The Battle of Happrew

The Battle of Happrew took place on or about the 20th of February 1304. On that day in the leap year of 1304, the ragged-arsed remnants of the men who had bled wi’ Wallace were called into action to defend themselves against a force of several hundred knights loyal to the English king, Edward I. It was during what’s known as the First War of Scottish Independence, after puir Wullie returned from France, and about a year and a half before his brutal, judicial murder near Smithfield, in London.

Robert Low, in his excellent novel “The Lion at Bay”, has the battle take place on Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of our Lord Jesus, Sunday the 2nd of February 1304. Traditionally the 40th day of the Christmas-Epiphany season, Candlemas was an unfortunate day for a battle, but war is no respecter of Christian traditions. No doubt Low settled on the 2nd to fit in with the timeline of his narrative.

Most sources point to a later date, towards the end of the month. The Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, II, no. 1432 [Edinburgh, 1881, ed. J. Bain] has it chronologically after the surrender of the Comyn and others at Perth, on the 9th of February. That places the battle later in the month, when Longshanks, then occupying Dunfermline, dispatched a mounted force under Sir John de Segrave, on a scouting mission cum raid into Selkirk Forest with the intention of rooting out and capturing Wallace, Sir Simon Fraser, and their fellow patriots.

The same source has the English king, at Aberdour on the 3rd of March, applauding ‘their diligence in his affairs, and begs them to complete the business they have begun so well and to bring matters to a close before they leave the parts on that side [the Forth].’ As an insight into the character of Longshanks, the entry in the Royal Charters quotes him as urging them earnestly, “as the cloak is well made, also to make the hood.” You can deduce from that, the battle occurred sometime between the 9th of February and the 3rd of March. You can also deduce that de Segrave wasn’t entirely successful i.e., he captured neither Wallace nor Fraser.

The English led force did discover the guerilla band of Wallace and Fraser, and the Battle of Happrew took place. It resulted in a defeat for the Scots, but they weren’t routed, and the two principles on the Scottish side managed to steal away. There is no information about the course of the battle, who first attacked whom and what formations were employed on either side. History has drawn a blank on that detail, but Low has a great account of it in his book. I recommend you give it a read.

Andrew Fisher, in his biography entitled simply William Wallace, mentions the battle a couple of times, but with no detail other than that Wallace and Fraser were defeated, and escaped. Blind Harry makes no mention whatsoever of the battle. In William Wallace Braveheart, by James Mackay, the battle is described as ‘a bloody encounter’ and the English force as ‘large’. Mackay goes on to state that Happrew was William Wallace’s last battle. Revealing the treacherous underside of history, Mackay also states that, leading up to the battle, Wallace was tracked down by a fellow Scot, one John of Musselburgh, who was given ten shillings from Longshanks’ own hand as a reward.

Another Scot who had reason to be ashamed of himself that day was Sir Robert de Bruce, the future King. Sir Robert, despite his forthright claims of right to the throne in Scotland, was in the English led contingent under de Segrave. At that time, de Bruce had been active in Edward’s service for a couple of years. Indeed, he had been given the command of the garrison in the castle of Ayr. The Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, in the reference to Edward applauding ‘their diligence’ as above, precedes that sentence with the damning introduction: ‘The K. to his loyal and faithful Robert de Bruce earl of Carrick, Sir John de Segrave, and their company’. The Bruce, of course, was biding his time.

For Sir John de Segrave, 2nd Baron Segrave, the Battle of Happrew was his second encounter with the Scottish resistance. A year earlier, at the Battle of Roslin, de Segrave was severely wounded and taken prisoner along with twenty other knights. He was captured by a group of patriots under the command of Sir Simon Fraser and Sir John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch. Notably, at that time, the Comyn was far more of a patriot than de Bruce, engaged in actual fighting against the English up until his surrender on the 9th of February.

Unluckily for Wallace, de Segrave was rescued at Roslin, and recovered enough to lead the search a year later. After Happrew, de Segrave was present at the siege of Stirling Castle, which surrendered on the 24th of July 1304. On the departure of Edward I, de Segrave was appointed Justice and Captain in Scotland south of the River Forth. After the betrayal and capture of William Wallace, de Segrave personally escorted him to London, and after Wallace’s death, de Segrave was the man who took the  quartered parts of his body back to Scotland.

The Battle of Happrew took place on Sir Simon Fraser’s home territory, in the vicinity of Stobo, near Peebles, by the Lyne Water, a tributary of the River Tweed, in the former county of Peeblesshire, now the district of Tweeddale. You’ll find Easter Happrew and Wester Happrew on Google Maps these days, near Hallyne on the A72 west of Peebles. However, the precise location of the skirmish isnae weel kent, although it’s not far from Sherrif Muir, the scene of another famous battle.

Wikipedia refers to the battle having involved “A chevauchée of English knights.” However, the same source describes a chevauchée as a raiding method of medieval warfare. In any event, the occupying invader’s force, led by Sir John de Segrave, is likely to have numbered in the hundreds, while Wallace and Fraser may have led as few as fifty men.

Original from Ian Colville

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