ATHOLL IN THE CRUSADES - 1270
by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot
Throughout the early 1260s, King Alexander III was chiefly concerned with the problems of the Western Isles which were not finally resolved until the cession of the Isles to Scotland by King Magnus of Norway during the summer of 1266. Alexander III had succeeded to the throne during the summer of 1249 at the age of seven upon the death of his father, Alexander II. Now at age 24, his attention was drawn to world concerns.
In July 1266 the Mameluk Sultan of Egypt had 1,700 Christian prisoners decapitated at the huge Templar castle of Safed which dominated the upper Galilee. This atrocity motivated King Louis IX of France to begin planning his second crusade to rescue the Holy Land. A Papal legate, Cardinal Ottoboni de Fieschi, was sent to the British Isles to collect money for the aid of this planned crusade to the Holy Land. The legate’s relations with Alexander III did not get off to a good start. By the summer of 1267, the papal legate’s visit became increasingly directed toward preaching a new crusade to the Holy Land. The legate demanded a subsidy of four merks from each parish and six merks from each cathedral church in Scotland just to cover his own expenses. Also, the funds raised were to be given to the English to support the cost of Prince Edward’s expedition. Not one to financially support the raising of an English army (even if it left England!), Alexander forbid the export of more than 2,000 merks to England. At the end of 1267, Louis IX took the cross for the second time.
In 1268 Antioch fell to the Sultan Baibars after 170 years of Christian rule and with that defeat, came additional pressure for a crusade. King Alexander continued to resist English demands for money and promised to send men instead. One of the problems was that coinage was in short supply and the Scottish economy was mainly based on a barter system outside of the major trading towns. The first independent Scottish king to issue coins was David I, an event that was clearly the result of the capture of Carlisle by the Scots in 1136 which gave David an established English mint and nearby silver mines. All Scottish coinage up until Alexander III’s second recoinage in 1280 was limited to the silver penny. A Scottish penny was based upon the English sterling (0.925 silver) measure of the same design and weight (22.5 grains) with 160 pennies equal to one merk (called a mark in England) or one pound of silver bullion. A penny represented a substantial sum of money, a full day’s wage for a skilled workman and since no smaller denominations were struck, it was common practice to cut these pennies into halves and quarters (farthings) to make change as needed.
Alexander III’s reign produced the most extensive of all Scottish medieval coinage and included the introduction of the round halfpenny and farthing in 1280. Because the intrinsic value of the English and Scottish penny were the same, both coinages were freely exchanged between the two countries. Because of limited quantities of silver mined in Scotland, English pennies gained through trade with England made up the bulk of currency circulating in Scotland, and its removal to fund the English army would have had serious economic consequences.
Hector Boece in his history stated that in early 1270 Alexander sent 1,000 men under the earls of Carrick and Atholl and many other noble captains to join the French expedition which sailed to Carthage and who were all slain in Africa through excessive heat and pestilence. Fordun reported that David earl of Atholl and Adam earl of Carrick died at Carthage in the company of King Louis IX. The Melrose Chronicles also provides firm contemporary evidence that the earl of Atholl died in the company of King Louis IX. The crusader army had arrived before the city of Tunis on July 18th. Bower’s "Scotichronicon" states that David de Strathbogie, the earl of Atholl died at Carthage on August 6, 1270. Louis died on August 25, 1270 and the crusade was abandoned. It is not recorded if any survivors were able to return to Atholl although a crusader gravestone can still be seen in the Moulin church yard.
David of Strathbogie was the 7th earl of Atholl, through marriage to the youngest daughter of Constantine, who was the eldest son of Henry, last celtic earl of Atholl. In 1269 while David was away in England arranging his army’s passage through England to France, John Comyn of Badenoch took the opportunity to enter the earldom of Atholl and begin construction of a stone tower in the strath of Garry in Blair Atholl. This John Comyn was the grandfather of the John Comyn killed in Dumfries by Robert the Bruce in 1306. Once this encroachment was reported to King Alexander, Comyn was forced to abandon this tower and leave the earldom. This tower remains our only physical connection to that time and place. Visitors to Blair Castle walk through this tower on the guided tour. The "Cumming’s Tower" contains the Treasure and Old Scots rooms on the ground floor, the Blue Bedroom on the first floor and the Tapestry Suite on the second floor. "On April 23, 1270 the earl had letters of protection for four years from all plaints and pleas of the English Crown, presumably on behalf of his wife’s lands in England." Once he had this protection, he set out immediately thereafter via England for France.
Andrew de Atholia acquired the lands of Glenerochie and Murelaggan (area around Fortingall between Loch Rannoch and Loch Tay) on his marriage to one of the daughters of Ewan de Glenerochie, second son of Conan of Glenerochie, natural son of Henry the last celtic Earl of Atholl. Andrew was the son of Duncan, a younger brother of Earl Henry. These lands, when added to his own lands of Strowan, Lude and Strathtummel made him one of the largest celtic landowners in the earldom. Ewan de Glenerochie would have probably been present at the Norman earl’s regality court at Tulliemet or "Hill of Judgment" to watch the earl lead his men south toward England. Certainly we know he stayed behind. Ewan’s cousin and future son-in-law Andrew de Atholia (the father of Duncan, our first recognized clan chief), was probably born about 1275.
The following pictures show the obverse and reverse of a Scottish penny (second coinage) that was in circulation during Alexander’s reign. Note the cross on the reverse side of the penny which facilitated its being cut into halves and quarters to make change.
Bateson, Donald "Scottish Coins", Shire Publication # 189, 1987, pp 2-5.
Brown, James "History of Scotland", Vol. 8, 1909, pp 266-279.
Clan Donnachaidh 2007 Clan Annual, pp 9-12.
Cowan, Samuel "Three Celtic Earldoms" 1909, pp 11-17.
Dixon, John H. "Pitlochry, Past and Present", 1925 pp 145-6.
Holmes, N.M. McQ., "Evidence of Finds for the Circulation and Use of Coins in Medieval Scotland", Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot, Vol. 134 (2004), pp 241-280.
Paton, Noel "Descendants of Conan of Glenerochie", privately printed 1873,p 4.
Robertson, James A. "Earldom of Atholl", privately printed 1860, pp 1-23.