The Battle of Loudoun Hill
AFTER Sir Aymer was gone
the king gathered followers, and left woods and mountains, and held his
way straight to the plains, for he would fain make end of what he had
begun, and he knew well he could not bring it to good end without an
effort. First he went to Kyle, and made all obedient to him, the men for
the most part coming to his peace. Next, ere he ceased, he caused the
greater part of Cunningham to hold to his sovereignty.
Sir Aymer, then in
Bothwell, was greatly vexed in heart, because the men of Cunningham and
Kyle, who were lately obedient to him, left the English fealty. Thereof
he was fain to be avenged, and sent Sir Philip the Mowbray with, I have
heard, a thousand men under his command, to Kyle, to make war on the
noble king. But James of Douglas, who had spies at all times on every
side, knew of their coming, and that they would advance down Makyrnock's
Way. [This locality has always been obscure. Possibly it should be 'Maich
and Garnock way.' These two streams, descending from Misty Law towards
Kilbirnie Loch, traverse the ordinary route of the present day from
Clydeside into Cunningham. If this be correct the ambush was probably
set at the old ford crossing the Maich Water among the marshes by
Kilbirnie Loch.] He took with him privily the sixty men of his company,
and went to a narrow place on Makyrnock's Way, called the Edryford,
lying between marshes where no horse living could go. On the south side,
where Douglas was, is an ascent, a narrow place, and on the north side
is a difficult way.
Douglas and those with him made ambush and waited there. He could see the enemy coming a great way off, but they
could see nothing of him. The Scots lay in ambush all night, and when
the sun was shining brightly they saw the van of the English coming
arrayed in a body, with banner displayed, and soon afterwards they saw
the rest marching close behind.
They held themselves close and secret till
the foremost of the enemy had entered the ford beside them. Then, with a
cry, they rushed upon them, and with sharp weapons bore some backward
into the ford, and with broad barbed arrows made such great martyrdom
among others that they tried to draw back and leave the spot. But the
way behind them was so blocked that they could not flee quickly, and
this caused the death of many. For they could escape on neither side,
but only by the road they came, unless they made their way through their
enemies. This way, however, they all seemed to hate.
Douglas's men met them so sturdily, and
continued the fight so boldly that they fell into panic, and he who
could flee first fled first. And when the rearward saw them thus
discomfited and in flight they fled afar off, and made for home. But Sir
Philip the Mowbray, who was riding with the foremost that entered the
ford, when he saw how he was placed, struck spurs into his good steed,
and by his great valour, despite all his enemies, rode through the
thickest of them. He would have escaped without challenge, had not a man
seized him by the brand. But the good steed would not stand. It sprang
nimbly forward, and the man holding on stalwartly, the sword-belt burst,
and left belt and sword both in his hand. And Sir Philip, without his
sword, rode his way right through them. There he paused, but beholding
how his host fled, and how his foes cleared the ground between himself
and his men, he took his way to Kilmarnock and Kilwinning and Ardrossan,
then through Largs to Inverkip, straight to the castle. The stronghold
was then filled with Englishmen, and they received him with great
respect; and when they knew how he had ridden so far alone through his
enemies they honoured him greatly and praised his exploit.
Thus Sir Philip escaped. Meanwhile Douglas had slain sixty and more on the spot. The rest foully turned their
backs, and fled home again to Bothwell. There Sir Aymer was nothing
fain, when he heard in what manner his host had been discomfited. But
when King Robert was told how the good and bold Douglas had vanquished
so many men with so few, he was right joyful in heart. All his men, too,
were encouraged, for they felt assured that since their enterprise went
so well they ought to fear their foes less.
The king lay in Galston, which is right
opposite Loudoun, and took the country to his peace. When Sir Aymer and
his following heard how he ruled all the land, and how none durst
withstand him, he was vexed in heart, and by one of his company sent him
word, saying if he durst meet him in the open country, he, Sir Aymer,
should on the tenth of May come under Loudoun Hill. "And if the Bruce
would meet him there," he said, "the renown would be greater and more
knightly that was won in the open with hard blows and in equal fight
than was to be got with far more trouble in skulking."
When the king heard this message he greatly disliked Sir Aymer's haughtiness. Therefore he answered seriously, and
said to the messenger, "Tell thy lord that if I be living he shall see
me that day very near, if he dare hold the way he has said, for
assuredly I shall meet him by Loudoun Hill."
The messenger at once rode to his master,
and told his answer. Then was there no need to make Sir Aymer glad, for
he felt sure, by the great strength and force of arms he possessed,
that, if the king dared appear to fight, he should overthrow him beyond
other side the Bruce, ever wise and prudent, rode to see and choose the
ground. He saw that the highway lay upon a fair field, even and dry, but
upon either side, a bowshot from the road, was a great moss, broad and
deep. The place seemed to him all too wide for a stand to be made there
against cavalry. Therefore he cut three ditches across, from each of the
mosses to the road. These were a bowshot and more apart from each other,
and so deep and steep that men could not pass them without much trouble,
even though none withstood them. But he left gaps at the road large
enough for five hundred to ride through abreast. There he determined to
await battle, and oppose the enemy, having no fear that they could
attack him on the flank or rear, and feeling sure that in front he
should be defended against their strength.
He caused three deep trenches to be made so that, if he could not manage to meet the enemy at the first, he should
have the second in his power, and afterwards the third, if it so
happened that they passed the other two.
Thus he arranged. Then he assembled his
host. They were six hundred fighting men, besides camp-followers as many
or more. With all that host he went, on the evening before the battle was
to take place, to Little Loudoun. There he determined to wait, to see
the coming of the enemy, and then hasten forward with his men, to be at
the trench before them.
Sir Aymer, on the other side, gathered a
great force, nigh three thousand strong, well armed and equipped, and
then, in knightliest fashion, held his way to the tryst. And when the
set day was come he sped fast towards the place that he had named for
the battle. The sun had risen, shining brightly and flashed on the broad
shields as he advanced with his army in two squads.
Very early in the morning the king saw their
first squadron coming, well arrayed in close order, and at its back, a
little way off, he saw the second following it. Their basnets were all
burnished bright, and flamed in the light of the sun, and their shields,
spears, and pennons lighted up all the field. Their bright embroidered
banners, and horses caparisoned in many hues, and many-coloured
coat-armour, and hauberks white as flour, made them glitter like angels
of the kingdom of heaven.
The king said, "Sirs, ye see now how yonder mighty men would slay us if they could, and how they appear for that
end. But, since we know their cruelty, go we and meet them boldly, so
that the stoutest of their host shall be discouraged at the encounter.
For if the foremost be fiercely met ye shall see the hindmost suddenly
discomfited. And though they be more in number than we, that need dismay
us little, for when we come to the fighting there can no more meet us
than ourselves. Therefore, sirs, let each be stout and valiant to uphold
our honour here. Think what gladness awaits us if we can, as may befall,
gain the victory here over our foes! For there will be none in all this
land that we need fear."
Then said all that stood about, "Sir, please
God, we shall act so that no blame shall be ours."
"Then go we forward," said the king; "and He that made all things of nothing, lead us and preserve us for His
greatness' sake, and help us to keep our right!"
With that they sped upon their way. They
were full six hundred strong, doughty and valiant, stalwart and stout,
yet, were it not for their extraordinary valour, all too few, I promise,
to stand in battle against so many.
Stoutly and in good array
the noble king marched forth, and reached the foremost ditch, and took
the field in the gap. The baggage-carriers and rabble, of no account in
battle, he left halted behind, standing all together on the hill.
Sir Aymer saw the king and his men come
proudly and boldly down from the hill to the plain, right willing, as it
seemed to him, either to defend or attack any who should give them
battle. Accordingly he encouraged his men, and bade them be strong and
valiant, for if they could overcome the king and gain the victory, they
should be right well rewarded, and add greatly to their renown.
With that, they were very near the king, and
Sir Aymer stopped his exhortation, and caused the trumpets to sound the
charge, and the foremost of his host seized their broad shields and rode
together in close array. With heads stooping and level spears they
rushed right at the king. And he met them with so much vigour that the
best and bravest were brought to the ground at their meeting. There
arose such a crashing and breaking of spears and such cries and shouts
of the wounded as were dreadful to hear. For those that first
encountered fenced and fought all sturdily, and kept up the noise and
Ah! mighty God! whoever
had been there and had seen the king's majesty and his brother beside
him bear themselves so hardily, and encourage their host by deeds of
valour, and how Douglas so manfully encouraged those beside him, he
should indeed say they desired to win honour. The king's valiant men
with their sharp spears stabbed both riders and steeds till the red
blood poured from wounds. The wounded horses lashed out, and overthrew
the men about them, so that the foremost were stabbed here and there in
seeing them thus overthrown and reeling to and fro, ran upon them so
keenly and dealt blows at them so stoutly that be laid low many of his
enemies. The field was well nigh all covered with slain horses and men;
for the good king was followed by full five hundred men-at-arms who
spared their foes no whit. They drove at them so doughtily that in a
short time a hundred and more of the enemy might be seen lying on the
ground. The rest were the weaker for this, and began to fall back. And
when those in the rear saw their vanguard thus overcome, they fled
without waiting longer.
And when Sir Aymer saw his men all presently
in flight, ye may well know he was full sad. But by no exhortation could
he get any to turn for him again. And when he saw he lost his pains he
drew his bridle, and fled. For the good king pressed them so that some
were slain and some were taken and the rest were in flight.
The soldiery fled thus without stopping, and
Sir Aymer went again to Bothwell, lamenting the hurt he had taken. And
so ashamed was he to have been vanquished, that he went forthwith
straight to King Edward in England, and greatly abased gave up his
wardenship; nor ever afterwards on any account, save when he came with
the king himself, did he return to make war in Scotland. Thus heavily
did he take to heart that the Bruce, in set battle, with a few
rabble-like followers, had vanquished him, who was renowned for his
valour, and his great host. This was Sir Aymer's vexation.
Meanwhile the bold king Robert remained in
the field till his men had quite left the pursuit, and, with the
prisoners he had taken, they went again towards their quarters, praising
God diligently for their welfare. Then might one have seen a folk glad
and merry for their victory. And they had a lord so sweet and debonair,
so courteous and of such fair demeanour, so blithe too, and so full of
jest, and so strong in battle, so wise, and so prudent, that they had
great cause to be glad. Thus blithe they were, without a doubt; and many
that dwelt about them, after they saw the king so mend his fortunes,
made their homage to him.
Then his power waxed more and more, and be determined to march across the Mounth [The North-Eastern Grampians.]
with his following to see who would be his friends. He trusted in Sir
Alexander the Fraser and his brother Simon, [Barbour errs here.
Sir Simon Fraser was executed the year before.] for they were his
cousins. He had need indeed of more, for he had many foes. Sir John
Comyn, Earl of Buchan, and Sir John the Mowbray, and stout Sir David of
Brechin, with all the men at their command, were enemies to the noble
king. And because he knew they were his enemies he took his journey
northward, for he wished to see what end they would make of their
equipped himself and made ready to fare northwards with his men. He took
with him his brother and Sir Gilbert de la Haye. The Earl of Lennox also
was there, for he went everywhere with the king, as well as Sir Robert
Boyd, and others beside.
The Bruce set forth, and left James of
Douglas and all his men behind, to see whether he could recover his
country. Douglas was left in great peril, but he wrought with such
bravery that in a little while he brought to the king's peace the whole
forest of Selkirk, as well as Douglasdale and Jedburgh forest. Whoever
should undertake with skill enough to tell his deeds of valour one by
one would find many to tell. For in his time, I have been told, he was
vanquished thirteen times and won seven and fifty victories. He seemed
not to lie idle long, and was never at a loss for labours. Methinks men
had reason to love him.
This James, when the king was gone, took his men all privily, and went again to Douglasdale, and secretly laid a plot
for those in the castle. He made there a cunning ambush, and caused
fourteen or more of his men to take sacks filled with grass, and lay
them on their horses, and hold their way beyond the place of the ambush
as if they would go to Lanark fair. And when those of the castle saw so
many loads going in a row, they were wondrous pleased at the sight, and
told it to their captain. He was named Sir John of Webton, and was
young, stout, and fierce. Right festive too he was, and light of
conduct, and because of certain love affairs would the more blithely
caused his men all to take their gear, and sally out to get that
victual, for their victual was fast failing them. They issued all in
disorder, and pricked forward with right good will to take the loads
they saw passing by, till Douglas and his men were all between them and
The load-men, who saw
them well, hastily cast down their burdens, and threw away the gowns
that covered them, and with the utmost speed seized their horses, and
with a shout rushed sturdily at their foes.
The men of the castle were greatly amazed
when they saw those that before were lurking so low come so boldly upon
them. They grew suddenly dismayed, and would have made for the castle,
when on the other side they saw Douglas break from his ambush and come
stoutly against them.
They knew not what to do or say. Their foes
they saw at hand, who struck without sparing, and they could help
themselves in no way, but fled to shelter where they might. But
Douglas's men made so fiercely at them that not one of them all escaped.
Sir John of Webton was slain, and when he was dead they found in his
purse a letter sent him by a lady that he wooed with love-service. The
letter spake in this manner. When he had as a good bachelor guarded for
a year in war, and governed well in all ways, the adventurous castle of
Douglas, that was so perilous to keep, then might he indeed ask a lady
for her love and her love-reward. Thus spake the letter.
And when the men were thus slain, Douglas
rode straight to the castle, and there made such an assault that he
entered the stronghold. I know not the whole matter surely, whether it
was by force or stratagem, but he so wrought that he took the constable
and all the rest within, both man and boy, and gave them money to spend,
and sent them home unharmed, to the Clifford in their own country. And
afterwards he laboured busily till he had thrown down all the wall and
destroyed the whole house. Then he held his way to the forest, [Lintalee
above Jedburgh, in the ancient Jed Forest, is pointed out by tradition
as the spot where he took up his open-air quarters.] where many a hard
assault and many a fair point of war befell. He who could rehearse and
tell all these exploits should set his name in great and lasting renown.