Scotlands History

'Black Agnes' - Countess of Dunbar

Agnes, Countess of Dunbar, was the daughter of Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, a close ally of Robert the Bruce. In 1337, while her husband was fighting in the north, ‘Black Agnes’ defended her home, Dunbar Castle, against an English siege.

Black Agnes was named for her olive skin and black hair. She was outraged when the Earl of Salisbury besieged her home and she refused to surrender.

For months Agnes and a few servants and men held out against the English forces. The English earl brought mighty siege engines to batter the castle walls. Agnes and her ladies walked the battlements and dusted the walls where they had been hit with their white handkerchiefs.

Agnes stood on the walls of the castle and berated the English forces.

When the Earl of Salisbury brought a battering ram called ‘a sow’ to the castle, Agnes had a massive boulder - that the attackers had fired at the walls - dropped on the war machine, destroying it.

The English held Agnes’ brother John Randolph, Earl of Moray, captive. They put a rope about his neck and threatened to hang him. Agnes called their bluff telling them to go ahead as she would fall heir to the Earldom of Moray. The English relented and Randolph survived.

Eventually the English earl gave up and abandoned the siege. Black Agnes became a folk hero. A ballad, put words into the mouth of the Earl of Salisbury:

She kept a stir in tower and trench,
That brawling, boisterous Scottish wench,
Came I early, came I late,
I found Agnes at the gate.

  • Black and white illustration showing a queen on battlements with arrows and rocks flying around her
  • Painting of women standing on battlements

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