Born in 1312, Agnes Countess of Dunbar, was the daughter of Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, a close ally of Robert the Bruce. In 1337, while her husband was fighting in the north, ‘Black Agnes’ is best known for defending her home, Dunbar Castle, against an English siege.
When her brothers Thomas and John Randolph (who were both Lairds of Blantyre) died, their vast estates passed into the possession of their sister, the Countess of March, better known as “Black Agnes”
Black Agnes was named for her olive skin and black hair. She was outraged when the Earl of Salisbury besieged her home and she refused to surrender. For months Agnes and a few servants and men held out against the English forces. The English earl brought mighty siege engines to batter the castle walls. Agnes and her ladies walked the battlements and dusted the walls where they had been hit with their white handkerchiefs.
Agnes stood on the walls of the castle and berated the English forces.
When the Earl of Salisbury brought a battering ram called ‘a sow’ to the castle, Agnes had a massive boulder – that the attackers had fired at the walls – dropped on the war machine, destroying it.
The English held Agnes’ brother John Randolph, Earl of Moray, captive. They put a rope about his neck and threatened to hang him. Agnes called their bluff telling them to go ahead as she would fall heir to the Earldom of Moray. The English relented and Randolph survived.
Eventually the English earl gave up and abandoned the siege. Black Agnes became a folk hero. Before her death in 1369, she gifted the Barony of Blantyre to her son, George. Before his own death, he disposed the Barony of Blantyre to his kinsman David de Dunbar of Enterkin whose descendants continued as proprietors of Blantyre for over 200 years until it became the property of Walter Minto (1st Lord Blantyre) in 1598.
Pictured is Black Agnes and Dunbar Castle in better days.