The History of Leith

May 11, 2011

The Battle for Edinburgh Castle

Sir Andrew Murray of Bothwell, the courageous son of the heroic companion of Wallace, was besieging Cupar Castle in Fife, skilfully defended for the English by William Bulloch, a clergyman of great military talent who had mistaken his calling. Sir John de Stirling determined to cross the Scots Water—that is, the Firth of Forth— and relieve it. For this purpose he had gathered together at Leith a fleet of thirty-two vessels and two hundred and twenty-four mariners. Suddenly crossing the Forth with the whole of the Edinburgh garrison, he successfully accomplished the relief of Bulloch, and returned to Leith within the marvellously short space of four days. But then Edward III., unlike his grandfather, knew how to choose his officers.
Sir John de Stirling, however, skilful commander as he was, had still more skilful opponents, for at this time Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie, whose ruined castle still stands above the waters of the South Esk at Cockpen, had gathered together a band of homeless patriots, among whom, perhaps, were the young De Lestalric, and the lords of Duddingston, Craigmillar, Liberton, Braid, Dean, Inverleith, and Pilton—all forfeited and outtlawed at this time for their resistance to English aggression. They had their fastness within the ancient caves among the cliffs at Hawthornden, near Roslin.
From these, at unexpected times, they would pouncedown upon the soldiers of Sir John Stirling as they moved supplies between Leith and Edinburgh for the castle garrison. Sir Alexander Ramsay was one of the most distinguished warriors of that time, and he and his outlawed troop were worthy successors of those who had won Bannockburn. They were the heroes of many daring deeds. With such men as these on the patriotic side, and such women as ” Black Agnes” to inspire them with courage, the Enghsh and Baliol soon lost their hold in Scotland when their garrisons were driven out of Edinburgh and Leith. In April 1341 Edinburgh Castle was captured by a clever stratagem planned by Bulloch (who had been won over to the Scots side), Sir William Douglas the Black Knight of Liddesdale, and other heroes, aided by three Edinburgh merchant burgesses, William Fairley, Walter Curry, and William Bartholomew. A merchant ship belonging to Walter Curry was freighted from Dundee with a cargo of provisions for Leith. At Dundee they privately received aboard their ship Douglas, Bulloch, and some two hundred other bold and daring spirits, and, under pretence of being English merchantmen— they had shaved their beards in the Anglo-Norman manner—anchored off Leith. They then offered for sale to the Enghsh commander of Edinburgh Castle their cargo of ” biscuit, wine, and strong beer all excellently
spiced,” and were told to bring it to the Castle at an early hour in the morning, ” lest they should be intercepted by Dalhousie and other Scottish knaves.”

Early next morning the laden wagons set out from the Shore under the care of armed men disguised as sailors, and eventually reached the Castle. The gates were at once opened, and at the entrance the wagons were so halted that it was impossible either to close them or to let down the portcullis. A shrill blast from a bugle-horn brought Douglas and his friends, who were lurking in the neighbourhood. After a desperate conflict the garrison was overpowered. In this way Leith and Edinburgh were freed from English rule until the days of Cromwell. The descendants of William Fairley long held the estates of Braid and Bruntsfield, but now live in Ayrshire. The merchant booths of Fairley, Curry, and William Bartholomew were the last three on the south side of the High Street, just before coming to St. Giles’ Church. Walter Curry’s, the last of the three, stood exactly where the City Cross stands now. How many Leith and Edinburgh people who pass this spot to-day know aught of these three merchants who had their booths here, and who on that early morning some six hundred years ago played so heroic a part in their country’s story ?

source-The Story of Leith

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