John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch

Last updated
John III Comyn
Bornc. 1269
Badenoch, Kingdom of Scotland
Died10 February 1306
Greyfriars, Scotland
Cause of death Stabbing
Title Lord of Badenoch
Other titles Lord of Lochaber
Lord of Annandale
Other namesRed Comyn
Years active1296–1306
Locality Badenoch
Wars and battles Scottish Independence War
Battle of Dunbar (1296)
Battle of Roslin (1303)
Edward I's Flemish campaign
Offices Guardian of Scotland
Spouse(s)Joan de Valence
IssueJoan Comyn
John IV Comyn
Elizabeth de Comyn
Parents John II Comyn
Eleanor née Balliol Comyn
Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland
(Second Interregnum)
In office
1298 1301
Servingwith Robert Bruce (until 1300),
William de Lamberton (from 1299),
and Ingram de Umfraville (from 1300)
Preceded by William Wallace
Succeeded by John de Soules
In office
1302 1304
Servingwith John de Soules
Succeeded by John of Brittany (appointed by Edward I of England)

John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch and Lord of Lochaber, also known simply as the Red Comyn (c. 1269 – 10 February 1306), was a Scottish nobleman who was an important figure in the First War of Scottish Independence, and was Guardian of Scotland during the Second Interregnum (1296–1306). In this capacity, he commanded the defence of Scotland against English attacks. He is best known for having been stabbed to death by Robert the Bruce before the altar at the church of the Greyfriars at Dumfries.

Lord of Badenoch

The Lord of Badenoch was a magnate who ruled the lordship of Badenoch in the 13th century and early 14th century. The lordship may have been created out of the territory of the Meic Uilleim, after William Comyn, jure uxoris Earl of Buchan, Justiciar of Scotia and Warden of Moray defeated Gille Escoib MacUilleim. However, there is no evidence that the Meic Uilleim held lands in this area. After the death of John III in 1306, the lordship was taken into royal hands, although it was still claimed by his son John. The Lordship was included in the vast Earldom of Moray when it was resurrected for Thomas Randolph.

Lord of Lochaber

The Lord of Lochaber was a title in the peerage of Scotland.

First War of Scottish Independence war between English and Scottish forces

The First War of Scottish Independence was the initial chapter of engagements in a series of warring periods between English and Scottish forces lasting from the invasion by England in 1296 until the de jure restoration of Scottish independence with the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328. De facto independence was established in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn. England attempted to establish its authority over Scotland while the Scots fought to keep English rule and authority out of Scotland.


His father, John II Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, known as the Black Comyn, was one of the Competitors for the Crown of Scotland, claiming his descent from King Donald III of Scotland. His mother was Eleanor Balliol, daughter of John I de Balliol, father of King John Balliol (r. 1292–1296). He had, moreover, links with the royal house of England: in the early 1290s he married Joan de Valence, daughter of William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke, an uncle of Edward I of England.

John II Comyn, Lord of Badenoch

John II Comyn, Lord of Badenoch and Lord of Lochaber or John "the Black", also known as Black Comyn, a Scottish nobleman, was a Guardian of Scotland, and one of the six Regents for Margaret, Maid of Norway. His father was John I Comyn, Lord of Badenoch.

When the crown of Scotland became vacant in September 1290 on the death of the child monarch Margaret, the Maid of Norway, a total of thirteen claimants to the throne came forward. Those with the most credible claims were John Balliol, Robert Bruce, John Hastings and Floris V, Count of Holland.

Donald III of Scotland King of Scots

Donald III, and nicknamed "Donald the Fair" or "Donald the White", was King of Scots from 1093–1094 and 1094–1097.

Comyn family

On the eve of the Wars of Independence the Comyns were one of the dominant families of Scotland, with extensive land holdings in both the north and south of the country, and political influence and family connections with the crown. Of Norman-French origin, the family first made an appearance in Scotland during the reign of David I and made steady progress ever since. In the thirteenth century they acquired the lordship of Badenoch, with extensive landholdings also in Lochaber, as well as the earldom of Buchan. On the death of Alexander III, John Comyn's father was appointed to the panel of Guardians to await the arrival of the infant Margaret, Maid of Norway, granddaughter of Alexander III. Her death in 1290 immersed the nation in crisis, finally solved in 1292 when John Balliol emerged as king, with the support of his Comyn kinsmen, a solution that was never accepted by the other main claimant, Robert Bruce of Annandale, grandfather of the future king. The Comyns were the principal supporters of King John even after he was deposed by Edward I in 1296. As such they were foremost among the enemies of the house of Bruce. [1]

Wars of Scottish Independence war of national liberation

The Wars of Scottish Independence were a series of military campaigns fought between the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

David I of Scotland King of Scots, Prince of the Cumbrians

David I or Dauíd mac Maíl Choluim was a 12th-century ruler who was Prince of the Cumbrians from 1113 to 1124 and later King of the Scots from 1124 to 1153. The youngest son of Malcolm III and Margaret of Wessex, David spent most of his childhood in Scotland, but was exiled to England temporarily in 1093. Perhaps after 1100, he became a dependent at the court of King Henry I. There he was influenced by the Anglo-French culture of the court.

Badenoch traditional district in the Highland region of Scotland

Badenoch is a traditional district which today forms part of Badenoch and Strathspey, an area of Highland Council, in Scotland, bounded on the north by the Monadhliath Mountains, on the east by the Cairngorms and Braemar, on the south by Atholl and the Grampians, and on the west by Lochaber. The capital of Badenoch is Kingussie.

Comyn at war

With the outbreak of war between England and Scotland, Comyn, his father, and his cousin, John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, crossed the border and attacked Carlisle, defended for King Edward by Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, the father of the future king. The Wars of Scottish Independence thus began in a clash between the Bruces and Comyns. [1] Having no siege equipment, the Comyns drew off and subsequently joined the main Scottish host at Haddington, which had been assembled to meet the advance of the English army along the east coast. On 27 April the Scots were overwhelmed at the Battle of Dunbar, with John being among the many prisoners taken. While his father and cousin retreated north in the company of King John, he was sent south, to be imprisoned in the Tower of London.

John Comyn, Earl of Buchan Scottish noble

John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan was a chief opponent of Robert the Bruce in the civil war that paralleled the War of Scottish Independence. He should not be confused with the better known John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, who was his cousin, and who was killed by Bruce in Dumfries in March 1306. Confusion between the two men has affected the study of this period of history.

Haddington, East Lothian town in East Lothian, Scotland

The Royal Burgh of Haddington is a town in East Lothian, Scotland. It is the main administrative, cultural and geographical centre for East Lothian, which as a result of late-nineteenth century Scottish local government reforms took the form of the county of Haddingtonshire for the period from 1889-1921. It lies about 17 miles (27 km) east of Edinburgh. The name Haddington is Anglo-Saxon, dating from the sixth or seventh century AD when the area was incorporated into the kingdom of Bernicia. The town, like the rest of the Lothian region, was ceded by King Edgar of England and became part of Scotland in the tenth century. Haddington received burghal status, one of the earliest to do so, during the reign of David I (1124–1153), giving it trading rights which encouraged its growth into a market town.

The Battle of Dunbar was the only significant field action in the campaign of 1296. King Edward I of England had invaded Scotland in 1296 to punish King John Balliol for his refusal to support English military action in France. The battlefield is currently under research to be inventoried and protected by Historic Scotland under the Scottish Historical Environment Policy of 2009.

John remained in prison for some months; but with the war in Scotland seemingly over he was finally released on condition that he take up service with Edward in Flanders, the main theatre of operations in his war against the French. While there he learned of the rising of William Wallace and Andrew Moray and their victory over the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. In March 1298 John was among Scots who deserted from the English, finally ending up in Paris, where they appealed for aid to Philip IV of France. The only help they managed to get was a ship back to Scotland, arriving before the summer. [1]

Flanders Community and region of Belgium

Flanders is the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium and one of the communities, regions and language areas of Belgium. However, there are several overlapping definitions, including ones related to culture, language, politics and history, and sometimes involving neighbouring countries. The demonym associated with Flanders is Fleming, while the corresponding adjective is Flemish. The official capital of Flanders is Brussels, although the Brussels Capital Region has an independent regional government, and the government of Flanders only oversees the community aspects of Flanders life in Brussels such as (Flemish) culture and education.

William Wallace Scottish landowner and leader in the Wars for Scottish Independence

Sir William Wallace was a Scottish knight who became one of the main leaders during the First War of Scottish Independence.

Andrew Moray, also known as Andrew de Moray, Andrew of Moray, or Andrew Murray, an esquire, was prominent in the Scottish Wars of Independence. He led the rising in north Scotland in the summer of 1297 against the occupation by King Edward I of England, successfully regaining control of the area for King John Balliol. He subsequently merged his forces with those led by William Wallace and jointly led the combined army to victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Moray was mortally wounded in the fighting, dying at an unknown date and place later that year.

Battle of Falkirk

Earlier that year William Wallace emerged as Guardian, Moray having died at Stirling or shortly after. The main task facing the Guardian was to gather a national army to meet an invasion by Edward, anxious to reverse the victory of Stirling Bridge. For cavalry, by far the weakest element of the Scottish host, Wallace depended on the Comyns and the other noble families. On 22 July Wallace's army was destroyed at the Battle of Falkirk, the light horse being driven off at an early stage by the heavy English cavalry. It is possible that John Comyn was present at the battle, though the evidence is far from conclusive. The main Scottish sources, the chronicles of John Fordun and John Barbour, were composed decades after the event, long after the Comyns had been expelled from Scotland, and had a specific agenda, namely to magnify the later King, Robert the Bruce, and diminish John Comyn. According to Fordun, John and his kin hated Wallace and only appeared on the battlefield with premeditated treachery in mind — "For, on account of the ill-will, begotten of the sprig of envy, which the Comyns had conceived towards the aforesaid William, they, with their accomplices, forsook the field, and escaped unhurt." This is set alongside a commendation of Robert the Bruce, who, in Fordun's account, fought on the side of the English and "was the means of bringing about the victory." This is contested as no Bruce appears on the Falkirk roll of nobles present in the English army, and ignoring Blind Harry's 15th claim that Wallace burned Ayr Castle in 1297, two 19th-century antiquarians, Alexander Murison and George Chalmers, stated that Bruce did not participate in the battle and in the following month decided to burn Ayr Castle to prevent it being garrisoned by the English. The contemporary English record of the Lanercost Chronicle simply blames the inadequacy of the Scottish cavalry in general. Soon after the defeat, John Comyn and Robert the Bruce were named as joint Guardians of the Realm in place of Wallace. [2]

Battle of Falkirk Battle of the First War of Scottish Independence

The Battle of Falkirk, which took place on 22 July 1298, was one of the major battles in the First War of Scottish Independence. Led by King Edward I of England, the English army defeated the Scots, led by William Wallace. Shortly after the battle Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland.

John Barbour (poet) Scottish poet

John Barbour was a Scottish poet and the first major named literary figure to write in Scots. His principal surviving work is the historical verse romance, The Brus, and his reputation from this poem is such that other long works in Scots which survive from the period are sometimes thought to be by him. He is known to have written a number of other works, but other titles definitely ascribed to his authorship, such as The Stewartis Oryginalle and The Brut (Brutus), are now lost.

Robert the Bruce King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329

Robert I, popularly known as Robert the Bruce, was King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329. Robert was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, and eventually led Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence against England. He fought successfully during his reign to regain Scotland's place as an independent country and is today revered in Scotland as a national hero.

Guardian of Scotland

With no independent power base Wallace, whose prestige had always been based on the success of his army, resigned or was removed as Guardian after Falkirk. In his place an unusual and difficult balancing act: John Comyn and Robert the Bruce, who had now joined the patriot party. The Scots were still fighting on behalf of the absent King John, so Bruce must have paid lip service to the cause, though his royal ambitions were openly known. The records give little or nothing in the way of insight into the feelings and motives of these men. At a meeting of a council of the magnates at Peebles in August 1299 an argument broke out relative to the property of Wallace, who was then in France. Comyn is said to have seized Bruce by the throat. [2]

William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, was appointed as a third Guardian. Lamberton was a personal friend of both Wallace and Bruce. [2] Bruce resigned before May 1300, when the restoration of King John was looking increasingly likely, leaving only Comyn and Lamberton. When parliament assembled at Rutherglen it elected Sir Ingram d'Umphraville to be one of the guardians of the realm in place of Bruce.

This was obviously an arrangement that suited Comyn, because Umphraville was a close political associate and a kinsman of King John. With the Guardianship taking Scotland one way Robert Bruce went the other, making his peace with Edward by February 1302 in a document in which he expressed the fear that "the realm of Scotland might be removed from the hands of the king, which God forbid, and delivered to John Balliol, or to his son." [3]

The new triumvirate lasted to May 1301, when John de Soules emerged as sole Guardian, seemingly appointed by Balliol himself pending his return. [4] The following year, with Soules leaving for France on a diplomatic mission, Comyn became sole Guardian, occupying the position for the next two years. Comyn became Lord of Badenoch following his father's death that same year.

Defiance and surrender

There was a certain inevitability to the Comyn domination of Scottish government in the years before 1304: they were the most powerful of the noble families, having more military resources and more control, particularly in the north, than any other family. [5] English invasions in 1298, 1300, and 1301 had been confined to the south of the country, leaving the north as the chief recruiting ground, and supply base, of the Scottish army. The Guardian's prestige increased still further when he and Sir Simon Fraser defeated an English force at the Battle of Roslin in February 1303.

There never was so desperate a struggle, or one in which the stoutness of knightly prowess shone forth so brightly. The commander and leader in this struggle was John Comyn, the son... John Comyn, then guardian of Scotland, and Simon Fraser with their followers, day and night, did their best to harass and to annoy, by their general prowess, the aforesaid kings officers and bailiffs... the aforesaid John Comyn and Simon, with their abettors, hearing of their arrival at Rosslyn and wishing to steal a march rather than have one stolen upon them, came briskly through from Biggar to Rosslyn, in one night, with some chosen men, who chose rather death before unworthy subjection to the English nation; and all of a sudden they fearlessly fell upon the enemy. Fordun [6]

Politically, however, the outlook was bleak. Philip of France entered into a final peace with Edward, from which Scotland was excluded. John Balliol, whose star had risen briefly above the horizon, now sank into the twilight of history. In a mood of desperation the Scottish diplomats in Paris, who included Comyn's cousin Buchan, wrote words of encouragement; "For God's sake do not would gladden your hearts if you would know how much your honour has increased in every part of the world as a result of your recent battle with the English." [7] However, for the first time since 1296 Edward was preparing an offensive that would take him deep into the north of Scotland. Unable to mount an effective resistance, and with his main base threatened with destruction, Comyn entered into peace negotiations, concluded at Strathord near Perth on 9 February 1304.

Echoing the Treaty of Birgham, it was stipulated that laws, usages, and customs in place in the time of Alexander III should be retained. [5] Comyn insisted that there should be no reprisals or disinheritance, which Edward accepted, with notable exceptions. Edward maintained his particular hatred for one former Guardian. Comyn was thus obliged to adhere to a condition in which he and other named individuals were to "capture Sir William Wallace and hand him over to the king, who will watch to see how each of them conducts himself so that he can do most favour to whoever shall capture Wallace..." There is no evidence to suggest Comyn made any effort to fulfill this condition.

Death in Dumfries

The killing of Comyn in the Greyfriars church in Dumfries, as portrayed by Felix Philippoteaux, a 19th-century illustrator. Death of Comyn.jpg
The killing of Comyn in the Greyfriars church in Dumfries, as portrayed by Felix Philippoteaux, a 19th-century illustrator.

On 10 February 1306 Robert the Bruce participated in the killing of John Comyn before the high altar of the Greyfriars Church in Dumfries. [8] Legend, possibly apocryphal, says Robert the Bruce called Comyn to a meeting, stabbed him and rushed out to tell Roger de Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick and Sir Robert Fleming went in to finish the job uttering: "You doubt! I mak siccar!" ("I make sure!") Fleming exited holding the head of Comyn, stating "Let the deed shaw." ("Let the deed show.")

"Let the deed shaw" on the crest of Clan Fleming Clan member crest badge - Clan Fleming.svg
"Let the deed shaw" on the crest of Clan Fleming

Apart from these bare facts, nothing certain can be gathered from contemporary accounts. While later Scottish sources all try to justify the crime by amplifying earlier accusations of malevolence and treachery against Comyn, the English sources portray Robert as a villain who lured Comyn into a church — taken as a guarantee of safety — with the intention of committing premeditated murder.

Some sources suggest that Bruce offered a pact, whereby one would take the crown in return for the lands of the other. As they stood before the high altar, Bruce struck Comyn with a dagger. Bruce's companions struck him with their swords. Sir Robert Comyn, rushing to aid his nephew, was killed by a blow to the head by Bruce's brother-in-law, Christopher Seton. [4]

Thirteen days after the event, a garbled version of the facts reached the court of Edward I at Winchester, where the murder was reported as "the work of some people who are doing their utmost to trouble the peace and quiet of the realm of Scotland." Once the picture became clear, Edward reacted in fury, authorising Aymer de Valence, Comyn's brother-in-law, to take extraordinary action against Bruce and his adherents by refusing quarter to them. King Edward also emphasised his blood relationship with the Comyns by ordering his cousin, Joan, to send John's young son and namesake to England, where he was placed in the care of Sir John Weston, guardian of the royal children. John IV Comyn grew to manhood in England, not returning to Scotland until 1314, when he was killed at the Battle of Bannockburn. The death of his father plunged Scotland into a brief but bloody civil war, largely concluded by 1308, but with political reverberations that were to last for decades.

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  1. 1 2 3 "John 'Red' Comyn, Lord of Badenoch", Foghlam Alba Archived 17 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  2. 1 2 3 Mackintosh, John. Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland, W. Jolly, 1898
  3. Bingham, Caroline (1998). Robert the Bruce. Edinburgh: Constable. p. 101. ISBN   978-0094764408.
  4. 1 2 Barrow, G. W. S., Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, Edinburgh University Press, 2005 ISBN   9780748620227
  5. 1 2 Young, Alan. "The Comyns and Anglo-Scottish Relations", Thirteenth Century England VII: Proceedings of the Durham Conference 1997, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, Jan 1, 1999 ISBN   9780851157191
  6. "The Inventory of Historic Battlefields - Battle of Roslin" (PDF).
  7. Barrow, G. W. S. (1965). Rober the Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland. Berkeley: U of California P. p. 180. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  8. Murison, A. F. (1899). King Robert the Bruce (reprint 2005 ed.). Kessinger Publishing. p. 30. ISBN   9781417914944.

Documentary and narrative

Secondary works

Further reading

Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
John II
Lord of Badenoch
Lord of Lochaber

1302 – 10 February 1306
Succeeded by
John IV
Preceded by
Robert Brus
Lord of Annandale
Succeeded by
Robert Brus