A biography of a young Scottish nobleman closely associated with Edward II.
The earldom of Mar is one of the oldest titles in Britain; the first known Earl of Mar lived in the 1130s, though he probably wasn't the first Mormaer (the ancient Gaelic title). Donald (Domhnall in Gaelic), the eighth known Earl of Mar, was probably born sometime between 1295 and 1300. His grandfather was Donald, the sixth earl, and his father was Gratney ( in Gaelic: Gartnait mac Domhnaill, Gartnait son of Donald), the seventh Earl, who was born around 1270 and died sometime in or before 1305, apparently of natural causes. Gratney's sister Isabel of Mar was the first wife of Robert Bruce, later King of Scots, and the mother of his daughter Marjorie.
Donald's mother was certainly one of the sisters of Robert Bruce; she is usually identified as Christina (or Christian), but Christina's entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography disputes this. She is never called 'Countess of Mar' or even 'of Mar' in contemporary documents, and there is no evidence of any communication between Donald and Christina when they were imprisoned in England. Earl Gratney is explicitly stated to have married the eldest Bruce sister, which Christina almost certainly wasn't; she is never referred to as such, and she outlived all her sisters by decades, surviving until 1357. It's likely that Donald's mother was a Bruce sister whose name is unknown, but perhaps Margaret, the name of Donald's daughter.
At any rate, Robert Bruce was Donald's uncle twice over, and when Robert submitted to Edward I in 1302, one of his conditions was that he be granted the wardship and marriage of his young nephew. Donald's aunt Isabel Bruce was Queen of Norway, the second wife of Erik II, father of the Maid of Norway. His uncle Alexander Bruce was Dean of Glasgow, his aunt Matilda Bruce Countess of Ross, and his aunt Margaret (or Mary or Marjorie) of Mar successively Countess of Atholl and Countess of Sutherland.
Donald's family appear in two of Barbara Erskine's novels, Child of the Phoenix and Kingdom of Shadows; the main character of Child of the Phoenix is Donald's grandmother Eleyne. Donald himself makes a brief appearance in both novels, most notably at the very end of Child of the Phoenix, when Edward of Caernarfon himself takes him prisoner and gloats about the fact to Eleyne.
Little is known of Donald's early life. He succeeded his father in about 1305, and attended his uncle's coronation as King of Scots on 25 March 1306. He had a sister, Helen or Ellen, who married Sir John Menteith, Lord of Arran. Helen seems to have escaped the imprisonment that was the fate of so many women of the family.
The early years of the fourteenth century saw King Edward I exact savage and terrible reprisals on Donald's family. His uncle Nigel (or Neil) Bruce was hideously executed in Berwick-on-Tweed in September 1306, dragged through the streets, hanged and beheaded. Nigel's brothers Alexander and Thomas were captured on their return from Ireland to raise support for Robert and executed in Carlisle on 9 February 1307. Also executed in 1306 was Sir Christopher Seton, husband of Christina Bruce and thus Donald's uncle or stepfather, and his uncle by marriage John of Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, in London on 7 November 1306, hanged, drawn and quartered. (John's son David was restored to his earldom by Edward II, and remained Edward's loyal supporter; he was one of the men who condemned the Earl of Lancaster to death in 1322).
Although the women and children of the family were spared execution, they were also harshly treated. Donald's aunt Mary Bruce was imprisoned at Roxburgh Castle, in a cage hanging from the battlements; a fate also suffered at Berwick-on-Tweed by Isabel MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, who had exercised her family's hereditary right and crowned Robert Bruce as King of Scots. Christina, Donald's mother or aunt, was sent to the Gilbertine nunnery of Sixhills, Lincolnshire, where she joined Gwladys, daughter of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the last independent ruler of Wales. Gwladys was sent there as a young child in 1283; Edward II would later copy his father's method of incarcerating the wives and children of his enemies in convents.
Elizabeth de Burgh, Robert Bruce's second wife and Donald's aunt, was placed under comfortable house arrest in Burstwick; her father was Edward I's ally the earl of Ulster. Elizabeth's stepdaughter Marjorie, who shared all four grandparents with Donald of Mar, was at first intended to be caged at the Tower of London, but Edward I relented and sent her instead to the nunnery of Watton, as she was only nine or ten years old. See here for Edward I's original orders regarding the women.
Donald himself, probably somewhere between six and eleven years old, was sent to Bristol Castle. The document ordering his incarceration can be read here; he is called "the child who is heir of Mar" and is ordered to be carefully guarded so that he cannot possibly escape. However, Edward I, offering further proof of his gentle and kind nature [/sarcasm], says that the boy does not have to be fettered in chains, "because he is of such tender age".
Donald's only surviving uncles were Robert and Edward Bruce. In 1315, Edward invaded Ireland and was crowned King in 1316, defeated Roger Mortimer at the Battle of Kells in 1315, and was himself killed in battle in October 1318. Mortimer's ally John de Bermingham, later earl of Louth, delivered Edward Bruce's head to Edward II. I wonder if Donald saw it.
By this date, Donald had been transferred into Edward II's household. It's not known exactly when this happened, but a curious entry in the Patent Rolls dated 15 October 1311 might provide the occasion:
Windsor: Writ of aid, until Martinmas, for Thomas de Langehulle, king's yeoman, from whose custody Ralph de Thedmershe and Oliver son of Peter de Parva Hasele have removed Douenald de Mar, son and heir of the late earl of Mar in Scotland. He is to arrest them and to conduct them and Douenald to Westminster before the Council.
Donald became a page of Edward II's chamber. Whether this was intended simply as a measure to keep him under closer scrutiny, or to humiliate King Robert by forcing his nephew to serve the King of England as a page, the lowest rank of household servant, I'm not sure. However, it was to prove a turning-point in Donald of Mar's life.
It's clear that a deep bond of affection developed between the two men. On 24 June 1314, Edward II lost the Battle of Bannockburn to Donald's uncle Robert; a Patent Roll entry of 18 July states "...the king has commanded to conduct to York, and deliver to him there, Robert, bishop of Glasgow, Elizabeth wife of Robert de Brus, Donald de Mar and certain other Scots, who are in the realm." (I love how the entry suggests that the Scots are in England of their own free will!)
Edward released all the Scottish prisoners in exchange for his brother-in-law the Earl of Hereford, captured at Bannockburn. The others all returned to their homeland; Donald of Mar, however, got as far north as Newcastle, changed his mind, and returned to Edward. In doing so, he gave up his earldom, a large income, power and influence as the nephew of the King of Scots, and possibly even a claim to the throne (it wasn't a strong claim, but it existed, as Donald was the son of Robert's eldest sister; Robert had no legitimate son until 1324.) This proves how strong his affection for Edward II was.
On 26 July 1314, he was to "come and give counsel to the King". I wonder what that was about?
After this, Donald crops up occasionally in the records as 'Donald/Douenald de Mar, king's yeoman'. 'Yeoman' was a couple of ranks higher in the household hierarchy than 'page'. He owned a ship called La Blithe, perhaps a gift from Edward, and the king also gave him several manors:
11 Sept 1317: Grant to Douenald de Mar, king's yeoman, of the custody of the lands and tenements, late of James de Perers, tenant in chief, to hold during the minority together with the marriage of the heir.
15 Feb 1318: Grant for life to Douenald de Mar, of the manor of Oveston, co. Northampton, quit of any payment.
6 Nov 1319: Grant, during pleasure, to Douenald de Mar, to enable him the better to remain in the king's service, of the manor of Long Bynyngton, co. Lincoln, to hold to the value of 160 pounds a year.
In June 1320, he accompanied Edward II to France, when the king had to pay homage to his brother-in-law Philip V for Gascony (Queen Isabella, Hugh le Despenser the younger, Roger Damory, and many others also attended the king.) The following February, he had protection for a pilgrimage to Santiago; it's not clear if he ever went, but as the Despenser War kicked off shortly afterwards, I would imagine not.
Donald, of course, remained totally loyal to Edward II during the turmoil of the years 1321-22. According to his ODNB entry, he fought at the Battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322, when the Earl of Hereford was killed and the Earl of Lancaster captured. A few days after the battle, he and Robert FitzWalter (a retainer of the Earl of Pembroke, and formerly of the Elder Despenser) captured the rebel Bartholomew Badlesmere; the unfortunate Badlesmere, Edward II's Steward who had switched sides, subsequently suffered a terrible death at Canterbury. Donald, as a member of Edward's household, presumably knew Badlesmere well and may have shared the king's outrage at what he saw as Badlesmere's treachery.
Sometime before January 1322, Donald was made Constable of Newark Castle, a strategically important castle where Edward's great-grandfather King John had died in 1216. On 1 October 1322, Edward II ordered a commission of array of all men between sixteen and sixty, and was evidently keen to give Donald some responsibility; he was ordered to array all men within the town and wapentake of Newark. John de Segrave and Robert de Mauley, commissioners for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, are sternly mandated "not to intermeddle in the said town and wapentake of Newark."
That same month, Donald, ironically, acompanied the English force that was humiliatingly defeated by the Scots at Byland. His uncle King Robert commanded the Scottish forces; I wonder if they faced each other on the battlefield?
The following July, 1323, Donald returned to Scotland: "Protection for one year for Douenald de Mar, king's yeoman, going to Scotland with four horsemen." This presumably has something to do with the thirteen-year peace Edward, the younger Despenser and the Earl of Pembroke concluded with Robert Bruce, beginning on 12 June 1323. Almost certainly this was Donald's first visit to his homeland since he had been taken prisoner seventeen years earlier; he was now about twenty-five or thirty. However, he soon returned to England and Edward.
Following the invasion of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer in September 1326, Donald of Mar remained as loyal to Edward II as ever. He was appointed "to pursue and arrest the invaders wherever he can find them". Earlier that year, he had been made Constable of Bristol Castle - which may well be the only occasion when a former prisoner of a castle became its keeper - and was present there with Hugh Despenser the Elder in October. Somehow, he slipped out of the town before Isabella and Mortimer took it; Despenser was taken and executed.
Donald fled to Scotland, mainly with the aim of raising forces to help Edward II and to lobby for the king's support. King Robert, who now had a son and heir, welcomed his nephew and restored his earldom. He gave Donald command of one of the three Scottish armies that invaded England in the summer of 1327. However, Donald is also said by the chronicle Annales Paulini to have been in the Welsh Marches in the summer of 1327, and to have been deeply involved in the plot that freed Edward from Berkeley Castle. He can hardly have been both in the north of England fighting the English forces, and in Wales and the south-west of England, at the same time; but what is clear is that he was doing his best to raise support for the deposed king.
In documents of 1327, most frequently in October, he is often described as "enemy and rebel" and many men were pardoned for adhering to him. The cluster of pardons in October 1327, after Edward's rescue from Berkeley in July and supposed murder in September, suggest that Donald was deeply implicated in the attempts to free the king. One Patent Roll entry of 22 July 1327 states:
Writ of aid for Thomas de Southorp and Richard Knyvet', appointed to arrest William son of William de Sancto Mauro, John de Makeseye, William de Makeseye, John de Lodynton, and others of their confederation,who lately went to Scotland in the company of Dunald de Mar, a rebel, and have returned to do what mischief they can to the king and the realm.
Five days after this entry, Lord Berkeley wrote his panicked letter that the Dunheved gang had recently freed Edward II from Berkeley and plundered the castle; the timing of the Patent Roll entry indicates that Donald was involved.
After the downfall of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, however, Edward III's attitude to Donald softened; he was granted a safe-conduct on 15 October 1331 for "coming to England on his own affairs with a company of twelve horsemen and servants."
Donald finally married, probably in or around 1328, Isabel(la) Stewart, who seems to have been the daughter of Sir Alexander Stewart of Bonkill. They had two children: Thomas, Earl of Mar, who was married twice but died childless in 1374, and Margaret, who succeeded her brother as Countess of Mar in her own right. She died in the early 1390s and was the ancestor of the Earls of Douglas. Donald's grandson James, Earl of Douglas, was killed at the Battle of Otterburn in August 1388. Donald apparently also had an illegitimate daughter, name unknown, who married William Leith, Provost of Aberdeen, and had two sons.
Donald's uncle Robert Bruce died on 7 June 1329, not quite fifty-five; his heir was his son by Elizabeth de Burgh, David II, who was five years old and already married to Edward II's daughter Joan. In 1332, the regent Thomas Randolph died, and on 2 August, Donald, Earl of Mar, was elected regent of Scotland for his young cousin. It was a position he would hold for a mere nine days.
Donald was killed at the Battle of Dupplin Moor on 11 August 1332, aged probably in his mid-thirties. His cousin Robert, illegitimate son of King Robert, accused him of incompetence and of sympathising with the English and the pretender to the Scottish throne, Edward Baliol. To prove him wrong, Donald charged off wildly to face the bowmen of Baliol's army, and was promptly killed. The battle proved to be a dreadful defeat for the Scottish loyalists.
Donald of Mar's loyalty to Edward II was unwavering and lasted far beyond Edward's deposition and (official) death; Donald was also heavily involved in the Earl of Kent's conspiracy to restore his half-brother in March 1330. I don't know the reason for such intense loyalty and affection, but I can't help loving him for it. :) Nobody, in the fourteenth century or more recent times, has ever suggested a sexual relationship between them, though of course there’s no way of knowing for sure, but Donald was never a ‘favourite’ of Edward in the way that Gaveston and Despenser were. He had no influence on English politics and wielded no power. This strongly suggests that his devotion to Edward - the son of the man who had tried to destroy his entire family - was real, and not dependent on what Edward could do for him. Edward might have been deserted by most of his followers in 1326; but Donald remained loyal.
Great post! It's fascinating to speculate what quality inspired such loyalty on Donald's part. As you've said elsewhere, people tended to either love Edward II or hate him, and Donald was obviously in the first category.
That's a peculiar entry in the Rolls for 1311. Is there any more information about it? It almost sounds as if Ralph and Oliver kidnapped Donald or helped him to escape or something. Very strange.
It must say something about Edward's character that Donald was so devoted to him.
By the way, there's a theory that 'Mar' as the name of the region can be traced to the (semi)legendary Seven Sons of Cruithne of the Pictish foundation story, so it's either very old or whoever wrote the foundation story down wanted to claim it as very old.
That's very interesting that Edward could inspire so much love in someone that he would forego his inheritance in Scotland to return to a place where he came as hostage years before.
I get a feeling that Gaveston's and Donald's love was genuine while Hugh played on Edward's feelings for personal gains. Sure, Gaveston got a lot out of the relationship, but he didn't have seemed to ask for it, at least in the beginning. And some of the spectacular gifts had a double function, to please Gaveston and to piss off Edward's dad. Why else would Edward have made such a public affair of it? Btw, how complete are lists of things like jewels or clothes given away? I can imagine that it was not possible to give Donald land since he was the vassal of the king of Scotland*, but could Edward have given him other things, horses, jewels, expensice clothes that don't appear in the sources?
* I have this aspect in Kings and Rebels when Roderic is in the entourage of Duke Heinrich the Lion - the only way Heinrich can show his appreciation of Roderic's advice and battle skills is by gifting him with precious personal items like horses and clothes, because Roderic could not accept a German fief. Such things had a highly symbolic value in Mediaeval society.
Susan - thanks! It's a shame for Ed that he inspired negative feelings in most people, and intense love and loyalty in only a few.
Carla - unfortunately I haven't been able to find any other references to the incident - the only other mention I can find of any of the men involved is in 1318, when Ralph de Thedmershe was pardoned for adhering to Thomas of Lancaster. It does sound as though they were trying to free Donald.
Gabriele - any plotbunnies about the relationship between Ed and Donald?? :) Agree with you about Hugh's relationship with Ed. There are quite a few references to Ed giving out jewels, valuable cloth etc etc to his friends and family, but the records are far from complete. It's very odd, for example, that there are no refs at all to the marriage of Ed's half-brother Thomas, or the births of any of Thomas's children. The births of many of Ed's other nieces and nephews are marked by expensive gifts, and generous cash grants to the messengers who brought news of the births.
Ed did give Donald a manor in Northamptonshire - which Donald forfeited in 1327 because of 'his adherence to the Scots'. Isabella promptly granted it to Ed's jailor John Maltravers.
Wow, Edward I was really severe with the Mar/Bruce women, wasn't he? Surely that kind of treatment for noble women wasn't common at the time??
Hi Liam - no, such harsh behaviour towards noble women definitely wasn't usual at the time. I suppose it shows how angry Edward I was at Bruce...
very interesting reading; ref Treaty of Northampton wherein no Scotsman could own land in England; no Englishman could own land in Scotland which may be reason Donald was not given land; there may be other exceptions but the only person I know of allowed to hold land in both was James Douglas, the Good Sir James who before he left Scotland had Fawdon retd to him which only further angered those who had had to give up land/titles in one or the other
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