The Siege of Berwick
THE Scottish lords were
glad when they knew the king was come again. They made great haste to
meet him, and he received them right blithely, and made a feast and
gladsome cheer. They were more wondrously rejoiced at his coming than
tongue can tell, and they entertained him with great feasting and
honour. Wherever he rode the whole country gathered in delight to see
him, and great gladness was in the land. The whole country from the
Reidswyre [The Reidswyre was the high pass at the source of the Reid
where the road between Jedburgh and Newcastle crossed the border. More
than one border skirmish took place there. One of these skirmishes,
fought July 7th, 1576, is still remembered in a well known ballad, 'The
Raid of the Reidswair.'] to the Orkney was now won to his hand. No part
of Scotland was outside his rule except Berwick alone.
The captain of the town
at that time was one who held all Scots in suspicion, and treated them
most evilly. He had them ever in ill-will, and made diligence ever to
keep them down. But at last one day a burgher, Sym of Spalding,
bethought him it was a right vexatious matter to be constantly rebuffed
in such fashion. Accordingly he determined in his heart secretly to make
a covenant with the marshal, whose cousin he had married, and he did
forthwith what he planned. He sent letters to the marshal with speed and
secrecy by a trusty man, and set him a time to come at night privily to
the Cowport with ladders and stout active men. He bade him keep faith
truly, and promised to meet him at the wall, where his watch should fall
When the marshal saw the
letter he took thought for a short space, for he knew that by himself he
bad not might or power enough to achieve so great an enterprise, and if
he asked any to help him the other Scottish leaders would be made
jealous. Therefore he went straight to the king, and showed him, between
themselves, the letter and the business.
When the king heard the
plot thus word by word described, it appeared to him to be without
deceit, and he said to the marshal, "Certes, thou hast done wisely to
disclose the matter first to me, for if thou hadst discovered it to my
nephew, the Earl Thomas, thou hadst displeased the Lord Douglas, and the
same the other way about. But I shall work in such fashion that thou
shalt gain thy purpose, and have despite of none of them. Thou shalt
keep truly to thy day, and with the men whom thou caust procure thou
shalt make an ambush in Duns Park. Only, be secret. And I shall cause
the Earl Thomas, and also the Lord of Douglas, each with a small body of
men, to be there and do as thou shalt direct."
The marshal then at once
took leave and went his way, and kept what was said private and secret
till the appointed time. Then he took with him to his tryst the best men
of Lothian, for he was sheriff of that district. All privily with his
following he came in the evening to Duns Park. Soon afterwards the Earl
Thomas came with a good company, having met with the Lord Douglas. They
were a right fair host when they were met together there.
Then the marshal told the
covenant line by line to the two lords, and they went their way forward.
They left their horses far from the town, and, to make the tale short,
they so wrought that, without any man seeing them, except only Sym of
Spalding, who caused the enterprise to be undertaken, they set their
ladders to the wall, and all came up. They kept in a secret nook till
the night should be past, and arranged that most of their men should go
in a body with their lords, and keep a fixed stance, while the rest
should all scatter through the town, and take and slay the men they
could come at.
But they soon broke their
arrangement, for whenever day dawned two thirds and more of the men
scattered through the town. So greedy were they for the spoil that they
ran as if they were mad, and seized houses and slew men. The English,
seeing their foes thus so suddenly come upon them, raised the cry
throughout the town, and rushed together here and there, and ever as
they came together would stand and make fight. Had they been warned I am
well assured they should have sold their lives dear; for they were brave
men, and were far more in number than those who attacked them. But they
were so scattered that they could in no wise be got together.
There were two or three
great melees, but the Scots bore themselves so well that their foes were
ever driven back, and at last were so overwhelmed that they altogether
fled. Some reached the castle, but not all, and some slid over the wall,
and some were taken prisoner, and some were slain in the strife.
In this way matters went
till it was near noonday. Then those that were in the castle, and the
others who had fled to them there, being a right great company, saw the
Scottish banner standing little defended, and protected by few, and they
opened their gates suddenly, and made a bold sally on the Scots.
Then the valiant Earl
Thomas and the good Lord of Douglas, with the few followers who were
with them, met them stoutly with their various weapons. There, had one
been at hand, he might have seen men demean themselves boldly and
sturdily. The English fought fiercely, and laboured with all their might
to drive the Scots back again, and I trow of a truth they would have
done this, for the Scots were fewer far than they, if it had not been
for a new-made knight, Sir William of Keith and of Gaiston (for he had
different surnames). Sir William bore himself right well that day, and
made most bold assault, and dealt mighty strokes about him. Where he saw
the throng thickest he charged with all his strength, and fought with
such force that he made way for his following. Those that were near him
drove so boldly at their foes that at last the English altogether turned
their backs and made for the castle.
They entered it at great
cost, for they were pressed so hard there that they lost many of the
rearmost. Nevertheless those that entered sparred their gates hastily,
and ran quickly to the walls, for they were not then all secure.
In this wise, by dint of
great valour and high enterprise, was the town taken. [The town of
Berwick was taken on March 28, 1318, the castle five days later.] All
the spoil there was quickly seized by the Scots. They found victuals in
great abundance, and all pertaining to the provisioning of a town. This
they saved from destruction. Then they sent word to the king, and he was
blithe, and sped thither right swiftly. And as he rode through the
country men gathered to him till he had a great and valiant following.
The people of the Merse and Teviotdale, and the men of the Forest and
the eastern part of Lothian, went to Berwick in strong force before the
coming of the king, so that none dwelling beyond the Tweed durst well
appear at that time.
When the men in the
castle saw their enemies gather before them in such number, and saw no
hope of rescue, they were greatly dismayed. Nevertheless they held the
castle stubbornly for five days. Then on the sixth day they yielded it,
and went to their own country.
Thus were castle and town
brought into possession of the Scots. And soon afterwards the king came
riding to Berwick with his host, and quartered fair and well, and all
his great lords beside him, in the castle. The rest all in common
quartered in the town.
The king then took
counsel and decided not to break down the wall, but to provide castle
and town well with men and with victual and all kinds of gear useful or
necessary for their keeping in time of war.
Walter, Steward of
Scotland, who was then young and handsome and the king's son-in-law, had
such great desire and yearning to be near the border that he took
Berwick into his keeping, and received from the king, town, castle, and
donjon. Bruce sent men of great renown into England to drive a prey, and
they brought out a great abundance of cattle. And he treated with
certain countrymen for victual, and brought it quickly in great
abundance to the place, so that both town and castle were well
provisioned for a year or more. The good Steward of Scotland then sent
for his friends and followers till he had with him, besides archers,
burghers, and cross-bowmen, five hundred active and valiant followers
who bore ancestral arms. He had also John Crab, a Fleming of great skill
in the making of gear for the defence and attack of castle or town. None
more skilful was to be found. He caused engines and cranes to be made,
and procured Greek fire, with springalds and shot of different kinds
pertaining to the defence of a castle. He made provision in right great
quantity, but he had no cannon, for up to that time these had not been
seen in use in Scotland.
And when the town was
garrisoned in this fashion the noble king set forth and rode towards
Lothian, leaving the stout Walter Steward and his host in Berwick, with
diligent order to prepare gear for the defence of the place if it should
When the king of England
was told how Berwick had been taken by force, and furnished with men and
victual and munition of war, he was vastly vexed. He called his council
hastily, and determined to lead his host thither, and, with all the
force he could gather, lay siege to the town, and entrench his army
strongly, so that so long as they chose to lie there they should be
altogether secure. And if the Scots should attack them, the English,
doing battle at their trenches, should have great advantage. He felt the
more assured, for it would be a great folly to make open attack on so
strong a force in its entrenchments.
When his plan was thus
shaped, he caused his whole host to be gathered from far and near. He
had then a great multitude with him. The Earl Thomas of Lancaster, who,
they say, was afterwards made a saint, was there, and all the other
earls and mighty barons of England able to fight. All these he took with
him to the siege, and he caused his ships to bring by sea shot and other
gear, with great store of victual.
He came to Berwick with
all this host victualled and arrayed, and to each of his great lords
separately he appointed a field for their quarters. There presently were
to be seen pavilions of sundry kinds set up in such number that they
formed a town greater than Berwick and its castle. Then, on the other
side, by sea, came so many ships, with victual, armour, and men, that
all the harbour was filled.
And when those in the
town saw their enemies come in such strength and number by land and sea,
they, like able and right valiant men, made ready to defend the place.
They were prepared either to die or drive back their foes; for their
captain treated them very graciously, and most of those who bore arms
with him were of his blood and his near kin, or else were his allies.
They were of high courage and right noble bearing, being none of them
dismayed. By day they kept in full array, and by night they set good
For full six days they
remained thus without any great struggle. During that time the English
had so enclosed their host with trenches that they were strongly
fortified. Then with all hands they busily got ready their gear to
attack the town. And on the Eve of the Nativity of the Virgin, early in
the morning, the English host armed, and boldly displayed its banners,
and gathered to its standards, with engines of many kinds, such as
scaffolds, ladders, and coverings, pikes, hoes, and staff-slings. To
each lord and his battle was appointed a place where he should attack.
And when those within the
town saw the English host thus range themselves in order, they hastened
to their posts. These were right strongly provided with stones, shot,
and everything needed for defence. There the Scots waited the attack of
When the English were all
ready the trumpets sharply sounded the advance, and each man with his
gear, in his appointed place, went to the assault. To each battlement
archers were assigned to shoot. All things being thus ready, they
hastened towards the town, and quickly filled the ditches, and boldly
advanced with their ladders to the walls.
But those above upon the
wall made stout defence, and the ladders and men upon them they threw
flat on the ground. Then in a little space were to be seen men boldly
making assault, some doughtily setting up their ladders, and some on
ladders pressing up, while those on the wall risked every danger till
their enemies were thrown down. At great disadvantage they defended
their town, for, if the truth must be said, the walls were then so low
that a man on the ground could, with a spear, strike another on the wall
in the face. The arrows also flew so thick that it was a wonder to see
Walter Stewart rode ever
about with a company to see where help was most needed, and where the
enemy pressed most he gave succour to his men. The great multitude
outside had so surrounded the town that no part of it was free from
them. Everywhere the assailants could be seen giving themselves boldly
to the attack, and the defenders striving doughtily with all their might
to thrust them back again.
Thus they bore themselves
till noon was past. Then they in the ships with great endeavour prepared
a vessel to come with all her gear right to the wall to make an attack.
They drew their boat, full of armed men, up to the middle of the mast,
and they had a bridge to let fall from the boat to the battlement. They
rowed the ship with barges alongside, and pressed hard, and set all
their intent to tow her past the bridge-house to the wall. They brought
her till she came very near. Then men could be seen greatly busied, some
attacking and some making defence in many ways and with great labour.
Those in the town bore
themselves well, and the shipmen were so handled that they could by no
means bring their vessel near enough the wall to let their fall-bridge
reach it. But they remained fighting so long that the ebb left the ship
aground. Then in a little space those on board were in more evil plight
by far than before. When the tide ebbed, so that men could go to the
ship dry foot, there sallied forth to her from the town a right great
company, and presently they set her on fire. Within a short time they
burnt her up, some of those within her being slain and some having fled
and escaped. The Scots captured there an engineer known far and near as
the most cunning of his craft; then they returned into the town.
It was a happy chance
indeed that they got in so quickly; for when the English saw the ship on
fire, there came a great company of them at the utmost speed up by the
sea. But before they came the Scots had passed in and barred the gate,
and made it fast.
The English host made
diligent attack that day, and those within defended themselves ever in
such fashion that their assailants with all their force could in no way
effect their purpose. And when the time of evensong was near, the host
outside, being weary, and some of them right cruelly wounded, looked at
the defenders, and saw it was not to be easy to take the town while such
defence was made by its captains. They beheld their ship burnt and many
of those in it lost, and their people wounded and weary, and they caused
the retreat to be blown.
After the shipmen were
repulsed the other vessels made no more attack; for by means of this
ship they had everyone thought that the town should easily be taken.
Some say that more than one ship tried at that time to reach the town;
but since no more than one was burnt, and it was in it the engineer was
captured, I have here made mention of one ship alone.
When they had blown the
retreat, the English, having endured great hardships, withdrew
altogether from the wall, and abandoned the whole attack. And those
within, being weary, and many of them sore wounded, were blithe and glad
when they saw their enemies thus withdraw. And when they knew for
certain that the English had gone to their tents they set good watches
on the wall, and went all to their quarters, and took their ease for
their weariness. Others who were sore wounded had the service of good
leeches [medics], who helped them as they best could. On both sides they were
weary. That night they did no more; and for five days thereafter they
lay still, neither doing the other much hurt.
Now leave we these folk
lying here at rest, and turn the course of our tale to the doughty King
When he knew for certain
that the King of England had with a strong force laid siege to Berwick,
where Walter Stewart lay with his men, he gathered a host from far and
near and formed a plan. He determined not to attack the King of England
in battle, especially at his trenches, for such an attack might easily
prove folly. But he ordered two lords, the Earl of Moray and the Lord
Douglas, to pass with fifteen thousand men into England, and burn and
slay and make great harrying there. So that when those besieging the
town heard of the destruction being made in England, they should be so
fearful and so anxious for the lives of their wives and children, and
for the loss of their goods, that they should hasten to leave the siege,
and march quickly to rescue their gear, their friends, and their land.
To this intent Bruce sent
forth these lords, and they set out hastily, and, passing into England,
burned and slew, and laid waste the country. They wrought hurt pitiful
for those that wished it any good to see, for they destroyed everything
as they went. They passed to and fro destroying thus till they reached
Ripon, and they wholly destroyed that town, and took their quarters at
Boroughbridge and Mitton close by.
And when the men of that
district saw their land so destroyed they came together with the
greatest speed, archers, burghers, and yeomanry, priests, clerks, monks,
and friars, farmers, and men of all crafts, till there were gathered
together full twenty thousand of them. Right good armour and enough they
had. The Archbishop of York they made their captain; and they took
counsel and determined, since the Scots were far fewer than themselves,
to attack them in open battle.
The Archbishop displayed
his banner; other Bishops who were there did the same; and they set
forth all in a body by the nearest way towards Mitton.
And when the Scots heard
that the enemy were coming near, they made ready after their best
fashion, and divided themselves into two battles. Douglas took the
vanguard and the Earl Thomas the rear, for he was chieftain of the host;
and thus ordered, in good array, they set out towards their foes.
When each caught sight of
the other they pressed forward on both sides to fight. The English came
on in good order, with brave and hardy bearing, in one straight front,
with a banner, till they were so near that each side could easily see
the other's faces. Three spear lengths I trow might be the space between
them, when such panic seized the English host that, without more ado,
they turned, showed their hacks, and fled.
When the Scots saw them
thus all flee in dismay, they dashed upon them with great speed, and
slew and took a vast number. The rest fled in the utmost fear to seek
refuge as they best could. They were chased so closely that a full
thousand perished. Of these, three hundred were priests: for this reason
the skirmish was called the Chapter of Mitton. [The Chapter of Mitton
was fought Sept. 20, 1319.] When this host was overthrown, and pursuit
ended, the Scots marched throughout the land, slaying, destroying, and
Meanwhile, the English
who lay at the siege of Berwick, before the fifth day was past, had made
sundry engines to go again to the attack. Among great devices they made
a sow that had a strong covering without and many armed men within. They
also made tools for mining, and they had sundry scaffolds higher than
the wall, and arranged also that the town should be strongly attacked by
And those within, seeing
them prepare such mighty engines, by the cunning counsel of Crab set up
a high crane running on wheels, which they could bring where most need
was. They also took pitch and tar, with lint and hards and brimstone,
and dry sticks that would burn easily, and mixed them together, and made
of them great faggots girded with broad bands of iron. Of these faggots
they might have a great tun full. They planned to use them in a blazing
bundle by means of their crane, and if the sow came to the wall, to let
them fall burning upon her, and with a strong chain keep her there till
all were burnt who were within. They also prepared engines for throwing
stones, and made ready diligently, and appointed each man to his place
of guard. Sir Walter, the brave Steward, was to ride about with armed
men, and watch where there was most to be feared, and give succour there
with his company.
And when both sides had
thus fully made ready for the attack, on the Rood Eve at dawn the
English host blew the assault. Then, with its many engines, that great
host came stoutly on. They quickly surrounded the town, and attacked
with good will, and set all their strength to it, and pressed the
But the Scots, exposing
themselves to wounds and death, defended themselves right well. They
cast the ladders to the ground, and drove at their foes with catapult
stones so diligently that they laid many low, some swooning, some hurt,
and some slain. The English foot soldiers, however, drew the wounded
nimbly away, and retreated no whit on that account, but kept stoutly at
the assault. At the same time the defenders above assailed them so hard
and constantly, and wounded so many, and made such great defence, that
they kept back the onset of their foes.
In such fashion they
fought till near noon. Then the besiegers in great array pushed their
sow towards the wall. At that, those within brought up the engineer who
had been captured, and laid great threats upon him, and swore he should
die unless he used his craft upon the sow, and broke her to pieces. And
he, seeing clearly that his end was near unless he could accomplish
their desire, determined to do all he could. In great haste the catapult
was got ready, and aimed at the sow. He drew the trigger, and smartly
hurled out the stone. It went straight over the sow, and fell a little
way behind her.
Then those within her
shouted aloud, "Forward to the wall! without doubt all is ours!"
Then the engineer nimbly
bent the catapult again, and the stone was smartly hurled out. It flew
forth with a whizz and a roar, and fell right in front of the sow. The
hearts of the assailants then began to quake, but still, with all their
strength, they pushed the sow towards the wall, and brought her close up
The engineer then quickly
bent his catapult once more, and hurled forth the stone. It went
straight towards the sky, and with great weight in a furious rush drove
down right by the wall, and hit the sow in such fashion that it broke in
sunder with its dint the main beam, which was the strongest to resist a
stroke. The men within the sow ran out with the greatest speed, and the
men on the walls called out that "The sow had farrowed there!"
John Crab then, having
his gear all ready, set fire to his faggots, and hurled them over the
wall, and burnt the sow to bare firebrands.
While all this was going
on, the English host was making fierce and diligent attack, and the
Scots, in great risk of death, were manfully and with great strength
defending the place. The shipmen brought their ships with great engines
to the assault. Their top-castles were furnished well with active men in
armour of steel, and their boats were drawn up and made fast high upon
their masts. Thus mightily prepared they pressed towards the wall. But
the engineer staved in a long-boat with a stone, and the men in her fell
down, turning over and over, some of them stunned, and some dead.
Thenceforth none of the ships durst undertake to attack the wall.
But the rest kept up the
attack on every side so eagerly that of a truth it was great marvel that
the Scots held them back. The garrison were at great disadvantage, as I
have already told, because their walls were then so low that a man could
very easily with a spear strike up in the defender's face. Many of them
were sore wounded, and the rest were labouring so hard that none of them
had time to take rest. Their adversaries assailed so stoutly, and they
within were so straitly beset, that their warden, who with a hundred
armed men, active and bold, rode about to see where his people were
hardest pressed, and to relieve those that had need, came at sundry
times upon places where the defenders were all dead, or all sore
wounded. There he had to leave part of his company, so that by the time
he had made one circuit, of all his men there was only one remaining. He
had left them all to relieve where he saw need.
The English attacking at
the Marygate hewed down the barrier, and made a fire at the drawbridge,
and burnt it down, and thronged in great numbers right to the gate to
set it on fire. Those within sent a messenger quickly to the warden, to
tell him how hard they were beset. And when Sir Walter Stewart heard how
their enemies strove so straitly with them, he caused all the armed men
in the castle to come out, seeing that no assault was made there that
day. With that company he hastened to the Marygate, and ascended the
wall, and saw the whole danger. Forthwith he was convinced that unless
help were given at once the English would burn the gate with the fire
they had put to it. Therefore he determined upon a sudden and bold
manoeuvre. He caused the gate to be thrown wide, and with a force of men
scattered the fire he found thereat.
He set himself a right
difficult feat, for the assailants attacked him with their naked
weapons. He made defence with all his might, and it was a fierce sight
to behold the stabbing, thrusting, and striking. But the Scots made
sturdy defence, and with a great force of men kept the gate, and stood
at it despite their foes till night caused both sides to give up the
When night fell the
English host all withdrew from the attack, wounded, weary, and hard
stricken. With evil cheer they left the assault, and went to their
quarters, and set their watches. They took their ease as they best
could, for they had great need of rest.
That night they spoke all
in common of those within the town, and marvelled that they had made
such stout defence against the great assault. Those within, on the other
hand, when they saw their foes withdraw so completely, were all blithe,
and quickly appointed watches, and went to their quarters. Few of them
were slain, but many were cruelly wounded, and the rest beyond measure
It was in truth a hard
assault, and of a certainty I never heard tell of a few men so hard
assailed making better defence. Of one thing that befell there I marvel;
that is, that during all that day, when the enemy made their greatest
attack, and the shot fell thickest, women and little children gathered
up arrows in armfuls, and carried them to the men on the walls, and not
one of them was slain or even wounded. It was a miracle of God Almighty;
to nothing else can I attribute it.
All remained quiet that
night on either side, but on the morrow there came tidings out of
England to the English host telling how their men were slain and
overthrown at Boroughbridge and Mitton, and how the Scots still rode
throughout the land, burning and destroying.
And when King Edward
heard this news he gathered his whole council to decide whether it were
better to remain about the town and assail it till it were taken, or to
march into England and rescue his land and men.
His council warmly
disagreed, for the men of the south wished him to remain till he had won
the town and castle, but the men of the north would have none of this.
They feared to lose their friends and goods through the ravage of the
Scots, and they would that he left the siege and rode to rescue the
The Earl Thomas of
Lancaster was one of those who counselled the king to go home, and
because Edward inclined more to the desire of the men of the south than
to that of the north countrymen, he took it so ill that he had his gear
packed up in haste, and with his whole battle, which was near a third
part of the host, took his way home to England. He made off home without
leave, and thereafter befell a difference between him and the king which
lasted till Andrew Hardclay was set upon the Earl by Edward. Hardclay
took him at Pontefract, and on the hill beside the town struck off his
head without redemption. He was also hanged and drawn, and along with
him a right fair following. It was said afterwards that this Thomas, who
in this wise was made a martyr, became a saint, and did miracles, and
that envy caused these to be hidden. But whether he was a holy man or
no, he was slain in this fashion at Pontefract.
When the king of England
saw him dare to depart so openly, he deemed it perilous to lie there
with the rest of his host, and he had his harness packed up, and fared
home to England.
The Scots destroying in
England soon heard tidings of the breaking up of this great siege, and
they set out westward and passed home by Carlisle with prisoners and
plunder of many kinds. The lords went to the king, and the rest went
their ways, each man to his own dwelling.
The king, of a surety,
was wondrous glad that they were come home whole and sound, and had
discomfited their foes. Without loss of men they had succoured the
garrison besieged in Berwick when it was in the greatest danger, and
when the English attack had made its way right to the wall. And when the
king had asked tidings as to bow they had fared in England, and the
progress and success of their march, and when they had told him all
their adventure, and how the English had been discomfited, he was right
blithe in his heart, and entertained them with games and sport.
In this way were Berwick
and those within it rescued. He was worthy to be a prince who by his
valour and craft could conceive so excellent a strategy, and without
loss bring it to a good ending.
To Berwick then he took
his way, and when he heard there how boldly the place had been defended
he greatly praised the garrison. Above the rest, he commended Walter
Stewart's great valour for the right great defence he made at the gate,
when the bridge had been burnt. And of a surety praise was rightly due
to one who so stoutly, in plain fight, made defence at an open gate.
Could he have lived till he was of perfect age, without question his
renown must have spread far. But death, who watches ever with all her
might to despoil the weak and the strong, had great envy of his worth,
and in the flower of his youth she made an end of all his doughty deeds,
as I shall tell in another place.
When the king had dwelt
there some time be sent far and near for masons, the most cunning of
their craft, and caused them to raise the wall ten feet round all his
town of Berwick. Soon afterwards be took his way with all his host
towards Lothian, and presently he gave order for both men-at-arms and
yeomanry to pass into Ireland and bring his brother help.