Friday, August 31, 2012

Scotland: August 1453 to December 1454

The news of Henry VI’s sudden death arrived in Edinburgh not more than a week after it occurred; the news that two men were claiming the English throne came a few days after that.  James II, who at the age of 22 had already ruled Scotland for 16 years, could see the potential that the quickly developing succession crisis had for Scottish interests along the border with England.  However, James also had to contend with the fact that he himself was dealing with an intense family feud between the so called “black line” of Clan Douglas and the royal house of Stewart.  The feud had been escalating in intensity since the 1440s during the minority of James and evolved into an intermittent civil war in 1452 when James personally stabbed William Douglas, the 8th Earl of Douglas, in Stirling Castle.  But as of last August 1453, only clans allied to the Black Douglas, as they were called, or loyal to the Stewarts had clashed with James Douglas, the 9th Earl of Douglas, and his brothers not openly challenging James nor he openly challenging his enemies.

Throughout the fall of 1453, James and the Scottish nobles looked on as the English nobility divided between York and Beaufort or stayed neutral.  Then in early November reports came to Edinburgh that Fauconberg had left Roxburgh Castle with at least half the castle’s garrison headed for Berwick.  Instantly the King thought of taking one of the last English possessions on Scottish soil and started to gather troops from those loyal to him.  As it turned out so where the Black Douglas and for a while James though he might face open combat with his rivals until George Douglas, the 4th Earl of Angus, of the “red-line” of Clan Douglas acted as an intermediary between his cousins the King and the Black Douglas along with their allies to temporarily set aside their issues for the good of the kingdom.

This temporary accord came just after news of the Battle of Durham drifted up from the English border along with reports that Fauconberg had taken half of the garrison of Berwick on his way to the battle.  On the heel of this news came the survivors from the Percy force including Henry Percy, the eldest son and heir of the 2nd Earl of Northumberland, plus his brothers seeking a haven now that the North had all but fallen to the Nevilles in support of York.  The Percys were hereditary foes of the Douglases, however James allowed them to stay in Scotland but sequestered them away from the border for the time being.  In the meantime, James and the Douglases started to organize a force for the vulnerable English possessions giving the command to the Angus as he was at that time a neutral party in the bitter family feud.

In late January 1454, after following the flow of events in England, a small Scottish army led by Angus quickly took the lightly defended Berwick.  Angus left a garrison to defend the newly conquered city and lead the army to besiege Roxburgh Castle.  However, Fauconberg before he had left provisioned the strategic stronghold so well that the light garrison that he had left would be able to withstand a siege for a long time.  It did not take Angus long to realize that even before he had campaigned that Fauconberg had practicably gotten the best of him.  As news came of Richard’s victory at Bosworth, Angus knew that a now unified England would send a relief force soon and started to double his effects in taking Roxburgh.  However, the fragile coalition between forces loyal to James and those to the Black Douglas was breaking apart and with it the cohesion of the Scottish army.  When news arrived that Fauconberg was leading a relief force into northern England, Angus attempted to pressure the Roxburgh garrison even more, however Black Douglas’ allies refused and marched to meet the English.  Fauconberg crushed the splinter force before maneuvering between Roxburgh and Berwick making Angus choose between facing the oncoming English with a garrison behind him without support from Berwick or retreat leaving Berwick to a siege itself.  When Fauconberg arrived at Roxburgh in late April, Angus had long since left.

After reinforcing the Roxburgh garrison, Fauconberg went to besiege Berwick.  James along with many of the nobles and clans were angry of the betrayal of the Black Douglas’ allies at Roxburgh forcing Angus to retreat.  In fact during the siege of Berwick, the Stewart loyalists and the Black Douglas’ allies were at each other’s throats on the verge of fighting a civil war inside while enemy troops waited outside.  Then as Fauconberg got reinforcements, the Black Douglas’ allies let the English into the city but in doing so the Stewart loyalists forced their way through their countrymen to a ship that had arrived at the town and sailed away.  The ship arrived in Edinburgh a few days later and the Stewart loyalists talked about what happened at Berwick.  Although some of the Black Douglas’ allies tried to refute the accusations, the events around Roxburgh had already set the stage for more nobles and clans once allied to the Black Douglas started to turn to James.  It didn’t hurt the King that he was also using patronage, titles, and offices to pick off other Black Douglas allies as well.

As Richard settled into his reign in England, James had to considering the English exiles in his country.  Besides the Percy brothers and other nobles that had fled after Durham, James had allowed Oxford and Edmund Beaufort to stay in Scotland upon their arrival after fleeing from Bosworth.  The news of attainders, fines, and death warrants from England worried the exiles however James thought they could be of use against the Black Douglas.  He allowed the Percys to travel freely within the country though they and the other English exiles preferred to stay around Edinburgh with Edmund Beaufort acting as head of a court-in-exile.  The welcoming and harboring of the English exiles did nothing to improve relations with the new King of England; however James knew his rival Douglas would not find a friend in Richard due to the Douglases being hereditary foes with Nevilles just like they were with the Percys.

As 1454 ended in Scotland, James II found his nemesis, Douglas, losing support throughout the country from nobles and clans.  Even though the Scots lost the opportunity to gain permanent control of Roxburgh Castle and Berwick, the failures were blamed on Douglas’ allies while his decision to oppose the English and foment a potential Beaufort resurgence was highly thought of.  The only thing that concerned James was that Richard and France were cooperating on a potential marriage between Henry IV of Castile and Margaret of Anjou along with some disturbing reports from Ireland that he hoped would not force Richard’s hand.

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