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The Bruce
Book 19


The English Peace

THUS was the land at peace for a time. But envy, that never ceases from setting men upon evil deeds to win power to themselves, caused lords of full great renown to make a fell conspiracy against the doughty King Robert. They thought to make an end of him, and after his death to enjoy the kingdom and reign in his stead. The greatest infamy in that attempt pertained to Sir William, Lord Soulis, for he was chief of it both by assent and ruthlessness. He had caused several to join him, Gilbert Malherbe and John of Logie, knights, and Richard Brown, a squire. Stout Sir David the Brechin also was charged with the crime, as I shall describe later. [The house of Soulis claimed the throne in right of the daughter of King Alexander II. Had her legitimacy been proved their claim would have excluded both Bruce and Baliol. Both Soulis and Brechin had long been traitors in English pay.—Tytler, i. 142.]

But ere these men could compass their end they were every one discovered. This was done, I have heard, through a lady. [According to the 'Annales Scotiae' the lady was the Countess of Strathern. She was herself engaged in the plot, and for her share in it was condemned to perpetual imprisonment. Seventy years ago, when the monument to Sir David Baird was being erected on Tom-a-chaistle, near Crieff, the workmen broke into a vault under the ancient stronghold, and certain bones, gold ornaments, and household articles which they found were believed to be the relics of the imprisoned countess.] She told the king their whole intent and plot, how he was to be slain, and Soulis reign in his stead, and she gave him a sure token that the attempt was a settled matter.

When the king knew this was so, he made his plans so subtly that he caused the traitors every one to be captured. At the place where the Lord Soulis was seized he had in his company at the time three hundred and sixty squires, besides certain worthy knights. He was taken at Berwick. Then all his following was to be seen. going heavy and sad; for the king let them all go their way, and kept those he had proof against.

Soon afterwards the Lord Soulis made open confession of the whole plot. A parliament therefore was called, and this company was brought before it. There in open parliament the Lord Soulis confessed the crime, and soon afterwards for punishment was sent to Dunbarton, where he died in the stone castle. Sir Gilbert Malherbe, and Sir John of Logie, [John de Logie's son was first husband of Margaret, daughter of Sir Malcolm Drummond, who as 'Margaret Logy' became second queen of David II.—Story of the Stewarts, p. 115.] and Richard Brown, these three were openly condemned by the assize; therefore they were each one drawn, hanged, and beheaded according to the sentence.

Good Sir David the Brechin also they afterwards caused to be right straitly charged, and he confessed that discovery of the plot had been made to him, but he gave no consent to it. And because he hid their plot, and did not discover it to the king, from whom he held his whole estate, and to whom he had done fealty, he was sentenced to be hanged and drawn.

And as they carried him to be hanged the people thronged wondrous fast to behold him and his evil case, which was right sad to see. Sir Ingram de Umphraville was there as a Scotsman with the king. When he saw that great mischance he said, "Sirs, to what intent press ye to see the evil fate of a knight who was so valiant and so doughty? I have seen more folk crowd to see him for his right sovereign nobleness than now crowd to see him here." And when these words were spoken he kept silence with sorry countenance till men had done their will upon Sir David; then with the king's leave he brought him honourably to burial.

And afterwards he said to the king, "One thing I pray you grant me; that is, that ye give me leave to do my pleasure with all my land that lies in Scotland."

The king answered him, "I will indeed grant thee this; but tell me what vexes thee."

"Grant me leave," he answered, "and I shall tell you openly. I have no heart to remain longer with you in this country; therefore, except it inconvenience you, I pray you from my heart to let me take leave. For where a knight so right worthy and chivalrous and doughty, so renowned for valour, and so full of all that may become a man, as brave Sir David the Brechin, has been put to so cruel a death, of a truth my heart will on no account suffer me to dwell."

"Since thou wilt have it so," said the king, "whenever it is thy pleasure thou mayest go, and to that intent thou shalt have full leave to do thy liking with thy land."

Sir Ingram thanked him greatly, and right speedily disposed of his land as he thought best; then, before all that were there, he took his leave for evermore of the right gracious king, and went to England to King Edward. The English king gave him right fair welcome, and asked him the tidings of the North, and he told him everything truly; how those knights were destroyed, and all that I have recounted, and the courtesy of the king, who had graciously given him leave to do his pleasure with his land.

At that time messengers were sent from the King of Scotland to treat of peace, if they could get it. To this intent they had ofttimes before been sent, but had not been able to attain their end. For the good King Robert desired, since God had sent him such fair fortune as to win all his kingdom by force of arms, to make peace in his land, and establish the country, so that, if men kept their loyalty, his heir after him should live in quietness.

It was at this time that Umphraville, as I have told, came to the King of England. At the English court he found the Scottish messengers seeking to treat of peace and rest. The king knew Sir Ingram was wise, and asked his counsel in the matter, what he would advise him to do; "For," said he, "it seemed hard to him to make peace with King Robert the Bruce, his enemy, before he was avenged upon him."

Sir Ingram made answer to him and said, "He dealt so courteously with me, that in no wise should I give counsel to his hurt."

"It behoves thee of necessity," said the king, "to declare thy counsel in this matter."

"Sir," said he, "since your will is that I speak, know ye assuredly that, for all your great might of arms, ye have no strength to deal with him. His men have all become so doughty with long experience of war, and they have been so trained in these matters, that each active yeoman is worth a knight. But if ye seek to bring your war to your intent and good pleasure, ye shall make with him a long truce. Then shall most of his following, who are but a peaceful yeomanry, be constrained all in common to make their living by their labour. Some of them must needs take to plough and harrow and other various crafts to earn their bread. Thus their weapons shall wax old, and shall be rotten, sold, or destroyed, and during the long truce many who now are cunning in war shall die, and in their stead shall rise others who know little of such matters. And when they are thus grown unused to war ye may move against them, and shall right easily, I believe, bring your purpose to fair conclusion."

To this every one assented, and soon afterwards a truce was agreed upon between the two kings, to last for thirteen years, [From March 30, 1323, to June 12, 1336.] and proclamation of it was made on the marches.

The Scots kept the truce loyally; but the English, with great iniquity, destroyed at sea merchant ships sailing from Scotland to Flanders, slaying the men every one and taking the goods to their own uses. King Robert sent often to ask redress but no redress was made, and he was left all the time asking. On his part he caused the truce to be upheld steadfastly on the marches, and caused his men to keep it loyally.

At this time, while the truce lasted on the Borders, the valiant Walter Stewart was seized at Bathgate with a great sickness. His illness waxed ever more and more, till men saw by his look that he must needs pay the debt that no man can escape. Shriven and fully repentant, and with all things done that a Christian needs to do, like a good Christian he gave up the ghost. [April 9, 1326. "Walter the Stewart was thrice married: 1st to Alice, daughter of Sir John Erskine of Erskine, of which marriage there was one daughter, Jean, married to Hugh, Earl of Ross; 2nd to the Princess Marjory Bruce, who survived her marriage less than a year, leaving an only son, afterwards King Robert II.; and 3rd to Isabel, sister of Sir John Graham of Abercorn, by whom he had two sons, Sir John Stewart and Sir Andrew Stewart, and a daughter, Lady Egidia Stewart. This branch of the Stewarts is designated 'of Railston.' "—The Story of the Stewarts, p. 84.] Then were weeping and crying to be heard among the common folk, and many a knight and lady were to be seen openly making right evil cheer. Thus all men mourned him together, for of his age he was a valiant knight. After they had for a long time made their moan they bore the body to Paisley, and there with great solemnity and lamentation he was interred. [Paisley Abbey was founded by the Steward of Scotland in 1163. There Walter Stewart's wife, the Princess Marjory, was already buried, and there afterwards the body of their son, King Robert II., was to be interred.] May God, of his might, bring his soul to that place where joy is everlasting! Amen!

After his death, when two years and a half had gone by of the truce that was to have lasted thirteen years, King Robert saw that no redress was to be got for the ships that were seized and the men in them who were slain, and that the English continued their evil-doing whenever they met a Scottish ship at sea. He sent and fully freed himself, and openly gave up the truce, and to avenge these trespasses caused the stout Thomas, Earl of Moray, and Donald, Earl of Mar, with James of Douglas, and James Stewart, who was leader in the field of all the people of his house after the death of his valiant brother, to make ready in their best fashion to enter England with a great host, to burn and slay.

They set forth soon into England, a host ten thousand strong, and, as they went, burnt and slew and diligently destroyed their foes. [This raid was made in June 1327.] After this fashion they marched till they were come to Weardale. At that time Edward of Carnarvon, the English King, was dead, and laid in stone, [Edward II. was deposed on Jan. 2 of that year, but his murder did not take place till Sept. 21.] and the young Edward his son, surnamed of Windsor, was crowned king in England. He had been formerly in France with his mother, Dame Isabel, and was wedded, I have heard say, to a fair young lady, daughter of the Earl of Hainault. [Edward's marriage did not take place till January of the following year.] He brought with him out of that country knights of great valour. Sir John of Hainault was their leader, a man right sage and doughty in war.

At the time when the Scots were at Weardale, the new-made king lay at York, and heard of the destruction they made in his country. He gathered to him a great host, well-nigh fifty thousand strong. Then he marched northward with that following in battle order. At that time he was eighteen years of age. [He was born at Windsor, Nov. 13, 1312, and was not yet 15 years old. The Scottish raid took place in August, 1327.]

The Scots had harried all Cockdale from end to end, and had ridden again to Weardale. Their scouts having had sight of the coming of the English, told it to their lords. Then the Lord Douglas rode straight forth to see their advance, and he beheld them in seven battles, riding in brave array.

When he had seen that host, and returned to his men, the Earl asked if he had beheld the English.

"Aye, sir," he said, "without a doubt."

"What number are they?"

"Sir, many men."

The Earl then swore his oath, and said, "We shall fight with them though they were as many again."

"Sir, God be praised," said Douglas, "that we have a captain who dare venture so great a thing. But, by Saint Bride, battle shall not be thus ventured if my counsel be taken; and on no account shall we fight except it be at our advantage, for methinks it were no disgrace for a small host fighting against a greater to take advantage when it can."

As they were speaking thus they saw one broad battlehost with many banners displayed riding straight towards them over a high ridge, and another coming close behind. In this same fashion the enemy came till seven broad battlehosts had passed across that high ridge. The Scots were then lying on the north side of the Wear, nearer Scotland. The valley was long, and on, either side was a rising ground, somewhat steep towards the water.

The Scots stood ready in brave array, each man in his best guise, on the strong ground they had taken up, well-nigh a quarter of a mile from the Wear. There they stood waiting battle, and the English on the further side came riding down till they were near the river. There they made pause, and sent out a thousand archers, with hoods off and bows in hand. [Hume of Godscroft (History of the Houses of Douglas and Angus) describes the soldiers of this English army as "clothed in coats and hoods, embroidered with flowers and branches," regarding which vanities the Scots made a derisive rhyme. ] They made them drink well of wine, and bade them go in loose order and skirmish with the Scottish host, and see if they could strike them down. down. For could they cause the Scots to break array they believed they should have them at their will. They sent men-at-arms down with the archers to defend them at the water side.

The Lord Douglas saw that movement, and he caused a great company, well horsed and armed, to lie in wait behind the Scottish battle for the enemy's coming. When he made a sign to this company they were to come spurring fast, and with their spears slay all they could overtake. Donald of Mar was the chief of this company, and with him was Archibald of Douglas.

The Lord Douglas rode towards the English archers wearing a gown over his armour, and kept riding to and fro as he came back, to entice them near his battle. And they, having drunk of the wine, kept ever coming upwards in a straight line, till they drew so near the Scottish host that many arrows fell among them. Robert of Ogle, a brave squire, at that came spurring on a courser, and called to the archers, "Ye know not who it is that thus entices you! it is the Lord Douglas, and he will play some of his tricks upon you!"

And when they heard the name of Douglas the boldest was dismayed, and all of them turned back.

At this, Douglas quickly made sign to the host he had in hiding, and that company pricked so stoutly on the English archers that they slew full three hundred of them, and pursued the rest back to the water side.

Sir William of Erskine, who was newly that day made a knight, and was well horsed and in brave array, gave chase with others so far in advance that his horse carried him into the throng of the English, and he was by force taken captive. Very soon, however, he was exchanged for other prisoners taken by the Scots. [The barony of Erskine lies on the left bank of the Clyde below Renfrew. It gave name to the noble family of Mar.]

After these English archers were slain, the Scottish pursuers rode back to their host, and the Lord Douglas did the same. And when he was returned, they could see among their enemies tents being set up. By this they perceived that the English meant to encamp, and do no more that night, therefore the Scots also encamped, and quickly set up their pavilions; they also made tents and huts, and set all in order.

Two new things the Scots that day beheld, which never before that time had been known in Scotland. One of these was crests for helmets, which seemed to them a very beautiful and marvellous sight. The other was cannon, which they had never heard before. They marvelled at these two things. That night the Scots kept stout watch, most of them lying in arms till the morning.

The English took thought by what means they could cause the Scots to leave their vantage ground; for it seemed to them foolish and absurd to march up and attack them at their fastness in open battle. Therefore they sent a thousand stout horsemen, armed from head to foot, to lie in ambush in a valley behind the Scottish host, and they made ready their battles as if they meant to advance to the fighting. For they deemed Scotsmen so headstrong that they could not hold themselves from coming to the attack. They believed that because of their courage they would leave their strong vantage ground, and meet them in the plain field; then the English ambush in their rear should spur headlong upon them, and thus they thought they should make the Scots repent them of their game.

They sent forth the thousand men, and these privily hid themselves. And on the morrow early they caused the trumpets to sound in their host, and set their battle in broad array, and ordered themselves all for the fight, and made straight towards the river.

The Scots, seeing them do this, made ready in their best fashion, and, arrayed in plain battle, with banners displayed to the wind, left their strong ground, and all openly and boldly came down, in the bravest manner, to meet them, as their foes had expected.

But the Lord Douglas always set out watches here and there, and he got knowledge of the ambush, and forthwith at great speed he came in front of the battles, and stoutly bade each man turn about where he stood, so that no opening be made in the ranks, and march back to the strong ground. They did as he bade, and went back to their place of strength, and then turned in full force, and stood ready to give battle if the enemy should attack them.

When the English saw them thus again go up towards their strong ground, they cried aloud, "The Scots are fled!" But Sir John of Hainault said, "I' faith, yonder fleeing is right well feigned. I see their armed men and their banners behind, so that they need but turn as they stand, and they will be arrayed for the fight if any force come upon them. They have seen our ambush, and are gone again to their place of strength. Yonder folk are wisely commanded, and he that leads them were worthy by his prudence, valour, and wisdom to govern the Empire of Rome."

Thus that day spoke this worthy knight; and the ambush, when they saw they were discovered, fared again towards their host. When the English battles saw that they had failed of their purpose, they returned and quartered in their camp. On the other side the Scots did the same; they fought no more that day.

When the day was past, and as soon as night was fallen, they made fires in great number. Now the good Lord of Douglas had spied a place two miles away where the Scottish host might quarter more securely, and defend itself better than anywhere else in that region. It was a park [Stanhope Park, in Weardale.] wholly surrounded with a wall, and well-nigh full of trees, but set in a great plain. Thither the Lord Douglas determined to bring the host by night. Therefore without more delay they fed their fires and made them greater, and all together marched forth, and came without hurt to the park, and took quarters close to the river, as near it as they were before.

And at daybreak on the morrow the English host missed the Scots, and wondered, and sent scouts spurring in haste to see where they were gone. And by their fires they saw that they had quartered their whole host in the park at Weardale. At that the English forthwith made ready and rode right opposite to them, and on the other side of the water of Wear set up their pavilions as near as they were pitched before.

Thus on both sides they lay for eight days, the English not daring to attack the Scots in open battle because of the strength of the ground they had taken up. Each day there was warlike jousting and skirmishing. Men were taken on either side, and those that were taken on one day were exchanged on another; but no other deeds greatly worth remembering were done till the ninth day.

Then it befell that the Lord Douglas espied a way by which he might ride round the English host, and come upon their further side. And at night he prepared and took with him a good following of five hundred right hardy horsemen. All secretly, without noise, he rode so far as nearly to go round their host, and on the further side he rode cautiously towards them. Half the men with him he bade carry their swords bare in hand, and ordered them to cut in two the ropes of the tents, so that these might fall on the men inside; then the others, as they went forward, should thrust down sturdily with their spears. And when they heard his horn they were to hasten down to the river.

When these orders were given they rode fast towards the enemy, who had no watches on that side. And as they drew near, an Englishman who lay basking by a fire, said to his comrade, "I know not what may chance to us here, but a right great shuddering has seized me. I dread sore the Black Douglas." And he that heard him said, "I' faith, thou shalt have cause if I can give it thee!" With that he and all his company dashed boldly upon them, and bore down the proud pavilions, and with sharp-cutting spears relentlessly stabbed the men.

Right soon arose uproar and outcry. The Scots stabbed, thrust, and slew, and threw down many tents. A dire slaughter they made there, for the men were lying unarmed, and had no power to make defence, and they slew them without pity. They made them know how great a folly it was to lie near their foes without secure guard.

The Scots kept slaying their enemies in this fashion till the alarm rose throughout all the great host, and lord and yeomen were astir. And when the Douglas knew they were all everywhere arming themselves, he blew his horn to rally his men, and bade them make their way towards the river. This they did, and he waited hindmost to see that none of his men should be left.

And as he thus tarried, going to and fro, one with a club came and dealt him such a great blow that, had it not been for his mighty strength and his right sovereign manhood, he had been slain on the spot. But he, at no time dismayed, though he was right oft hard assailed, by his great strength and manhood brought his assailant to death.

His men, who were riding in loose order down to the water, missed their lord when they came there. Then were they in sore fear for him. Each asked tidings at the other, but they could hear nothing of him. Then they took counsel together, meaning to go back to seek him. But as they stood thus dismayed, they heard a blast of his horn, and knowing it quickly, they were wondrous blithe, and at his coming asked him of his tarrying; and he told how a churl had met him stoutly on the way, and dealt him with his club a right fierce blow, "and had not fortune helped the more, I had been in great peril there."

Speaking thus they held on their way till they came to the Scottish host, which, armed and on foot, was waiting to help them at need. And so soon as the Lord Douglas met the Earl of Moray, the Earl asked tidings at him how he had fared in his sally.

"Sir," said he, "we have drawn blood."

The Earl, who was of great courage, said, "And had we all gone thither we had discomfited them everyone."

"It might have fallen out well," said Douglas, "but of a truth we were enough to put in venture yonder; for had they put discomfiture upon us it would have dismayed all here."

"Since so it is," said the Earl, "that we cannot attack the might of our fierce enemies with stratagem, we shall do it in open battle."

"By Saint Bride," said Lord Douglas, "it were great folly for us at this time to fight with yonder host, for every day it grows in strength, and it has withal plenty of provender. We are here, too, in their country, where no succours can come to us. It is hard here for us to protect ourselves, nor can we forage to get meat, and must eat such as we have with us. Let us therefore do with our foes that are lying before us here, as I heard tell in time past a fox did with a fisherman."

"What did the fox?" said the Earl.

"A fisherman, once upon a time," answered Douglas, "lay beside a river to draw the nets that he had set there. He had made himself little hut, and within it he bad a bed, and also a little fire. There was a door too, and that was all. One night he rose to see his nets, and tarried long beside them. And when he had done his work, he went again towards his hut. And by the light of the little fire that was burning clear in the hut, he saw, inside, a fox devouring a salmon. He went quickly to the door, and nimbly drew a sword, and said, 'Traitor, thou must here die!'

"The fox, being in right great fear, looked about to see some hole; but no way of escape could he see, except where the man stood sturdily. Beside him, lying upon the bed, he saw a cloth mantle, and with his teeth he drew it across the fire; and when the man saw his mantle lie there burning, he ran hastily to save it. The fox then sprang out at full speed, and fled to his place of safety. The fisher thought himself sore beguiled, seeing he had lost his salmon, and had his mantle burned as well, and the fox got unscathed away.

"This example I may apply to yonder host and ourselves here. We are the fox, and they the fisherman that stops the way out. They suppose we cannot get away except only where they lie. Yet perhaps, it shall not be altogether as they think; for I have caused a way to be espied for us. Although it be somewhat wet, we shall not lose a page of our host. The enemy, because of this small surprise, suppose we shall so greatly pride ourselves that we shall undertake to give them open battle; but this once their belief shall fail them. Here all day to-morrow we shall make as merry as we can, and prepare us against the night. Then we shall make our fires up brightly, and blow our horns, and make ado as though all the world were our own, till the night be well fallen. Then with all our armour we shall march in haste homeward. We shall carry ourselves in all readiness till we be out of the danger that lies about us here. Then shall we be all at our pleasure, and the enemy shall hinder themselves, sore deceived, till they know well that we are away."

To this they altogether agreed, and they made good cheer all that night, till daylight on the morrow.

On the morrow all privily they packed up armour, and made ready, so that before evening they were all prepared. Their enemies, who lay over against them, caused their men who had been slain to be borne in carts to a holy place. All that day with carts they were carrying slain men. It could be well seen these were many, since they took so long in the bearing away.

Both of the hosts were all that day at peace, and when night drew near, the Scots, who were lying in the Park, made feast and revelry, and blew horns, and made fires, and caused them to burn both bright and broad, so that their blaze that night was greater than at any time before. And when the night was well fallen, with all their armour every whit, they rode right secretly away.

They soon entered upon a moss a full mile in breadth. Across that moss they went on foot, leading their horses in their hand. It was a right troublesome road, nevertheless all who were there came the whole way across safe and sound. They lost but little of their gear, except it might be some sumpter-horse that was left lying in the bog.

When all, as I have related, were come over that broad moss, they were filled with a great gladness, and rode forth on their homeward way.

And on the morrow when it was day the English saw the quarters where the Scots were wont to lie all empty. At this they marvelled greatly, and sent forth sundry of their men to spy where they were gone. And at last they found their trace leading to the great moss. This was so hideous to wade that none of them dared adventure it. Then the scouts returned to their host, and told how the Scots had passed where never man passed before.

When the English heard this they took hasty counsel, and determined to follow no more. There and then they dispersed their host, and each man rode to his own dwelling.

Meanwhile King Robert, having learned that his men lay in the Park, and were in such peril, speedily gathered a host of twenty thousand right hardy men. This he sent forth with two Earls, of March and Angus, to succour the host in Weardale. If they could so far succeed as to join forces with it, their plan was to attack the enemy. Thus it fell out that on the same day when the moss was crossed, as I have told, the scouts riding in front of either host got sight of each other. And they, being valiant and active, set spears for encounter of battle. They shouted aloud their battle-cries, and by these perceived that they were friends and of one fealty.

Then were they glad and blithe, and speedily told their lords. And the hosts met together, and there was right homely welcoming made among the great lords there. They were right joyful at the meeting.

The Earl Patrick and his host had with them victual in great abundance, and therewith they succoured their friends well. To tell the truth, while these were lying in Weardale they had lack of food, but now they were relieved with great plenty. They went towards Scotland with games and merriment, and reached home safely, and scattered presently, every man his own way.

The lords went to the king, and he made them right fair welcome; for of their coming he was most glad, and because they had escaped without loss out of such difficulty they all made merry and were blithe.


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