After the fall of Abercorn Castle and his defeat at Arkinholm, James, 9th Earl of Douglas had fled over the border to seek the protection of Henry VI of England. In Scotland, however, Threave Castle still flew his banner and, this, King James determined he would throw down.
The castle had been recently refortified using money donated by Henry VI. This, naturally, had not sat well with King James, and on 9th June 1455, Douglas was formally declared a traitor at the cross in Edinburgh for the crime of:
"Pro predatoris munitionibus et fortificationibus turrium et fortaliciorum de Treve"
Sieges were lengthy affairs and James made his plans accordingly. He intended to take part in person and had his lodgings prepared at Tongland Abbey a short distance from the castle. From here, each day, he would attend the siege where a field tent had been set up for his convenience.
Threave stood on an island in the River Dee and was impossible to assault directly. It consisted of a massive tower house of c1400 around which was a recently 'wrapped' artillery wall pierced with gun loops and designed to resist cannon - the first of such design seen in Scotland.
The siege did not proceed as expected. Impatient, James ordered William, Earl of Orkney and Chancellor of Scotland to proceed post-haste to Linlithgow where was stored the 'great bombard' and to accompany it to Threave. With him travelled John Earl of Linlithgow and the cleric Friar Andrew Lisouris, the King's carpenter.
Moving the bombard was a lengthy business. On route at Crawford Moor, a wheel broke off and the carriage sank into the bog. After much effort by Friar Andrew it was pulled out, rewheeled and continued on its way to Threave.
On arrival Friar Andrew got to work. The bombard was lifted from his carriage by pulleys and deposited on the ground facing the castle. Here it was elevated, aimed and secured by wooden baulks, the pioneers working behind a timber mantelet (a protective screen) for protection.
Then began the slow process of mixing powder and loading it with ball. No doubt, as was his want, James would be in close proximity to observe the discharge and to observe the effect of its massive stone balls.
Three months later and the castle had still not fallen!
James now turned to the oldest stratagem known to man - bribery. The castle custodian, Sir John Fraser, accepted £5 13s 6d: another, John Whiting, received £5 and John of Dunbar was awarded the princely sum of £50 along with his appointment as the King's Gunner!
The power of the Douglases was broken and King James could go home with a job well done*.
Want to read more about King James' antics?
Part II - The Siege of Abercorn Castle -
Look out for Part IV of our series covering the siege of Roxburgh Castle where King James lost the ultimate battle – for his life.
* In 1484 Douglas invaded Scotland but was defeated and captured at the Battle of Lochmaben Fair. His punishment was novel: instead of the axe he was interned in Lindores Abbey and forced to spend the rest of his days in repentance as a monk! He died there four years later.
CLAN CONNECTION - Clan Douglas
Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.