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Significant Scots
Robert the Bruce, King of Scots
Part 3

A miserable destiny awaited the friends and partisans whom Bruce had left in Scotland. Immediately after the rout at Methven, Edward issued a proclamation by which search was commanded to be made after all those who had been in arms against the English government, and they were ordered to be delivered up dead or alive. It was ordained, that all who were at the slaughter of Comyn, or who had harboured the guilty persons or their accomplices, should be drawn and hanged: that all who were already taken, or might hereafter be taken in arms, and all who harboured them, should be hanged or beheaded; that those who had voluntarily surrendered themselves, should be imprisoned during the king’s pleasure: and that all persons, whether of the ecclesiastical order or laymens, who had willingly espoused the cause of Bruce, or who had procured or exhorted the people of Scotland to rise in rebellion, should, upon conviction, be imprisoned during the king’s pleasure. With regard to the common people, a discretionary power of fining and ransoming them, was committed to the guardian.

This ordinance was inforced with a rigour corresponding to the spirit in which it was framed; and the dread of Edward’s vengeance became general throughout the kingdom. The castle of Kildrummie being threatened by the English forces in the north, Elizabeth, Bruce’s queen, and Marjory his daughter, with the other ladies who had there taken refuge, to escape the hardships and dangers of a siege, fled to the sanctuary of St Duthac at Tain in Ross—shire. The earl of Ross violated the sanctuary, and making them prisoners, sent them into England. Certain knights and squires by whom they had been escorted, being taken at the same time, were put to death. The queen and her daughter, though doomed to experience a long captivity, appear to have been invariably treated with becoming respect. Isabella, countess of Buchan, who had signalized her patriotism on the occasion of Robert’s coronation, had a fate somewhat different. Feeling repugnant to the infliction of a capital punishment, the English king had recourse to an ingenious expedient by which to satisfy his royal vengeance upon this unfortunate lady. By a particular ordinance she was ordered to be confined in a cage to be constructed in one of the towers of Berwick castle ; the cage bearing in shape the resemblance of a crown: and the countess was actually kept in this miserable durance, with little relaxation of its severity, for the remainder of her life. Mary, one of Bruce’s sisters, was committed to a similar custody in one of the towers of Roxburgh castle ; and Christina, another sister, was confined in a convent.

Lamberton, bishop of St Andrews, and Wisheart bishop of Glasgow, and the abbot of Scone, who had openly assisted and favoured Robert’s cause, owed their lives solely to the inviolability of clerical character in those days. Lamberton and the abbot of Scone were committed to close custody in England. Wisheart having been seized in armour, was, in that uncanonical garb, carried a prisoner to the castle of Nottingham, where he is said to have been confined in irons. Edward earnestly solicited the pope to have these rebellious ecclesiastics deposed—a request with which his holiness does not seem to have complied.

The castle of Kildrummie was besieged by the earls of Lancaster and Hereford. Being a place of considerable strength, it might have defied the English army for a length of time ; had not the treachery of one of the garrison, who set fire to the magazine of grain and provisions, constrained it to surrender at discretion. Nigel Bruce, by whom the castle had been defended, was carried prisoner to Berwick ; where, being tried by a special commission, he was condemned, hanged, and afterwards beheaded. This miserable fate of the kings brother, excited a deep and universal detestation among the Scots towards the unrelenting cruelty of Edward. Christopher Seton, the brother—in—law of Bruce, and Alexander Seton, suffered under a similar sentence, the one at Dumfries, and the other at Newcastle. The earl of Athole, its attempting to make his escape by sea, was discovered and conducted to London ; where he underwent the complicated punishment then commonly inflicted on traitors, being hanged till only half dead, beheaded, disemboweled, "and the trunk of his body burnt to ashes before his own face." He was not drawn, that point of punishment being remitted. Edward, we are told, although then grievously sick, endured the pain of his disease with greater patience, after hearing of the capture of the earl of Athole. Simon Frazer of Olivar Castle, the friend and companion in arms of Wallace, being also taken at this time, suffered capitally at London; his head being placed on the point of a lance, was set near to that of his old friend and leader. Along with this brave man, was likewise executed Herbert de Norham. Among so many persons of note, others of inferior distinction did not escape; and Edward might, indeed, be said by his tyranny, to have even now effected that critical though unperceived change in popular feeling, which, only requiring commencement of action and a proper direction, would be, in its progressive energy, equal to the destruction of all his past schemes, and of all his future projects and hopes. At all events, the effect of his extreme justice in avenging the death of Comyn, was of that kind, where, by the infliction of an unnecessary or disproportionably cruel punishment, detestation of the crime is lost sight of, in a just and natural commiseration for the criminal. That Edward’s was but an assumed passion for justice, under which was cloaked a selfish and despotic vengeance, rendered it the more odious; and tended to abate the rancour of those who, on more allowable grounds, desired the ruin of the Scottish king.

To complete the measure of Robert’s misfortunes, he and all his adherents were solemnly excommunicated by the pope’s legate at Carlisle. The lordship of Annandale was bestowed on the earl of Hereford; the earldom of Carrick on Henry de Percy; and his English estates were disposed of in like manner. During this period Bruce, fortunately, out of the reach and knowledge of his enemies in the solitary island of Rachrin, remained ignorant of the fate of his family and friends in Scotland. Fordun relates that, in derision of his hopeless and unknown condition, a sort of ribald proclamation was made after him through the churches of Scotland, as lost, stolen, or strayed.

The approach of spring, and a seasonable supply, it is said, of money which he received from Christina of the Isles, again roused the activity of Robert and his trusty followers. Sir James Douglas, with the permission of his master, first passed over to Arran where, shortly after his landing, he and the few men with him, surprised a party belonging to Brodick castle, in act of conveying provisions, arms, and clothing to that garrison, and succeeded in making seizure of the cargo. Here he was in a few days joined by the king, who arrived from Rachrin with a small fleet of thirty—three galleys. Having no intelligence respecting the situation or movements of the enemy, a trusty person named Cuthbert was despatched by the king to the opposite shore of Carrick, with instructions to sound the dispositions of the people ; and, if the occasion seemed favourable for a descent among them, to make a signal, at a day appointed, by lighting a fire upon an eminence near the castle of Turnberry. The country, as the messenger found, was fully possessed by the English; the castle of Turnberry in the hands of Percy, and occupied by a garrison of near three hundred men ; and the old vassals of Bruce dispirited or indifferent, and many of them hostile. Appearances seemed, altogether, so unfavourable, that Cuthbert, without making himself known to any person, resolved to return to the king without making the signal agreed upon.

From the dawn of the day on which he was to expect the appointed signal, Robert watched anxiously the opposite coast of Carrick, at the point from which it should become visible. He was not disappointed, for when noon had already passed, a fire was plainly discerned on the rising ground above Turnberry. Assured that this could be no other than the concerted signal of good tidings, the king gave orders for the instant embarkation of his men, who amounted to about three hundred in number. It is reported that, while the king was walking on the beach, during the preparations making for setting to sea, the woman at whose house he had lodged requested an audience of him. Pretending to a knowledge of future events, she confidently predicted that he should soon be king of Scotland ;. but that he must expect to encounter many difficulties and dangers in the course of the war. As a proof of her own confidence in the truth of her prediction, she sent her two sons along with him. Whether this incident was concerted by the king himself, or was simply an effect of that very singular delusion, the second sight, said to be inherent among these islanders, is of little consequence. Either way, it could not fail of impressing on the rude and superstitious minds to which it was addressed, a present reliance upon their leader, and a useful confidence in the ultimate success of his arms.

Towards evening the king and his associates put to sea; and when night closed upon them, they were enabled to direct their course across the firth by the light of the beacon, which still continued to burn on the heights of Turnberry. On landing they were met by the messenger, Cuthbert, with the unwelcome intelligence, that there was no hope of assistance from the people of Carrick. "Traitor," cried Bruce, "why made you then the fire ?" "I made no signal," replied the man, "but observing a fire upon the hill, I feared that it might deceive you, and I hasted hither to warn you from the coast." In the perilous dilemma in which he found himself placed, Bruce hesitated upon what course he should adopt; but, urged by the more precipitate spirit of his brother Edward, and yielding at length to the dictates of his own more considerate valour, he resolved to persevere in the enterprise which, under such desperate and unexpected circumstances, had opened upon him.

The greater part of the English troops under Percy were carelessly cantoned in the town, situated at some little distance from the castle of Turnberry. Before morning their quarters were taken by surprise, and nearly the whole body, amounting to about two hundred men, put to the sword. Percy and his garrison heard from the castle the uproar and tumult of the night attack; but ignorant alike of the enemy and their numbers, and fearing a similar fate, they dared not attempt the rescue of their unfortunate companions. Bruce made prize of a rich booty, amongst which were his own war-horses and household plate. When the news of this bold and successful enterprise became known, a detachment of above a thousand men, under the command of Roger St John, were despatched from Ayr to the relief of Turnherry; and Robert, unable to oppose such a force, and expecting to be speedily joined by succours from Ireland, thought proper to retire into the mountainous parts of Carrick.

The king’s brothers, Thomas and Alexander, had been, previously to Robert’s departure from Rachrin, sent over into Ireland and the adjacent isles to procure assistance. They succeeded in collecting a force of about seven hundred men, with whom they endeavoured to effect a landing at Loch Ryan in Galloway, intending from thence to march into the neighbouring district of Carrick, and join themselves to the king’s standard. They fatally miscarried, in the accomplishment of this object; Macdowal, a powerful chieftain of Galloway, having hastily collected his vassal; attacked the invading party before they had time to form, routed, and put many of them to the sword. The two brothers of the king and Sir Reginald Crawford, all of them wounded, were made prisoners; and Malcolm Mackail, lord of Kentir, and two Irish reguli or chieftains were slain. Macdowal cut off the heads of the principal persons who had fallen; and along with these bloody tokens of his triumph, presented his prisoners to king Edward, then residing at Carlisle. The two brothers and their associate, supposed by some to have been a near relation of Wallace, were ordered to immediate execution.

This disaster, coupled as it was with the insured enmity of the Gallovidians, and the near approach of the English, rendered for a time the cause of Bruce entirely hopeless, and even subjected his individual safety to the extremest hazards. His partizans either fell off or were allowed to disperse themselves for safety; while he himself often wandered alone or but slightly accompanied, among woods and morasses, relying for defence or security, sometimes on his own great personal prowess, or his intimate knowledge of that wild district, in which he had been brought up, or on the fidelity of some old attached vassal of his family. Almost all the incidents relating to Bruce, at this period of his fortunes, partake strongly of the romantic; and were it not that the authority from which they are derived, has been found to be generally correct in its other particulars, so far as these could be substantiated, some of them might well be deemed fabulous, or grossly exaggerated. The perilous circumstances in which the deserted and outlawed sovereign was placed, and his undaunted and persevering courage which none ever called in question, furnished of themselves ample scope for the realization of marvellous adventure; and which, because marvellous or exaggerated, ought not, on that account, to be altogether, or too hastily rejected. It may have been no easy task for even the contemporary historian, in that rude age, to discover the amplifications and falsities of popular statement; and, there can be no doubt, that in transmitting these statements simply, as he found them, he left the truth of more easy attainment to posterity, than would have been the case had he exercised his own critical skill in reducing them to a standard of probability and consistency. One of those adventures, said to have befallen the king at this time, is so extraordinary that we cannot omit taking notice of it.

While Robert was wandering among the fastnesses of Carrick, as has been described, after the defeat of his Irish auxiliaries at Lochryan, the numbers of his small army so reduced as not to amount to sixty men; the Gallovidians chanced to gain such intelligence of his situation, as induced them to attempt the surprisal, and, if possible, the destruction of the party. They raised, for this purpose, with great secrecy a body of more than two hundred men, and provided themselves with bloodhounds to track the fugitives through the forests and morasses. Notwithstanding the privacy of their arrangements, Bruce had notice of his danger; but knew not at what time to expect the attack of the enemy. Towards night, he withdrew his men to a position protected by a morass on the one side, and by a rivulet on the other, which had only one narrow ford, over which the enemy must needs pass. Here leaving his followers to their rest, the king, accompanied by two attendants returned to the ford in order to satisfy himself, that his retreat had not been discovered by the enemy, whom he knew to be at no great distance. After listening at this place for some time, he could at length distinguish, in the stillness which surrounded him, the distant sound of a hound’s questing, or that eager yell which the animal is known to make when urged on in the pursuit of its prey. Unwilling for this cause alone, to disturb the repose of his fatigued followers, Robert determined, as it was a clear moonlight night, and the post he occupied favourable for observation, to ascertain more exactly the reality of the danger. He soon heard the voices of men urging the hound forward, and no longer doubtful but that his enemies had fallen upon the track, and would speedily be upon him, he dispatched his two attendants to warn his men of the danger. The blood-hounds, true to their instinct, led the body of Gallovidians directly to the ford where the king stood, who then hastily bethought himself of the imminent danger there was of the enemy gaining possession of this post before his men could possibly come to its defence. Should this happen, the destruction of himself and his whole party was nearly inevitable. So circumstanced, Robert boldly determined, till succour should arrive, to defend the passage of the ford, which was the more possible, as, from its narrowness, only one assailant could pass over at a time. The Galloway men coming in a body to the spot, and seeing only a solitary individual posted on the opposite side to dispute their way, the foremost of their number rode boldly into the water; but in attempting to gain the other bank of the stream, Bruce with a thrust of his spear laid him dead on the spot. The same fate awaited four of his companions, whose bodies became a sort of rampart of defence against the theirs; who, dismayed at so unexpected and fatal a reception, fell back for a moment in some confusion. Instantly ashamed that so many should be baffled by the individual prowess of one man, they returned furiously to the attack; but were so valiantly met and opposed by the king, that the post was still maintained, when the loud shout of Robert’s followers advancing to his rescue, warned the Gallovidians to retire, after sustaining in this unexampled combat the loss of fourteen of their men. The danger to which the king had been exposed on this occasion, and the great daring and bravery which he had manifested, sensibly roused the spirits of his party, who now began, with increasing confidence and numbers, to flock to his standard. Douglas, who had been successfully employed against the English in his own district of Douglas-dale, also about this time, joined the king with what followers he had been able to muster among the vassals of his family.

Pembroke, the guardian, at the head of a considerable body of men, now took the field against Robert; and was joined by John of Lorn, with a body of eight hundred Highlanders, men well calculated for that irregular species of warfare to which Bruce was necessitated to have recourse. Lorn is said to have had along with him a blood-hound which had once belonged to the king, and which was so strongly attached to its old master, and familiar with his scent, that if once it got upon his track it would never part from it for any other. These two armies advanced separately, Pembroke carefully keeping to the low and open country, where his cavalry could act with effect; while Lorn, by a circuitous rout, endeavoured to gain the rear of the king’s party. The Highland chieftain so well succeeded in this manouvre, that before Robert, whose attention had been wholly occupied by the forces under Pembroke, was aware of his danger, he found himself environed by two hostile bodies of troops, either of which was greatly superior to his own. In this emergency, the king, having appointed a place of rendezvous, divided his men into three companies, and ordered them to retreat as they best might, by different routes, that thus, by distracting the attention of the enemy, they might have the better chance of escape.

Lorn arriving at the place where the Scottish army had separated, set loose the blood-hound, which, falling upon the king’s scent, led the pursuers immediately on the track which he had taken. The king finding himself pursued, again subdivided his remaining party into three, but without effect, for the hound still kept true to the track of its former master. The case now appearing desperate, Robert ordered the remainder of his followers to disperse themselves; and, accompanied by only one person, said to have been his foster-brother, endeavoured by this last means to frustrate the pursuit of the enemy. In this he was of course unsuccessful; and Lorn, who now saw the hound choose that direction which only two men had taken, knew certainly that one of these must be the king; and despatched five of his swiftest men after them with orders either to slay them, or delay their fight till others of the party came to their assistance. Robert, finding these men gaining hotly upon him, faced- about, and, with the aid of his companion, slew them all. Lorn’s men were now so close upon him that the king could perceive they were led on by means of a blood-hound. Fortunately, he and his companion had reached the near covert of a wood, situated in a valley through which ran a brook or rivulet. Taking advantage of this circumstance, by which they well knew the artifice of their pursuers would be defeated, Bruce and his foster-brother, before turning into any of the surrounding thickets for shelter, travelled in the water of the stream so far as they judged necessary to dissipate and destroy the strong scent upon which the hound had proceeded. The highland chieftain, who was straightway directed to the rivulet, along which the fugitives had diverged, here found that the hound had lost its scent; and aware of the difficulty and fruitlessness of a further search, was reluctantly compelled to quit the chase and retire. By another account, the escape of Bruce from the blood--hound is told thus: An archer who had kept near to the king in his flight, having discovered that by means of the hound Robert’s course had been invariably tracked, stole into a thicket and from thence despatched the animal with an arrow; after which he made his escape undiscovered into the wood which the king had entered.

Bruce reached in safety the rendezvous of his party, after having narrowly escaped from the treachery of three men by whom, however, his faithful companion and foster-brother was slain. The English, under the impression that the Scottish army was totally dispersed, neglected, in a great measure, the precautions necessary in their situation. Robert having intelligence of the state of security in which they lay, succeeded in surprising a body of two hundred, carelessly cantoned at some little distance from the main army, and put the greater part of them to the sword. Pembroke, shortly after, retired with his whole forces, towards the borders of England, leaving spies behind him to watch the motions of his subtle enemy. By means of these he was not long in gaining such information as led him to hope the surprisal of the king and his party. Approaching with great secrecy a certain wood in Glentruel, where Robert then lay, he was on the point of accomplishing his purpose; when the Scots happily in time discovering their danger, rushed forth unexpectedly and furiously upon their assailants and put them completely to flight. Pembroke, upon this defeat, retreated with his army to Carlisle.

Robert encouraged by these successes, and by the general panic which he saw to prevail among the enemy, now ventured down upon the low country; and was soon enabled to reduce the districts of Kyle, Carrick, and Cunningham to his obedience. Sir Philip Mowbray having been dispatched with a thousand men to make head against this rapid progress, was attacked at advantage by Douglas with so much spirit that, after a loss of sixty men, his whole force was routed, himself narrowly escaping in the pursuit.

Pembroke, by this time alarmed for the safety and credit of his government, determined again to take the field in person. Putting himself at the head of a strong body of cavalry, he advanced into Ayrshire, and came up with the army of Bruce then encamped on Loudon-hill. The Scottish king, though his forces were still greatly inferior in number, and consisted entirely of infantry, determined on the spot on which he had posted himself, to give battle to the English commander. He had selected his ground on this occasion with great judgment, and had taken care, by strongly entrenching the flanks of his position, to render as ineffectual as possible the numbers and cavalry of the enemy. His force amounted in all to about six hundred men who were entirely spearmen; that of Pembroke did not amount to less than three thousand well mounted and armed soldiery, displaying an imposing contrast to the small but unyielding mass who stood ready to oppose them. Pembroke, dividing his army into two lines or divisions, ordered the attack to be commenced; when the van, having their lances couched, advanced at full gallop to the charge. The Scots sustained the shock with determined firmness, and a desperate conflict ensuing, the English van was at length driven fairly back upon the rear or second division. This vigorous repulse decided the fortune of the day. The Scots, now the assailants, followed up closely the advantage which they had gained, and the rear of the English, panic struck and disheartened, began to give way, and finally to retreat. The confusion and rout soon becoming general, Pembroke’s whole army was put to flight; a considerable number being slain in the battle and pursuit, and many made prisoners. The loss on the part of the Scots is said to have been extremely small.

Three days after the battle of Loudon-hill, Bruce encountered Monthermur at the head of a body of English, whom he defeated with great slaughter, and obliged to take refuge in the castle of Ayr. He, for some time, blockaded this place; but retired at the approach of succours from England. These successes, though in themselves limited, proved, in effect, of the utmost importance to Robert’s cause, by conferring upon it that stability of character in men’s minds which, hitherto, it had never attained. The death of Edward I., at this period, was another event which could not but favourably affect the fortunes of Scotland, at the very moment when the whole force of England was collected for its invasion. That great monarch’s resentment and hatred towards Bruce and his patriotic followers did not die with him. With his last breath, he gave orders that his dead body should accompany the army in its march into Scotland, and remain unburied until that country was totally subdued. Edward II. disregarded this singular injunction, and had the body of his father more becomingly disposed of in the royal sepulchre at Westminster.

Part 2 | Return to Index | Part 4


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