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The Bruce
Book 8


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 recovery.

On the 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 outcry.

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 troops.

The king 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 menacing.

The king 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 sally forth.

He 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 castle.

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.


 


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