What happened at Cambuskenneth Abbey?

On the eve of 23rd June 1314, David Strathbogie, earl of Atholl, thundered into the grounds of Cambuskenneth Abbey in a surprise attack on the supply depot of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. The disaffected knight, fighting on the side of the English, left behind a trail of destruction and a knight, Sir William Airth, lay dead. It was an unexpected blow to the Bruce forces, facing up to King Edward II’s army at Bannockburn, but fortunately not insurmountable.
After the defeat of the English, Robert adjourned to the abbey, mourning the death of the earl of Gloucester, one of his kinsmen.
What must the abbey have looked like after Bannockburn? The clerics would have had many wounded, shattered men to attend to and support, midst the great wealth and booty left behind by the retreating English king and his army.
These thoughts and more were in my mind on the day of my visit to the abbey which lies close to both Stirling Castle and the Bannockburn.
The abbey’s history began around 1140 in the time of King David I. Since then, many illustrious kings including Edward I have prayed at the altar of this Augustinian monastery.
King Robert held a much later parliament there as well to confirm the succession of his infant son, David II. Its proximity to Stirling Castle made it a strategic, central place to gather and gave it great prominence, similar in relationship to that of Holyrood Abbey and Edinburgh Castle.
Given its historical significance, it is surprising that so little remains but the Reformation wrought much if its worst destruction.
Apart from a wonderfully evocative, 13th century campanile tower, home now to a flighty flock of doves and pigeons, little remains but an arched doorway, perhaps part of the original edifice, and the knee-high stone outlines of the church with its extensive range of outbuildings.
Nearby on the peaceful banks of the Forth River, a surprising number of gulls rested on the tidal sand-flats and I wondered how the river might have changed. Quite likely, small boats drew up here delivering cargo, taking away wool and grain to markets elsewhere.
Within the church grounds lies the grave of a much later king, James III, who was murdered before the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488. His queen, Margaret of Denmark, lies beside him in a tomb which was constructed by order of Queen Victoria. Compared to those who lie in pomp and gilded glory in Westminster Abbey, it is a surprisingly humble monument for one of Britain’s royal families.
The abbey is under the care of Historic Scotland and is free to enter.

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One thought on “What happened at Cambuskenneth Abbey?

  1. Jo Woolf says:

    Lovely description and photos! This is one of the places on my list to visit, and I’m even more keen to go there now!

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