In that region dwelt the
Lord of Lorne, the king's deadly enemy for the sake of his uncle, John
Comyn. [Alastair MacDougal, Lord of Lorne, had married Comyn's third
daughter, and was therefore his son-in-law, not his nephew.] He planned
to take a cruel vengeance. When he knew the king was so near he mustered
his men, and was joined by the barons of Argyll. They were a force of a
full thousand or more, and made to surprise the king.
Bruce was well aware of
their coming. He had all too few with him, nevertheless he boldly
awaited them, and a large number at their first meeting were laid low.
The king's men bore themselves right well, and slew, and felled, and
dealt sore wounds. But the men of the other side, being every one on
foot, fought so fiercely with axes that they slew many of the horses of
Bruce's men, and gave wide wounds to some of the riders. James of
Douglas was hurt, and also Sir Gilbert de la Haye.
The king, seeing his men
dismayed, shouted his battle-cry, and charged the enemy so boldly that
be drove them back, and overthrew many. But when he saw they were so
numerous, and saw them deal such dread strokes, he feared to lose his
men. Therefore, rallying his followers about him, be said, "Sirs, it
were folly for us to combat more, for many of our steeds are slain, and
if we fight further we shall lose some of our small band, and be
ourselves in peril. Therefore methinks we are best advised to withdraw,
defending ourselves, till we come out of danger, for our stronghold
is near at hand." [Local tradition has it that after this fight at Dairee, Bruce took
refuge in the island castle in Loch Dochart, a few miles to the east.]
They withdrew then in a
body. The retreat however, was not cowardly, for they held together, and
the king devoted himself to defending the rear. With such valour did he
do this that he rescued all the fleeing host, and so stopped the
pursuers that none durst leave the main body. So well did he defend his
men, and so stoutly did he prove his prowess, and so often did he turn
to face his foes, that whoever had seen him then must have held him
indeed worthy to be king of a great realm
When the Lord of Lorne
saw his men stand in such awe of the Bruce that they durst not follow
the pursuit, he was mightily vexed, and for wonder that one solitary man
should baulk them, he said, "Methinks, MacMurdoch, [The unknown person
here addressed by Lorne was probably the chief of the MacMurdochs, or
Murchisons, a sept afterwards famous in the region.] as Gaul, the son of
Morni, [A famous hero of the Ossianic poems.] was wont to save his
followers from Fingal, so this leader has saved his folk from us!"
The comparison thus made
was but indifferent. More aptly might he have likened Bruce to Gaudifer
of Larissa in the fray in which the mighty Duke Betys assailed the
forayers in Gadyris. [The reference is to an episode in the romance of
Alexander the Great, one of the favourite sources of entertainment in
Bruce's time.] When King Alexander succoured his men, Duke Betys took
flight and would not abide the battle, but Gaudifer, bold and stout,
gave himself so valiantly to save the fugitives and dismay the pursuers,
that he bore to earth Alexander himself, with Ptolemy and Caulus, as
well as Dauclene and others besides. But at last he was slain there
himself, and in this the likeness failed; for Bruce right chivalrously
defended all his company, and was set in the greatest danger, and yet
escaped whole and sound.
There were two brothers,
the boldest in all that country, who had sworn that if they could see
the Bruce in a place where they might come up with him, they should
either die or slay him there. Their name was Maclndrosser, or "Sons of
the door-ward." [De Soulis, one of the fifteen competitors for the
Scottish crown, based his claim on his descent from Alan the Durward of
Alexander II's time, who married an illegitimate daughter of that king.
The Durwards were therefore as bitter enemies of Bruce as Comyn and
Baliol.] They had a third man in their plot, right stubborn, wicked, and
fierce. When they saw the well-known figure of the king riding thus
behind his people, and saw him so often face about, they waited till he
was entered in a narrow place, between a loch and a hillside, a place so
strait that he could not well turn his horse. [The Battle of Dalree took
place, according to the chronicler Fordoun, Aug. 11, 1306. It was fought
in the valley of the Dochart, near St. Fillan's Pool, a mile or so below
Tyndrum. Bruce was probably attacked by the Maclndrossers in the narrow
pass between the moraines and the river.] Then they went wildly at him.
One seized his bridle, but the king dealt him such a stroke that arm and
shoulder flew from him. With that another took him by the leg thrusting
his hand between the foot and stirrup. And when the King felt the hand
there he stood firmly in his stirrups, and struck spur into his steed,
so that it dashed quickly forward, and the man lost his footing, while,
despite him, his hand remained under the stirrup. At that moment the
third, bounding up the hillside, leapt on the horse behind the Bruce.
The king was then in the greatest difficulty. Yet, with presence of mind
as in all his deeds, he set himself to do an unheard feat. Forthwith he
lifted the man at his back, against his will, and in spite of all his
efforts, laid him straight in front, then with the sword gave him such a
stroke that he cleft the skull to the brain. The man crashed to the
earth all red with blood, slain on the instant. Then the king struck
hard at the other whom he dragged at his stirrup, and slew him at the
first blow. In this way he delivered himself from all these three fierce
When the men of Lorne saw
the Bruce so stoutly fend himself none dared assail him further, so
greatly did they fear his strength. There was a baron, MacNaughton, who
in his heart took great heed of the king's feats of arms, and admired
him greatly in secret. He said to the Lord of Lorne, "Assuredly ye now
behold retreating the starkest man of might that ever ye saw in your
life. For yonder knight, by his doughty act and amazing manhood has
slain in short space three men of great strength and pride, and so
dismayed all our host that no man dare go after him, and so often does
he turn his steed that it would seem he has no dread of us."
Then said the Lord of
Lorne, "I'faith, it seems to pleasure thee that he slays our folk in
"Sir," said MacNaughton,
"God knows, saving your presence, it is not so. But whether he be friend
or enemy that wins the praise of knightly deed, men should speak loyally
thereof. And assuredly, in all my time, I never heard tell, in song or
romance, of one who so quickly achieved such a great feat of arms."
While they spoke thus of
the king, he rode after his people, and led them to a safe place where
he had no fear of his foes. [After the fight at Dairee Bruce is said by
tradition to have taken refuge in the castle on the island in Loch
Dochart. Another tradition says that he retreated farther, to a great
cave at the head of Balquhidder.] And the men of Lorne departed
lamenting the hurt they had suffered.
That night the king set
watch and gave order that his folk should eat, and bade them take
comfort and make merry as they might. "For dejection," said he, "is the
worst thing possible. Through much dejection men fall to despairing, and
if a man be in despair, then is he vanquished utterly. If the heart be
discouraged the body is not worth a mite. Therefore," said he, "above
everything, keep you from despair, and think, though we now suffer hurt,
that God may yet give us good relief. We read of many that were far
harder bested than we are yet, and God afterwards lent them such grace
that they came fully to their intent. Rome was once thus hard beset,
when Hannibal, after vanquishing the Roman army, [At the Battle of
Cannae, 2nd Aug. 216 B.C.] sent to Carthage three bushels of rich stone
rings taken from the fingers of knights, and forthwith marched upon Rome
to destroy the whole city. Great and small within the city would have
fled before his coming had not the young Scipio threatened to slay them
if they took flight, and so turned them again. Then, to defend the city,
he freed the slaves, and made them knights every one, and took from the
temples the arms borne by their fathers, which had been offered there in
name of victory. And when these stalwart and active earls were armed and
arrayed, and saw that they were free, they determined rather to die than
let the town be taken, and with common assent, as one man, they marched
forth to fight Hannibal, where he stood in great might arrayed against
them. But by God's grace there fell so heavy and terrible a rain that
even the stoutest could not withstand it, but sped in haste, the one
side to their tents, the other to the city. Thrice in this way the rain
stopped the battle. When Hannibal saw this miracle he left the town with
all his great armed host, and went his way; and he was afterwards so
assailed by the forces of that city that he lost both land and life.
"By the example of these
few, who so valiantly overcame such a mighty king, ye mat see that no
man should despair, nor let his heart sink for any misfortune that may
befall. For none knows in how little space God may be gracious. Had the
people of Rome fled, their foes would quickly have taken the city.
Therefore should men, in time of war, set their endeavour always to
withstand the might of their enemies, either by force or stratagem, and
expect ever to compass their design, and if the choice lie before
them—to die or to live as cowards—they should rather die valorously."
In this fashion the king
encourages his followers. And to fortify them he brought to mind old
tales of men sore bested and battered, hard by fortune, who yet won
success at last. "They that would keep their hearts undismayed," he
said, "should ever steadily expect to bring their enterprise to a
successful end. Thus did the valiant Caesar, who laboured always so
busily, and with all his might, to accomplish his intent, and who deemed
that he had done nothing at all so long as ought remained to do. For
this reason, as may be seen in his story, he achieved great things. From
Caesar's unbending will it may be seen—and the thing also stands to
reason—that he who forms his plan firmly, and pursues it steadily,
without fainting or tempting of Providence, provided the thing be
feasible, and unless he be the more unfortunate, shall achieve it in
part, and if he live long enough, may accomplish it all. Therefore
should none despair of achieving the greatest purpose. If it happen that
he fail in it the fault lies in his effort."
Thus he spoke to them,
and feigned to make better cheer than he had ground for; for his cause
went from ill to worse. They were ever in such difficult journeying,
that the ladies began to fail, and might no longer endure the toil.
There were others also in the same plight. John, Earl of Atholl, was one
of these. When he saw the king defeated twice, and so many rise against
him, and life in such toil and peril, his heart began altogether to fail
him. And one day he said to the king, "If I durst speak to you, we live
in so much fear, and have often such want of meat, and are ever in such
journeying, with cold and hunger and want of sleep, that for myself I
count not life worth a straw. These sufferings I can no longer endure,
and though I should die for it I must rest, wherever it be. Leave me
therefore, I beg of you."
The king saw that he was
overcome as he said, and outwearied with toil, and answered, "Sir Earl,
we shall take order soon what may best be done. Wherever ye be God grant
you defence from your enemies!"
With that he forthwith
called those most privy to him, and among them they thought it best that
the queen, the earl, and the ladies should at once go to Kildrummy with
Neil the Bruce. For it was thought they might dwell securely there so
long as they were well provisioned, since the castle was so strong that
it could hardly be taken by force while there were men and meat inside.
Forthwith they did as
they agreed. The queen and all her company mounted and fared forth. Men
there might have seen the ladies weep at the leave-taking, and their
faces wet with tears, and knights, for their love's sake, sigh and weep
and make lament. They kissed their loves at parting, and the king
bethought him of a plan. Thenceforth he would go on foot, and take good
and evil fortune as a foot soldier, and would have no horsemen with him.
So he gave all his horses to the ladies, who needed them.
The queen rode forth on
her way, and came safely to the castle, where her people were well
received, and comforted well with meat and drink. But no comfort could
keep her from thinking of the king, who was so sore bested that he had
but two hundred with him. The relief greatly helped the queen's little
band. God Almighty help the king!
The queen dwelt thus in
Kildrummy, and the king and his company, after sending away their
horses, wandered among the high mountains and endured much suffering,
for it was near winter, and so many enemies were about them, that all
the country warred against them. Such dire hardship assailed them then,
with hunger, cold, and bitter showers, as indeed none living can
describe. The king saw how hard pressed his people were, and the
sufferings they endured, and he saw winter coming near, and felt he
could not hazard the cold lying out in the hills, and the long sleepless
nights. He resolved to go to Cantyre, and sojourn there till winter was
past, when without more delay he should return to the mainland, and
drive his fate to a final issue. And since Cantyre lies in the sea, he
sent before him Sir Neil Campbell, to get boats and food, setting a
certain time when he should meet him at the coast.
Sir Neil Campbell, with
his company, departed forthwith, leaving his brother with the king, and
he so wrought that in twelve days he procured boats in plenty, and a
great abundance of victuals, thus making noble provision. his kinsmen
dwelt in that region, and they helped him right willingly.
After he was gone the
king took his way to Loch Lomond, and came there on the third day. [A
cave in Craigroyston, under Ben Lomond, is pointed out as the place
where Bruce took up quarters.] But no boat could be found at the place
to bear them over the water. Then were they greatly disheartened, for it
was far to go about, and they were in doubt besides that they might meet
their wide-spread enemies. Therefore they sought busily and diligently
along the loch-side, till at last James of Douglas found a little sunken
boat, and drew it with all speed to land. But it was so small that it
could carry but three at a time over the water.
They sent word of it to
the king, who was joyful at the discovery. He went first in the boat,
and Douglas with him. The third was one who rowed them quickly across,
and set them on dry land. The boat was rowed so constantly to and fro,
fetching over always two at a time, that in a night and a day all were
brought across. For some of them could swim well, and bear a burden on
their back, and so with swimming and rowing, all were brought over, with
their baggage. The king, the while, merrily read to those beside him the
romance of the valiant Fierabras, [The famous Romance of Fierabras was
printed for the Roxburgh Club in 1854.] who was gallantly overcome by
the doughty Oliver; and how the Twelve Peers of France were besieged in
Egremont by King Balan and more thousands than I can say. And they
within were only eleven, and a woman, [Florippa, daughter of Balan.] and
were so beset that they had no food but what they won from their foes.
Yet they so bore themselves that they held the tower manfully till
Richard of Normandy, despite his enemies, apprised the king.
[Charlemagne.] He was joyful at the tidings, for he supposed they had
all been slain. Therefore he turned again in haste, and won the bridge
Man- treble, and passed the river Flagot, and presently severely
defeated Balan and all his fleet, and freed his men, and won by his
valour the nails and spear and crown that Jesus had borne, and a great
part of the cross. [Relics carried off from Rome by Fierabras, and thus
recovered by Charlemagne.]
Thus the Bruce encouraged
those beside him and made them sport and diversion till all his people
were ferried across.
When they had passed the
broad water, though they had many enemies they made merry and were
blithe. Nevertheless full many times they had the greatest lack of food.
For this reason, in order to get venison they went in two parties. The
king himself was in one, and Sir James of Douglas in the other. They
took their way to the hills, and hunted a great part of the day, and
searched woods, and set snares; but they got little to eat.
It happened by chance at
that time that the Earl of Lennox was among the hills, near that place,
and when he heard the horn-blowing and shouting he wondered what it
could be, and he enquired in such a way that he knew it was the king.
Then, without more delay, with all his company he went straight to the
Bruce. He could not have been more glad and joyful, for he believed the
king was dead, and was so much at a loss that he durst rest nowhere.
Since the king was defeated at Methven he had heard no certain news of
him. Therefore with the greatest delight he very humbly greeted him, and
Bruce welcomed him right gladly, and kissed him very tenderly, and all
the lords were right joyful of that meeting, and kissed him in great
delight. It was most touching to see how they wept for pity and joy when
they met their friends that they thought dead. They welcomed him most
heartily, and he for pity wept again, being never so glad of a meeting.
Though I say they wept,
it was no real weeping. For I trow, verily, that weeping comes to men as
a displeasure, and that none weep without vexation, except women, who
can wet their cheeks with tears when they list, though often enough
nothing hurts them. But I know that, whatever such weeping may be
called, great joy or pity may cause men to be so moved that water will
rise from the heart and wet the eyes like tears, though it be not so in
fact. For when men indeed weep the heart is sorrowful or vexed, but
weeping for pity, I trow, is but an opening of the heart shewing the
tender ruth it contains.
The barons thus by God's
grace were come together. The earl had food in plenty, which he gladly
gave them, and they ate it very gladly, asking for it no sauce but
appetite, for their stomachs were well scoured. They ate and drank what
they got, and gave praise and thanks to God with glad hearts that they
had met their friends. The king then earnestly enquired how the earl and
his folk had fared since he saw them. And they related the piteous
adventures and distresses and poverty that had befallen them. The king
had great sympathy with them, and told them in return the sorrowful
distress, toil, and suffering he had himself endured. There was none,
high or low, among them but felt pity and pleasure at the remembering of
these past perils. For when men are at their ease it is wondrous
pleasant to speak of bygone suffering, and the recounting of their old
distress gives them encouragement and comfort. In this there is no
blame, dishonour, shame, or wickedness.
After the meal, and when
he had done asking questions, the king rose and got ready, with his
company, and made haste towards the sea, where Sir Neil Campbell met
them with food, sails, oars, and all things to speed their passage. Then
they embarked, without more ado, some taking the helm and some the oar,
and rowed by the Isle of Bate. There might be seen many a noble youth
casting his eyes along the coast as he rose on the rowing oars; and
fists, strong and square, used to the spanning of spears, might be seen
spanning oars so earnestly that the skin often was left on the wood. For
all were employed, knight and knave; there was none that could be spared
from steering and rowing, to further them on their passage.
But at the time when they
were taking ship the Earl of Lennox, I know not by what chance, was left
behind with his galley till the king was far on his way. And when the
people of his country knew that he lingered behind, they followed him in
boats. He saw that he had not force enough to fight these traitors, and
that he had no succours nearer than the king's fleet, so he hastened
after it. But the traitors followed him so fast that they were near
overtaking him. In spite of all he could do they came ever nearer and
nearer. And when he saw them so near that he could even hear their
threats, and them still coming nearer, he said to his men: "Unless we
find some stratagem we shall very shortly be overtaken. Therefore I
counsel that, without waiting longer, we east into the sea everything
save our armour, and when the ship is so lightened we shall make such
speed that we shall easily escape them. For they will delay to pick up
our belongings, and we shall row without resting till we be escaped."
They did as he planned,
and lightened their ship, and rowed with all their might, and she, being
lightly built, sped sliding through the sea. And when their enemies saw
the things floating more and more about them, they took them, and
presently turned again, and so lost all their trouble.
When the Earl was thus
escaped, with his followers, he hastened after the king, who had then
arrived in Cantyre. The Earl told him all his adventure, how he had been
chased at sea by those who should be his own people, and should
certainly have been taken had he not heaved out all he had to lighten
the ship, and so escaped.
"Sir Earl,"; said the
king, "since thou hast escaped we shall make no complaint of the loss
but I will say one thing, that it is folly to pass often from my host.
For constantly, when thou art away, thou art stiffly assailed. Therefore
methinks it were best for thee always to keep near me."
"Sir,"; said the earl, "it
shall be so. I shall in no wise pass far from you till by God's grace we
are strong enough to hold our purpose against our foes."
Angus of Islay was at
that time lord of Cantyre. He right well received the king, and
undertook to be his man, and him and his in many ways he devoted to his
service. For greater security he gave him his castle of Dunaverty [The
ruined stronghold of Dunaverty still stands on its tremendous precipice
at the extremity of Cantyre. It was here at a later day that Alister
M'Donald, 'Colkitto', the lieutenant of Montrose, with three hundred
Highlanders, after a gallant defence surrendered to the Covenanting
general on assurance of their lives, and were afterwards put to death.]
to dwell in at his pleasure. The king thanked him greatly, and accepted
his service. Notwithstanding, in many ways he ever feared treason, and
therefore, I have heard tell, trusted securely in none till lie knew him
utterly. But whatever fear he had, he showed always a fair countenance,
and in Dunaverty he dwelt three days and more.
Then he made his men
prepare to go over sea to Rathlin. This is an island midway between
Cantyre and Ireland, where the tides run as strong and perilous to
sea-farers as is the Race of Brittany or the Strait between Morocco and
Spain. They set their ships to the sea, and made ready anchors, ropes,
sails, and oars, and all things needed for a voyage. When they were
prepared, they set out with a fair wind. They hoisted sail and fared
forth, and quickly passed the Mull, and soon entered the tide-race.
There the stream was so strong that wild breaking waves were rolling as
high as hills.
The ships glided over the
waves, for they had the wind blowing from the right point. Nevertheless
had one been there he must have seen a great commotion of ships. For at
times some would be right on the summit of the waves, and some would
slide from the heights to the deeps, as if they would plunge to hell,
then rise suddenly on a wave while other ships at hand sank swiftly to
the depths. Much skill was needed to save their tackle in such a press
of ships, and among such waves; for, ever and anon, the waves bereft
them of the sight of land when they were close to it, and when ships
were sailing near, the sea would rise so that the waves, weltering high,
hid them from sight.
Nevertheless they arrived
at Rathlin, each one safely, and each blithe and glad to have escaped
the hideous waves. There they landed, armed in their best fashion. When
the people of the region saw armed men arrive in their island in such
number they fled hastily with their cattle towards a very strong castle
in the country near that place. Women were to be heard crying aloud and
seen fleeing with cattle here and there. But the king's folk, who were
swift of foot, overtook and stopped them, and brought them back to the
Bruce without any of them being slain. Then the king so dealt with them
that they all, to please him, became his men, and faithfully undertook
that they and theirs, under all circumstances and in all things, should
be at his will. Also, while he chose to remain there, they would send
victuals for three hundred men, and would hold him as their lord, but
their possessions were to be their own, free, against all his men.
The covenant was thus
made, and on the morrow all Rathlin, man and page, knelt and did homage
to the king, and therewith swore him fealty and loyal service. And right
well they kept the covenant, for while he dwelt in the island they found
provision for his company, and served him very humbly.
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