Robert Bruce’s reaction to the de Soules Conspiracy
by Keith Elliot Hunter QPM, BA
Walter d’Alliot or d’Elliot, depending on the preference of one medieval scribe or another, chieftain of Clan Elliot, was the descendant of the Breton Elias, whose name first appeared as d’Alyth in a charter of 1189 to which he was a witness.[i] He was probably the first baron of The Brae, which his descendant Walter forfeited in 1306, for rallying to the side of Robert Bruce (de Brus) following his seizure of the Scottish throne.[ii] Biblical names such as Elias, Thomas, or Adam were popular among noble families of most ethnicities who benefited from the introduction of feudal military tenure in Scotland by David I (1124-1153) and his grandsons Malcolm IV (1153-1165) and William I, the Lion (1165-1214).
The Brae was situated on land between Glen Shee and Glen Isla, and in 16th , 17th and early 18th century maps, there is marked the baronial ‘burh’ of Eliot, with some also showing the Forest and Kirk of Eliot. Early variants of the name, Elicht, Eycht, Elieht, Elitt, Elioht and finally the modern spelling Eliot, were the result of efforts by medieval and early modern scribes, clerks and cartographers, to find a way of signifying the semi-vowel sound of the io of a name subject like so many to variable choices of phonetic spelling.[iii]
The confusion surrounding the variable names Alliot and Elliot which has persisted for many years arises from medieval scribal use of the letters y and gh in place of the abandoned OE letter yogh [?] which had had four values. These were now reduced to two, one of which was the palatal semi-vowel sound of y, ia, ie, io and iu, so that the three variants Alyth, Alight and Alyght which appear in documents written by at least two scribes, including one who drew up a list of prisoners in 1296, should undoubtedly now be seen to have been as attempted phonetic spellings of ‘Alliot’.[iv] Until fairly recently scholars have tended to treat Alight and Alyght as variants of Alyth, a name which today is spelt as Alliot. Not one of the three medieval versions of this name has any more claim to accuracy than either of the other two, but further confusion has arisen in the past from one scribe’s preference for A – Alliot, and another for E-Elliot. In the end, in Scotland, in the hands of 16th and 17th century cartographers, Marcher wardens and officials, and the Elliots themselves, as soon as they were able to sign documents unaided, Elliot became the final choice.
Many people carrying both variants, Alliot and Elliot can be found today in Brittany (mostly Morbihan and Loire Atlantique), in Normandy ( Seine Maritime), England and Scotland.[v] A combination of Y-chromosome research, and French (Breton) registers of births, plus ( if some flippancy may be excused) many a Breton telephone directory, prove that beyond any doubt that the Anglo-Breton and Scots-Breton Alliot-Elliots were descendants of mercenaries who had joined William the Conqueror’s army of invasion in 1066. That the Elliots would eventually be identified as 12th century military colonists is not surprising, given the fact that with the exception of a few families like that of the earls of Dunbar, of Northumbrian origin, the Scottish nobility was made up almost exclusively of men of Gaelic, Norman, Flemish and Breton and other continental origins, the instruments of the policy of David I (1124-1153) and his grandsons, Malcolm IV (1153-1165) and William I (1165-1214) to extend feudal military tenure across their Scottish lands, particularly south of the Forth, and in eastern Scotland, north of the Firth. The descendants of these early feudatories would eventually forge a new Scottish identity and create a viable, independent Scottish medieval state. Prior to Scottish succession crisis these the lands on each side of the border had been peaceful for several decades, and the military frontier in Scotland was to be found in the north. Having described the Flemish origin of the Douglas family, founded by a man related to the more powerful Murrays, Michael Brown observes, in his history of the Black Douglases:
‘However, this was not a Scottish nobility in any sense of exclusive identification with Scotland or its rulers. The lords of Douglas were normal in possessing lands and connections beyond Scotland, holding estates in Northumberland and Essex by 1296….The Anglo-Scottish border was no bar to landholding. It simply divided the fiefs of the Scottish king from those of his own lord, the king of England.’[vi]
By 1328 on pain of forfeiture no Scottish noble was permitted to hold lands in England for which he owed allegiance to the English king, and no Scot was permitted to marry an Englishman or woman – a rule which according to Thomas Musgrave by and large the Elliots, unlike other Border families, respected. One known exception was an Elliot-Forster marriage. Such was the change wrought by only three decades of fighting for the independence of the Scottish king.
Elias d’Alliot/Elliot was probably among a considerable number of men of continental origin, some with lands in England, made tenants-in-chief of William during the 1170s or 1180s. The Brae, like several baronies, may have been an alienated part or whole of a king’s thanage, which, whatever name it may have gone by, has been mistakenly named as Alyth, perhaps believing this to be a Gaelic name, which patently it was not. It was not until the mid 18th century that cartographers began to substitute the old scribal version, Alyth, for Eliot, the name recorded on their maps previously and independently by the highly respected cartographers, John Adair and Herman Moll. This was at a time when the language spoken north of the Forth was principally Gaelic – before its retreat into the uplands as the Middle Scots version of English became the lowland language – when the Elliots, as a kindred of Brittonic-Breton descent, may very well have adjusted to Scottish clan traditions and customs more quickly than most of the infefted immigrants of other ethnicities. The Bretons were hard men with something of a reputation. Later medieval French people invented the verb ‘bretonner’, (‘Breton larron!) which meant to plunder and pillage. Since Alliot and Elliot were, however, Norman French ‘déformations par francisation’ of an older Breton clan or tribal name, whose survival today is seen in the English variants of Allegouët and Elegouët hitherto regarded as variants of Elliot, notably Elligott, Ellacott and Ellicott, the Alliot/Elliots would have been among the most ‘Normanized’ of the Breton colonists. Their bilinguality, like all members of continental origin of the new Scots nobility, would have included the Norman dialect of French, and like a number of Bretons they had adopted the Norman fashion of taking the toponymic d’Alliot or its alternative, d’Elliot as their surname. During the early 12th century, a smattering of English would probably have at first given way to Gaelic, before the imminent advance of Middle Scots. Many Bretons who went on to adopt English or Scottish surnames were earlier given the tag Brito, a cognomen which appears in several surviving Scottish documents, and particularly in lists of prisoners or men swearing fealty, under duress, to the English King Edward I.
In 1296 ‘Thomas de Alyght (d’Alliot) was taken prisoner at the battle of Dunbar, and incarcerated at Kenilworth Castle along with others whom Edward I regarded as his most dangerous Scottish opponents, including Laurence of Strathbogie, Henry of Inchmartine, Malcolm of Drummond and others. His cousin or brother, and chieftain, Walter ‘Alight’ was taken further south to Tonbridge Castle.[vii] Thomas was kept at Kenilworth until some time in 1298,[viii] long after the release from custody of the earl of Atholl in 1297, when the latter agreed to serve Edward I in France, and as a condition of his release gave mainprise (guarantee) for the service of certain named men of his household and retinue who included the young valets and Walter’s sons, Walter and Thomas.[ix] In 1304, Walter and his son Walter, appear as witnesses to the sale of lands held in the tenement of Pitmiddle by John of Pincerna.[x] The believed presence of a group of Bretons among the burgesses of Perth is supported by the swearing of fealty to Edward I in 1296 by a number of such burgesses, including one William Alyth. It should be noted that a tendency by modern scholars, when translating documents, to prefer the variant ‘Alyth’ may have been misleading.
It is now safe to assume that for many years in the Borders where the Elliot clan was transplanted by Robert Bruce, undoubtedly in 1320 during the immediate aftermath of the de Soules conspiracy described below, the Elliots would have been regarded in their locality and beyond as northern intruders. In a lengthy briefing of the English lord Burghley by Thomas Musgrave, captain of Bewcastle and scion of an old Cumbrian reiving family, Robert Elliot XVII, was the only Border laird not to be described as such, but as a chieftain (‘chiefe’), described as having total command of all Elliots, who by then occupied lands in the hands of the descendants of many former cadets, across West Teviotdale and into the Ewes valley. Whether or not the fact that the last great cross-border incursion by an estimated one thousand Borderers in 1593 was led by an Elliot indicates a long-standing special status attached to Elliot chieftainship, is a matter of speculation. By this time the attempt to saddle the Elliots with an English-sounding name, Elwald or Elwood, had finally failed, when literate leading clansmen who no longer needed a notary’s ‘guiding hand,’ began to sign documents unaided, as Ellotts ( perhaps a local dialect version of Elliot – but strangely, also occurring in Brittany). By that time both names had long been in competition, and were clearly starting to confuse men in higher authority who began to write both names in one single document, typified by one which included both the Elwoods of Redheugh and the ‘gang’ of Ellotts at Gorrenberry.[xi]
When contemplating the events and circumstances surrounding the radical action taken by Robert Bruce in 1320 in moving an entire clan into a Border valley and pre-invasion gathering point of great strategic importance, the compelling conclusion is that Bruce must have had to turn to what he regarded as one of his elite fighting corps or warbands, which had stayed and fought alongside him since 1306, to undertake the urgent mission of occupying Liddesdale and garrisoning Hermitage Castle, vacated by the traitor de Soules.
2. The de Soules conspiracy
Despite Robert Bruce’s crushing defeat of an English army led by Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314, the anchorage of his dynasty in 1318 was by no means secure. He had not yet won the Bruce-Balliol civil war. The death of his brother and heir, Edward, in battle at the battle of Fochart in Ireland in that year, had led to some urgency in the drawing up by the December 1318 parliament of an act of succession naming Bruce’s nephew, the infant Robert Stewart as his heir, with Thomas Randolph to act as guardian in the event of Bruce’s death. Medieval kingship was often in trouble when kings lacked male heirs, and here was a childless and excommunicated king. Perhaps the opening clauses of the Act which promised to punish as traitors anyone violating allegiance to Robert I and his heirs reflected some anxiety.
Distracted by the attempt to bring Ireland into a pan-Celtic orbit under the kingship of his brother, and thus deprive the English king of supplies and men, Robert’s plan of redistribrution of his enemies’ forfeited lands remained unfinished, especially in the south and in Galloway, where loyalty to the Balliols and Comyns remained strong. Some lands forfeited by members of the Balliol-Comyn faction remained undistributed for some time, as a patient Bruce held out the opportunity for any one or more of them to enter into his peace. Two who did so in the immediate aftermath of Bannockburn were Patrick, the earl of Dunbar and Adam de Gordon, a border baron of considerable standing. Adam received from Bruce the lands of Strathbogie (Huntly) in Aberdeenshire, while retaining his Lothian barony, and suspicious minds would see in this grant a guarantee of future loyalty arising from the surrounding of the Strathbogie lordship by others in the hands of fierce Bruce loyalists. De Soules and Gordon had held Roxburgh Castle for Edward II as late as 1313, but Dunbar and Gordon, however, would remain loyal to Bruce during his lifetime. Not so de Soules and several others who like him were late entrants into the king’s peace.
In late 1317 the Pope’s envoys arrived in Scotland with instructions that Robert should make peace with Edward II, at a time when one of Bruce’s most urgent priority was to capture and occupy Berwick, a key not only to defence but also to economic renewal. His first attempt failed, but during April 1318, in defiance of a papal truce, a force led by James Douglas, with the help of an English turncoat, Peter of Spalding, scaled the town walls and laid siege to the inner castle, whose garrison finally surrendered following a siege lasting eleven weeks. Douglas was accordingly excommunicated.
Scottish allegiance was put to the test when in September 1319, Edward II, in one of those few moments in time when he was not enfeebled by baronial opposition led by his cousin Lancaster, set about recapturing Berwick, undoubtedly with the intention of then going on to Edinburgh. Randolph and Douglas avoided open battle, and mounted a large scale diversionary raid to the south, as far as Yorkshire, which put Edward’s queen Isabella in danger of kidnapping. Local levies led by the Archbishop of York in full armour were soundly defeated at Myton, and Edward was forced to end his siege and retreat to the south, while his host disbanded and drifted away, and Bruce followed up his triumph with further devastating raids into northern England. Negotiations for a truce were then opened at Newcastle, where the Scottish king was represented by his marischal, Robert Keith, William de Soules and other barons, plus several clerics. There is little doubt that in the two-year truce which followed, a social and economic crisis arising from a decade of wet summers, poor harvests and cattle plague, plus war-weariness, were motivating factors.
Bruce was nevertheless still vulnerable to the disloyalty of men feigning allegiance, some perhaps goaded by embittered noblewomen, especially those with Comyn and Balliol family connections, ready to take a risk as and when circumstances changed. One such circumstance would be the arrival in 1318 of Edward Balliol in England, benefitting from the hospitality of Edward II’s brother, Thomas, earl of Norfolk (for which he was compensated), from his father John’s lands in Picardy. The Berwick parliament of December 1318 had already decreed the imprisonment and attainder of ‘inventors of tales and rumours’ which aroused discord between the king and his people.
The truce in no way prevented Edward II from continuing diplomacy with the intention of stoking further papal anger and bringing pressure to bear on Robert I and his earls and barons, nor did it discourage the latter from strengthening his grip on the Marches and the south-west, where pro-Balliol sympathies still lurked. Bulls were sent out from Avignon summoning Robert and his bishops of St Andrews, Dunkeld, Moray and Aberdeen to appear before the curia by 1 May 1320. On 6 January 1320 a further bull renewed Robert’s excommunication for his killing of John and Robert Comyn at Greyfriars Church in Dumfries, in 1306, while all cardinals and English prelates were authorised to absolve all subjects of the said Robert from their allegiance to him.
Robert and his earls and barons responded in such a way as to demonstrate that this bull was viewed as an attempt to persuade them to switch their allegiance to Edward Balliol, who would accept Edward II as his overlord. The response became known as the ‘Declaration of Arbroath,’ knowledge of which is now based on just one surviving draft of one of three letters, that of the barons.
The decision to make what amounted to no more than an appeal in accepted form, similar to one made by English barons to the Pope in 1301, must have been made at an emergency council meeting at Newbattle Abbey during early 1320. There is no evidence that any draft of the appeal was presented to a parliament, although it was undoubtedly the result of intensive ‘staffwork’ overseen by Bernard of Killingwinning, abbot of Arbroath and Robert’s chancellor. The letters were written in scholarly Latin which would have had to have been read out in French to illiterate or non-Latin speaking barons, if it had been thought necessary, to gain their. It is not known whether such action was taken. According to Barrow:
‘We may thus suppose that early in 1320 (perhaps even before this) Abbot Bernard composed the letter and had copies of it sent round the country to as many of the nobles as possible, and particularly to the earls and major barons. These nobles would then make arrangements to have their seals attached to the final copies, of which there were at least two, and probably more. The letter, engrossed, sealed and ready for despatch on April 6th, was then entrusted to Sir Edward de Maubuisson and Sir Adam Gordon who carried it to the papal court.’
For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.
While the appeal to the pope itself may have been in medieval standard format, this paragraph almost certain discloses a shift in political thought, involving new notions of nationhood and the idea of a contract between king and people, also seen in the English barons’ threat to Edward II, which distinguished between the abstract notion of ‘the crown’, as opposed to the man who held it.
‘Yet if he (Bruce) should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.’
Historians have suggested that the heavy handed way in which signatures and seals were collected, by ‘round robin,’ coupled with a previous requirement ( if true) that all barons should show proof of their landholdings, triggered some resentment and provided motivation to conspiracy. It may ave seemed as though Bruce intended to test the loyalty of certain of the signatories.
According to Penham:
‘…in the context of 1320, of the forty-four names and/or seals attached to the Declaration of Arbroath, only roughly a third can be said to belong to committed Bruce supporters after 1306. The Declaration in no way represents the whole of the Scottish noble or political community. Moreover, six of the forty-four have been shown to have supported the conspiracy (Soules, Mowbray, Brechin, Malherbe, Umfraville, Mowat). Two were acquitted of this (Graham and Maxwell). Over half can be shown to have been in English garrisons or pay sometime between 1306 and 1320, some with a number of kin and followers. Admittedly this group does contain a couple of strong Bruce men, underlining Robert I’s ability to win over significant former Balliol supporters. But others, like Duncan earl of Fife, Patrick earl of March and William Ramsay, would join Edward Balliol periodically after 1322.’[xii]
The probable suppression by Bruce of all references to the plot to dissuade former Balliolists from their allegiance to Bruce, and to place Edward Balliol, as his father’s heir, on the throne of Scotland, means that very little is known about the machinations leading to it, and the full list of participants. Reliance has to be placed on the poem The Bruce of the poet John Barbour (1320-1395), and later chroniclers. Despite the swearing of fealty to Robert by numerous recalcitrants, many of them had, before 1314, led or been members of Anglo-Scottish contingents or had held castles for both Edward I and Edward II. In such a situation it is unrealistic to think of any king as politically astute, and calculating as Bruce who was not ready at all times to concoct what is now called, in modern argot, a ‘set-up.’ This is no way, however, would have mitigated the real danger of a pro-Balliol coup.
Barbour left no indication or mention of plotters who escaped arrest. One informant was Patrick, earl of Dunbar, one of the envoys who turned back from France to report his suspicions arising from connections between William de Soules and Ingelram d’Umfraville and Balliol lands in Picardy. Independently, Murdoch of Menteith returned to Scotland from England with his own allegations of a plot to kill the king. Murdoch, the son of Earl Alan of Menteith, who had surrendered to Edward I and had died in captivity in England at some time between 1306 and March 1309, had been raised in England.
De Soules was arrested while crossing the Border into Scotland, along with a retinue of some three hundred followers, who were released and dispersed. William de Soules, grand-nephew of John de Soules, the Guardian of Scotland during John Balliol’s imprisonment and eventual exile to his lands in Picardy (1301-1304), entered into King Robert’s peace some time after 1314, probably in 1316 along with Henry Balliol, sheriff of Roxburgh, after witnessing the ease with which James Douglas had cut up a raid into the Forest by the Anglo-Scots garrison of Berwick. The nephew of the ageing countess Agnes of Strathearn, who was herself a daughter of Alexander Comyn, the earl of Badenoch (d.1289), he did not, however, regain the hereditary de Soules office as the king’s butler until 1318. His brother Thomas de Soules had lands at Strafordham in Northumberland. Any expectation that a de Soules domination of the Marches, and progress to further offices, would also be restored was, however, dashed by a redistribution of lands bordering de Soules holdings, to James Douglas (at Staplegorton) and to the king’s bastard son, Sir Robert Bruce, who received the former Mowbray barony of Sprouston, in full regality. De Soules would have been fully aware of the rising star of a man no doubt regarded by him as one previously of modest status and, despite his growing fearsome reputation, a pro-Bruce upstart and a mere minor Lanarkshire lord, likely to threaten his own status, especially when it came to the distribution of major offices such as those of sheriff of Roxburgh and warden of the Marches. What he came to witness were as yet only the beginnings of expansion into the future great Douglas Marcher satrapy, although the lordship of Liddesdale itself would in due course be handed to Bruce’s bastard son, Sir Robert, whose death would come in battle at Dupplin Moor in 1330 at the hands of the ‘disinherited’, some of whom may have been involved in the 1320 plot. De Soules was being hemmed in on all sides by members of a tightly knit Bruce, Randolph, Douglas and Stewart affinity. His future actions no doubt reflected an intense resentment. The rewards made to Douglas did not come about until after the death of Edward Bruce in 1318, but thereafter, according to Michael Brown:
‘His growing landed and political status made Douglas a natural focus of protection and support in Lothian and across the south. Even lords who were significant landowners and royal councillors, like Robert Keith, Henry Sinclair, Alexander Seton and Robert Lauder, were frequent associates of (James) Douglas in both war and the regulation of the regional community. These men, of whom Keith and Sinclair had existing connections with the Douglases, seem to have been comfortable with the rise of James in Lothian and beyond.’[xiii]
De Soules, obviously a man watching the way the wind blew, clearly counted himself out of the high ranking Douglas fan club.
Further arrests tend to suggest a well co-ordinated and organised response by Bruce and his ‘faithfuls’. The prisoners were Agnes, Countess of Strathearn, Sir David Brechin, Sir Roger Mowbray, the lesser knights John Logie, Gilbert Malherbe, Patrick Graham, Eustace Maxwell and Walter Barclay, and esquires Richard Broun, Eustace Rattray and Hamelin de Troup. Murdoch of Menteith is thought to have been a co-conspirator, and if so, he clearly would have got cold feet.
Bruce’s probable suppression of all references to the plot, for obvious reasons, meant that full details of it would forever remain unknown. What is known is that at the ‘Black Parliament’ at Scone in August 1320, Soules and the Countess were imprisoned for life, while Logie, Malherbe and Broun were drawn (by horses), hanged and beheaded, as was Sir David of Brechin, not for participating in the plot, but for knowing about it and not reporting it. Roger de Mowbray had died in custody, but judgment was pronounced over his corpse. Maxwell, Barclay, Graham, Rattray and Troup were acquitted, having been found not guilty in any way.
Insofar as those who may have got wind of imminent arrest and escaped into England are concerned, Michael Penham observes:
‘ …it is possible to identify some other Scots who may have been involved, and to detect their motives….First there were disinherited ‘Anglo-Scots’ at Edward II’s court, many of whom laid claim to lands in south-west Scotland. This included men like: David Strathbogie, earl of Atholl; Henry Percy, looking not only for his father’s Scottish lands north of the Forth but perhaps also the earldom of Carrick and Urr in Galloway; John Hastings, granted the earldom of Menteith by Edward I in 1306; Richard Talbot, claimant to some of the Comyn of Badenoch lands; William Ferrers, claimant to the Ayshire,Galloway and Lothian lands of Roger de Quincy (d.1264); Thomas Wake, claimant to Kirkandrews barony in Dumfriesshire, granted by Robert I to John de Soules (d.1318); Alan le Zouche, for his Lanarkshire and Ayrshire lands; and Robert d’Umfraville, addressed as earl of Angus and warden of Northumbria by Edward II in 1319.
There were also lesser men – actual Scots – like David de Betoigne, Gilbert of Glencarnie in Invernesshire, and Alan of Argyll, who were all paid expenses by Edward II in 1319-20. Glencarnie was a follower and kinsman of Malise, the pro-Balliol/Edward I sixth earl of Strathearn (d.1313); the latter’s wife, Countess Agness, was implicated in the 1320 plot. Alan of Argyll was the son of John Macdougal of Argyll, exiled by Robert I in 1308 but who served Edward II as an admiral off the Ulster coast..’[xiv]
3. The seizure by Bruce and occupation of Liddesdale
It would be unrealistic not to conclude that Bruce would not have wasted any time, following the Black Parliament in August 1320, in seizing Liddesdale and garrisoning Hermitage Castle. We should look again carefully at what Scott of Satchells had to say about what his ‘goodsir’, Walter Scott the first Earl of Buccleuch told him about the Elliots:
The town of Elliot was their antiquitie,
Which stands in Angus, at the foot of Glenshie;
With brave King Robert Bruce they hither came;
Which is three hundred and eighty years agone;
In West Teviotdale* these gentlemen did dwell,
They were twelve great families, I hear my goodsir tell;
Their chief was a Baron of renown,
Designed Reid-heugh, which is now called Lariston[xv]
(*A description which at the time included Liddesdale).
There surely can be little doubt that Bruce turned immediately to his own household knights or men at arms and their retinues, which simply must have included Walter and his Elliot warband. No time was to be wasted. Liddesdale was an area of great strategic priority, and the action taken by the Black Parliament would almost certainly not have been seen as an end to the matter. During the many fast moving cross-border hobelar (light horse) invasions and raids led by Bruce, Douglas and Randolph, surely it is not at all speculative to assume that Walter d’Elliot and his Elliot retinue had emerged as a steadfastly loyal, elite corps, ‘special forces’ well fitted for the urgent task of occupying Liddesdale, and, if necessary, purging it of any lingering pro-Balliol elements, hitherto owing allegiance to de Soules and through him to John Balliol. It is as well to remember that ‘as early as 1307 Gallovidians and the cattle inseperably associated with them were sheltering from Bruce in Inglewood Forest, along with the men from Liddesdale.’[xvi]
Since Scott of Satchells was correct in his reference to the ‘ town’ of Elliot, there is no reason to question his claim that the Elliots came to Liddesdale in the company of the king himself. It is almost certain that he had not yet granted Liddesdale to his illegitimate son, Sir Robert, in addition to his recently acquired barony of Sprouston. The grant may not have been made until some time in 1322. (Penham’s dating). Satchells makes no reference whatsoever to Sir Robert, which is not surprising given his father’s priorities, pending a parliament to which the lordship would have had to have been presented. This does not, however, exclude the probability that Bruce’s son was also riding along with Bruce and the Elliots to the seizure of Liddesdale and garrisoning of Hermitage. Brown notes: ‘ Royal rights of war leadership were delegated but Robert’s supremacy was maintained by his frequent presence in the south and resumption of command in warfare.’[xvii]
A probable scenario is that of a king-led force descending on Liddesdale, to clear it of any lingering Balliol and de Soules adherents. The imposition thereafter on the Elliots of what must have been simply the charter-only name, Elwald, points almost certainly to the drawing up of a Redheugh charter not in the king’s chancery at Arbroath, but perhaps at Berwick, Kelso or Jedburgh. It is highly unlikely that a change of name would have been determined by Bruce’s chancellor, Abbot Bernard or any of his clerics at Arbroath, given the already well established scribal versions of Alliot/Elliot in Perthshire. It is much more likely that any Redheugh charter would have had to have been drawn up ex-post-facto, probably by a Border cleric . The phonetic spelling of the name Alliot or Elliot had clearly posed problems to one set of scribes, and among the reasons for the name change from El-iot to El-wald about which we can only speculate, is that of an impatient, incompetent or high-handed scribe changing the name to something which he liked more, or could spell more easily, although there may have been political reasons for giving these men from north of the Forth a new name. We only need to contemplate, among others, the struggle with the morphing of the name of Mesnières to Menzies via Meyners and Mingiz, to come to the conclusion that the Elliots were not the only victims of the lack of sureness in medieval spelling, or of the relative freedom of scribes to find a Latin form of a name before imposing what they judged to be a suitable translation. The original, uncorrupted, unshortened variant of the name meant ‘people (and forest) of the haleg: willow or saughtree’ (Halegouët, Finistère, the Breton vicomté of Judicaël, given the lordship of Totnes c.1069), whose first early corruptions were Allegouët and Elegoët ( the source of the Anglo-Breton variant, Elligott or Ellicott ), progressing via Alleouët and Eleouët to the Norman versions Alliot and Elliot. The competition between A and E scribal preferences was not confined to England or Scotland. All variants are found more commonly in Brittany today, in patterns suggesting that corruption of the original was a function of time, demographic dispersal over a lengthy period, of early mercenary service in Normandy and the urge to copy the tendency of the great Breton magnates (de Penthièvre, de Lohéac, de Rohan, de Rennes, de Cornouailles etc.) to adopt the Norman way of using toponymic surnames.
It does therefore appear that the uprooting of Walter and his kindred, consisting of the twelve great Elliot families described by Scott of Satchells, was unique, extraordinary and unprecedented. Bruce may very well have given Adam Gordon, a Lothian baron, the lands of Strathbogie (Huntly) but he retained his southern holding, The complete transplantation of the Elliots appears to have been unique. The despatch of an Elliot warband to Liddesdale would have been almost immediate, conjuring up a picture of a lengthy convoy of men, wagons and servants. From then on all Elliot Redheugh chieftains would be given the name Robert, a customary mark of honour and tribute paid to a man’s lord. But perhaps the most intriguing and unfathomable aspect of this extraordinary resettlement is that of the position of Walter, on his receipt of the lands of Redheugh. This reveals a problem which so far appears not to have been broached to any extent.
- The rank and status of the Elliot chieftain, and how his distant successors ended up as the Red Douglases’ ‘faithful squires’ deserve reconsideration. Scott of Satchell’s last sentence indicates a continuity, not a break in Walter d’Elliot’s status as a baron of renown. Since Scott of Satchell’s recount of Bucchleuch’s disclosure is true in more than one respect, there is no reason to doubt what he goes on to say about the first Redheugh chieftain. Satchells wrote that the first chieftain ‘was’, not had been a baron of renown.
- The surrender of a barony and acceptance of sub-infeftment by Walter surely reflects a high degree of closeness and mutual trust between the king and his faithful Elliot captain, built up over several years. Hand-picked like no other, Walter must have been a fearsome leader of his Elliot warband, with higher hopes for the future.
Bruce’s death followed by that of his son without an heir at the battle of Dupplin Moor in 1330 may then have come as a blow to both Elliot status and ambitions. A problem may have arisen when it came to reconfirmation of any Redheugh charter, at one stage by Edward III during his establishment of the ‘English Pale’ in the Borders, or another by one of the Douglas lords of Liddesdale, during the captivity of David II. The lordship of Liddesdale was virtually seized by Archibald Douglas (‘the Tyneman’), following the death of his brother, the Good Sir James, when taking advantage of his guardianship of Scotland during renewed warfare. Archibald was killed in 1333, while his son William, eventually the first earl Douglas, was in exile in France. The lordship was then won by a combination of military strength, dynamic leadership and subterfuge by a second cousin, the young William’s godfather, Sir William Douglas of Lothian, the so-called ‘knight of Liddesdale,’ whom the returned William, Earl of Douglas, slew in an ambush in Ettrick Forest in 1353. The lordship of Liddesdale, forever coveted by the Douglases, became a source of family tension for several years to come, until it passed into the hands of the Red Douglases, for whom the Elliots were ‘familiar squires.’
[ii] G W S Barrow, Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1965) p 450.
[iii] Maps drawn by Timothy Pont (1560-1614), Robert Gordon (1580-1661), Robert Gordon and Johann Blaeu (1596-1673), Herman Moll (d.1732) , John Adair (1650-1722) and James Moxon (1671-1700), NLS shelf references: Adv.MS.70.2.10 (Gordon 42); Adv.MS.70.2.10 (Gordon 43); WD3B/34 (Gordon); Adv.MS.70.2.9 (Pont 27) ; Adv.MS.70.2.9 (Pont 28); Adv.MS.70.2.9 (Pont 29); EMS.b.2.1(21) (Moll); EMS.b.2.1(23) (Moll – both maps with the spelling ‘Eliot’); EMS.s.320 (Adair – also showing ‘Eliot’).
[iv] Thomas Pyles, John Algeo, The Origins and Development of the English Language, (Harcourt Brace, 1993) p 137.
[vi] Michael Brown, The Black Douglases, War and Lordship in Medieval Scotland 1300-1455, (Barnes & Noble NY 1998) p.13.
[xi] Report to the Privy Council, following their reprimand of him, by the Master of Hailes, dated 17 May 1518, cited by The Dowager Lady Eliott of Stobs and Sir Arthur Eliott 11th baronet of Stobs, “The Elliots, the Story of a Border Clan,” Anthony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham, 1974, p.20.
[xii] Michael Penman, A fell coniuracioun agayn Robert the doughty king: The Soules conspiracy of 1318-1320, (Innes Review vol. 50 no.1 (Spring 1999), pp 25-57.
[xiii] Brown, The Black Douglases, p.23.
[xiv] Penman, A fell coniuracioun p.40
[xv] The Dowager Lady Eliott of Stobs and Sir Arthur Eliott, 11th baronet of Stobs, The Elliots, the Story of a Border Clan, (Anthony Rowe Ltd, 1995 edition) p 346.
[xvi] Barrow, Robert Bruce, p.281.
[xvii] The Black Douglases, p.23.