"Black Agnes" Randolph, Countess of Dunbar and March

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Agnes Randolph

Also Known As: "Agnes de Dunbar"
Birthdate: (51)
Birthplace: Stranith, East Lothian, , Scotland
Death: July 20, 1361 (51)
Place of Burial: Mordington, Berwickshire, Scotland
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray and Isabel Stewart of Bonkyl
Wife of Patrick V de Dunbar, 9th Earl of March
Mother of George de Dunbar, 9th/10th Earl of Dunbar, 3rd Earl of March
Sister of Sir Thomas Randolph, 2nd Earl of Moray; 3rd Earl of Mora John Randolph, 3rd Earl of Moray; Isabella Randolph and Isabella Randolph

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About "Black Agnes" Randolph, Countess of Dunbar and March

Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar and March (c. 1312 – 1369), was also known as Black Agnes because of her olive skin complexion, was the spouse of Patrick, 9th Earl of Dunbar & March. She is buried in the vault near Mordington House.

The daughter of Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray, kinsman and companion-in-arms of Robert the Bruce, and Thomas's spouse Isabel née Stewart, Agnes became renowned for her heroic defence of Dunbar Castle against an English attack by the William Montacute, 1st Earl of Salisbury which began on 13 January 1338.

This attack took place during the conflict when Edward Balliol, with English backing, attempted to seize the Scottish crown from David II. Patrick Dunbar was, it is claimed, fighting with the Scottish army far away when his home, the great castle of Dunbar in East Lothian, was subject to a siege by English forces. His wife the Lady Agnes was left alone with only a retinue of servants and a few guards to meet English aggression, but refused to surrender the fortress, claiming:

"Of Scotland's King I haud my house, He pays me meat and fee, And I will keep my gude auld house, while my house will keep me."

There were actually a number of cases in the Middle Ages where women commanded garrisons during sieges, since if the lord was away his lady might be left in charge, but Agnes is one of the few cases which became significantly remembered. Considered one of the ablest commanders of his day, Salisbury was forced to abandon the attempt after a curious siege that lasted for a little under four months.

Salisbury began his engagement with a bombardment by catapults, which sent huge rocks and lead shot against the castle ramparts. Lady Agnes responded by having her maids dress in their Sunday best. She led them to the outer walls and instructed them to dust the battle damage away with their handkerchiefs. This nonchalance was intended to insult the English. Upon the next assault by Montague with his battering ram, she dropped over the walls of her castle a huge boulder captured from an earlier English attack, so that the assault machinery of the earl was smashed to pieces. At one point the English captured her brother John Randolph, 3rd Earl of Moray and paraded him in front of the castle with a rope round his neck, and threatened to hang him if she did not surrender. She told them to go ahead, since this would make her the proprietor of the Earldom of Moray. John survived this piece of brinkmanship. On 10 June 1338, William Montague ordered his army to withdraw, leaving the Lady Agnes in sole possession of her castle. She is remembered in a ballad which attributes these words to Montague:

"Cam I early, cam I late, there was Agnes at the gate."

Agnes and her husband the Earl had no surviving children. Their inheritances were left to children of the marriage between the earl's younger brother John de Dunbar of Derchester & Birkynside and his wife Isobel Randolph, Agnes's younger sister. The three nephews were:

  • George, Earl of Dunbar and March
  • John Dunbar, Earl of Moray
  • Sir Patrick de Dunbar, of Beil

She also had a ward, Agnes Dunbar, who became mistress of King David II.

Some accounts describe her as Countess of Moray,] on the assumption that she inherited the earldom when her brother John was killed at the Battle of Neville's Cross. However, the earldom actually reverted to the crown, although it was later granted to her nephew.

Sources 1.[S265] Colquoun_Cunningham.ged, Jamie Vans

2.[S289] Betty and Dick Field's Family History, Richard Field

3.[S284] Oxford University Press, (Oxford University Press)

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"Black Agnes" Randolph, Countess of Dunbar and March's Timeline

Stranith, East Lothian, , Scotland
Age 26
Stranith (Present Nithsdale), Dumfriesshire, Scotland
July 20, 1361
Age 51
Age 51
Mordington, Berwickshire, Scotland