de Valence and the Lord Robert Clifford to oppose Bruce and hunt him down. The English moved north in great number and the early exchanges saw Bruce defeated by the forces of Edward I. At the Battle of Methven, on the 19th of June, 1306, Bruce’s troops were routed by Aymer de Valance. Bruce went into hiding. However, Bruce was a worthy adversary of Edward I and he wisnae about to give up just yet.
In 1307, eleven years after the first battle of Loudoun Hill, King Robert the Bruce adopted, almost exactly, the same site and tactics as did Wallace. The Bruce’s encounter with the English at Loudon Hill also had the same result. Robert the Bruce had learned his lessons from his defeat at Methven and, this time, the English would be tackled on his terms. Taking his cue from Wallace and that man’s mastery of the art of guerilla warfare, Bruce used local knowledge to his advantage. Bruce’s scorched earth policies had weakened the marauding English Army and, by the time it reached Loudoun Hill, a defeat for its commander, Aymer de Valance, looked possible, if not to the English, certainly to Robert the Bruce and his men.
Modern interpretation places Bruce’s battlefield further east, on the farm of Allanton, on the plain between the bog to the north and Loch Gait, since drained, beside the Avon Water. Looking at the battle now, it seems likely that Bruce deployed his forces on the advice of the veterans of Wallace’s Army that he commanded. Similar to Wallace’s victory at Stirling, Bruce got his men to dig a series of trenches on either side of the plain. This had the effect of narrowing the passage available to the English Army, forcing it onto the only possible approach – the difficult terrain between the heavy bogland and the loch. Effectively, Bruce was able to corral the English in the narrow gap between the trenches, slowing down its cavalry and restricting its ability to manoeuvre.
Bruce’s tactics prevented the main English force of three thousand men from mounting a frontal attack at full pace, which would have been disastrous for the Scots, who were vastly outnumbered. Bruce’s Army amounted to no more than a paltry five or six hundred men. Despite the obvious hindrance, the English Army remained arrogant and over confident, simply because of its superiority in numbers. Aymer de Valence ordered his men to attack, while Bruce and his schiltroms stood patiently waiting. The English attack floundered against the Scots pike men, who maintained their discipline, steadfast to a man, and they were able to repulse the headstrong English attack. Immediately, sensing victory, the Scots launched a counter attack and the English fell back in disarray. Thus routed and with his Army in chaos, de Valence fled the field, abandoning his men to the mercy of the Scots.
Just over a month later, the elderly Edward Plantagenet, King Edward I of England, known to his friends as ‘Longshanks’ and to his enemies as ‘The Hammer of the Scots’, died on route to Scotland, near Solway. Loudoun Hill was Bruce’s first major victory over the English. It would not be his last.