The ‘Black Parliament’ of Scone took place on the 4th of August, 1320.
During the ‘Black Parliament’ of Scone, a group of conspirators, who had intended to kill Robert I (Robert the Bruce), were tried and sentenced. One of those found guilty was Sir Roger Mowbray, but in a bizarre medieval comédie, because he was already dead, his corpse was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be drawn, hanged and beheaded.
Those who were tried with puir Mowbray were representatives of some of Scotland’s noblest families. Many of those families had been involved in the ruling of the country before, during and after the time of Alexander III and to some large extent, had been an ever present threat to the emerging dynasty of Robert I. There is no extant contemporary record of the ‘Black Parliament’ and it is one of those Parliaments that have survived solely in the various ‘Chronicles’. Those records suggest that the object of the plot was to place Sir William Soulis on the Throne. However, modern analysis has strongly suggested that the real plan was to restore power to the Comyns, through an heir of John Baliol. Before the death of Alexander III, it was the Comyns and their kin who held the balance of power in Scotland and, at that time, the Bruces were a relatively minor force.
Parliaments were quite important for Robert the Bruce as they served to give his rule much needed legitimacy after the manner of his ascension, following as it did his excommunication for the murder of the ‘Red Comyn’ at Dumfries in 1306. A Parliament at St. Andrews in 1309 had resulted in the ‘Declaration of the Clergy’ and that was seen as particularly significant. It solemnly upheld Bruce’s right to the Throne in stirring language, “[he – the Bruce] by right of birth and by endowment with other cardinal virtues is fit to rule, and worthy of the name of king and the honour of the realm”.
That 1309 parliament lacked the presence of certain families who had been the mainstay of Alexander III’s reign and during the Interregnum. The ‘missing’ representation from the roll call of governance included the Comyns, unsurprisingly, and their cronies, Mowbray, Abernethy, Balliol, again unsurprisingly as the ‘Toom Tabard’ himsel’ didn’t die until 1313, the Earl of Atholl, d’Umphraville of Angus, David de Brechin and Adam Gordon. Those weren’t keen to sign Bruce’s guest book.
Nor were they too keen on contributing their signatures to the ‘Declaration of Arbroath’. That masterpiece of nationalistic rhetoric was intended to score points with the Pope in the ongoing war of propaganda against Edward II. Whilst Scotland had been winning the actual fighting war and raiding and pillaging across the Border, Edward continually refused to acknowledge Bruce’s Kingship and legitimacy. That meant that the Bruce’s legal tenure was a little fragile and those allied to Balliol were always a spectre in the wings.
As a sign of Bruce’s unease, at a Parliament in 1318, conspirators and spreaders of discontent were ordered to be imprisoned. Just fourteen months later, the Declaration of Arbroath was dispatched to the Pope. As a display of national unity and unequivocal support for Robert the Bruce, it seemed to be an overwhelming endorsement. However, in reality, many magnates and nobles were bullied or coerced into providing their seals for the document and a certain amount of antagonism seems to have been the result. That undercurrent of resentment no doubt helped to rekindle sympathies for the Comyn cause.
So it was in 1320 that Patrick, Earl of Dunbar, on his way to the Pope via France became aware of dangerous contacts between French supporters of Balliol and the pro-Balliol faction in Scotland. The King was warned of the plot and the result was the trials of the conspirators at the ‘Black Parliament’ of the 4th of August, 1320. Agnes Comyn, Countess of Strathearn turned King’s evidence and implicated those others brought to trial, for which betrayal she was rewarded with life imprisonment. She died in chains in the dungeon of Strathearn Castle.
The man whom the Chronicles later sought to pin the blame upon, Sir William Soules of Liddesdale, Governor of Berwick and Butler of Scotland, was arrested and brought to trial at the Parliament. He was also given a life sentence after confessing and was goaled in Dumbarton Castle. Soules’ mother was a Comyn and he was the son of a ‘Competitor’ in ‘the Great Cause’, which provided a reasonable link to his supposed motives in seeking the Crown. He wasn’t a realistic candidate by any means in 1320 and it is surely the case that the motive behind the whole affair lay squarely with restoring a Comyn to the Throne. After all, the Comyn claim had a tad more legitimacy, which explains why the Bruce went to all that trouble trying to win the propaganda war. The evidence of the Chronicles proves that he did.
The unfortunate Sir David de Brechin, a nephew of Bruce and whose mother was a Comyn, was found guilty of treason by virtue of being complicit in the plot and not having warned the King. He was executed with the severest penalty of Scottish Law, being drawn through the streets of Perth at a horse’s tail, hanged and beheaded. His brother, Thomas de Brechin, had his lands of Lumquhat in Fife forfeited, being perhaps also privy to the plot, but his fate is unknown.
Brechin’s was a notable execution, quite apart from his relationship to both Bruce and the Comyns. He was seen as a ‘Flower of Chivalry’, having acquitted himself well in battle against the Saracens, but his loyalty was suspect. He changed sides regularly and even fought on the English side at Bannockburn. Perhaps significantly, instead of sending his own seal, he got his wife to send hers for attachment to the Arbroath Declaration. Nevertheless, it is because of the manner of Brechin’s death that this affair was christened the ‘Black Parliament’.
The corpse of Sir Roger de Mowbray, who held the office of Standard Bearer of Scotland, and who had died in skirmishes before the trial, was brought to Parliament in a litter, found guilty and sentenced to be drawn, hung and beheaded. He had nothing to say in his defence. The Bruce’s clemency prevented his mutilation and he was allowed a decent burial. His lands of Barnbougle and Dalmeny in the county of Linlithgow, Inverkeithing in Fife, Cessford and Eckford in Roxburghshire, Methven in Perthshire, Kellie in Forfarshire and Kirk Michael in the county of Dumfries were forfeited to the Crown.
Of the other major figures in the conspiracy, Ingram d’Umphraville, heir to Angus, was also goaled. He later escaped to England, accompanied by Soules it would seem as both are recorded as having died in England sometime during 1321-2. At least three minor figures were condemned to death and executed. Those were Sir John Logie, whose lands were of Logie and Strath Gartney in Strathearn and Mentieth respectively, Sir Gilbert de Malherbe and a squire named Richard Brown. A handful of those involved were pardoned, namely Sir Patrick Graham, Sir Walter de Barclay, Sherriff of Aberdeen, Sir Eustace Maxwell of Caerlaverock, Eustace de Rattray and Hamelin de Troup. In all, at least ten of the forty-four Barons named as witnesses to the Declaration of Arbroath had been accused of plotting regicide, just a few weeks later. So much for national unity.
Incidentally, the Sir William Soules (de Soulis) mentioned here is not the evil Lord William of legend, made famous by Sir Walter Scott in a grisly tale of vengeance. Quite apart from a mythical wizard and his familiar, Robin Redcap, the association is unlikely. The story has it that for the wicked murder of Alexander Armstrong, the 2nd Laird of Mangerton, a Lord Soules of Hermitage Castle was encased in a sheet of lead and “beiled in his ain bru”. Another source has the 2nd Armstrong Lord born in Mangerton Castle in 1320 and dying in 1398, albeit killed by a de Soulis. That being the case, the legend is out by a generation. A more likely culprit for the source of the legend is Sir Ranulf de Soules of Liddel, who was born around 1150 and murdered by his servants in 1207 or 1208. That makes it a generation or three in the opposite direction. In any case, the dubious event is commemorated by the factual Milnholm Cross. Curiously though, to this day, no grass has grown on the place at Nine Stane Rigg where the cauldron is said to have been placed.