It was a warm July day as they clambered to plug gaps in the walls; flesh and bone replaced their bricks and mortar.
They had endured much already, yet with every slaughtered horse they piled up, the grotesque stench grew in severity, permeating the humid air and lingering in their nostrils.
Guy, Count of Namur may have considered his position as he looked out upon the city of Edinburgh. Surrounded and in hostile territory, bereft of food and water and having already fled from Boroughmuir in fear of being overwhelmed, the situation appeared bleak.
Taking refuge in the ruinous husk of Edinburgh Castle, Namur faced a choice; hold out and hope for rescue or risk the wrath of the Scots lingering like carrion birds.
The Battle of Boroughmuir
The Battle of Boroughmuir, fought in July 1335, is one of the smaller engagements during the Wars of Scottish Independence. However, the circumstances in which Namur and his Anglo-Flemish troops found themselves in are bizarre.
More than two decades after victory at the Battle of Bannockburn, the Kingdom of Scotland was still perilously balanced on the edge chaos. A belligerent southern neighbour and rebellious, disenfranchised Anglo-Scots nobles were causing mayhem for King David II, the son of King Robert Bruce.
Led by Guy, Count of Namur, a Flemish nobleman in the service of Edward III, the English force defeated at the battle of Boroughmuir had been making its way north to link up with the English monarch at Perth. Two years prior, Edward III had invaded Scotland in support of Edward Balliol – the son of the former Scottish King, John Balliol – and the rebellious Anglo-Scots nobility.
Naturally, the Count of Namur would have assumed that the Scots’ attention lay elsewhere as an English force some 15,000 strong rampaged its way through the country. However, while passing across the Borough Muir to the south of Edinburgh, the English force was set upon by local forces under the command of the Earl of Moray.
John Randolph, the 3rd Earl of Moray and Guardian of Scotland, had been leading the counter resistance since Edward III’s invasion. While he could not muster enough men to consider an all-out confrontation, there were other methods that could be employed to stifle the English advance.
Relying on lighting fast smash-and-grab operations at the tail of the English force, Randolph had seen some success disrupting the invading army.
Walking into an Ambush
Arriving to the south of Edinburgh on July 30th, Namur commanded a force believed to be around 300-strong, which was largely comprised of knights, men-at-arms and archers. It is likely that Namur was tracked from the moment he crossed into Scots-controlled territory. Passing through the region, they were pounced upon by Moray and his troops.
Initially, the fighting is described as being visceral and chaotic. Namur and his Anglo-Flemish comrades are said to have fought valiantly, holding fast against what was a well-laid ambush.
However, a contingent of Scots under the command of Sir William Douglas arrived from the south. Namur was quickly being encircled by the Scots, and rather than risk being overwhelmed, the force pierced its way north east toward Edinburgh itself.
Pursued relentlessly by Moray and Douglas, Namur reached the city and was forced to fight his way through the St Mary Wynd and up to Edinburgh Castle – which had lay in ruins since 1314.
Hot on their tail, the Scots dug in for a stand-off while Namur and his men anxiously patched up gaps in the dilapidated fortress.
A Wall of Horse Flesh
Contemporary chronicler, Walter Bower, described the scene as a desperate one, with what remained of Namur’s force frantically patching up holes in the bastion defences.
“The men of Namur therefore, as they fled and fought bravely, kept together until they climbed the lamentable hill where there used to be the Maidens’ castle of Edinburgh, which had been demolished earlier for fear of the English,” the chronicler wrote.
For context, Edinburgh Castle had been destroyed some 21 years previously on the orders of Robert Bruce, who sought to deny English troops the ability to hold fortified positions throughout Scotland. This tactic had proven vital to Bruce during the First Scottish War of Independence.
Bower continued: “These rocks they defended courageously, and killing their exhausted and injured horses besides, they made a defensive wall with their bodies.”
Slaughtering their horses and piling them up to fill the gaps wouldn’t, as one can expect, grant Namur much safety; but it was something at least. Furthermore, a potential assault by the Scots wasn’t their only worry. Bower noted that the English force went without sleep and was “hungry, cold, thirsty and weary”.
Tired, defeated and with no help coming, Namur surrendered to the Scots and a deal was made. Moray is said to have behaved “generously” toward Namur and his host. The Anglo-Flemish force was granted safe travel to the English border upon vowing never again to take up arms against King David II.
Additionally, Moray is recorded as having escorted Namur to the border. This decision, however, came back to haunt him. On his was back, Moray himself was ambushed by an English force under the command of William Pressen. Sir William Douglas escaped while his brother was killed in action. Moray, meanwhile, was captured and taken south in chains. He would spend the next five years in an English jail.
For Namur, it wouldn’t be long until he was back in Scotland. Upon reaching Berwick, he is said to have sailed north with Queen Phillipa to meet with Edward III.