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Battle of Arbroath


Ruins of the Abbey of Abroath

Sir William Forbes, 1st laird of Pitsligo (circa 1385 - 1445), came to the aid of his allies, the Ogilvies, and this led to his demise. The monks of the Abbey of Abroath appointed Alexander Lindsay, Master of Crawford and Chief of the Lindsays, as the "Bailie of the Regality" who was tasked with dispensing justice. The Lindsays were allied with the Douglases, the most powerful family in Angus at the time. The Master of Crawford as known as the “Tiger Earl” for his ferocity and as “Earl Beardie” for his for his long bushy beard. Crawford used his position to quarter a large number of his men in the abbey. Since this was not acceptable, the monks replaced him with Alexander Ogilvy, 2nd Baron of Inverquharity, who was a member of another powerful family in Angus and had a hereditary claim to the office.


The Master of Crawford disputed the appointment of Ogilvy and on January 24, 1445, marched to the Abbey with a thousand Hamiltons and Lindsays. Ogilvy musterd his vassals and forces from his allies such as Sir Alexander Seton of Gordon (later Earl of Huntly), Sir John Oliphant of Aberdagie, James Maxwell of Tealing, Brucklay of Gartley, Gordon of Borrowfield, and Sir William Forbes, 1st laird of Pitsligo, second son of Sir John Forbes of the Black Lip, and immediate younger brother of the 1st Lord Forbes of That Ilk.

Forces before the battle of Arbroath, by Andrew Spratt

According to George Hay (History of Arbroath to the Present Time, 1876), David Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Crawford and the Master of Crawford’s father, hastened from Dundee to Arbroath and was “desirous to make a last attempt to prevent those hostilities the prospect of which his ‘Tiger' son probably enjoyed. With this purpose he rode between the lines, in order to confer with Ogilvy, when one of the latter's men threw a spear, which struck the Earl in the mouth, so that he instantly fell dead.” The Earl’s death “put an end to all hope of an amicable solution of the difficulty.”


George Buchanan (The History of Scotland, 1562, translated from Latin by James Aikman, 1827) relays the story that one of the combatants cried out “why do you bring these goads (spears) as if you meant to engage with oxen, let us throw them aside, and sword in hand, with true bravery, decide our quarrel as becomes men.” For some season, both armies cast away their spears, except about a hundred men of Clydesdale, sent by Douglas to assist the Lindsays. They brought up the spears when within reach of the Ogilvy forces, which were “terrified by the unexpected appearance of the weapons, broke their ranks, and fled in disorder.”


The Ogilvys and their allies were driven from the field but rallied about three miles from the town, near what is now the village of Leysmill. That battles resulted in the death of the Alexander Ogilvy, Earl of Crawford; Brucklay of Gartley, Gordon of Borrowfield, Sir John Oliphant of Aberdalgie, and Sir William Forbes, 1st laird of Pitsligo. The battle of Arbroath was commemorated in an old ballad, only four lines of which have come down to this age:–


At Arbrodyett the pley began,

To the Loan o' the Leys they did rin,

An' there the battle did begin,

An' the Lindsays ower the Ogilbys ran.


Sir William's nephew James, later 2nd Lord Forbes, took his revenge. James fought under Alexander Seton, 1st Earl of Huntly, at the 1452 Battle of Brechin, in the Royalist army that included Clan Gordon and Clan Ogilvy. They defeated Alexander Lindsay, now 4th Earl of Crawford.

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