Scotlands History

Castles and sieges

Castles were of vital importance during the Wars of Independence. While Edward I took Scotland’s castles and garrisoned them to enforce his overlordship, Robert the Bruce had Scots castles ‘slighted’ to make then useless to the invaders.

Defenders and attackers fought an arms race. Castles grew larger with stronger and more elaborate defences as siege engines became more powerful and armies brought explosives to siege warfare.

In 1300 Edward I invaded Galloway and laid siege to Caerlaverock castle. Siege engines were brought from Lochmaben and castles as far afield as Jedburgh and Roxburgh. 60 Scots under Lord Maxwell tried to hold the castle against Edward’s army of 87 knights and more than 3000 men. When Edward I finally broke through the castle’s defences some of the Scots defenders were hanged from the battlements.

We have an account of the siege from a member of Edward’s army:

Caerlaverock was so strong a castle that it feared no siege before the King came there, for it would never have had to surrender, provided that it was well supplied, when the need arose, with men, engines and provisions...

...So stoutly was the gate of the castle assailed by him, that never did smith with his hammer strike his iron as he and his did there. Notwithstanding, there were showered upon them such huge stones, quarrels, and arrows, that with wounds and bruises they were so hurt and exhausted, that it was with very great difficulty they were able to retire.

Le Siege de Karlavreock - The Siege of Caerlaverock, c.1300

In 1304 Edward laid siege to the strategically important Stirling Castle. The stronghold seemed impregnable but Edward brought all the latest weapons to the siege.

Edward had a massive trebuchet called ‘Warwolf’ built to hurl boulders at the castle’s walls. It is thought to have been the largest trebuchet ever built. The besieged Scots were bombarded by stone and lead balls, and came under fire from incendiary and early gunpowder weapons.

Edward I had sulphur and saltpetre – components of gunpowder – brought to the siege from England, ‘We command you, that in haste, you cause to be purveyed to the city of York a horseload of cotton thread, a load of quick sulphur, and another of saltpetre’

The cost of ‘throwing fire into the castle’ was a total of forty-seven shillings and six pence. The sulphur cost nine shillings.

In 1314 the Scots under Robert the Bruce met Edward II’s army at Bannockburn. For a whole year the Scots had laid siege to the garrison that held Stirling Castle. When Edward II lost the battle Sir Philip Mowbray surrendered the castle.

  • Ruined castle tower and wall
  • Photo of a wooden construction on wheels with large wooden balls beside it
Click on the image to view a larger version.