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Significant Scots
Robert the Bruce, King of Scots
Part 6

We have, hitherto, thought it proper to enter with considerable, and even historical, minuteness into the details of this life; both as comprising events of much interest to the general reader, and as introducing what may be justly called the first great epoch in the modern history of Scotland. The rise, progress, and establishment of Bruce, were intimately connected with the elevation, progression, and settled estate of his people, who as they never before had attained to a national importance so decided and unquestionable, so they never afterwards fell much short in the maintaining of it. It is not our intention, however, to record with equal minuteness the remaining events of king Robert’s reign; which, as they, in a great measure, refer to the ordering and consolidating of the power which he had acquired, the framing of laws, and negotiating of treaties, fall much more properly within the province of the historian to discuss, than that of the biographer.

The Earl of Hereford, who had retreated after the battle to the castle of Bothwell, was there besieged and soon brought to surrender. For this prisoner alone, the wife, sister, and daughter of Bruce, were exchanged by the English, along with Wisheart bishop of Glasgow, and the young Earl of Man. Edward Bruce and Douglas, leaving the English no time to recover from their disastrous defeat, almost immediately invaded the eastern marches, wasted Northumberland, and laid the bishopric of Durham under contribution. Proceeding westward, they burnt Appleby and other towns, and returned home loaded with spoil. "So bereaved," says an English historian, "were the English, at this time, of their wonted intrepidity, that a hundred of that nation would have tied from two or three Scotsmen." While the fortunes of Edward were in this state of depression, Bruce made advances towards the negotiating of a peace, but this war, now so ruinous on the part of the English, was yet far from a termination. Robert, however desirous he might be to attain such an object, was incapable of granting unworthy concessions; and Edward was not yet sufficiently abased by his ill-fortune in war, or borne down by factions at home, to yield that which, in his hands, had become but a nominal possession. England was again invaded within the year; and, during the winter, the Scots continued to infest and threaten the borders with predatory incursions. In the spring of the ensuing year, 1315, while the English king vainly endeavoured to assemble an army, the Scots again broke into England, penetrated to the bishopric of Durham, and plundered the sea-port town of Hartlepool. An attempt was shortly afterwards made to gain possession of Carlisle, but it was defeated by the vigorous efforts of the inhabitants. A scheme to carry Berwick by surprise also failed. This year was remarkable for an act of the estates settling the succession to the crown; and the marriage of the king’s daughter, Marjory, to Walter the Stewart of Scotland, from whom afterwards descended the royal family of the Stuarts.

The Irish of Ulster, who had long been discontented with the rule of England, now implored the assistance of the Scottish king, offering, that should they be relieved from the subjugation under which they laboured, to elect Edward Bruce as their sovereign. The king accepted of their proposals; and his brother, on the 25th May, 1315, landed at Carrickfergus in the north of Ireland with an army of six thousand men. He was accompanied in the expedition by the Earl of Moray, Sir Philip Mowbray, Sir John Soulis, Fergus of Ardrossan, and Ramsay of Ochterhouse. With the aid of the Irish chieftains who flocked to his standard, he committed great ravages on the possessions of the English settlers in the north ; and over-ran great part of the country. Edward Bruce suet, however, with considerable difficulties in the prosecution of his enterprise, and had several times to send for reinforcements from Scotland, notwithstanding which, he was solemnly crowned king of Ireland on the 2nd May, 1316. King Robert, hearing of his difficulties, magnanimously resolved, with what succours he could afford, to go to the relief of his brother in person. Intrusting, therefore, the government of the kingdom, in his absence, to the Stewart and Douglas, he embarked at Lochryan, in Galloway, and landed at Carrickfergus. The castle of that place was, at the time, besieged by the forces of Edward Bruce, and was soon brought to surrender after his junction with his brother. The united armies then entered, by forced marches, the province of Leinster, with intent to seize upon Dublin, on the fate of which the existence of the English government in Ireland depended; but the hostile spirit and intrepidity of the inhabitants of that city rendered this effort abortive. Thence they marched to Cullen in Kilkenny, and continued their devastating progress as far as Limerick; but being there threatened with the greatly superior forces collected by the English under Roger, Lord Mortimer, and experiencing great extremities from want, they were forced to terminate the expedition by a retreat into the province of Ulster, in the spring of 1317.

The particular history of the two Bruce’s campaigns in Ireland, seems to have been imperfectly known, and is very obscurely treated of by most contemporary writers. Barbour, however, to whom the historians who treat of this period are so much indebted, has given the relation with much circumstantiality and apparent correctness. We cannot omit quoting one exploit, which this author has recorded in a manner at once lively and characteristical. The Scottish army, in its march into the province of Leinster, was marshalled into two divisions, one of which, the van, was commanded by Edward Bruce; while the rear was led by Robert in person, assisted by the Earl of Moray. The Earl of Ulster, on the alert to oppose their progress, had collected an army of forty thousand men, which he posted in an extensive forest through which the Scottish line of march led, proposing from this concealment, to attack the rear division of the enemy, after the van should have passed the defile. Edward, naturally impetuous and unguarded, hurried onward in his march, neglecting even the ordinary precautions of keeping up a communication with the rear body, or of reconnoitring the ground through which he passed. Robert advanced more slowly and with circumspection, at some distance in the rear, with his division, which amounted in all to no more than five thousand men. As he approached the ambushment of the enemy, small parties of archers appeared from among the thickets, who commenced, as they best could, to molest his soldiers in their march. Seeing their boldness, the king judged rightly that they must have support at no great distance, and immediately he issued strict commands to his men to march in exact order of battle, and on no pretence whatever to quit their ranks. It happened that two of these archers discharged their arrows near to the person of Sir Colin Campbell, the king’s nephew, which irritated him so much, that, neglecting the king’s injunctions, he rode off at full speed to avenge the insult. Robert, highly incensed, followed after him, and struck his nephew so violent a blow with his truncheon that he was nearly beaten from his horse. "Such breach of orders," said he, "might have brought us all into jeopardy. I wot well, we shall have work to do ere long." The numbers of the hostile archers increased as the Scots advanced; till arriving at a large opening or glade of the forest, they descried the forces of the Earl of Ulster drawn up in four divisions ready to dispute their passage. The king’s prudential foresight was now fully justified; and, though the danger was iminent, so much confidence had the soldiers in the sagacity and martial pre-eminence of their leader, that, undaunted either by the sudden appearance or overwhelming numbers of the enemy, they, with great spirit and bravery, were the first to commence the attack. After an obstinate resistance the Scots prevailed, and the great but ill-assorted Anglo-Irish army was, with much slaughter, driven from the field. Edward Bruce, soon after the defeat, rejoined his brother, regretting bitterly that he should have been absent on such an emergency. "It was owing to your own folly," said the king, "for you ought to have remembered that the van always should protect the rear."

King Robert, after the retreat of his brother’s force upon Carrickfergus, was necessitated, from the urgency of his own affairs, to return to Scotland. We may, in order to have no occasion to revert to the subject afterwards, state briefly in this place, the catastrophe which, in the following year, closed the career of Scottish sovereignty in Ireland. For some time the gallant but rash Edward maintained a precarious authority in Ulster. In the month of October, 1318, he lay encamped at Fagher, near Dundalk, with an army amounting to about two thousand men, exclusive of the native Irish, who, though numerous, were not much to be depended on. The Anglo-Irish approached his position under the command of Lord John Bermingham. Their force was strong in cavalry, and out-numbered the Scots by nearly ten to one. Contrary to the counsel of all his officers, Edward engaged with the enemy; and was slain almost at the first onset; an event which was speedily followed up by the total discomfiture of his army. John Maupas, by whose hand Edward fell, was found, after the battle, stretched dead over the body of the prince. Edward of England, like all kings who are weak and obstinate, could also, when he dared, be wicked. Admiting to consider the gallant enemy who now had fallen, in the light of a traitor or rebellious subject, the corpse was subjected to the ignominies consequent upon the punishment of such; being quartered and exposed to view in four different quarters of the island. The head was carried over to England, and presented to Edward by Bermingham himself; who obtained the dignity of Earl of Lowth for his services.

During the absence of king Robert in Ireland, the English made various attempts to disturb the tranquility of Scotland, which all, happily, proved abortive. The Earl of Arundel, with a numerous force, invaded the forest of Jedburgh; but falling into an ambush prepared for him by Douglas, he was defeated. Edmund de Cailand, the governor of Berwick, having made an inroad into Teviotdale, was attacked by the same victorious commander, and himself and many of his followers slain. The same fate befell Robert Neville a knight, then resident at Berwick, who had boastingly declared that he would encounter Douglas, so soon as he dared display his banner in that neighbourhood. The English also invaded Scotland with a considerable force by sea, coming to anchor off the town of Inverkeithing in the Firth of Forth. The panic caused by the unexpected appearance of this armament was great; and only five hundred men under the command of the Earl of Fife, and sheriff of the county, were mustered to oppose their landing. When the English, with somewhat of the revived intrepidity of their nation, proceeded boldly to shore, so much terror did they inspire, that, without any attempt at hindrance, the force drawn up against them hastily retreated towards the interior. They had scarcely, however, thus committed themselves, when they were met by William Sinclair, bishop of Dunkeld, at the head of a body of sixty horse advancing, in all haste, to assist in repelling the invaders. "Whither in such haste?" said he, to the disordered rout, "you deserve to have your gilt spurs hacked oft" Putting himself then at the head of the little troop, casting aside his bishop’s vestment, and seizing a spear, the bold ecclesiastic continued—" Who loves his king, or his country, turn with me." The unexpectedness and spirit of this challenge redeemed the honour and the courage of all who heard it. The English, who had not yet completed their landing, were in turn seized with the panic they themselves had communicated; and were driven to their ships with great loss. Five hundred, it is asserted, were killed upon the strand, and many drowned by the swamping of an overloaded boat. When king Robert was informed of the particulars of this gallant exploit, he said, "Sinclair shall always after be my own bishop;" and long after was the prelate honourably remembered by his countrymen by the appellation of the king’s bishop.

Baffled in these attempts, and under serious apprehensions for the safety of Berwick and his own borders, the English king contrived, about this time, to employ in his favour the spiritual weapons of the church of Rome. John XXII, the then pope, was easily induced to hearken to his representations; and a bull was issued commanding a truce for two years between the two hostile kingdoms, under pain of excommunication. Two cardinals, privately instructed to denounce the pontifical censures, should they see fit, upon Bruce and "whomsoever else," were despatched to make known these commands to the two kings. The cardinals arrived in England, and in prosecution of their errand they sent two messengers, the bishop of Corbeil and Master Aumery, into Scotland with the letters and instructions intended for the Scottish king. Robert listened to the message delivered by these nuncios with attention, and heard read the open letters from the Pope; but when those sealed and addressed ’Robert Bruce, governer of Scotland,’ were produced, he finally declined receiving them. "Among my barons," said he, " there are many of the name of Robert Bruce, who share in the government of Scotland. These letters may possibly be addressed to one of them; but they are not addressed to me, who am king of Scotland." The messengers attempted to apologise for this omission, by saying, that "the holy church was not wont, during the dependence of a controversy, to say or do aught which might prejudice the claims of either contending party. "Since then," replied the king, "my spiritual father and my holy mother would not prejudice the cause of my adversary by bestowing on me the title of king during the dependence of the controversy, they ought not to have prejudiced my cause by withdrawing that title from me. It seems that my parents are partial to theft English son. Had you," added he, with resolute but calm dignity, "presumed to present letters with such an address to any other sovereign prince, you might, perhaps, have been answered more harshly but I reverence you as the messengers of the holy see." In consequence of the failure of this negotiation, the cardinals resolved to proceed with their further instructions, and proclaim the papal truce in Scotland.

In an enterprise so hazardous the Roman legates were at some loss how to proceed; but at length they fell upon a devoted monk of the cause of Adam Newton, who was willing to risk himself in the service. Newton being fully charged with his commission, and intrusted with letters to some of the Scottish clergy, proceeded forthwith upon his journey. He found the Scottish king encamped with his army in a wood near Old Cambus, busily engaged in making preparations for the assault of Berwick. He was denied admission to the presence, but ordered, at the same time, to deliver what letters or messages he might have to the king’s seneschal or clerk. These were quickly returned to him, unopened, with the brief verbal answer, "I will listen to no bulls until I am treated as king of Scotland, and have made myself master of Berwick." The poor monk, environed, as he himself expresses it, with danger, and troubled how to preserve his papers and his own mortal life, earnestly entreated that he might have a safe conduct granted him to pass further into Scotland, or at least that he might return without peril to Berwick; but both requests were denied him, and he was ordered to leave the country without delay. On his road to Berwick, he was encountered by four armed ruffians, who stripped him of all his papers and effects, and even of the greater part of his clothes. Thus ended this memorable transaction with the papal court, in a manner very unusual for that age; but the weakness and injustice of Edward, and the injustice and servility of Rome were so obvious in it, that Robert secure, otherwise, in the affections of his subjects, both clerical and laical, could safely deride and defy the effects of both.

While Robert, for some reason or other which has not been explained, had given over the preparations he had been engaged in for the siege of Berwick, the treachery of one of the Inhabitants, of the name of Spalding, also had been harshly treated by the governer, occurred to render the attainment of his object more easy and sure, than otherwise, in all likelihood, it would have proved. This person wrote a letter to the Earl of March, to whom he was distantly connected by marriage, in which he offered to betray, on a certain night, that post on the wall where he kept guard. The nobleman, not daring of himself to engage in such an enterprise, communicated the intelligence to the king. "You have done well," said Robert, "in making me your confidant; for, if you had told this to either Randolph or Douglas, you would have offended the one whom you did not trust. You shall now, however, have the aid of both." By the king’s directions, the Earl of March assembled his troops at a certain place, where, on an appointed day and hour, he was joined by the forces of Randolph and Douglas. Thus cautiously assembled, the army by a night march approached the town. Having reached the appointed part of the walls, near to that place still known by the name of the Cowport, they, with the assistance of Spalding, scaled the walls, and were, in a few hours, masters of the town. The castle, after a brief siege, in which the king assisted in person, was forced to surrender. Scotland, by this event, was at length wholly regained to its ancient sovereignty; and, though the place was in an after reign retaken by the English, so pertinaciously was the old right to it maintained at the union of the two kingdoms, that, as a compromise of the difference, it was legislatively allowed to belong to neither kingdom, and it still forms a distinct and independent portion of the British dominions.

The Scottish army, after the reduction of Berwick, invaded England by Northumberland; took by siege the castles of Werk and Harbolth, and that of Mitford by surprise. These events occurred in the spring of 1318. In May of the same year, the Scots penetrated into Yorkshire, and in their devastating progress burned the towns of Northallerton, Boroughbridge, Scarborough, and Skipton; returning home loaded with spoil, and, says an English author, "driving their prisoners before them like flocks of sheep." Bruce was, at this time, solemnly excommunicated by the pope’s legate in England; but so little was this sentence regarded, that, in a parliament which was assembled at Scone, the whole clergy and laity of the kingdom renewed their allegiance to the king; and by a memorable mode of expression, by which, doubtless, they meant to include the pope, as well as the king of England, solemnly engaged, to protect the rights and liberties of Scotland against all mortals, however eminant they may be in power, authority, and dignity.

Edward of England, having effected a temporary reconciliation of the discordant factions of his kingdom, was enabled, in the succeeding year, to collect a considerable army for the purpose of retaking the town and citadel of Berwick. The place had been left by Hobert under the command of the Stewart, with a strong garrison, and was plentifully stored with provisions. To prevent the approach of succours to the place, the English drew lines of countervallation round it; and confident in their numbers, commenced a general and vigorous assault. After a long and desperate contest they were repulsed. They next made their attacks more systematically on various places, and often simultaneously, aided by engines and contrivances which are curiously and minutely described by ancient historians; but these attempts admirably conducted as they were, according to the engineering science of that day, seconded by the bravery of the assailants, proved abortive. One of those engines used by the English upon this occasion, was called a sow. As nearly as can be ascertained, it was a huge fabric, reaching in height above the top of the wall, and composed of beams of timber, well roofed, having stages within it. It moved upon wheels, and was calculated for the double purpose of conducting miners to the foot of the wall, and armed men for scaling it. To oppose this and other such machines, the Scots under the direction of one John Crab a Fleming, had provided themselves with movable engines called cranes, similar to the catapults of the ancients, capable of throwing large stones with great projectile force. As the sow advanced, however, great fears were entertained by the besieged. The engineer, by whom the monstrous piece of work had been constructed, had, meantime, become a prisoner in the hands of the Scots; who, actuated by a very unjust revenge upon the man’s unlucky ingenuity, and upon their own fears, brought him to that part of the wall against which the engine was directed, threatening with instant death any remissness he should show in his efforts towards its destruction. The engineer caused one of the cranes formerly mentioned to be placed directly opposite to the approaching machine of the enemy, and prepared to work it with all his art. The first stone, launched with prodigious force, flew beyond the object at which it was directed; the second, aimed with an opposite incorrectness, fell within the mark. There was time only for a third trial, upon the success of which all seemed to depend; for the English, aware that their safety lay in getting under or within the range of the catapult, strained every nerve to advance, and were now within very little of accomplishing their purpose. The third great stone passed in an oblique and nearly perpendicular line, high into the air, making a loud whizzing noise as it rose, and whether owing to chance or art, it was so happily directed, as to fall with a dreadful crash upon the devoted machine now so nearly within reach of its destination. The terrified men within, instantly rushed from beneath their cover; and the besieged upon the walls, raising a loud shout, called out to them, "that their great sow had farrowed her pigs." Grappling irons were quickly fastened upon the shattered apparatus, and it was set on fire. While all this was transacting upon the land side of Berwick, its reduced and worn out garrison had to sustain an assault, no less desperate, on that part towards the river or estuary where, by means of vessels of a peculiar construction, having falling bridges mid-mast high, by which to reach the top of the walls, the city was vigorously, and almost successfully stormed. These, and various other desperate attempts, seemed in no way to exhaust the ardour of the besiegers; and they did not lessen, though they tempered, the confidence of the besieged.

King Robert, unable from the strength and fortified position of the English army, to render any direct assistance to the beleagured garrison, at the same time saw, that if the Stewart were not shortly relieved he must be brought to a speedy surrender. In this emergency he resolved, by a destructive invasion of England, to make a diversion in his favour, and, if possible, thaw off the forces of Edward from the siege. This expedition was committed to the charge of Randolph and Douglas, who, entering England by the western marches, penetrated into Yorkshire. It is asserted, that they entertained some scheme of carrying off the wife of Edward from her residence near York. Disappointed in this, they wasted that rich province; far and near, with fire and sword. The archbishop hastily collected a numerous but ill-assorted army, great part of which is said to have been composed of ecclesiastics, and placing himself at their head, determined to check the progress of the invading enemy. The Scots then lay encamped at Milton, near Boroughbridge, in the north riding of Yorkshire. The English, on coming up with that hardy, disciplined, and successful army, were charged with so great rapidity and fury, that, scarcely waiting to strike a blow, they gave way in the utmost disorder, and three thousand are reported to have been slain in the rout. From the great numbers of churchmen who fell in this battle, it came, from a sort of humour of the times, to be popularly distinguished by the name of the Chapter of Milton

The effects which Robert expected from this invasion of England were not miscalculated. The news of the devastations and successes of the Scots no sooner reached Berwick, than they caused concern in all, and much diversity of opinion among the English commanders. A retreat was finally resolved upon; and it would seem injudiciously, as, had the now unopposed career of the Scots continued many days longer, the damage to England must have been immeasurably great. On retiring from before Berwick, Edward attempted, unsuccessfully, to intercept Douglas and Randolph on their return. After some brief negotiations a truce of two years was concluded between the two nations.

Part 5 | Return to Index | Part 7


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