The Battle of Dupplin Moor or 'Dupplin Muir' was fought on the 12th of August, 1332.
The Battle of Dupplin Moor was the battle that began the Second Scottish War of Independence; the First Scottish War of Independence being that fought between Robert the Bruce and Edward I, Edward II and Edward III of England. The First War was decidedly won by The Bruce, seeing off three Edwards, establishing his right by might to the Scottish Throne, inspiring the Declaration of Arbroath and forcing a peace treaty with the last of those Edwards. However, on his death in 1329, Scotland was left with a four years old boy as King; David II, Bruce’s son. The situation then in Scotland was fraught with danger – from an England that might have seen a golden opportunity, despite the Treaty of Northampton, to others in Scotland who certainly felt they had a decent claim to the Throne and who considered it vulnerable in the hands of a boy.
Those ‘others’ were led by Edward Balliol, who was the son of the King who preceded Robert I, John Balliol, the ‘Toom Tabard’ of popular history. They were collectively known as ‘The Disinherited’ or the ‘Displaced’ because of what happened to them after the Battle of Bannockburn. At that time, there were many Nobles in Scotland who supported Edward I and Edward II, for one reason or another, mostly reasonable, and who ended up fighting on the losing side in that battle. As a consequence, Robert I gave their lands and titles to his allies. They became landless in Scotland and were forced to rely on their holdings in England and the ‘compensation’ they were due by virtue of the Treaty of Northampton. In the circumstances prevailing in 1329 upon Bruce’s death, these ignoble Nobles scented an opportunity to regain their old lands and, in Balliol’s case, gain the Crown of Scotland.
John Balliol gets a bad press, derived from his humbling at the hands of Edward I and meek acceptance of English overlord-ship. However, the outcome of his rule might have been quite different if all of his subjects had been loyal and fought with him against England rather than against or, rather more shamefully, by abstaining. That latter course, of ‘fence sitting’ at best, was the one taken by the Bruce faction under the leadership of Robert the Bruce’s grandfather, ‘the Competitor’. Instead of fighting alongside his rightful King when Balliol resisted Edward’s interference in Scottish affairs, Bruce was inactive and effectively aligned with Edward, simply because he couldn’t bring himself to support the man who beat him to the Throne. It’s hard to argue with Edward’s choice of Balliol as he clearly had the better claim and sulking about the result, having been party to the asking of Edward in the first place, smacks of ‘throwing the toys out of the pram’. Not supporting Balliol surely limited the King’s ability to win any war against the English as the Bruces’ contribution in terms of manpower and influence would have been significant. More significant was his absence, which could be described as a traitorous act or omission.
If we make a big thing of Robert the Bruce’s fight for Scottish independence and his eventual show of absolute patriotism, how does that square with his grandfather’s failure to side with the rightful King against the enemy? The Bruce faction was complicit in the defeat of Balliol and Scotland’s resultant plight. You could argue it was part of a long-term strategy to gain the Throne after the inevitable defeat, but in such volatile times there was no guarantee such a plan would work. It was too risky to have been ever seriously contemplated. In 1292, John Balliol had a better claim to the Throne of Scotland than did Bruce ‘the Competitor’ and in 1329, the son of Balliol had at least as good a claim as the great-grandson of the elder Bruce. You can argue that Balliol mortgaged Scotland’s fortunes to Edward III in 1332, but prior to his epiphany moment, whenever that occurred, Robert the Bruce, his father and his grandfather were submissive to Edward I and ‘traitors’ to Scotland’s rightful King, John Balliol. You can’t apply 20th Century morals to the 14th and in all the angst over who paid homage to whom, it is worth noting that Edward III himself agreed to pay homage to Philippe of Valois for the lands he held in Aquitaine.
This then was the Second Scottish War of Independence, but it was also a Civil War – predominantly a Civil War – fought with the aid of Edward III, but in the main, Scots against Scots. The protagonists at the Battle of Dupplin Muir were Edward Balliol and Donald, the Earl of Mar, who had been appointed Regent of Scotland only a few short weeks earlier, but who had in fact once been sympathetic to the Balliol cause. Balliol and his ‘Disinherited’ followers, around forty German mercenaries and a large English contingent, using a fleet of ships provided by Edward II, sought to avoid the hardships encountered in previous invasions. Bypassing the Borders, Balliol’s army sailed from the Humber right up to Kinghorn, where they landed on the 6th of August, before a detour to Dunfermline and on towards St. John’s Toun of Perth. That sea side manoeuvre also kept them on the right side of the Treaty of Northampton as English soldiers were not permitted to cross the Tweed.
Now, considering the tactics deployed at Dupplin Muir, it’s interesting to note who better learned the lessons of Bruce. The canny Balliol’s objective was to engage Mar before he could unite with the Earl of March, who was advancing from the south with another army. Mar’s forces were camped on the Perth side of the River Earn and, whether his intention was simply to block the bridge or if he planned a more offensive action the next day is unclear. However, during the night of the 11th of August, Edward Balliol seized the initiative and, using the classic guerilla tactics of Bruce and Wallace, crossed the river in darkness by a nearby ford and attacked Mar’s camp near Gask, with some success. Mar avoided a catastrophe only because he had placed the bulk of his men by the bridge. Next day, the 12th of August, 1332, he and Robert Bruce Jnr. led the Scots army against Balliol and Henry Beaumont. Despite fielding the larger army, the outcome was a disaster for the King’s men.
Dupplin Muir goes down in history alongside Neville’s Cross, Halidon Hill and Flodden Field as a national disaster of epic proportions. Edward Balliol won his Crown, but he wisnae able tae keep it for lang.