The Battle of Inverurie, also known as the Battle of Barra, was fought in May 1308 in the north-east of Scotland. Though part of the wider Wars of Scottish Independence it is more properly viewed as an episode in a brief but bitter civil war. The battle was a victory for the Scottish King Robert Bruce over his chief domestic enemy, John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan. It was followed by the Harrying of Buchan, a violent act of destruction, at least equal to, if not greater than, some of the excesses practiced elsewhere by the English. The battlefield is currently under research to be inventoried and protected by Historic Scotland under the Scottish Historical Environment Policy of 2009.
In February 1306, Robert Bruce and his supporters murdered John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, also known as the Red Comyn. Comyn was a nephew of the former King John Balliol and had been a leading player in the wars against the English. His death automatically meant that his extensive network of family and associates would regard Bruce as an enemy. Chief among these was Comyn's cousin and namesake, John Comyn, Earl of Buchan. Edward I of England death in July 1307. His son, Edward II, preoccupied with political problems at home, left his Scottish allies unsupported at a critical time. Bruce acted quickly, on the assumption that the English were bound to return in strength for the campaigning season in 1308.
One by one King Robert confronted his domestic enemies, beginning with the Balliol party in Galloway. From the south of the country he moved through the English held central lowlands, making his way by the western route through Argyllshire through the Great Glen towards Inverness and the north-east, towards the territory held by Buchan. He had under his command some 3000 men, at least according to a letter sent by the Earl of Ross to King Edward. It's almost certain that Buchan would have been unable to match such a force, but he was saved from immediate destruction when Bruce was overtaken by an unspecified illness, which kept him out of action for a considerable time. During this period much of his army melted away, leaving him with no more than about 700 men by the spring of 1308.
Unfortunately the only accounts of the whole campaign in Aberdeenshire are from sources uniformly hostile to Buchan. Although Buchan made some attempt to take advantage of the situation by harassing attacking on the king's camp at Slioch, these were repulsed. Edward Bruce decided to shift camp to Strathbogy, and the king was carried there on a litter.
During his illness, King Robert was carried from place to place by his supporters. In May 1308, his army made camp at Inverurie near Oldmeldrum. On the 22nd Buchan gathered his forces, ready to attack Bruce the following day. His army made camp at Meldrum, to the north-east of Bruce. At dawn on the 23rd David de Brechin made a surprise attack on Bruce's camp. His men galloped over the bridge on the River Ury at Balhalgardy right into the streets of Inverurie. Taken completely unprepared, Bruce's sentries were quickly cut down; those who survived took refuge in the nearby castle. However, Buchan's main force was still too far away to take advantage of this opportunity.
Bruce, who was still ill, rose from his bed and prepared a counter-attack. As he approached Buchan hastily drew up his forces astride the road to Inverurie, between Barra Hill and the marshes of the Lochter Burn. His unreliable feudal levies were placed to the rear, with the knights and men-at-arms taking up a position to the front. The levies seem to have been given the assurance that Bruce was too ill to take to the field in person; and their shocked reaction when he came into sight explains in part Buchan's army collapsed so quickly. John Barbour describes the scene in his rhyming narrative;
The king came on in fine array
With much display his foes stood set
Until the ranks were nerly met.
But when his foemen saw the king
Advancing without lingering,
A little on their reins they drew.
The king by this time right well knew
That in their hearts they were distressed,
And with his banners forward pressed.
Thus they retreated more and more.
And when the small folk with them saw
Their leaders all retreating so,
They quickly turned their backs to go,
And fled and scattered far and wide.
Their lords, that still were side by side,
When they beheld the small folk flee,
And the king advancing steadily,
Themselves became disheartened so
That they, too, turned their backs to go.
A short while stayed they side by side,
And then they scattered far and wide.
Buchan made some attempt to steady the line, but he too soon joined the flight, pursued by Bruce's men as far as Fyvie. The fugitive earl took his flight all the way to England, where he died the same year. The Battle of Inverurie ended active resistance to King Robert in Aberdeenshire. He was not, however prepared to risk leaving a potentially hostile district in his rear, and took drastic action which was to last in living memory for some fifty years beyond the event.
Immediately following the battle, Bruce ordered his men to burn to the ground farms, homes and strongholds associated with the Comyns in the violent and bloody Harrying of Buchan.