AGNES Randolph (Black Agnes of Dunbar) Countess of Dunbar and March
BORN: BEFORE 1324
DIED: circa 1369
THIS memorable defender of Scottish independence was a daughter of Isabel Stewart and Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, Regent of Scotland. Known as "Black Agnes" because of her dark complexion, Agnes Randolph was a member of a family active in the cause of Scottish independence. Her father and brother, John, both served as regents; John was captured by the English after becoming co-regent in 1335.
Agnes Randolph had married Patrick, Earl of Dunbar and March (died 1369), by 1324. As Governor of Berwick, captured by the English in 1333, he swore allegiance to Edward III, who gave him permission to fortify his castle of Dunbar. In 1335, Patrick switched allegiance and Dunbar became a centre of the struggle against the English.
Edward III was suspicious of Agnes's role in fostering Scottish resistance. A force of 20,000 men under the Earl of Salisbury was sent to take the castle and, in Patrick's absence, the defence of Dunbar was undertaken by Agnes. In one of many colourful episodes recounted by medieval chroniclers, Agnes or one of her ladies appeared on the battlements to wipe away the dust with handkerchiefs after a bombardment.
Salisbury tried to force Agnes to surrender by threatening to execute her brother, but she retorted that this would make her Countess of Moray. Moreover, as the castle was her husband's, she had no power to surrender it. A song was penned by an English soldier: "Come I early, come I late/ I find Annes at the gate."
Local allies helped her supply the castle at night. After five months, the besiegers withdrew to join Edward III in France for the Hundred Years War. The hugely expensive siege, one of the last English military actions of the Wars of Independence, resulted in no gain.
When John, Earl of Moray died in 1346, his lands were divided between Agnes and her sister Isabella. Agnes and Patrick took the titles Earl and Countess of Moray, as Agnes had predicted to Salisbury.
• From The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women (Edinburgh University Press; www.eup.ed.ac.uk)