One of the most powerful families in the early Clan days of Scotland were the Comyns, dominating the Grampians (Highlands), Buchan and Moray (Northeast Scotland). They had more military resources and more political control, particularly in the north, than any other family. It was prudent for many of the smaller clans at that time to join themselves with the Comyns, for protection and potential prosperity. Clan Davidson can trace their ancestry back to the union of Donald Comyn and Slane MacKintosh at the beginning of the 14th Century. It was a bonding of two great Clans, with Donald Comyn's grandfather being the great Red Comyn, who was Robert the Bruce's greatest rival for the Scottish throne. During the Wars of Independence, it was Red Comyn who had led the vastly outnumbered Scots (more than 3 to 1) at the battle of Roslin, to an incredible victory over the English in 1303. From Donald’s bride's side came the influential Clan MacKintosh, as Slane's father was Angus (6t Chief) MacKintosh, her mother was Eva MacGillChattan of Clan Chattan). The leaders of the MacKintoshes held the honor of commanding Clan Chattan, and so Slane's family were gladly inducted into the alliance by her kinsfolk. The Clan Davidson takes its name from David, son of Donald and Slane, whose descendants became known as Clan Dhai, or the MacDhais, whose name became anglicized to Davidson.
John III 'Red' Comyn, Lord of Badenoch and Lord of Lochaber, was known simply as the Red Comyn (died 10 February 1306) was a Scottish nobleman who was an important figure in the Wars of Scottish Independence, and was for a time, Guardian of Scotland during the Second Interregnum 1296–1306. His wife was Mary de Balliol. He famously was known for having been deceived into an agreement of truce and stabbed to death by the future King Robert the Bruce in a meeting to take place before the altar at the church of the Greyfriars at Dumfries.
His father was John II Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, known as the Black Comyn, was one of the Competitors for the Crown of Scotland, claiming his descent from King Donald III of Scotland. His mother was Eleanor Balliol, eldest daughter of John I de Balliol, father of King John Balliol.
John III the Red Comyn, thus had combined the two blood lines of royal descent, Gaelic and Norman. He had, moreover, links with the royal house of England: in the early 1290s he married Joan de Valence, daughter of William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke, an uncle of King Edward I, also known as Longshanks.
In 1286, upon the sudden death of the Scottish King Alexander III, John Comyn, the Black Comyn was appointed to the panel of Guardians to await the arrival of their future infant Queen (age 3) and heir to the throne, Maid of Norway, granddaughter of Alexander III. Recognized as his heir-presumptive his granddaughter Margaret, called the "Maid of Norway", was his only surviving descendant. His death ushered in a time of political upheaval for Scotland.
In 1290, young Margaret now age 7, is Queen of Scots, she sails from Bergen, Norway, for Leith and an arranged marriage with Edward II, the young heir to the English throne. This is designed to insure a stable future relationship between England and Scotland. But, on 26 September she dies (possibly at the hands of her political enemies) en route. With her death, so dies the royal House of Dunkeld that has ruled Scotland since 1058. Her death immediately immerses the nation into crisis.
With this extinction of the senior line of the Scottish royal house (the line of William I of Scotland) David of Huntingdon's descendants were the primary candidates for the throne. The two most notable claimants to the throne, John Balliol and Robert Bruce represented descent through David's daughters Margaret and Isobel respectively. John Balliol had the simplest, the strongest claim to the Scottish throne. By the tradition of primogeniture, he was the rightful claimant, and that tradition had been followed in choosing heirs to the Scottish throne since King Edgar in 1097. Indeed, the other Scottish claimants (including Bruce) had already tacitly acknowledged the tradition of primogeniture in allowing Margaret of Norway to claim the throne. Balliol believed that the Kingdom of Scotland was, as royal estate, indivisible as an entity. Soon after, Robert Bruce raised a body of men with the help of the Earls of Mar and Atholl and marched to Perth with a considerable following and uncertain intentions. Bishop William Fraser of St. Andrews, worried of the possibility of civil war, wrote to Edward I of England, asking for his assistance in choosing a new monarch. King Edward took this chance to demand sasine of the Scottish royal estate, but agreed to pass judgment in return for recognition of his suzerainty. Sasine in Scots law is the delivery of feudal property, typically land. Feudal property means immovable property, and includes everything that naturally goes with the property. For land, that would include such things as buildings, trees, and underground minerals. The guardians of Scotland denied him this, but Robert Bruce was quick to pay homage. All the claimants swore oaths of homage, and John Balliol was the last to do so. The guardians were forced to concede and were thus reinstated by Edward.
Judgment processed slowly. On 3 August 1291 Edward asked both Balliol and Bruce to choose forty auditors while he himself chose twenty-four, to decide the case. After considering all of the arguments, in early November the court decided in favour of John Balliol, having the superior claim in feudal law, not to mention greater support from the kingdom of Scotland. In accordance with this, final judgement was given by Edward on 17 November. On 30 November, John Balliol was crowned as King of Scots at Scone Abbey. On 26 December, at Newcastle upon Tyne, King John swore homage to Edward I for the kingdom of Scotland. Edward soon made it clear that he regarded the country as his vassal state. The Bruce family thus lost what they regarded as their rightful place on the Scottish throne.
In November 1292: Edward I of England oversees the selection between competing claims to the Scottish throne, on condition he is acknowledged as Lord Superior of Scotland. The thirteen competitors are narrowed down to two. John Balliol is selected over Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale and is crowned King of Scotland on 30 November 1292.
John Balliol of Badenoch is inaugurated as king, with the full weight of his Comyn kinsmen, behind him. That becomes a thorn in the side that was never accepted by the next closest claimant, … Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale and the grandfather of the future king Robert the Bruce.
In 1295, The Treaty of Paris offers military support to King John Balloil, King of Scotland from France, it is taken by Edward I as a declaration of war and in effect, is the start of the Wars of Independence. In 1296, King Edward I (also known as Edward Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots) invades Scotland, commencing the Wars of Independence. With the outbreak of war between England and Scotland, Red Comyn, his father Black Cromyn, and his cousin, the Earl of Buchan, crossed the border and attacked Carlisle, which is defended on the behalf of King Edward by Robert Bruce, the Earl of Carrick, and the father of the future king of Scotland, Robert the Bruce. Having no siege equipment, the Comyns drew off and subsequently joined the main Scottish army at Haddington, which had been assembled to meet the advance of the English army along the east coast.
With the Wars of Scottish Independence, thus began in a clash between the Bruces and Comyns. It is important to note, that although the armies were nominally serving the respective English and Scottish Kings, many of the Scots nobility served within the English army in this campaign, including Robert the Bruce, and in other campaigns throughout the Wars of Independence. This reflected both the shifting balance of power between various factions within Scotland, and the fact that the English King compelled some Scottish lords to serve him. One month later, on 27 April, the Scots are overwhelmed at the Battle of Dunbar and the English took Dunbar Castle. With the defeat of the Scots at Dunbar, it opens the way for King Edward’s conquest of the country and taking prisoners, including John III Red Comyn. Edward advances through Scotland with almost no opposition. John Balliol is forced to surrender, abdicate his throne and renounce his alliance with France, and is stripped of the royal insignia. King Edward also removes the Stone of Destiny from Scone to England, together with the Holy Rood of St Margaret and other symbols of the Scottish crown. As Red Cromyn is being taken to be imprisoned at the tower of London, his father and cousin retreat north. King John Balloil, would be sent south to the Tower of London as well. Despite the defeat, the Comyn Clan continues to be the principal supporters of King Balloil, even after he was deposed by Edward Longshanks. In doing so, the Cromyns became foremost among the enemies of the house of Robert de Brus.
John Red Cromyn remained in prison for some months; but with the war in Scotland seemingly over he was finally released on condition that he take up service with King Edward in Flanders, the main theatre of operations in England’s war against the French. While there, he learns of the rising of William Wallace and Andrew Murray and their victory over the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. In March 1298, John Red Comyn and others, escaped from the English, ending up in Paris, where he appealed for aid from King Philip IV. The only help they get was a ship back to Scotland, arriving before the summer. King Edward I, continues his invasions into Scotland, which had been confined to the southern regions of Scotland, this leaves the north as the primary recruiting ground and supply base of the Scottish army, these lands are occupied by Clan Chattan.
On 29 March 1298, William Wallace is titled a “Guardian of Scotland”, but he still fights in the name of imprisoned King John Balliol. The main task facing the Guardians of Scotland was to gather a national army to meet an invasion by Edward, who is anxious to reverse the victory of Stirling Bridge.
Battle of Falkirk The cavalry was by far the weakest element of the Scottish army and Wallace's army was destroyed at the Battle of Falkirk, when their light horse being driven off at an early stage by the English heavy cavalry. After the defeat at Falkirk, Wallace then resigned his position as Guardian, but continued to resist Edward’s rule. However, soon after the defeat, John Red Comyn and Robert the Bruce, were both named as joint Guardians of the Realm in place of Wallace. With no independent power base Wallace, whose prestige had always been based on the success of his army, had little choice but to resign as Guardian after Falkirk. In his absence, an unusual and difficult balancing act took place between Red Comyn and Robert the Bruce (grandson of Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale), who now has conveniently joined the patriot party. The Scots were still fighting on behalf of the absent King John Balliol, so Bruce must have paid lip service to the cause, though his royal ambitions were openly known. At a meeting of a council of the magnates at Peebles in August 1299 an argument broke out relative to Bruce’s claim of ownership over the Wallace’s property, who had fled to France. Red Comyn’s response was said to have reached out and seized Robert the Bruce by the throat.
Shortly thereafter, Bruce resigned before May 1300, when the restoration of King John was looking increasingly likely, leaving only Comyn. This was obviously an arrangement that suited Comyn. With the pending return of Balliol, until then, Red Comyn became sole Guardian, occupying the position for the next two years. Red Comyn also became Lord of Badenoch following his father's death that same year. With the Guardianship of Scotland seemingly going one way, Robert Bruce went the other, making his peace and casting his lot with King Edward Longshanks. In a document dated February 1302 to King Edward, Robert the Bruce expressed his fear that "the realm of Scotland might be removed from the hands of the king, which God forbid, and delivered to John Balliol, or to his son." The Murder of Red Comyn The house of Bruce now knowing that Scotland’s King John Balliol was obviously never going to return — the only two realistic candidates for the Scottish crown were either Robert the Bruce or John Comyn. Neither wishing for a pro-long drawn-out civil war betweenrival Clans, Robert the Bruce offers up a pact to Comyn, whereby one would take the crown in return for the lands from the other.
The Murder of John Red Comyn On February 10th, 1306 Robert Bruce orchestrates the killing of Red Comyn before the high altar of the Greyfriars Church in Dumfries. Robert the Bruce had called for a meeting to take place in the sanctuary to seal their pact before God. There was no love lost between the two. They came to an agreement that the two would leave their swords outside before they entered the church. However, drawing a hidden dagger, Bruce stabbed Comyn and then rushed out to tell Roger de Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick went in to finish the job uttering: "I make sure!" At that same moment, Comyn’s uncle who was waiting for John to come outside, was also slain by a Bruce supporter named Sir Christopher Seton.
It was widely believed that Comyn’s murder was premeditated because of Bruce’s well known ambition to remove all possible Comyn competition for crown of Scotland. While it is impossible to know exactly what really happened inside the Greyfriars Kirk that day, historians and chroniclers for hundreds of years have argued about what took place and why. Had Bruce planned to murder Comyn and seize the throne? Did Red Comyn draw his dagger first?
The murder of John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, by Robert the Bruce in the Greyfriars’ Church at Dumfries in 1306 must be set in the context of the 1305 Ordinances for the Settlement of Scotland and the execution of William Wallace on 23 August 1305 leaving a power vacuum for Bruce to fill. On 25 March 1306, Robert Bruce crowns himself King Robert I. After Bruce’s usurpation of the Scottish throne in 1306, the war with England was reopened.
Bruce's involvement in John Comyn's murder in February 1306 led to him being excommunicated by Pope Clement V (although he received absolution from the Bishop of Glasgow, Robert Wishart). During the dispute between Bruce and Comyn, Wishart took his place in the Bruce camp. After the murder, Bruce had gone to Glasgow where he met Wishart, in whose diocese the murder had taken place. Rather than excommunicating the earl, Wishart immediately gave him absolution and urged his flock to rise in his support. He then accompanied Bruce to Scone, the site of all Scottish coronations. There they met Wishart's uncle, the bishop of St Andrews as well as other prominent churchmen, in what gives the appearance of a well-arranged plan. Less than seven weeks after the killing in Dumfries, along with a number of prominent lay figures they all witnessed the coronation of King Robert I on 25 March.
A recovered badge that adorned the horse of Sir John Comyn, the Lord of Badenoch, found in a boggy field in Kinross