Battle of Roslin put under the spotlight of experts

Thursday May 11th 2017

Battle event

From left to right, Arran Johnstone, David Caldwell, Fiona Rogan and a medieval costume character

Written by Ross Laird

Medieval warfare experts fought it out at a public event at the world-famous Rosslyn Chapel on 3rd May in a lively discussion about the Battle of Roslin, which is believed to have been held in February 1303.

Speaking to a packed audience, Learning and Outreach Manager at Rosslyn Chapel Trust, Fiona Rogan, was joined by the Director of the Scottish Battlefields Trust, Arran Johnstone, and, the event’s chairman, David Caldwell, Chair of The Society of Antiquaries. The event was partly organised by Ross Laird as part of the Midlothian Heritage Week.

Fiona Rogan led the charge, recounting the popular story of three battles in one day, with 8,000 Scots allegedly defeating a mighty English army of 30,000. However, she was soon quick to knock holes in the story, demonstrating how her research had led her to conclude that much of it was drawn from Victorian writers.

Arran Johnstone then provided a full analysis of fighting forces available on both sides at the time and examined the terrain and how a medieval battle could have taken place around Roslin, concluding that a battle would have much more likely been between hundreds or low thousands of men, rather than the more fanciful numbers often quoted.

Taking views from the audience, David Caldwell brought to bear his wider knowledge and expertise on Scottish and European medieval warfare. The life of knights at the time was illustrated with a fully costumed knight at the event, giving the audience a real sense of the challenges of medieval warfare.

Fiona Rogan said: “The Battle of Roslin has a rightful place in Scotland’s history as an important battle, but the sources that we have researched show that much of the story we know of today is unlikely to be true.

“Nevertheless, clearly an important conflict did take place at Roslin in February 1303 between the Scots and English as part of the wider War of Independence. This was a great opportunity to challenge some old assumptions and really get to grips with what warfare at the time would have been like.”

Ross Laird, who helped organise the event, said: “We are very grateful to Fiona, Arran and David for bringing their expert knowledge to bear on this important battle and to the Roslyn Chapel Trust for hosting the event. The battlefield site deserves wider recognition and we hope that, working with local landowners and Midlothian Council, we might be able to bring forward wider plans in due course to help people interpret the site.”

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