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Significant Scots
Robert the Bruce, King of Scots
Part 4


Edward II. on his accession to the throne of England soon proved himself but ill-qualified for the conduct of those great designs which his father’s demise had devolved upon him. Of a weak and obstinate disposition, be was incapable of appreciating, far less of acting up to the dying counsels and injunctions of his heroic father. His utter disregard for these was, indeed, manifested in the very first act of his reign; that of recalling his unworthy favourite Piers Gaveston from exile, who with other minions of his own cast was from that moment to take the place of all the faithful and experienced ministers of the late king, and exercise a sole and unlimited sway over the weak and capricious humours of their master. Edward by this measure laid an early foundation for the disgust and alienation of his English subjects. His management in regard to Scotland was equally unpropitious. After wasting much valuable time at Dumfries and Roxburgh in receiving the homage of the Scottish barons; he advanced with his great army as far as Cumnock in Ayrshire, from whence, without striking a blow, he retreated into England, and disbanded his whole forces. A campaign so useless and inglorious, after all the mighty preparation spent upon it, could not but have a happy effect upon the rising fortunes of the Scottish patriots, while it disheartened all in Scotland who from whatever cause favoured the English interest.

The English king had no sooner retired, than Bruce invaded Galloway, and, wherever opposed, wasted the country with fire and sword. The fate of his two brothers, who had here fallen into the hands of the chieftain Macdowal, most probably influenced the king in this act of severe retribution. The Earl of Richmond, whom Edward had newly created guardian, was sent to oppose his progress, upon which Robert retired into the north of Scotland, leaving Sir James Douglas in the south, for the purpose of reducing the forests of Selkirk and Jedburgh to obedience. The king, without encountering almost any resistance, over-ran great part of the north, seizing, in his progress, the castle of Inverness and many other fortified places, which he ordered to be entirely demolished. Returning southward, he was met by the Earl of Buchan at the head of a tumultuary body of Scots and English, whom, at the first charge, he put to flight. In the course of this expedition, the king became affected with a grievous illness, which reduced his bodily and mental strength to that degree, that little hopes were entertained of his recovery. Ancient historians have attributed this malady to the effects of the cold, famine, poor lodging and hardships, to which, ever since the defeat at Methven, the king had been subjected.

Buchan, encouraged by the intelligence which he received of the king’s illness, and eager to efface the dishonour of his late retreat, again assembled his numerous followers; and being joined by Mowbray, an English commander, came up with the king’s forces, then strongly posted near Slaines, on the east coast of Aberdeenshire. The royalists avoided battle; and beginning to be straitened for provisions retired in good order, first to Strathbogie, and afterwards to Inverury. By this time the violence of the king’s disorder had abated, and had began by slow degrees to recover strength. Buchan, who still watched for an opportunity of attack, advanced to Old Meldrum; and Sir David Brechin, who had joined himself to his party, came upon Inverury suddenly with a detachment of troops, cut off several of the royalists in the outskirts of the town, and retired without loss. This military bravado instantly roused the dormant energies of the king; and, though too weak in body to mount on horseback without assistance, he resolved to take immediate vengeance on his insolent enemy. Supported by two men on each side of his saddle, the king took the direction of his troops, and encountering the forces of Buchan, though much superior to his own, put them to flight with great slaughter. The agitation of spirits which Robert sustained on this occasion, is said to have restored him to health. Advancing into the country of his discomfited enemy, Bruce took ample revenge of all the injuries which its possessor had inflicted upon him.

About this time the castle of Aberdeen was surprized by the citizens, the garrison put to the sword, and the fortifications razed to the foundation. A body of English having been collected for the purpose of chastising this bold exploit, they were spiritedly met on their march by the inhabitants, routed, and a considerable number taken prisoners, who were afterwards, says Boece, hanged upon gibbets around the town, as a terror to their companions. A person named Philip the Forester of Platane, having collected a small body of patriots, succeeded, about the same period, in taking the strong castle of Forfar by escalade. The English garrison were put to the sword, and the fortifications, by order of the king, destroyed. Many persons of note, who had hitherto opposed Bruce, or who, from prudential considerations, had submitted to the domination of England, now openly espoused the cause of their country. Among the rest Sir David Brechin, the king’s nephew, upon the overthrow at Inverury, submitted himself to the authority of his uncle.

While Robert was thus successfully engaged in the north; his brother Edward, at the head of a considerable force, invaded Galloway. He was opposed by Sir Ingram Umphraville and Sir John de St John with about twelve hundred men. A bloody battle ensued at the water of Cree, in which the English, after sustaining severe loss, were constrained to fly. Great slaughter was made in the pursuit, and the two commanders escaped with difficulty to the castle of Butel, on the sea-coast,. De St John from thence retired into England, where raising a force of fifteen hundred men, he returned with great expedition into Galloway in the hope of finding his victorious enemy unprepared for his reception. Edward Bruce, however, had notice of his movements; and with the chivalric valour or temerity which belonged to his character, he resolved boldly to over-reach the enemy in their own stratagem. Entrenching his infantry in a strong position in the line of march of the assailants; he himself, with fifty horsemen well harnessed, succeeded in gaining their rear; with the intent of falling suddenly and unexpectedly upon them so soon as his entrenched camp should be assailed. Edward was favoured in this hazardous manoeuvre by a mist so thick that no object could be discerned at the distance of a bow-shot: but, before his design could be brought to bear, the vapours suddenly chasing away, left his small body fully discovered to the English. Retreat with any chance of safety was impossible, and to the reckless courage of their leader, suggested itself not. The small company no sooner became visible to their astonished and disarrayed foes, than, raising a loud shout, they rushed furiously to the attack, and after one or two more desperate charges, put them to rout. Thus successful in the field, Edward expelled the English garrisons, reduced the rebellious natives with fire and sword, and compelled the whole district to yield submission to the authority of his brother.

Douglas, after achieving many advantages in the south, among which, the successive captures of his own castle in Douglasdale were the most remarkable, about this time, surprised and made prisoners Alexander Stewart of Bonkil and Thomas Randolph, the king’s nephew. When Randolph, who from the defeat at Methven, had adhered faithfully to the English interest, was brought before his sovereign, the king is reported to have said; "Nephew, you have been an apostate for a season; you must now be reconciled." "You require penance of me," replied Randolph fiercely, "yourself rather ought to do penance. Since you challenged the king of England to war, you ought to have asserted your title in the open field, and not to have betaken yourself to cowardly ambuscades." "That may he hereafter, and perchance ere long," the king calmly replied; "meanwhile, it is fitting that your proud words receive due chastisement; and that you be taught to know my right and your own duty." After this rebuke, Randolph was ordered for a time into close confinement. This singular interview may have been preconcerted between the parties, for the purpose of cloaking under a show of constraint, Randolph’s true feelings in joining the cause of his royal relative. Certain it is, his confinement was of brief duration; and in all the after acts of his life, he made evident with how hearty and zealous a devotion he had entered on his new and more honourable field of enterprise.

Shortly after the rejunction of Douglas, Bruce carried his arms into the territory of Lorn, being now able to take vengeance on the proud chieftain, who, after the defeat at Methven, had so nearly accomplished his destruction. To oppose this invasion the lord of Lorn collected a force of about two thousand men, whom he posted in ambuscade in a defile, having the high mountain of Cruachen Ben on the one side, and a precipice overhanging Lochawe on the other. This pass was so narrow in some places, as not to admit of two horsemen passing a-breast. Robert who had timely information of the manner in which this road was beset, through which he must necessarily pass, detached one half of his army, consisting entirely of light armed troops and archers, under Douglas, with orders to make a circuit of the mountain and so gain the high ground in the rear and flank of the enemy’s position. He himself with the rest of his troops entered the pass, where they were soon attacked from the ambushment with great fury. This lasted not long; for the party of Douglas quickly appearing on the heights immediately above them and in their rear, the men of Lorn were cast into inevitable confusion. After annoying the enemy with repeated flights of arrows, Douglas descended the mountain and fell upon them sword in hand; the king, at the same time, pressing upon them from the pass. They were defeated with great slaughter; and John of Lorn, who had planned this unsuccessful ambush, after witnessing its miscarriage from a little distance, soon after put to sea and retired into England. Robert laid waste the whole district of Lorn; and gaining possession of Dunstaffnage, the principal place of strength belonging to the family, garrisoned it strongly with his own men.

While Bruce and his partizans were thus successfully engaged in wresting their country from the power of England, and in subduing the refractory spirit of some of their own nobility, every thing was feeble and fluctuating in the councils of their enemies. In less than a year, Edward changed or re-appointed the governors of Scotland six different times. Through the mediation of Philip king of France, a short truce was finally agreed upon between Edward and Robert; but infractions having been made on both sides, Bruce laid siege to the castle of Rutherglen. In February, 1310, a truce was once more agreed upon; notwithstanding which John de Segrave was appointed to the guardianship of Scotland on both sides of the Forth; and had the warlike power of the north of England placed at his disposal. It was early in the same year that the clergy of Scotland assembled in a provincial council, and issued a declaration to all the faithful, bearing, that the Scottish nation, seeing the kingdom betrayed and enslaved, had assumed Robert Bruce for their king, and that the clergy had willingly done homage to him in that character.

During these negotiations, hostilities were never entirely laid aside on either side. The advantages of the warfare, however, were invariably on the side of Bruce, who now seemed preparing to attack Perth, at that time an important fortress, and esteemed the capital of Scotland. Roused to activity by this danger, Edward made preparations for the immediate defence and succour of that place. He also appointed the Earl of Ulster to the command of a body of Irish troops who were to assemble at Dublin, and from thence invade Scotland; and the whole military array of England was ordered to meet the king at Berwick; but the English nobles disgusted with the government of Edward, and detesting his favourite Gaveston, repaired unwillingly and slowly to the royal standard. Before his preparations could be brought to bear, the season for putting to sea had passed, and Edward was obliged to countermand the forces under the Earl of Ulster; still resolving, however, to invade Scotland in person, with the large army which he had collected upon the border. Towards the end of autumn the English commenced their march, and directing their course through the forest of Selkirk to Biggar, thence are said to have penetrated as far as Renfrew. Not finding the enemy, in any body, to oppose their progress, and unable from the season of the year, aggravated, as it was, by a severe famine which at that very time afflicted the land, to procure forage and provisions, the army making no abode in those parts, retreated by the way of Linlithgow and the Lothians to Berwick; where Edward, after this ill-concerted and fruitless expedition, remained inactive for eight months. Bruce, during this invasion, cautiously avoided coming to an open engagement with the greatly superior forces of the enemy; contenting himself with sending detached parties to hang upon their rear, who, as opportunity offered, might harass or cut off the marauding and foraging parties of the English. In one of these sudden assaults the Scots put to the sword a body of three hundred of the enemy before any sufficient force could be brought up for their rescue.

About this time the castle of Linlithgow, a place of great utility to the English, as being situated midway between Stirling and Edinburgh, was surprised by the stratagem of a poor peasant named William Binnock. This man, having been employed to lead hay into the fort, placed a party of armed friends in ambush as near as possible to the gate; and concealing under his seeming load of hay, eight armed men, advanced to the castle, himself walking carelessly by the side of the wain, while a servant led the cattle in front. When the carriage was fairly in the gateway, so that neither the gates of the castle could be closed nor the portcullis let down, the person in front who had charge of the oxen cut the soam or withy rope by which the animals were attached to the wain, which thus, instantly, became stationary. Binnock, making a concerted signal, his armed friends leaped from under the hay, and mastered the sentinels; and being immediately joined by the other party in ambush, the garrison, almost without resistance, were put to the sword, and the place taken. Binnock was well rewarded by the king for this daring and successful exploit; and the castle was ordered to he demolished.

Robert, finding that his authority was now well established at home, and that Edward was almost entirely engrossed by the dissensions which had sprung up among his own subjects, resolved, by an invasion of England, to retaliate in some measure the miseries with which that country had so long afflicted his kingdom. Assembling a considerable army, he advanced into the bishopric of Durham, laying waste the country with fire and sword; and giving up the whole district to the unbounded and reckless license of the soldiery, "Thus," says Fordun, "by the blessing of God, and by a just retribution of providence, were the perfidious English, who had despoiled and slaughtered many, in their turn subjected to punishment." Edward II. made a heavy complaint to the Pope, of the "horrible ravages, depredations, burnings, and murders" committed by "Robert Bruce and his accomplices" in this inroad, in which "neither age nor sex were spared, nor even the immunities of ecclesiastical liberty respected." The papal thunder had, however, already descended harmless on the Scottish king and his party; and the time had arrived, when the nation eagerly hoped, and the English might well dread the coming of that storm, which should avenge, by a requital alike bloody and indiscriminate, those wrongs which, without distinction, had been so mercilessly inflicted upon it.

Soon after his return from England, Robert, again drawing an army together, laid siege to Perth, a place in those days so strongly fortified, that, with a sufficient garrison, and abundance of provisions and military stores, it might bid defiance to any open force that could be brought against it. Having lain before the town for six weeks, the king seeing no prospect of being able to reduce it by main force, raised the siege, and retired to some distance, as if resolved to desist from the enterprise. He had gained intelligence, however, that the ditch which surrounded the town was fordable in one place, of which he had taken accurate notice. Having provided scaling ladders of a sufficient length, he, with a chosen body of infantry, returned after an absence of eight days, and approached the works. The self-security of the garrison, who, from hearing nothing of Robert for some days, were thrown entirely off their guard, no less than the darkness of the night, favoured his enterprise. Robert himself carrying a ladder was the foremost to enter the ditch, the water of which reached breast high, and the second to mount the walls when the ladders were applied. A French knight who at this time served under the Scottish king, having witnessed the gallant example set by his leader, is reported to have exclaimed with enthusiasm, "What shall we say of our lords of France, that with dainty living, wassail, and revelry pass their time, when so worthy a knight, through his great chivalry, puts his life into so great hazard to win a wretched hamlet." Saying this, he, with the lively valour of his nation, threw himself into the fosse, and shared in the danger and glory of the enterprise. The walls were scaled and the town taken almost without resistance. By the king’s orders quarter was given to all who laid down their arms; and in accordance with the admirable policy which he had hitherto invariably pursued, the fortifications of the place were entirely demolished.

Edward once more made advances towards negotiating a truce with the Scottish king; but Robert, who well knew the importance of following up the successful career which had opened upon him, refused to accede to his proposals, and again invaded England. In this incursion the Scottish army ravaged and plundered the county of Northumberland and bishopric of Durham. The towns of Hexham and Corbridge, and great part of the city of Durham were burnt. The army in returning, were bold enough, by a forced march, to attempt the surprisal of Berwick, where the English king then lay; but their design being discovered they were obliged to retire. So great was the terror which these predatory and destructive visitations inspired in the districts exposed to them, that the inhabitants of the county of Durham, and afterwards those of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmoreland, contributed each a sum of two thousand pounds to purchase an immunity from the like spoilations in future. In the same year the king assaulted and took the castles of Butel, Dumfries, and Dalswinton. The strong and important fortress of Roxburgh, also, at this time fell into his hands, by the stratagem and bravery of Sir James Douglas. All of these places so soon as taken, were, by the king’s orders destroyed, that they might on no future occasion, if retaken, become serviceable to the enemy.

The surprisal of Edinburgh castle by Randolph, the king’s nephew, ought not, among the stirring events of this time, to be passed over. That brave knight who from the moment of his accession to the royal cause, had devotedly and successfully employed himself towards its establishment, had for some time laid siege to, and strictly blockaded the castle; but the place being one of great natural strength, strongly fortified, and well stored with men and provisions, there seemed little hope of bringing it to a speedy surrender. The garrison were also completely upon the alert. Having had reason to suspect the fidelity of Leland their governor, they had put him under confinement, and elected another cornmander in his stead. Matters stood thus, when a singular disclosure made to Randolph by a man named William Frank, suggested the possibility of taking the almost impregnable fortress by escalade. This man, in his youth, had resided in the castle as one of the garrison; and having an amorous intrigue in the city, he had been in use to descend the wall in the night, by means of a rope-ladder, and through a steep and intricate path to arrive at the foot of the rock. By the same precipitous road he had always been enabled to regain the castle without discovery; and so familiar had all its windings become to him, that he confidently engaged to guide a party of the besiegers by the same track to the bottom of the walls. Randolph resolved to undertake the enterprise. Having provided a ladder suited to the purpose, he, with thirty chosen men, put himself under the guidance of Frank, who, towards the middle of a dark night, safely conducted the party to the bottom of the precipitous ascent. Having clambered with great difficulty and exertion about half way up the rock, the adventurous party reached a broad projection or shelf, on which they rested some little time to recover breath. While in this position, they heard above them the guard or check-watch of the garrison making their rounds, and could distinguish that they paused a little on that part of the ramparts immediately over them. One, of the watch throwing a stone from the wall cried out, "Away, I see you well," The stone flew over the heads of the ambuscading party, who happily remained unmoved, as they really were unseen on the comparatively safe part of the rock which they had attained. The guard hearing no stir to follow, passed on. Randolph and his men having waited till they had gone to a distance again got up, and at the imminent peril of their lives, fairly succeeded in clambering up the remaining part of the rock to the foot of the wall, to which they affixed their ladder. Frank, the guide, was first to mount the walls; Sir Andrew Gray was the next; Randolph himself was the third. Before the whole could reach the summit of the wail, the alarm was given, and the garrison rushed to arms, A fierce encounter took place; but the governor having been slain, the English surrendered themselves to mercy. ‘The fortifications of the castle were dismantled; and Leland, the former governor, having been released from his confinement, entered the Scottish service.

The earl of Athole, who had long adhered to the English faction, and who had. recently obtained as a reward for his fidelity a grant of lands in England, now joined the rising fortunes of his lawful sovereign. Through the mediation of France conferences for a truce were renewed; but notwithstanding of these Robert invaded Cumberland, wasting the country to a great extent. The Cumbrians earnestly besought succour from Edward: but that prince being about to depart for France, did nothing but extol their fidelity, desiring them to defend themselves until his return. By invading Cumberland at this time, Bruce probably intended to draw the attention of the English from the more serious design which he contemplated of making a descent upon the Isle of Man. He had scarcely, therefore, returned from his predatory expedition into England, than, embarking his forces, he landed unexpectedly upon that island, overthrew the governor, took the castle of Ruffin, and possessed himself of the country. The Manx governor on this occasion, is, with great probability, conjectured to have been the same Gallovidian chieftain, who defeated, and made prisoners at Lochryan, the two brothers of the Scottish king.

On his return from France, Edward was met by commissioners sent to him by such Scots as still remained faithful in their allegiance to England. These made bitter complaint of the miserable condition to which they had been reduced, both from the increasing power of Bruce, and from the oppression which they suffered under the government of the English ministers. Edward, deserted and despised by his nobility, who, at this time, not only refused to attend his army, but even to assemble in parliament upon his summons, could merely make answer to these complaints by promises, which he was alike incapable in himself and in his means to perform. Meanwhile the arms of the patriots continued to prosper. Edward Bruce took and destroyed the castle of Rutherglen, and the town and castle of Dundee. He next laid siege to the castle of Stirling, then held by Philip de Moubray, an English commander of bravery and reputation; but was here less successful. Unable, by any mode of attack known in those days, to make impression on a fortress of so great strength, Edward consented to a treaty with the governor that the place should be surrendered, if not succoured by the king of England before St John’s day in the ensuing midsummer. Bruce was much displeased with his brother for having granted such a truce, yet he consented to ratify it. The space of time agreed upon allowed ample leisure to the English king to collect his forces for the relief of the castle, the almost only remaining stronghold which he now possessed in Scotland; and Robert felt that he must either oppose him in battle with a greatly inferior force, or, by retreating in such circumstances, lessen the great fame and advantages which he had acquired.


Part 3 | Return to Index | Part 5

 


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