Black Agnes

In Dunbar this year, I admired what was left of the Scottish port’s prominent castle. Though now a ruin and obsolete, it was once the scene of a famous siege. Inside was the redoubtable Agnes, Countess of Dunbar and March; outside, hemming her in, was Englishman William Montagu, Earl of Salisbury. The two opposing nobles often mocked each other’s efforts; the Earl described the Countess’ arrows which missed him as 'Agnes’ love shafts', while she had one of her ladies dust down the battlements with a hanky in the aftermath of the Earl’s failed bombardment. After an almost successful attempt to trap the attacking Englishman behind the portcullis, Agnes sent the message:

"Farewell, Montague, I intended that you should have supped with us, and assist us in defending the castle against the English”.

When the Earl paraded Agnes’ brother with a rope around his neck to force her capitulation, rather than caving in, she urged he be hanged, as she was his heir and would gain much land. The siege eventually failed, and the English moved on, having lost much gold, men and prestige.

There is something quite inspiring about the woman’s determination, resourcefulness and cheer in the face of a formidable enemy. Her food stores ran low and her prosects looked bleak. Yet she endured, and triumphed. Many Christians feel under siege; the world, the flesh and the devil appear so strong, and we so puny. Yet says Isaiah:

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

“We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks.


As Black Agnes withstood the English, so God’s people will endure to the end.