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The Red Comyn – A murder that changed Scottish history
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The Red Comyn – A murder that changed Scottish history

Exploring the SWC300Excerpt 1 of 3 taken from Exploring the SWC300: A Cultural and Historical Companion to the South-West Coastal 300 Route by David M. Addison, all rights reserved.

So this is Dumfries! The Queen of the South. It sounds romantic and exciting – a very good place to begin our tour of the SWC300, Scotland’s secret corner. We head for Friars Vennel, which, like a dagger, thrusts into the heart of the town.

It’s an appropriate image, because on Thursday, 10th February 1306, a man was stabbed to death in the church of Greyfriars Monastery which used to stand in the grounds now bisected by the Vennel. It was a murder that changed the course of Scottish history.

The victim was the Red Comyn and the killer was to become one of Scotland’s greatest heroes, the future king, Robert the Bruce, vanquisher of Edward II and deliverer of Scottish Independence. There was no love lost between the Comyns and the Bruces, cousins and aspirants to the throne of Scotland. The country had been plunged into a constitutional crisis when the seven-year old Maid of Norway on her way to claim the throne of Scotland, died in Orkney of severe seasickness.

The church was supposed to be neutral ground, a place of sanctuary, a place where the mortal enemies could meet and feel safe. Bruce had requested the meeting to propose that he and the Comyn buried the hatchet and formed an alliance against Edward I. After the murder, the Comyns were not slow to claim that their man’s death was nothing short of premeditated murder, that he had been lured there under false pretences.

To give Bruce the benefit of the doubt, it is not beyond credibility, given the rivalry between the families, that what happened was simply a case of tempers flaring and hot-headed impetuousness taking over. Whatever prompted the stabbing, what happened next has passed into folklore.

Bruce, it is said, came out of the chapel and confessed to his henchmen Roger de Kirkpatrick and Sir Robert Fleming that he thought he might have killed his cousin. Kirkpatrick uttered the immortal words “I mak siccar” and drawing his dagger, hastened into the chapel to make sure that the Comyn was indeed, dead. To this day, the Kirkpatrick clan crest shows a hand holding a bloody dagger with the motto inscribed on a buckled belt below “I make sure”, translated into English to make sure everyone gets the message.

Not wanting to be left out, Fleming accompanied him and came out of the chapel bearing the head of the Comyn saying, “Let the deed shaw”, thus possibly trumping Kirkpatrick in deed and words. In any case, the Fleming crest shows the head of a very scary-looking goat with golden horns and Fleming’s words inscribed above as the motto.

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