Year of Stories Chapter 6 Part 2: War, Plague and Famine


By Gwen Sinclair

As far as archaeology goes for chapter 6 part two of the Chronicles of Castle Hill, it is a period when little is known about what was happening at Dundonald. This is however, an important chapter in the story given that it takes us on the incredible journey of Walter 6th High Steward of Scotland, and his son, Robert 7th High Steward of Scotland, who eventually bring Castle Hill under the wing of the Scottish royal family…

Near Stirling in mid June 1314, fathers, sons, grandsons, nephews, uncles, neighbours, cousins and brothers stood side by side in well organised, yet vastly outnumbered formations, boldly facing the army of England’s King Edward II (1307-27). Walter the 6th High Steward of Scotland assisted command of a 1000 strong 3rd battalion, generally from Renfrew, Lanark and the Borders, all under the main command of his cousin, James Douglas (c1286-1330). Both were knighted at this time for their courage at this, The Battle of Bannockburn, possibly the most decisive battle in Scotland’s story. 

The men from Kyle, which continued to be the name for the geographical land mass belonging to the High Stewards of Scotland where Castle Hill stood proud on its north western reaches, fought valiantly within the Scot’s rearguard, alongside those of neighbouring Carrick to the South, and Cunningham to the Northwest, all led by King Robert the Bruce (1306-29) himself.

After two gruelling days of fighting, much of the English forces found themselves trapped within the surrounding terrain, where the shear number of heavy horse cavalry and foot soldiers had churned up mud along the banks of the now crimson waters of the meandering Bannock Burn, offering a treacherous and limited escape. Edward sensing certain defeat, tucked tail and fled the field, narrowly escaping with his life. Briskly followed by some of his generals, including Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford (c1276-1322), who was subsequently captured at Bothwell Castle. However, it is said that in response to the pleadings for de Bohun’s life by Edward II’s Queen, Isabella (c1295-1358), his life was spared.  Instead Walter the Steward took him to the Scottish Border where he made for a successful prisoner exchange for Bruce’s Queen, Elizabeth, his daughter Marjory, sisters Mary and Christian, as well as Bishop Robert Wishart of Glasgow. Fondly reuniting the King with his old friend and family, after their many, many years of miserable captivity in England.

King Robert the Bruce’s statue at Bannockburn 

Success at Bannockburn meant that finally bishops, barons, abbots and priors, with Walter the High Steward listed amongst the Earls, gathered for parliament at the monastery of Cambuskenneth on 6th November 1314.  On that day, each put their seals of agreement to the disinheritance of Scottish lands and titles for all who had stood against the King. This however, went on to simmer a resentment that was to bubble over into the storm clouds of war once more in the coming years.

Meanwhile, as a reward for his knightly services, Walter was appointed Warden of the Western Marches, granted Balliol’s lands at Largs, and as an even greater symbol of appreciation and trust between the Steward and his king, Walter was given the hand of Princess Marjory Bruce, daughter of King Robert and his first wife Isabella of Mar (c1277-96) in marriage in May 1315. Henceforth adding the Barony of Bathgate and lands of Riccarton from Marjory’s dowry to the Steward’s growing estates, this special occasion marked the moment when the High Stewards became thereafter entwined within Scotland’s royal family. As toast to the young couple, the guests may well have sipped whisky from the ornately decorated Bute Mazer communal feasting cup, or quaich.  As one of the few remaining artistic objects from this period, it clearly shows the Steward’s banner proudly resting between an incumbent lion’s front paws, surrounded by the shields of six chief councillors of Robert the Bruce, including that of Sir James Douglas, who could well have been the best man at his cousin’s wedding. 

Normality appeared to return for Scotland with Parliament held at 12th century St John Tower medieval parish church on 26th April 1315 in Ayr, some 12 miles south of Castle Hill, and yet, sadly things were far from settled for the kingdom. For across the lands around this same time unusually heavy rain began to fall, and temperatures remained too cold for crops to ripen. This became known as The Great Famine of 1315-1317 which swept across Europe, where livestock drowned or starved and 5% of the population perished as the price of wheat, barley and oats soared way beyond the means of most people. Some, it was said, were forced to cannibalism to survive.   

St John’s Tower, Ayr

It’s difficult to say if Walter and Marjory spent time at their lands in Dundonald, but roughly 10 months into their marriage, on 2nd March 1316 personal tragedy struck the young couple. Heavily pregnant Marjory fell from her horse, and was said to have dislocated her neck vertebrae, and may have died at a spot marked by a cairn between Renfrew Road and Dundonald Road in Paisley. Their baby boy, named Robert, after the King, is thought to have been delivered by emergency Caesarian surgery, and local legend goes that during his hasty birth, one of his eyes was cut, leading to a future nickname of Blearie E’ee.  Marjory was laid to rest at Paisley Abbey alongside Walter’s High Steward forefathers and mothers, and in return for prayers for his young wife’s soul, Walter gifted his recently acquired lands at Largs to the Abbey. At parliament at Scone on 3rd December 1318, young Robert was declared heir presumptive to Scotland’s throne, should his grandfather King Robert the Bruce die without an heir.

Princess Marjory’s tomb at Paisley Abbey

Meanwhile, Scotland recovered all its lands, with the exception of Berwick. And so it was in April 1318, after a successful eleven-week siege of its castle, Scotland finally freed itself from English occupation, at least for while. And as Berwick was once again established as a Scottish trading port, Sir Walter the High Steward was left in place as its protector for a time. In the same year, together with Sir James Douglas, Walter was appointed Scotland’s governor in the King’s absence when the Bruce left to support of his younger brother, Edward Bruce (1280-1318), who had become High King of Ireland in 1316. 

The feud with Edward II continued however, and in September 1319 at Myton in Yorkshire, Sir Walter the High Steward, Thomas Randolph Earl of Moray (c1285-1332) and Sir James Douglas led a decisive win for the Scots, resulting in a somewhat short-lived truce between the two nations on Christmas Day 1319. 

On 6th April 1320, Walter placed his seal amongst 8 earls and around 40 barons agreeing The Declaration of Arbroath, delivered to Pope John XXII (1316-34) as a letter declaring the legitimacy and rights of Scotland as a nation. Foremost now amongst Scotland’s state papers, this was the first ever known document to declare the sovereignty of people over monarchs, in effect giving them the right to depose any monarch, should they fall short of representing the people:

“..Yet if he (The king) should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule…”  

Passage from The Declaration of Arbroath of 1320


Nonetheless, peace did not prevail as Edward II continued hostility, and 1322 found King Robert engaged in a bold uphill attack on the English army at Byland in Yorkshire, followed by 3-pronged flank attacks led by Sir Walter the Steward, Sir James Douglas, and Sir Thomas Randolph. The outcome was 20 miles of southerly flight to York for Edward, barely escaping with his life.

Two years later Bruce’s Queen, Elizabeth gave birth to twin boys, one of whom sadly died, leaving the surviving twin, David, next in line to the throne. Parliament at Cambuskenneth Abbey in 1326 decided that young Robert would be next in the line of succession, only if David died without an heir.  Robert by now may have had a half-sister, Jean, after Walter married Alice Erskine (born c1275), daughter of John de Erskine (c1250-95) and Margaret MacGilronan (c1255-c1300), as well as further half-siblings Egidia, John and Andrew, after his father married Isabel de Graham of Abercorn (c1298-1325), daughter of John and Isabella de Graham of Dalkeith around 1320, after once again being widowed.

Edward II of England

In January 1327, Edward II was deposed by his own parliament, and his son Edward III became King of England (1327-77). Living long enough to know that his enormous efforts had helped secure a nation that would no longer be troubled by Edward II, Walter sadly died from a fever on 9th April 1327 at the age of only 30 at Bathgate Castle – one of his principal residences in the centre of the dowry lands he obtained through his marriage to Princess Marjory. Sadly, this meant young Robert was orphaned at the age of only 11, and was placed under the wing and tutelage of his uncle Sir James Stewart Knight of Durisdeer (c1297-1345), a brother of his father, Walter.

Eventually it seemed, at least on paper, peace appeared to have prevailed when Edward III agreed the Treaty of Northampton on 17th March 1328. Under its terms Scotland’s independence and its king were recognised, but not without a sting in its tails for the Scots. After some 32 years of tyrannical rule and invasion, Scotland agreed to pay £100,000 in silver over 10 years to officially end the war. To further seal this deal, a marriage agreement was struck between the Bruce’s heir, 4 year old Prince David, and Edward’s sister, 7 year old Princess Joan (1321-62), youngest daughter of Edward II and Isabella of France, who were married at Berwick-upon-Tweed on 28th July that same year.  

David and Joan meet King Philip VI of France

Meanwhile, had young Robert not been removed from the direct line of succession when David was born, it may well be that he would have married Princess Joan.  If this were the case, this one alteration in the timeline could have changed the whole history of Scotland.  As it was around 1336, Robert married local Ayrshire nobles’ daughter Elizabeth Mure of Rowallan (c1320-c1355). Together they had at least 10 children –  with their eldest son John (1337-1406), bringing us the next known mention of Dundonald when in the 1360s he was recorded as dominus barronie de Kyle – or the lord of the barony of Kyle, the area where Castle Hill resided. Nevertheless, questions later arose about the validity of Robert and Elizabeth’s marriage, and so a special dispensation of Pope Clement VI (1342-52) was made on 22nd November 1347 to legitimise per subsequens matrimonium for Robert and Elizabeth, after which they officially re-married in 1349, just as, arguably, Scotland’s most devastating turn of events landed upon its shores… 

Old Rowallan Castle, Ayrshire, some 10 miles north of Dundonald, said to be the birth place of Elizabeth Mure (c1320-c1355)

The Great Mortality of 1346-1353 arrived in Scotland around 1349 or 1350 which caused an estimated 200,000 people to perish. Some villages ceased to exist altogether because everybody had died from a highly contagious illness which became known as the Black Death due to darkened skin and swellings around lymph nodes in the armpits, neck, and groin, as described in surviving Latin manuscripts from the libraries of Paisley and Kelso Abbeys. The shear magnitude of loss had huge social and economic consequences that affected labour and land management, resulting in famine and general hardship for many years to follow.

Plague image By Pierart dou Tielt

Plague returned again in 1361, by which time Elizabeth Mure had died, and Robert, by around 1355, had re-married the daughter of the Earl of Ross, Euphemia de Ross (c1329-86), widow of Robert’s once fellow Guardian of Scotland Sir John Randolph, 3rd Earl of Moray (c1306-46). Euphemia and Robert went on to have two sons and two or three daughters, and Robert is thought to have had eight illegitimate children, which added to the head count of his offspring to number about 22.  Robert assured that they all had favourable marriages, lands and titles, and so his children went on to establish an almost complete takeover of the kingdom. Perhaps he may well have intended to pave the way for a lasting legacy of a unified and peaceful kingdom after so many years of war. But as Ayrshire poet Robert Burns so wisely said “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” and this was not to be case, as we shall see in the following chapters.

Nonetheless, holding fast to his High Steward roots, Robert named at least 3 of his sons, Walter and 4 Alexander.

Less than 3 years after the death of King Robert I at his palace at Cardross in 1329, Edward Balliol (c1281-1364), the son of former King John Balliol (1292-96), returned to Scotland to reclaim the throne which he believed was rightfully his. With the support of Edward III and Henry Beaumont(c1280- 1340), a disaffected noble who had lost his lands during Bruce’s reign, he led an invasion force into Scotland. There he met supporters of King David II in battle at Dupplin Moor near Perth, where English longbow fire felled the Scot’s defences, and it is said that the devastating number of bodies could pile to the height of a great spear. Thus began the Second War of Scottish Independence as two kings vied for its throne. Edward Balliol was crowned King at Scone on 24th September 1332, however, this was a throne he only occupied until the end of the year. The following year he regained it again, became deposed again in 1334, restored again in 1335 and finally in 1336 Edward Balliol was chased south never to return.

Dunfermline Abbey containing the tomb of King Robert the Bruce and Queen Elizabeth

Meanwhile war persisted as Edward III attempted to take Berwick once again, and the ensuing battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 became another heavy defeat for the Scots. In its aftermath, King David and his Queen consort Joan, were spirited away to the safety of Joan’s relative King Philip VI of France (1293-1350) until such time as it was safe for them to return. In David’s absence Robert and John Randolph were made joint guardians of Scotland, but large parts of the kingdom became under the control of England once more, as did many of its strongholds.

The Battle of Neville’s Cross where King David II was taken captive. By Jean Froissart – Bibliotheque Nationale de France

By 1341 conditions were considered sufficiently favourable for 17 year old David and Queen Joan to return, but in 1346, David was captured at the Battle of Neville’s Cross where John Randolph was killed, and so Robert become Scotland’s sole guardian for a time whilst David was subsequently held prisoner in London. David wasn’t released from captivity until 1357, and only on the condition Scotland would pay a huge ransom of 100,000 marks for his return. David began to press that his parliament should accept King Edward’s Son, John of Gaunt (1340-99) as David’s successor, should he die without a legitimate heir in exchange for a cessation of payments for this crippling ransom. However, Scotland’s parliament rejected this and Robert appears to have been so vehemently opposed to the suggestion that it may well have been the cause of his rebellion against his uncle, the King in 1363, for which Robert was temporarily imprisoned.

David II died unexpectedly on 22nd February 1371 at Edinburgh Castle at the age of 46, and without an heir to succeed him, the Bruce and the High Steward Dynasties merged when Robert, now in his mid 50s, became King Robert II on 26th March 1371. Thus began the Stewart dynasty, which went on to have enormous influence for centuries to come. In the next chapter of the Chronicles of Castle Hill we will find out how these events led to Dundonald becoming a home to the Scottish royal household… 

Find out more about the story of Robert II in our earlier blog

Find out more about Princess Marjory Bruce from our short film from our YouTube Channel

Find out more about Euphemia de Ross in our earlier blog:

Find out more about the relationship between Robert II and his uncle David II from our short film from our youtube channel

#YearofStories #YS22 #TalesofScotland


1Dundonald Castle Excavations 1986—93
Author(s): Gordon Ewart, Denys Pringle, David Caldwell, Ewan Campbell, Stephen Driscoll, Katherine Forsyth, Dennis Gallagher, Tim Holden, Fraser Hunter, David Sanderson and Jennifer Thoms
Source: Scottish Archaeological Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1/2, DUNDONALD CASTLE EXCAVATIONS 1986—93 (2004), pp. i-x, 1-166
Published by: Edinburgh University Press
Stable URL:

McNamee, C. The War of the Bruces Scotland, England and Ireland 1306-1328. 1997. Tuckwell Press East Linton.

Boardman, S. The Earl Stewart Kings: Robert II and Robert III 1371-1406.1996. John Donald.

Prebble, J.,1974. The Lion in the North: one thousand years of Scottish History. pp109-10. Book Club Associates. Robert MacLebose and Co Ltd, Glasgow.

Samson, D. A Genealogical and Historical Account of the Illustrious Name of Stewart, from the first original to the accession to the Imperial Crown of Scotland. 1726. Edinburgh,-earl-of-hereford/#.Yv92G-zMLOQ

Edward III


Cover by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC

Timeline by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC

Image of King Robert the Bruce statue at Bannockburn by Gwen Sinclair

The Bute Mazer Image by David Taylor

Image of Edward II By Founder of Oriel College, after a painting in the Bodleian Library (colour engraving) by English School (19th century) –, Public Domain,

Princess Joan and David II meet Phillip VI of France By Jean Froissart –, Public Domain,

Declaration of Arbroath image graphics by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC image from

Old Rowallan Castle by Sagereid – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Plague image By Pierart dou Tielt (fl. 1340-1360) –, Public Domain,

St Johns Tower Ayr By Robert Cutts from Bristol, England, UK – St John’s Tower, Ayr, CC BY 2.0,

The Battle of Neville’s Cross image By Jean Froissart – Bibliotheque Nationale de France, MS Fr. 2643, Folio 97, Public Domain,

Dunfermline Abbey by Gwen Sinclair