Arran of the Bens, The Glens and the Brave Chapter XIX. The Ambush at Brodick Castle
Many romances have left their traces on
Arran: that of the dim far-off days of the great monuments of
Machrie Moor, the defensive camps, the stone circles; the fine
dreamers, thinkers, and artists too, who strove for high ideals
in the highly civilised Dalriadic colony, must have left their
imprint on Arran more than on any part of Scotland save Kintyre
and Knapdale. Finally came the romance of the terrible days of
the Norse invasions, days of darkness and of blood; and of the
later times when a leader of the island race shattered the power
of these arch-enemies of the men of Arran. Yet not one of those
stirring stories can compare in picturesque-ness, in the
immediate touch with our own day, with the charming tale of
Bruce's adventures, when, defeated and deserted by all save a
mere handful, he sought refuge amongst the bold and faithful
hearts of Kintyre and Arran.
It was worthy of
the old quixotic spirit of the sons of Somerled, who himself
took up the almost hopeless cause of Mac Eth, that Angus and the
Islesmen of Arran, who in blood and in spirit traced themselves
to the days when King David gave Arran to Somerled, should
receive with open arms the deserted King of Scots : that at the
moment when most men worshipped the rising sun, they should turn
to that which seemed almost submerged in the western waters.
Barbour, in his poem of "The Bruce," tells this, Arran's most
moving story :—
"To King Robert again go we,
That in Rauchryne with his men, Lay till the winter near
was gane, And of that He his met has ta'en. James of
Douglas was angry That they so long should idle lie, And
to Sir Robert Boyd said he: The poor folk of this countree
Are chargit upon great manner Of us, that idle lies
here. And I hear say, that in Arane, In-till a stith
castell of stane, Are English men that, with strong hand,
Holds the lordship of that land. Go we thither; and well
may fall, Annoy them in some way we sail.' Sir Robert
said, ' I grant thar-till; To lie here more were little
skill: Therefore to Arane pas will we, For I know right
well that countree, And the castle also know I. . . .'
With that they buskit them on-aue, And at the king their
leave have ta'en, And went them forth then on their way.
Into Kin tyre soon come are they; Then rowed always close to
land, Till at the night was near at hand; Then to Arane
they went their way, And safely there arrivit they. And
under a brae their galley drew, And then it holdit well enew
Their tackle, oars, and their stere; They hide all in
the same manere. And held their way right in the night,
So that, or day was dawned light, They were ambushed the
castle near, Armit in the best manere; And though they
wet were and wearie, And for lang fasting all hungry,
They thought to hold them all privie Till that they well
their point might see. Sir John the Hastings, at that tide
With knights of full mickle pride, With squires and good
yeomanry, That were a weill great company, Was in the
Castle of Brodwick . . . The time that James of Douglas,
As I am told, ambushed was; So happened at that time by
chance, With victuals and provisions, And with clothing
and arms, The day before, in the evening, The under warden
arrived was With three boats, quite near the place, Where
that the folk I spoke of before Privily ambushed were.
Soon from the boats the batis saw them gae, Of English men,
thirty and mae, Charged all with sundry things, Some bore
wine and some arms . . ."
Douglas and his
party then burst from their ambush,
all they might overtake. The cry raised hideously and high,
From they, that dreading well to die, Right as beasts
can roar and cry They rushit forth to the fighting; But
when Douglas saw their coming, On his men he knew he could
rely. And went to meet them hastily. And when they of
the castle saw . . . They fled forouten more debate; And
they them followed to the gate, And slew of them, as they in
Douglas and his men then took the arms
and provisions they had captured, and went their way.
Ten days later, the king, with all the men who had followed him,
set out in thirty-three small galleys, and "arivit in Arane."
"And syne to the land is gane, And we in a toune took
shelter; And soon speired carefully, If any man could
tell tithand Of any stranger in that land."
A woman tells him of Douglas and his men, who had discomfited
"'Dame,' said the king, 'should
you me vis To that place where their hiding is, I will
reward you but lesing: For they are all of my own dwelling;
And I right blithely would them see, And right so trow I
they would me.'"
And so the good woman led
him, though, as the islanders were all Gaelic speakers for five
hundred years afterwards, it is certain that, if the poet writes
truly, the king must have learnt Gaelic in his youth in his
mother's land of Galloway or Carrick.
followed her as she them led, Till at the last she shewed
the stead, To the king in a woody glen."
The place is said by tradition to have been the ancient fort
called Tornanschian in Glencloy.
The king wound his horn three times, and
Douglas knew the sound, and went forth with Sir Robert Boyd.
"And blithely welcomed them the king, That joyfull was of
their meeting, And kissed them and speired them How they
had fared in their hunting."
to the tradition, took up his quarters in the caves of Drumadoon,
which are associated with his name, but he later set to work to
capture Brodick Castle, and there took up his quarters. The spot
is shown in the castle where his little party used to sit and
chat and so beguile the time, and the king used to tell stories
of chivalry to entertain his men; for he was a genial and kindly
man was our strong-armed king, and was not of the sort, as he
proved later, who forgot or neglected those who helped them.
BRUCE AND THE SPIDER
According to tradition,
the cottage in which the defeated and discouraged king watched
the spider in its many attempts to weave its web, as described
in the well-known ballad, stood on the shore at Whiting Bay, and
the wife of the cottage, the story says, told him his fortune,
as Barbour describes, and brought him her two sons to aid in the
great fight for the throne. The cottage is said to have stood
close by the standing - stone which marks the place of his
departure for the Carrick coast.
THE RED LIGHT
ON TURNBERRY BEACON
It was from the walls of
Brodick that he watched for the red light on Turnberry beacon
which was to lead him forth to many perilous adventures. For one
day the king decided to send a man to his own realm of Carrick—
"To spy and speir how the kingdom Is led, or who is friend
or foe, And if he sees we land may too, On Turnberry's
snook he may Make a fire on a certain day, As token to
us that we may There arrive into safety."
The king then sent one Cuthbert, a native of Carrick, who found,
however, that few spoke well of the Bruce in Carrick, and that
the land, both high and low, hill and valley, was occupied by
"That despised above all thing
Robert the Bruce, the doughty king."
that in Turnberry Castle was the Lord Percy with three hundred
men, so he decided not to light the fire, but to return to his
"The king that into Arane lay,
When that coming was the day, That he gave to his messenger.
After the fire he looked fast, And as soon as the noon was
past He thought that he saw a fire, By Turnberry burning
weill schyre; And to his men he can it show Every man
thought that he it saw. Then with blithe heart the folk began
to cry, ' Good king, speed you deliuerly, So that we soon
in the evening Arrive, without perceiving.'
Then in short time men might them see Shoot all their
galleys to the sea."
And as the king was
walking up and down on the shore at Whiting Bay, opposite the
Castle of Turnberry, while his men were making all ready, his
hostess came to him and told him his fortune. She warns him of
terrible things that he must go through, but says that no might
or strength of hand shall send him forth again out of his land:—
"Within short time ye shall be king, And have the land at
your liking, And overcome your foemen all."
And then, to show how much she believed her own prophecy, she
gave him her two sons to accompany him. The king thanked her,
and was comforted, though not quite convinced ; for, as the old
poet says :—
"Indeed it is wonderful, perfay,
How any man through stars may Know the things that are
to come, Determinedly, all or some. But me think it were
great mastery For any astrologer to say This shall fall
here and on this day."
Barbour says when the
"This was in spring, when
winter-tide With his blasts, hideous to bide, Was
overpast, and birdis smale, The thristill and the
nightingale, Began right merrily to sing. Into that time
the noble king, With his fleet and a few menyie, Three
hunder I trow they might well be, Was to the sea furth of
They rowed across without compass,
keeping the fire always in view; and there Cuthbert awaited
them, full of fear, for the fire, he said, had not been kindled
by him, and all the country was full of Bruce's foes. They held
counsel, and Edward Bruce, the king's brother, settled matters
by refusing to go back.
THE BRANDANES AT
Then Angus rose—"Lead on, brave
Bruce, The foemen who thy footsteps cross In silence
wrapped shall sleep to-night, Or hie them back owre Milton
Here stand arrayed my Hielan men,
From yon green islands by Kintyre; Clan Cholla and the brave
Brandanes; Cold is their steel—their hearts are fire!
They stand arrayed to win or die; As on its prey the grey
gled springs So shall their claymores swiftly strike For
honour of a race of kings."
They charge !
MacDonald and MacCug, MacBride, MacKinnon and MacLoy,
Shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot, Like some wild torrent
mad with joy.
And who shall stand and stem
that flood? Back to the bum the foe they fling; Horo !
Hera ! the day is ours, And Randolph breaks their wav'ring
Then, 'mid the din of splintering lance
And crash of axe on iron mail, Down all Clan Cholla's kilted
ranks The cry arose, "They fail! they fail!"
And thus they shattered Edward's might, That we, their
children, should be free, To wanton in the wind that sweeps
Our islands by the western sea.—M'K. M'B.
Angus appears to have joined Bruce at the Torwood, near Falkirk,
and it was there that the king addressed to him the famous words
quoted by Sir Walter Scott: " My hope is constant in thee."
Bruce's army at Bannockburn consisted of 30,000 men, according
to Barbour, and the king divided them into four "battels," or
divisions: Randolph led the vanguard, Sir Edward Bruce the
second division, the Steward, then a boy, with Douglas led the
third division, and
"The fourth battel the
noble king Took to himself in governing; And had intill
his company The men of Carrick all halely, And of Argyle
and of Kentyr, And of the Isles, whereof was Sir Angus of
Isla and Bute, all they. He of the plain land had alsua
Of armyt men a meikle rout."
of the battle is well done by Barbour, and full of detail
probably taken down from the tongues of people who had actually
been in the fight. A touch of humour is given by a wise old
knight, Sir Ingraham Umfraville, who fears the men who would
fight on foot, and suggests to Edward that he might win the
battle by ordering his army to retire behind their pavilions and
tents, and so tempt the enemy to leave their strong position. He
had evidently had experience of the Scots; he said to the king—
"You shall see that they, Despite their lords, shall break
away And scale them our harness to take. And when we see
them scaled away, Prik we on them hardily."
The men of Randolph and Douglas and Edward Bruce soon got to
blows with the enemy, and so eagerly the Scots fought,
"That they made neither noise nor cry But dang on the other
at their might."
And when Bruce saw all his
three divisions doing well, he brought in "the Westland men "
with their terrible axes.
"So great dinging
there was of dints As weapons upon weapon stints, And of
spears so great brusting, With such throwing and such
thrusting, Such girning and groaning, and so great A
noise, as they can other beat That it was hideous for to
At Bannockburn, in addition to Islesmen
and Highlanders under Angus of Isla and Kintyre, Major tells us
that in the force under Douglas and Randolph, Bruce put "seven
thousand of the Border youth, who from their earliest years had
known no occupation than fighting; along with these he joined
three thousand Wild Scots, whose arms consisted of a two-edged
battle-axe, equally sharp on both sides ; men, these last, who
will rush upon the enemy with the fury of a lioness in fear for
her cubs." Again he says: "The Wild Scots rushed upon them in
their fury as wild boars do: hardly would any weapon make stand
against their axes, handled as they knew to handle them; all
around them was a very shambles of dead men, and when, stung by
wounds, they were yet unable by reason of the long staves of the
enemy to come to close quarters, they threw off their plaids,
and, as their custom was, did not hesitate to offer their naked
bellies to the point of the spear. Now in close contact with the
foe, no thought is theirs but of the glorious death that awaited
them if only they could compass his death too. Once entered in
the heat of the conflict, even as one sheep will follow another,
so they, and hold cheap their lives. The whole plain is red with
blood; from the higher parts to the lower blood flows in
streams. In blood the heroes fought, yea knee-deep."
It would have been interesting to know from which part of
Scotland the particular men Major refers to came. He probably
refers only to the general custom amongst them.
In Bruce's six invasions of England which followed Bannockburn,
it is probable that the Brandanes were present.
Bruce lived for a time in Arran in 1326 with Menteith, who had
long since come over to his cause, and the king gave him back
his Arran lordship, and also conferred upon him the district of
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