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September 9th 1337

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Edward 3rd's brother killed in Perth

The Treaty of Northampton in May 1329 was probably the high point in the reign of Robert the Bruce. At long last Scotland was formally recognised by the English as an independent kingdom and their king as an independent sovereign. As pledge of this new found equality, Joanna, young sister of Edward 3rd of England, was pledged to marry Bruce’s son David, then only seven years old. A year later Bruce died and David 2nd was crowned at Scone.

Almost immediately war and misfortune returned to Scotland. Edward Balliol with a large force of English and Scots entered Scotland and fought and won the battle of Dupplin. He then occupied Perth and had himself crowned at Scone on September 24th. He formally acknowledged Edward 3rd of England as his lord and master. He was later driven from the country but by now Scotland was occupied by the English.

In 1337 while Edward 3rd was in Perth, his younger brother John, Duke of Cornwall was at the head of a second English army. He was an efficient but exceedingly brutal leader. Writes the English chronicler, Hollinshed, “Passing through Galloway, Carrick, Kyle and Cunningham he put all to the fire and sword that came his way ……He burned the church of St Bute and a thousand persons within it, who were fled thither for safeguard of their lives.” 

Fordun tells the same story. “A great many souls who fled to the churches were, with the churches themselves, destroyed and clean swept away by being set on fire.”  Such conduct was hardly likely to result in any lasting peace and Edward was angered by the needless ferocity of his brother’s advance northwards.

Eventually John and his troops arrived in Perth. Fordun, who was a contemporary, writes “The King, however, at Perth, took him to task for all this, as he was bound to do, and when he answered the King in angry mood, he was suddenly smitten by his brother’s sword and shuffled off this mortal coil.” 

Other chroniclers claimed that the event took place before the high alter of St John’s Kirk in Perth. There are even the alleged words spoken by Edward after the murder. “So perish all who put no difference betwixt friend and foe, place hallowed and unhallowed. And as the church of God was no sanctuary to thy victims, so neither is it to thee.”  Fine stirring stuff.

Hollinshed writing much later and no doubt with an eye to the historical reputation of Edward ignores the whole story. “It is nothing true that he was so made away; for he died of a natural infirmity, as by our English writers it manifestly appeareth.” 

What is quite certain is that he died. Extract from the English Wardrobe accounts. September 9th “To the Apothecary of William de Montegu. Sent by the King to Saint John’s Town in Perth, to prepare the body of John, Earl of Cornwall, for interment.” 

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