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Agnes Dunbar, 4th Countess of Moray
She was daughter of the famous Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray, companion-in-arms of Robert the Bruce and Isabel Stewart, Bruce's grand-niece. She married Patrick Dunbar, 9th Earl of Dunbar and 2nd Earl of March, and became renowned for her heroic defence of Dunbar Castle against an English attack by William Montague which began on 13th January 1338.
This attack took place during the conflict when Edward Balliol, with English backing, attempted to seize the Scottish crown from David II, the son of Robert the Bruce. Patrick Dunbar was, it is claimed, fighting with the Scottish army far away when his home, the great castle of Dunbar in Lothian (close to the English border), was subject to a siege by English forces. His wife the Lady Agnes was left alone with only a retinue of servants and a few guards to meet English aggression, but refused to surrender the fortress, claiming:
"Of Scotland's King I haud my house, He pays me meat and fee, And I will keep my gude auld house, while my house will keep me."
There were actually a number of cases in the Middle Ages where women commanded garrisons during sieges, since if the lord was away his lady might be left in charge, but Agnes is one of the few cases which became significantly remembered. Considered one of the ablest commanders of his day, Montague – then the Earl of Salisbury – was forced to abandon the attempt after a curious siege that lasted for a little under four months.
Salisbury began his engagement with a bombardment by catapults, which sent huge rocks and lead shot against the castle ramparts. Lady Agnes responded by having her maids dress in their Sunday best. She led them to the outer walls and instructed them to dust the battle damage away with their handkerchiefs. This nonchalance was intended to insult the English. Upon the next assault by Montague with his battering ram, she dropped over the walls of her castle a huge boulder captured from an earlier English attack, so that the assault machinery of the earl was smashed to pieces. At one point the English captured her brother John Randolph, 3rd Earl of Moray, and paraded him in front of the castle with a rope round his neck, and threatened to hang him if she did not surrender. She told them to go ahead, since this would make her the proprietor of the Earldom of Moray. John survived this piece of brinkmanship. On June 10, 1338, William Montague ordered his army to withdraw, leaving the Lady Agnes in sole possession of her castle. She is remembered in a ballad which attributes these words to Montague:
"Cam I early, cam I late, there was Agnes at the gate".
Agnes succeeded more peacefully to her brother John's estates and titles when he died in 1346. She and her husband the Earl had three sons, including George, 10th Earl of Dunbar and March, and John Dunbar, 5th Earl of Moray . They also had two daughters, the elder of whom, named Agnes, after becoming the mistress of David II, married Sir James Douglas, lord of Dalkeith, from whom were descended the first three Earls of Morton.
Her sister, Elizabeth, married John Maitland of Lethington, ancestor of the Duke of Lauderdale, whose second title was Marquess of March.
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