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The Bruce
Book 13


The Battle of Bannockburn

WHEN the two first divisions of the Scots had joined battle, as I have said, Walter the Steward and the good Lord of Douglas, seeing the Earl with his company so stoutly, without doubt or fear, attack the whole host, set forth with their division in brave array to help him, and joined battle so boldly a little way from the Earl that the enemy were made well aware of their coming; for they drove at them with strong weapons of steel and with all their might.

Their enemies received them well, I promise, with swords, maces, and spears. The battle there was most fierce, and so mighty was the spilling of blood that it stood in pools on the ground. The Scots bore themselves so well, and made so great a slaughter, and reft the lives from so many, that all the field was left bloody. At that time the three Scottish divisions were fighting well-nigh side by side. There one might hear right many a stroke, and weapons striking on armour, and see knights and steeds go down, and many a rich and splendid garment fouled roughly under foot. Some kept their feet, some lost their lives.

A long while thus they fought without shout or cry being heard. No sounds came forth but those of groans and blows that struck fire like steel on flint. So keenly they fought, each one, that they made neither noise nor cry, but drove at each other with all their might with their bright burnished weapons. The arrows, too, flew so thick that those who saw them have said they in truth made a dreadful shower; for where they fell I warrant they left after them tokens that called for the leech.

The English archers shot so fast that had their shower lasted it had gone hard with the Scots. But King Robert, who knew well that the archers were dangerous, and their shooting right grievous and hard, had, before the battle, ordained his marshal, with a great host—five hundred well armed in steel, and well mounted on light horses —to charge among the archers, and attack them with spears, so that they should have no leisure to shoot.

This marshal, Sir Robert of Keith, when he saw the hosts come together, and join battle, and saw the archers shooting stoutly, forthwith rode at them with all his company, and took them in the flank. He charged fiercely among them, striking them mercilessly, and bearing down and slaying numbers of them without ransom. And they every one scattered, and from that time forth none came together to make such shooting.

When the Scottish bowmen saw the English archers thus overwhelmed they waxed bold, and shot quickly with all their might among the charging horsemen, and made great wounds among them, and slew of them a right great number. These bowmen bore themselves boldly and well; for now that their archer foes, who were far more than they in number, were scattered, and they had nothing to fear from their shooting, it seemed to them they should set all their enemies at nought.

Meanwhile, among the English archers, the Marshal and his company, wherever they rode, made room with their spears, and slew all whom they could overtake. Right easily could they do this, having neither to stop a stroke nor withstand a blow; for unarmed men are little able to fight against men in armour. In such fashion Sir Robert scattered these archers that some withdrew with the utmost speed to their great battles, and some fled altogether.

But the English who had been behind the archers, and who had had no room by reason of their own host to come yet to the encounter, dashed quickly into the battle. The archers whom they met fleeing were by that time become altogether cowards. They had clean lost heart, and I trow were not likely to hurt the Scots greatly with their shooting that day.

And when the good King Robert, who was ever full of the greatest nobleness, saw how boldly his three battles made encounter, and how well they bore themselves in the strife, and how hard and undauntedly they drove at their foes, and how the English archers were scattered, he was right blithe, and said to his men, "Sirs, look now that ye be valiant and bold and of good guidance at this encounter, and join battle so stoutly that nothing shall stand before you. So freshly are our men fighting, and so greatly have they harassed their foes, that I warrant, if the enemy be pressed a little harder, ye shall see them presently discomfited. Let us now drive at them so boldly, and so doughtily lay on our strokes, that they may feel at our coming that we hate them to the uttermost. Great cause have they given us to hate them. Our broad lands they seized, and brought all to subjection. Your whole goods they made their own. Our kin and friends, for defending their own possessions, they have mercilessly hanged and drawn. And they would destroy us if they could. But God in his foresight has this day, I trow, granted us his grace to wreak our wrongs upon them."

At these words the Bruce's men set forward and joined battle so stoutly on the enemies' flank that at their coming their foes were driven back a great way. There men could be seen fighting freshly, and valiant and active knights doing many a noble deed of prowess. They fought as if mad. At these places especially where the Scots saw their enemies most stubborn against them, they laid on with all their might and main, like men out of their minds. Where their blows fell full and straight no armour could stop the strokes. They charged against all they could reach, and with their axes gave blows that cave helmets and heads.

Their enemies met them right boldly, and dealt blows doughtily with strong weapons of steel. Well was the battle stricken in that place. Mighty was the din of blows, as weapons struck upon armour, and great was the crashing of spears, with turning and thrusting, grunting and groaning and mighty noise, as they laid on each other. They called their battle-cries on every side as they gave and took wide wounds, and the uproar was horrid to hear, as the four strong battles fought all together in one front.

God Almighty! most doughtily Sir Edward the Bruce and his men bore themselves there among their foes. They were so bold and stout, and fought so skilfully and to such purpose, that the vanguard of the enemy was overthrown, and, despite its leaders, left the ground. The English made for refuge to their great host. But that host itself had weighty business in hand and was itself dismayed. For the Scots now all in a single body assailed it hard.

He who chanced to fall in that fight never, I trow, rose again. There men might see brave deeds of many kinds doughtily achieved, and many men who had been active and bold lying all dead under foot, and the field all red with blood. Their badges and coats of arms were so defiled with blood that they could not be discerned.

Ah, mighty God! if one could have seen Walter the Steward, and his rout, and Douglas the stout and brave, as they fought in the strong battle, he must have declared them worthy of all honour. So hard in that fight did they press upon the strength of their foes that they overthrew them wherever they went. Many a steed was to be seen there fleeing astray without a rider.

Ah, Lord! it was a sight to see how the brave Earl of Moray and his men dealt great blows, and fought in that hard strife. They underwent such labour and toil, and did such battle, that wherever they came they made themselves a way. There could be heard the shouting of battle-cries, and the Scots calling boldly, "On them! on them! on them! they fail!"

With that they made a most bold attack, and slew all they could come at, and the Scottish archers also shot boldly among the enemy, and harassed them greatly. Then, what with their adversaries dealing them mighty blows and pressing them eagerly, and what with the arrows making many great and cruel wounds and slaying their horses, the English host gave way a little space, and came so greatly into fear of death that their condition grew ever worse. For the Scots fighting with them set hardihood and strength and will, as well as heart and courage, and all their might and main, to put them to foul flight.

At this moment, when the battle was in this fashion being fought, and either side was struggling right manfully, the yeomen, swains, and camp-followers who had been left in the Park to mind the victual, knowing for certain that their lords had joined battle and were in dire conflict with their foes, made one of themselves captain, and fastened broad sheets for banners upon long poles and spears, and said they would see the fight, and help their lords to their utmost. When all were agreed to this, and were come together in a body, they were fifteen thousand and more. Then they hastened forward all in a rout with their banners, like men strong and stout. They came with their whole host to a place where they could see the battle. Then all at once they gave a shout, "Upon them! on them boldly!" and therewith they all came on.

But they were yet a long way off when the English, who were being driven back by force of battle as I have said, saw coming towards them with a shout a company which seemed full as great as the host they were fighting, and which they had not seen before. Then, be assured, they were vastly dismayed, and without doubt the best and boldest in the host that day would, had honour allowed, have been away.

By their reeling King Robert saw they were near discomfiture. He shouted loudly his battle-cry, then with his company pressed his foes so hard that they were thrown into great affright, and ever more and more left the ground. Then all the Scots, when they saw them avoid the fight, drove at them with all their strength, so that they scattered in separate troops, and were near defeat, and some of them openly fled. Still some who were active and bold, whom shame kept from taking flight, at great cost maintained the battle, and stood firm in the storm.

When the King of England saw his men in sundry places flee, and saw the host of his foes become strong and bold, and the English array altogether defeated and without strength to withstand its enemies, he was so vastly dismayed that, with all his company, five hundred armed cap-a-pie, in utter disorder, he took to flight, and made for the castle. Some say, however, that Sir Aymer De Valence, when he saw the field nigh lost, took the king's rein and led him away from the fighting against his will.

And when Sir Giles De Argentine saw Edward and his host thus make so speedily to flee, he came forthwith close to the king, and said, "Sir, since so be that thus ye go your way, farewell, for I will again to the battle. Never yet, of a surety, have I fled, and I choose rather here to abide and die than to flee shamefully and live."

Forthwith then he turned his steed, and rode against the foe. And, as if he had no whit of fear, crying "De Argentine!" he pricked on the strong and bold Sir Edward Bruce's host. They met him with their spears, and so many set upon him that he and his steed were overborne, and both went to the earth, and in that place he was slain. There was right great sorrow for his death. He was the third best knight, of a truth, known to be living in his time. [The others, according to Lord Hailes, were the Emperor Henry and King Robert the Bruce.] Many a fair feat of arms he achieved. Thrice had he done battle on the Saracen, and in each attack had vanquished two of his foes. But his great valour came hero to an end.

After Sir Aymer had fled with the king, there durst none remain; but all fled, scattering on every side. Their foes pressed them hard, and they were all, to speak truth, terrified. In such great terror they fled that a very great body of them, fleeing towards the Forth, were most part drowned. The Bannockburn between its banks was so filled with men and horses that men could pass over dryshod upon the drowned bodies. Lads, hinds, and camp-followers, when they saw the battle won, ran among the fallen, and slew those who could make no defence, in fashion that was piteous to see. Nowhere have I heard in any land of folk so grievously bested. On one side were their foes, who slew them without mercy, and on the other side was the Bannockburn, deep and full of mud, so that none could ride across it. Against their will they behoved to abide, and some were slain, some drowned, and none escaped that came there.

Nevertheless, many who fled elsewhere got away. King Edward and those with him rode in a body to the castle, and sought to be taken in, for they knew not where to escape. But Philip the Mowbray said to him, "The castle, sir, is at your will, but should ye come into it ye should presently see yourself besieged, and there shall none in all England undertake to bring you succour. Without succour can no castle be long held, as well ye know; therefore take courage, and rally your men right straitly about you, and take the way round the Park. Keep as close array as ye can, and I trow that none who follow shall have force enough to fight so many."

They did as he counselled. Beneath the castle forthwith they held their way, close by the Round Table, [This curious relic, now known as the King's Knot, under the walls on the south side of Stirling Castle, is believed by many to be the actual Round Table of Arthurian times, and to date from the reign of that famous British monarch, who had his chief stronghold at Stirling in the sixth century. See Nennius, Historia Brittonum, and Skene's Celtic Scotland.] then compassed the Park, and held in haste towards Linlithgow. But I trow they were speedily to have convoy of a kind they could have suffered away. For Sir James, Lord of Douglas, came to the Bruce and asked leave to chase, and he gave him leave forthwith. Douglas's horse were all too few; he had no more than sixty in his rout; nevertheless he sped hastily after the English king. Now leave we him on his way, and afterwards we shall tell fully what befell in the pursuit.

In the great battle thus decided there were thirty thousand slain or drowned, while some were taken prisoner, and others fled.

The Earl of Hereford left the strife, with a great host, and made his way straight to Bothwell, which was then in the English fealty, and held as a place of war. Sir Walter Gilbertston was captain there, and had it in keeping. Thitherward sped the Earl, and was taken in over the wall, with fifty of his men, and separately housed in such fashion that they had no mastery of the place. The rest went towards England. Of that rout I warrant three-fourths were taken or slain, and the others reached home with great difficulty.

Sir Maurice De Barclay set forth from the great battle with a great host of Welshmen. Wherever they went they could be known by reason that they were well-nigh wholly naked, or had only linen clothes. They marched with the greatest speed, but ere they were come to England many of their company were taken and many slain.

The English fled also by many other ways. But to the castle of Stirling at hand fled such a host as was a marvel to behold. The crags about the castle were all covered here and there with those who, because of the strength of that place, fled thitherward for refuge. And because the number thus fled under the castle was so great, King Robert prudently kept his good men ever near him, out of fear that the English should rise again. It was by reason of this, indeed, that the King of England escaped to his own country.

When the field was so cleared of the English that none remained, the Scots forthwith took possession of all spoils of the enemy that they could find, such as silver, gold, clothing, and armour, with plate, and all things else that they could lay hands upon. Such vast riches they found there that many a man was made great by the wealth he got.

When this was done the king sent a strong company up to the crag to attack those that were fled from the great battle, and these yielded themselves without struggle, and were speedily seized and carried to the king.

The Scots, after an end was made of the fighting, spent that whole day in spoiling and taking gear; and when all who had been slain in the battle had been spoiled of their arms it was of a truth a wondrous sight to see so many lying dead together. Seven hundred pairs of red spurs were taken from dead knights. There among the dead lay the Earl of Gloucester, whom men called Sir Gilbert of Clare, also Sir Giles d'Argentine and Sir Payn Tybetot, with others beside whose names I cannot recount.

And on the side of the Scots were slain two worthy knights, Sir William Vipont and Sir Walter the Ross, whom Sir Edward, the king's brother, loved as himself, and held in high esteem. When Sir Edward knew that this knight was dead he was so sorrowful and distressed that he said, making full evil cheer, he had rather the day had been lost than that Sir Walter were slain. Besides him it was not seen that Sir Edward made moan for any man. The reason of this affection was that he loved the sister of Ross as a paramour, and held his own wife, Dame Isobel, in great dislike. For this cause a great distance had fallen betwixt him and the Earl David of Atholl, brother of this lady; and upon Sir John's Eve, when the two kings were ready to fight, the Earl seized the Bruce's victual at Cambuskenneth, and heavily attacked and slew Sir William of Airth and many with him. Wherefore afterwards he was banished to England, and all his land was seized and forfeited to the king, who did therewith at his pleasure.

When the field was spoiled and left all bare, as I have said, the Bruce and all his company, joyful and blithe and merry over the grace that had befallen them, betook them to their quarters to rest, for they were weary. But the king grieved somewhat for the Earl Gilbert of Clare slain in the battle, for he was near kin [It was the Earl of Gloucester who sent Bruce a pair of spurs at the court of Edward I, and by this hint to flee saved his life.] to himself. He caused him to be carried to a church, and guarded all that night.

And on the morrow, when it was light, the king rose as his custom was. Then it happened that an English knight went hither and thither, no man laying hands on him. He had hid his armour in a coppice, and waited till, early in the morning, he saw the king come forth. Then he hastened to him. Sir Marmaduke de Twenge he was called, and he reached the near presence of the king, and greeted him upon his knee.

"Welcome, Sir Marmaduke," said the Bruce, "to what man art thou prisoner?";

"To none," he said, "but here to you I yield, to be at your pleasure."

"And I receive thee, sir," said the king. Then he caused him to be courteously treated, and Sir Marmaduke dwelt long in his company, and afterwards the king sent him to England arrayed well and ransom free and with great gifts beside. A worthy man who should do thus might make himself greatly praised.

When Sir Marmaduke in this wise had yielded himself, Sir Philip the Mowbray came and yielded the castle to the king. He had kept his covenant well, and the king so dealt with him that he became of his household, and kept his faith loyally to the last day of his life.

Now shall we tell of the Lord Douglas, how he followed the chase. He had few in his company, but he sped with right great haste, and as he fared by the Torwood he met, riding on the moor, Sir Laurence of Abernethy, who with fourscore in his company was come to help the English, for he was still English then. But when he heard how the day stood, he left the English peace and swore to the Lord Douglas right there to be loyal and true. Then they both followed the chase.

And ere the King of England had passed Linlithgow the Scots came so near with all their followers that they could well nigh have charged among them. But they deemed themselves too few to fight with the great rout of the English, for these were five hundred armed men. The English rode together in close order with drawn bridle, and were right shrewdly managed, appearing ever ready to defend themselves to the utmost if they were attacked. The Lord Douglas judged he should not then attempt to fight openly with them. But he convoyed them so narrowly that constantly he took the hindmost. None could be behind his fellows a stone-cast but at once he was either taken or slain, and none could bring him succour though he loved him ever so much.

In this fashion he convoyed them till King Edward and his host were come to Winchburgh. There the English all lighted down to bait their weary horses; and Douglas and his company baited also close beside them. They were so many, and so fully armed, and so constantly arrayed for battle, and he so few, and without support, that he would not attack them in open fight, but rode ever by them, constantly waiting his chance.

They baited there a little while, then mounted and fared forward, and he was always close by them. He let them have not so much leisure as to relieve themselves; and if any were so bested, and were left any space behind, forthwith he was made captive.

In this fashion Douglas convoyed them till the king and his rout were come to the Castle of Dunbar. There he and some of his men were right well received; for still at that time the Earl Patrick was an Englishman. [The Earls of March claimed direct descent from the ancient Kings of Northumbria. They are represented to-day by the Dunbars of Mochrum.] He caused them to be well refreshed with meat and drink, and afterwards procured a boat, and sent the king by sea to Bamborough in his own country. Their horses they left to go astray, but I trow they were taken possession of soon enough.

The rest, who were left without the castle, arrayed themselves in a body, and made straight towards Berwick. To say truth, they lost part of their rout ere they came thither. Nevertheless they came at last to Berwick, and were there received into the town, else mischance had befallen them. And when the Lord Douglas saw that he had lost his pains he went again to the Bruce.

Thus King Edward escaped. Lo! what changes there are in fortune! Now she will smile upon a man, and another time will thrust a knife into him. At no time does she stand stable. This mighty King of England she had set high on her wheel when with so marvellous a host of men-at-arms and archers, and men on foot and men on horse-back, he came riding out of his country, as I have already described. And afterwards, in a night and a day, she set him in so hard a strait that with seventeen in a boat he was fain to make his way home.

But King Robert had no need to make lament of the turning of this same wheel, for by the turn of the wheel his side vanquished its foes, and was made great in might.

Two opposites ye may well perceive set against each other on a wheel. When one is high the other is low; and if it befall that fortune turn the wheel about, that which was erst above is perforce downmost sped, while that which erst was wondrous low must leap aloft. So fared it with these two kings; when King Robert was bested in his time of evil fortune, the other was in royal estate; and when King Edward's might was brought low, King Robert's leapt on high; and now it was his fortune to be exalted and achieve his desire.

While he still lay at Stirling he caused the great lords whom he found dead in the field to be buried honourably in holy ground. The other dead were buried afterwards in great pits. Then he caused the castle and towers to be mined and thrown down. Next he sent Sir Edward with a great host to Bothwell, for word reached him from that place that the rich Earl of Hereford and other mighty men were there. Sir Edward soon made treaty with Sir Walter Gilbertston, so that he gave the Earl and castle, and all else, into his hand. Sir Edward sent the Earl to the king, and he caused him to be warded right well, till at last they made treaty that he should return to England ransom free, and that for him there should be exchanged Bishop Robert, [Bishop Wishart of Glasgow, who absolved the Bruce and robed him for his coronation, had become blind in prison. Several of his letters in Rymer's Foedera refer to this fact.] who had become blind, with the queen, and her daughter the Lady Marjory, whom the English held in prison. The Earl was exchanged for these three.

And when they were come home, the king's daughter, a fair maid, who was his apparent heir, was wedded with Walter Stewart, and they presently, by our Lord's grace, begat a boy child, who was called Robert after his brave grandfather, and later, after his worthy uncle David, who reigned two and forty years, he became king, and had the land in government.

At the time of the compiling of this book this Robert was king, and five years of his reign were past. It was the year of grace 1375, and the sixtieth of his age, and six and forty winters after the good King Robert's life was brought to an end. God grant that they who are come of his offspring shall uphold the land, and keep the people in all safety, and maintain right and loyalty as well as the Bruce did in his time!

King Robert was now full at his fortune's height, for each day his strength grew greater. His people were rich, and his country abounded greatly in corn and cattle, and all other kinds of wealth. Mirth, comfort, and gladness were everywhere in the land, for each man was blithe and festive.

After the great day of battle the king, by advice of his privy council, caused it to be publicly proclaimed in different towns that whoso claimed the right to hold land or fee in Scotland should, within a twelvemonth, come and claim it, and do therefor the service pertaining to the king. And they must take note that, if they came not within the year, of a certainty none should thereafter be heard.

Soon after this was done, the king, being of great valour and activity, caused a host to be summoned, and went into England, and over-rode all Northumberland, and burnt and plundered, and then came home again. I pass this shortly by, for in that riding was done no deed of approved chivalry that need be narrated here. The king went often in this manner into England to enrich his men, for that country abounded then in wealth.


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