Sir Robert the Bruce – Part Two

Following a period in early 1307 on Rathlin Island, and Robert the Bruce’s alleged meeting with a spider in a cave, Robert the Bruce and his supporters made another attempt to gain freedom from English rule. They were betrayed however and Robert the Bruce’s brothers were captured and executed… 

Around the same period Sir Robert Boyd and Sir James Lord Douglas, accompanied by a group of about 20 men in a ‘Birlin’ set off via Sanda Island, Kintyre heading for Arran. Their mission was to ascertain the strength of the English troops based on the Island. They landed on a rocky beach at Machrie near Drumadoon, dragged and concealed the boat above high water, initially taking refuge in a cave nearby.

At first light the group set off to walk across the island. This was no mean feat as they had no knowledge of the area, and there were no roads or even rough tracks to follow. Braving the elements experienced on the island at this time of the year, they had to sleep rough overnight, in whatever shelter they could find. Eventually, they arrived on the hillside overlooking Brodick Castle, a timber built stockade, tired from their efforts, wet and hungry as they had not enjoyed a substantial meal for some time. Taking refuge in the trees surrounding the stockade, they surveyed the scene of three schooners at anchor, one of them in the process of unloading supplies for the English troops. At this time the Island was governed by Sir John de Hastings 1262-1313 with an English garrison, made up of Knights, Squires and Yeoman, which included a small detachment, camped in the stockade grounds.

As the Scots made their final approach to the area, still protected by the trees, sailors were transporting the new supplies from the schooner to the stockade. They promptly surprised and ambushed the troops. The surprise attack outnumbered the few sailors and the Scots relieved them of their provisions. The sailors who survived the attack fled to the safety of the schooners anchored nearby. The Scots retreated to a region named Glencloy, where they sought shelter and feasted on the provisions they had secured.
They also came across an Islander named Fergus McLouis or Foulertoun who volunteered assistance to the Scottish troops.

Two weeks later about mid-February Robert the Bruce, with no knowledge of what happened at Loch Ryan, with the remaining 300 troops, who had waited for favourable weather conditions, set sail in 25 ‘Birlin’galleys heading for the South of Arran where they landed in the area now known as Whiting Bay or Kings Cross. Temporary shelter was sought before most of them hiked heading for Brodick leaving a small group to look after the boats. They met up with Sir Boyd & Sir Douglas and the other 20 troops who were taking refuge in Kilmichael with Fergus.

With all the men back together and itching for action, Bruce led his men in taking over the stockade of Brodick Castle and the surviving English left Arran on the schooners. A rest period was taken before leading his men back to Kings Cross, where they camped for a few days. Sir Douglas with a few men volunteered to sail to the Ayrshire coast in one ‘Birlin’ to report on the state of the area. They arrived safely to find the area near Turnberry full of English soldiers, not good for Bruce to start mounting another attempt at driving the English from the area. Douglas had been instructed to light a beacon when it was favourable for the Scots to make a landing.

By this time it was well into the month of March, some days passed with no sign of a beacon and the King was becoming impatient, the inaction of the past five months was taking its toll. The King and his troops were ready to begin another confrontation with the English, following their brief yet successful raid on Brodick Castle. Sir Douglas was about to return to Arran to advise the King, when someone set alight a large bonfire, which created a lot of smoke. This was witnessed on Arran, which created a lot of excitement and lifted the spirits of the patriot Scots.

The ‘Birlins’ were soon launched in the sheltered bay of Kings Cross at the South end of Loch an Eilean (the original name of the Lamlash settlement at Cordon) and once all preparations were completed, the King and his troops set sail in the late afternoon. Conditions were perfect almost a flat calm with sufficient wind to fill the sails. They arrived off the Ayrshire coast near Turnberry under the cover of darkness. There was an eerie silence, the darkness of the night only disturbed by the sound of the waves rolling onto the beach, with the moonlight giving a clear vision of the rocky outcrop, on which the Turnberry Castle was built, offering a rather austere formidable sight.

Douglas met the galleys on the beach just south of the Castle, who gave news of the English occupation. Despite this set back a number of the Scots refused to return to Arran and encouraged the King to continue with the landing. He rallied his troops and with his knowledge of both the strengths and weakness of the Castle he sought revenge on the English by mounting a raid on the area surrounding the Castle.

The Scots surprised and swiftly overcame the troops, who were quartered in the adjoining houses and hamlets of the Castle area; the fact that the troops were asleep with no watch in place, because they were not expecting any action, made the ambush relatively easy for the Scots. No quarter was given and dawn of the next day found most of the English troops slain, with no losses reported by the Scots. Apart from the troops who escaped and took flight to find refuge elsewhere, and the contingent living in Turnberry Castle. The officers in the Castle led by Henry de Percy 1st Baron of Percy 1273-1314, were disturbed by the commotion, but not knowing the strength of the Scot’s remained holed up in the Castle making no attempt to save the troops. The following day they were forced to surrender and Bruce reclaimed his home.

Despite the success of the raid on Turnberry Castle, the Scots were slow to rally to Bruce and his cause, their patriotism dented by the earlier exploits of the English troops. Eventually Bruce won over the Scots, proving to be a formidable leader with courage, often leading from the front, as he led them to face the enemy- both English and Scottish clans.

In April Bruce and his troops defeated the English at the Battle of Glen Trool and in the next month at Loudon, enhancing his reputation by gaining revenge on the Earl of Pembroke. In 1308 the Comys’s were defeated at Inverurie, many other success followed culminating in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and the signing of the declaration of Arbroath in 1320.

Later, when Bruce returned to the Island of Arran on a hunting expedition, Fergus MacLouis / Foulerton was gifted the lands of Kilmichael and the farmhouse for services rendered and the sheltering of Sir Boyd & Sir Douglas and their troops. The charter was signed at Arnele on November 26th 1307. This was the only part of Arran not owned by the Hamilton’s. Records show that Bruce and his descendants returned to the island of Arran on several occasions on hunting expeditions, making use of Brodick and Kildonan castles. **
It is recorded that Bruce paid 6 men the sum of 2 shillings to crew a couple of ‘Birlins’ transporting him and the family from Ayrshire to Arran to engage in a deer hunt.

In the year 1310 Bruce ordered the destruction of Turnberry Castle to prevent the English from ever occupying the Castle again, as it was in a strategic position on the coast of the River Clyde.

The site of Brodick Castle has been in use since the 5th century. In earlier times the construction was built of timber, in 1406 English forces badly damaged the construction, which was raised to the ground by fire after a skirmish led by John of Islay the Lord of the Isles in 1455. In 1510 the 2nd Earl of Arran James Hamilton 1475 – 1529, title was created in 1503, who was married to the daughter of King James 11 of Scotland) had the first stone building constructed in the style of a tower house.

Kildonan Castle was built by McDonald Lord of the Isles in the 13th century. King Robert 111 took over ownership in 1406 and the 3rd Earl of Arran John Hamilton 1535 – 1604 took possession in 1564, whom was made the 1st Marquis of Hamilton in 1599. Finally many years later, the Castle was signed over to Arran estate.

The Comunn Birlin- derived from the Norse (byroingr) [a ship of burden]
The birlin a clinker built galley, was designed by Somerled, Lord of the isles 1113-1164, which was based on the Viking Long ship. The Scottish design was a small galley with 12 to 16 oars and a sail supported on a central mast, each craft had the innovative design of a rudder located at the stern held by a metal pin-a design still in use to this day.
The craft was widely in use throughout the western Isles and the River Clyde, for over 400 years.

Other points of interest:

A descendant of Fergus Louis Foulerton who lived in Corrie, married a cousin of Robert Burns the poet and emigrated to Canada around 1780/85.

The Brus line originated from Normandy, Robert de Brus was introduced to England by King Henry 1st in 1106. King David 1st of Scotland made him the 1st Lord of Allandale, shortly after his appointment in 1119 Brus founded Gisburn Priory of St Mary’s in Yorkshire, which was partly demolished in 1540.

Descendants of the Brus line through their blood lineage, in modern times, include Winston Churchill, Lady Diana and David Cameron. To name a few of them.

In the modern film about Sir William Wallace, the use of ‘ Braveheart’ was an error.

The term Braveheart actually referred to Robert the Bruce.


Compiled by
Jim Henderson
Updated from previous research on the 12th April 2018.