In 2007 I splurged and bought a copy of the BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF HISTORY OF SCOTTISH WOMEN and was amazed at the breath and scope of Scottish women who for centuries have been absent in Scottish history. Sure we all know about Queen Mary of Scots and Flora MacDonald, but what about Caroline Oliphant, Lady Nairne (songwriter, 1845), or Finella (assassin, 995) or Marion Gilchrist (physician, 1894). But one of my favorite Scottish women is…
Lady Agnes Randolph, countess of Dunbar and March
“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.”
---from a ballad attributed to the Earl of Salisbury
Lady Agnes Randolph was born before 1312, the daughter of Isabel Stewart, a cousin of Walter, the High Steward of Scotland and Sir Thomas Randolph, the first Earl of Moray - a hero of the Scottish Wars of Independence and the man named Regent after the death of Robert the Bruce. He is thought by most historians to be the nephew of King Robert through the first marriage of the king's mother, Marjory Bruce. Agnes married Patrick Dunbar, ninth Earl of Dunbar and March sometime before 1324.
Dunbar Castle in East Lothian was the strategic keep for both the Scots and the English during the two Wars for Scottish Independence After the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, when King Robert Bruce's army routed the army of Edward II, Patrick Dunbar was forced to give sanctuary to Edward at Dunbar before Edward was whisked away to England. Later, Bruce forgave Patrick Dunbar making him guardian of Berwick Castle in 1322. Dunbar tore down his own castle at Dunbar after trying to defend both from the English. However in the second war of Independence, Edward III forced Dunbar to rebuild Dunbar at his own expense to house English soldiers. But in 1338 Dunbar now a patriot of the Scottish cause got it back.In early 1338, while Patrick was elsewhere with the Scottish army, Agnes was left to defend the castle against the English Earl of Salisbury. Salisbury thinking a castle held by a woman was easy pickings but he quickly learned Agnes was no ordinary woman, she was a Scot. When Agnes refused to surrender, he catapulted the castle with huge rocks and projectiles, but Agnes rallied her women when there was a lull in the barrage, she signaled her refusal to surrender by having her ladies in their best clothing meet on the ramparts to dust away the mess with white cloths as if they were doing a bit of cleaning, a suitable insult.
As the siege has dragged on for weeks, Salisbury decides to bring her brother, Sir John Randolph, the Earl of Moray now a prisoner of the English, to the castle. Sir John was forced to call out to his sister, that if she didn't surrender he would be killed. Agnes in bold Scottish determination replied:"...if he is killed he has no heirs, so his land will become mine." Not quite the reaction Salisbury expected from a loving sister. Randolph was returned to prison and the siege continued on with an impotent Salisbury.
For all those who leave a comment you will be enrolled in a drawing for a copy of David R. Ross’s book Women of Scotland, please leave your email address.
SEDUCED BY HISTORY AUGUST CONTEST: Seduced by History Blog is hosting a month-long contest in August. One winner will receive a ‘basketful of goodies.’ All you have to do is check in on each blog during the month, look for a contest question to answer and September 1-5, 2011 send in your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org. For full details, read the information on the right or click the CONTEST page.
As one who loves the history of Scottish women here is my contest question..
Who was the first Scottish woman to climb Ben Nevis in a bikini and why?