The Battle of Byland
SIR EDWARD BRUCE, ever
irking at rest, and eager to be at work, a day before the succours
arrived that had been sent him by the king, and despite the counsel of
all who were with him, set forth upon the march. Besides the Irish
chiefs, who rode with him in great bands, he had not in all in the
country at that time, I trow, two thousand men.
He set out towards
Dundalk. And when Richard of Clare heard that he marched with a small
following, he gathered together out of the whole of Ireland all the
armed men he could. Thus he had with him at that time twenty thousand
equipped horsemen, besides a host of men on foot, and he set out towards
When Sir Edward heard
that he was come near, he sent out as scouts the Soulis and the Stewart
and Sir Philip the Mowbray, and when these three had seen the enemy's
advance, they returned and told the king that their foes were in right
great number. Sir Edward made answer quickly, and said he should fight
that day though the enemy were three times or four times as many.
"Of a surety," said Sir
John Stewart, "I council ye, fight not in such haste. They say my
brother is coming, and near at hand, with fifteen hundred men. Were they
joined with you ye could with more confidence abide the battle."
Sir Edward looked right
wrathful, "What sayest thou?" he asked Soulis.
"I' faith, sir," said he,
"I say as my friend has said."
The king then asked Sir
Philip, and he answered, "Sir, as our Lord sees me, methinks it no
foolishness to await your friends, who make speed to ride hither. We are
few; our foes are many. God may grant us good fortune, it is true, but
it were a miracle if our strength should overcome so many in battle."
"Alas," said Sir Edward,
in great wrath, "I never thought to hear that from thee! Now, help who
will, assuredly without longer tarrying I will fight this day. While I
live, no man shall say that any force made me flee. God save us from the
charge of fouling our fair name!"
"So be it then," said
they, "we shall take what God sends."
When the Irish chiefs
heard what had passed, and knew for certain that their king, with his
small following, would fight against so great and mighty a host, they
came to him with the utmost speed, and counselled him most earnestly to
await his friends. They would, they said, keep the enemy engaged all
that day, and the morrow as well, with their attacks.
But no counsel could
prevail; the king's mind was set always upon the battle. And when they
saw he was so stubbornly set to fight, they said, "Ye may indeed go to
battle with yonder great host, but we account ourselves free utterly,
and none of us will stand to fight. Set no store, therefore, by our
strength. For our custom in this country is to follow and fight, and to
fight fleeing, and not to stand in open battle till one side be
"Since that is your
custom," he said, "I ask of you no more than this, that ye and your host
stand all together in battle array at a distance, without leaving the
field, and see our fight and our ending."
They said of a surety
they should do this; then they withdrew to their men, who were well nigh
forty thousand strong.
The king and those about
him, not two thousand in all, arrayed themselves stalwartly to do battle
with forty thousand and more. Sir Edward that day would not put on his
coat armour, but Gib Harper, whom men held without peer in his estate,
wore the whole of Sir Edward's array.
In this wise they awaited
the battle, and, their enemies coming at great speed all ready for the
encounter, right boldly they met them. So few were the Scots, of a
truth, that they were overwhelmed by their foes. Those of them that
endeavoured most to make a stand were cut down, and the rest fled for
succour to the Irish host. Sir Edward, despite his valour, was slain,
and Sir John Stewart as well, with Sir John de Soulis, and others
besides of their company. So suddenly were they overcome that few were
slain on the spot; the rest made their way to the Irish chiefs who, in
battle order, were waiting at hand.
John Thomasson, leader of
the men of Carrick in the host, when he saw the discomfiture, withdrew
to an Irish chief of his acquaintance, who received him loyally. And
when he was come to that chief he saw being led away from the battle the
stout Sir Philip the Mowbray. He had been stunned in the fight, and was
led by the arms by two men on the causeway that stretched in a long
straight line between the place of battle and the town. They held their
way towards the town; but when they were midway on the road Sir Philip
overcame his dizziness, and perceived he was seized and led away by two
of the enemy. In a moment he hurled from him first the one and then the
other, then swiftly drew his sword and set out along the causeway
towards the fight. The road was full of a multitude of men going towards
the town, and he as he met them dealt such blows that against their will
he made a full hundred leave the causeway. This was told for a certainty
by John Thomasson, who saw the whole achievement.
Mowbray went straight
towards the battle, but Thomasson, taking certain heed that the Scots
were all completely overthrown, called hastily to him, and said, "Come
here, for there is none alive; they are every one slain."
Then Sir Philip stood
still awhile, and saw that his friends were all done to death, and he
came and joined company with him.
This John Thomasson
afterwards wrought so shrewdly that all who had fled to the Irish host,
though they had lost part of their weapons, reached Carrickfergus safe
and whole. Meanwhile the English who had been in the battle sought among
the dead to find Sir Edward, to get his head, and they found Gib Harper
in his coat of mail. Then, because of the arms he wore, they struck off
his head, and salted it in a bucket, and sent it afterwards to England
as a present to King Edward. They supposed it Sir Edward's head, but
were deceived because of the splendour of the armour. Nevertheless Sir
Edward died there.
In this wise through
wilfulness were all these nobles at that time lost, which was afterwards
a great regret. Had their extraordinary valour been guided with sense
and moderation, unless the greater misfortune befell them, it should
have been a right hard task to bring them to disaster. But great and
extravagant pride caused them all to pay dear for their bravery.
Those who fled from the
battle sped in haste towards the sea-coast, and came to Carrickfergus.
And those on the way from King Robert to Sir Edward, when they heard of
the discomfiture, returned to the same place. This retreat was not made
without difficulty, for many times that day the Irish attacked them; but
they held together in close order, defending themselves cautiously, and,
sometimes by force, sometimes by craft, and sometimes giving bribes to
be allowed to pass scatheless, they made their escape. Then in boats and
ships they set forth and arrived all safely in Scotland.
When the people of
Scotland had knowledge of Sir Edward's overthrow, the whole land mourned
full tenderly for him and for those who were slain with him.
After Edward the Bruce
had been discomfited in the manner I have described, and the field had
been entirely cleared, so that no resisters were to be seen, the warden,
Richard of Glare, and all the hosts with him set out towards Dundalk.
They made no direct encounter at that time with the Irish, but hastened
to the town. Then they sent overseas to the King of England Gib Harper's
head in a bucket. John Maupas carried it to the king, who received it
with great delight, and was right blithe at the gift, being full glad to
be delivered of so fierce a foe. His heart was so filled with pride
because of this that he formed a plan to ride with a great host into
Scotland, to avenge himself with a strong hand for the vexation,
trouble, and harm that he had suffered there. He gathered a vast host,
and sent his ships by sea with great abundance of victual. On that
occasion he thought to destroy the whole of Scotland so utterly that
none should be left alive therein, and with his people in great array he
set forth towards the North. [Professor Skeat has pointed out the
looseness of the narrative here. According to the 'Annales Scotiae', John
Maupas was the slayer of Edward Bruce, and was himself found afterwards
dead upon his body, while Edward II.'s campaign in Scotland did not
occur till some four years later, in August 1322.]
When King Robert knew
that he was coming upon him with such a host, he gathered men far and
near till he had so many about him, and coming to join him, that he felt
assured he should do well. He caused all the cattle of Lothian to be
withdrawn, and sent them into fastnesses, and appointed men for their
defence. With his whole host he lay in hiding at Culross, for his plan
was to weaken his foes by fasting and long watching, and after he had
enfeebled their strength, to give them battle.
While this was his plan
the English host with much greater strength than his came into Lothian,
and soon reached Edinburgh, where they dwelt three days. The English
ships at sea had all the time contrary winds, and could by no means
bring the victual they carried into the firth to relieve the king. When
provision failed the host, and they saw they could get no victual by
sea, they sent forth a great company to forage throughout Lothian. But
they found no cattle, except a lame cow that they came upon in a
cornfield at Tranent; her they brought to the host. And when the Earl of
Warenne saw that cow coming thus solitary, he asked if they had got no
more, and they told him no. "Certes then," said he, "I declare this is
the dearest beef I ever yet beheld, for of a certainty it has cost a
thousand pounds, and more!"
And when the king and his
council saw that they could get no cattle for their host to eat, and
that the host suffered greatly from the fasting, they turned homewards
again towards England. They meant to lie at Melrose, and sent forward a
company of nigh three hundred armed men. But the Lord Douglas, who was
then near at hand in the Forest, knew of their coming, and what they
were, and with his company he lay in wait privily in ambush in Melrose.
He sent a right sturdy friar outside the gate to watch their coming, and
bade him keep himself hidden till he saw them come to the corner of the
wall, and then cry aloud, "Douglas! Douglas!"
The friar set forth. He
was daring, stout, and bold; his great hood covered wholly the armour he
wore; he rode a strong horse, and in his hand he carried a spear. Thus
he waited till he saw the English coming nigh, and when the foremost
were past the corner he shouted "Douglas! Douglas!" and made a charge at
them, and deftly bore one down. Then with a shout Douglas and his
company sallied forth. And when the English saw so great a force come so
suddenly upon them they were right greatly daunted, and fled at once.
The Scots rode among them, and slew all they could overtake, and made a
great martyrdom there.
Those of the English who
escaped unslain returned to their main body, and told the manner of
welcome Douglas had given them at their meeting, convoying them roughly
back, and denying them open quarters. Then the King of England and his
men, seeing their harbingers come back repulsed, were greatly troubled,
and deemed it would be great folly to quarter in the Forest. They camped
therefore in the open ground beside Dryburgh, and afterwards held their
way homewards to England.
And when King Robert
heard that they were turned home again, and how their harbingers had
been slain, he gathered his host quickly, and went south over the
Scottish Sea, and marched towards England. When his host was all got
together, he had eighty thousand men and more, and of these he made
eight battles, with ten thousand in each battle. Then he passed into
England, and with his whole army followed fast upon the English king,
till at last he drew near to him, where he lay at Byland with his men.
King Robert had knowledge that he lay there in great force, and one
night surprised him by a forced march, so that on the morrow, before it
was day, the Scots were come into the open field but a little space from
Between them and Byland
there was a rocky hill stretching a long way, with a great pass going
up. By no other way could the Abbey of Byland be reached, unless they
went a great way round about. And when the vast English host heard King
Robert was so near, the greater part of them went to the pass, and
seized the hill, thinking to make their defence there. On that ground
they displayed their banners and their battles in broad array, and felt
assured of defending the place.
When King Robert
perceived that they meant to defend themselves there, he sent for his
council, and asked what were best to be done. The Lord Douglas answered
and said, "Sir, I will undertake in a short time either openly to win
yonder place, or else to cause all yonder company to come down to you
here in this plain."
"Do so then," said the
king, "and God speed thee!"
Douglas therefore went
forth, and taking the greater part of the host with him, marched towards
The stout Earl of Moray
left his battle, and in great haste, with but three men in his company,
came to the Lord Douglas's rout, and before he entered upon the ground
took a place in front of them all; for he desired that men should see
him. And when Sir James of Douglas beheld him come thus, he prized him
greatly for it, and welcomed him right humbly, and took the field beside
The English, seeing them
do this, alighted and marched against them. Two knights doughty of deed,
Sir Thomas Arthin and Sir Ralph of Cobham, came down before all their
host. They were both of right great valour, and met their foes right
manfully; but they were grievously beset. There some were to be seen
making strong attack, and others making stout battle in defence. The
arrows flew in great abundance, and the English above rolled down stones
from the height. But the Scots set both will and strength to win the
pass, and pressed their enemies so that Sir Ralph retired speedily to
his host. Sir Thomas was left manfully, and with great strength
defending the place, till at last he was taken unawares, and made
captive by hard fighting. Because of this defence he was afterwards, to
his last day, renowned as the knight of stoutest hand in all England.
For this same Sir Ralph of Cobham had the name throughout all England of
being the best knight in the country, and because Sir Thomas remained
fighting where Sir Ralph withdrew he was prized above him.
As they thus fought, and
King Robert, who was wise and prudent in action, saw his men continue so
doughtily to ascend the pass against their foes, and saw the enemy thus
well defend themselves, he caused all the Erse of Argyll and the Isles
who were in his host to speed forthwith up the hill. He bade them leave
the pass altogether, and climb up the crags at hand, and make the
greatest haste to seize the high ground. This they did forthwith,
climbing always up to the height, and heeding no whit the strength of
their foes. They bore themselves so that despite the enemy they got to
the top of the hill. There they could be seen fighting fiercely, and
sturdily driving back their foes. At the same time those who had gone to
the pass, notwithstanding the efforts of the English, seized the high
ground, and there laid on with all their might, and were to be seen
doing dire battle.
A perilous combat took
place there; for a knight named Sir John of Bretagne chanced to be at
the top of the hill with his men, and made great defence. But the Scots
made such assault, and did battle with them so fiercely, that they were
brought to dismay, and those of them that could flee made off. Sir John
of Bretagne was taken there, and right many of his folk were slain. Two
knights of France were taken, the Lord of Sully and the Marshal
Bretagne, who was a right great lord at home. [John of Bretagne was Earl
of Richmond, and Henry de Sully Grand Butler of France.—Tytler, i. 145.]
Of the others, some were dead, and some taken, and the rest every one
And when the King of
England, who was still lying at Byland, saw his men wholly discomfited,
he made off with the greatest haste, and fled southward with all his
might. The Scots, I promise, chased him hard, and took many in the
pursuit, though King Edward got away clear with the greater part of his
host. Walter Stewart, who ever set his heart upon high deeds of
chivalry, gave chase, with five hundred in his company, to the gates of
York. There he slew some of the English, and tarried till near night to
see if any would come forth to battle. And when he saw none sought to
come out, he turned again with all his company, and hastened to the
The Scots had quartered
in the Abbey of Byland, and at Rievaulx near by. They dealt among them
the King of England's gear that he had left in Byland; they caused it
all to be brought out and counted through their hands, and all made glad
and merry over it.
When King Robert had
taken up his quarters they brought to him the prisoners all unarmed as
it behoved. And when he saw Sir John of Bretagne he looked at him with
the greatest displeasure, for he was wont to speak haughtily and
despitefully at home, and he bade them carry him off at once, and see
that he be straitly kept, and said, "Were it not that he were such a
caitiff he should pay dearly for his despiteful words."
Sir John meekly begged
his mercy, but they led him forth without more ado, and guarded him
well till they were come home to their own country. I have heard say he
was ransomed long afterwards for twenty thousand pounds.
When the king had spoken
thus the French knights who had been taken were brought before him, and
he gave them fair welcome, and said, "Right well I know that because of
your great worth and valour ye came here to see the fighting. Seeing ye
were in the country your strength, your stoutness, and your valour would
not suffer ye to eschew the fight, and since by that cause ye were led
to it, and neither by wrath nor ill-will, ye shall be received as
friends here, where ye are ever welcome."
They knelt and thanked
him greatly for the grace that of a truth he showed them, and he caused
them to be courteously treated, and kept them long with him, and did
them high honour. And when they longed for their own country, he sent
them free, without ransom, as a present to the King of France, and gave
them great gifts. In this fashion he received his friends with courtesy
and kindness, and vigorously confounded his foes.
He lay at Byland all that
night, and all the host were glad because of their victory. On the
morrow they marched southward, and made their way, burning, slaying, and
destroying, and damaging the enemy with all their might, till they came
to the Wolds. There they turned northward towards home, and on their way
back wholly destroyed the Vale Beauvoir. [Beverloy and the Valley of the
Hull. The clergy and inhabitants of Beverley purchased their own safety
by a payment of four hundred pounds, equal to six thousand pounds of
modern money.— Tytler, i. 14.] Then with prisoners and cattle, with
riches and many a fair jewel, they marched home to Scotland, blithe and
glad, joyful and gay. And each man went to his dwelling praising God
that so fair fortune had befallen them as, by valour and strength and
their lord's great nobleness, to discomfit the King of England in his