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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter VII


ENTRY OF AN IMMENSE ENGLISH ARMY INTO DUMFRIESSHIRE – DESCRIPTION OF THE HOST BY WALTER OF EXETER, A HISTORICAL POET WHO ACCOMPANIED IT – EDWARD I. VISITS DUMFRIES AND LODGES IN THE GREYFRIARS’ MONASTERY – HE RETURNS TO CARLISLE, PLACES HIMSELF AT THE HEAD OF THE INVADING ARMY, AND LAYS SIEGE TO THE CASTLE OF CARLAVEROCK – DESCRIPTION OF THE CASTLE – DETAILED ACCOUNT OF THE SIEGE – GALLANT RESISTANCE AND EVENTUAL SURRENDER OF THE GARRISON.

DUMFRIES and its vicinity are so mixed up with the next English invasion, that we must dwell upon its details at some length. Of all the expeditions undertaken by Edward I. against the Scots, this was the most formidable and costly. It was arranged on a magnificent scale, and designed to be final and conclusive. Whenever the King’s back was turned, his power over the country began to wane; and he resolved, if possible, to give his rebellious subjects such a punishment as would keep them quiet and well-behaved for the future. Walter of Exeter, who composed a historical poem on the subject, accompanied the army; and as his work (written in Norman-French) is still extant, we thus get a familiar glance at the expedition and its progress. [“The famous Roll of Carlaverock, a poem, in old Norman-French, rehearses the names and armorial designs of all the various knights, &c., who attended Edward at the siege of Carlaverock, A.D. 1300. Heraldry is therein, for the first time, presented to us as a science.” – DEBRETT’S Peerage of the United Kingdom, p. 513.]

Edward having summoned all who owed him military service, in England, and elsewhere, to attend upon him at Carlisle, on the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist – who seems to have been his Majesty’s favourite saint – “that day [1st of July, 1300],” says Walter, “the whole host was ready, and the good King, with his household, then set forward against the Scots, not in coats or surcoats, but on powerful and costly chargers, and, that they might not be taken by surprise, securely armed. There were many rich caparisons embroidered on silks and satins – many a beautiful pennon fixed to a lance, and many a banner displayed; and afar off was the noise heard of the neighing of horses – mountains and valleys were everywhere covered with sumpter-horses and wagons with provisions, and sacks of tents and pavilions: and the days were fine and long. They proceeded by easy journeys, arranged in four squadrons.”

The first squadron was led by Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln; the second by John, Earl of Warren and Surrey; the third by Edward himself, whose appointments and bearing are depicted by our authority in courtly style. “The King,” he tells us, “brought up the rear so closely and ably, that none of the others were left behind. In his banner were three leopards courant, of fine gold, set on red – fierce, haughty, and cruel: thus placed to signify that, like them, the King is dreadful, fierce, and proud to his enemies; for his bite is slight to none who inflame his anger – not but that his kindness is soon rekindled towards such as seek his friendship or submit to his power.“

The fourth squadron was under the command of Prince Edward, who was just seventeen years old, and clad in armour for the first time. Not less complimentary is the poet’s picture of the royal youth. “He was a well-proportioned and handsome person, of courteous disposition and intelligence; and desirous of finding an occasion to display his prowess. He managed his steed wonderfully well, and bore with a blue label the arms of the good King his father.” Who should be attending on the Prince but our old acquaintance, John de St. John, Governor of Dumfries, whose duty was, we are told, as an experienced warrior, to instruct the royal neophyte in his knightly duties: so that, in reality, the fourth division of the army was under the leadership of St. John.

Eighty-seven of the most distinguished vassals of the English Crown, with their retainers, figured in the imposing array, including lords of Bretagne and Lorraine, and Scottish renegades – Alexander Baliol (brother of the ex-king), and Earl of Dunbar, Sir Simon Fraser, Henry de Graham, and other false knights, who sunned themselves in the great King’s smiles, regardless of their county’s tears. This splendid assemblage of armed men filled, it is said, the whole way between Newcastle and Carlisle; and never before, not even in the old Roman times, had such a host proceeded northward.

Leaving it in the Neighbourhood of the latter city, Edward, accompanied by a small escort, proceeded to Dumfries, in order to ascertain for himself the feeling borne towards him by the district and its capital. Most probably St. John was one of the party; but the King did not claim the hospitality of his castle. Passing its gates, he appeared at the door of the monastery, and asked leave to become the guest of the Mendicant Brothers, who, as a matter of course, made his Majesty welcome, and offered him their best. Men of peace, they had no power, even if they had had the will, to bid their martial visitors, with a tall, fierce-looking king at their head, begone; and so, for several days in June, the latter were boarded and lodged with the Minorite Friars of the Vennel. [Wardrobe Accounts, p. 41.] The English party seem to have got on comfortably enough in their temporary abode, as, before leaving it, the service afforded to them was acknowledged by a handsome largesse. The object of the King’s journey to and residence in Dumfries having been accomplished, he returned to the “merrie citie,” and, setting his vast army in motion, it entered the County on the 24th and 26th of June, marking its progress by devastation and blood.

It was part of Edward’s plan to strengthen all the fortresses he already possessed, and increase their garrisons, and to seize all such as had hitherto resisted his authority. By such means he expected to retain a permanent hold of the country, after he had butchered or dispersed the rebel army in the field. Accordingly, the breaches made in Lochmaben Castle were filled up, the Castle of Dumfries was put in good repair, and enlarged by the erection of a large peel, or wooden tower; and siege was set to the Castle of Carlaverock, whose garrison scornfully refused to give it up to the invaders, and prepared to keep them out of it as best they could.

This Border stronghold was situated about three hundred yards to the south-east of the majestic ruin which now bears its name. “Its figure,” says Walter, “was like that of a shield, for it had only three sides, with a tower on each angle; one of them a jumellated or double one, so high, so long, and so spacious, that under it was the gate, with a drawbridge well made and strong, with a sufficiency of other defences. It had also good walls, and ditches filled to the brim with water: and I believe there never was seen a castle more beautifully situated; for at once could be seen the Irish Sea towards the west, a charming country towards the north, encompassed by an arm of the sea, so that no creature born could approach it on two sides, without putting himself in danger of the sea. Nor was it an easy matter towards the south, it being, as by the sea on the other side, surrounded by the river, woods, marshes, and trenches; wherefore it was necessary for the host to approach it towards the east, where the hill slopes.”

Early in the month of July, the siege commenced: three thousand men-at-arms forming the attacking party, arranged into three battalions, and occupying the slanting eminence on the east. “As soon as we were thus drawn up,” continues Walter, “we were quartered by the marshal; and then might be seen houses built without carpenters or masons, of many different fashions – many a cord stretched with white and coloured cloth fastened by pins driven into the ground – many a large tree cut down to make huts; and leaves, herbs, and flowers gathered in the woods, which were strewed within: then our people took up their quarters.” Our poetical historian declares “that the gleam of gold and silver, and the radiance of rich colours, emitted by the embattled host, illuminated the valley which they occupied;” and, with quaint simplicity, he adds, “those of the castle, seeing us arrive, might, as I well believe, deem that they were in greater peril than they could ever before remember.” Not a doubt of it. The garrison did not, perhaps, number more than a hundred: their supply of food was limited; their connection with the sea was cut off; and they could mark through the loopholes such a multitude coming up against their castle as might blockade them into a surrender, should they choose to adopt that slow but sure mode of aggression.

The fiery spirit of the English King disrelishing such a tedious process, an attempt to destroy the chief defences was resorted to, as soon as his squadron, sailing up the Solway, supplied the means. It brought a welcome store of provisions, as well as engines; and forthwith the footmen marched against the fortress. “Then might be seen stones, arrows, and crossbow bolts to fly from among them; but so effectually did those within exchange their tokens with those without, that, in one short hour, there were many persons wounded and maimed, and I know not how many killed.” To missiles thrown by hand and bow were soon added other more formidable ones, projected by catapults, and showers of blows from powerful battering-rams; the assailants suffering much loss when planting down the engines. The footmen, it appears, made little impression on the massive building; and the men-at-arms, ironed from top to toe, hurried to their assistance. The latter could better resist the interminable salutes of stone which were rained down by the gallant little garrison, and on which they mainly relied for defence; and so fast and heavily fell these mischievous boulders, that, we are told, they “beat hats and helmets to powder, and broke shields and helmets in pieces;” and ever as a brave knight was thus done to death, a shout of exultation was heard rising above the din of battle from within the beleaguered stronghold.

Some of the assailants who signalized themselves are thus depicted, and their feats described, in the curious work so frequently quoted from: - “First of all,” says Walter, “I saw the good Baron Bertram de Montbouchier, on whose shining silver shield were three red pitchers, with besants, in a black border. With him Gerald de Gondronville, an active and handsome bachelor. He had a shield neither more nor less than vaire. These were not resting idle, for they threw up many a stone, and suffered many a heavy blow. The first body was composed of Bretons, and the second were of Lorraine, of which none found the other tardy; so that they afforded encouragement and emulation to others to resemble them. Then came, to assail the castle, Fitz-Marmaduke, with a banner and a great troop of good and select bachelors.” Robert de Willoughby, Robert de Hamsart, and Henry de Graham are then noticed as joining in the assault; next Thomas de Richmont, who, in red armour, led on, a second time, some lances. “These,” it is stated, “did not act like discreet people, nor as persons enlightened by understanding, but as if they had been inflamed and blinded with pride and despair; for they made their way right forward to the brink of the very ditch;” nay, they passed, in view of the poetical reporter, “quite to the bridge, and demanded entry,” receiving for reply “ponderous stones and cornices.” Willoughby also pressed forward, till a stone, lighting on “the middle of his breast,” arrested his career, though, we are told, the blow might have been warded off by his shield, “if he had deigned to use it.” Fitz-Marmaduke long occupied the post of danger, his banner receiving “many stains, and many a rent difficult to mend;” while Hamsart “bore himself so nobly that, from his shield, fragments might often be seen to fly in the air,” he and Richmont driving the descending stones upwards as if they were harmless shuttlecocks. Graham’s retainers suffered severely, not above two returning unhurt or bringing back their shields entire.

Hitherto, it seems, notwithstanding the intrepidity of the assailants, the defenders had the best of the fray. After a breathing time, a second attack was made; the din waxed louder, and the struggle became more desperate. “Then you might hear the tumult begin:” and Walter despairs of being able to recount all the “brave actions” that ensued, as “the labour would be too heavy;” but he gives a few specimens: - “Ralph de Gorges, a newly dubbed knight, with harness and attire “mascally of gold, azure,” fell more than once, struck by stones or jostled by the crowd; yet, “being of a haughty spirit, he would not deign to retire.” Then Robert de Tony and Richard de Rokeley plied those upon the wall so severely that they were frequently forced to retreat; while Adam de la Forde mined away at the walls, “though the stones flew in and out as thick as rain.” “The good Baron of Wigtoun received such blows that it was the astonishment of all that he was not stunned.”

Meanwhile an engine called the robinet was in full play. Footmen, men-at-arms, and cavalry might be beat back, and were; but the irresistible robinet threw such large fragments of rock inside without intermission as to greatly thin the ranks of the defenders. So destructively did it operate, that the Knight of Kirkbride was able to reach the castle-gate. Many a heavy and crushing stone greeted him while, “with white shield, having a green cross engrailed,” he swept aside, and, swinging aloft his ponderous battle-axe, assailed the gate, dealing such blows upon it as “never did smith with hammer on iron.” [It is believed that Scott’s heart-thrilling description of the storming of Torquilstone Castle was in some degree inspired by Walter of Exeter’s narrative. The action of the Knight of Kirkbride will remind the reader of what is said respecting the Black Knight. He “approaches the postern with his huge axe – the thundering blows which he deals, you may hear them above all the din and shouts of the battle – stones and beams are hurled down on the bold champion – he regards them no more than if they were thistledown or feathers.” – Vide Ivanhoe.] Some of his followers plied it in similar fashion, till a party of the besieged returning, in defiance of the deadly robinet, to the overlooking wall, showered upon Kirkbride and his men “such huge stones, arrows, &c., that it was with great difficulty they were able to retire.”

No pause in the assault – no rest for the besieged. A relay of fresh warriors, including Bartholomew de Badlesmere and John Cromwell, [This is perhaps the first historical appearance of the name Cromwell on record. Carlyle mentions a Lord Cromwell as having been summoned by Edward II. There is a place called Cromwell on the Trent, Notts.] followed the banner of Lord Clifford, when sent by him to the gate – it being the ravager of Annandale who directed this part of the siege; “but the people of the castle would not permit them to remain there long;” and, as they retreated, Cromwell’s shield of blue, bearing a white lion rampant, came back battered and defaced – the marvel being that its bearer, so “brave and handsome, who went gliding between the stone,” got off unscathed. The attack was renewed by La Warde and De Gray; and, afterwards, a more general assault was recommenced by “the followers of my Lord of Bretagne, fierce and daring as lions of the mountain, and every day improving in both the art and practice of arms.” “Their party soon covered the entrance of the castle, for none could have attacked it more furiously; not, however, that it was so subdued, that those who came after them would not have a share in their labours, as they left more than enough for them also.” The followers of Lord Hastings and John Deincourt are specified as doing their duty nobly; and “it was also a fine sight,” we are informed, “to see the good brothers of Berkeley receiving numerous blows.”

Throughout the entire day, the defenders, though sorely plied, continued their resistance; and full justice is done by Walter to their bravery. “Those within,” he says, “continually relieved one another; for always as one became fatigued, another returned fresh and stout, and notwithstanding such assaults were made upon them, they would not surrender.” Night came without bringing to them any repose, as the season was midsummer, and allowed light sufficient for the assailants to continue their labours without cessation; and if their personal attacks relaxed for a moment, the terrible engine tore away untiringly during the twilight as it had done in the flush of day; and as the second day dawned, the besieged counted with dismay one, two, three more robinets, casting their shadows on the hill, and preparing like so many Titans to bury them under a mountainous pile of stones. We can readily imagine them holding a council of war, and array of destructive force. If any proposed that the castle should be given up without further resistance, such pacific suggestion was overruled; and the clangour of battle, which had only partially died away during the night, again rose high, resounding through the embowering woods and echoing along the Solway shore.

In vain, however, did the remnant of the garrison maintain the unequal conflict: they could have overcome mere manual assaults – they could only for a limited time bid defiance to the engines, which, says our authority, were “very large, of great power, and very destructive – cutting down and cleaving whatever they strike. Fortified town, citadel, barrier, nothing is protected from their strokes. Yet those within did not flinch until some [more] of them were slain, when each began to repent of his obstinacy and to be dismayed. The pieces fell in such a manner wherever the stones entered, that, when they struck any of them, neither iron cap nor wooden target could save him from a wound.” At tierce, on the second day of the siege, when they saw that they could hold out no longer, they “begged for peace,” making an overture to that effect in the usual manner. From a loophole of the jumellated tower in front, a small white pennon was thrust; and ere the English marshal had time to stay proceedings in answer to the signal, an arrow from an English bow passed through the hand of him who held the olive branch, into his face, thus pinning both together. The unfortunate flag-bearer “then begged that they would do not more to him; for they would give up the castle to the King, and throw themselves on his mercy.” Upon which the assault was stopped, and the castle surrendered.

The defenders, on passing out, were reviewed before Edward, and found to number only sixty. “They were,” says Walter, “beheld with astonishment;” and it was natural that the besieging army should wonder that a handful of men should be able to resist their mighty host for such a lengthened period. The ultimate fate of this gallant few is left in doubt. Their lives, according to Walter, were spared by order of the King, and they were each presented with a new garment; whereas, in the Chronicle of Lanercost it is stated that many of them were hanged from the trees around the castle – a treatment, if true, that accords with the usual merciless policy of the English monarch. As the name of Sir Herbert Maxwell, who owned Carlaverock at this period, is not mentioned by the Exeter historian, the likelihood is that he was not present at its defence.

Previously to the siege, or on the first day of its progress, Edward visited the churches of Applegarth, Tinwald, and Dumfries, to offer oblations on their altars, with a view of securing a blessing upon his efforts. Now that they were crowned with success, he caused the castle to be repaired, and, consigning it to the keeping of Lord Clifford, proceeded to Dumfries, crossed with his army Devorgilla’s Bridge over the Nith, and entered Galloway, where he continued about six weeks prosecuting the objects of his expedition. [Rymer’s Fœdera, vol. i., p. 921; and Wardrobe Accounts, p. 215.]


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