Edward III, king of England, is most well-known for the victories he won in France during the Hundred Years’ War, notably his remarkable triumph at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. Yet in the early part of his reign his energies were focused further northwards. By entering into an agreement with Edward Balliol, a claimant to the Scottish throne, he managed to gain control of a significant portion of southern Scotland. Key to English control of these territories was the occupation of fortified towns and castles. However, there was a problem. Some years earlier, Robert the Bruce (Robert I) had deliberately ordered the destruction of castles throughout Scotland to deny their use to the English. It was therefore necessary to rebuild many of these fortresses so that they could be garrisoned. One of the castles that Edward’s artisans were employed to work on was Edinburgh Castle.
In 1296, Edward I invaded Scotland with a large army to punish the Scottish king, John Balliol. The justification used for this invasion was that the latter had made a hostile alliance with the French king, Philip IV, and had failed to honour his obligations to him as his feudal overlord. After brutally sacking Berwick on 30 April and defeating a Scottish army at the Battle of Dunbar on 27 April, his forces rapidly overran most of the kingdom. One of the castles that was surrendered to him in this campaign was Edinburgh Castle, which the Lanercost Chronicle claims had never ‘been captured before, owing to its height and strength’. Following its surrender, a large garrison was installed in the castle, which on 28 February 1300 consisted of 347 knights, men-at-arms, hobelars (light cavalry), crossbowmen, archers, artisans, grooms and servants. Yet the subsequent victories of Robert the Bruce against the forces of Edward II meant that the English garrisons of the Scottish Lowlands came under increasing pressure. On 14 March 1314, Randolph, Earl of Moray, with a small group of men ascended the castle rock by night and succeeded in taking the defenders by surprise. After its capture the defences of the fortress were systematically demolished, as with other castles taken by the Scots. In the words of the Lanercost Chronicle this was carried out ‘lest the English should every hereafter be able to lord it over the land through holding the castles’.
The devastation inflicted in the north of England by Scottish raiding, which the English were unable to stop, eventually forced the government of the young Edward III to agree a peace settlement with Robert the Bruce in 1328. Yet this agreement was deeply unpopular with the English nobility, particularly with those magnates known as the ‘disinherited’ who had lost their lands in Scotland. In 1332, the latter led an invasion of Scotland led by Edward Balliol, the son of the deposed John Balliol. They succeeded in defeating an army led by the supporters of the young Scottish king David II at the Battle of Dupplin Moor. In the chaos that followed this victory, Balliol’s partisans seized the initiative and he was crowned king in September. However, his rule was short-lived and he was forced to flee across the border in December. Edward III offered military assistance to Balliol, in return for the latter recognising him as his feudal overlord and agreeing to cede most of southern Scotland to him. In the following year, Edward III and Balliol laid siege to Berwick-upon-Tweed. After defeating a Scottish army at the Battle of Halidon Hill, the defenders of Berwick surrendered the town to them. Following this victory, Balliol established his capital at Perth, with the English occupying southern Scotland.
To secure English control over the region, it was decided to rebuild some of the destroyed castles, such as Roxburgh, Stirling and Edinburgh. A survey carried out at the latter in November 1335 (two months after building work began) reveals that the destruction carried out by the Scots had been systematic. It was reported that the only buildings that were fit for habitation were the stable block and the chapel. The rebuilding of the castle was therefore a major project requiring the employment of a sizeable workforce, which by November consisted of eighty-four masons, carpenters, roofers, smiths, carters, labourers and other workers, overseen by the master mason John of Kilburn. The individual workers were paid very different daily rates of pay, based upon their seniority, technical skills and social status. For example, Kilburn was paid 12d a day, two other masons were paid 8d, fifteen others 6d, five at 5d and the final six at 4d. Other professionals, such as the carpenters, carters and smith were paid similar rates of pay. Less skilled workers, including the thirty-four labourers who assisted the masons in their work, were paid far less, at 3d a day. The workforce fluctuated markedly over the course of the building project. In May 1337 as many as ninety-eighty men were employed, which had fallen to forty-eight by the end of construction work three months later. The building accounts (as is typical for these types of documents) are more concerned with recording payments on wages and materials than on the specific details of the building work. Nevertheless, some of the entries do provide interesting insights. This included the purchase of ironwork for the ‘counting house’, stable, doors and gates, as well as the costs of building a kitchen under the chapel in September 1335. Two months later, 400 boards were purchased from ‘eastland’ for making the roof of the great chapel, and in June 1336, a master glassmaker was paid for making four panes of glass that were installed in St Margaret’s Chapel.
The total expenditure on the castle came to the significant sum of £600-700, which covered the period from September 1335 to August 1337. A sizeable garrison was also installed in the castle, which in 1335 consisted of 120 knights, men-at-arms and archers. Yet the tide of war soon turned against the English. The Scots were gradually able to recapture the towns and castles of southern Scotland, with many of the English garrisons starved into surrender by 1341. These successes coincided with outbreak of war between England and France in 1337 (the start of the Hundred Years’ War). This meant that English resources were increasingly focused on the war with France as opposed to Scotland. Edinburgh Castle itself fell in 1341, when a force led by Sir William Douglas succeeded in taking the fortress by a stratagem. Douglas with a small group of men gained access to the castle by pretending to be merchants who were taking carts filled with provisions to supply the garrison. Once they were inside, they blocked the entrance with their carts, thereby preventing the defenders from closing the gates. The main Scottish force was then able to storm and capture the fortress. This time the Scots decided to occupy rather than destroy the defences of the castle.
If you want to read more about this topic then do consider having a look at my book The Castle at War in Medieval England and Wales
Joseph Bain, ed., Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, Volume 2. A.D. 1272–1307 (Edinburgh: H. M. General Register House, 1884).
Joseph Bain, ed., Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, Volume 3. A.D. 1307–1357 (Edinburgh: H. M. General Register House, 1887).
H. M. Colvin, ed., The History of the King’s Works, volume 1 (London: H. M. S. O, 1963).
David Cornell, ‘A Kingdom Cleared of Castles: The Role of the Castle in the Campaigns of Robert Bruce’, The Scottish Historical Review, 87 (2008), pp. 233–57.
Herbert Maxwell, ed., The Chronicle of Lanercost, 1272–1346 (Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons, 1913).
Dan Spencer, The Castle at War in Medieval England and Wales (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2018).
1 – Photograph of Edinburgh Castle by Dan Spencer.
2 – ‘Surprise of Edinburgh Castle’, from Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, volume 1 (London: Cassell Petter & Galpin, 1873), p. 343.
3 – Photograph of Edinburgh from the castle by Dan Spencer.
4 – The National Archives, E101/482/25. The account of John de Swaneslund of works at Edinburgh and Berwick, 11-12 Edward III (1337-8), from the Anglo American Legal Tradition website.
5 – The National Archives, E101/482/25. The account of John de Swaneslund of works at Edinburgh and Berwick, 11-12 Edward III (1337-8), from the Anglo American Legal Tradition website.
6 – Photograph of St Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh Castle by Dan Spencer.
 For my published account of the works carried out at Edinburgh Castle see, Dan Spencer, The Castle at War in Medieval England and Wales (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2018), p. 193.
 Herbert Maxwell, ed., The Chronicle of Lanercost, 1272–1346 (Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons, 1913), pp. 131-44.
 Joseph Bain, ed., Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, Volume 2. A.D. 1272–1307 (Edinburgh: H. M. General Register House, 1884), pp. 221-2, 289.
 Maxwell, The Chronicle of Lanercost, p. 204; David Cornell, ‘A Kingdom Cleared of Castles: The Role of the Castle in the Campaigns of Robert Bruce’, The Scottish Historical Review, 87 (2008), pp. 233–57.
 Spencer, The Castle at War in Medieval England and Wales, pp. 185-8.
 H. M. Colvin, ed., The History of the King’s Works, volume 1 (London: H. M. S. O, 1963), p. 421.
 Joseph Bain, ed., Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, Volume 3. A.D. 1307–1357 (Edinburgh: H. M. General Register House, 1887), pp. 347-8.
 The National Archives, E 101/482/25.
 Bain, Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, Volume 3. A.D. 1307–1357, pp. 215-16, 349, 355.
 Colvin, The History of the King’s Works, p. 421.
 Bain, Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, Volume 3. A.D. 1307–1357, p. 215.
 Spencer, The Castle at War in Medieval England and Wales, pp. 192-3.