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The Bruce
Book 2


The Battle of Methven

THE Bruce went swiftly to his inn, right blithe, ye may well believe, that he had got that respite. [Wyntoun adds that the Duke of Gloucester sent Bruce a piece of money and a pair of spurs as a strong hint at this juncture.] He called his marshal to him quickly, and bade him look to it that he made his men good cheer in every way, for he would be in his chamber a very great while, in private, with a clerk and no others. The marshal went to the hall, and did his lord's command. But the Lord Bruce, without more delay, caused two steeds to be brought secretly. He and the clerk, without more company, leapt on unperceived, and day and night, without sojourn, rode till on the fifth day they were come to Lochmaben.

There they found his brother Edward, who marvelled, I warrant, that they came home so privately. He told his brother the whole tale, of what had happened, and how he had escaped by chance.

It so fell that at the same time Sir John the Comyn made sojourn at Dumfries, close by. The Bruce mounted and rode thither, thinking, without more delay to quit him for his betrayal. He rode thither forthwith, and met Sir John the Comyn in the Greyfriars at the high altar, and with laughing countenance shewed him the bond; then with a knife, on that very spot, reft the life of him.

Sir Edmund Comyn too was slain, and others as well of much account. Nevertheless some say that the strife befell otherwise. But whatever made the conflict, well I know Comyn died of it.

There is no doubt that Bruce sinned there greatly, in giving no heed to the sanctuary of the altar. Therefore such hard mischance befell him that I have never heard tell in romance of a man so sore bested who afterwards came to such welfare.

Now go we again to King Edward. He on the morrow sat with his barons in parliament, and sent bold knights after the Lord Bruce, to his inn. When he had been often called, and they asked his men after him, they said that since yesterday he had remained constantly in his chamber, alone with a clerk. Then they knocked at his chamber, and when they heard none make answer, they broke the door. But they found nothing, though they sought all the chamber. Then they told the king the whole matter, and how Bruce had escaped. He was sore at his escape, and swore in wrath, most stoutly, that he should be drawn and hanged. He menaced as he meant to do, but Bruce thought things might go another way.

And when he, as I have said, had slain Sir John in the kirk, he went again to Lochmaben, and caused men to ride with letters in all directions to his friends. They came to him with their following, and he assembled his own men as well, and purposed to make himself king.

Word sprang over all the land that the Bruce had slain the Comyn. And letters reached, among others, the Bishop of St. Andrews, telling how that baron was slain. The letter told him all the deed, and he read it to his men, and afterwards said to them, "I hope the prophecy of Thomas of Ersildoun shall come true in him, for, so help me God! I have great hope he shall be king, and have all this land under his rule."

James of Douglas, that everywhere and always carved before the bishop, heard the reading of the letter, and he also took good heed to all the bishop said. And when the tables were set aside, and they went to their chamber, Douglas said to the bishop, "Sir, ye see how the English by force disinherit me of my land, and you have been made to understand that the Earl of Carrick claims to govern the kingdom, and that, because of the man he has slain, all Englishmen are against him, and would disinherit him gladly. Nevertheless I would go dwell with him. Therefore, sir, if it please you, I would take good and ill with him. Through him I trust to win my lands, despite the Clifford and his kin."

The bishop heard and had pity, and said, "Sweet son, so God help me, I would gladly that thou wert there, but, that I be not blamed, thou must go about the matter in this way. Thou shalt take my palfrey Ferrand, for there is no horse in this country so stout and well in hand. Take him as by thine own will, as if I had given no consent, and if his groom make any scruple, do thou take the horse in spite of him. So shall I be well excused. Almighty God, for his greatness' sake, grant that him thou goest to, and thou thyself, may be enabled to defend yourselves from your enemies!"

He gave him silver to spend, and his blessing, and bade him go his way, for he would say nothing till he was gone.

Douglas then made his way straight to the steed, as the bishop had bidden. The groom there resisted him angrily, but he, waxing wroth, felled him with a blow of his sword. Then, without longer stoppage, he saddled the horse hastily, and quickly leapt on his back, and rode forth without farewell.

Dear God, our Heavenly King, save him, and shield him from his foes!

All alone he took the road towards Lochmaben. And near Arickstone [At the head of Annandale] he met the Bruce riding with a great company to Scone, to be enthroned and made king. And when Douglas saw him coming, he rode forward in haste, and greeted him, and made obeisance right courteously, and told him all his condition, what he was, and how Clifford held his inheritance. Also that he was come to do homage to him as his rightful king, and was ready in everything to share his fortune.

And when the Bruce had heard his desire he received him with much pleasure, and gave him men and arms. He felt assured he should be worthy, for his fathers all were doughty men.

Thus they made their acquaintance, that never afterwards by chance of any kind was broken while they lived. Their friendship waxed ever more and more, for Douglas served always loyally, and Bruce, valiant, strong, and wise, right gladly and well rewarded his service.

The Lord Bruce rode to Glasgow, and sent about till he had a great following of friends. Then he rode in haste to Scone, and without longer delay was made king, and set in the king's seat, in the manner of that time. [Bruce was twice crowned, on March 25, 1300, and again on Palm Sunday, two days later] But of the nobles' great array, their service, and their royal state, ye shall hear nothing now from me, except that Bruce took homage of the barons who came thither, and afterwards went over all the land acquiring friends and friendship to maintain the enterprise he had begun. He knew, ere all the land were his, he should find hard enough fighting with the English king. For there was none living so fierce, so unscrupulous, and so cruel.

And when King Edward was told how the bold Bruce had made end of the Comyn, and how he had afterwards made himself king, he went very nigh out of his mind, and called to him Sir Aymer the Valence, [Earl of Pembroke, third son of the half-brother of Henry III] a knight wise, strong, and capable, and bade him take men-at-arms, and go to Scotland in all haste, and burn and slay and raise the devil, and promise all Fife as a reward to the man who should either take or slay his enemy, Robert the Bruce.

Sir Aymer did as he bade. He had with him a great company of knights. With him was Philip the Mowbray and Ingram the Umphraville, a wise and prudent and chivalrous knight, and they had in their company the chief part of Scotland. For at that time much of the country was still in English hands.

The Scots then went in a body to Perth, which at that time was walled all about, with many high embattled towers to defend it against assault. Therein dwelt Sir Aymer with all his chivalry. King Robert knew he was there, and the mettle of his captains, and assembled all his following. He had many of the greatest valour, but their foes were more than they, I have heard, by fifteen hundred. Nevertheless he had there at need full many doughty men, and barons bold as the wild boar. With him were the Earls of Lennox and Atholl, also Edward Bruce, Thomas Randolph, [Nephew of Bruce, and afterwards Regent] and Hugh de la Haye, with Sir David the Barclay, and Fraser, Somerville, and Inchmartin. James of Douglas was there besides, though of little might as yet, and many other folk strong in battle, such as good Christopher Seton, [Bruce's brother-in-law, afterwards captured in Loch Doon and executed by Edward] and Robert Boyd, a knight of great renown. I cannot tell the names of all. Though few, they were stout and full of valour.

In fair battle array they came before Saint Johnstoun, [The old name for Perth, from the still existing Kirk of St. John] and bade Sir Aymer come forth to fight. And he, trusting in the might of those with him, called his men hurriedly to arms. But Sir Ingram the Umphraville thought it too great a peril to go forth in open battle, while their assailants were so arrayed, and he said to Sir Aymer, "Sir, if ye will take my counsel ye shall not go forth to attack them while they are prepared for battle, for their leader is wise and able, and a noble knight of his hands, and in his company he has many a good man and stout. There will be hazard in the attack while they are so well arrayed. Only the greatest force would put them now to flight. For when folk are well arrayed, and fully prepared for battle, provided they be all good men, they are far more assured and to be feared than when they are somewhat out of order. Therefore, sir, ye may say to them that this night, if they will, they may go to their quarters, and rest and sleep, and that to-morrow, without longer delay, ye shall issue forth to battle, and fight them, unless they fail to appear. So shall they go to their quarters, and some shall go foraying, and those that remain in quarters, seeing they come off the march, shall shortly be unarmed. Then in our best array may we, with all our fair chivalry, ride right boldly upon them, and they, expecting to rest all night, when they see us in order of battle coming on them so suddenly, shall be mightily dismayed, and ere they be in fighting order we shall hasten to the attack. Many a man, brave enough when prepared, will tremble with fear when suddenly assailed."

They did as he advised, and sent to them without, bidding them go to quarters for that night, and come to battle on the morrow. And Bruce's men, when they saw they could do no more, made for Methven, and took lodging in the wood. A third of them went foraging, and the rest were soon unarmed, and scattered here and there to rest.

Then Sir Aymer, with all his folk, issued in great strength to the fight, and rode at a furious pace straight upon Methven. The king, who was then unarmed, saw them coming thus in force, and cried loudly to his men, "To arms quickly, and make you ready! our foes are at hand!"

They armed in the greatest haste, and leapt hurriedly on their steeds. The king displayed his banner when his men were come together, and said, "Sirs, now may ye see how yonder folk deceitfully seek to do by guile what they dare not by strength. Now I perceive that he who trusts his foe shall find himself rue it. Nevertheless, though our enemies be many, God may give us the best of fortune. For numbers do not make victory. As many a tale tells, a few folk have often vanquished a host. Let us trust we shall do the same. Ye are each one strong and valiant, and accomplished in knightly deeds, and know right well what honour is. Act then so as to save your honour, and remember, he who dies for his country shall find quarters in heaven."

When this was said they saw their foes come riding near at hand in battle array.

Thus on either side they were prepared, and ready to attack. They couched their spears, and rode so rudely together that their weapons were all broken, and many men slain and sore wounded, the blood bursting out at their breast-plates. For the best and stoutest, eager to win honour, plunged into the strenuous conflict and dealt rude blows about them. In that crowd were to be seen brave and stout knights, some wounded and some slain, defiled under the horses' feet. The grass grew red with blood, and they that kept their saddles swept out their sturdy swords, and gave and took such fell strokes that the ranks shook about them. The Bruce's folk showed their knighthood full manfully, and he himself above the rest gave such hard and heavy dints that wherever he came the enemy made way. His followers made hard endeavour to stem the mighty onset of their foes, who by that time had so much the best of the fight that they won ground ever more and more. The king's few folk were nearly overcome, and when Bruce saw them begin to fail, mightily vexed he shouted his battle-cry, and rushed so furiously into the fight that all the battle shook. He cut to pieces all whom he overtook, and dealt them blows while he could hold out, and cried out to his followers, "On them! on them! they weaken fast! this conflict cannot last longer!" And with that word he hewed away with such good will and hardihood that whoever had seen him in that strife could not but own him a doughty knight.

But though he was bold and stout, and others as well of his company, no bravery could avail them, for their followers began to give way, and fled all scattered here and there. But the true men, fired with rage, stood their ground and held the battle, gaining themselves endless honour.

And when Sir Aymer saw the small folk all flee, one after another, and so few abide to fight, he rallied a body of knights, and rushed with his cavalry so boldly into the press that he overthrew his foes each one. Sir Thomas Randolph was taken, a young bachelor at that time, and Sir Alexander Fraser, and Sir David the Berkeley, with Inchmartin, and Hugh de la Haye, and Somerville, and many others; and the king himself was in direst peril through Sir Philip the Mowbray, who rode most boldly at him, and seized his rein, and cried "Help! help! I have the new-made king!"

With that Christopher Seton, when he saw the king thus seized by his foe, came spurring straight, striking to right and left, and dealt Mowbray such a blow that, though he was of great strength, it made him reel dizzily, and had sent him altogether to the ground but that he held by his horse. Then he let go the king's bridle, and Bruce, raising his battle-cry, rallied his men at hand. These were so few, however, that they could no longer bear the brunt of the fight. They pricked, therefore, out of the press, and the king, vexed to see his men flee, said, "Sirs, since fortune runs against us here, it were best to pass from this danger, till God presently sends us grace, and it yet may happen, if they pursue, we shall requite them somewhat in turn."

To this they all agreed, and retreated at the gallop. Their foes also were weary, and made no chase, but held their way straight to the town with their prisoners, being right glad and joyful for their capture. That night they all lay in the town, none of them, for all their renown and hardihood, daring to lodge without the wall. So sorely did they dread the return of the doughty King Robert.

Presently they wrote to the King of England, telling all they had done. And he was glad of the tidings, and for despite bade hang and draw all the prisoners, many as they were. But this Sir Aymer did not do. To some he gave both land and life to leave the Bruce's fealty, and serve the King of England, to hold their lands off him, and make war on Bruce as their enemy. Thomas Randolph was one of these, who in return for his life became their man. Of others then taken some were held to ransom, some slain, and some hanged and drawn.

In this manner was the Bruce repulsed. He made much mourning for his men slain and taken. He was also so much at a loss that he trusted firmly in none save those of his company. These were so few that five hundred was nearly all his following. His brother, the bold Sir Edward, was always by him, and a bold baron, Sir William the Barondoun. The Earl of Athohl also was there. But always after they were discomfited the Earl of Lennox was absent. He was right hard put to it ere he met the king again, but always maintained himself doughtily as a man of might. The king had also in his company James of Douglas, active, wise, and prudent; also Sir Gilbert de la Haye, Sir Neil Campbell, [Ancestor of the house of Argyll. He married Lady Mary Bruce, sister of the king] and many others I cannot name. Many a day they went like outlaws in the mountains, suffering misery, living on flesh and water. He durst not go to the plains, for all the common folk forsook him, and were fain, for their lives, to come again into the English peace. Thus ever go the people. None can put trust in the commons unless he be their protector. So they left Bruce then. Since he could not defend them from their foes they turned to the other side. But the bondage they were brought to feel made them wish heartily for his success.

He lived thus in the hills till the greater part of his following were ragged and torn. They had no shoes but those they made from skins. Therefore they went to Aberdeen, and there to meet them came Neil the Bruce, and the queen, and other fair and noble ladies, each for love of her husband. For true love and loyalty they would be partners of their pains, choosing rather to take sorrow and suffering with them than to be separated. For love is so powerful that it makes all sufferings light, and often it gives tender creatures such strength that they will endure great sufferings and take any fortune that may befall, provided that by it they may succour their loved ones.

We read how, at the taking of Thebes, when King Adrastus [The incident belongs to the war of the Thebans against the Argives, and is narrated in the Thebais of Statius, lib. xii.] men were slain in assailing the city,' the women of his country came to fetch him home. When King Capaneus, with the help of Menestius, who came by chance riding thereby, with three hundred in company, and at the king's prayer joined the attack, had failed to take the town, the women pierced the wall with pikes, so that the assailants all entered, and destroyed the tower, and slew the people. Afterwards, when the duke had departed, and all the king's men were slain, the women carried him/ to his country, where no man but he was left1 alive. Much comfort is there in women, and great solace in many ways.

So it proved here, for their coming right greatly rejoiced the king. Nevertheless he himself kept watch each night, and took his rest during the day.

There he sojourned for some time, and mightily refreshed his men, till the English heard that he lay there with his following, at ease and secure. They hastily got together their host, and trusted to surprise him. But he, wise in all he did, knew of their muster, and where they were. He knew they were so many that he could not fight against them. Hastily he caused his men to be set in array, and prepared to ride from the town. The ladies rode by his side, and they made their way to the hills. There they had great lack of provision, but the stout James of Douglas ever laboured and busied himself to procure the ladies food, and would get it in many ways. Sometimes he brought them venison, and sometimes he made snares to take pike and salmon, as well as trout, eels, and minnows. Sometimes a foray was made, and provision procured in that way. Each man strove to get food for the ladies, but there was not one of them all of more service than James of Douglas. The king himself was often helped by his shrewdness and activity. Thus they contrived to live till they came to the head of the Tay.


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