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Andrew Moray: An Unsung Warrior and Hero of Scotland and her Highlands

Andrew Moray is one of the largest heroes of the Wars for Scottish Independence.

Unfortunately, his name is not known nearly as well today as it should be.

Also known as Andrew de Moray, Andrew of Moray and Andrew Murray, he was the son of a northern nobleman who became a vital and important military leader during the Scottish-English wars of the late 13th Century.

This Scottish warrior was responsible for leading the rebellion in northern Scotland against the foreign rule of Edward I and succeeded in retaking the Highlands for Scotland.

Most people today would describe him as the northern equivalent of the Scottish lowland warrior William Wallace, but considering that Andrew was of higher birth, greater wealth and gained more consistent support, it might be safe to say that William was his southern equivalent instead.

He and Wallace merged forces at the Battle of Stirling Bridge to pull off an incredible unlooked for victory.

Unfortunately, Andrew died during or directly after the battle, depriving Scotland of one of its fiercest and most patriotic sons far too soon.


Andrew Moray's Family Origins:

The Andrew Moray of the Wars for Scottish Independence was born in the latter half of the 13th Century to the Morays of Petty.

He was one of a long line of Andrews, as it was apparently a popular name for firstborn sons to the Moray line.

We don't know exactly where or when he was born, nor do we know if he had any siblings.

The Morays were a wealthy and politically connected family centered in the province of Moray, which can be found today in northeastern Scotland.

The Morays of Petty traced their lineage back to a Flemish man named Freskin, who was granted lands in the Moray province by King David I when he was trying to unify Scotland under his rule.

Freskin built a castle at Duffas on the northern shore of Loch Spynie. You can still see Loch Spynie today in Scotland, although it's much smaller than it used to be because of draining during the agricultural "improvements" of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Once Freskin settled on the shore of the loch, he and his family soon blended linguistically and culturally with the local populace.

By the time of Andrew's birth, the Morays of Petty were connected by blood and marriage to such illustrious families as the Comyns, the Balliols, and the Douglases of Clydesdale.


Morays in Scottish Society

At the time of King Alexander III's untimely death, the Moray family was well established throughout Scotland with holdings in both the Highlands and Lowlands.

Sir Andrew Moray the Elder held three large tracts of land, including Petty controlled by Halhill Castle on the southern bank of Moray Firth, Avoch of the Black Isle controlled by the castle of Avoch also overlooking Moray Firth, and Boharm controlled by the Moray castle at Gauldwell.

Andrew Moray the Younger would inherit all of this upon his father's death as Edward I's prisoner in the Tower of London.

Andrew the Elder acted as the chief law-officer (Justiciar) of the Scottish Crown prior to Alexander's death, and afterwards was called upon to serve as one of the six Guardians of Scotland while the nobles were waiting on a new monarch.

Sir William Moray, brother to Andrew the Elder and uncle to Andrew the Younger, boasted extensive southern holdings in Lanarkshire and at Lilleford in Lincolnshire, which Andrew the Younger would also inherit.

The Moray family also kept up with their interests within the Scottish church.

An ancestral Andrew Moray had been the Bishop of Moray in the early part of the 13th Century, and Andrew the Younger's uncle David would eventually be consecrated as the Bishop of Moray in the summer of 1299 by Pope Boniface VIII in Rome.

Bishop David Moray was consistently one of the most loyal supporters of Robert the Bruce's ascension and occupation of Scotland's throne.


Scotland in Chaos

During the reign of King Alexander III, Scotland was a free nation at peace.

No wars loomed on the horizon, relations were friendly all around, and the Scottish people were only lightly taxed.

No one expected Alexander III to break his neck during a midnight drunken ride over twenty miles of rough terrain during a thunderstorm on March 19th, 1286. Apparently, he'd decided it was a good time to try creating an heir with his queen Yolande, who was lodged at a nearby castle. One must wonder what the man was drinking.

The nobility met swiftly after his death to figure out who would rule the country now.

Alexander had died with no direct male heirs, and upon investigation by a tribunal his only blood descendant turned out to be his tiny granddaughter Margaret.

At this time, Margaret was happily ensconced in Norway, presumably enjoying all the luxuries a six-year-old noble girl could stand.

The Scottish nobility had asked Edward I to help mediate the investigation, and he threw his support behind Margaret because he was planning on marrying her to his son, Edward II.

At this time, Edward I signed a treaty to the effect that while Margaret and Edward II might marry someday, they would retain control only of their respective kingdoms instead of Scotland and England becoming one realm.

Once the ink was dry, the Scottish nobility asked the King of Norway to return Margaret to Scotland so she could grow up in the land she was expected to rule. Unfortunately, the frightened child got sick during the sea voyage and died far from everything she'd ever known without ever actually getting to Scotland.

After her death, the Scottish nobles started digging out all of their family lineages to find the closest heir to the throne, and once again asked Edward I to oversee the council.

He said he'd do it, but only if the council of nobles agreed to acknowledge him as overlord.

After quite a bit of grumbling, complaining and grousing, the nobles agreed. This debate is known in history as the Great Cause, and would in fact end up causing a great deal of trouble.

The debate came down to Robert the Eldest of the Bruce family and John Balliol.

Edward I was wary of the masterful temper of the Bruces, and so chose the man he knew he could control.

John Balliol would go down as one of the most ineffectual Scottish monarchs to ever sit on the throne, eventually bearing the name "Toom Tabard" or "Empty Coat".

Of course, Edward I had gotten acknowledgement as overlord of Scotland and was not going to give it up if he could help it.

If he'd just let it lie for a while, he might not have had to endure neverending problems from the Scots, but he wanted Scotland's resources.

The Scottish people as a whole were not inclined to pay heavy taxes or go to wars they had no interest in, but Edward demanded that they do both.

He slapped the entire area with corrupt tax collectors, ruinous taxes to fill his war chests, and planned to conscript both Scottish peasants and nobles to fight his wars in Flanders.

The Scots were not thrilled, to say the least.

Finally, in the year 1295, Scotland decided that enough was enough. They renounced Edward I as overlord and entered into a treaty with his rivals, the French.


The English Invasion and the Imprisonment of Andrew Moray

The Scots' first attempt at war against England came in the spring of 1296.

Andrew Moray the Younger joined his father and uncle William in southern Scotland to lead an English raid from Cumberland to Carlisle.

Edward invaded back in March 1296, marching on the weak port town of Berwick.

The town's miserable defenses fell quickly, and Edward allowed his men to slaughter the townsfolk for three days after he'd already won.

This action, meant to break the Scottish will, was so extreme that even the English Lanercost Chronicle labels it a crime and documents that 15,000 men and women died by fire and sword in the space of a day and a half. After that, the number of dead became literally uncountable.

Because Scotland had not been to war in many years, they were somewhat unprepared for this kind of sheer brutality.

Edward's initial campaign was quite successful and he took many Scottish noble prisoners with him back to England, including both Andrews.

Andrew the Elder was imprisoned in the Tower of London, which he would never leave again.

Andrew the Younger was not deemed to be as much of a threat and was imprisoned instead at Chester Castle. He managed to escape the lighter security of his dungeon sometime in the winter of 1296-1297 and snuck back north to his Highlands.


Andrew Moray becomes a New Military Leader for the Highland Warriors

After his escape and travels across wintry England and Scotland, Andrew Moray finally managed to make it back to his own country.

He unfurled the banner of the Morays of Petty over his castle at Avoch in defiance of Edward in May of 1297.

Coincidentally in this era of slow communication, this was the same month that William Wallace kicked off his Lowlands rebellion.

News of Andrew's escape, return and defiance quickly drew followers like moths to a flame, including his father's peasant tenants and free citizens and burghesses from the nearby city of Inverness.


Castle Urquhart and Andrew Moray

English constables in the Great Glen were cut off from English support by Andrew's actions.

Sir William fitz Warin, keeper of Castle Urquhart, was on his way home from an English official's meeting at the castle of Inverness when Andrew ambushed him.

William barely made it back to the castle.

He was besieged by Andrew, who attempted to gain control of the castle directly several times, including a night attack.

Andrew failed in his first attempt due to lack of heavy siege weapons, but he did eventually take Castle Urquhart along with all the other fortifications running along the line of the Great Glen.


The English Fail to Act

Andrew's campaigns continued unabated due to the massive support he enjoyed from the Highlands.

Throughout the summer of 1297 he continued to make the English in northern Scotland miserable.

His brilliant military campaign bore fruit as English held castles fell to him one after the other.

Unfortunately, though we do know that Andrew's Highland campaign was wildly successful, we don't know much about the details.

Some of Andrew's exploits were apparently co-opted for William Wallace in Blind Harry's tale.

If it happened in northern Scotland, Andrew was probably the one who did it.

Edward tried to blackmail several of Andrew's relatives, including the Comyn brothers, into hunting him down.

While many of these relatives had proven to be stunningly capable military commanders, when asked to go after their cousin they became downright incompetent all of a sudden.

The Comyns apparently even said once that they couldn't go after Andrew because he'd retreated to an area of heavy forest and bog. The Highlands were nothing but heavy forests and bogs at this time, so where did Andrew retreat to?

There's evidence to the effect that Edward knew these Scottish nobles were wiggling out of hunting Andrew, but because of Andrew's success there wasn't much he could do about it at this point.


Andrew Moray and the Battle of Stirling Bridge

Because of the concurrent effective rebellions in both Lowlands and Highlands, run by Wallace and Moray respectively, Edward I had almost no real control of Scotland by the late summer of 1297.

The English King knew he was going to have to mount another full scale invasion of Scotland in order to get any control back at all, and he needed to do it fast.

Edward was an ambitious man, but not a stupid one.

However, while he knew military tactics like no other, he wasn't always a good judge of character. Edward chose the Earl of Surrey to lead his Scottish invasion, and the Earl at that time was a lazy, dumb, arrogant man who believed that chivalric conventions were enough to win a war with the angry Scots.

Andrew knew he'd have to combine forces with Wallace in order to have any chance of defeating the English army, so they met near Stirling Bridge and devised a brilliant plan.

The Earl of Surrey had broken up his men and sent them across the Bridge, counting on Andrew and William to follow chivalric convention and allow the English army all the time they needed to get across and set up on the other side.

Of course, the Scottish rebel leaders were quite aware they were fighting for the lives and freedom of their native countrymen and had no intention of doing something that stupid.

Instead, they attacked full bore while the vanguard of the English army was still on the Bridge.

The vanguard tried to fall back, couldn't communicate with the people behind them who kept pressing forward, and the Bridge collapsed into the river under the strain.

The remaining English, including the Earl of Surrey, ran scared.

In fact, it's said that Surrey was so frightened that he didn't even allow his horse to eat until he'd managed to get back into England itself.


The Death of the Scottish Highland Warrior, Andrew Moray

As great a victory as Stirling was, it came at a high price.

Andrew Moray died either during the battle itself or shortly after.

The exact time of his death is as unknown as the time of his birth.

There are a couple of letters after Stirling that bear his name and seal on them, but William Wallace might have had his seal and used his name to keep Lowlands and Highlands together during the following insurrections.

He had a reputation as a gifted military and political leader, as well as the distinction of being the greatest threat to the English government in the year 1297.

Unfortunately, Andrew Moray is little known or acknowledged in his home country today.

We know is that his widow, unnamed by history, gave birth to his only son Andrew a few months after his death.

This infant Andrew Moray would eventually repel Edward III, serve twice as regent for Robert the Bruce's infant heir David II, and often lead the realm in the King's absence.

Apparently, like father, like son.

We can only hope his descendants today show the same courage, resolve and strength wherever they are in the world.


The references used for this article on Andrew Moray, the Scottish Highland Warrior

The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272 - 1346", ed. H. Maxwell, 1913;

“A Source Book of Scottish History.” Three Volumes. Second Edition, eds. W. C. Dickson, G. Donaldson and I. A. Milne, 1958;

"Documents Illustrative of Scotland 1286-1306," ed. Rev.J.Stevenson, 2 vols.1870;

Chronicle of Holyrood", ed. M. A. Anderson, 1938;

Taylor, J. G., "Fighting for the Lion: The Life of Andrew Moray", in History Scotland, Sept/October, 2005;

Watson F. J., "Under the Hammer: Edward I and Scotland 1286-1306", 1998.



Major write by L Ice, rewrites by Donald Urquhart, 2008.

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