John Barbour (c. 1316-95), archdeacon of Aberdeen, wrote the epic poem The Bruce around 1375. Its high point is an account of Robert Bruce’s defeat of the English at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), with a section beginning “A! Fredome [Freedom] is a noble thing!” that has long been a favorite of Scottish nationalists. The 13,645-line poem also contains a lengthy detour to Ireland to follow Edward Bruce’s adventures as invader and self-styled king. It’s far from an uncritical portrait—he is even blamed for endangering his brother’s life when Robert comes to Ireland to help out. The Reverend Barbour is also distrustful of the Irish. Even Bruce’s allies are presented as treacherous and unreliable.

Barbour, however, clearly enjoyed tactical trickery, and his Scots are adept in the use of disguises and ruses that fool the enemy. Using historical sources, he is at times accurate (the Battle of Connor in Antrim, for instance), and at times fanciful (Robert Bruce’s journey to Limerick, oddly described as the southernmost city in Ireland). And he is aware of the unorthodox Irish fighting style. One of Edward’s allies says, “Our tactics are [those] of this land, to follow and to fight while fleeing, and not to stand in open encounter until one side is defeated.” Another example of complex interconnections of families in Ireland is that Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster, whom Edward defeated at Connor, was Robert Bruce’s father-in-law.

For a sense of the style and Scottish dialect of The Bruce, compare these opening lines of Edward’s arrival in Ireland with the prose translation that follows.

The erle off Carrik Schyr Edwar
That stoutar wes rhan a lipard
And had na will to be in pees
Thocht that Scotland to litill wes
Till his brother and him alsua,
Tharfor to purpos gan he ta
That he off Irland wald be king

SIR EDWARD, EARL OF CARRICK, who was stronger than a leopard and had no desire to live in peace, felt that Scotland was too small for both him and his brother; therefore he formed a purpose that he would become king of Ireland. To that end he sent and negotiated with the Irishry of Ireland who, in good faith, undertook to make him king of all Ireland, provided that he could overcome by hard fighting the Englishmen who dwelt in the land then, while they would help with all their might. He, hearing them make this promise, was very pleased in his heart, and, with the king’s consent, assembled to himself men of great courage; then he took ship at Ayr in the following month of May, [and] took his way straight to Ireland. He had in his company there Earl Thomas, who was a fine [man], good Sir Philip Mowbray who was staunch under great pressure, Sir John Soules a good knight, and Sir John Stewart, a brave [one]; also Ramsay of Auchterhouse, who was brave and chivalrous, Sir Fergus Ardrossan and many another knight.

They arrived safely in Larne Lough without opposition or attack, and sent home all their ships. They have undertaken a great project when with so few as they were there—six thousand men, no more—they prepared to conquer all Ireland, where they would see many thousands come armed to fight against them. But although few, they were brave, and without fear or dread took the way in two divisions, towards Carrickfergus, to see it.

But the lords of that country, Mandeville, Bisset and Logan, assembled every one of their men—the Savages were there too—and when they were all gathered, they numbered almost twenty thousand. When they learned that such a company had arrived in their country, with all the folk that they had there, they went towards them in great haste. As soon as Sir Edward knew for a fact that they were coming close to him, he had his men arm themselves well. Earl Thomas had the vanguard and Sir Edward was in the rear. Their enemies approached to fight and they met them without flinching. There you could see a great mellee for Earl Thomas and his company laid into their foes so doughtily that in a short time men could see lying a hundred who were all bloody, for hobbies [small horses] who were stabbed there reared and thrashed and made a lot of space, throwing those riding on them. Sir Edward’s company then attacked so hardily that they drove back all their foes. Anyone who chanced to fall in that fight was in danger of [not] rising. The Scotsmen in that fighting bore themselves so boldly and well that their foes were driven back [until] they took entirely to flight ….

Next they went to Carrickfergus and took lodging in the town. The castle was then well [and] recently provisioned with victuals and [garrisoned] with men; they set siege to it at once. Many a sally was made very boldly while the siege lay there, until eventually they made a truce, when the folk of Ulster had come entirely to his peace, because Sir Edward meant to undertake to ride forth further into the country.

There came to him and made fealty some of the kings of that country, a good ten or twelve, as I heard say; but they kept their faith to him only a short time ….

At Kilnasaggart Sir Edward lay, and very soon heard tell there that a gathering of lords of that country had been made at Dundalk. They were assembled in a host there. There was first Sir Richard Clare, who was Lieutenant of the king of England in all Ireland. The earl of Desmond was also there, the earl of Kildare, de Birmingham and de Verdon, who were lords of great reputation. Butler was also there, and Sir Maurice FitzThomas. These came with their men and were indeed a really mighty host.

When Sir Edward knew for a fact that such a chivalry was there, he had his host armed in haste and took the way towards [the enemy], taking lodging near the town. But because he knew for a certainty that there were a lot of men in the town, he armed his divisions then and stood arrayed in division, to hold them if they should attack. When Sir Richard Clare and other lords who were there learned that the Scotsmen with their divisions had come so near, they consulted [and decided] that they would not fight that night, because it was late, but that on the morrow, in the morning very soon after sunrise, all who were there would issue forth; for that reason they did no more that night but both sides made camp. That night the Scottish company were very well guarded, in good order, and on the morrow, when [the] day was light, they drew themselves up in two divisions; they stood with banners all displayed, fully ready for battle. Those who were inside the town when the sun had risen, shining brightly, sent fifty of those who were within [the town] to see the demeanour of the Scotsmen and their arrival. They rode forth and soon saw them, then returned without delay. When they had dismounted together, they told their lords who were there that the Scotsmen appeared to be worthy and of great valour, “but without doubt they are not half a dinner [compared] to us here.” At this news the lords rejoiced and took great comfort, causing men to proclaim through the city that all should arm themselves quickly.

When they were armed and equipped and all drawn up for the fight, they went forth in good order; soon they engaged with their enemy, who resisted them right strongly. The fight began there fiercely, for each side put all their might into defeating their foes in the struggle, and laid into the others forcibly. The hard-fought engagement lasted a long time, so that men could not make out or see who most had the upper hand. From soon after sun-rise until after mid-morning the fighting continued in this uncertainty; but then Sir Edward, who was bold, with all those of his company, attacked them so fiercely that they couldn’t withstand the fighting any more. All in a rush they took to flight and [the Scots] followed swiftly; into the town all together they entered, both intermixed. There you could see dreadful slaughter, for the right noble Earl Thomas, who followed the chase with his force, made such a slaughter in the town, such a dreadfull killing, that the streets were all bloody with slain men lying there; the lords had got quite away!

When the town had been taken as I tell you, by dint of much fighting, and all their enemies had fled or been killed, they all lodged themselves in the town where there was such profusion of food and so great an abundance of wine the good earl had a great fear that [some] of their men would get drunk and in their drunken state start brawling. So he made an issue of wine to each man so that he would be content, and they all had enough, perfay. That night they were very relaxed and much cheered by the great honour that accrued to them through their valour. After this fight they stayed there in Dundalk for no more than three days; then took their way southwards. Earl Thomas was always to the fore. As they rode through the country it was remarkable that they could see so many men upon the hills. When the earl would boldly ride up to them with his banner, they would one and all take to flight so that not one remained to fight. [The Scots] rode on their way southwards until they came to a great forest which was called Kilross as I heard tell, and they all made camp there.

All this time Richard Clare, who was the king’s Lieutenant, had assembled a great host of all the baronage of Ireland. They were [in] five divisions, great and broad, seeking Sir Edward and his men [who] had come very near to him then. He soon got knowledge that they were coming against him and were so near …. The Scots were all on foot then, [the enemy] well equipped on horses, some [men] all protected in iron and steel. But Scotsmen pierced their armour with spears at the encounter, impaled horses and struck men down. It was a tough battle then, there. I can’t tell [of] all their smiting, nor who struck down which other in the fight, but in a short while, I assure you, those of Ireland had been so resisted that they did not dare to stay there any longer, but fled, scattered, every one of them, leaving on the battlefield a great many of their good men dead. The field was wholly covered by weapons, arms and dead men. That great army had been forcibly driven off, but Sir Edward allowed no man to give chase, but they went back with the prisoners they had taken to the wood where their armour had been left. That night they made merry [with] good cheer and praised God for his grace. This good knight, who was so worthy, could well be compared to Judas Maccabeus who in a fight avoided no host of men as long as he had one against ten ….

Then they rode towards O’Dempsy, an Irish king who had made an oath of fealty to Sir Edward, for before that he had begged him to see his land and [there] would be no lack of food or anything else that could help him. Sir Edward trusted in his promise and rode straight there with his force. [O’Dempsy] had them pass [by] a great river and in a very fair place which was down by a burn he had them make their camp, and said that he would go to have men bring victuals to them. He went off without staying any longer, because he meant to betray them. He had brought them to such a place where all the cattle were withdrawn [from them] by a good two days’ [travel] or more, so that they could get nothing worth eating in that land. He meant to enfeeble them with hunger and then bring their enemies against them. This false traitor had caused his men to dam up the outlet of a lough a little above where he had lodged Sir Edward and his men, and let it out in the night. The water then came down on Sir Edward’s men with such force that they were in danger of drowning, for before they knew it, they were afloat. They got away with great difficulty and by God’s grace kept their lives, but [some] of their armour was lost. He made no great feast for them, perfay, but nonetheless they had their fill, for although they got no food, I can tell you they were good and wet.

They were placed in great distress because they so lacked meat, for they were placed between two rivers and could cross neither of them. The Bann, which is an arm of the sea [and] which can’t be crossed on horseback, was between them and Ulster. They would have been in great danger there but for a sea-pirate who was called Thomas Dun, [who] heard that the army was placed in such straits and [who] sailed up the Bann till he came very close to where they lay. They knew him well and were greatly cheered. Then with four ships that he had captured he set them all across the Bann. When they came to populated land they found enough victuals and meat, and made camp in a wood. No-one of the land knew where they were; they relaxed and made good cheer.

At that time, close beside them, Sir Richard Clare and other great [men] of Ireland were camped with a great host in a forest side. Each day they had men ride [out] to bring them victuals of various kinds from the town of Connor which was good ten miles from them. Each day as they came and went, they came so near the Scots’ host that there were only two miles between them. When Earl Thomas perceived them coming and going, he got him a goodly company of three hundred on horse, bold and brave. There was Sir Philip Mowbray, also Sir John Stewart with Sir Alan Stewart, Sir Robert Boyd and others. They rode to meet the victuallers who were coming from Connor with their victuals, holding the way to their host. They assaulted them so suddenly that they were all dismayed so that they dropped all their weapons and piteously cried for mercy. [The Scots] took them into their mercy and so thoroughly cleaned them up that not one of them escaped. The earl got information about them, that [some] of their host would come out of the wood-side in the evening and ride [to meet] their victuals.

He thought then of an exploit, causing all his followers deck themselves in the prisoners’ clothing, take their pennons with them too, wait till the night was near and then ride toward the host. Some of the [enemy’s] great host saw them coming, and thought that these were indeed their victuallers, so they rode towards them dispersed, because they had no fear that these were their foes, and also they were very hungry, so they came higgledy-piggledy. When they were near, the earl and all that were with him in great speed assaulted them with unsheathed weapons, shouting aloud their rallying cries; then they, seeing their foes so suddenly attack them were so fearful that they had no heart to encourage them but went to the host, [while the Scots] gave chase and killed many [so] that all the fields were strewn [with corpses]; more than a thousand dead lay there. They chased them right up to their host, then took their way back ….


[The Scots] took counsel then altogether that they would ride to the city [Connor] that very night, so that they should be with all their force between the town and those who were to come [from] outside. They did just as they had planned; they soon came before the town and only half a mile on the road from the city they halted. When the day dawned light, fifty nimble men on hobbies came to a little hill which was only a short distance from the town, and saw Sir Edward’s camp; they were astonished at the sight, that so few dared at all undertake such a great enterprise as to come so boldly against all the great chivalry of Ireland to await battle. And so it was, without doubt, for there were gathered against them there, with Richard Clare the Warden, the Butler, with the two earls of Desmond and Kildare, Birmingham, Verdon, and Fitz-Warin, Sir Pascal Florentine who was a knight of Lombardy and was full of chivalry. The Mandevilles were there also, Bissets, Logans and various others; Savages too, and there was also a man called Sir Nicholas Kilkenny. With these lords, there were so many then that for each of the Scotsmen I believe they were five or more. When their scouts had seen the Scottish host like that, they went in haste and told their lords fully how they had come near to [the enemy]; there was no need to seek them afar. When Earl Thomas saw that those men had been on the hill, he took with him a good company on horse, perhaps a hundred in number, and they took their way to the hill. They lay in ambush in a declivity, and in a short time they saw coming riding from the city a company intending to reconnoitre to the hill. [The Scots] were pleased at that, and kept still until [the enemy] came near to them, then in a rush all who were there burst upon them boldly. Seeing those folk come on so suddenly, they were dismayed. Although some of them stayed there to fight stoutly, others took to their heels. In a very short time those who stayed behind were so defeated that they fled altogether on their way. [The Scots] chased them right to the gate, killing a great part of them, then returned to their host.

When those within [the city] saw their men killed like that, and driven home again, they were cast down and in great haste shouted aloud, “To arms!” Then all of them armed themselves and made ready for the battle. They came out, all well equipped, to the battle, banner displayed, prepared to the best of their ability to attack their foes in tough fighting. When Sir Philip Mowbray saw them come out in such good order, he went to Sir Edward Bruce and said, “Sir, it would be a good idea to prepare some deception which will do something to help us in this battle. Our men are few, but they are willing to do more than they can achieve. Therefore I suggest that our carts, without any man or boy, should be drawn up by themselves, so that they look like far more than we [are]. Let us stand our banners before them; yon folk coming out of Connor, when they can see our banners there, will believe for a certainty that we are there, and will ride thither in great haste. Let us come on them from the flank, and we shall have the advantage, for, when they have come to our carriage, they will be impeded and we can lay into them with all our might and do everything we can.”

They did exactly what he had ordered. The [men] who came out of Connor addressed themselves towards the banners, quickly striking their horses with spurs, rushing suddenly among [the banners]. The barrels that were there soon impeded them [as they] were riding. Then the earl with his force rode up and attacked closely, [while] Sir Edward, a little nearby, fought so very boldly that many a doomed man fell underfoot; the field soon grew wet with blood. They fought there with such great fierceness, and struck such blows on each other with stick, with stone and with [blow] returned, as each side could land on the other, that it was dreadful to see. They kept up that great engagement, so knight-like on both sides, giving and taking violent blows, that it was past prime before men could see who might have the upper hand. But soon after prime was past the Scotsmen attacked so hard and assaulted them impetuously, as [if] each man was a champion, [so] that all their foes took to flight. None of them was so brave that he dared wait for his fellow, but each fled in their different ways.

The majority fled to the town. Earl Thomas and his force pursued so fiercely with drawn swords, that [they] were all mixed among them and came into the town all together. Then the slaughter was so ghastly that all the streets ran with blood. Those that they overtook [were] all done to death so that there were almost as many dead as on the battlefield ….

On the morrow, without delaying, Sir Edward had men go to survey all the victuals of that city. They found such a profusion there of corn, flour, wax and wine, that they were astonished at it; Sir Edward had it all carried to Carrickfergus. Then he and his men went there, pressing the siege very stalwardly until Palm Sunday had passed. Then both sides took a truce until the Tuesday in Easter week, so that they could spend that holy time in penance and prayer. But on the eve of Easter right to the castle, during the night, came fifteen ships from Dublin, fully laden with armed men—I’m pretty sure they numbered four thousand; they entered the castle. Old Sir Thomas Mandeville was captain of that company. They went into the castle secretly for they had managed to spy that many of Sir Edward’s men were then scattered in the country. For that reason they meant to sally out in the morning, without delaying longer, and to surprise [the Scots] suddenly, for they believed that they would lie trusting in the truce that they had taken. But I know that dishonesty will always have a bad and unpleasant conclusion.

Sir Edward knew nothing of [all] this, having no thought of betrayal, but despite the truce he did not fail to set watches on the castle; each night he had men watch it carefully, and Neil Fleming watched that night with sixty worthy and bold men. As soon as day grew clear those who were in the castle armed themselves, got ready, then lowered the drawbridge and sallied forth in large numbers. When Neil Fleming saw them, he hastily sent a man to the king and said to those near him, “Now I promise you, men will see who dares to die for the sake of his lord. Now carry yourselves well, for assuredly I will fight against their whole company. By fighting we shall hold them until our master is armed.” With those words, they fought; they were far too few, perfay, to fight with such a large force. But nonetheless with all their might they laid into [their foes] so boldly that all the enemy were greatly astonished that [the Scots] were all of such courage as if they had no fear of death. But their ruthless enemies attacked so that no valour could prevail. Then they were slain, one and all, so completely that no one escaped. The man who went to the king to warn him about their sally, warned him with great speed.

Sir Edward was commonly called the king of Ireland. When he heard that such a thing was happening, he got his gear in very great haste; there were twelve brave men in his chamber who armed themselves with speed, then went through the middle of the town with his banner. His enemies, who had divided their men into three, were coming very close. Mandeville, with a great company, held his way down right through the town, the rest kept on either side of the town to meet those who were fleeing; they thought that all that they found there would die without ransom, every one. But the game went quite otherwise, for Sir Edward with his banner and his twelve men that I mentioned before, attacked all that force so strongly that it was extraordinary.

For Gib Harper [a minstrel, who will appear again] went in front of him, who was the doughtiest in his deeds then living in his position, made such way with an axe that he felled the first to the ground, and a moment afterwards recognised Mandeville among three by his armour, and struck him such a blow that he fell to the earth at once.

Sir Edward who was nearby him turned him over, and in that very place took his life with a knife. With that Fergus Ardrossan, who was a very courageous knight, attacked with sixty or more men. They pressed their foes so, that they, having seen their lord killed, lost heart and wanted to be back [in the castle]. All the time, as the Scotsmen could be armed, they came to the encounter and laid into their foes so, that they all turned tail, and [the Scots] chased them to the gate. It was a hard fight and bitter struggle there. Sir Edward killed by his own hand there a knight who was called the best and most generous in all Ireland; by surname he was called Mandeville, [but] I can’t say what his first name was. His men were pressed so hard that those in the donjon dared neither open the gate nor let down the drawbridge. Sir Edward, I promise, pursued those fleeing to safety there so hard that, perfay, of all those who sallied against him that day, not one escaped, [for] they were either taken or slain. For Macnacill then came to the fight with two hundred spear-men, killing all that they could overtake. This Macnacill won four or five of their ships by a trap and killed all the men [on them]. When this fighting came to an end Neil Fleming was still alive. Sir Edward went to see him; his dead followers lay around him all in a heap, on both sides, and he, in mortal pain, [was] about to die. Sir Edward was moved by his [fate] and mourned him deeply, lamenting his great courage and his valour in doughty deeds. He mourned so much that they were astonished, for in the usual way he was not accustomed to lament anything, nor would he listen to men making lamentations. He stood by there until [Neil] had died, then he took him to a holy place and had him buried with ceremony [and] great solemnity. That’s how Mandeville sallied forth, but for sure deceit and guile will always come to an ill conclusion, as was obvious from this sally. They came out in time of truce, and in such a [holy] time as Easter day, when God rose to save mankind from the stain of old Adam’s sin. For that, great misfortune befell them, that each, as you heard me say, was killed or taken there and those who were in the castle were so alarmed at that time, being unable to see where help could [come from] to relieve them, that they negotiated and shortly thereafter surrendered the castle freely to [Sir Edward], to save their life and limb, and he kept his word to them as was right. He took the castle into his hands, provisioned it well and appointed a good warden to guard it, and he rested there for a time.

We shall speak no more about him now, but we’ll go to King Robert, whom we have left long unspoken of ….


[Robert Bruce, king of Scotland] took his way to the sea, taking ship at Loch Ryan in Galloway with his whole following; he soon arrived at Carrickfergus. Sir Edward was pleased by his coming, went down to meet him at once, welcoming him with warmth, as he did to all who were with [the king], especially Earl Thomas of Moray, who was his nephew. Then they went to the castle there and had a big feast and festivities. They stayed there for three days enjoying themselves.

King Robert arrived in Ireland in this way, and when he had stayed in Carrickfergus for three days, they consulted [and decided] that with all their men they would hold their way through all Ireland, from one end to the other. Then Sir Edward, the king’s brother, rode ahead in the vanguard; the king himself took up the rear, having in his company the worthy Earl Thomas. They took their way southward, soon passing Innermallan. This was in the month of May, when birds sing on each branch, mixing their notes with harmonious sound, because of the softness of that sweet season; leaves sprout on branches, blooms grow brightly beside them and fields are decked with fine-scented flowers of many colours; everything becomes happy and joyful.

When this good king took his way to ride southward, as I said before, the warden at that time, Richard Clare, knew that the king had arrived thus, and knew that he planned to take his way to the south country. He assembled from all Ireland burgesses and chivalry, hobelars and peasantry, until he had nearly forty thousand men. But he still wouldn’t undertake to fight in the field with his foes, instead thinking up a stratagem whereby he with all his great company, would lie in ambush in a wood quite secretly beside the road by which their enemies would pass; [he would] allow the van to pass far by and then attack boldly upon the rear with all their men ….

Sir Edward rode well ahead with those who were of his company, paying no heed to the rear. When Sir Edward had passed by, Sir Richard Clare in haste sent light yeomen, who could shoot well, to harrass the rear on foot. Two of those who had been sent harrassed them at the side of the wood there shooting among the Scotsmen. The king, who had a good five thousand brave and hardy men with him then, saw those two shooting among them so recklessly and coming so close. He knew very well, without [any] doubt, that they had support close at hand, so he issued an order that no man should be so bold as to gallop to them, but [should] always ride in close order ready for battle, to defend themselves if men sought to attack. “For I’m sure,” he said, “that very soon we shall have to cope with more.”

But Sir Colin Campbell, who was nearby where those two yeomen were shooting boldly among them, galloped against them at full speed, soon overtaking one of them, [whom] he quickly killed with his spear. The other turned and shot again, killing his horse with one shot. With that the king came hastily, and in his annoyance gave Sir Colin such a bash with a truncheon in his fist, that he slumped on his saddle-bow. The king ordered him to be smartly pulled down, but other lords who were near him, calmed the king somewhat. He said, “The breaking of orders can lead to defeat. Do you think that yon wretches would dare attack so near us in our formation, unless they had support nearby? I know very well, without [any] doubt, that we shall have [much] to do very soon; so let each man look to being prepared.”

At that a good thirty and more archers came and so harrassed that they hurt [some] of the king’s men. The king then had his archers shoot to drive them back. With that they entered open ground and saw standing, drawn up against them in four divisions, forty thousand. The king said, “Now lords, show who is to be valiant in this fight. On them, without more delay.”

They rode so stoutly against them, and attacked so fiercely, that a great part of their foes lay [slain] on the ground at the encounter. There was such a breaking of spears as each [side] rode against the other, that it made a truly great crashing [noise]. Horses came charging there, head to head, so that many fell dead to the ground. As each [man] ran against another many a bold and worthy man was struck down dead to the ground; red blood gushed out of many a wound in such great profusion that the streams ran red with blood. Those who were wrathful and angry struck others so hardily with drawn and sharp weapons, that many a brave man died there. For those who were hardy and brave, fighting face-to-face with their enemies, pushed to be foremost [in the fight]. You could see fierce fighting and a cruel struggle there. I’m sure that such hard fighting was not seen in the whole Irish war; although Sir Edward doubtless had nineteen great victories in less than three years, and in various of those battles he defeated twenty thousand men and more, [their] horse with trappings right to the feet. But at all times he was still [only] one to five when he was least [in numbers]. But in this engagement the king always had eight of his enemies to one, but he bore himself so [well] then that his good deeds and generosity so encouraged all his followers [and] the shakiest was bold. For where he saw the thickest press he rode so hardily against them that he always made space around him.

Earl Thomas the worthy was always close to him, fighting as though he were in a fury, so that, by their great valour, their men took such courage that they would avoid no danger, but exposed themselves [to danger] so stoutly, assaulting them so hardily, that all their foes were terrified. And [the Scots] who perceived well from the bearing [of the Irish] that they were avoiding the fight somewhat, then pushed on with all their might and pressed them, striking so hard that eventually they turned [to flee].

[The Scots], seeing them take to flight, pressed them then with all their might, and slew many as they were fleeing. The king’s men gave such chase that every one of them was scattered. Richard of Clare took the way to Dublin in a mighty hurry, with other lords who fled with him ….

The king who was so estimable, saw right many slain on the field. He saw one of those who was taken [prisoner] there and was decked out splendidly crying with great tenderness, and asked him why he made such a face. He said to [the king], “Sir, it’s not surprising that I’m crying. I see many here [who’ve] lost their life-blood, the flower of all northern Ireland, [men] who were stoutest of heart and deed, and most feared in a tight corner.” The king said, “You’re wrong, perfay; you’ve more reason to laugh, because you’ve escaped death.”

When bold Edward Bruce heard that the king had fought like that against so many men, and in his absence, you couldn’t see an angrier man. But the good king said then to him that it was his own folly, for he rode so carelessly so far in advance, with no vanguard made to the men behind; for, he said, anyone who wants to ride in the van in war, should never press far out of sight from his rearward, because great danger could arise therefrom. We shall speak no more about this battle.

The king and all those with him rode forwards in better order and closer together than they had done previously. They rode openly through all the land, finding that no-one stood in their way. They even rode before and then before Dublin also, but they found no-one to give battle. Then they went southward in the land holding their way right to Limerick, which is the southernmost town to be found in Ireland. They lay there for two or three days, then prepared to travel again. And when they were all ready, the king heard a woman cry. He quickly asked what that was. “It’s a laundry-woman, Sir,” someone said, “who is taken in childbirth now, and will have to remain behind us here, so she’s making that awful noise.” The king said, “It would indeed be a pity to leave her at that crisis; for there is no man, I’m sure, who won’t have pity on a woman then.” He halted the whole army then, and soon had a tent pitched; [he] had her go in hastily and other women to be with her, [and] waited until she had been delivered, then rode forth on his way; and before ever he set forth, he gave orders how she was to be transported. It was a very great kindness that such a king, so mighty, had his men wait in this way, for a mere poor laundry-woman. They took their way northwards again, and thus passed through all Ireland, through Connaught right to Dublin, through all Meath, then Uriel, and Munster and Leinster then wholly through Ulster to Carrickfergus, without a battle, for there was no-one who dared attack them.

Then all the kings of the Irishry came to Sir Edward and did their homage to him, except for one or two. They came to Carrickfergus again—on all that way there was no battle unless there were any skirmishes not to be spoken of here. Then every one of the Irish kings went home to their own parts, undertaking to be obedient in all things to the bidding of Sir Edward, whom they called their king. He was well set now, [and] in a good way, to conquer the land altogether, for he had on his side the Irish and Ulster, and was so far on with his war that he had passed through all Ireland from end to end, by his own strength.

If he could have controlled himself by discretion, and not been too self-indulgent but governed his actions with moderation, it was doubtless very probable that he could have conquered the whole land of Ireland, every bit. But his excessive arrogance and stubbornness, which was more than hardy, distorted his resolve, perfay, as I shall tell you afterwards ….

OCTOBER 14, 1318

But [Edward], always irritated by inaction, always wanting to be busy, a day before the arrival of those who had been sent him by the king, took his way to go southwards, despite all those who were with him. For he had in that land no more than two thousand men, I believe, apart from the kings of the Irish who rode with him in great contingents. He took the way toward Dundalk, and when Richard Clare heard news that he was coming with so small a following, he gathered all the armed men from all Ireland that he could, so that he had there with him then twenty thousand horse with trappings, apart from those [men] who were on foot, and held northwards on his way. When Sir Edward heard tell that they had come near to him, he sent scouts to see him—they were Soulis, the Steward and also Sir Philip Mowbray. When they had seen them coming they went back to make their report, saying that they were indeed very numerous.

Quickly Sir Edward answered them saying that he would fight that day, [even] though they were treble or quadruple [the number]. Sir John Stewart said, “Now, I advise you, don’t fight in such a hurry. Men say my brother is coming nearby with fifteen thousand men; if they were combined with you, you could stay to fight more confidently.” Sir Edward glowered angrily and said swiftly to Soulis, “What do you say?” “Sir,” he said, “perfay, I agree with what my companion said.” Then he spoke to Sir Philip. “Sir,” said he, “as God sees me, I think it no folly to wait for your men, hurrying to ride [to us]. For we are few and our foes are many; God may deal our fates very well, but it would be remarkable if our force could overcome so many in battle.” Then with great anger, “Alas,” [Edward] said, “I never thought to hear that from you! Now let whoever wants to, help, but rest assured [that] I will fight, today, without more delay. Let no man say while I’m alive that superior numbers would make me flee! God forbid that anyone should blame us for defending our noble name.” “Well, let it be so,” said they. “We shall take whatever God sends.”

When the kings of the Irish heard it said, and knew for a fact, that their king meant to fight with so few against a force of such great power, they came to him very quickly and advised him gently to wait for his men, [while] they would keep their enemies busy all that day, and one the morrow also, with the raids they would make. But their advice had no effect; whatever came, he would have battle. When they saw he was so determined to fight, they said, “You may well go to fight with yon great company; but we discharge ourselves completely—none of us will stand to fight. So don’t rely on our strength, for our tactics are [those] of this land, to follow and to fight while fleeing, and not to stand in open encounter until one side is defeated.” He said, “Since that is your custom, I ask no more of you than this, that is, that you and your followers should be arrayed all together, standing a distance away, without leaving, and see our fight to the end.” They said that they would indeed do so, and then went toward their men who numbered nearly forty thousand.

Edward, with those who were with him, who weren’t fully two thousand, drew themselves up to stand stalwartly against forty thousand and more. That day Sir Edward would not wear his coat of arms; but Gib Harper, whom men held also [to be] without an equal in his position, on that day wore all Sir Edward’s apparel. They waited for the fight in this way, their enemies came in great haste all ready to engage [them] and they met them boldly.

To tell the truth they were so few that they were pushed back by their enemies, [while] those who struggled most to stand [firm] were killed dead, and the remainder fled to the Irish for help. Sir Edward, [a man] of such courage, was dead, as were John Stewart and John Soules too, and others also of their company. They were so quickly defeated that few were killed in the field, for the rest took their ways to the Irish kings, who were there and hovering in one whole force. John Thomasson who was leader of [the men] of Carrick who were there when he saw the defeat, withdrew to an Irish king of his acquaintance, who received him in fidelity. When John had come to that king, he saw led from the fighting the brave Sir Philip Mowbray, who had been knocked senseless in the fight. He was led by the arms by two men, upon the causeway that was between them and the town, [and] stretched in a long straight line.

They held their way toward the town, and when they were half-way along the causeway, Sir Philip recovered from his dizziness and saw that he had been taken and was led by the two like that. He soon threw one away from himself, and then swiftly the other; then he drew his sword swiftly and took his way to the fight along the causeway, which was then filled in great numbers with men going to the town. On meeting them, he made them such payment where he went, that he caused a good hundred men [to] leave the causeway, despite their [companions]. As John Thomasson, who saw all his achievement, said truthfully, he went straight towards the battle.

John Thomasson, who well raised that they had been completely defeated, shouted to him as quickly as possible, and said, “Come here, none of them is alive, for they are all dead.” Then [Mowbray] stood still for a while and saw that they had all been deprived of life, then went close toward [Thomasson]. This John then behaved so sensibly that all those who then fled thither, although they lost [some] of their gear, came sound and safe to Carrickfergus. Those who were at the fighting looked for Sir Edward to get his head among the folk who lay there dead, and found Gib Harper in his gear; because his arms were so noble, they struck off his head, then had it salted in a box and sent it to England as a present to King Edward. They believed that it was Sir Edward’s but they were deceived about the head by the armour, which was splendid, although Sir Edward died there.

This is how these noble men were lost there through stubbornness, a sin and a great sorrow.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!