Comyn, John (d.1306) (DNB00)

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COMYN, JOHN, the younger (d. 1306), of Badenoch, surnamed The Red,was the son and heir of John Comyn the elder [q. v.], one of the competitors for the crown of Scotland in 1291. His mother was Margery, the eldest sister of John Balliol (Scala-Chron. p. 121). In 1292 he and his father were exempted from attending at the common pleas in the liberty of Tynedale (Illustr. Doc. i. 373). In 1295 a John Comyn de Scotia ' valletus ' was committed to the Fleet and the Tower of London for striking one of the exchequer doorkeepers (ib. p. 431). Next year (26 March 1296) his wife Joan, who is described as a kinswoman of Edward I, was given letters of safe-conduct to London (ib. p. 272). This journey is probably to be ascribed to the fact that John Comyn the younger, who had already been knighted by Balliol, was in open rebellion; for on this very day he was with the seven counts of Scotland in their invasion of England and futile attack on Carlisle (Rishanger, Rolls Ser., p. 155). A fortnight later he was present at the burning of Hexham Priory, but was driven back with his associates by the rumour of Edward's approach (ib.; Matt. West.; Walt. Hem. ii. 99). Immediately after this he helped to seize the castle of Dunbar (22 April); but was delivered as a hostage to the king on the day previous to the surrender of this fortress on 28 April (Matt. West. p. 427). The captive Scotch nobles were distributed over various castles in England; but within two years he was liberated (30 July 1297), on condition that he would serve Edward beyond the sea, or, according to Robert of Brunne, on his promising to go on a pilgrimage (Walt. Hem. ii. 105; Rymer, ii. 776; Wallace Papers, p. 80). Meanwhile Wallace had risen in rebellion (May 1297), and Edward was attempting to stifle the insurrection by the help of the elder John Comyn, who had sworn fealty to him in July 1296 (Walt. Hem. ii. 131; Trivet, p. 321; Bain, p. 194). The rhyming English chroniclers charge the released lords with breaking their word and fleeing to the king of France, who, however, refused to assist them. But, according to Rishanger, they left Edward as he was returning from Flanders to England, towards the beginning of 1298. From France Comyn seems to have gone to Scotland, where, however, he was probably not present at the battle of Stirling (11 Sept.) (Rob. Brunne; Peter Langtoft ap. Wallace Papers). John Comyn the younger was probably at the battle of Falkirk (22 July). The current story, that Wallace owed his defeat to the treachery of the Comyns, cannot be traced back earlier than Fordun (about 1363), from whose pages Wyntoun and Bower seem to have borrowed their account (Fordun, p. 331; Wyntoun, ii. 346). Indeed, as Lord Hailes remarks, it is inconceivable, had the accusation been true, that the Scots would have appointed Comyn guardian of the realm almost immediately after this disaster. From the battle of Falkirk till the beginning of 1304 John Comyn the younger seems to have been the most prominent man in Scotland (Fordun, p. 331). He does not appear, however, to have been sole guardian during the whole of this time. In November and December 1299 he held the office in concert with Bishop Lamberton of St. Andrews and Robert Bruce the elder, and if we may trust Bain's conjectural dating, these three were irregularly appointed at Peebles in August 1299 (Rymer, ii. 859; Bain, No. 1978). Fordun adds that Balliol gave him John de Soulis for a colleague at some period (p. 331). We may perhaps infer from his words that the relations of these two guardians were not very friendly, and that Comyn was not a party to the Scotch intrigues with Boniface VIII in 1300. In the same year Comyn seems to have had an interview with Edward near Kirkcudbright, shortly after the capture of Caerlaverock (i.e. after 12 July). When his petition that Balliol might be restored, and that the Scotch lords might retain their lands, was refused, he departed with threats of war, and made an ineffectual attempt to oppose Edward's passage of the ' Swyna ' on 8 Aug. (Rishanger, p. 440). On 6 April (1302?), according to Wyntoun, he deposed all the English sheriffs and bailiffs in the south of Scotland. This overt act of rebellion may have led Edward to appoint John de Segrave guardian of Scotland, and despatch him north (about November) with an army (Trivet, p. 397). Early next year (26 Feb. 1303) Comyn defeated his English rival at the battle of Roslin. According to the earliest Scotch account he was victorious in three several engagements upon this day; but the contemporary English historian shows that the Scotch success was by no means so decided (Fordun, p. 334, with which cf. Trivet, p. 400).

About Whitsuntide (27 May) Edward mustered his army at Roxburgh (Trivet, p. 401), and while he was at Dry burgh Comyn, who according to Bower was then chief guardian of the realm, cut off Sir Hugh Audley's party at Melrose (Scala-Chron. pp. 126-7), but was unable to offer any effectual resistance during the king's progress to Caithness (Rishanger, p. 215). Lord Hailes says that he attempted to relieve Stirling Castle, and we learn from Trivet (pp. 401-2) that as Edward was returning from the north Comyn opposed his passage of the Forth, but without success. Shortly after his lands were ravaged by the king (Trivet). It seems probable that in the winter of this year, while Edward was resting at Dunfermline, Comyn and Fraser were, as Robert of Brunne says, 'living at thieves, law, and robbing everywhere.' Comyn opened negotiations with the Earl of Ulster, the royal commander in West Scotland (9 Feb. 1304), and at last agreed to do fealty to Edward on the condition that he should preserve his lands. At the same time he was bound to go into exile for a year a clause, however, which does not seem to have been enforced (see documents in Palgrave, pp.279-288; Riley, p. 371; Rot. Parl. i. p. 212). A year and a half later (15 Oct. 1305) it was definitely settled that Comyn should pay a fine to the value of the rental of his estates for three years (Rymer, ii. 968).

According to Lord Hailes Edward neglected Comyn's claims to preferment in the establishment of 1304 in favour of Robert Bruce; but Palgrave has preserved a document from which it appears that he was nominated a member of John de Bretagne's council when (26 Oct. 1305) that noble was appointed guardian of Scotland (Palgrave, pp. 292-3). It is extremely difficult to reconcile the conflicting statements of the events that led up to Comyn's murder in 1306; but it seems highly probable that Comyn, who, since his uncle Balliol's renunciation of the Scottish crown, might be considered the rightful heir, was regarded as a rival by Bruce. The current story of the ride from Stirling, in which Bruce proposes to Comyn that one of them should resign his claim to the throne in return for the other's estates, makes its first appearance in Fordun (about 1363) and Barbour (about 1375), who, however, both make Comyn take the initiative (Fordun p. 337; Barbour, i. 19-28). To this legend several details were added by Wyntoun (ii. 364-9) and Bower (ii. 225-8). Then follows the tale of the indenture, of Comyn's treachery, Edward's investigation, and Bruce's escape to Scotland. The really contemporary English writers tell a very different tale; and this has led many modern historians to doubt the whole story of Comyn's treachery. It must be remembered, nevertheless, that one almost contemporary chronicler shows clearly that, according to the current report of his day, Bruce did bring some such charge against Comyn: 'Coepit improperare ei de seditione sua quod eum accusaverat apud regem Angliæ et suam conditionem deterioraverat in damnum ipsius' (Walt. Hem. pp. 245-6). It is perhaps safer on the whole to accept the strictly contemporary accounts of Matthew of Westminster (p. 453), Trivet (p. 407), and the Lanercost chronicler (p. 203), who all agree that Comyn was murdered because he would not assent to Bruce's plan of insurrection. According to Fordun it was Comyn that accused Bruce of treachery, and was answered with the words ' For thou liest ' and a deadly stab (p. 340).

The details of the murder vary as much as the statement of the causes to which it is assigned. The interview probably took place, not in the Franciscan church at Dumfries, but in the cloisters (Walt. Hem.), when Bruce, getting angry, smote Comyn, who was unarmed, on the head, perhaps with the flat of his sword (Matt. West.), on which Comyn closed with his adversary, but was thrown (ib.) Bruce's followers then came in, and probably stabbed Comyn; yet not so severely, but that he could flee into the church for protection. Here he was pursued and left for dead on the altar pavement (ib.; Walt. Hem.); but the brethren carried him into the vestibule for attendance and confession (ib.) From this retreat he was haled a little later and slain on the altar steps by the followers of Bruce, though perhaps not by Bruce's orders (ib.) Comyn's uncle, Sir Robert Comyn, perished at the same time. There does not seem to be any reason to suppose that the murder was carefully planned beforehand, as the author of the 'Scala-Chronicon' relates (p. 130), though Walter of Hemingford's narrative may perhaps lend some colour to his story.

The horror with which this murder was heard is reflected in the chronicles of the age. When the news reached Edward at Whitsuntide he swore a solemn oath of vengeance (Trivet, p. 408). About Michaelmas he had an inquiry made as to all Bruce's associates in this crime, and had executed Sir Christopher Seton before the close of the year (Matt. West. p. 456). On Passion Sunday (12 March 1307) all the accomplices in the murder were solemnly excommunicated by the papal legate in Carlisle Cathedral (Chron. of Lanercost, p. 206), and Edward's last expedition was viewed by the king himself as partaking somewhat of the nature of a crusade (Trivet, p. 408).

John Comyn the younger seems to have succeeded to his father's estates not earlier than 13 Nov. 1299, the date of what is probably the last document in which he is called 'John Comyn the son' (Rymer, ii. 859; cf. Douglas, i. 162). He is, however, described in the same or a similar way by historians at a later period. He left a son, John Comyn, who was brought up with Edward's own children on his father's death, and accompanied Edward II to Bannockburn, where he was slain (Chron. of Lanercost, 226; Bain, doc. 1790). He was connected by marriage with the lords of Lorne, and to his murder may be partly ascribed their enmity to Bruce (Barbour, iii. 1. 48 and note). He married Johanna, daughter of William de Valence, earl of Pembroke, and cousin to Edward I (Bain, Documents, docc. 724, 976). His third daughter married Alexander, lord of Lome (see Lord of the Isles, canto i. and the note based on Winton).

[The contemporary authorities for 1296-1306 are almost solely English writers, whose statements may to some little extent be supplemented by a few Scotch documents. The Scotch accounts, even when earliest, are removed by more than fifty years from the events they relate. Rishanger, ed. Luard (Rolls Series); Walter of Hemingborough, ed. Hamilton for Engl. Hist. Soc.; Trivet, ed. Hog (Engl. Hist Soc.); Matthew of Westminster (Frankfort, 1601); Chronicon of Lanercost, ed. Stevenson (Maitland Club). Scotch writers: Fordun, ed. Skene; Barbour's Bruce, ed. Skeat (Early Engl. Text Soc.); Winton's Chronicle, ed. Laing (Historians of Scotland); Bower's Scotichronicon, ed. Goodall (1759). Langtoft and Robert of Brunne are quoted from Stevenson's Wallace Papers (Maitland Club); Stevenson's Illustrated Documents; Palgrave's Affairs of Scotland; Bain's Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, vol. ii.; Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, ed. Burnett and Stuart, vol. i.; Hailes's Annals, vol. i.; Burton's History of Scotland.]

T. A. A.