Mar 052016


Today is the birthday (1324) of David II, variously called Daibhidh a Briuis in Medieval Scots Gaelic, Dauid de Brus in Norman French, and Dauid Brus in early Scots-English. He was king of Scots from 7th June 1329 until his death in 1371). This is a great opportunity for me to talk a little about Scottish history which I am still learning about in fits and starts, because I learned nothing about it in school. My knowledge of history in general had little help from my formal schooling. In Australia my high school year had zero history classes. Chemistry, physics, and maths were deemed too important. I shifted around in secondary schools in England, where the general history curriculum wandered all over the map from 16th century voyages of “discovery” (i.e. European colonialism) to naval warfare, to the Russian Revolution, to who knows where else. It settled into 19th century England for O-level, then Europe since Napoleon for A-level (plus the Roman Revolution for Latin, and a smattering of the Greek Empire for Greek). Then at Oxford it was Biblical history for the first 2 years, then the Byzantine Empire and the Protestant Reformation in my final year. Not exactly a coherent education. I thank my lucky stars, though, because by being denied an adequate training in history I also avoided the prejudices of historians as I matured. I have a bee in my bonnet about the nature of history, which, as luck would have it, I am teaching now. My first question to my students is always, “why do we study history?” Of course, they have no answer other than “we have to.” I have studied and published about various historical periods for my own reasons. I am much less interested in WHAT happened in history as WHY it happened WHEN it happened. Cynically, I’d say that MONEY and POWER are pretty well universal answers. So . . . David II.


David II was the elder and only surviving son of Robert I (Robert the Bruce) of Scotland and his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh. He was born at Dunfermline Palace, Fife and in accordance with the Treaty of Northampton’s terms, he was married on 17 July 1328 to Joan of the Tower, daughter of Edward II of England and Isabella of France, at Berwick-upon-Tweed. She was seven years old, he was only four. Their marriage lasted 34 years, but it was childless and apparently loveless. They had no children.

David became King of Scots upon the death of his father on 7 June 1329, aged 5 years, 3 months, and 3 days. David and Joan were crowned at Scone on 24 November 1331. These were turbulent times for Scotland. Edward I (aka Hammer of the Scots) had laid claim to Scotland by birthright and so pursued a series of wars there. Resistance came from William Wallace (of Braveheart fame), whilst Robert the Bruce played both sides, eventually siding with Scotland and defeating the English in key battles. But the matter was not settled when David inherited the throne as a baby.

During David’s minority, Sir Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray was appointed Guardian of Scotland by the Act of Settlement of 1318. After Moray’s death, on 20 July 1332, he was replaced by Donald, Earl of Mar, elected by an assembly of the magnates of Scotland at Perth, 2 August 1332. Only ten days later Mar died at the Battle of Dupplin Moor. Sir Andrew Murray of Bothwell, who was married to Christina, Robert the Bruce’s sister, was chosen as the new Guardian. He was taken prisoner by the English at Roxburgh in April 1333 and was thence replaced as Guardian by Archibald Douglas (the Tyneman), who died at Halidon Hill that July.


Meanwhile, on 24 September 1332, following the Scots’ defeat at Dupplin, Edward Balliol, a protégé of Edward III of England, and a pretender to the throne of Scotland, was crowned by the English and his Scots adherents. By December, however, Balliol was forced to flee to England. He returned the following year as part of an invasion force led by Edward III. Following the victory of this force at the Battle of Halidon Hill in July 1333, David and his wife were sent for safety into France, reaching Boulogne on 14 May 1334. They were received very graciously by King Philip VI. Little is known about the life of the Scottish king in France, except that Château Gaillard was given to him for a residence, and that he was present at the bloodless meeting of the English and French armies in October 1339 at Vironfosse, now known as Buironfosse, in the Arrondissement of Vervins. Meanwhile, David’s representatives had once again obtained the upper hand in Scotland, and the king was able to return to his kingdom, landing at Inverbervie in Kincardineshire on 2 June 1341, when he took the reins of government into his own hands.


In 1346, under the terms of the Auld Alliance, David invaded England in the interests of the French, who were at war with the English in Normandy. After initial success at Hexham, David was wounded, and his army soundly defeated at the Battle of Neville’s Cross on 17 October 1346. David was captured and taken prisoner by Sir John Copeland, who imprisoned him in the Tower of London. David was transferred to Windsor Castle upon the return of Edward III from France. David and his household were later moved to Odiham Castle in Hampshire. His imprisonment was not reputed to be a rigorous one, although he remained in England for eleven years. Joan, being Edward’s sister, was allowed to be free and visited David only a few times. When he finally returned to Scotland she decided to remain in England, and died there in 1362, aged 41.


On 3 October 1357, after several protracted negotiations with the Scots’ regency council, a treaty was signed at Berwick-upon-Tweed under which Scotland’s nobility agreed to pay 100,000 marks (to be paid at the rate of 10,000 marks per year) as a ransom for their king. This was ratified by the Scottish Parliament at Scone on 6 November 1357. David returned at once to Scotland; but, after a few years, owing to the poverty of the kingdom, it was found impossible to raise the ransom installment of 1363. David then went to London and sought to get rid of the liability by offering to bequeath Scotland to Edward III or one of his sons in return for a cancellation of the ransom. David did this with the full awareness that the Scots would never accept such an arrangement. In 1364, the Scottish parliament indignantly rejected a proposal to make Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the next king; but over the next few years, David strung out secret negotiations with Edward III, which apparently appeased the matter.

He remarried in 1364, Margaret Drummond, widow of Sir John Logie, and daughter of Sir Malcolm Drummond. He divorced her in 1370. They had no children. Margaret, however, travelled to Avignon and made a successful appeal to the Pope to reverse the sentence of divorce which had been pronounced against her in Scotland. She was still alive and, in theory, married to David when he died.


From 1364, David was harsh with recalcitrant nobles and a wider baronial revolt, and continued to pursue the goal of final peace with England. By the time of his death, the Scottish monarchy was stronger, and the kingdom and royal finances more prosperous than might have seemed possible. David died unexpectedly and at the height of his power in Edinburgh Castle on 22 February 1371. He was buried in Holyrood Abbey. At the time of his death, he was planning to marry his mistress, Agnes Dunbar (niece of Agnes Randolph, also known as “Black Agnes of Dunbar”). He left no children and was succeeded by his distant nephew, Robert II. Thus, he was the last male of the House of Bruce.

Medieval Scots cooking varied greatly between rich and poor. Oats and root crops were staples in the highlands, but the gentry ate beef, game, and fish. The cooking traditions shared a great deal with the English, but also with French influences, and were based on locally available ingredients plus spices. Here is a classic Scots soup, still popular, partan bree. “Partan” is Gaelic for crab, and “bree” for broth.


Partan Bree

⅓ cup long grain rice
600ml milk
400ml fish stock
500g cooked crab meat
2 anchovy fillets (optional)
cayenne pepper (optional)
grated nutmeg
150ml cream
salt and white pepper
finely chopped parsley


Place the rice and milk in a saucepan, and simmer until the rice is cooked well.

Bring the stock to a simmer.

Reserve some of the best looking pieces of crab meat for garnish. Blend the crab meat, rice, milk and anchovy fillets (if used) in a blender until very smooth. Add the blended mixture to the stock and combine well with a whisk over low heat, stirring constantly. Add cayenne (if used), nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cream and heat through gently.

Serve in shallow bowls garnished with the reserved crab, paprika, and parsley.

Oct 192015


Today is the anniversary of the Surrender at Yorktown in 1781 which ended the Siege of Yorktown, also known as the Battle of Yorktown, or the German Battle. This was a decisive victory by a combined force of American Continental Army troops led by General George Washington and French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau over a British Army commanded by British lord and Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis. The siege proved to be the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War in the North American theater, as the surrender by Cornwallis, and the capture of both him and his army, prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict. The battle boosted faltering American morale and revived French enthusiasm for the war, as well as undermining popular support for the conflict in Great Britain.

This date is not especially noted in the United States where 4th July 1776 and the Declaration of Independence are considered symbolically much more important for the nation than the ending of the war. The fact that the actual declaration was no more than a hollow gesture until the war had been won never comes up. History is written in hindsight. If the surrender at Yorktown had not occurred and the Revolutionary War had been won by the British, 4th July would not now be celebrated. Yet, also in hindsight, today’s date is of critical importance to U.S. history.


In 1780, 5,500 French soldiers landed in Rhode Island to assist their American allies in operations against British-controlled New York City. Following the arrival of dispatches from France that included the possibility of support from the French West Indies fleet of the Comte de Grasse, Washington and Rochambeau decided to ask de Grasse for assistance either in besieging New York, or in military operations against a British army operating in Virginia. On the advice of Rochambeau, de Grasse informed them of his intent to sail to the Chesapeake Bay, where Cornwallis had taken command of the army. Cornwallis, at first given confusing orders by his superior officer, Henry Clinton, was eventually ordered to make a defensible deep-water port, which he began to do at Yorktown, Virginia. Cornwallis’ movements in Virginia were shadowed by a Continental Army force led by the Marquis de Lafayette.

The French and American armies united north of New York City during the summer of 1781. When word of de Grasse’s decision arrived, the combined armies began moving south toward Virginia, engaging in tactics of deception to lead the British to believe a siege of New York was planned. De Grasse sailed from the West Indies and arrived at the Chesapeake Bay at the end of August, bringing additional troops and providing a naval blockade of Yorktown. He was transporting 500,000 silver pesos collected from the citizens of Havana, Cuba, to fund supplies for the siege and payroll for the Continental Army. While in Santo Domingo, de Grasse met with Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis, an agent of Carlos III of Spain. De Grasse had planned to leave several of his warships in Santo Domingo. Saavedra promised the assistance of the Spanish navy to protect the French merchant fleet, enabling de Grasse to sail north with all of his warships. In the beginning of September, he defeated a British fleet led by Sir Thomas Graves that came to relieve Cornwallis at the Battle of the Chesapeake. As a result of this victory, de Grasse blocked any escape by sea for Cornwallis. By late September Washington and Rochambeau arrived, and the army and naval forces completely surrounded Cornwallis.


After initial preparations, the Americans and French built their first parallel and began the bombardment. With the British defense weakened, Washington on October 14, 1781 sent two columns to attack the last major remaining British outer defenses. A French column took redoubt #9 and an American column redoubt #10. With these defenses taken, the allies were able to finish their second parallel. With the American artillery closer and more intense than ever, the British situation began to deteriorate rapidly and Cornwallis asked for capitulation terms on the 17th. After two days of negotiation, the surrender ceremony took place on the 19th; Lord Cornwallis, claiming to be ill, was absent from the ceremony. With the capture of over 7,000 British soldiers, negotiations between the United States and Great Britain began, resulting in the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

Yorktown was not the final armed conflict of the Revolutionary War. In the year between it and the signing of the Treaty of Paris, more American patriots died than in the first year of the Revolution.


The Chesapeake Bay region where Yorktown is located is famous for seafood, particularly crabs. Here is an old recipe from Yorktown for crab soup, modified slightly for modern kitchens.

Yorktown Crab Soup


1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
½ tsp red pepper
½ tsp mace
½ tsp nutmeg
fresh parsley chopped (optional)
½ pint milk
2 cups crabmeat
¾ pint cream
¼ cup dry sherry


Melt the butter in the top of a double boiler. Add the flour and whisk together to make a roux. Do not let the roux take on color.

Add the milk a little at a time whisking continuously until the milk and roux are well blended. Add the seasonings with salt to taste, and stir until thick and creamy.

Add the crabmeat and cream, and let the mixture heat through.

Add the sherry at the last minute and serve immediately in bowls with a parsley garnish if you wish.