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The Battle of Roslin
24th February 1303

The Battle of Roslin Memorial

The action at Roslin was typical of combat in this period; a clash between relatively small groups of men-at-arms (armoured cavalry), not, as popularly written, a battle of manoeuvre involving many thousands. The "Big Battle" scenario was invented by Walter Bower in his "Scotichronicon" to give the Scots a massive victory over the English. Contemporary record material is absolutely clear about this, the English force was raised in a hurry, possibly (according to Sir Thomas Gray’s "Scalacronica") to raise a Scottish siege at Linlithgow. It was recruited from the gentry and aristocracy of Northern England and had no infantry element at all. There is no contemporary material to suggest that the Scottish army involved infantry either, but this is typical of the period. There seems to have been two, possibly three actions, probably a product of the English force being billeted in a number of villages and hamlets in the area . Wallace had not been the Guardian for some years by the time of Roslin and there is no clear evidence to indicate that he was present at all. The Guardian was Sir John Comyn of Badenoch, who had held the post (with Robert de Bruce some of the time)since Wallace lost his political credibility after the defeat at Falkirk. It is an axiom of websites and romantic history that the Scottish men-at-arms were less heavily armoured and less well-mounted than their English counterparts – a ‘fact’ that no-one noticed at the time. In fact they were indistinguishable from one another. The same applies to archers and spearmen; the total evidence for Scots using a shortbow is that c. 1910 Sir Charles Oman said they did – he did produce any evidence to support his statement , but we should be confident that if there were any differences between Scottish and English soldiers Grey, the Lanercost Chronicle would tell us so – especially Gray since he was a professional soldier all his days. Also – record material – payrolls, muster rolls, ammunition records and the like would surely make reference to any real disparity.

As for the Roslin battle, if it had been a physically large battle, we can rest assured that chroniclers and record material of the time would say so, but the size of a battle (especially a medieval one) is not a useful guide to its significance. The Battle of Culblean (30th November, St Andrew's Day, 1335) was not especially large (perhaps 4,000 people in total), but what 14th century Scottish battle is of greater significance? Bannockburn merely affirmed the current situation, viz. The Scots were winning their war and continued to do so until the peace of 1328, but Culblean was a demonstration of the ability of the Scots to recover and make serious progress in a very difficult situation.

Dr Chris Brown, author of "William Wallace", ISBN 0752434322

Roslin Glen


1.  Grey wis the dawnin' ower Rosewell,
    When the Englishmen were roosin,
    Gay wis Sir Simon Fraser's yell,
    "Castail Dhuni" echoed eight thoosan',

2.  Ten thoosan' English, eight thoosan' Scot,
    The prior's prayers were spoken,
    Ane fiery charge such terror wrought,
    That the English lines were broken.

3.  But ballad writers stay your pen...
    This was no sporting battle,
    Sir Simon chased after the fleeing men,
    And cut them down like cattle.

4.  The Fraser, the Colmun and St. Clair,
    Wer'na men tae slaughter,
    But they faced twenty thoosan' English mair,
    So they derna gie them quarter.

    An Farmers tae this verra day,
    When they're at the ploo-in',
    Still find shinbanes in the clay,
    At a place they ca' "The Hewin."

5.  Ten thoosan' cam' fae Rosewell Dyke,
    Wi' General Randolf leadin',
    Again the spears o'ercame the pike,
    But mony gude Scots lay bleedin'.

6.  Sudden an army cam' up on the fight,
    And the Scots were like to flee,
    Prior Abernethy begged them tae fight,
    But no man heard his plea.

7.  Look ower, look ower, on yonder hill,"
    Quo' Sir Simon lood and clear,
    They blick't and saw the lift gae ill,
    Then saw a cross appear.

8.  'Tis gude St. Andrew," cried ae man,
    And doon they gaed tae pray,
    "Gae to," they heard the gude Sir Simon,
    "Gae to, we'll win the day."


9.  They ca'd the cross hill "Abernethy,"
    Where they layed the Prior's banes,
    But soon they renamed it "Carnethy,"
    Fae a' the pilgrim's stanes.

10. We mind the twa Frasers, o' Colmyn tae,
    And o' the true St. Clair,
    First tae the fecht, the Graham gay,
    Dark Douglas tae wis there.

11. But wha made the cross fae the blasted tree,
    That gied the Scots such solace?
    Ma freens, ye surely needna ask me,
    It was Sir William Wallace


Battle of Roslin Memorial

The Memorial was erected by the Roslin Heritage Society in 1994.

Further references:

The Battle of Roslin - What Battle?

The Battle of Rosslyn, 1303

Overview of Roslin Battlefield

Battle of Roslin:: OS grid NT2763 :: Geograph British Isles - photograph every grid square!

Roslin, Midlothian [Streetmap.co.uk]

Roslin Heritage Society - Projects


Clan Cumming Society of the United States


Photographs © Iain Laird 2006