Reiver by David Pilling

Friday, 17 August 2012

"A most marvellous thing happened that day..."


...or so said the Lanercost chronicler, describing the events of the 10th-11th August 1331. The chronicler's definition of 'marvellous' might not be everyone's, as he was enthusing over the great piles of dead soldiers that lay on the field of Dupplin Moor - "the pile of dead rising up from the ground was more than a spear's length in height", drooled the chronicler, clearly experiencing a tight little thrill of ecstasy at the thought. Well, a medieval monk in an isolated monastery had to get his kicks where he could.

Sir John Swale, the much put-upon knight of Cumberland and 'hero' of my series of historical tales - courtesy of Musa Publishing - is about to experience the slaughterhouse that was the Battle of Dupplin Moor in the forthcoming instalments of his Chronicles, "The Mercy of God" and the appropriately-titled "Dupplin Moor". Driven by his endless quest for revenge on the Scottish knight who murdered most of his family, and to rescue his sister from slavery, he joins the army of the Disinherited led by Edward Balliol, would-be King of Scotland. At Dupplin Moor Balliol's vastly outnumbered army finds itself squaring up to over three times their number of Scots, led by Scotland's regent, the Earl of Mar.

The reasons behind Balliol's invasion are complex. Son of John Balliol, the man remembered by history as 'Toom Tabard' or the 'Empty Coat' for his short and hapless reign as King of Scotland, Edward spent much of his early life in exile in France, dreaming of returning to Scotland to claim his inheritance. Evidently a proud and arrogant man, he refused to marry while in exile, for no French noblewoman (as he thought) was worthy to marry a future King of Scots.

His chance came in 1329, when Robert I of Scotland - Robert the Bruce of spider-bothering fame - died of leprosy and left his kingdom to his infant son, David II. David's right to rule was challenged by "The Disinherited", a group of Scottish and English nobles who had lost their lands in Scotland as a result of opposing the Bruce. After two years of scheming, Henry Beaumont, the chief of the Disinherited, sailed to France to meet with Balliol and plan for his much-delayed return to power and glory. With the young and ambitious King of England, Edward III, urging them on and offering covert military support, Balliol and his cronies started preparing for war...the results, as John Swale is about to discover, were unpleasantly gory.

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