October 9, 2011 by

Razing Castles in the 14th Century


Categories: Research

Welcome today to N. Gemini Sasson, talking about the Scottish practice of razing their own castles in the 14th century, as well as her new book, The Honor Due a King, the third book in her Bruce Trilogy.  Welcome Gemini!


It’s impossible to write a historical novel without delving into the ‘why’ of certain events and how they unfolded the way they did. When I began to write about Robert the Bruce what amazed me was how he secured his kingdom’s independence despite the fact that he was fighting an army that was far bigger and better armed than his. To do so, he adopted some rather unorthodox tactics for his time.

When Robert the Bruce claimed Scotland’s crown in 1306, he knew that if he could not outnumber the English in battle, the only way he could defeat them was to outwit them. One way of undermining the effectiveness of the English army was the Scottish practice of ‘razing’ castles, including such pivotal strongholds as Edinburgh and Roxburgh. James Douglas even re-captured his ancestral home, Castle Douglas, on three different occasions and razed it the last time so that the English would never take it again. Sir Walter Scott later dubbed it ‘Castle Dangerous’ in his book by that name, because any Englishman at the time who took it upon himself to accept the governorship of that fortress had as good as signed his death warrant.

To raze a castle means to level it to the ground, stone by stone. This is the medieval version of whole-building demolition.  Keep in mind that many of these castles (many of them built by the English to serve as seats of government and military bases) took decades to build and were improved upon by substantial editions even centuries after the first course was laid for the foundation.

But why destroy something that had such incredible value and strategic importance? The Bruce’s reasoning was simple: if the English had no access to strongholds within Scotland—in which the English could store arms and supplies and then strike out from—then their reach and power would be severely limited. A long march from England, with supplies in tow, would compromise their speed, power and effectiveness.

In addition to razing castles, the Scots burned their own crops ahead of advancing English armies and drove off cattle, depriving the invaders of additional food sources. The Scots were also skilled at the ambush, lying in wait until the English had entered a glen before attacking. Very seldom did they ever meet the English in battle across an open field – Bannockburn, of course, being one of the notable exceptions. Although King Edward II of England launched several campaigns into Scotland to try to win back what his father had worked so hard to gain, those campaigns nearly bankrupted England.

Unable to fund further campaigns, the English at last agreed to a peace treaty and acknowledged Robert the Bruce as ‘King of Scots’.


The Honor Due a King (The Bruce Trilogy: Book III)

In the dawn of a kingdom, loyalties and lies collide.

The truth will change England and Scotland forever.

In the triumphant aftermath of Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce faces unfamiliar battles. His wife Elizabeth, held captive in England for eight long years, has finally returned home to Scotland. With his marriage in ruin and hopes for an heir quickly fading, Robert vows to fulfill an oath from long ago—one which will not only bind his daughter to a man she does not love, but challenge the honor of his most trusted knight, James Douglas.

While Ireland falls to the Scots, King Edward II of England must contend with quarrelsome barons. Hugh Despenser is the one man who can give him both the loyalty and love he so desperately craves. War with France looms and Edward’s only chance at peace rests with his queen, Isabella—a woman who has every reason to seek her own revenge.

Tormented by his past, James returns to a solitary, ruthless life of raiding into the north of England. When a bewitching spy promises him the ultimate victory, James must weigh whether to unveil the truth and risk losing her love—or guard his secrets and forever preserve Robert’s faith in him.


The Honor Due a King is available at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Smashwords.


3 Responses to Razing Castles in the 14th Century

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