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Dunbar, Patrick, eighth earl of Dunbar or of March, and earl of Moraylocked

  • Fiona Watson

Dunbar, Patrick, eighth earl of Dunbar or of March, and earl of Moray (1285–1369), soldier and magnate, was the first member of his family for nearly a century to attain national prominence. His great-great-grandfather Patrick, the fourth earl, died in December 1232 and was succeeded by his son, also Patrick. Patrick Dunbar fifth earl of Dunbar (c. 1186–1248), continued the family tradition of endowing religious houses, most notably Dryburgh and Melrose abbeys. He took part in Alexander II's campaign against Thomas, illegitimate son of Alan of Galloway, in 1235 and in 1242 became involved in the aftermath of the murder, through arson, of the young earl of Atholl by the Bissets. The Comyns, together with Dunbar, pushed for retribution, and the Bissets were forced to flee the country. In 1247 Earl Patrick decided to go on crusade, supposedly because he had offended the monastic house of Tynemouth, and sold his stud horses in Lauderdale to Melrose Abbey to pay for his expenses. He and a number of other Scots died at the (successful) siege of Damietta in Egypt in 1248. Matthew Paris describes him as 'earl Patrick … who was held to be the most powerful among the magnates of Scotland' (Anderson, 360), though his career suggests that any distinction he achieved was due to his position rather than his abilities. He married, some time before 1213, Euphemia (fl. 1193), daughter of Walter Fitzalan, and was succeeded by their son, another Patrick.

Patrick Dunbar sixth earl of Dunbar (c. 1213–1289), featured in the power struggle of the minority of Alexander III. Identifying himself with the Durwards against the Comyns, the earl participated in the English-backed seizure of the young king from Edinburgh Castle in 1255. The Comyns returned to power two years later, but a compromise between the two factions was reached soon after, which left Dunbar out. The earl was present at the battle of Largs against the Norwegians in 1263, apparently in command of the left division; despite injury, he then went with the earls of Atholl and Carrick to subdue the Western Isles. He witnessed the main events of King Alexander's reign, such as the marriage contract between Princess Margaret and Erik II of Norway in 1281; he later swore to uphold their daughter, Margaret, as heir to the Scottish throne. Perhaps the most significant event in his career, though, was the alleged visit to Dunbar Castle of Thomas Erceldoune, when Alexander III's tragic death was prophesied. After this became a reality in 1286 the earl, with his three sons, subscribed to the Turnberry Bond of the same year, effectively backing the Brus claim to the throne. Earl Patrick reputedly married Christian Bruce, daughter of Robert (V) de Brus of Annandale (d. 1295), the Competitor, which may explain his otherwise unexpected presence at Turnberry; however, his only recorded spouse was one 'Cecilia filia Johannis', possibly a Fraser. Earl Patrick died in 1289, well into his seventies. Like that of his father, his career indicates that, while he took part in events, he was not the main author of them.

He was succeeded by his son, Patrick 'with the blak beard'. Patrick Dunbar seventh earl of Dunbar or of March (1242–1308), was the first to designate himself earl of March. He attended the parliament at Birgham in 1290 and subsequently put forward a claim to the vacant throne through his great-grandmother Ada, illegitimate daughter of King William the Lion, but soon withdrew [see also Competitors for the throne of Scotland]. When war broke out in 1296, Earl Patrick quickly joined the English side, proving so useful that he was appointed captain of the Berwick garrison in May 1298 and promoted to chief commander of English forces in southern Scotland the following November. He was with the English army at the siege of Caerlaverock in 1300, yet for some reason failed to take up his appointment as a Scottish commissioner to the English parliament in 1305. On the resumption of hostilities in 1306 the earl does not appear to have played an active part and he died, aged sixty-six, on 10 October 1308. He was married to Marjory Comyn, a daughter of Alexander, earl of Buchan (d. 1289), and their son, the inevitable Patrick, became eighth earl. This Patrick, like his father, initially consistently backed the English: he participated in the siege of Caerlaverock, aged fifteen, and received orders, with his father, to keep the peace on Edward II's accession. In 1313 Earl Patrick and Sir Adam Gordon (d. 1328), a prominent Lothian landowner, approached Edward II on behalf of the 'people of Scotland' who were suffering from English raids. Dunbar's own lands were also under attack from the English garrisons at Berwick and Roxburgh.

The earl's faith in the ability of the English government to protect his property survived until Bannockburn; although he allowed Edward II to shelter at Dunbar, he submitted to King Robert immediately thereafter. He proved an active supporter, taking part in the siege of Berwick in 1318 and attesting the declaration of Arbroath in April 1320. The presence of Adam Gordon in the embassy that took this letter to Rome has led to the suggestion that Earl Patrick was also in the party; while travelling back through France he heard rumours of a pro-Balliol plot, which, on his return to Scotland, resulted in the arrest of those associated with the so-called Soulis conspiracy. Following the death of King Robert in 1329 the earl remained loyal to the late king's son; the brigade he commanded after the battle of Dupplin Moor in 1332 besieged Edward Balliol (d. 1363) in Perth until a lack of supplies caused their withdrawal. Indeed, it was claimed in the sixteenth century that the earl was a joint guardian, with the earl of Mar, appointed specifically 'to governe the realme on the south side of Forth' (Boece, 2.414). Later in 1332 he and Sir Archibald Douglas (d. 1333), guardian of Scotland, tried and failed to make peace with the invading army. Earl Patrick was given command of Berwick Castle in 1333, but surrendered it to Edward III after the Scottish defeat at Halidon Hill in that year. Having then decided to rejoin the English, he received a grant of £100 of land and attended Balliol's parliament in 1334, which effectively handed Scotland over to Edward III. The devastation caused by the English army in the south-east in 1334, however, forced Dunbar to change sides again; he deserted Edward Balliol in 1335, took part in the Scottish siege of Perth in 1339, and commanded the left wing of the Scottish army at Nevilles Cross in 1346. His son and heir, possibly called John, was sent to England as a hostage while King David visited Scotland in 1351 and also in 1354, but not in 1357, suggesting that he was dead by that date. John's mother was probably Patrick's first wife, Ermigarda, who was recorded as pregnant in 1304.

About 1320 Earl Patrick married Agnes [Agnes Dunbar countess of Dunbar or of March (d. 1369)], the eldest daughter of Thomas Randolph, first earl of Moray (d. 1332), and Isabel, daughter of Sir John Stewart of Bunkle. According to the chronicler Pitscottie, the countess was popularly called Black Agnes 'be ressone sho was blak skynnit', presumably meaning that she was swarthy in complexion. Pitscottie goes on to add that she was also 'of greater spirit than it became a woman to be' (CDS, 4.xxi), a remark which the few known facts about her life would seem to corroborate. She was Patrick's cousin, and a papal dispensation was needed before they could marry. She played as prominent a part as her husband in the cause of Scottish independence.

With the resumption of war in the 1330s the strategically important castle of Dunbar became a focal point for both sides. The castle was rebuilt in 1333 at Edward III's expense, yet by 1337 it was held against him. Control of English affairs in the north lay with Richard (II) Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (d. 1376), and William Montagu, earl of Salisbury (d. 1344); the two resolved to launch an English offensive by attacking Dunbar. The siege was begun in January 1338, when a vast array of professional engineers ensured that the castle faced a formidable barrage of missiles. Earl Patrick had absented himself, but his wife was ready. Appearing on the battlements even during bombardment, she mocked Salisbury's efforts and, according to Sir Walter Scott, set her maids to dusting the walls struck by the missiles. When a particular engine, called a sow owing to its shape, was drawn up, she taunted the English earl by saying, 'Beware, Montagow, for farrow shall they sow', and destroyed it with a specially prepared fragment of rock. As the English ran for cover, she reputedly shouted after them, 'Behold the litter of English pigs' (Scott, 99). Edward III was so impressed by this resistance that he interrupted his continental preparations to visit Salisbury and Arundel. Ultimately they decided to lift the siege, pleading the need to devote all resources overseas. This ineffective expedition cost almost £6000, which prompted one English chronicler to remark that its conclusion was 'wasteful, and neither honourable nor secure, but useful and advantageous to the Scots' (Historia Anglicana, 1.200).

With the death of his wife's brother, John Randolph, at Nevilles Cross, Earl Patrick assumed the title of earl of Moray. David II, on his release in 1357, granted the earldom to the English duke of Lancaster, though Dunbar seems to have held on to both the title and the rents. Agnes and her younger sister, Isabel, jointly inherited their brother's considerable lands in Dumfriesshire, Ayrshire, Aberdeenshire, and Fife. Isabel was married to Earl Patrick's cousin, Sir Patrick Dunbar, with whom she had a son, George. Since Agnes and Patrick remained childless, George became their heir. In November 1355 Earl Patrick participated in the raid which for a short time took the town of Berwick and in 1358 he was briefly captured by Sir James Lindsay for some unknown reason. He joined with Robert Stewart, the heir to the throne, and the earl of Douglas in 1363 in a rebellion ostensibly directed against David II's extravagance, but more truthfully associated with Stewart's royal ambitions in the face of the king's impending marriage to Margaret Logie. Earl Patrick, who continued to witness royal charters until July 1368, remained active up to his death in 1369. Although Countess Agnes was still alive in 1367, this is the last mention of her before her death, also in 1369.


  • W. Scott, Tales of a grandfather, ed. E. M. Lang, abridged edn (1925), 98–9
  • R. Nicholson, Scotland: the later middle ages (1974), vol. 2 of The Edinburgh history of Scotland, ed. G. Donaldson (1965–75)
  • CDS, 3, no. 1233; vol. 4, p. xxi
  • G. Burnett and others, eds., The exchequer rolls of Scotland, 1 (1878)
  • J. M. Thomson and others, eds., Registrum magni sigilli regum Scotorum / The register of the great seal of Scotland, 2nd edn, 1, ed. T. Thomson (1912), no. 149
  • accounts, various, TNA: PRO, E 101/20/25
  • Scalacronica, by Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, knight: a chronical of England and Scotland from ad MLXVI to ad MCCCLXII, ed. J. Stevenson, Maitland Club, 40 (1836), 168
  • CEPR letters, 2.201, 235
  • H. Boece, The history and chronicles of Scotland, trans. J. Bellenden, 2 vols. (1821)
  • A. A. M. Duncan, ‘The war of the Scots, 1306–23’, TRHS, 6th ser., 2 (1992), 125–51
  • A. O. Anderson, ed., Scottish annals from English chroniclers, ad 500 to 1286 (1908)
  • G. W. S. Barrow and others, eds., Regesta regum Scottorum, 6, ed. B. Webster (1982)
  • History of Dunbar
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
J. Bain, ed., , 4 vols., PRO (1881–8); suppl. vol. 5, ed. G. G. Simpson & J. D. Galbraith [1986]
J. B. Paul, ed., , 9 vols. (1904–14)
W. H. Bliss, C. Johnson, & J. Twemlow, eds., (1893–)
Transactions of the Royal Historical Society