Bannockburn memorial (Robert Guthrie)

Robert the Bruce, King of Scots victory over Edward II, King of England at the Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314, is celebrated in the adopted national anthem “Flower of Scotland” and ends with the taunt of proud Edward being “sent homeward think again”.

But this was not the first time that as Edward II of England he headed homeward from Scotland, to think again. It is necessary to travel back in time to Dumfries in the winter of 1306, at which time he was Edward, Prince of Wales and his father Edward I was on the English throne, to reveal the circumstances behind his first retreat.

It was at Dumfries on the 10th February that Robert the Bruce killed John Comyn [B1] and six weeks later was crowned King of Scots at Scone. Following some early set-backs and defeats to the occupying English forces Robert the Bruce and his followers escaped from the mainland of Scotland to take refuge during the winter of 1306/07 before returning to Bruce’s native south-west of Scotland in the spring. His return quickly came to the attention of Edward I of England and sparked an immediate response.

Lanercost Priory

The  ageing and ailing king of England set his counter-offensive in motion from his sick-bed at Lanercost Priory, near to the Scottish border some 12 miles north-east of Carlisle. Orders were issued to Great Yarmouth and 24 other English ports ‘forbidding all export of provisions, horses and arms (except to Gascony) as they will be required for the Scottish expedition’ [C1].

While, closer to his base at Lanercost, Edward commanded the Sheriff of Cumberland to – ‘collect all the vessels and empty barges on his seacoast to provide them with stout crews, and despatch them towards Ayr in pursuit of Robert de Brus and his abettors, and destroy his retreat’ [C2].

Fuming in early February, Edward I wrote to Sir Aymer de Valence earl of Pembroke his lieutenant in Scotland expressing

his great and not unnatural wonder at hitherto having no news from him how he and other lieges lately despatched to Ayr have succeeded in crushing the Scottish rebels, or following them, or what they purpose doing afterwards’ [C3].

Bruce and his followers employing guerrilla tactics enjoyed victories over the English forces at Glen Trool, Galloway in April and then a month later at Loudon hill, Ayrshire on the 10th May 1307, according to John Barbour in his epic work ‘The Brus’ [B1].

Bruce Stone , Glen Trool and Loudon Hill
Bruce Stone , Glen Trool and Loudon Hill (Robert Guthrie)

The Chronicle of Lanercost captured the despondent mood in England –

Howbeit, notwithstanding the terrible vengeance inflicted upon the Scots who adhered to the party of the aforesaid Robert de Brus, the number of those willing to establish him in the realm increased from day to day’ [L1].

On the 15th May, Walter, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, treasurer and currently based at Lanark commanded on behalf of the King that Sir James de Dalileye, escheator south of the Forth pays the wages of the garrisons of the town and castle of Ayr, town of Lanark and the castle of Cumnock [C4]. Three days later the treasurer, now at Dumfries, commanded that Sir Ingram de Umfraville and Sir William de Feltone were supplied with a tonel of wine and 10 quarters of wheat and flour to store the castle of Cumnock [C5]. He travelled on to Carlisle that day and gave his account of the provision of the fortresses of Ayr and other fortresses in that quarter –

‘That the King had been so greatly pleased with his account that he had kissed him especially for his borrowing the Castle of Comenogh, lying between Lanark and Ayr, from its owner, Earl Patrick for a term, and garrisoning it with 30 men-at-arms under Sir Ingram de Umfraville and Sir William Felton, besides 100 foot. Relates the King’s preparations to invade Scotland in person, and other news‘ [C6].

Earl Patrick was Patrick, 8th Earl of Dunbar, one of the Competitors for the Scottish Crown in 1286, following the death of Alexander III. Although the Dunbars ancestral lands were in Dunbar, East Lothian they also held lands in Cumnock in Ayrshire. He swore fealty to Edward I of England at Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1296 and his name appears in the Ragman Roll as ‘Patrik de Comenagh, del counte de Are’ [R1]. Cumnock Castle stood on a hill overlooking confluence of the Afton Water and the River Nith at the heart of what is now the village of New Cumnock which possibly gave rise to the name Cumnock from Gaelic comunn achadh ‘the place of the confluence,meeting of the waters ’ [NC1].

Map 1: Cumnock Castle

Cumnock castle now played a strategic role in the English struggle to hem Bruce and his men in this corner of south-west of Scotland.  Not only situated at the head of Nithsdale, the natural route from Dumfries to Ayr, the route through Glen Afton (referred to the Carrick Pass as late as the 17th century [NC2] ) provided a more protected but torturous route from the plains of Kyle into Bruce’s safe-haven of Glen Trool and its environs. This must be a strong contender for Bruce’s route from Glen Trool to Loudon Hill; with New Cumnock 25 mile north-east of the former and 15 miles due south of the latter.

On May 21st at Carlisle John de Drokensforde guardian of the Wardrobe commanded James Dalileye or his lieutenant at Dumfries to give such victuals as they require to Sir William de Feltone and others who are about to go Cumnock [C7].

The Wardrobe accounts for the 22nd May read [C8]-

Roll of horses. [For the garrison of Cumnock Castle. Laurence de Ripariss at 20 marks, Ralph de Kirkeby at 100s. Soldiers – Adam de Levinton at 10 marks, Thomas le Convers at £10, his horse died at the abbey of Valle’ on 17 June 1307. 7 others named.

The account included a later entry which details the death of a horse on 17th June at ‘abbey of Valle’ , i.e. , Fail Abbey a few miles west of Ayr.

Details of payments (undated) to be made to the garrison of the castle of Cumnock survive giving the names of some of the knights and a reference to 100 infantry [C9].

  • Laurence de la Rivere and 2 [esquires?], 42s.
  • Robert de Vienna and 1 [esquire?], 14s.
  • 5 others [named] with 1 [esquire each ?], 14s each.
  • [Further sums of 50s, 20s and 10s are noted]
  • The valets of Thomas de Bykenore [2 names], total, 18s.
  • The valets of William de Rithre [4 names], total, 56s.
  • Adam de Levynton and 2 [esquires?], 14s.
  • Sir William de Felton and 4 esquires, £4 4s 0d.
  • 100 [altered to 90] infantry at 3d each, £11 19s 2d.
  • 2 sergeants at arms [named] to be sent to Lanark in place of 2 valets of William de Rithre
  • Total £27 7s 2d.
  • Item, for Thomas de Leyburn, 100s [deleted].

With garrisons in place and Edward’s great ‘Scottish Expedition’ advancing to the Scottish border, ill-health got the better of the ‘Hammer of the Scots’ and he died at Burgh on Sands near Carlisle on 7th July 1307, never to set foot in Scotland again. His son, now Edward II of England, halted the advance of the great army to take stock and deal with the consequences of his father’s death.

Edward I and Edward II at York Minster (Robert Guthrie)

However, attempts to hunt down Bruce continued with the English occupying forces and their Scots allies, unaware of the death of Edward and the change of monarch. It was at this time, possibly at the end of July 1307 that Robert the Bruce, King of Scots and his men escaped from the combined forces of John of Lorn and Aymer de Valence in Glen Afton, cutting through the hills of New Cumnock. The close encounter is captured by John Barbour in his epic work ‘The Brus’ and tells of how John of Lorn , nephew of John Comyn, hunts down the King of Scots aided by a sleuth-hound.

Glen Afton, New Cumnock with Blackcraig hill and Stayamera (Robert Guthrie)

The king is pursued by John of Lorn and his tracker-dog;

Professor A.A.M. Duncan’s translation of John Barbour’s ‘The Brus’ with additional notes is the chief source used to better understand this encounter which forms part of Book 6 of ‘The Brus’ [B2].

The episode begins with Robert the Bruce and his force of a good four hundred at Cumnock  ‘quhair it straitast was’ and  ‘up in the strenthis’. 

So where in Cumnock were these locations?

Duncan observes that “Cumnock does lie in the narrow valley of the Lugar Water and that Barbour’s use of ‘straitast’ suggests tactics, a reference to a skirmish he which he does not report.” The modern-day town of Cumnock sits on the Lugar Water, however in any historical references to Cumnock that pre-dates the division of the parish of Cumnock in 1650 into the two new parishes of Old Cumnock and New Cumnock it is necessary consider the landscape of both these parishes.  As already explained Cumnock Castle, the seat of the barons of Cumnock, stood at the confluence of the Afton Water and River Nith in what is now the parish of New Cumnock. As the settlement around the castle developed Cumnock Maynes and Cumnock Mill would be located nearby, while today the main thoroughfare through the village of New Cumnock is simply called Castle [NC1].

Duncan also explains that ‘Strenthis, a word used quite frequently by Barbour of the strong points at which King Robert took refuge. Here it must mean natural eminences, hilltops, and that is probably the usual sense.

Barbour’s references to Cumnock where it is ‘straitast‘ and ‘strenthis’ points to Glen Afton and the hills of New Cumnock which the Afton Waters cuts through from its source  near to the boundary between Ayrshire and Kirkcudbrightshire to its meeting with River Nith at the heart of the village of New Cumnock.

Castle William
Castle William rock at the head of Glen Afton with Stayamera to the right (Robert Guthrie)

Bruce’s ally James Douglas and his men travelled to meet Bruce  in some haste to warn the king that Sir Aymer de Valence had assembled a great company of men from ‘Ingland and Lowthiane’ to hunt him out of the land with hound and horn.

John Barbour ‘The Brus’

Unperturbed, Bruce was determined to ‘abid in this countre’ and stand and fight. He kept to the high ground and enjoyed a good view of Sir Aymer’s and his men making their way down the valley plain below. However, unbeknown to the king, a force of 800 men under the command of John of Lorn was approaching from the rear, hidden from view by the side of a hill.

John Barbour ‘The Brus’

Lorn, had with him a sleuth-hound, which some men say, when a whelp it had been fed and nourished by Bruce himself and would not be parted from him. Before Bruce was alert to the impending danger, Lorn and his men were all but upon him, while Sir Aymer and his force pressed on from his other side. With the lesser of these two encroaching forces greatly outnumbering that of Bruce, the king quickly concluded –

Lordis we haiff na mycht, As at this tyme to stand and fycht’

Bruce split his force into three so ‘that all will not be attacked’, and agreed in confidence (for fear of spies in the camp) a place of rendezvous at which to regroup. When Lorn arrived at the spot from where the three groups had departed the hound without hesitation followed the king’s party.

Lorn ordered five of his best men (fyvesum) to chase after Bruce by which time he was only in the company of his foster-brother and together they agreed to stand and fight. Three of the five-some attacked the king while the other two the closed singled out his foster-brother. Bruce with sword in hand struck his first attacker with such force that he sliced his ear and cheek down to the neck as well shearing off his shoulder. Three of the remaining four were killed by Bruce and the other by his foster-brother.

Meanwhile Lorn and the sleuth-hound remained in pursuit forcing the king and his companion to hide in a nearby wood. With the hound on their trail the pair waded through a stream for a time and realising the hound had lost the king’s scent John of Lorn gave up the chase.

Robert the Bruce had evaded capture and lived to fight another day with the Battle of Bannockburn  lying seven years in the future!

John Barbour ‘The Brus’

From the letters of Aymer de Vallence to James Dalziel in late July it is possible to offer an account of the events that led to the encounter in Glen Afton and the hills of New Cumnock.

A letter of the 19th July has Aymer de Valence at Dalmilling in Ayr at which time John of Argyll (of Lorn) is guarding Ayr with 22 men-at-arms and 800 foot. Duncan recognises that Barbour’s source must have been accurate as ‘quite remarkably his number Lorn’s ‘aucht hunder’  is correct. Five days later de Valence writes from the Glenkens in Kirkcudbright in a foray south to flush out Bruce, thought to be at Glen Trool.  It is worth noting that the letter is written in the King’s 35th year, i.e. de Valence is not aware that Edward I had died 17 days ago on the 7th July.  A week later Aymer de Valence writes from Skeldon, Dalrymple on his return from the Glenkens and if this was by way of Glen Afton, it suggests that the encounter in the ‘strenthis of Cumnock’ took place in the closing week of July 1307.

19 July, 1307 Dalmolin (Dalmilling, Ayr)

From Aymer de Valence to James Dalyyel [C10]

As John of Argyll and his people are guarding the town of Ayr and parts adjacent, he commands that they be aided with money and victuals while there. That is to say, for 22 men-at-arms and 800 foot. Warrant attached, to deliver 6 qrs. oats to his marschal.

24 July, 1307 Glenken (The Glenkens, Kircudbrightshire)

From Aymer de Valence to James Dalyyel or his lieutenant at Dumfries [C11].

Commands him to give with all haste to Sir Ingeram de Umfraville and Sir Alexander de Balliol, a ‘tonel’ of the King’s wine, that they may better do the King’s business on the enemy. Written at Glenken, the 24th July, in the King’s 35th year

31 July, 1307 Skeltoune sour Douun (Skeldon on the River Doon nr. Dalrymple)

From Aymer de Valence to James Dalyell or his lieutenant at Dumfries [C12].

‘ acknowledging receipt from Sir James Dalilee for his own use ‘ demesne,’ of 11 qrs. wheat, a tun of wine, 9 qrs. oats, and 40 ‘ soutz desterlings,’ of the K.’s victuals.

Map 2: South West Scotland

Aymer de Valence returns from The Glenkens by way of the Ken Valley and the head of Glen Afton while John of Lorn travels from Ayr by way of Cumnock Castle and the lower reaches of Glen Afton [NC2].

Proud Edward’s Army march to New Cumnock and his retreat!

By the time Aymer de Valence had reached Skeldon on the 31st July , Edward II had already mobilised his late father’s army and on 29th July left Carlisle to begin its march into Scotland [C13]. On the 1st August it reached Annan and the day after Tinwald to the north-east of Dumfries.  The next day Edward’s army marched into Dumfries and remained there to the 12th August. Patrick, Earl of Dunbar and John Comyn, Earl of Buchan (cousin of John Comyn killed by Bruce) were among a number of Scots magnates that dined with Edward II  on 3rd and 4th August at Dumfries.  Also present was Edward’s favourite Piers Gaveston who had returned from exile after Edward I’s death. and on the 6th August he was created the 1st Earl of Cornwall. Edward and his entourage remained at Dumfries until the 12th August before marching up through Nithsdale to Dunscore (13 Aug), Tibbers (14-15 Aug) and then Sanquhar (16-18 Aug) , where Edward held a feast for the Earl of the Cornwall.

Map 3 : Nithsdale & Ayrshire

On the 19th August Edward’s army arrived at Cumnock Castle and remained there for nine days.  Edward II’s Wardrobe Account Book from his stay at the castle that overlooks the meeting place of the Afton Water and the River Nith have survived. A few extracts of interest are presented below [C14, C15].

Of particular interest is the payment of wages to Alemeric de la Zouche for wages off 44 footmen staying in Aymer de Valence’s company from 23 July to 25th August – they would have been with de Valence in the encounter with Bruce in Glen Afton.   There is also reference to Roger Redypintel messenger of John of Lorne which shows that Lorne is back in his home lands of Argyll by late August.  The most intriguing account is that to the ‘poor woman of Crathgork’ who kept two greyhound whelps for the king and brought them to Cumnock. Could these whelps be the basis of the sleuth-hound episode in Glen Afton? Finally the reference to Humphry de Bohun has some resonance with Bannockburn where on the first day of the battle Robert the Bruce cleaved Henry de Bohun, his young cousin, with his battle-axe.

 (a) Various payments concerning the household. Cumnock, 19-27 Aug. to Sir Henry de Appleby, for wages of himself and 2 esquires at Cumnock on 20 Aug., 60s

(b) To Almeric de la Zouche, knight , for wages of 44 footmen of Aymer de Valence, staying in Aymer’s company in Scotland, for 34 days from 23 July, when they entered the king’s wages by command of the king and council, to 25 Aug., paid to Almeric at Cumnock 25 Aug., £13 0s 8d.

(d) To Roger Redypintel, messenger of John de Lorne, coming to the king at Cumnock with his lord’s letters and returning to Argyll with the king’s letters to his lord, by the king’s gift, 21 Aug., 6s 8d.

To a poor woman of Crathgork near Stirling, keeping 2 greyhound whelps of the king for 1 year and bringing them to him at Cumnock, for the expenses of the woman and the dogs, by the king’s gifts at Cumnock, on 27 Aug;, 40s.

(e) Payments to messengers sent with letters from the king in Scotland to English sheriffs and others including 21 Aug to William and Robert Scot, sent from Cumnock to Ayr and from there to Lanark, 3s 6d.

[All C14]

Pardon at the request of Humphry de Bohun earl of Hereford and Essex, to John Scot of Great Petlyng for the murder of John Lenegle of the same place. Cumnock


On the 27th August 1307 with Robert the Bruce, King of Scots still at large Edward II, King of England headed homeward with his great army to think again, having quick stop overs on the way at Sanquhar, Tibbers, Thornhill and finally Annan on 31st August.

Sir David Dalrymple (Lord Hailes) in his ‘Annals of Scotland’ writes [C16].

‘By which inglorious retreat, after such mighty preparations for a decisive campaign, he rendered Bruce and his adherents more bold, and disheartened all in Scotland who favoured the English cause’

Proud Edward’s Army march to New Cumnock and his retreat!

Robert the Bruce, King of Scots was now free to escape from the south-west corner of Scotland and through the years swelled his support and recaptured many of the English occupied castles throughout Scotland.

Robert the Bruce, Bannockburn (Robert Guthrie)

In the summer of 1314, Edward II of England returned north with the intent to relieve Stirling Castle but his army was defeated by the Scots army under King Robert the Bruce on the 23/24 June 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn.

Edward II escaped from the battlefield with many Scots in hot pursuit of the English king and his party, who made it safely to the refuge of Dunbar Castle. Professor G.W.S Barrow sums up the beginning of the end of ‘proud Edward’ and his army being sent home to think again .

It says much for the sorely-tried loyalty of Earl Patrick that he received Edward hospitably and saw him safely on board which took him to Bamburgh, and so tie the comparative safety of Berwick. Most of the five hundred knights reached Berwick by land. Earl Patrick must have submitted to the king of Scots immediately afterwards, for the English records show that he was forfeited as a traitor as from this date.

So seven years after the dejected Edward II ‘had gone home to think again’ from Earl Patrick’s castle of Cumnock, it was his son and successor Patrick 9th Earl of Dunbar that sent the defeated Edward II home again from his castle at Dunbar.

The Earl of Dunbar, later submitted to Bruce and his seal with that of many of other Scots nobles appears on ‘The Declaration of Arbroath’ of 1320, Scotland’s declaration of independence. Some eight years later Edward II signed the Treaty of Edinburgh – Northampton recognising Scotland as an independent country and Robert the Bruce as King of Scots.

Robert Guthrie, 24th June 2017


Calendar Documents of Scotland (CDS)

  • [C1] CDS Vol. 2, No. 1882,
  • [C2] CDS Vol. 2, No. 1893
  • [C3] CDS Vol. 2, No. 1896
  • [C4] CDS Vol. 2, No. 1928
  • [C5] CDS Vol. 2, No. 1931
  • [C6] CDS Vol. 4, No.1829
  • [C7] CDS Vol. 2, No 1933
  • [C8] CDS Vol. 5, No. 485
  • [C9] CDS Vol. 5, No. 503
  • [C10] CDS Vol. 2, No. 1957
  • [C11] CDS Vol. 2, No. 1958
  • [C12] CDS Vol. 2, No. 1959
  • [C13] CDS Vol. 5, Nos. 497, 521
  • [C14] CDS Vol. 5, No. 521
  • [C15] CDS Vol. 3, No. 7
  • [C16] CDS Vol. 3, Introduction xi
    • Annals of Scotland, Sir David Dalrymple

Chronicle of Lanercost

  • [L1]  Chronicle of Lanercost (1272, translated. with notes, by Sir Herbert Maxwell
    • Llanerch Press Facsimile Reprint 1913, Volume 2, p182 (2003)

Ragman Roll

  • [R1] Ragman Roll

John Barbour ‘The Bruce’ an edition with translation and notes by A.A.M. Duncan

  • Canongate Classics, 1st Edition (1997) Reprinted (1999)
  • [B1] Book 8 ‘Valence challenges the king to open battle at Loudon Hill’
  • [B2] Book 6 ‘The king is pursued by John of Lorn and his tracker-dog;’

G.W.S. Barrow Robert the Bruce & The Community of the Realm of Scotland’

  • Edinburgh University Press, 3rd Edition (1988)

New Cumnock History

  • [NC1] Origin of the place-name New Cumnock
    • Robert Guthrie ‘Place-names of the Parish of New Cumnock’ Scottish Place-Name News 9 (2000) and New Cumnock History
  • [NC2] The route from New Cumnock via Glen Afton to south west Ayrshire is referred to the Carrick Pass during the Covenanting period of the late 17th century.


One comment

  1. Here is a story which may perhaps explain just why Edward had to “reconsider” in August 1307…
    From the 1876 book,

    (digitized at
    The Rev. Peter Rae, in his Manuscript History of Durisdeer, thus describes them in his time (1700-1740): — “The gardens of Drumlanrig are very beautiful, and the rather because of their variety…
    The origin of this old family is thus told by Rae in his manuscript history. “When King Robert Bruce was lying with the Scottish army near Glenwharg, and the English army at the moat in Balagan Holm, a man named Hunter, carrying a trumpet, and another named M’Gachen, bearing a pair of colours, came from the Scotch army to the head of the glen called Balagan; the one blew the trumpet and the other flourished his colours in sight of the English army, who, apprehending that the Scottish forces were immediately upon them, were so much affrighted that they fled out of the country. For which achievement King Robert gave Hunter the lands of Balagan, and to M’Gachen the lands of Dalwhat. If this tradition be true, the family of Balagan would appear to be a very old one.

    The McCowans of Cumnock seem to be connected with McGachen of Dalwhat. In his “A Corner of Old Strathclyde” (1952) Hugh Lorimer, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, wrote:
    “McCowan is a family name of distinction for hundreds of years in the Kirkconnel area. Bruce had a company of McCowans in the upper Nith district, an honour of which Sanquhar is proud.”
    George F. Black, in his classic, “The Surnames of Scotland”, notes that “In the reign of David II there was a clan M’Gowan, probably located somewhere on the river Nith”.
    We should be satisfied that Bruce’s company of McCowans was, in fact, the clan McGowan identified by Mr. Black and now, it would appear, the scary bunch of guys who made Edward’s army retreat to England.
    More about the McCowan / McGachan connections at

    D. B. McCowan, P.Eng., Past Chair
    Professional Engineers Ontario Education Committee

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