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Significant Scots
Robert the Bruce, King of Scots
Part 7

The following year, 1320, was remarkable for a bold and spirited manifesto, transmitted by the estates of the kingdom to the pope, displaying in a remarkable degree, that genuine earnestness and acuteness of style, which can alone spring from a sincere and lively conviction in the writer. His Holiness is told, in one part of this singular document, that Robert, "like another Joshua, or a Judas Maccabeus, gladly endured toils, distresses, the extremities of want, and every peril, to rescue his people and inheritance out of the hands of the enemy. Our due and unanimous consent," say they, "have made him our chief and king. To him in defence, of our liberty we are bound to adhere, as well of right, as by reason of his deserts, and to him we will in all things adhere; for through him salvation has been wrought unto our people. Should he abandon our cause, or aim at reducing us and our kingdom under the dominion of the English, we will instantly strive to expel him as a public enemy, and the subverter of our rights and his own, and we will choose another king to rule and protect us; for, while there exist an hundred of us, we will never submit to England. We fight not for glory, wealth, or honour, but for that liberty which no virtuous man will survive." After describing with much animation the English king's ambition and injustice, and praying the interposition of his holiness, the manifesto proceeds:- "Should you, however, give a too credulous ear to the reports of our enemies, distrust the sincerity of our professions, and persist in favouring the English, to our destruction, we hold you guilty in the sight of the most high God, of the loss of lives, the perdition of souls, and all the other miserable consequences which may ensue from war between the two contending nations." The pope, however much he may have been incensed at the boldness of this address, appears also to have been alarmed. In a bull which he shortly afterwards sent to Edward, he strongly recommends pacific measures, and bestows upon Bruce the ambiguous title of "Regent of the kingdom of Scotland."

The parliament which distinguished itself by this spirited and honourable measure was, in the course of its sitting, engaged in one of a more unpleasing character. This was the investigation of a Conspiracy in which some of the highest men in the kingdom were implicated. The affair is now, from the loss of records, but indistinctly understood. After a trial of the conspirators, Soulis, and the countess of Strathern were condemned to perpetual imprisonment. Gilbert de Malerb, and John de Logie, both knights, and Richard Brown, an esquire, were found guilty of treason and suffered accordingly. Roger de Moubray died before sentence; yet, according to a practice long retained in Scottish law in cases of treason, judgment was pronounced upon the dead body. The king, however, was pleased to mitigate this rigour, and he was allowed the honours of sepulture. The fate of David de Brechin, the king’s nephew, who suffered on this occasion, excited universal and deep compassion. His crime alone lay in the concealing of the treason, which was communicated to him under an oath of secrecy. He had neither approved of, nor participated in it; yet notwithstanding these alleviations, and his near relationship to the king, he was made an example of rigorous, though impartial justice. This parliament was, in reference to this transaction, long remembered popularly under the appellation of the black parliament.

During the inactive period of the truce, various methods were used towards effecting a peace between England and Scotland, but without effect. The pope as well as the French king offered their services for this purpose ; but the exultations in which Edward then was, from having successfully crushed the Lancasterian faction which had so long disturbed his personal peace and government, permitted him not to give ear to any moderate counsels whatever. "Give yourself," says he to the pope, "no further solicitude about a truce with the Scots. The exigencies of my affairs inclined me formerly to listen to such proposals; but now I am resolved to establish peace by force of arms." While he was engaged in these preparations, the Scots penetrated by the western marches into Lancashire, committing their wonted devastations, and returned home loaded with spoil. The king of Scots, who, at this time found no occasion for a general engagement with his greatly superior enemy, fell upon a simple and effectual expedient to render such an event unlikely, if not impossible. All the cattle and provisions of the Merse, Tiviotdale, and the Lothians, he ordered to be removed into inaccessible or secure places; an order which was so exactly executed, that according to tradition, the only prey which fell into the hands of the Enghlish was one solitary bull at Tranent, which, from lameness, had been unable to travel along with the other cattle. "Is that all ye have got ?" said the earl Warenne to the spoilers as they returned to the camp; "I never saw so dear a beast." Edward advanced without opposition to the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, where having in vain waited for some time for supplies from his fleet, he was necessitated, from absolute famine, to retire. In their countermarch into England, the soldiers committed whatever outrages were possible in so desolate a rout. Their license even got the better of their superstition. Monks, who believed that the sanctity of their character would have protected them, were wantonly murdered, an4 their monasteries and abbeys plundered and burned. When this unfortunate army got once more into the peace and plenty of their own country, it was little better with them ; for, in proportion as their privations had been extreme, so, now, were their indulgences excessive; and an English historian has left it on record, that almost one half of the great army which Edward had led into Scotland, was destroyed either by hunger or intemperance.

The remains of the English army had scarcely once more been restored to order, when the Scots, who had followed closely upon their rear, entered England, and laid siege to the castle of Norham. Edward, himself, then lay at the abbey of Biland in Yorkshire; the main body of his troops being encamped in a strong position in the neighbourhood, supposed to be accessible only by one narrow pass. The Scots, commanded by Robert in person, suddenly raising the siege, marched onward in the hope of finding the English unprepared, or, as some say, of seizing the person of Edward, by the aid of some of that monarch’s treacherous attendants. This latter design, if at all entertained, which is not improbable, must have been found of too difficult execution. Douglas resolved to force the defile within which the English had entrenched themselves; and Randolph, leaving his own peculiar command in the army, determined to join his friend in the enterprise. The attack and defence continued obstinate and bloody on both sides, but, in every likelihood, the men of Douglas must have been obliged to retire, had not an unexpected aid come to their relief. The king of Scots, who commanded the main and inactive body of his army on the plain, had soon perceived the difficulty, if not impracticability of the adventure in which his two brave generals had engaged themselves. With the same bold and accurate forecast, which on some other occasions marked his generalship, he fell upon the only, because in a great measure well-timed, means of extrication and success which his situation afforded. Between the two armies lay a long craggy hill of very difficult access, except through the narrow pass of which we have made mention, and which the body of men under Douglas were vainly endeavouring to force. A party of Highlanders from Argyle and the Isles, admirably suited for the service, were ordered, at some little distance, to scale the eminences and so gain command of the pass from the ground above, where they might, with signal effect, annoy the English underneath, and in flank. The manoeuvre was successfully executed, the pass carried, and the whole English army shortly after put to complete rout. They were pursued by the Stewart at the head of five hundred men, to the gates of York. Edward, himself, escaped to the same place with the greatest difficulty, abandoning all his baggage and treasure to the enemy, leaving behind him even the privy seal of his kingdom. This was the last battle in which this undeserving and equally unfortunate prince engaged the Scots; and it may be curious to remark how, in its result, it bore some resemblance to the disaster and shame of the first. The Scots, after committing extensive devastations on the unprotected and dispirited country, returned home, carrying along with them many prisoners, and an immense booty.

From this period to the accession of Edward III. to the throne of England in 1327, there occurred little which can properly come within our province to relate. A truce for fifteen years was with much willingness acceded to by the English king, who could never, however, be induced to relinquish his claim of sovereignty over Scotland. The pope was much pressed, particularly in an embassy conducted by Randolph, to permit the reconciliation of Robert with the church; but the king of Scots, as yet, possessed too little interest in that venal Court, and the king of England too much, to allow of such a concession. The pontiff, however, showed all the favour he could possibly, consistent with such a denial; and though pressed by Edward, under various pretences, to renew the publication of his former censures, could by no means be induced to comply. The king of France was more honourable and just, though, probably at the same time, politic, and concluded, in 1326, a treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive, with Scotland.

On the accession of Edward III., hostilities almost immediately re-commenced between the two kingdoms. That these originated on the side of the Scots seems generally allowed; but the motives which led to them are now only matter of conjecture. One historian assigns as the cause, that the Scots had detected the general bad faith of the English. According to Barbour, the ships of that nation had seized upon several Scottish ships bound for the low countries, slain the mariners, and refused to give satisfaction. That the king of Scotland, during the then weak state of the councils of England, had determined to insist upon the full recognition of his title, seems to have been, from the decisiveness of his preparations, the true, or more important, motive of the war. The campaign which followed, though, perhaps, as curious and interesting as any which occurred during these long wars, cannot be entered upon in this place, at length sufficient to render it instructive; and it much more properly falls to be described in the lives of those two great generals, Randolph and Douglas, by whom it was conducted. The enterprise, on the part of England, was productive of enormous expense to that kingdom; and it terminated not only without advantage, but without honour.

The so long desired peace between the two kingdoms was now near at hand. To attain this had been the grand and constant aim of all king Robert’s policy; and the court of England seemed, at length, persuaded of the immediate necessity of a measure, the expediency of which could not but have long appeared obvious. A negotiation was therefore entered into, and brought to a happy issue in a parliament held at Northampton in April, 1328. The principal articles were the recognition of king Robert’s titles; the independent sovereignty of the kingdom; and the marriage of Johanna, king Edward’s sister, to David, the son and heir of the king of Scots.

Robert survived not long this consummation of his political life. He had for some time laboured under an inveterate distemper, in those days called a leprosy; a consequence of the fatigues, hardships, and sufferings which, to such an unparalleled degree, he had endured in the early part of his career. It was probably the same disease as that with which he was afflicted prior to the battle of Inverury; but though, at that time, the ardour of youth and enterprise, and a naturally powerful constitution, had triumphed over its malignity, Robert seemed now fully aware that it must prove mortal. The two last years of his life were spent in comparative seclusion, in a castle at Cardross, situated on the northern shore of the firth of Clyde; where, from documents still extant, Robert passed these few peaceful, although embittered days of his life, in a style of munificence every way becoming his high station. Much of his time was devoted to the construction of ships; and whether he himself joined personally in such amusements or not, the expense of aquatic and fishing excursions, hawking, and other sports, appears to have formed a considerable item of his domestic disbursements. From the same authentic source, it is pleasing to observe, that his charities to the poor were regular and befitting.

Robert the First of Scotland died in this retirement, on the 7th day of June, 1329, in the fifty-fifth year of his age, and twenty-third year of his reign. Prior to this event a remarkable and affecting scene is recorded to have taken place between the dying monarch and several of his esteemed counsellors and companions in arms. Having spoke to these, generally, upon matters connected with the ordering and well-being of his kingdom, Robert called Sir James Douglas to his couch, and addressed him in somewhat the following manner :—"Sir James, my dear and gallant friend, you know well the many troubles and severe hardships I have undergone in recovering and defending the rights of my crown and people, for you have participated in them all. When I was hardest beset of all, I made a vow, that if I ever overcame my difficulties, I would assume the cross, and devote the remainder of my days to warring against the enemies of our Lord and Saviour. But it has pleased providence, by this heavy malady, to take from me all hope of accomplishing, what, in my heart and soul, I have earnestly desired. Therefore, my dear and faithful companion, knowing no knight more valiant, or better fitted than yourself for such a service, my earnest desire is, that when I am dead, you take my heart with you to Jerusalem, and deposit it in the holy sepulchre, that my soul may be so acquitted from the vow which my body is unable to fulfil" All present shed tears at this discourse. "My gallant and noble king," said Douglas, "I have greatly to thank you for the many and large bounties which you have bestowed upon me; but chiefly, and above all, I am thankful, that you consider me worthy to be intrusted with this precious charge of your heart, which has ever been full of prowess and goodness; and I shall most loyally perform this last service, if God grant me life and power." The king tenderly thanked him for his love and fidelity, saying, "I shall now die in peace." Immediately after Robert’s decease, his heart was taken out, as he had enjoined, and the body deposited under a rich marble monument, in the choir of the Abbey church of Dunfermline.

So died that heroic, and no less patriotic monarch, to whom the people of Scotland, in succeeding ages, have looked back with a degree of national pride and affection, which it has been the lot of few men in any age or country to inspire. From a state of profligate degeneracy and lawless barbarity, originating in, and aggravated by, a foreign dominion and oppression, he raised the poor kingdom of Scotland to a greater degree of power and security than it had ever before attained; and by a wise system of laws and regulations, forming, in fact, the constitution of the popular rights and liberties, secured to posterity the benefit of all the great blessings which his arms and policy had achieved.

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