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A History of the Border Counties
Chapter VI


CHANGE BROUGHT ABOUT ON THE BORDERS BY THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER III., AND EVENTS FOLLOWING — THE CONVENTION OF BIRGHAM — EDWARD SUMMONED TO THE BORDER — SUBSEQUENT EVENTS—SCOTTISH INCURSIONS OVER THE BORDER—SACK OF BERWICK — EDWARD*S ITINERARY IN ROXBURGHSHIRE — LOCAL NAMES IN THE RAGMAN ROLLS—LANDS RESTORED IN VIRTUE OF FEALTY SWORN—WALLACE IN ETTRICK — FOREST ARCHERS AT FALKIRK — WALLACE’S ELECTION AS GUARDIAN AT ST MARY OF THE LOWES—LANERCOST CHRONICLER’S ACCOUNT OF MILITARY EVENTS ON THE BORDER — TRADITION OF WALLACE'S DESCENT FROM A PEEBLESSHIRE FAMILY—THE “WALLACE” TOWER AND THORN—THE FRASERS OF OLIVER, FATHER AND SON— THE BORDERS UNDER ENGLISH RULE—ADVENTURE OF DOUGLAS ON THE WATER OF LYNE—THE “EMERALD” CHARTER—DOUGLAS CAPTURES ROXBURGH CASTLE BY STRATAGEM—SUCCESSION OF SCOTTISH INCURSIONS AFTER BANNOCKBURN—DOUGLAS ROUTS THE ENGLISH AT LINTALEE—PROGRESS OF THE WAR ON THE BORDERS — FROISSART’S ACCOUNT OF THE SCOTTISH SOLDIERS AND THEIR HABITS — THE INCURSION INTO WEARDALE—TREATY OF NORTHAMPTON — BRUCE CHARGES HIS SUCCESSORS WITH THE CARE OF MELROSE ABBEY — “THE GOOD KING ROBERT’S TESTAMENT ”—DEATH OF DOUGLAS — THE BORDER HERO OF THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE.

“Southern Scotland’ says a brilliant historian, “was the creation of David I. He embellished it with the monasteries of his religious foundations ; he strengthened it with the castles of his baronage ; and here he established the nucleus of feudal Scotland, and the foundation of that importance which eventually transferred the preponderance in the kingdom to the south.” What is here said of the South of Scotland generally is true in a special degree of the Border counties, whilst it is no less true that the policy of David’s immediate successors was in the main a development of that of their pious ancestor. But if the Borders had had their share, and more than their share, of the prosperity of Scotland’s Golden Age, they were now doomed to taste in proportion of that cup of adversity which was for so long to be held to her lips. During the period that was to follow, says Professor Veitch, “the most unhappy part of this unhappy kingdom . . . was this Border district. It was exposed to outrage, fire, and sword from the south. Every English army must pass through it; and each time this happened the country was made desolate, either by the foe, or by the inhabitants seeking to starve the enemy. Even in times of peace there were constant reprisals from each side of the Border; and the internal raids and the family feuds were of the most savage, bloody, and persistent kind—almost entirely unchecked by central authority or law.”

During the years now’ following, several of the most important events in Scottish history may be said to have been enacted on the Borders. After Alexander’s death a meeting of the Estates, convened at Scone on the nth April 1286, had with all reasonable speed made provision for carrying on the government of the country by a regency composed of six Guardians, of whom three—namely, Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, and James the Stewart —were to act for Lothian with Galloway. During the next three or four years the country had been already menaced by a war of factions, so that when Edward propounded his scheme for uniting the infant Queen of Scotland to the Prince of Wales, it was warmly approved at a meeting held at Birgham  in the spring of 1290. In the summer following, a further meeting, representative of the entire nation, was held at the same place, to meet Edward’s commissioners and to settle the details of the scheme. Among these details, notwithstanding the prospective union of the Crowns, were provisions relating to the marches — as, for instance, that the rights, laws, liberties, and customs of Scotland were to extend to its marches, with a saving clause in favour of any rights which the King of England or others might possess or justly acquire there. The observation of the right marches was also ' provided for, and it was proposed that the Border fortresses and castles should not be fortified anew. At Kelso, a fortnight later, plenipotentiaries were appointed, and everything seemed to be shaping for the best, when the death of a little girl in one of the Orkney Isles, on her way over to Scotland, threw back for at least three centuries the happiness of two nations.

The claims of the Competitors, authorised if not originated by the death of the Maid of Norway, made the intervention of a strong hand now more than ever desirable, and accordingly on the 7th October 1290 we find the Bishop of St Andrews, whose name heads the list of Guardians, entreating Edward to “approach the Border,” “to give consolation to the people of Scotland, to prevent the eflusion of blood,” and, in fine, to help them to choose a king. The excessive detestation in which Edward’s memory has been held in Scotland makes it desirable to give prominence to the exact circumstances under which he first intervened in her affairs. There is no reason for alleging that he harboured designs upon her freedom at this date; and if at a later period the integrity of his early conduct was to yield before an error of judgment or a strong provocation, that does not justify us in withholding from a great monarch, in any given circumstances, such credit as is his due. After taking the not unreasonable precaution of issuing writs to some fifty-eight of his military vassals in the northern counties, he attended the council held on the banks of Tweed in May and June 1291. With what took place at Norham it is no business of ours to deal at length. Suffice it to say that the whole question of the claim there advanced by the King of England to be regarded as lord-paramount of Scotland remains to this day a hopeless imbroglio—hopeless, that is, until it shall be approached by a historian uninfluenced by national prejudice. In the meantime it is enough to note that, even by the showing of the strongest of Edward’s partisans, his claim on this occasion was at first allowed merely to go “ by default.” The words of that author are that the Scots lords returned to Norham, after the three weeks’ interval allowed for deliberation, “unprepared to withstand, and consequently prepared to admit, the English claim.” The state of indecision is thus not recognised. And in relation to their subsequent categorical acknowledgment of Edward’s superiority, it must be remembered at how great a sacrifice only could any of the parties concerned have taken it upon himself individually to oppose the English king. If they were weak in allowing his claim, he was at least equally ungenerous under the circumstances in pressing it. But this is an anticipation.

After due deliberation and consultation, his judgment between the rival claimants of the Scottish crown was delivered with proper solemnity at Berwick Castle some seventeen months later—namely, on November 17, 1292. On November 20, John Baliol, the still uncrowned king, swore fealty to his acknowledged superior in Norham Castle. He was then duly crowned at Scone, after which he renewed his homage at Newcastle. During the long interval when the kingdom was in abeyance pending his judgment, Edward had retained possession of its strongholds — among them being those of Roxburgh and Jedburgh, governed by Brian Fitz-Alan, which had been placed in his hands after the Council of Norham. Strict in his observance of the forms of law, after making his award, he punctually resigned them.

There are few characters among those called upon to play a leading part in history who make a poorer figure than Baliol. His situation was beyond his powers, and he lingers in our imagination, as scathingly described by the chronicler, “paralysed, mute, tongue-tied, a lamb among wolves,” a figure of pity. The events of his reign, however, scarcely come within our scope. He was scarce seated on his throne when the appeal of Roger Bartholomew, a burgess of Berwick, to Edward, against the finding of a Scottish law-court, opened up in a way which promised to become troublesome the question of the relations between the two kingdoms. Perhaps, in the difficulties thus presented, the lawyer-like mind of the far-sighted Edward saw' its opportunity. At any rate, since to take action in such a case would be to contravene the terms of the Treaty of Birgham, which expressly provided for the judicial independence of Scotland, he compelled Baliol to release him from that treaty. From this Baliol's downward course was rapid. His overlord assumed the high hand, and the process of degradation applied to the unhappy vassal was ruthless and unsparing.

It will be remembered that Edward’s proposed punishment for what he chose to pronounce contumacy on Baliol’s part was to deprive him of the three principal castles of his realm. Which these castles were to be is not stated by any of the authorities,—perhaps this had not been decided. But when, two years later, Baliol, acting in doubtful faith, consented to surrender three castles, Roxburgh, Jedburgh, and Berwick were those named. Meantime, war having broken out between England and France, the Scottish nation, grown weary of Edward’s interference in its affairs, decided to take the side of France. In our desire to be fair to Edward we shall do well to remember that, as his intervention in Scottish affairs had at first been solicited from Scotland, so now the first outbreak of hostilities came from that country. In consequence of the French alliance, in the spring of 1296 a Scottish army made successive incursions into Cumberland and Northumberland, wasting the country, and attacking among other places Carlisle and the castle of Harbottle, but effecting nothing of moment. Edward’s vengeance was prompt and terrible. The town of Berwick is described by the contemporary chronicler of Lanercost (or, as some think, of Carlisle) as, for commerce and population, a second Alexandria, “its walls the waters, its wealth the sea.” Having invested that town by land and water, and carried it, on the 30th March Edward put the inhabitants, without regard to age or sex, to the sword. The slaughter is variously estimated as from 4000 to upwards of 800c. A month later a second disaster befell the Scottish arms at Dunbar, and from that time forward Edward's course through Scotland may be described as a triumphal progress. The itinerary appended to the Ragman Rolls3 enables us to trace his movements within our district. Arriving at Roxburgh from Lauder on May 7, he was lodged for one night with the Minorite Friars. The next day he went to the castle, which five days afterwards4 was placed in his hands by Sir James the Stewart of Scotland, who of his own freewill swore fealty, tact is sacrosanctis, kissing the Gospels. Edward remained at Roxburgh castle for a fortnight, and then set out on an expedition to Liddesdale, spending the first night at Jedburgh, the second at Wyel, which has been identified as a peel in the neighbourhood of the Wheel Causey, and the third at Castleton :n Liddesdale. This was a Friday. During the week following he returned by the same route to Roxburgh, whence he continued his journey northward by Lauder and Edinburgh.

Among the hosts of persons of all classes recorded in the Ragman Rolls as having sworn allegiance to Edward at Berwick on the 28th August of this year, occur many names from the counties of Roxburgh, Selkirk, and Peebles. The abbots of Jeddeworthe, Meuros, and Kelshou, with their respective convents, head the list. Then we have Patrick, Earl of the March and Dunbar, Thomas de Soules, Wautier the Goldsmith, burgess and alderman of Roxburgh, and all the “ comune ” of the burgh. There are also Adam, the parson of the church of Roxburgh Castle; Thomas, “le pestour” of Roxburgh; and Nicol le Chapeleyn, warden of the Maisondieu. From Jedburgh come John the Seneschal of Jeddeworthe, John Damesone, alderman and burgess, and the whole community. There is also Richard Fossart of Jedburgh and Reyner de Clonas “ Lumbard,” “tenants le Roi du counte de Rokesburk.” Among territorial names are John de Ormestone, John Fraunceys de Longa Neuton, Richard le fiz Geffrai de Ekford, David Eyr of Stichehulle, and the names de Hardene, de Maxpoffel, de Chesehelme, de Roule, de Farningdon, de Dolfinestone, de Rucastel, de Chathou, de Denum, de Heton, de Yetham, and so on; while among ecclesiastics are “ Mestre William de Rother-forde, persone del eglise de Lillesclyve ”; Johan, “vicaire del eglise de Edenham ”; Morice Lovel, parson of the Selkirk sends Michel de Witton, Adam de VVytton, Emme de Ailmer, Henry de fiz Arnaud, William Gocelyn, Thomas de Selkirk, Cristiane del Grenehevede, James de Crake, and others. The fact that the number here is in all a small one is partly accounted for by most of the land being held by the Crown. Peebles has a larger contingent. It numbers William de Maleville, Robert de Hastinges, Erchebaud de Morref, Laurence Fresel, Johan Hope, Lorence atte Bure, Nicol Kerre, Alisaundre de Droghkil, William le Wache, Cristine Lockarde, Johan Eyr of Mesfennon, de Erthe, de Horde, Renaud Hardegreypes, John le fiz Walter Grethevede, Henry Ravesmaughe, Rauf “del pount de Pebbles,” Huwe of the Leigger, William Porveys, and other tenants of the king, Walter le Scot, Thomas Walghe, Michel of Dundee, parson of the church of Stobo, Friar Thomas, master of the house of the Holy Rood at Peebles, William de la Chaumbre, bailiff and burgess, besides others, burgesses, and the community. Present-day names may generally be traced through the antiquated spelling, as Veitch in Wache, Waugh in Walghe, Purves in Porveys, and so on; and the impression produced is that surnames in our sense of the word are more common in the western counties than in Roxburgh.

When Edward returned to Berwick, after having in twenty-one weeks marched through Scotland, he left behind him a conquered country, regarded by himself as a fief forfeited by the treason of the holder. He had already dispossessed its king; its nobles, prelates, and commons had flocked, and were still flocking, to make submission to him. It now only remained for him to arrange for the administration of the country’s affairs, and to complete his measures for joining it to England. He was careful to choose his officials among those unlikely to be seduced from his interest, and one of his first steps being to secure the strongholds, he made William Tonke, or Touk, governor of Roxburgh Castle, and Thomas de Burnham, governor of Jedburgh, with the Forest of Selkirk and its appurtenances. In a succession of writs, dated September 3, and addressed to the sheriffs of the three counties, he orders the restoration of the lands of certain Borderers who had sworn fealty to him, thus making clear the worldly wisdom of those who had attended the ceremony of a week earlier. Among the Roxburghshire names appear Richard Forshard, Walter de Sherewyndelawe, Alan le Fraunceys, Richard de Alnecrum, Adam Makepoffel, and others. Selkirk has Richard Scot, and Peebles Thomas de Cardies, or Burdis.

Whilst giving Edward full credit for the moderation of his present conduct, one is quite unprepared to accept the statement of his advocate, Professor Clifford, that to Scotland his supremacy was a “positive good.” Supposing that every consideration of national pride and self-respect were left out of the question, there might, indeed, be much to say from the Professor’s point of view. But he entirely forgets that it can never be for the advantage of a nation, any more than of an individual, to lose self - respect, and that no nation having anything of spirit will choose or submit, even “ for its own good,” to be dictated to from without. He goes on to say that in the long-run it would have been better for Scotland had things remained as they were at the period to which we have now brought them. Here we presume again to differ from him. Better in one respect it would certainly have been, for much of sorrow and of suffering would have been spared. But to those who can raise their heads above material considerations, in no other way would it have been better. For these, the permanent elevation and increase of true dignity to the nation purchased by the struggle of Wallace and of Bruce were not too dearly bought, for it is an increase of dignity in which every Scotsman worthy the name participates, and will continue to participate, a priceless factor in the formation of national character, a potent incentive to true patriotism! A historian of the newest school has characterised Wallace as a “brigand.” But he forgets that an inspiration is not always to be judged by its immediate outcome. Circumstances will distort individual actions, but the deeper underlying feeling is only to be judged at a distance, by its aggregate effect, and with the help of sympathetic insight. The national instinct is generally right in its choice of a hero. At the least, and from whatever motive, Wallace kept up the spirit of resistance in his country when her heart and fortunes were at the lowest. And to speak of him as a brigand simply convicts the speaker of a total lack of historical imagination. It is true that the English chronicler dubs him a robber chief, but that is easily explained.

That colossal shadowy form figures obscurely in the Border country at least at two periods of his career. The first is after the desertion of the nobles at Irvine had seemed to doom his efforts to abortion. Then he seems to have withdrawn to Ettrick with a band of followers, availing himself, doubtless, of the covert afforded by the forest, just as the gathering Scottish army had done at Jedburgh, while Menteith amused the English envoys, in the reign of Alexander III. In the Forest, tradition still associates with the name of Wallace a trench, “occupying a skilfully chosen position,” on a steep hillside of the watershed between Tweed and Yarrow. Above iooo feet in length, the work bears traces of laborious construction, being in many places deep enough to hide a man on horseback, and frequently paved with flat whinstones set on edge. At the upper end, on the hill-top, it communicates with an extensive rectangular enclosure. While in Ettrick, Wallace is said to have been joined by Sir Nicol de Rutherford with sixty followers, and Walter of Hemingburgh at least so far bears out this statement as to speak to his having archers of Selkirk, described as shapely and well-grown men, in his army at Falkirk. It is possible that the romantically situated church of St Mary of the Lowes, or, as Mr Craig-Brown thinks more probable, of St Mary at Selkirk, may have been the scene of his election as Guardian of Scotland for Baliol, after his victory at Stirling Bridge. Certainly Blind Harry tells us, for whatever his information may be worth—

“At Forest kyrk a metyng ordand he;
Thai chesd Wallace Scottis wardand to be.”

His next move was to carry the war into the enemy’s country, crossing the Border on the 18th October, and again seeking the shelter of a forest — that of Rothbury—for his headquarters.5 The guerilla warfare which followed is thus detailed by the Lanercost chronicler. The Scots swept on through Northumberland, wasting the country, burning, robbing, and slaying almost up to the gates of Newcastle. There they stopped short, and turning aside into Cumberland, continued to act as before. After a month spent in this manner, they returned to Northumberland and recrossed thejBorder, where a detachment of them laid siege to Roxburgh Castle, withdrawing, however, before the approach of the English nobles and barons, who had secretly rallied and followed them. The English force spent some time at Roxburgh, but had to withdraw through famine, when the Scots again stole back, burnt the town, and possessed themselves of the castle and of other strongholds of the south. Meantime King Edward had been absent in Flanders. Returning thence, he set to work to raise money and an army, to which he sought by promises of pardon— so great was his emergency—to attract even malefactors and vagrants. This army he himself led in pursuit of the Scots, who had again retreated, and after his great defeat of Wallace at Falkirk on the 22nd July, brought it back to guard the Borders, where he remained until shortly before Christmas (1298).

Such is an outline of the authentic story of William Wallace’s connection with the Border. With the flight of the centuries it has, of course, received liberal accretions, which it is for the antiquarians to prove or to disprove.

For instance, the hero has been claimed as a descendant from a Tweeddale family—that of Fraser, a house which, in the person of Sir Simon Fraser, certainly produced one leader in the War of Independence. Then, again, there are various localities and objects which tradition associates with the name. Of these is the ruined tower near the present village of Roxburgh. This time-resisting fragment, which still encloses a vaulted lower storey, is said at one time to have been ornamented with carved Gothic work, as would not be unprecedented in a tower of the kind, and surrounded with fruit-trees and flower-plots.2 Henry the Minstrel, speaking of the period after Wallace’s return from his predatory incursion into England, says:—

“In to Roxburch thai chesyt him a place,
A gud tour thar he gert byg in schort space.”

But Harry is a romancer rather than a historian. In view of Wallace’s particular system of warfare, the statement is improbable. Yet it is quite likely that that statement may have occasioned the linking of the national hero’s name with that of the tower.

The case for the “Wallace Thorn,” which till recently stood in the grounds of Wilton Lodge, Hawick, is probably even weaker. The tradition is that, being in the Border country before Stirling Bridge, Wallace tied his horse’s bridle to the tree while visiting his friend Longueville of Langlands,4 laird of the land, in connection with his object of raising the Borders against the English. It will be noticed that the date tallies with that of his visit to Ettrick. On the other hand, it is stated that the lands of Wilton were not at that time in possession of the Longueville family. There is also doubt as to a hawthorn surviving so long, though a specialist asserts that one might live at least four centuries. Perhaps on the whole we must reluctantly relegate “Wallace’s Thorn” to the category of those of Glastonbury and of Cawdor. Something must at any rate be allowed for the reputed tendency on the part of the Scottish peasant of bygone time to associate any particularly striking work of art or nature' with the name of “ Michael Scot, Wallace, or the devil.”

During the few years of life which now remained to him, Edward again entered Scotland with an army no less than four times, but these later expeditions were directed against the western and northern counties. After what seemed the final conquest of the country in 1304, he withdrew by way of Selkirk, Jedburgh, and Yetholm.

In the interval between Wallace’s eclipse at Falkirk and the definite emergence of Bruce in the character of patriot, there is perhaps no figure more prominent in the struggle against Edward than that of the Peeblesshire baron who has been already named—Sir Simon Fraser. He was the representative of one of the oldest and most powerful of the feudal families planted in Tweeddale, the race being connected by legend with the fabulous Achaius, whilst the origin of the name is similarly referred to the presentation of a plate of remarkably fine strawberries to Charles the Simple by one who previously bore the name De Berry. Fruid, in the wilds of Tweeddale, is represented as their earliest local habitation ; whilst an Oliver Fraser, who was probably alive in the later years of David I., and is mentioned in the charters of Newbattle Abbey, is regarded as the builder of Oliver Castle. The family soon increased in power and spread into neighbouring counties, the Frasers of Oliver holding their lands direct of the Crown, and, as so doing, being entitled to sit in the council of the kingdom. In the reign of Alexander III. a Gilbert Fraser, probably the grandfather of the patriot, was Sheriff of Traquair. A Sir Simon, probably his son, was Sheriff of Peebles and Keeper of the Forests of Selkirk and Traquair. Of the latter we catch a glimpse at Carham, in February 1289, when he stickles for the use of the Border law in the case of John le Massun, a Gascon merchant. “ A stern and worthy patriot,” Veitch calls him, and proceeds to sentimentalise in his own peculiar vein over the old man’s ride to Norham, in the summer of 1291, to swear fealty to Edward, and over his death, within the glimmering chamber of his peel, which followed not long afterwards. But leaving sentiment out of the question, Symon Fraser the elder seems to have been, like others of his period, pliant, aggressive, and self-seeking—nothing more. Before March 1285 the priest of Witfield, diocese of Durham, had had occasion to complain “ to God and the king ” of the conduct of this stern patriot, who had sent thirty-two of his servants to seize and bind him upon a horse, and, having carried him into Scotland and robbed and sore wounded him, to leave him for dead in the Forest of Selkirk at midnight. So far as the present writer is aware, there is no such definitely formulated charge of outrage for private ends made against the “princeps latronum,” Wallace.

Simon Fraser the younger seems to have been one of those who, like Bruce, took some time to decide which side to join ; but of course we are bound to remember that in their eyes the character and ultimate issues of the national struggle did not present themselves so definitely as they do to us today. Veitch would make outward circumstances “ somehow ” responsible for Fraser’s early apostasy, and takes it upon himself to tell us that “ his heart was all along with the national cause.”' But in the absence of any possible evidence to support it, I must decline to share that opinion. We shall, however, do well to bear in mind that being, like Bruce, of Norman origin, Fraser probably had sympathies, as he had interests, with both sides. Probably, also, it will be enough if we claim for him that he rose with experience out of timeserving into man-like decision. In any case, the facts in his story are as follows. Having sworn allegiance in 1291, he was probably surprised when, on his father’s death, he found himself passed over for the keepership of Selkirk Forest, which, as we have seen, was given t6 De Burnham. Espousing the Scottish side in 1296, he fought at the battle of Dunbar, where he was taken prisoner, but was released from captivity that he might accompany Edward to Flanders. In consideration of having acquitted himself well in that campaign, his forfeited lands were restored to him ; he was installed in the keepership, and was for some years a trusted officer of Edward in Scotland. Veitch thinks that he fought against Wallace at Falkirk; but soon after that he began to be suspected of disaffection, and in the autumn of 1301 he definitely cast in his lot with the national party, to which he now remained faithful until the end. Next year, in conjunction with Comyn, with a body of men raised in Tweeddale and Lanarkshire, he defeated Sir John Segrave, the English Guardian of Scotland, in a battle fought at Roslin. But in spite of this success—the greatest gained by the Scots in this struggle before Bannockburn—we find him two years later, with Comyn, Soulis, and the other leaders, compelled to come to terms with the English. It was agreed that his life and estates should be spared, but he disregarded the terms of the accommodation. Having been summoned to Edward’s presence, and having disobeyed the summons, he was outlawed, and joining Wallace in the last obscure struggles of that patriot’s life, was defeated by Segrave on his own estate at Happrew, Peeblesshire, in March 1304. He was exiled and went abroad, but could not stay there, for in 1306, when Comyn’s murder and Bruce’s coronation had brought Aymer de Valence with an army to Scotland, we find Fraser at the fight of Methven, where he saved Bruce’s life. Made prisoner for the second time, he was taken to London, and there shared the barbarities of Wallace’s sentence, his head, after decapitation, being set up over London Bridge. It is said that at the place of execution his handsome form and noble bearing drew expressions of sympathy and admiration from the crowd ; and in consideration of his end we may well forget his early indecision, and remember him only as a Border associate of Bruce and Wallace—by no means the least of participators in their deeds and glories.

The Border counties were now under English rule. The provisions of Edward I. for the government of Scotland, drawn up in Parliament at Westminster in 1305, had included the appointment of two Justiciaries over Lothian; and his son, in making new appointments on his accession, gave to his joint Lieutenants and Guardians over Scotland special charge of the district between Berwick and the Forth. Roxburgh and Jedburgh castles were retained in the hands of the king’s officers, and Aymer de Valence was named hereditary Sheriff of Peebles and Selkirk. The scene of Bruce’s romantic wanderings and adventures, which, following the murder of Comyn and his own coronation, occupied this period, is laid chiefly in the west and north; but as his fortunes brightened, his influence began to extend towards the Border. The most devoted of his adherents was the “Good Sir James,” son of Wallace’s stanchest supporter, William of Douglas, and to him was intrusted the task of reducing the English strongholds in the forests of Selkirk and Jedburgh. The poet Barbour tells us that, whilst thus engaged, he came one night to a house on the Water of Lyne in Peeblesshire, where he intended to sleep, but found it already occupied. Suspicious as to who the occupants might be, he and his followers listened outside until—according to one reading of the poem—they heard a voice within pronounce the word “devil.” Knowing from this that the speaker must be English — for a Scot would have said “deil” — they beset the house, ousted the intruders, and in the person of Bruce’s nephew, Thomas, son of Randolph, made a most important prisoner. Randolph, afterwards Earl of Moray, became a principal ally of Bruce’s, and by so doing forfeited his Roxburghshire estate of Stichill. Meantime Douglas’s work in the Borders prospered, so that the newly acquired estates of De Valence were also forfeited, on the ground that the tenants had “traitorously” deserted King Edward in favour of Bruce. And it may here be mentioned that, after the final triumph of the latter, these lands were granted to Douglas by a charter of 1321, confirmed in 1324 by a deed which, from the king’s placing “ane ring and ane emrod,” in token of its perpetual endurance, on the holder’s fingers at the time of seizin, was known as the Emerald Charter.

Among Douglas’s further achievements on the Border, which Barbour acknowledges were too numerous to be rehearsed, must be mentioned his taking of Roxburgh Castle by stratagem. Having resolved on the capture, he set one Sym of the Ledous, or Leadhouse, to fashion hempen ladders, fitted with wooden steps and with strong square iron hooks that could be fixed to the “kyrnells,” or crenelations of the battlements of the castle. This done, he collected some threescore trusty followers, who, concealing their armour under black “ froggis,” or frocks, drew near the castle on all fours. By this device—the twilight abetting—they were mistaken for cattle by those on the castle walls, who, naming a certain husbandman of the neighbourhood, proceeded to make merry at his expense; for it was Fastern’s E’en, and they concluded that his keeping of the feast had led him to neglect to house his beasts. Having reached the castle and adjusted the ladders, Sym was the first to mount, and having overpowered and slain the sentry, he threw the body over the battlements, whilst signalling to his friends below that the coast was clear. They followed him, and, gathering in the courtyard, found that the entire inhabitants of the castle were assembled in the great hall, to celebrate the feast by dancing and singing and “otherwais playing”—

“As apon Fastryn-evin it is
The custum to mak joy and blis
To folk that ar in savite.”

But the appearance of safety was fallacious, as they soon found, when the intruders, suddenly appearing in the midst, raised the cry of “ Douglas! Douglas!" They were so taken by surprise that no defence was attempted except by the warden, Gilmyn de Fiennes, who with some of his company took refuge in the keep. Here he held out till the morrow, when, having received a wound in the face which threatened to prove fatal (and eventually did so), he surrendered on condition of being allowed to march out with the honours of war and pass to England. Bruce had the castle demolished, as was his practice with his captures, and one is pleased to hear that the services of Sym were handsomely rewarded. The taking of Roxburgh was followed by the acknowledgment of Bruce as king throughout the greater part of Teviotdale.4 This took place in 1314, the memorable year of Bannockburn; but before this, in 1309, Edward II. had passed through the Border country in one of his abortive invasions of Scotland—stopping at Selkirk, Lessudden, and Roxburgh during the September of that year; whilst Bruce on his part had crossed the Solway and repeatedly raided the northern counties, which were finally glad to make heavy payments as the price of a suspension of hostilities.

Though the main issue of the national struggle was decided at Bannockburn,6 the war, in so far as it affected the Border, was not terminated by that victory. On the contrary, in respect to burning and harrying, if not slaying, the northern counties continued to fare as badly as ever before. In the first place, finding these left defenceless by the King of England’s ignominious flight from Scotland, Bruce sent his brother Edward, with Douglas and John de Soulis, to invade Northumberland, which they accomplished to good purpose—not only wasting the whole of that county, but penetrating as far as Teesdale, whence they returned by way of Appleby. After this, incursions followed each other in as rapid succession as the terms of truces dearly purchased by the north - countrymen would allow. In one of these Douglas wasted county Durham, and, entering Hartlepool, drove the terrified inhabitants to seek refuge in their shipping. In another the Scots pressed on to Richmond in Yorkshire, and being bought off there, turned to Furness, which had hitherto escaped their ravages. A third—a night attack, led by the king and Douglas against Berwick—came very near proving successful. In a fourth, again led by the king, the city of Carlisle sustained an eleven days’ siege, memorable for the varied ineffectual contrivances and ruses of the assailants. Then there was another Northumbrian raid, in which Wark, Harbottle, and Mitford were captured; and a Yorkshire one, in which Northallerton, Knaresborough, and Skipton were burnt, and Ripon was compelled to pay tribute. Under the circumstances, and especially when it is remembered that the singularly luckless De Valence, Earl of Pembroke, was guardian of the north at the time, one is surprised at the failure of the so recently triumphant Scots to gain any but a purely predatory advantage.

On the other side the Border Douglas was more fortunate. He had been left in charge of the marches during the king’s absence in Ireland to support the claims of his brother Edward to the Irish crown. Meantime the Earl of Arundel and Sir Thomas Richmond, a knight of Yorkshire, hearing that a large body of men had been withdrawn with Bruce and Randolph from the kingdom, judged the moment favourable for a raid.

Their special object was the destruction of Jed Forest, which, as we have seen, afforded excellent covert for an army, and thus greatly facilitated raids from the other side the Border. With this purpose in view the Englishmen were armed with hatchets. It happened that Douglas had recently been occupied in building a pavilion and laying out a park in the haugh of Lyntounle, now Linthaughlee, on the lovely banks of Jed, and that he was now intent upon his “ house-warming.” He had not, however, neglected the precaution of posting spies, who duly announced the approach of the English. He thereupon quickly assembled his force, which numbered some fifty men-at-arms, besides a goodly host of archers. Carefully selecting his ground, where the invading force must pass through a narrow defile, wooded on either side, he posted his archers, and then had recourse to the singular stratagem of bending down the young birch-trees on 'either side the way, and knittirg their tops together, so as to form a net in which to catch the foe. A detachment of the Englishmen was riding without suspicion straight into the trap, when the war-cry of Douglas was suddenly raised, his banner was displayed, and the advancing column was charged from the rear, whilst the Scottish archers, from their place of concealment, poured their fire into its flanks. The force of their charge carried the Scots right through the enemy, Douglas with his own hand slaying Richmond, and seizing as a token of victory a furred hat which the latter wore over his helmet. Word being now brought to him that another detachment of the foe was at Lintalee, he betook himself thither, and found fully 300 of them in the act of making merry with the feast which he had prepared. He set upon them with his men, and as the poet puts it—

“With suerdis that scharply schar
Tha servit tham full egirly ” ;

so that scarce one escaped with his life. On hearing of the double disaster, the main body of the army were so disheartened that they judged it well to withdraw.

"The Forest left tha standand still,
To hew it than tha had na will.”

The war was now carried on in the struggle for Berwick, which had changed hands—as the fortress of Roxburgh had also done again—and in the raid of Douglas and Randolph into Yorkshire, which led to the fray with the Archbishop’s men mockingly known as the “Chapter of Mitton.” A sorely-needed truce of two years was then made, the King of Scots agreeing among its conditions to erect no new fortress in Roxburghshire. Scarcely had it expired, at the end of 1321, when Douglas, with Randolph Earl of Moray, the king’s son-in-law Walter the Stewart, and the king himself, was again over the Border, as the towns of Richmond, Preston, and Carlisle found successively to their cost Edward retaliated by another invasion of the northern kingdom, which proved as futile as its predecessors. Disappointed of supplies which he had expected to receive by sea, and starved by the Scots, who, following their usual tactics, had retreated, leaving no provisions behind them, he found himself compelled to fall back from Edinburgh. Hanging upon his rear, Douglas gained an advantage over part of his troops near Melrose,8 but did not succeed in preventing the sack of the abbey, where William of Peebles, the prior, a sick monk, and two lay-brethren were slaughtered in cold blood in the dormitory, many others of the monks being wounded to the death. The Host, which stood on the high altar, was at the same time sacrilegiously cast down, whilst the silver pyx in which it was kept formed part of the plunder. Bruce and Douglas followed Edward over the Border, and avenged these cowardly acts by a defeat near Biland in Yorkshire. At last, grown weary of ever-recurrent raids and invasions, and the sufferings which they brought in their train, Sir Andrew of Ilarclay, a soldier proved in Bruce’s siege of Carlisle, took on himself to conclude a peace with Bruce, by the terms of which the independence of Scotland, against which Edward had held out so long, was recognised. There was now rejoicing beyond measure among the farmers and men of small condition in the north, on whom the burden of the war had principally fallen, and who saw before them the prospect of at length living at peace.3 But Harclay had presumed too much upon Edward’s weakness, and had to pay with his life for his unauthorised, if not treasonable, action. It had, however, served the purpose of rousing the king into anxiety for the integrity of his kingdom, and he now proceeded to act upon the bint given him by concluding, in May 1323, a peace with Scotland which was to have lasted for thirteen years.

Unhappily, on the accession of Edward III., four years later, hostilities again broke out. Yet once more the Scots crossed the Border, and it is to this incursion that Froissart’s well-known description of their habits in time of war has special reference. He tells us that they were bold, hardy, much inured to war, and well mounted—the knights and esquires on large bay horses, the rank and file on little hackneys that were never tied up or dressed, but turned, immediately after the day’s march, to pasture on the heath or fields. A day’s march would consist of from twenty to twenty-four miles without halting. “ They bring no carriages with them, on account of the mountains they have to pass in Northumberland; neither do they carry any provisions of bread or wine, for their custom and sobriety is such, in time of war, that they will live for a long time on flesh half sodden without bread, and drink the river water without wine. They have therefore no occasion for pots or pans, for they dress the flesh of their cattle in the skins, after they have taken them off; and being sure to find plenty in the country which they invade, they carry none with them. Under the flaps of his saddle each man carries a broad plate of metal, behind the saddle a little bag of oatmeal: when they have eaten too much of this sodden flesh, and their stomach appears weak and empty, they place this plate over the fire, mix with water their oatmeal, and, when the plate is heated, they put a little of the paste upon it and make a thin cake, which they eat to warm their stomachs.” The writer’s testimony to Scottish frugality—a quality which happily Scotsmen have not yet lost, and to which they owe so much of their success in the world—is worthy of note.

This army, numbering by the lowest estimate 10,000, now passed through Cumberland into the south - western parts of Northumberland, burning and destroying as it went, and driving off cattle in greater numbers than it could dispose of, though that so many cattle still remained in those oft - devastated districts may well tax our belief. Thence it passed on into the wild and mountainous regions of Weardale and Westmorland. Meantime the English army, having assembled in the north, gazed helplessly on the smoke of conflagration, for so artfully did the Scots pursue their customary tactics that Edward found himself constrained to offer the reward of knighthood and a landed estate to any one who should bring him within sight of them where they might be attacked. Indeed, the bold and ingenious stratagems in which Douglas excelled were throughout this campaign more conspicuous than ever, culminating perhaps in his daring night ride with a few followers through the very midst of the enemy, many of whom were not left to see the morrow. At last, however, the two armies confronted each other. The English now hoped to obstruct the way back to Scotland, but the Scots, again under Douglas’s direction, contrived to outwit them, and made a successful moonlight flitting. The boy king Edward is said to have been so mortified when he heard of their escape that he shed tears. About this time we also hear of further military events in the shape of sieges of Alnwick and Norham castles, of another expedition into Northumberland and Durham, and of a counterexpedition into Teviotdale. The last was led, with doubtful success, by Henry de Percy, who had been appointed keeper of the Marches at a salary of 1000 marks, with a hundred men-at-arms and as many hobblers, or light horse, under his command, besides such of his own men as he might choose to employ.

The last-mentioned expedition into Northumberland had been under the leadership of Bruce himself, but his days of Border warfare were now almost over. The net effect of the war so far had been to leave England in a condition eagerly to desire a treaty, whilst the Scots were strong enough to insist upon carrying their point. External circumstances abetted them, and thus, in March 1328, was concluded the Peace of Northampton!, by which the independence of Scotland, “as far as the old boundary lines,” was duly recognised.

Other provisions of the treaty which concerned the Borders were that Scotland should pay to England the sum of 20,000 sterling — to be paid at Tweedmouth in three yearly instalments—“apparently as damages for the mischief done in the recent raids across the Border”; and that the Laws of the Marches be confirmed, with right of appeal in doubtful cases to the sovereigns. Further, it being stipulated that ecclesiastical possessions on either side which had changed hands during the recent war should be restored, the claims of Melrose and the other abbeys of Teviotdale received special attention. Thus did the kingdom and people emerge consolidated and united from the war; whilst a fact by no means without significance for the Borders was that about this time it became accepted, whether explicitly or as the indirect result of an enactment, that those who “ cast their lot with England could not be permitted to retain their domains in Scotland.” The Treaty of Northampton, however, specifies exceptions to this rule in favour of Henry de Percy, Thomas, Lord Wake of Liddel, and the Earl of Buchan—exceptions which were yet to prove a source of discord between the two countries.

Bruce did not long survive the completion and crowning of his life’s work, but in the brief space which yet remained to him he gave what must be considered as a convincing proof of his attachment to the Borders. His handsome provision for the restoration of Melrose Abbey, after its sack by Edward II., will not have been forgotten. On the nth May 1329 — within a month, that is, of his death — he Scotiae ultimo defuncti fuerunt habit* et servatae.”— Fordun, lib. xiii. cap. 12. In the Acts of the Scottish Parliament, vol. i. p. 126, it is given in Norman French.addressed a letter to his son and successors, in which he solemnly charged them with the care and protection of the same building, as the place where he designed that his heart should be interred.1 By a yet later disposition, characterised by the fantastic beauty and pathos of medieval chivalry, that heart was intrusted to Douglas, his best friend, to be conveyed to the Holy Land, whither the cares and troubles of his reign had made it impossible for him to go in person. Faithful to his charge, soon after the king’s death Douglas set sail for Palestine, landing in Spain, where he found that the King of Leon and Castile was at war with the Saracen King of Granada. A battle was imminent, and Douglas resolved to take part in it. He was honourably received at the Castilian court, and all crowded to see a knight who was esteemed, as Froissart tells us, the “bravest and most enterprising” in Britain. On the 25th August 1330 they joined battle near Teba, a castle on the confines of Andalusia and Granada, when, whether from excess of impetuosity, from unfamiliarity with the new and desperate foe confronting him, or simply because his hour was come, Douglas, the victor of so many fights, found himself surrounded and cut off. Seeing that his case was wellnigh hopeless, according to one of several versions of the story, he took from his neck, whence it was suspended by a chain, the silver casket which contained his master’s heart, and flinging it before him, cried out, “ Onward, as thou wert wont, thou noble heart! Douglas will follow thee.” These were probably his last words. He fell, and with him many of his little band of followers. Some say that he might have saved himself, had he not paused to render assistance to Sir William Sinclair of Roslin, whom he saw hard pressed by the enemy. The cherished casket was afterwards picked up on the battlefield, and reverently borne back to Melrose, where it was buried. The body of the “Good Sir James” rests in St Bride’s Kirk of his native valley of Douglas.

The Scottish War of Independence, studied from a Border point of view, serves admirably to illustrate the principles of warfare embodied in the lines popularly known as the “Good King Robert’s Testament.” In plain language, the king recommends his subjects to fight on foot, with bow, spear, and battle-axe, and to put their trust in the natural rather than the artificial strong places of their country, driving off their cattle into safety, whilst they make the country about them incapable of supporting an enemy. He further enjoins the maintenance of a sharp look-out, and the persistent disturbance of the enemy by night, promising as the result the withdrawal of the hostile force, from famine and weariness, as if routed by the sword. The first of these maxims must not, perhaps, be taken too literally. The value of infantry pitted against cavalry in the field was at this time a new discovery, and as such may have required emphasising; but Froissart’s description quoted above shows where the following translation into Scots is appended from Hearn's edition :—

“On fut suld be all Scottis weire,
He hyll and mosse thaim self to weire.
Lat wod for wallis be bow and speire,
That innymeis do thaim na d re ire
In strait placis gar keip all stoire;
And byrnen the planen land thaim before ;
Thanen sail thai pass away in haist,
Quhen that they find nathing bot waist,
With wyllis and waykenen of the nicht,
And mekill noyes maid on hycht.
Thanen sail they tumen with gret aflrai,
As thai were chasit with swerd away.
This is the counsall and intent
Of gud King Robert's testament.”

us that the horse had not lost his importance to the Border soldier. Probably now, as in the later “riding” times, he was used rather as a means of locomotion than as an aid in the fight. In other respects it is scarcely necessary to direct attention to the soundness of the principles placed in the mouth of King Robert, or to their success when put in practice. For many a day to come they might have served as the text-book of Border warfare.

But though the history of this Border warfare may appear monotonous, it would be the greatest of mistakes to see in it nothing but a mere barren' record of wanton raid and invasion. From this it is redeemed, first, by the nobility of its moral inspiration—for were not the Scots fighting for the freedom of their country?—and, secondly, by the chivalry and the military distinction of the leaders engaged in it on their side. One might add by their humanity, for though war was still war, we now no longer hear, even from chroniclers of the opposite side, of the butchery of non-belligerents. Perhaps there is no figure in history more distinguished at once by kingly and delightful qualities of character and by romance of circumstance than Bruce; and in Douglas and Moray — his right hand and his left, as they have been called—Bruce chose, not captains only, but men, well worthy to fill the positions nearest to himself. “Ye like subjects had never any king,” says the inscription on the sword given by him to Douglas and though the line belongs to a date later than that assigned to it, it none the less embodies truth. Of the two heroes, the one more closely associated with the Borders is Douglas, who, if not strictly speaking a Borderer at the outset, though his family had long held the lands of Fawdon in Northumberland, becomes adopted as one on the strength of his Border exploits and of his acquisition of the Forest lands. Barbour, speaking from hearsay at first-hand, has described his manners and appearance. He was not strictly a handsome man, but one of commanding stature, well-formed, large-boned, spare, and with broad shoulders; swarthy of complexion and black haired. Speaking with a slight lisp, which became him well, he was gentle and courteous in company, but terrible of aspect upon the field of battle. As a military commander he was second only to the king, specially excelling, as we have seen, in the conception and execution of strategical devices, so that his adventures, in that age when the personal element entered so much more largely into warfare, remain the favourite reading of the imaginative childhood of succeeding generations. Perhaps the story of his last speech —first told in the allegorical poem of the “Howlat,” written a century or more after his death—does not rest on what we, with our modern methods, should consider very reliable authority. But, even supposing it to be without foundation in the letter, one still feels irresistibly, as with so many others of its kind, that in the spirit it remains true—faithfully, if poetically, representing the life-long attachment and comradeship in arms of Douglas and his royal master.


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