The Battle of Dupplin Moor was fought between supporters of the infant David II, the son of Robert the Bruce, and rebels supporting the Balliol claim in 1332. It was a significant battle of the Second War of Scottish Independence. The battlefield is currently under research to be inventoried and protected by Historic Scotland under the Historic Environment (Amendment) Act 2011.
The death of Robert I in 1329 left Scotland with a four-year-old king, David II (1329–1371). His right to the throne was far from absolute, and in the early 1330s was challenged by Edward Balliol, son of John Balliol. The rebels were known as "The Disinherited", since they lost their land as a consequence of the Battle of Bannockburn.
In the winter of 1331, in response to the urgings of Henry Beaumont, chief among the disinherited, Balliol left his home in France and came to England, where he settled in Sandal Manor in Yorkshire. Beaumont then visited King Edward III of England, The purpose of the meeting was recorded in the Brut Chronicle: "So came Sir Henry of Beaumont to King Edward of England and praiede him, in way of charitie, that he wolde grant of his grace unto Sir Edward Balliol that he moste safliche gone bi land from Sandall for to conquere his ritz heritage in Scotland." Edward agreed to let him go, but by sea, not land.
By the summer of 1332 all of the preparations for the expedition were complete. The size of the force assembled by Balliol and Beaumont cannot be established with any real accuracy, but the sources all agree that it was fairly modest: the Bridlington Chronicle suggests a figure of 500 men-at-arms and 1,000 foot; Henry Knighton, prone on occasions to wild exaggeration, puts forward a figure of 300 men-at-arms and 3,000 foot; while the Lanercost Chronicle, probably the most reliable, suggests a total force in the region of 1,500 to 2,800. All agree that by far the largest proportion of the footmen were archers, armed with the longbow. By mid-July Balliol's little armada of some 88 ships waited for the right moment to sail. It came with the news that Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray, the guardian of the infant David, had died suddenly on 20 July.
The rebels and their English allies sailed on 31 July from several Yorkshire ports to Kinghorn in Fife to get round the terms of the Treaty of Northampton that did not permit English forces to cross the Tweed. From Kinghorn they marched to Dunfermline and then on towards Perth. On 10 August they camped at Forteviot, just south of the River Earn, a few miles short of their objective. To the north of the river Donald, Earl of Mar, the new regent, had taken up position with a much stronger force on the heights of Dupplin Moor. The disinherited now faced one Scottish army to their front with another commanded by Patrick Earl of Dunbar fast approaching from the rear.
In view of their predicament it comes as no surprise that morale in Balliol's camp began to sink. According to Thomas Gray, the disinherited lords were so dismayed by the size of Mar's army that they accused Henry Beaumont of having betrayed them with false promises of Scottish support for Balliol. But Beaumont, the most experienced soldier on either side, reacted to this dangerous situation with coolness and precision. It was obvious that they could not wait for Dunbar to link up with Mar. He decided to risk crossing the Earn at night, and launching a surprise attack on the enemy.
On the opposite bank of the river the Scots had a clear view of Balliol's small army. Mar was so confident of his strength and the superiority of his position that he did not even bother to set a watch, and his army settled down on the night of 10 August, relaxed enough to spend much of the time drinking, convinced of an easy victory the following day. At midnight, unobserved by the carousing Scots, Sir Alexander Mowbray led a picked force across a nearby ford shown to him by the sole traitor from the Scottish camp, one Murray of Tullibardine.
After crossing the ford Mowbray climbed up the rising ground towards Gask, where he immediately attacked the slumbering Scottish camp followers, in the mistaken belief that he had encountered Mar's host. He learned his mistake by daybreak on 11 August; but by that time the rest of the English army had safely crossed the Earn and taken up a strong defensive position on some high ground at the head of a narrow valley. Mar had been outflanked. Learning of the rapid approach of the main Scots force, Balliol's army was ordered to form a line, with the archers projecting outwards on both flanks and the men-at-arms in the centre, the whole formation resembling a quarter moon. All were dismounted, save for a small group of Germans to the rear. Beaumont now made ready to employ tactics that had been demonstrated in outline at Boroughbridge ten years before, which in their fully evolved form were to allow the English to dominate the battlefields of Britain and western Europe for the next hundred years.
The Scots were angry that their enemy had been allowed to carry out so simple a manoeuvre under their noses. Lord Robert Bruce, the illegitimate son of the late king, made no secret of his conviction that Mar's incompetence was evidence of treachery. Mar denied this, and like the Earl of Gloucester at Bannockburn, resolved to be the first into battle. Lord Robert claimed this honour for himself and both charged off to destruction, followed by their disorganised schiltrons, all semblance of generalship gone. Bruce and Mar's wild charge was met by great clouds of arrows, which fell in rapid succession on the Scottish flanks. Each bowman was so skilled, and could shoot at such speed, that he had several arrows in the air at one time. The badly armoured Scots with their unvisored helmets had no protection against the repeated volleys. Bruce's battalion, pushing through the storm of missiles, was the first to make contact with the enemy centre, forcing Beaumont and the men-at-arms to yield some ground. But the barrage of arrows was so unrelenting and fierce that his flanks converged towards the middle, as if seeking shelter from a storm. The front units were pushed forward on to Beaumont's spears. Retreat or redeployment was made impossible by the arrival of Mar's schiltron, charging down the narrow glen, and straight into the rear of Lord Robert's men. The crush was so great that many fell never to rise again. The chronicler and historian John Capgrave describes the carnage at Dupplin thus:
In this battle...more were slain by the Scots themselves than by the English. For rushing forward on each other, each crushed his neighbour, and for every one fallen there fell a second, and then a third fell, and those who were behind pressing forward and hastening to the fight, the whole army became a heap of the slain.
The bodies of the Scots were piled so high above each other that it is said they reached the height of a spear. The English surrounded the bloody heap, thrusting in their swords and spears, so that no one could be taken out alive. Scots losses were heavy: Mar and Bruce were both killed, as was Thomas Randolph, 2nd Earl of Moray, Murdoch III, Earl of Menteith and Alexander Fraser, the High Chamberlain. The exact number of the dead is unknown, but estimates range from a low of 2,000 to a high of 13,000. English losses were light, amounting to no more than thirty-three knights and men-at-arms. The Earl of Fife tried to lead the survivors of Mar's shattered army on an orderly retreat; but this turned into a rout after Beaumont and others took to horse, charging off in pursuit. Many who escaped the carnage inflicted by the archers were cut down by the cavalry.
A stone cross, now in St. Serf's Church in Dunning, once marked the traditional site of the battle, although there is no strong reason to locate the battle there.
The Battle of Dupplin Moor was the worst Scottish defeat since the Battle of Falkirk, 34 years before, far exceeding the setback at Methven. The losses were heavy, but they could be made good, and Dunbar's army, probably as strong as Mar's, was still in the field. However, the worst casualty of all was the national confidence that had grown from the successive victories of King Robert Bruce, which had produced an illusory sense of invulnerability. Once again the nation had tasted serious defeat, and the effect it had on morale surely explains Dunbar's reluctance to engage Balliol's tired little army in battle. In his classic study, A History of War in the Middle Ages, Sir Charles Oman says of Dupplin: "The Battle of Dupplin forms a turning point in the history of Scottish wars. For the future the English always adopted the order of battle which Balliol and Beaumont had discovered. It was the first in a long series of battles won by a combination of archers and dismounted men-at-arms."
A few weeks after the battle Edward Balliol was crowned king at Scone. But dangerously isolated in a hostile country he moved his forces south to the old Balliol patrimony in Galloway, the only part of Scotland that showed any kind of support for the new king. In December at Annan he was surprised by a party of Bruce loyalists and chased half-dressed across the English border. Any future attempt to recover his throne would have to be with the open support of the English king.