Michael Alexander speaks to American business owner turned author Robert Nock who has set an historical novel against the 15th century Battle of Arbroath.
Retired North American insurance business owner Robert Nock has been visiting friends in Arbroath for the past 14 years.
During that time the lifelong resident of Ocean City, Maryland, has developed a keen interest in Scottish history, especially military history.
Now the 66-year-old has utilised all those years of research to write an historical novel set during one of the bloodiest real-life chapters of Angus history – the Battle of Arbroath.
On Sunday January 23 1445, more than 1000 men from Clan Ogilvy along with their supporters including Clan Oliphant, Clan Seton, Clan Gordon and Clan Forbes assembled at the west gate of Arbroath Abbey.
A larger force composed of about 2000 men from Clans Lindsay and Douglas along with their supporters was arrayed against them.
The ensuing battle, centred upon rival claims to the powerful post of Baillie of the Regality, went in Clan Lindsay’s favour. But not before it claimed the lives of hundreds of local men, including Clan Lindsay’s Earl of Crawford himself, and changed the course of history.
“Not much has been written about the Battle of Arbroath,“ says Mr Nock, who started his research using the invaluable resources at the Arbroath Library”.
“Most historians, if they mention it at all, dismiss it as an example of feudal violence between clans that was all too prevalent in those days.
“However, the Battle of Arbroath was much more than a simple feud between clans. It was actually part of the on-going power struggle between the powerful house of Clan Douglas and the Scottish kingdom which was controlled by the royal House of Stuart.”
Mr Nock explained that the wars with England had weakened the authority of the Crown. The Scottish king during this period, James II, was only a child of six when he became monarch. The age of the king, along with the weakened authority of the monarchy, made for a society that was unstable with a great deal of unlawfulness. It was during this period of uncertainty and upheaval that the Douglas’s became nearly as powerful as the Scottish Crown.
It was against this backdrop that Clan Lindsay and Clan Ogilvy became bitter enemies over the appointment of Alexander Ogilvy to the position of Justicar. The position of Justicar, or Baillie of Regality, gave the person who held that the office the authority to dispense law and justice as well as to levy and collect taxes throughout the country.
Mr Nock says that although the characters of Campbell Ogilvy and his friends are fictitious, he has tried to make the backdrop of his book as historically accurate as possible, with the other major characters very real people.
He adds: “Alexander Lindsay and his father David Lindsay were, respectively, the Third and Fourth Earls of Crawford. Historical accounts of Alexander Lindsay paint him as a fierce and lawless individual although I doubt he was as bad a person as I’ve made him appear, nor I doubt that his father, David, was as good an individual as he is in this book. In fact at the time of his death, David Lindsay had been excommunicated from the church by James Kennedy, archbishop of St Andrews.”
Mr Nock said the start of the Battle of Arbroath happened as depicted in his book. David Lindsay was struck down by a spear thrown by one of the Ogilvy supporters as he rode between the two armies in a valiant, but vain attempt to prevent the fighting.
“The Battle of Arbroath is reported to have started at the west gate of Arbroath Abbey and evolved into a running battle that finally ended at the Loan of the Leys, about three miles from the abbey,” adds Mr Nock.
“The loss of life on both sides was quite substantial but the death of Alexander Ogilvy along with Alexander Lindsay’s father made Lindsay the victor of the battle since he now had no one to oppose or control him. The aftermath of the battle saw a great deal of reprisals and atrocities committed against the Ogilvy’s and their supporters.
“The power struggle between Clan Douglas and the Scottish Crown continued for a number of years and two more battles before being settled at the Battle of Arkinholm in 1455.”
Mr Nock will feature the exploits of his fictional character Campbell Ogilvy in two subsequent books set against the Battle of Brechin and the Battle of Arkinholm.
- Campbell Ogilvy at the Battle of Arbroath by Robert Nock is published by Salt Water Media, priced £8.99. It is currently available at Henry Hoggs bookstore in Montrose and can also be purchased via paypal – me/battleofarbroath ; Copies of the book can also be obtained from Sandra Wilbourn in Arbroath – 01241 874631