Black Agnus of the Siege of Dunbar

(Dunbar Castle)

Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar and March (c. 1312–1369), known as Black Agnes for her dark hair and eyes, and sallow complexion.

The Siege of Dunbar

13th January 1338 – 10th June 1338

On the 13th January 1338 William Montague, 1st Earl of Salisbury arrived at the gates of Dunbar Castle. At this time Patrick Dunbar, 9th Earl of March was off fighting with the Scottish army against the English. In charge of Dunbar Castle was Lady Agnes, who was left with only a few servants and guards.

The Earl of Salisbury must have thought that this was going to be an easy victory as the majority of the men were away fighting and it was just a women left in charge. However, when he ordered Lady Agnes to surrender she refused.

This Ballad records the events of the Siege of Dunbar:

Where the Countess was wise and ware:
Schyre William Montague, that sua (consequently)
Had tane the Siege. in hy gret ma
A mekil and right stalwart engine,
And up smartly gert dress it:
syne Then warpit at the wall gret stanes
Baith hard and heavy for the nanys, (purpose)
But that nane merryng to them made,
And alsua when they castyne had,
With a towel, a damisell
Arrayed jollily and well,
Wippit the wall, that they micht see
To gere them mair annoyed be.

There, at the siege, well lang they lay,
But there little vantage got they;
For when the bykkyne wald, or assail,
They tint the maist of their travaile.
And as they bygeryd there a’day,
Of a great shot I shall you say,
For that they had of it ferly,
I here to you rehearse will I.
William of Spens percit a Blasowne,
And thro ‘three fauld of Awbyrchowne,
And the Actowne through the third ply,
And the arrow in the bodie,
Whil of that dynt there dead he lay;
And then the Montagu gan say,
“This is ane of my Lady’s pinnis,
Her amouris thus, till my heart rinnis.”

Whil that the siege was there on the wise,
Men sayis there fell sair juperdyis.
For Lawrence of Prestoun, that then
Haldin and of the wichtest men,
That was in all Scotland that tide,
A rout of Inglismen saw ride,
That seemed gude men and worthy,
And were arrayed right richly;
He, with as few folk, as they were,
On them assembled he there;
But, at the assembling, he was there,
Intil the mouth stricken with a spear,
While it up in the harnys ran;
Till a dike he withdrew him than,
And died; for nae mair live he micht.

His men his death perceived noucht;
Whil they them vanquish’d utterly.
And with their faes faucht stoutly,
Thus was this gude man brought till end,
That was ticht greatly to commend.
Of gret wirschipe (manhood) and great bownte (goodness),
His saul be aye in saftie.

Sir William als of Galstown
Of Keith, that was of gude renown,
Met Richard Talbot by the way
And set him to his hard assay,
That to a kirk he gert him gae,
And close there defense to ma;
But he assailed there as fast,
That him be-hov’d treat at the last,
And twa thousand pound to pay,
And left hostage, and went his way.
The Montagu was yet lyand,
Sieging Dunbare with stalwart hand;

And twa gallies of Genoa had he,
For till assiege it by the sea.
And as he thus assiegend lay,
He was set intil hard assay;
For he had purchased him covyn (secret agreement)
Of and of them, that were therein,
That he should leave open hte yete
And certain term till him then set
To come; but they therein halily
Were warnit of it privily.

He came, and the yet open fand,
And wald have hane in foot steppand;
But of John Cowpland, that was then
But a right poor simple man,
Shut him off, back, and in is gane,
The Portcullis came down on ane;
And spared Montagu, thereout
They cryed, with a sturdy shout,
“A Montagu for evermair!”

Then with the fold that he had there,
He turned to his Herbery,
And let him japyt fullyly.
Syne Alexander, the Ramsay,
That trowed and thought, that they
That were assieged in Dunbar,
At great distress or mischief were;
That in an evening frae the Bass,
With a few folk that with him was,
Toward Dunbar, intil a boat,
He held all privily his gate;
And by the gallies all slyly
He gat with his company.

The lady, and all, that were there,
Of his coming well comfort were:
He issued in the morning in hy,
And with the wachis sturdily,
Made and apart, and stout melle,
And but tysel entered he.

While Montagu was there lyand,
The Kind Edward of England
Purchased him help, alyawns,
For he wald amowe were in France;
And for the Montagu he send;
For he cowth (bring) nae thing till end
For owtyn him, for that time he
Was maist of his counsel privie,
When he had heard the king’s bidding
He removed, but mair dwelling,
When he, I trow, had lying there
A quarter of a year and mair.

Of this assiege in their hethyng (derison),
The English oysid to make karping
“I vow to God, she makes gret stere
The Scottish wench ploddere, (fighter)
Come I aire, come I late,
I fand Annot at the yate.”

This William of Spens is the Lord of Gylgyrstona, Glespany, Dumbarnie and Bondiingtoun. The lordship of Gylgyrstona is located in the county of Perth, that of Glespany in the barony of Errol in Perthshire, that of Dumbarnie and Bondiingtoune “in the conestablity of Haddingtoune in the viscounty of Edinburgh (these last lordships were given to him in 1358 by William, Earl of Douglas as a dowry from his daughter or sister who married William de Spens).

He was eldest son of feudal baron Thomas de Spens and was born around 1310 and died in 1370. In 1338, he successfully helped his relative nicknamed “Black Agnes,” the Countess of Moray to defend Dunbar Castle which was besieged in vain by the English troops.

The poem relates his feat: with a bow he succeeded with an arrow to hit and kill the Lord of Montegu who was the English second in command at the siege of Dunbar. The Count of Salisbury the commander of the English troops was riding with the sire of Montegu when the arrow shot by the knight William of Spens pierced the armor, the triple chain mail and the leather jacket of the sire of Montegu and pierced his heart.

Walter Scott, in his story of Scotland reports the fact and adds that the Earl of Salisbury joked about the death of his friend and declared: “It is a pledge of love from the countess, the features of Agnes the Black arrive always to the heart.” The Count of Salisbury, the commander of the English troops, was riding with the sire of Montegu when the arrow shot by the knight William of Spens pierced the armor, the triple chain mail and the leather jacket of the sire of Montegu and pierced his heart.