This being the season of
harvest in the northern counties of England, Wallace carried his reapers,
not to lay their sickles to the field, but, with their swords, to open
themselves a way into the Southron granaries.
The careful victor,
meanwhile, provided for the wants of his friends on the other side of the
Esk. The plunder of Percy’s camp was despatched to them; which, being
abundant in all kinds of provisions, was more than sufficient to keep them
in ample store till they could reach Stirling.
From that point, the
released chiefs had promised their Regent, they would disperse to their
separate estates, collect recruits, and reduce the distracted state of the
country into some composed order. Wallace had disclosed his wish, and mode
of effecting this renovation of public happiness, before he left Stirling.
It contained a plan of military organisation; by which each youth able to
bear arms, should not only be instructed in the dexterous use of the
weapons of war, but in the duties of subordination; and above all, have
the nature of the rights for which he was to contend, explained to him.
"They only require to be thoroughly
known, to be regarded as inestimable ;" added he: "but while we
raise around us the best bulwark of any nation, a brave and
well-disciplined people; while we teach them to defend their liberties,
let us see that they deserve them. Let them be men, contending for
virtuous independence; not savages, fighting for licentious unrestraint.
We must have our youth of both sexes, in towns and villages, from the
castle to the cot, taught the saving truths of Christianity. From that
root, will branch all that is needful, to make them useful members of the
state; virtuous and happy.-And, while war is in our hands, let us in all
things prepare for peace; that the sword may gently bend into the sickle,
the dirk to the pruning-hook."
There was an expansive providence in all
this, a concentrating plan of public weal, which few of the nobles had
ever even glanced at, as a design conceivable for Scotland. There were
many of these warrior chiefs who could not even understand it.
"Ah! my lords," replied he to
their warlike objections, "deceive not yourselves with the belief,
that by the mere force of arms, a nation can render itself great and
secure. Industry, temperance, and discipline, amongst the people, with
moderation and justice in the higher orders, are the only
ailments of independence. They bring you riches and power; which make it
the interest of those who might have been your enemies, to court your
late Admiral Waldegrave Lord Badstock, benevolent as brave, observed to a
friend, on this address of Wallace—"This is what ought to be in the
plan of our national schools, on one side; and our college education, on
the other: otherwise, the knowledge which comes in the place of these
necessary first principles, inevitably leads to mischief and misery. The
selfish principle, needs a check in all men, high and low."—(1840)]
The graver council at Stirling, had
received his plan with enthusiasm. And when, on the day of his parting
with the released chiefs on the banks of the Esk, with all the generous
modesty of his nature, he submitted his design to them, rather to obtain
their approbation as friends, than to enforce it with the authority of a
Regent; when they saw him, thus coming down from the dictatorship to which
his unrivalled talents had raised him, to equal himself still with them,
all were struck with admiration; and Lord Badenoch could not but mentally
exclaim, "The royal qualities of this man, can well afford this
expense of humility. Bend as he will, he has only to speak, to show his
superiority over all, and to be sovereign again."
There was a power in the
unostentatious virtues of Wallace which, declaring themselves rather in
their effects than by display, subdued the princely spirit of Badenoch;
and while the proud chief recollected, how he had contemned the
pretensions of Bruce, and could not brook the elevation of Baliol; how his
soul was in arms, when, after he had been persuaded to acknowledge the
supremacy of Edward, the throne was given to one of his rivals; he
wondered at himself, to find that his very heart bowed before the gentle
and comprehensive wisdom of an untitled Regent.
Athol, alone of the group,
seemed insensible to the benefits his country was deriving from its
resistless protector; but he expressed
his dissent from the general sentiment, with no more visible sign than a
When the messenger from
Wallace arrived on the banks of the Esk with so large a booty, and the
news of his complete victory over the gallant Percy, the exultation of the
Scottish nobles knew no bounds.
On Badenoch opening the Regent’s
despatches, he found they repeated his wish, for his brave coadjutors to
proceed to the execution of the plan they had sanctioned with their
approbation; they were to march directly for Stirling; and in their way,
dispense the superabundance of the plunder, amongst the perishing
inhabitants of the land. He then informed that Earl, that while the guard
he had left with him would escort the liberated Scots beyond the Forth,
the remainder of the troops should be thus disposed :—Lord Andrew
Murray, was to remain chief in command. in Clydesdale; Sir Eustace
Maxwell, to give up the wardship of Douglas to Sir John Monteith; and then
advance into Annandale, to assist Sir Roger Kirkpatrick; who must now,
have begun the reduction of the castles, in the west of that province. At
the close of this account, Wallace added, that himself, with his brave
band, were going to traverse the English counties to the Tees mouth; and
should Heaven bless his arms, He would send the produce, round by the
Berwick fleet, to replenish the exhausted stores of the Highlands.
"Next year;" continued he, "I trust they will have ample
harvests of their own."
And, what Wallace said he
hoped to do, he did.
The Southrons’ country
was panic-struck at the defeat of Percy: his beaten army, flying in all
directions before the conquering legions, gave such dreadful, and
hyperbolical accounts of their might, and of the giant prowess of their
leader; that as soon as ever the Scottish spears were seen rising the
summit of any hill, or even gleaming along the horizon, every village was
deserted, every cot left without inhabitant;
and corn, and cattle, and every kind of property, fell into the hands of
Lord Percy lay immovable
with wounds, in his castle at Alnwick; [This
famous castle, of so many heroic generations, is still the princely
residence of the head of the house of Percy. It has witnessed many
contests between Scots and Southrons: and close to the spot where its
great embattled gate stood in the twelfth century, the traveller may now
see a fine monumental pillar, erected in former times by the earls of
Northumberland, to show where Mowbray, one of their ancestors, then
holding garrison in the castle for William Rufus, king of England, slew
with his own hand William Canmore, king of Scotland; who had come up to
take it by assault. It is a tradition, that Mowbray assumed the present
name of the family, from having, with his lance, pierced the monarch in
the eye.— (1809.)] and his hopeless
state, by intimidating his followers, contradicted the orders he gave, to
face the marauding enemy. Several times they attempted to obey, but as
often showed their inability. They collected under arms; but the moment
their foe appeared, they fled within the castle walls, or buried
themselves in deep obscurities amongst the surrounding hills. Not a sheaf
in the fields of Northumberland, did the Scots leave, to knead into bread
for its earl; not a head of cattle, to smoke upon his board. The country
was sacked, from sea to sea. But far different was its appearance, from
that of the trampled valleys of Scotland. There, fire had burnt up the
soil; the hand of violence had levelled the husbandman’s cottage; had
butted his implements in the ruins; had sacrificed himself, on its smoking
ashes! There, the fatherless babe wept its unavailing wants; and at its
side sat the distracted widow, wringing her hands in speechless misery;
for there lay her murdered husband—here, her perishing child!
With such sights, the heart
of Wallace had been pierced, when he passed through the lowland counties
of his country; nay, as he scoured the highland districts of the
Grampians, even there had he met the foot of barbarian man, and cruel
desolation. For thus it was that the Sonthron garrisons
had provisioned themselves :—by robbing the poor of their bread; and,
when they resisted, firing their dwellings, and punishing the refractory
But not so, the generous enmity of Sir William
Wallace. His commission was, not to destroy, but to save; and though he
carried his victorious army to feed on the Southron plains, and sent the
harvests of England, to restore the wasted fields of Scotland, yet he did
no more. No fire, blasted his path; no innocent blood, cried against him
from the ground !—When the impetuous zeal of his soldiers, flushed with
victory, and in the heat of vengeance, would have laid several hamlets in
ashes, he seized the brand from the destroying party, and throwing it into
an adjoining brook; "Show yourselves worthy the advantages you have
gained," cried he, "by the moderation with which you use them.
Consider yourselves as the soldiers of the All-powerful God, who alone has
conducted you to victory; for, with a few, has he not enabled us to subdue
a host ?— Behave, as becomes your high destiny; and debase not
yourselves by imitating the hirelings of ambition, who receive as the
wages of their valour, the base privilege to ravage,
and to murder.
"I wish you to distinguish between a
spirit of reprisal, in what I do, and that of retaliation, which actuates
your present violence. What our enemies have robbed us of, as far as they
can restore, I take again. Their bread, shall feed our famishing country;
their wool, clothe its nakedness. But blood for blood, unless the murderer
could be made to bleed, is a doctrine abhorrent to God, and to humanity.
What justice is there in destroying the habitations and lives of a set of
harmless people, because the like cruelty has been committed by a lawless
army of their countrymen, upon our unoffending brethren? Your hearts may
make the answer. But if they are hardened against the pleadings of
humanity, let prudence show your interest in leaving those men alive, and
with their means unimpaired, who will produce other harvests, if need be,
to fill our scantier granaries.
"Thus I reason with you; and I hope
many are convinced: but they who are insensible to argument, must fear
authority; and I declare, that every man who inflicts injury on the
houses, or on the persons, of the quiet peasantry of this land, shall be
punished as a traitor to the state."
According to the different dispositions of
men, this reasoning prevailed. And, from the end of September (the time
when Wallace first entered Northumberland), to the month of November, when
(having scoured the counties of England, even to the gates of York,) he
returned to Scotland; not an offence was committed, which could occasion
his merciful spirit, regret. It was on All-Saints day, when he again
approached the Esk; and so great was his spoil, that his return seemed
more like some vast caravan moving the merchandise of half the world, than
the march of an army, which had so lately passed that river, a famishing,
though valorous host.
The out-posts of Carlaveroch, soon informed
Maxwell, the Lord Regent was in sight. At the joyful intelligence, a
double smoke streamed from every watch-hill in Annandale; and Sir Eustace
had hardly appeared on the Solway bank, to meet his triumphant chief, when
the eager speed of the rough knight of
Torthorald brought him there also. Wallace, as his proud charger plunged
into the ford, and the heavy waggons
groaned after him, was welcomed to the shore by the shouts, not only of
the soldiers, which had followed Maxwell and Kirkpatrick, but by the
people, who came in crowds to hail their preserver. The squalid hue of
famine had left every face; and each smiling countenance, beaming with
health, security, and gratitude, told Wallace, more emphatically than a
thousand tongues, the wisdom of the means he had used to regenerate his
Maxwell had prepared the fortress of
Lochmaben, once the residence of Bruce, for the reception of the Regent.
And thither Wallace was conducted, in prouder triumph than ever followed
the chariot wheels of Caesar. Blessings were the clarions that preceded
him; and hosts of people, whom he had saved when ready to perish, were
voluntary actors in his pageant.
When he arrived in sight of the the
capacious lochs, which spread like lucid wings on each side of the cast]e,
he turned to Graham; "What pity;" said he, "that the
rightful owner of this truly regal dwelling, does not act as becomes his
blood! He might now be entering its gates as a king, and Scotland find
rest under its lawful monarch."
"But he prefers being
a parasite in the court of a tyrant;" replied Sir John; "and
from such a school, Scotland would reject its king,"
"But he has a son,"
replied Wallace; "a brave and generous son !—I am told by Lord
Montgomery, who knew him in Guienne, that a nobler spirit does not exist.
On his brows, my dear Graham, we must hope one day to see the crown."
"Then only as your
heir, my Lord Regent," interrupted Maxwell; "for while you live,
I can answer for it, that no Scot will acknowledge any other ruler."
"I will first eat my
own sword;" cried Kirkpatrick.
At this moment, the
portcullis of the gate was raised; and Maxwell falling back to make way
for the Regent, Wallace had not time to answer a sentiment, now so
familiar to him, by hearing it from every grateful heart, that he hardly
remarked its tendency: a fact, the more easily to be believed, from the
ambition of such reward never receiving acceptance in his well-principled
Ever pressing towards
establishing the happiness of his country, he hastened over
the splendid repast that was prepared for him; and dispensing with the
ceremonials, with which the zeal of Maxwell sought to display his respect
for the virtues and station of his commander, he retired with Graham to
write despatches, and to apportion shares of the spoil to the necessities
of the provinces. In these duties, his wakeful eyes were kept open the
greatest part of the night They for whom he laboured slept securely! That
thought was rest to him. But they closed not their eyes without praying
for the sweet repose of their benefactor. And he found it; not in sleep,
but in that peace of heart which the world cannot give.