Andreas de Harcla of Hartley and the wars of Robert the Bruce

Andreas de Harcla, who lived at Hartley (Harcla) Castle near Kirkby Stephen, has a chapel dedicated to his memory at the town’s parish church. He was born in 1285, the fourth of six sons, with two sisters, and lived a “short and brutal life” until he was executed at Carlisle in 1323 for treason.

De Harcla became an increasingly important military leader in the borderlands between England and Scotland during the reign of Edward the Second. He used guerrilla “tactics of avoidance” with his small band of supporters similar to those methods used by Robert the Bruce on the opposing side, although Bruce had a much larger army. These tactics involved taking advantage of the poor and disease ridden population of the time by stealing their cattle and property and finally charging those forced to surrender for their protection from other forces. In the early days Robert the Bruce was his enemy and de Harcla was rewarded for his loyalty to the king, being appointed Sheriff of Cumberland in 1311 and knighted the following year.

In 1315 de Harcla successfully defended Carlisle Castle against Robert the Bruce but was later taken hostage by the Scots and a ransom for his freedom was eventually paid. De Harcla fell out of favour with the king during the following five years but in 1321 he returned to favour and was summoned to Parliament. His most important achievement for the king came when he led the forces of Cumberland and Westmorland against the Earl of Lancaster at Boroughbridge early in 1322. De Harcla again used the low-key tactics learned from the Scots and was successful in the battle for which he was richly rewarded by King Edward, being made Earl of Carlisle and Chief Warden of the Marshes.

De Harcla became increasingly impatient with the rule of King Edward and was unconvinced about Edward’s ability to win the war against Robert the Bruce. De Harcla’s actions were always based on shifting loyalties dependant on the fortunes of war and he employed tactics outside the law such as bounty hunting and protectionism. Adrian Rogan, who has written two works of fiction base on de Harcla, has described him as being “like a Robin Hood without any mercy”. In October 1322 de Harcla was asked to support the king against Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Byland in Yorkshire but unfortunately his troops did not arrive in time and the king was defeated.

De Harcla was finally convinced that he should enter negotiations with Robert the Bruce himself in order to sign a peace treaty recognising Scotland as an independent kingdom and he achieved this  in 1323. He was possibly also influenced by his developing relationship with Christiana, Robert’s daughter, and a determination to finally oust Edward and improve the situation in the north of England. However, Edward issued an order for his arrest for treason and de Harcla was eventually forced to retreat to Carlisle Castle. He was arrested by Sir Anthony Lucy who had turned against de Harcla after the 1322 rebellion. He was stripped of his titles, convicted as a traitor and condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered and the four parts of his body dispersed around the country, his head being hung from London Bridge and remaining there for five years. De Harcla had managed to protect the borderlands over the previous years but Edward the Second had been unwilling to pursue the war any further and was forced to agree a truce with Robert the Bruce.

© 2013 Sue Capel