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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter XXV


THE LORD WARDEN IS APPEALED TO BY THE SUFFERERS FROM THE JOHNSTONE RAID – THE PROCESSION OF “THE BLOODY SHIRTS” – THE KING COMMANDS HIS WARDEN TO GIVE REDRESS TO THE PETITIONERS – MAXWELL PROCEEDS FOR THIS PURPOSE WITH A POWERFUL FORCE INTO ANNANDALE – A RECONNOITRING PARTY SENT BY HIM, WHEN ENCOUNTERED BY THE JOHNSTONES, TAKES REFUGE IN LOCHMABEN CHURCH – FIRE IS APPLIED TO THE CHURCH, AND THE PARTY SURRENDERS – BATTLE OF DRYFE-SANDS – DEFEAT OF THE NITHSDALE MEN – SLAUGHTER OF LORD MAXWELL – MODERN ASPECT OF THE BATTLE-FIELD – LORD HERRIES MADE WARDEN OF THE MARCHES – JOHNSTONE PARDONED – APPOINTED WARDEN, AND AGAIN DISGRACED – KING JAMES VISITS DUMFRIES, AND HOLDS A COURT OF REDRESS IN THE BURGH – LORD MAXWELL MEDIATES VENGEANCE ON JOHNSTONE FOR THE SLAUGHTER OF HIS FATHER – THE KING INTERPOSES, BANISHES HIM FROM THE DISTRICT, AND EXACTS LETTERS FROM HIM, IN WHICH HE AGREES TO BE RECONCILED TO HIS ENEMY – MAXWELL BREAKS THROUGH HIS ENGAGEMENT, RECEIVES THE KING’S FORGIVENESS, AGAIN OFFENDS, AND IS CONSIGNED TO EDINBURGH CASTLE – ESCAPES FROM IT BY STRATAGEM, AND RETURNS TO DUMFRIESSHIRE.

THE sufferers from this rapacious incursion naturally complained of it to the Warden, and asked for redress at his hands – request which placed him in an awkward dilemma. He did not wish to revive his old feud with the Johnstones; and perhaps he also believed that they had some right to reckon on his forbearance, though there was no express compact to that effect between them. Two influences, however, combined to make him resolve on warlike measures, though he was personally inclined to peace. The proprietors who had been pillaged, and were impatient for revenge, offered to enter into bonds of man-rent with him to maintain his quarrels against all sundry, provided he would exercise his authority as Warden to punish the Johnstones: and the King about the same time issued a special commission to him, by which he was enjoined to execute justice on the guilty clan; James having been induced to take this step by a singular deputation from Nithsdale, consisting, says Calderwood, of “certain poor women with fifteen bloody shirts,” who presented themselves in the streets of Edinburgh on Monday, the 23rd of July, and in presence of the Court prayed for justice on those who, at the instance of the Laird of Johnstone, had cruelly murdered their husbands, sons, and servants. As their petition did not receive that prompt attention which they expected, a procession of the bloody shirts was resolved on; and these were carried through the streets “by pioneers,” whilst a sympathizing crowd cried out for vengeance upon the King and Council [Calderwood.], till they at length paid attention to the widow’s prayer.

Lord Maxwell saw in the offer of the Nithsdale gentlemen a means of increasing his “following,” and strengthening the power of his family; and when to this temptation was added the positive command of his sovereign, he hesitated no longer, and forthwith took the field against his hereditary enemy. Perhaps we do the noble lord no injustice when we suspect that the prospect of wreaking vengeance on the ancient foes of his house had some influence also in determining his conduct.

Johnstone on his part was not idle. On seeing sure indications of a pending storm [According to Spottiswoode, the bond of agreement between Maxwell and the Nithsdale gentlemen, “being negligently kept, fell into the hands of one Johnstone of Cummertrees, and was by him carried to the Laird of Johnstone,” who thus got timely notice of the combination entered into against him (Vol. ii., p. 446.)], he prepared to meet it by an alliance with his maternal relatives the Scotts of Eskdale and Teviotdale, five hundred of whom came to his aid under the leadership of Sir Gideon Murray of Elibank, who bore the banner of the Buccleuch in the temporary absence of that chieftain abroad. The Elliots of Liddesdale, the Grahames of the Debatable Land, and other Border tribes, also allied themselves to Johnstone; and, as we learn from the Privy Council Records, “divers Englishmen, tressounablie brocht within this realme,” swelled his ranks.

Maxwell, as a matter of form, summoned Johnstone to surrender in the King’s name, and submit to be tried on the charges brought against him. The citation being treated with scorn, war was inevitable; and, considering that it was a county conflict, the forces brought into the field were numerous on both sides. No fewer than two thousand men followed the royal banner, as displayed by the Lord Warden, into Annandale; and nearly as many of the Johnstone party went forth to meet them. Sometimes the fate of kingdoms has been decided by smaller armies than those marshalled against each other by these rival chiefs.

The Nithsdale men would probably assemble at the usual place of wappenschaw – the meadow watered by the Lordburn, eastward of Dumfries – and be thence led round the head of Lochar Moss towards Lochmaben. A popular modern ballad [The Battle of Dryfe-Sands, by William M’Vitie, of which a neat edition, with notes, has been recently published by Mr. D. Halliday, bookseller, Locherbie.], written on the battle that ensued, gives what is at best a doubtful list of the different companies that made up Lord Maxwell’s army. Two churchmen – the Abbot of Newabbey and the Vicar of Carlaverock – are represented as leading a hundred men each into the field; but some years prior to the date of the conflict they had both been forfeited, and the days of fighting eccleasiastics had been brought to an end. The other contingents are given as follows: - Crichton, Drumlanrig, and Dalziel, fivescore each; Dalswinton and Cowhill, eighty-nine each; Kirkpatrick, Carnsalloch, and Breckenside, “full fourscore” each; Charteris, sixty; Lag, fifty-four; while, we are told,

“The town Dumfries two hundred sent,
All picked and chosen every one;
With them their provost, Maxwell, went,
A bold, intrepid, daring man.

“Lord Maxwell’s own dependants rose
Eight hundred warriors, truly bred;
Kirkconnell doth the reckoning close,
An hundred valiant youths he led.”

It was in the dead of the year, “when dark December glooms the day,” that this goodly bannered host moved from the County town – its leader, as a matter of precaution, sending a reconnoitring company on before, under the command of Captain Oliphant. The ill-fated troop went to watch the enemy’s movements, but was too rash, and regardless of its own. When in the neighbourhood of Bruce’s ancient burgh, a numerous body of the Johnstones, led by James Johnstone of Kirkton, rushed suddenly upon Oliphant’s men and put many of them to the sword, the Captain himself falling in the fray. The rest fled for safety to the parish church [This church was a Gothic building, and dedicated to Mary Magdalene. After standing in a ruinous condition for some years, it was taken down in 1818; and during the process, the key of the old fabric was found, and afterwards sent to the Antiquarian Society of Edinburgh.]; but it afforded them no protection. Fire was ruthlessly applied to the sacred building; and as the roof was formed of straw, which fed the destructive flames, the edifice soon became literally too hot to hold the refugees, and they were forced to surrender. Thus the war opened in a manner that foreboded evil to the men of Nithsdale. Maxwell, however, on hearing of the disaster, hurried forward, hoping soon to eclipse it by a brilliant victory.

Late on the 6th of December, 1593, he crossed the Lochmaben hills with his army, encamping for the night on the Skipmyre heights, below which, at a considerable distance, flowed the Dryfe – a river so called from the driving rush of its waters when swelled by rain. Crossing it next forenoon, the Maxwells found themselves faced by the Johnstones, the latter of whom were strongly posted on an elevated piece of ground, which now forms part of the parish glebe. This ridge is about forty feet high at its north end, and slopes gradually away southward: the Dryfe flowing at that time much further westward than at present, and leaving room on its left bank for the evolutions of the combatants. Sir James Johnstone possessed no small amount of military skill; and by disposing of his men on this acclivity, he was able to force the Maxwells into an engagement on ground which the latter would never of their own choice have taken up. Their position was quite exposed, and they must either fight under serious disadvantages or commence a humiliating retreat – an alternative which they never thought of resorting to. Johnstone further strengthened himself and encouraged his men by some adroit preliminary manœvring, with Maxwell, relying mainly on sheer force, failed to counteract. Had the hostile ranks closed on equal terms, and in a trial of strength alone, the likelihood is that Maxwell’s high hopes would have been realized; but from the manner in which he was situated, and the mode of warfare chosen by the opposing army, he was never able to bring above the half of his men into action. Johnstone initiated the fighting by “sending forth some prickers to ride and make provocation.” On went the horsemen thus commissioned, flaunting their pennons in the faces of their foremen, hurling at them stinging epithets, if not material missiles, challenging them to come on if they dared, shouting the Johnstones’ war-cry, “Ready, aye ready!” as if to reproach the unreadiness of their opponents, and then riding back unharmed to their own ranks.

To be bearded in this fashion was more than flesh and blood of the Maxwell stamp could bear; and when the tormentors returned, repeated their exasperating conduct, and then exultingly retired, the Warden – enraged at a time when coolness was specially needed – sent a large detachment after them, who rushed forth impetuously, crying, “Wardlaw! Wardlaw!” varied by “I bid you bide, Wardlaw!” [Wardlaw is the name of a hill in the immediate vicinity of Carlaverock Castle.] – the well-known slogan of the Nithsdale chief. This was the very movement which Johnstone had wished to provoke. The retreating horsemen never thought of turning rein in a vain attempt to resist the torrent let loose upon them. Getting out of the way as rapidly as possible, they allowed it to be met by those who were standing ready to roll it back, and who did so. The Nithsdale detachment was received by a much larger body, and broken up; and its fragments, falling back, communicated to the main army of the Maxwells a share of its own confusion. This was the crisis of the battle. As yet there had been nothing but skirmishing, and little bloodshed; and if the Warden’s army had stood firm when the Johnstones, in full force, charged down upon them, the fortunes of the day might still have been redeemed. As soon as the Annandale men left the heights, they gave up all the advantages of their position – only, however, to improve the advantage given by the panic into which the Maxwells were thrown. The latter never recovered from the disorder caused by the repulse of their assailing troops; and when, consequent upon that mishap, they were visited with a general assault, they, after a brief but desperate resistance, gave way on all sides. The Lairds of Lag, Closeburn, and Drumlanrig escaped by the fleetness of their steeds; but there is not historical evidence that the charge represented as brought against them by Lord Maxwell’s son, in the old ballad, was well founded: -

“Adieu! Drumlanrig, false wert aye,
And Closeburn in a band!
The Laird of Lag frae my father that fled
When the Johnstone struck off his hand.
They were three brethren in a band –
Joy may they never see!
Their treacherous art and cowardly heart
Has twined my love and me.”

Lord Maxwell was less fortunate than his brother barons. When resistance was useless, he retreated with the relics of his army from the field – each of the fugitives going his own separate way, but most of them proceeding in the direction of Lockerbie, the victors following hard upon their track, and ruthlessly slaying all whom they overtook. On the Holm of Dryfe, about half a mile below the old churchyard of the parish, were to be seen, till recently, two large bushes, called “Maxwell’s Thorns,” which commemorated this sanguinary battle and its sorrowful episode – the death of the defeated nobleman. To the spot where these venerable trees “scented the dewy air,” came the Lord of Nithsdale when the fight was over and hope was gone, no way eager to survive his disgrace, and easily overtaken by a young Annandale trooper – the sanguinary hero of Biddes Burn – who had resolved to capture, main, or kill the enemy of his clan. Some days before the battle, Maxwell, it is said, had offered a ten-pound land (that is, land entered in the cess-book at that yearly amount) to any one who should bring him the head or hand of Johnstone; which caused his antagonist to retaliate by announcing that, though he had not a ten-pound land to give, he would bestow a farm of half that value on the man who should bring him the head or hand of Maxwell. Stimulated by this tempting offer, and also, perhaps, by hatred towards the Nithsdale men, which all the blood shed at Biddes Burn had failed to slake, William Johnstone of Kirkhill hurried after the fugitive lord, and struck him from his horse. [Spottiswoode, vol., ii. P. 446.] According to a report mentioned by Spottiswoode, the unfortunate baron held out his hand, and claimed to be taken prisoner, even as he had in similar circumstances spared the life of the Laird of Johnstone; and, instead of his plea being heeded, the supplicating hand was cut off, and then he was slain outright. Tradition, on the contrary, states that Willie of Kirkhill, after obtaining the ghastly sign-manual which attested his claim to receive a five-pound land from his chief, rode away, and that the wife of James Johnstone of Kirkton discovered Maxwell lying wounded, and beat him to death – a story which we reproduce, though it seems to us highly improbable. Soon after the battle, it is said, Dame Johnstone issued forth from Kirkton Tower, with a few female attendants, for the purpose of seeking her husband, and also of giving relief to those who might have been left wounded on the field. Locking the gates with her own hand, and having the heavy keys suspended to her girdle, she soon reached the precincts of the fatal spot, and there, in the dim gloaming, discovered the hapless warrior lying bleeding and faint under an old fir-tree. On bending down to inquire his name and condition, the sufferer gasped out, “I am the Lord Maxwell; succour me, or I die!” and caught his visitor convulsively by her garment. Thus appealed to, the Dame, cruelly dour, as if she had not had a drop of “weeping blood” in her bosom, swung the ponderous keys by the cord with fastened them, and brought them down sheer on the head of the prostrate suppliant. Blow after blow of this kind, till the chieftain’s brains were knocked out, formed the sole answer given by this fiend in lady’s likeness to his cry for mercy; and she strode away from the mangled carcase mightily satisfied with her evening’s work. But this Annandale monster is, we believe, a mere creation of the fancy; and we notice the legend only to say that it is unworthy of credit. The likelihood is that Willie of Kirkhill, taking a lesson from the Kirkpatrick motto, made sure of his reward by cutting off the head as well as the hand of the prostrate warrior. Slain he was at all events; and the body of the brave lord, lying gory and mutilated on the banks of Dryfe, was a pitiful sight, had it been seen by eyes susceptible of pity: a chief of high descent, the head of a noble house, the representative of royalty, and, in spite of his turbulent temper, possessing many personal claims to respect and affection – being, as Spottiswoode says [Spottiswoode, vol. ii., p. 447.], “of great spirit, humane, courteous, and learned” – to be thus ruthlessly slaughtered and mutilated in his manhood’s prime, was indeed tragical, and strikingly illustrative of the fury too often engendered by the Border feuds. [Sir Walter Scott, in Tales of a Grandfather (p. 153, royal octavo edition), speaks of Maxwell as being an elderly grey-haired man – agreeing in this respect with most other historians; but Maxwell, as we learn from the family pedigree at Terregles, was born in 1553, and was consequently only forty years of age at the time of his death.]

His followers suffered to a fearful extend. Never before had the Johnstones obtained such an opportunity of smiting their hereditary foes. Comparatively few of the Maxwells fell in the battle, but hundreds of them were cut off in the flight; and many who escaped with life were cruelly wounded, especially by slashes in the face – called, proverbially, “Lockerbie licks” – marks of which they bore till their dying day. The fugitives were pursued as far as the Gotterby ford of the river Annan, in which numbers sank, and swelled the roll of victims. Altogether, not fewer than seven hundred of the Maxwell party perished in this disastrous battle of Dryfe-Sands, the bloodiest of an internecine kind ever fought on the Border Fells.

When visiting the scene of this conflict on a late occasion, we in fancy summoned forth the opposing squadrons, and watched them closing in deadly combat. Johnstone, skilled in strategy, coolly keeping his vantage ground; the Maxwells, provoked to advance when their sole chance of safety lay in remaining still, advancing, climbing the ridge under the bewildering dazzle of a meridian sun; the terrific counter-charge as the men of Annandale, rolling down like an avalanche, broke the enemy’s battalions, and turned their temporary confusion into a ruinous panic-rout; the luckless Lord of Nithsdale hurrying from the field, overtaken and mercilessly slaughtered; the other fugitives, not caring to climb the hills over which they had travelled on the previous day in hope and joy, wending their darkling, dolorous way to the south-west, and thus, as it were, rushing into the heart of the enemy’s land to be mutilated or perish – all these scenes and incidents crowded vividly on our mental vision, till we forgot the glory of the natual scenery watered by the Dryfe, in the exciting reminiscences of a struggle which made its stream run red. We sought unsuccessfully for the Maxwell Thorns – those interesting memorials of the chief’s violent death, and of the bloody field. Not a trace of them is not to be seen, they having been swept away by the river when in flood upwards of twenty years ago. A fragment of one of them was transplanted to a place not far distant, beyond the water’s sweep; but this vestige of the monumental bushes has also disappeared. [Another vegetable memorial of the conflict may still be seen in the neighbouring parish of Applegarth – “The Albie Thorn,” planted about half a mile distant from the locality of the battle, to denote the place where Bell of Albie, a follower of the Johnstones, fell while in pursuit of the discomfited fugitives. – Statistical Account, p. 183.]

When news was brought to King James of the despite done to his authority by the defeat and slaughter of his representative in Dumfriesshire, he was much incensed; and had he not been detained in the north by engrossing State affairs, he would have taken active measures personally to chastise the Annandale chief. Johnstone was forthwith “put to the horn,” and proscribed as a rebel; and it was announced that those who intercommoned with or harboured him would be deemed traitors to the King’s majesty. But Johnstone had discomfited the royal host, had abased and slain his proud rival, the King’s lieutenant, and did not care a pin’s fee for the King’s proclamation. James might be monarch of Scotland, and obeyed as such by barons who had not coped with him: but the head of the Johnstones was king in his native dale; and to think of outlawing him there, or isolating him from his kinsfolk, was simply ridiculous.

Nevertheless, for nearly two years after the conflict at Dryfe-Sands, Dumfriesshire enjoyed a considerable amount of repose; and it was not till an attempt was made, in the autumn of 1595, to seize some of the refractory Johnstones, that the peace of the County was again broken. On the death of Maxwell, Lord Herries was appointed Warden of the Western Marches. He was enjoined by the King to meet with other barons in Dumfries, for the purpose of restoring quiet; and but for the steps taken by them, the banks of Nith would, in all probability, have suffered from an Annandale raid. Having maintained order in Nithsdale for many months, the new Lord Warden thought he would endeavour to tranquillize the district over which Sir James Johnstone held lawless sway. With this good object in view, Herries summoned a meeting of Maxwells in the Shire town; and as the fighting men of the clan had been much reduced by the late defeat, the Nether Pollok branch of the family furnished a welcome contingent for the mediated expedition. At the head of three hundred followers, Herries proceeded from Dumfries to Locherbie, and daringly laid hold of several offenders belonging to the dominant clan. Other Johnstones – true to their family motto – mustered in great force, rushed to the rescue of their friends, and, after a sanguinary engagement, drove the invaders from the dale.

What to do with Sir James Johnstone now, was a perplexing question, which the King, after being puzzled with for a while, tried to solve by the singular expedient of constituting him Warden in room of Lord Herries. When the turbulent baron found himself, in April, 1596, invested with that high office, he must have been filled with wonder. It was indeed strange that he should have been made keeper of the King’s peace who had broken it so often; but it was in noways strange that he felt awkward in his new office, and gained no credit for the way in which he discharged its duties.

The gossipping chronicler, Birrel, records in his diary [Diary of Robert Birrel, burgess of Edinbugh.], under date July 13, 1597, “an feight or combat betuix the Laird of Drumlanrick and the Laird of Johnestoun, and their assisters;” and afterwards the latter fell into such disgrace that, we are told, on May 27, 1598, “the Laird of Johnestoun his pictor [was] hung at the Crosse [of Edinburgh], with his heid dounwart, and declarit ane mansworne man; and upon the 5 of Junij he and his complices wer put to the horne, and pronuncit rebellis at the Crosse, be opin proclamation.” According to the same authority, Johnstone soon recovered from his fall, he having been, on July 2, 1600, “restorit to hes honours, at the Crosse of Edinburgh, be the proclamatione of a herald and four trumpettis.” We may infer that the wardenship was again conferred upon him. For a year or more previous to the latter date, that perilous office was held by Sir John Carmichael, who was cruelly murdered by a party of “broken men” whilst going to open a court at Lochmaben – his death affording another instance of Border lawlessness at this period.

In November, 1597, James found himself under the necessity of going down to the Western Border to act as his own warden. Early in the month he arrived at Dumfries, firmly bent on repressing the turbulence of the district. “A resolution,” says Moysie [Memoirs of the Affairs of Scotland, by David Moysie (MS.), as quoted in Chamber’s Domestic Annals.], “not to return therefra till that turn was effectuale, as indeed his Majesty did meikle to it.” In order to secure this object, the King established a Court of Redress in the Burgh, made up of “aucht special honest gentlemen of the County, least suspect, maist neutral and indifferent, and the best inclined to justice,” with “twa or three of his Majesty’s Council appointit to be present with them.” A large military force attended upon the sovereign, without which his judicial efforts would have been unavailing; the individuals he had to cope with caring nothing about the majesty of the law, and totally unconscious of the “divinity that doth hedge a king.” The court and its royal president had a busy four weeks of it. During that time they, after trial, “hangit fourteen or fifteen limmers, and notorious thieves;” whilst from every branch of the offending septs they seized one or two leaders, as hostages “that the haill stouths and reifs committed by them, or any of their particular branch, should be redressed, and that they and all theirs should abstene from sic insolency in time coming, under pain of hanging.” These live “pledges” were not, it appears, put into the ordinary pledge-house, but distributed, to the number of thirty-six, over houses rented for the purpose, where they were required to pay rather less than twopence sterling each for their maintenance daily. In this way the King to some extent redressed the wrongs which Johnstone had overlooked; and on returning to Edinburgh, he carried with him the hostages, as a security that the Johnstones, Armstrongs, Bells, Irvings, and others whom they represented, should continue at peace. He also constituted Lord Ochiltree his lieutenant; and that nobleman remained at Dumfries several months, doing his best, by a judicious distribution of rewards and punishments, to pacify the Shire. “In the course of that period,” says Moysie, “he hangit and slew three score of the most notable thieves, and kept the country in great quietness and guid order.”

But the young Lord of Nithsdale had no desire to live at amity with the Johnstones, so long as his father’s death remained unavenged. He cherished a feeling of vindictive hatred against their chief, which the King (who had, as we have said, again taken the latter into favour) tried in vain by threats and entreaties to allay. In order to keep the incipient strife in check, his Majesty commanded Lord Maxwell to withdraw into Clydesdale. After remaining there, however, a year or more, he returned in the summer of 1601, without the royal permission, for the avowed purpose of compassing the ruin of his rival; and, as an earnest of his purpose, he made a destructive incursion into Annandale, which lighted up anew the flames of war. The disorders thus created brought the King again into Dumfriesshire. Probably if he had banished both Johnstone and Maxwell, and taken security that they would remain “furth of the realm,” he might have secured the repose of the County.

James adopted no such resolute measures. In his usual feeble way, he ordered Lord Maxwell to betake himself again to the banks of Clyde, and, before doing so, to grant “letters of slanes,” dated 11th June, 1605, on behalf of his hated rival; according to which Maxwell “for himself, and taking burden for all others concerned, in favour of Sir James Johnstone of Dunskellie, knight, his kin friends, servants, and dependants, whereby he remits and forgives all hatred, rancour, mutual grudge, and quarrel which he had against him for the slaughter of John, Lord Maxwell, his father, and all other slaughters, mutilations, and insolencies which followed thereon.” [Annandale Papers.] The “mutilations” here specified refer, doubtless, to the “Lockerbie licks” received by the men of Nithsdale after their defeat at Dryfe-Sands. So coon as his Majesty’s back was turned, and in spite of the meek, forgiving spirit breathed in this document, the obdurate young nobleman reappeared in Dumfries – reappeared to concoct new plots and stir up fresh broils.

Edinburgh Castle, to which Maxwell was next consigned as a sort of reformatory prison, wrought no improvement upon him, and, indeed, could not cage him long. Escaping in January, 1603, he was proclaimed an outlaw. For some time neither the Government officers nor the chroniclers of the period could trace his whereabouts, till at length the latter discovered him, near the close of 1607, suddenly restored, like the hero of a pantomime, to the free enjoyment of his rank and estates; and we do not learn from them that he was ever called upon to “underly the law” for his numerous offences. At the above period, says Chalmer [Caledonia, vol. iii., p. 113.], “a contest arose between Lord Maxwell and the Earl of Morton [Angus] about their several jurisdictions in Eskdale; and both parties called out their people to decide their pretensions – not in the forum, but the field. The Privy Council, which in some measure now governed Scotland, commanded the contending parties to dismiss their forces, and not approach the scene of their controversy; but Maxwell contemned the order [as might have been looked for], and challenged his antagonist to single combat. For these contempts Maxwell was committed to Edinburgh Castle (which seems never to have been a safe State-prison), and from which Maxwell again effected his escape. But he only escaped to engage in a more fatal outrage.” This last sentence introduces us to a new act in the dreadful Border tragedy, which, originating mainly in the capricious disposal of the Western wardenship, culminated at Dryfe-Sands, and did not terminate till the two principal remaining actors init, the chiefs of the rival clans, fell dead upon the stage; one treacherously shot by the other, and the assassin publicly executed for his crime.

It was by a combination of violence and stratagem that the noble prisoner effected his escape. On the 4th of December, in accordance with arrangements made between himself and his fellow-captives, Sir James M’Connell and Robert Maxwell of Dinwoodie, or the Four, he gave an entertainment to them and the keepers of the castle; which latter, who must have been a set of jolly, easy-minded varlets, patronized to such an extent that they became intoxicated. Lord Maxwell, artfully pandering to the vanity of the inebriates, requested to see which of them wore the best weapon. Their swords being produced, he handed one to each of his friends and took one himself: but instead of comparing the arms, they hurried off with them; and when the astonished wardens reeled to the door to seize the fugitives, they found it locked. A few minutes before, Maxwell had sent his servant to Struthers, the porter, to facilitate their passage through the inner gate. The servant easily enough obtained leave to pass, but when Struthers wished to close the gate again the former put his back to the wicket, upon which the three men coming up glided out, the porter receiving a cut in the hand from Lord Maxwell, as he tried to arrest their progress. M’Connell, having his irons on, was unable on that account to surmount the outer wall, which the other two prisoners readily scaled, and secured their freedom. How wroth King James was on account of Maxwell’s forcible breach of ward, is shown by a letter which his Majesty addressed to his Privy Council, on the 14th of December, 1607, the substance of which we subjoin: - “The leatt escheap of the Lord Maxwell, furth ofour Castell of Edinburgh,” says his Majesty, “haveing gevein to us moir nor just caus of discontentment at his foly, We have thocht meitt heirby to direct you how to proceed aganes him. And first, we will this Proclamatioun, herewith sent, to be publeissed at all placeis neidfull; and that you hairefter tak ordour for tryale of all reseattares and suppleares, and caus the extreametie of the law to be prosequit aganes thame. And also you sall, upon ressait heirof, presentlie send charges to tressoune for the rendering of his castellis and houssis, and you sall put garesounes and keipars in eveirie one of the same to be interteined upon the rentis belonging to the houssis, unto such tyme as We doctak farder order thairwith. And als, our will is, that you give particular directioune to suche as sall resave the Castell of Lochmabene, that they mak delyverie of the same to our rycht trustie coising and counsallovr, the Erll of Dunbar, or to ony other quhome the said Erll of Dunbar sall direct, with our uther Warrand for resaveing thairof. Furthermore, you sall cause charge the principallis of the said Lord Maxwell, his name and followairis, being ony way men of mark, to find cautione and suertie, under gritt pecuniall panes, that they sall noway resailt, supplie, nor intercommune with him, You sall in lyk maner geve speciall ordour to our garisoune, under the Lord of Scone’s command, and als to that uther under Sir Wm. Cranstoune’s charge, that they mak specialle searche for the said Lord Maxwell, his taking and apprehending. And heiroff, willing you to be cairfull, and to omit nothing that may haisten ane exempler puneishment upon him, for his prowd contempt.”

In the course of a short time after the receipt of this letter, one of the Privy Councillors, Sir Thomas Hamilton, in name of the whole, addressed a letter to the King, setting forth that it had been represented to them that, unless the crimes for which Lord Maxwell and Sir James M’Connell had been imprisoned were treasonable, their breach of ward could not import treason. “As to the Lord Maxwell,” he said, “I have heard of his raising of fyre at Dalfibbill, when he slew Willie Johnestoun, callit of Eschieschielles, and ane uther Johnestoun;” but he added circumspectly, “because he was sensyne had the honour to be admitted to your Royall presence, I wald not presume to summond him for that fact, while first I sould knaw your Majestei’s mynde thairanent; the knaulege whairof sall lead me to proceid or desist.”

The royal reply to this request for instructions has not been preserved. That it was of an unrelenting nature, may be fairly inferred from the letter subsequently sent to the Council by the King, dated at the Palace of Whitehall, 2nd February, 1608, and which (omitting some unimportant passages) runs thus: - “We are informed that, notwithstanding of the treasonable fact committit be the Lord Maxwell in eschaiping fourth of our Castell of Edinburghe, and in forceing and hurting of the keipares and poirtaris of the same, and of our speciall commandis and Proclamatiounes, send doune for his taking and apprehending, that nevertheles in plane contempt of our authoritie, and that he oppinley travellis throuche and countrie accompaneid with no fewer than twentie horse, and hes mead his repaire at syndrie tymes to our burgh of Drumfreis; quhiche insolence is not way tolerabill, and skairse excussabill on your pairtis, that ony of our declarit tratouris sould assume to themeselffis so mutche libertie without conrolment. And thairfoir our pleasour and will is, that upon ressait heiroff, you direct that our Gaird, under the command of the Lord of Scoone, to repair to the burghe of Dumfreis, and thare, with the Gaird under Sir William Cranstoune’s chairge, to make a present diligent searche for the said Lord Maxwell, and either to apprehend him or put him out of thoise boundis. Thairwith also the Baillies of Drumfreis wold be chairgit to compeir befoir you, and if you can try any thing of their knawledge of the said Lord Maxwellis being in thair toune, We ar to will you to inflict ane exemplare puneishment upone thame, baith by fynning and wairding. And als, you are to proceid in rigoure, according to the warrant of our lawis, aganes all reseattares and accompaniaris of the said Lord, that so others may be affrayed from coming within the compass of the lyk contempe.”


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