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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter XVII


JAMES V. VISITS DUMFRIESSHIRE, TO OVERAWE AND PUNISH THE TURBULENT BORDERERS – JOHNNIE ARMSTRONG ENTERS INTO A BOND OF MARNENT WITH LORD MAXWELL AT DUMFRIES – VISIT OF THE “GUDEMAN OF BALLENGEICH” TO AMISFIELD TOWER – THE KING PROCEEDS TO ESKDALE – TRAGICAL FATE OF JOHNNIE ARMSTRONG – CONDITION OF THE DEBATABLE LAND – BEGINNING OF THE REFORMATION – OPPOSITION GIVEN TO IT BY JAMES – ABORTIVE ATTEMPT OF ANGUS TO REGAIN HIS INFLUENCE BY ENGLISH AID – HENRY OF ENGLAND REVIVES THE CLAIM OF HIS PREDECESSORS TO THE SOVEREIGNTY OF SCOTLAND – BATTLE OF SOLWAY MOSS – ROUT OF THE SCOTS, AND CAPTURE OF LORD MAXWELL AND OTHER CHIEFS BY THE VICTORS – WHARTON’S REPORT OF THE BATTLE TO KING HENRY – KING JAMES DIES OF A BROKEN HEART.

DURING the new King’s minority, the Earl of Angus kept him almost as a prisoner, and ruled the country at his pleasure; but the youthful monarch having acquired his freedom by an ingenious stratagem, banished his autocratic keeper, and began to administer public affairs with extraordinary vigour. Turbulent chiefs and predatory bands kept the Border districts in (to use an expressive old term) perpetual “broilery.” “These disturbers,” said the King, “must be subdued, and rendered loyal and peaceable, at all hazards.” For this purpose he entered Dumfriesshire at the head of a large army, letting it be known beforehand that he meant to “make the rasch bush keep the cow;” in other words, that he would put down cattle-stealing – the chronic offence of the Borders – and render all ranks, high as well as low, amenable to his rule.

At this period the predatory clan of the Armstrongs occupied a large portion of the Debatable Land and its vicinity – their chief, the Laird of Mangerton, having become a feudatory of the Earl of Bothwell, when he acquired the lordship of Liddisdale, in 1491. When Lord Dacre wasted Eskdale and Lower Annandale in 1514, there is reason to suppose that he received a helping hand from the Armstrongs. The following extract from the records of the Justiciary Court shows, at all event, that a few years afterwards they had been legally proceeded against on some serious charge: - “15th May, 1517. -  Respite to the Armstrongs, Tailyors, and all their kinsmen, friends, servants, and other dependents on them of the clan Liddisdale now dwelling in the Debatable Land and Woods, that will deliver to the Governor sufficient pledges to remain for good rule where they sall be assigned.” This act of grace was not appreciated by the lawless tribe. “Elliots and Armstrongs ride thieves all,” was still a true proverb so far as they were concerned; and the King’s representative in the district, Robert, the fourth Lord Maxwell, finding the Armstrongs irrepressible by force, endeavoured to keep them in check by means of a treaty obligation. That nobleman had a special interest in the matter. He was next door neighbour to the turbulent reivers of the Debatable Land: all around that den of doughty thieves lay rich possessions inherited by his family; and the corn and oxen upon them were not a bit more secure than others in the district, because they happened to belong to the Lord Warden of the Marches.

William, surnamed of Mangerton, seems to have been too tamely respectable for his position as a bandit chief; and on his brother, the renowned Johnnie Armstrong, devolved the virtual leadership of the clan. All Maxwell’s overtures were therefore made to Johnnie, who, with all his love for fighting and foray, was willing, if tempting terms were offered, to turn over a new leaf. In obedience to a request received from Lord Maxwell, he, late in the autumn of 1525, left his Tower of Gilnockie, on the Esk, and, in company with his son Christie, met his lordship at Dumfries. [The Terregles Papers.] What transpired at the interview is not recorded, but the result is known: a bond of marnent signed for Johnnie on the 3rd of November, 1525, “with his hand at the pen, as he could not subscribe his name” [Ibid; and Barjarg MSS.]; in which document the bold marauder swore submission to the Lord Warden, on condition of receiving his protection, and obtaining a grant of the lands of Langholm, with other pendicles in the same locality. Christie Armstrong entered into a similar bond on his own behalf – the material “consideration” in his case being a ten-pound land in Eskdale. These bonds were not very strictly interpreted by the Armstrongs. Perhaps they thought that all that was meant by them was immunity to the Warden’s cattle from their ravages: but if they spared these, they continued their raids elsewhere; and when news on the subject reached King James, it was accompanied by the aggravating report that his own representative, whose special duty it was to keep the peace of the Border, was protecting the lawless, and living hand and glove with “broken men.”

The first act of the young monarch, on entering Dumfriesshire, was a bold one. The Maxwells had all along maintained his cause against the Douglasses – and their influence was paramount in the County; but neither the memory of past favours, nor the apprehension of converting a friend into an enemy, prevented him from doing what he felt to be his duty. Maxwell was thrown into prison; Lord Home, the Lairds of Buccleuch, Polwart, and Kerr were also placed in ward: which chiefs, say Pitscottie, deserved punishment, since, instead of restraining the thievish Border clans, as in duty bound, they had “winked at their villanies, and given them way.”

The King had also, if tradition is to be relied upon, a score to settle with the Laird of Amisfield. Before setting out from Stirling, a poor widow, it is said, who had travelled all the way from the neighbourhood of Lochmaben, laid before him a tale of cruel hardship, and claimed redress. A party of Englishmen had penetrated to her little toft, carried off her only son, and whole stock of cattle – two cows; and when Sir John Charteris, who was Deputy-Warden of the Marches at the time, was told of the outrage, he, instead of capturing the marauders, as he could easily have done, treated the complaining widow with rudeness and contempt, protesting that he had something else to do than to look after her paltry concerns. The gracious monarch dismissed the petitioner with the assurance that her case would be attended to.

On arriving in Nithsdale, he proceeded in disguise to Amisfield Tower, and, “tirling at the pin,” apprised the porter who answered the summons that he was the bearer of an important message to his lord. “Sir John is at dinner, and cannot be disturbed,” “But, my good fellow,” rejoined the King, “the English have crossed the Border in great force, and the Warden must cause the beacons to be fired;” and the porter, propitiated by a few silver groats, broke in upon his master’s revels with the tidings – only, however, to receive a curse for his intrusion. When another servant, pale with emotion, bore to Sir John a second message from the King, to the effect that the Gudeman of Ballengeich [The name usually assumed by James V. when roaming, according to his wont, through the country in disguise.] had been long waiting at the gate, seeking admittance, but in vain, the terrified knight changed his tune, and knowing rather too late that his visitor was King James himself, he on bended knee craved pardon for his misconduct. The humbled Laird was then told in angry tones that he had something else to be sorry for and to atone – his gross neglect of the Annandale widow. “Her loss you must repay tenfold,” said the indignant monarch’ “and as for the poor woman’s son, unless he is ransomed within ten days, you shall die for it on the gallows.” As a further punishment, a large portion of the royal troops was billeted on the offending Deputy-Warden during his Majesty’s sojourn in the district.

After this characteristic episode, James proceeded, at the head of several thousand men, on his justiciary excursion through the worst parts of the country. During his progress many men of substance submitted themselves quietly to the King’s will, giving security that they would appear if called upon to underlie the law, in all crimes laid to their charge. Other offenders, whom he deemed incorrigible, were relentlessly dealt with. Over a hill situated on the north side of St. Mary’s Loch runs a tract (now barely visible) that is still termed the King’s Road, as by it James passed from the Braes of Yarrow into Ettrick. [Chambers’s Picture of Scotland, p. 163.] An old song embodies a tradition to this effect, and a reference to the “roving” gallantry of his disposition, which “The Jolly Beggar” and other ballads of his own commemorate.

                                                “The king rade round the Merecleuch-head,
                                                            Booted and spurred, as we a’ did see;
                                                 Syne dined wi’ a lass at Mossfennan yet,
                                                            A little below the Logan Lee.” 

Be the amour here hinted at true or false, there can be no doubt as to James’s tragical dealing with a gentleman-reiver who lived hard by – William Cockburne, of Henderland. Cockburne was seized by James’s orders, sent forthwith to Edinburgh, where he was tried, condemned, and executed – the charges against him, besides the general ones of high treason and common theft, being that he had, in company with certain Englishmen, plundered Archibald Summerville and the lands of Glenquhome. There is a prevalent tradition that the luckless Laird of Henderland was in “red-handed” style hanged over his own castle-gate, and that his widow Marjory buried him at a spot which is still shown as his grave in Meggetdale; but the facts are that he was regularly tried as above, on the 16th of May, in the following year (1530), and beheaded in Edinburgh. [Both Sir Walter Scott and Robert Chambers, accepting the tradition, considered that the tragedy was embalmed in the beautiful ballad of “The Border Widow’s Lament,” which tells how the King “broke into her bower,” “slew her knight,” and “left her in extremitie;” and then the mourner is made to say, with touching pathos: -

                                                “I sewed his sheet, making my maen;
                                                 I watched the corpse myself alane;
                                                 I watched his body, night and day –
                                                 No living creature came that way.

                                                 I took his body on my back,
                                                 And whiles I gaed, and whiles I sate;
                                                 I digg’d a grave, and laid him in,
                                                 And happened him wi’ the sod sae green.” 

Pitcairn’s matter-of-fact minute (vol. i., part 1. p. 145) shows that the ballad was not inspired by the fate of Cockburne.] Adam Scott of Tuschelaw was taken at the same time as Cockburne, tried by the same tribunal two days afterwards, and was also convicted and beheaded: the charges against him were that he had theftuously taken “black maill” from certain parties, among others the tenants of Elsieshiels, and other poor tenants of Hopcailyow.

To the luckless Lair of Gilnockie, Johnnie Armstrong, James determined to show as little mercy. If the bandit chief had resolved on eluding the King, he could easily have done so by crossing into Cumberland; or, if he had been bent on a boldly-defiant course, he might, by entrenching himself in one of his strong keeps on the Liddel, or by retiring to the fastness of Tarras Moss, have held out for a long period against the royal army. None of these steps was pursued by him. Was Johnnie mad or infatuated when, with thirty-six of his followers, he rode within the infuriated monarch’s reach? or is the tale of the old ballad true, that “the King had written a loving letter, with his ain hand sae tenderlie,” promising pardon to the freebooter if he would only submit to ask for it? “He came before the King,” says Pitscottie, “with his foresaid number, richly apparelled, trusting that in respect of the free offer of his person he should obtain the King’s favour. But the King seeing him and his men so gorgeous in their apparel, with so many brave men under a tyrant’s commandment, frowardly turning him about, he bade take the tyrant out of his sight, saying ‘What wants that knave that a king should have?’ But John Armstrong made great offers to the King – that he would sustain himself, with forty gentlemen, ever ready at his service, on their own cost, without wronging any Scottishman; secondly, that there was not a subject in England – duke, earl, or baron – but, within a certain day, he should bring him to his Majesty, either quick or dead.” [Pitscottie, p. 146.] To all such tempting offers the King’s ear was deaf, and to every entreaty of the outlaw the King’s heart was sealed.

                                                “Away, away, thou traitor strang!
                                                            Out o’ my sicht soon mayest thou be!
                                                 I granted never a traitor’s life,
                                                            And now I’ll not begin with thee!” 

At length Johnnie, seeing, when it was too late, that his doom was irrevocable, retorted proudly, “It is folly to seek grace at a graceless face! But had I known this, I should have lived on the Borders in despite of King Harry and you both; for I know that King Harry would downweigh my best horse with gold to know that I were condemned to die this day!” “God grant our men weel back again!” cried the ladies of Gilnockie and Tarras, as they looked from the turret windows when the gay cavalcade rode off to meet King James; and the words of another ancient ballad well express the sad fidelity of their forebodings: -

                                                “O lang, lang may their ladies sit,
                                                            Wi’ their gowd kaims in their hair,
                                                 A’ waiting for their ain dear lords,
                                                            For them they’ll see nae mair.”

Neither Johnnie nor one of his goodly company was allowed to revisit the glades of Eskdale; they were led forth to instant execution, by command of the Rhadamanthine King, and hanged on growing trees at a place called Carlenrig Chapel, about ten miles above Hawick, on the high road to Langholm.

Of Gilnockie, long the outlaw’s principal hold, no trace is now left, the last relics of the Tower having been removed to make room for a bridge over the Esk. On the opposite bank of that river, a little further up, still stand the ruins of Hallows, or Hollas, where, according to Sir Walter Scott, Johnnie Armstrong usually resided; but that is more than doubtful. Hollas Tower was held in fee or wardenry by Lord Maxwell; and though he granted lands in Liddisdale to the outlaw, it is nowhere mentioned that Hollas was included in the gift. [Manuscript Account of the Debatable Land, by Mr. Thomas Carlyle, of Waterbeck.]

After the King had, by these tragical proceedings, done his utmost to break up the system of robbery and terrorism that prevailed on the Borders, he relented so far as to set Lord Maxwell, and the other chiefs whom he had imprisoned, at liberty. He then returned, with his army, to Edinburgh. There is every reason to suppose that his Majesty soon came to see that no very heinous crime had been committed by the Lord Warden. On the 5th of July, 1530, the latter received, as a royal gift, the escheated estates, heritable and movable, of Johnnie Armstrong – a clear proof that he had regained the favour of King James.

Christie Armstrong, luckily for himself, escaped his father’s fate, by avoiding an interview with royalty. On learning what had occurred, he took refuge in Cumberland, and became henceforth the sworn enemy of the Scottish monarch, and the enthusiastic ally of the English in their raids across the Border. The ballad from which we have already quoted states, with some truth, that Johnnie Armstrong performed patriotic service in defending the frontier line between the kingdoms – he being such a terror to the Southrons, “that nane of them durst come near his hauld.” On this account, perhaps, it would have been politic had the King come to terms with him: the hanging of the outlaw was, at all events, bitterly remembered by his clansmen, and for many a day cost the country dear. The reader will learn afterwards how fearfully, when fighting under the invading banners of Dacre and Wharton, they revenged the fate of their lamented chief.

In 1579, the Master of Maxwell (afterwards the celebrated Lord Herries), while acting as Deputy-Warden during his father’s captivitiy in England, drew up a report on the Debatable Land for the King, in which he states, that after Gilnockie’s execution the inhabitants had been reduced to twenty or thirty, but that they now numbered from 300 to 400 men-at-arms, and had during the interval built eight or nine peel-houses, so strong as to be “impregnable to any power to the disposal of the Warden.” The names of these strengths are not given; but they were probably Morton or Sark, Woodhouseleys, Bomglush, Hollas, Irving or Auchenriffoch, Mumbyhool, Hallgreen, and Harelaw: all of which rose up in the district during the sixteenth century, though none now remains but Hollas, hoar and roofless [Mr. R. Carlyle’s MS.] – “a brotherless hermit, the last of its race.” The Armstrongs at that period, and for some time afterwards, were still the principal occupiers of the Debatable Country, residing in their houses of Sark, Hollas, Hallgreen, and Harelaw, all in the parish of Canonby: the Grahams, though less numerous, mustered strongly in Kirkandrews parish, the other portion of the disputed district. These septs usually kept on friendly terms, intermarrying frequently, and foraying together. The Grahams had also settled down on the land lying between the Lyne – then called the Levyn – and the Liddel, a notorious spot of ground, where formerly hordes of self-expatriated Armstrongs, Elliots, Scotts, and other “broken” outlaws, rendezvoused, and were known in their day as “the traitors of the Levyn.” Surrounding the Debatable Land were the Armstrongs, in other parts of Liddisdale and Middlebie, the Irvings on Kirtle-Water, and the smaller clans of Rome and Liddel in Gretna.

In his fondness for adventure, and in some other respects, James V. resembled his father very much. Under the influence of a romantic sentiment, he projected a “love chase” among the fair ladies of France – not in “the Gudeman of Ballengeich” style, but with a view to marriage. This royal “Cœlebs in search of a wife,” disguised as a private gentleman, and accompanied by Lord Maxwell (for whom he entertained a fraternal affection), embarked in a ship freighted for the purpose; but, a storm arising, the vessel had to sail back, landing the disappointed King at Whithorn. Next year, however, he realized the object of this singular expedition in a regular way, by proceeding with a magnificent retinue to France, and marrying Magdalene, the eldest daughter of its king. The young Queen – she had only seen sixteen summers – was as delicate as she was beautiful. Within forty days after the arrival of the royal pair at Leith, on the 19th of May, 1537, the “Lily of Scotland” pined away, and died, leaving James and the country plunged in grief.

James V. paid another visit to Dumfriesshire in 1538, but under very altered circumstances, as, during the twelve years that had elapsed since his justiciary tour, events of vast importance had occurred to himself and to the nation. It might have been supposed that a prince of his disposition, who curbed the nobles, and took pride in being called “King of the Commons,” would have encouraged the Reformation from Popery. That great revolutionary movement was already progressing rapidly throughout the kingdom; and if James had placed himself at its head, how much happier might have been his fate, and from what trials and conflicts would he have saved his country! At one time he seemed to be on the point of dismissing his priestly counsellors, when he rated them as “a pack of jugglers,” and bade them reform their own lives, instead of urging him to punish heretics [William Eure, a correspondent of the English Government in Scotland, writing to Lord Cromwell on the 26th of January, 1540, says he learns from one of King James’s Privy Counsellors that he favours the Reformation, and that he is “fully mynded to expel all spirituall men [priests] from having any authoritie within the realme.” State Papers, vol. v., p. 170.]; but, unhappily, he succumbed to their views, wedded Mary of Guise, a Roman Catholic princess, instead of his cousin, the daughter of Henry VIII., whom he had half promised to espouse – Lord Maxwell being in this instance the negotiator of marriage [A Manuscript Account of the Family of Maxwell (quoted in History of Galloway, vol. i., p. 452) says that King James, in reward of Lord Maxwell’s services on this and other occasions, confirmed to him the lands of Ewisdale, Eskdale, and Wauchope, by a charter under the Great Seal. “He was,” it is added, “possessed of an immense estate, and had no less than fourteen charters from the King of different lands and baronies – inter 1530 et 1540.” In one charter there are confirmed to him the lands of Maxwell, in Roxburghshire; Carlaverock, in Dumfriesshire; Springkell, in Annandale, with the office of Steward thereof, and of Kirkcudbright; the lands of Garnselloch, Dursguhen, and Balmacruth, in Perthshire; Gordonston and Grenan, in Kirkcudbright; with the lands and baronies of Mearns and Nether Pollock, in Renfrewshire, &c., &c.] – sanctioned the persecution of the Reformers, and eventually placed an impassable gulf betweixt himself and them. Patrick Hamilton, the protomartyr of Scottish Protestantism, perished at the stake in 1525; soon after, three “godly men, who professed the Evangel of Christ, were called before the bishops and kirkmen, and condemned and burnt by the King’s commission.” [Pitscottie, p. 150.] These were the Vicar of Dollar, Norman Galloway, and David Straiton; others shared their fate: but all the rigour which James and his ecclesiastical advisers could put forth failed to avert the downfall of Popery. Meanwhile, the monarch’s own end was rapidly approaching. For several years, though there had been no settled peace, there had been no decided hostility with the English; but, in 1541, the latter made a predatory foray into Scotland, and when restitution was applied for, King Henry, who was now eager to hasten a rupture with his nephew, returned an unsatisfactory answer. James, in anticipation of such a result, levied an army of ten thousand men, which was placed under the command of the Earl of Huntly, that nobleman being at the same time commissioned to act as Lieutenant-General of the Borders.

King James sometimes went southward for the purpose of inspecting the troops; and it was on one of these occasions, and while war between the realms was still undeclared, that Sir Thomas Wharton, the English Warden, laid an important project before his royal master. He presented to King Henry that his youthful nephew was in the habit of visiting Dumfries and its vicinity with a small retinue; and that it would be no very difficult matter to seize him during some unsuspecting moment, carry him across the Border, and become the dictator of Scotland by being the captor of its King.

This scandalous proposal found great favour with the English monarch. [The plot seems to have escaped the vigilance of Tytler, though, in writing his excellent History of Scotland, he drew extensively upon the State Papers of the period. Our account of it is taken from a letter of the Privy Council to King Henry, in vol. v. of the State Papers, p. 204.] He wished, above all things, to get the King of Scots in his power, and was perfectly indifferent about the means that might be employed for that purpose. He had a perfect confidence, also, in Wharton – knew him to be a bold, crafty, unscrupulous soldier – the very man, in short, for carrying his own vile scheme into effect. Henry commended it to the careful consideration of his “right trustie and well-beloved Counsailours, enjoining them to report upon it with all due speed.”

The Privy Council read and re-read the letter from Wharton in which his audacious scheme was developed; and the more they perused it, it pleased them the less. Nor did they mince matters with his Majesty – they had the honesty and courage to say that they disapproved of the base stratagem laid by the Warden for capturing the King of Scots; and to counsel its abandonment. They told Henry that they “wold have been afrayd to have thought on suche a matier touching a Kinges persone,” had they not been enjoined by him to consider it; and, after pointing out the discreditable character of the device, they affirmed that it was full of difficulty and danger. Using the language of remonstrance, they said: “But, Sir, we have also wayed that matier aftre our symple wittes and judgementes, and we fynde in it many difficulties. First, we considre that the castle [Carlaverock] whereunto He [King James] resortethe is [ ] myles within the grounde of Scotlande. We considre also that the cuntrey between that and Englande is so well inhabited, that it should be very difficile to conveye any suche number of men to the place where he shuld be intercepted, but the same wold be discovered. We considre again that Doonfrese, oon of the best townes in Scotlande, is in that parte where the entreprize shuld be doon; and the cuntrey so inhabited at their backes, that if it were doon, it wold be harde to bring Him thens, specially alyve.” Then, in the event of discovery and failure, what “slaunder” would grow out of it! What “deidlie feud” would ensue! And should King James be taken, would there not be a rescue, or such tumult and deray as would put the royal life in peril? For all these reasons, expressed or implied, the Council declared that they durst not advise the adoption of the enterprise, “but rather thinke it mete that Wharton (who hathe, we think, had a good meanyng in it) should nevertheless surcease, and make no living creature privye to any such mater.” Henry bowed reluctantly to the decision of his ministers, and sought to realize his object by tardier and less dishonourable means. [State Papers, vol. v., pp. 204-5.]

In the summer of 1542, an English force, ten thousand strong, crossed the Eastern Marches, in the direction of Jedburgh and Kelso; and who should be the leaders of it but the banished Earl of Angus and his brother George: to such debasement were they willing to stoop, in order to wreak their vengeance on King James, and recover their influence in Scotland. Huntly, hearing of their movements, interposed in time to save the threatened towns; and, at Hadden-Rig, encountered and defeated the enemy, taking prisoner many men of note, Angus himself only escaping a similar fate by despatiching his captor with a dagger. On receiving the news of this disaster, Henry proclaimed war in due form, revived the obsolete claim of his predecessors to the superiority of Scotland, and sent the Surrey of Flodden, now Duke of Norfold, across the Border, at the head of a large army. A Scottish force, encamped on Fala Muir, checked the progress of the invaders, who, after doing some mischief, withdrew comparatively unmolested.

To follow them was the first impulse of the impetuous King. He longed to meet the slayer of his father face to face in the battle-field; but the chiefs whom he had with him doggedly refused to cross the Border, averring that their military service only extended to the defence of their own country, while some of them did not scruple to say, “The King is king of the priests; let him ask followers from those whose counsel he has acted upon, and not from the nobles whom he has humiliated and despised, and who have no heart to fight his battles.” James could do nothing with such a contumacious host but disband it; and, having done this, he returned to Edinburgh vowing that he should on an early day cause another force to be raised, and invade England, and that if the barons opposed his resolution, Scotland would no longer hold both him and them.

Before many more months elapsed, a second army was formed, chiefly through the exertions of the clergy, who sent rescripts for a military muster to all over whom they had any influence. Some of our historians allege that Robert, the fifth Lord Maxwell, was appointed general of this new force; and the Oliver Sinclair, one of the King’s household servants, was only nominally associated with him in the command. Others, again, with more credibility, state that Sinclair (who was a tool of the priesthood, as well as a royal favourite), received secret letters from the King, appointing him sole leader of the invading army, enjoining him, however, to keep his commission secret till the time of action arrived. According to Buchanan, Maxwell, with the view of mollifying the King’s rage against his nobles, engaged, with ten thousand men, to cross the Esk, and retaliate upon the English; but his Majesty could not accept the offer, as he had previously committed himself to another course – one by which he designed still further to punish those who had traversed his policy.

King James accompanied the army, and perhaps by his presence encouraged the idea that he would himself assume the command. He had no such intention, however, and remained at Carlaverock Castle, there to wait the result of the enterprise, and as if he feared that it would prove a failure.

It would have been extremely marvellous had it prospered, as it wanted nearly every element of success. The soldiers had no great relish for the expedition on which they were sent; they had no acknowledged leader; some of those barons whose retainers swelled the ranks, had a standing grudge against the sovereign: and when the Esk was crossed, and a cry arose, “Who is to lead us against the enemy?” and it was answered by Oliver Sinclair being raised shoulder high, and proclaimed General with sound of trumpet, secret discontent merged into open mutiny. Many scenes of tumult and disaster have been witnessed on the banks of the little Border stream, but none so wild and strange as that which now ensued. In vain the Popish lords who had approved of the invasion sought to calm the storm: discipline was gone – rank mingled with rank – hoarse cries of disapproval, interspersed with curses on the low-born caitiff insultingly thrust upon them as commander, rose like thunder from a thousand voices, till the mighty host became nothing better than a riotous mob. [In the Diurnal of Occurrents, p. 25, the disaster to the Scots at Solway Moss is expressively spoken of as “ane unhappie raid, begylit be thair awne gyding.”]

Its confusion did not pass unseen by the English, a party of whom, fourteen hundred strong, led by Sir Thomas Wharton and Sir William Musgrave, sallied forth on horseback, and, seeing how matters stood, dashed headlong upon the disordered throng. Only a faint show of resistance was made by the Scots. A few of them fought single-handed, under the instinct of self-defence, but there was not even the semblance of a general engagement. To surrender without a struggle, or escape by flight, were the alternatives the great mass adopted. To fight might have saved themselves, but it might also have secured a victory for the King’s detested favourite; and, rather than bring glory to him, they covered themselves with disgrace. Upwards of a thousand yielded without striking a blow; and the rest, numbering nearly nine thousand, turned their faces homeward, throwing away the weapons which they did not use, and which only encumbered their flight. Night came down upon the fugitives, adding much to their bewilderment. They recrossed the Esk with little loss, though the tide had flooded it four fathoms deep. “We are safe now,” they fancied: “our own land has been reached, and there is a dark rolling sea between us and the enemy.” But it is not land on which they have stumbled; it is a treacherous morass! – and down – down – perishing ignobly in the dismal swamp – go many stout warriors, and are seen no more, till, centuries afterwards some of them are accidentally disentombed!

Whilst the retreating Scots were doing their utmost to cross this appalling quagmire, a party of their pursuers approached, and, by raising hideous shouts, increased their confusion. At this stage of the deplorable rout, numerous additional prisoners were taken; and it is stated by Buchanan that not a few Scots were captured by the predatory bands of the neighbourhood, and sold to the English. What proportion of the army arrived at home in safety is not recorded: the likelihood is, that the loss in killed and prisoners was nearly one-third of its whole array. Comparatively few fell by the sword; though Pitscottie must, we think, have greatly understated the number, when he says there were only twenty-five persons slain – ten Scots, and fifteen English. How many were swallowed up by the morass, was never known. Among the prisoners of rank were the Earl of Cassilis, the Lords Maxwell, Fleming, Sommerville, Oliphant, and Grey, and Oliver Sinclair, the officer of an hour, and main cause of the disaster. [In the State Paper Office, London, there is a paper showing the resources of the prisoners. It includes the following entries: - “The Lorde Maxwell, in landes, per annum, 4000 merkes Scottishe, which is sterling 1000 merkes; and in goodes, 2000 £ Scottishe, which is sterling 500 £. Henry Maxwell, brodyr to the Lorde Maxwell, in landes, per annum, nothinge; and in goodes, nothinge.” – State Papers, vol. v., p. 233.]

Wharton’s report of this triumph to King Henry is still extant. It is a plain, soldierly document, containing no boasting, and attributing the result to good fortune and the Divine favour. “It may please your Majesty,” says Wharton, “to be advertised that herewith I do send into your highness the names of the noblemen and gentlemen prisoners which I delivered at Darnton to my Lord Scroop, and the names of their takers in the same. I do send also to your Majesty the order of that fortunate service done by the power of Almighty God to her highness against your highness’s enemies, and the names of such gentlemen and the numbers [of followers] with them, in that your majesty’s service; together with such communication in effect as I have had with the Lord Maxwell and Oliver Synclere. I shall attend your Majesty’s most noble commandment for all the other prisoners according to my most bounden duty . . . ; and shall daily pray to Almighty God that your majesty may most long in prosperous health reign over us. At Carlisle, the 10th of December.”

The capture of the Warden is thus entered in the list: - “The Lord Maxwell, Admiral of Scotland, Warden of the West Marches of the same, and one of the King of Scots Privy Council. Edward Aglionby, or George Foster, his taker.” Batill Routlege is represented as having taken the Earl of Cassilis, only “John Musgrave claimeth a part for the loan of his horse to the said Routlege;” and poor “Oliver Synkeler” is stated to have been borne off and claimed by one “Willie Bell.” [Solway Moss is about seven miles in circumference, and lies in the English portion of the Debatable Land; the Sark flowing along its western side, and the Esk forming its boundary on the east. The battle, such as it was, must have taken place in the neighbourhood of Longtown, on the left bank of the Esk. Gilpin describes the Moss as covered with grass and rushes, presenting a dry crust and fair appearance, but shaking under the least pressure – the bottom being unsound and semi-fluid. He states that the adventurous passenger who sometimes, in dry seasons, passes this perilous waste to save a few miles of travel, picks his cautious way over the rushy tussocks as they appear before him – for on these the soil is comparatively firm; but if his foot slip, or if he venture to desert this mark of security, it is possible he may never more be heard of.]

Such was the rout of Solway Moss, and some of its results. It constitutes one of the most remarkable and disreputable incidents of Scottish history. Its evils are not all summed up in the disloyal mutiny, the mockery of a resistance, the tame surrender, the panic-flight, and the devouring bog: it crazed the brain and broke the heart of the obstinate, yet, in many respects, noble-minded King of Scots. The news of the inglorious discomfiture of his army reached him, late in the day, at Carlaverock Castle, and the royal halls echoed all night long with the lamentations which it wrung from him. He was thoroughly unmanned – prostrated – wrecked – by the terrible tidings; and the image of his favourite, a fugitive and a prisoner, figured prominently among the tormenting phantoms that crowded round his couch. “Fie! fie! is Oliver fled! Is Oliver taken!” shrieked the poor King, ever and anon, in an agony that no one could minister to, far less remove. He retired to his Palace of Falkland, only to die. When the tide of life was ebbing rapidly, the intelligence was brought to him of the Queen’s safe delivery of a child. “Is it male or female?” he asked. “A fair daughter,” replied the messenger – an intimation that aggravated his sufferings, and hurried on the end, by calling to his remembrance how the Stewart race had succeeded to the Crown. “It came with a lass,” said the dying monarch, bitterly, “and it will go with a lass.” Then the engrossing woe of Solway Moss came back upon his mind, eliciting the old wail: “Is Oliver fled! Is Oliver a prisoner!” Speaking little from that time henceforth, but commending himself to the mercy of Almighty God, he “turned his back unto the lords, and his face unto the wall,” till his spirit passed away. [Pitscottie, p. 177.]

The death of James V., at the early age of thirty years, added to the woes of Scotland. His daughter Mary was but a few days old when the melancholy event occurred, so that the country was again doomed to a long interregnum, during which angry factions contended for supremacy; and Henry VIII. and his successor strove to take advantage of the weakness thus produced – Dumfriesshire, as usual, suffering much from the machinations of its Southern neighbours. A new element of strife was also introduced by the Reformation; the conflict it originated in the end becoming so engrossing as to swallow up, or at least to subordinate, all other rivalries and matters of debate. Both Nithsdale and Annandale clung with some tenacity to the old creed after other districts had flung it aside; but, as we shall see, before Mary Stuart came from France to enter upon the government of her kingdom, in 1561, the cause of Protestantism prevailed extensively over the County, though a few of its leading chiefs continued to oppose it.  


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