The alternative explanation is that John was simply sadistic. One of the repeated refrains of chroniclers who lived through his reign is that he was cruel. As the quotes above show, the charge of excessive cruelty was levelled against him by both the History of William Marshal and Ralph of Coggeshall. The Anonymous of Béthune, who wrote for a Flemish lord who had fought on John’s side in 1215–16, describes him as ‘a very bad man, more cruel than all others’. Contemporaries, in short, regarded King John as a villain – a criminal ( felun ) in the words of William Marshal’s biographer. Given his penchant for condemning people to die in such a horrific way, it is easy to understand why.
Leslie, too, faced major difficulties. He had fielded a mostly Lowland army of 6,000 horse and 16,000 foot soldiers. Of these, about 16,500 men were short-term levies. The Kirk added to his troubles by conducting purges in the army to eliminate possible ‘Malignants,’ their word for Royalists and other political enemies. They filled the army with ministers’ sons, clerks, and other religiously and politically reliable personnel with little or no military experience. In short, the army did not contain many of Scotland’s most capable soldiers.