What Happened on Palm Sunday

It is a sad truth that a holy day is not always a day of blessedness and peace.  We like to think that such a day would bring out the best in people--such as in the story of opposing troops laying down their guns and coming together in peace just for Christmas Day during World War II. 

Unfortunately, stories like the Siege of Berwick are probably more common.  Ah, thank you, dear Longshanks, for making Good Friday 1296...not so very good at all.

[Side note: one recent report I've read suggests that there is not evidence to support the mass destruction we've historically been told happened at Berwick that day.  But that's a post for another day.  There was definitely some sort of attack on the town on Good Friday 1296.]

castle dangerous, walter scott, james douglas, scottish history, medieval history
So now we get to Palm Sunday 1307.  Last week, I gave a bit of background on the life of James Douglas and how his youth was entirely shaped by the English King Edward's determination to hold his country.  On returning from France and England, on having his petition to recover his now-deceased father's lands rejected, he sought out the Bruce, meeting him probably in March of 1306.

In the early months of 1307, Bruce was recently returned to the mainland after his very bad year of 1306, and his retreat, many believe to the Isle of Arran, over the winter months of 1306-1307.  He and his men were living in the Carrick Hills around Turnberry, his home, when James learned that the English Lord Clifford had captured and garrisoned his castle, roughly 50 miles away.  He asked permission of Bruce to go re-take his castle.  Much to the ill end of those who garrisoned it, James's request was granted.

James set out with only two men.  On reaching his estates of Douglasdale, he found Thomas Dickson, a loyal tenant who likely knew him when he was young.  Young of course, is a relative term.  We don't know James Douglas's year of birth for sure, but it could have been as late as 1288, meaning he may have been short of his 19th birthday at the time this happened.  Or he may have been in his very early 20s.

James and Dickson recruited local men and on Palm Sunday, some of those men joined the English soldiers at Mass, while others waited outside.  Some sources say this was the castle chapel.  Others say James and his men retired to the castle after the attack. 

The attack started prematurely but, regardless of it not going quite according to plan, James's men won the battle (as James almost infallibly did), capturing or killing the entire garrison.  The deed done, they sat down to the Palm Sunday meal prepared for the English troops.  (A bit reminiscent of what would happen years later at Lintalee, where Arundel's men began feasting on James's house-warming feast at his new home.)

Finishing the meal, they poisoned the wells, retrieved any stores that might be useful, and scattered the rest among the cellars.  They then brought down the remaining captives and beheaded them.  The bodies of the English were put in the cellars and the castle set ablaze.

In Barbour's The Brus, we are told:

Here Ja of dowglas slays them in the church
The folk upon the Sunday
Held to St. Bride's church their way
And they that in the castle were
Issued out both less and more
And went forth their palms to bear
Except a cook and a porter
Iames of Douglas of their coming
And what they were had notice
And sped him to the church in haste
But ere he came to it hastily
One of his friends cried, "Douglas, Douglas,"

Thomas Dicsone the nearest was
To them that were of the castle
Who were all within the chancel
And when he 'Douglas' so heard cry
He drew out his sword and fiercely
Rushed among them to and fro

Tradition tells us that Thomas Dickson was cut across the middle by an English sword (wow, sounds like someone we know!) but kept fighting until he fell dead.

If you would like to see a more medieval version of the story, go to Poem Hunter.

This event became known as The Douglas Larder.  It was the first time he re-took his home from the English, but it would not be the last.  There would be two more, and they would light (forgive the pun) the English imagination and dread, such that it became said to serve at Douglas Castle was a death wish.  (I'm paraphrasing.)  Walter Scott called it Castle Dangerous. 

[Side Note: (did I mention that being a musician I excel at notes?  All 88 on the piano for starters, although not all at once.  Ahem, back to the side note:) Being partial to both James Douglas and The Scarlet Pimpernel, I like to think that James Douglas's ingenuity might have lit the imagination of the Scarlet Pimpernel's author regarding his brilliant disguises.]

One story that comes down to us is of a young woman being courted by a knight I'm guessing she wasn't terribly interested in.  (There is no doubt at all in my mind that he was young and dashing, for how could it be a good story otherwise!)  She told him in order to prove his courage, he must volunteer to be in the garrison of Douglas Castle.  I'll tell in another post what happened to him when he did so.

For today, however, I want to shift to a more serious note (which would be E flat, but only in the key of C--which creates a minor chord which is very serious indeed) and talk about...brutality...and how we judge other times.  For the sake of this issue, I have filed this piece under my Literature and Life series, among other labels.

Readers of The Blue Bells Chronicles will know that this question arises throughout the series.  Niall finds Shawn's time (our time) lacking.  The Laird and Allene are equally appalled by the things Niall tells them.  Women running about in their knickers!  Shawn initially finds Niall's time brutal and without fun or humor. 

Niall comes to learn, however, that maybe our time might have a few redeeming qualities as he craves the knowledge Shawn shares with him, of history, music, science, of the size of the world around us.  The Laird and Hugh finally acknowledge that maybe the common ability to swim and what Shawn knows about phobias can help Niall.

james douglas, douglas larder, great books, what to read after outlander
And Shawn, especially on returning to his own time, faces that what we, today, flippantly call brutal, fails to take into consideration the context.  We may find it brutal to murder and burn an entire garrison.  We may find it appalling to sit in church, breaking bread with our enemies, plotting to kill even as Mass is celebrated.

But put this in context.  In the world of James Douglas, this was no game of Capture the Castle and everyone goes home to a movie.  This was a situation with a long history of violence at the hands of the English, stretching back at least 20 years.  People had been slaughtered en masse at Berwick. 

Isobel MacDuff and Robert Bruce's sister Mary were by now living in cages hung on castle walls, on public display, on orders of King Edward I.  Nigel Bruce, Robert's brother, had been hanged, drawn, and quartered--as were so many Scots--just six months prior in September 1306. Edward I had a policy of killing Scots 'out of hand' in this very vicious manner.

What are you, personally, going to do, if you know that those you love, those you care about, your friends, neighbors, co-workers, or employees, may be hanged only until almost dead, then have their bowels cut out--while they are still alive--and burned before their very eyes--by an executioner who is specifically trained in keeping men alive through this grisly, hideous process specifically that they might suffer more?

What would you do to prevent such a fate falling on those you care about?

James Douglas chose a swift and relatively easy death for those who might do such harm to those who looked to him for livelihood and protection.

In context...Scotland was a small and poorly armed country compared to England.  They had to use any and every manner of fighting that they could. 

In context...war and killing was the norm at that time.  If we are to judge by the time in which Douglas lived, we must look at the whole picture.  He killed swiftly.  Edward I employed a long, drawn-out (no pun intended), vicious method of torture and death.  He killed to drive men out of his own home.  Edward killed to take the homes of others.

In context...to kill the whole garrison was to protect his people and tenants of Douglasdale to the best of his ability, as he would be leaving again on the business of freeing all of Scotland, and would not be there to fight for them.  He left no English in the immediate vicinity to visit reprisals on his people--which they surely would have done in far more brutal ways than what Douglas employed.


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