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Under Many Flags
Chapter II. The Scots Guard


There are not wanting authorities who pretend that the Scots Guard was founded by no less a personage than Charlemagne; but to the acceptance of this interesting statement the objections are obvious. Though the origin of the Guard is enveloped in a good deal of obscurity, the most probable explanation seems to be that it was first formed out of the few gallant Scots who escaped from the crushing defeat at Verneuil, and were willing to enrol themselves permanently as the body-guard of Charles VII. At the death of that generous master, in 1461, they showed their grief by weeping aloud—in strange contrast to the normal Scottish self-control. An old chronicler thought the thing worth recording—

“Les gens et serviteurs pleuroient A chaudes larmes fondamment, Et les Escossoys liault crioient Par forme de gemissement.”

[His people and servants wept hot tears abundantly, and the Scotch cried aloud in sob and groan.]

They had reason to lament a king who had befriended them greatly and treated them with special confidence. Not content with entrusting to them the care of his person, he made their captain, Nicholas Chambers, one of his familiar friends, and poured liberal gifts into his hands.

Under Louis XI. the Guard consisted of one hundred men-at-arms and two hundred archers. Its captain was a high officer of state, and appointed, at first, by the King of Scotland. Later on in its history, when the influx of Scots into France had ceased, and the Guard was Scotch only in name, it became necessary to place so important an office in native hands. Mr. Hill Burton thinks that, to avoid offending the pride of their susceptible allies, the change was smoothed over by the selection of a native Frenchman with a Scotch name, the Count of Montgomery; but this may simply have been a coincidence. His son, who succeeded him in the captaincy, was the unhappy Montgomery whose spear killed King Henry II. at the tournament held in honour of his daughter Elizabeth’s marriage to Philip II. of Spain. The death of King Henry, by raising to the throne his eldest son, her husband, as Francis II., made Mary Stuart Queen of France.

The privileges of the Scots Guard point to the fulness of trust reposed in its members. The protection of the royal person was entrusted to twenty-four of them, who took charge of the keys of his sleeping-chamber, and of the oratory where he offered up his prayers. When, in the course of a royal progress, he entered a walled town, its keys were placed in the hands of the Captain of the Guard. They escorted his boat when he crossed a ferry, and surrounded his litter when he was carried. On ordinary occasions two of them stood behind him ; but during great ceremonies, three stood on either side of the throne.

As a special honour, they were allowed to decorate their halberds with white silk fringe— white being the royal colour of France.

Mr. Hill Burton observes that “there is something melancholy beyond description in contemplating the condition of a country, the vital treasures of which had to be confided to the fidelity and bravery of hireling strangers.” He adds—“If there was a fault in the affair, however, it was not with the Scots; they were true to their trust, and paid faith with faith. On their side of the bargain, too, there is something touching in the picture of a hardy, high-spirited race robbed of their proper field of exertion at home, and driven to a foreign land, there to bestow the enterprising energy that might have made their own illustrious; and serving a foreign master with the single-minded fidelity that had been nourished within them by the love of their own land and kindred.”

One of the most notable instances of this fidelity is recorded by Philip de Comines. It was the proven courage and loyalty of the Scots Guard that delivered Louis XI. from imminent peril in his ill-advised attack, in concert with the Duke of Burgundy, upon the city of Liege. Louis, at the time, was plotting to crush the independence of Burgundy and bring it under the rule of France, while the Duke was intriguing to convert his duchy into a kingdom, which should eventually include France itself. Over-reaching himself by the very subtlety of his plans, Louis got placed within the Burgundian lines with no apparent resource but his Scots Guard, and when the Liegeois made a desperate sortie against the Duke’s camp, his danger was very real.

“I, and two gentlemen more of his bedchamber,” says Philip de Comines, “lay that night in the Duke of Burgundy’s chamber (which was very small), and above us were twelve archers upon the guard, all of them in their clothes, and playing at dice. His main guard was at a good distance, and towards the gate of the town; in short, the master of the house where the Duke was quartered, having drawn out a good party of the Liegeois, came so suddenly upon the Duke, we had scarcely time to put on his back and breast-plate, and a steel morion on his head. As soon as this was done, we ran down-stairs into the street, but found our archers engaged with the enemy, against whom they with difficulty defended the doors and windows. In the street the noise and uproar was terrible, some crying out, ‘God bless the King!’ others, ‘God bless the Duke of Burgundy!’ and others, ‘God bless the King!’ and ‘Kill, kill, kill! ’

“It was some time before our archers and ourselves could beat the enemy from the doors, and get out of the house. We knew not in what condition the King was, nor whether he was for or against us, which put us into a great consternation. As soon as we were in the street, we discovered, with the help of two or three torches, some few of our men, and could perceive people fighting round about us; but the action there was soon over, the soldiers from all parts crowding in to the Duke’s quarter. The Duke’s landlord was the first man of the enemy’s side that was killed (who did not die at once, for I heard him speak), and with him his whole party—or, at least, most of them—were cut in pieces.

“The King was attacked in the same manner by his landlord, who forced his way into his house, but was slain by the Scots Guard. These Scotch soldiers behaved themselves right gallantly, held fast their ground, would not budge a step from their master,1 and were very alert with their bows and arrows, with which, it is said, they wounded and killed more of the Burgundians than of the enemy. Those who were appointed made their sally at the gate, but found a strong guard to oppose them, who gave them a warm reception, and as they were not such good soldiers as the rest, quickly beat them back. As soon as they were repulsed, the King and the Duke met, and held conference together. Seeing several dead bodies around them, they feared their loss had been greater than it really proved to have been;

“Se monstrerent bien bonnes gens; car ils ne bougerent du pied de leur maistre.” for upon examination they found that not many had been killed, though not a few were wounded; and undoubtedly, if the enemy had not halted at those two places, and especially at the barn, where they met with more resistance, but had followed their guides, they would have slain both King Louis and the Duke, and in all probability would have defeated the rest of the army.

“Each of these princes retired to his quarters greatly astonished at the boldness of the attempt; and immediately a council of war was summoned to decide what measures should be taken the next morning in relation to the assault which had previously been determined upon. The King was in great perplexity, for he feared that if the Duke did not take the city by storm, the inconvenience would be his, and he would either be kept longer under restraint, or made an absolute prisoner, for the Duke could not think himself secure against a war with France if he should suffer him to depart. By this distrust of each other one may clearly discover the miserable condition of these two princes, who were wholly unable to confide in one another, though they had made a firm peace not a fortnight before, and solemnly sworn to preserve it.”

In elucidation of the above episode it may be stated that the object of Duke Charles of Burgundy was to punish the Liegeois for having treated their bishop with contumelious violence. Knowing that the walls of the city had not been repaired since he had battered them not long before, he advanced with reckless confidence, so that his vanguard was surprised, under cover of night, by a party of the citizens, and lost eight hundred men.

When the Duke and King Louis XI. arrived, they took up their quarters in two villas situated near to the city walls. During the two or three days which followed, Louis pressed the siege with great regularity and prudence; while the Duke showed his characteristic recklessness, and watched his ally much more closely than he watched the movements of his rebellious citizens.

At length October 20, 1468, was fixed for a general storm. The citizens, forewarned of the intention, resolved to prevent its being carried out by a desperate sortie through the breaches in their walls. They fell upon the Duke of Burgundy’s quarters before his guards could put on their armour; and almost simultaneously attacked the King’s, but were foiled by the steadfastness of the Scots Guard. When the men-at-arms, Burgundian and French, recovered from their confusion, they speedily compelled the citizens to fall back within their walls; and, weary and disappointed, they made but an ineffective resistance when the storm took place at daybreak. Liege was taken ; and the usual scene of rapine, pillage, and murder followed.

The incidents are introduced in Scott’s Quentin Dnrwardy the novelist varying but little in the main lines of his narrative from those of Comines.

The costume of a soldier of the Scots Guard, as described by Scott in the person of Ludovic Lesly, was very imposing.

“His dress and arms were splendid. He wore his national bonnet, crested with a tuft of feathers, and with a Virgin Mary of massive silver for a brooch. These brooches had been presented to the Scottish Guard, in consequence of the King, in one of his fits of superstitious piety, having devoted the swords of his guard to the service of the Holy Virgin, and, as some say, carried the matter so far as to draw out a commission to Our Lady as their Captain-general. The archer’s gorget, arm-pieces, and gauntlets were of the finest steel, curiously inlaid with silver, and his hauberk, or shirt of mail, was as clear and bright as the frost-work of a winter morning upon fern or brier. He wore a loose surcoat or cassock, of rich blue velvet, open at the sides like that of a herald, with a large white St. Andrew’s cross of embroidered silver bisecting it both before and behind ; his knees and legs were protected by hose of mail and shoes of steel; a broad strong poniard (called the Mercy of God) hung by his right side; the baldrick for his two-handed sword, richly embroidered, hung upon his left shoulder; but, for convenience, he at present carried in his hand that unwieldy weapon, which the rules of his service forbade him to lay aside.” Each archer of the Scots Guard was mounted as sumptuously as he was armed and equipped; and each was entitled to allowance for a squire, a valet, a page, and two yeomen, one of whom was termed coutelier, from the large knife which he wore to dispatch those whom in the metie his master had thrown to the ground. “With these followers and a corresponding equipage, an archer of the Scots Guard was a person of quality and importance; and vacancies being generally filled up by those who had been trained in the service as pages or valets, the cadets of the best Scotch families were often sent to serve under some friend and relation in these capacities, until a chance of preferment should occur.” The coutelier and his fellow-yeoman, not being of noble birth, and incapable of promotion to the grade of archers, were recruited from an inferior social class ; but their pay being liberal and their appointments excellent, their masters had no difficulty in selecting from the stout Scots who sought their fortune, almost any number of persons fitted to wait upon them in these capacities. The general equipment of the yeoman resembled his master’s, but he wore no armour on the limbs, and the body armour was more coarsely wrought; the cassock was made of serge instead of velvet; and the cap was without a plume.

The Scots Guard rendered excellent service to King Louis at Montlhery, where they twice delivered the Comte de Charolais from the attacks of the enemy. They were also in close attendance on the King, in April 1475, when he mustered his forces at Porte-Sainte-Mayence against the Duke of Burgundy.

Down to the middle of the fifteenth century, the conduct of the archers of the Scots Guard appears (says M. Michel) to have given rise to no serious complaint; a fact very much to the credit of a body of soldiers so privileged and caressed. In 1463, however, one was dismissed for having killed a comrade—it is not said under what circumstances, nor whether he suffered any other punishment; and in 1474 some of them were involved in an affair which is thus recorded by an old chronicler, Jean de Troyes.

The young son of a brigandinier (that is, a maker of coats-of-mail), who had been brought up in part by a Paris fishmonger, and was thus aware that during Lent he had amassed a large sum of money by the sale of fish, was ungrateful enough to plan his robbery. Concealing himself in the fishmonger’s house, he opened the door at midnight to three Scots, his accomplices, one of whom was called Mortimer, and another Thomas Clerk. The name of the third is not given. The robbers carried off a sum of two thousand five hundred livres tournois; but their crime was soon detected, and the utmost diligence used in pursuing them. So that on the very same day the young brigandinier was hunted down at the Carmelites, where he had taken refuge as in an inviolable asylum ; but he was haled out of the sacred precincts, loaded with irons, and conveyed to the prison of the Chatelet. There he confessed that his pawky confederates had taken all the money. Mortimer would soon have been an inmate of the same prison, but a couple of the Scots Guard seeing a fellow-countryman in danger, fell upon the officers and enabled him to escape. Another of the robbers, who was found in sanctuary in the church of St. Catherine du Val des Ecoliers, offered a stout resistance, wounding several of the Provost’s men. Covered with blood, he was dragged to the Chatelet, where he confessed his crime, and whence he emerged only to be hung and strangled on the gallows of Paris. He alone seems to have suffered punishment.

We read of the Scots Guard again in i486, when Charles VIII. made a grand entry into Troyes, preceded by these splendid warriors in all their martial bravery. Every eye was attracted by the standard of their captain. It was of three colours, red, white, and green, and measured six feet in length. Upon its silken folds were emblazoned a golden sun and a figure of St. Michael; “the protector of France.”

Octavien de Saint-Gelais, a French poet of the time, describing the visit of King Charles VIII. to Florence, introduces a really graphic sketch of our gallant Scots, which the reader may like to see in the original spelling—

“Apres vindront les archiers de la garde,
Grans, puissans, bien croisez, bien perduz,
Qui ne portoient picque ne halebarde,
Fors qui biens avez gorrierement tenduz.
Leurs bracelez aux pongnetz estendez
Bien atachez k grans chaynes d’argent,
Autour du col le gorgerin bien gent,
De cramoisy le plantureux pourpoint
Assez propre, fusse pour un regent
Ou grant due, acoustre bien a point,
Dessus le chief la bien clue sallade
A cloux douz fourniz de pierreries,
Dessus le dos le hocqueton fort sade
Tout sursemd de fini orphavine,
La courte dague, l’espee bien fourtre,
Le gaye tronose k custode vermeille
Le pied en l’air, aux escoutes l’oreille.”

Freely rendered, the passage quoted puts the Scottish archers before us in a spirited fashion as tall and strong, well-set-up, well-limbed,—carrying neither pike nor halberd, but a bow of mighty dimensions,—their bracelets fastened to great silver chains; around the neck a bright steel gorget; the cremoisy pourpoint or doublet fit for a regent or a grand duke; on the head a shining sallet or steel cap, its gilded nails set with precious stones; on the back a hauberk, inlaid with the finest gold-work; a short dagger; a well-polished sword; scarlet trews; the foot in the air, and ears always on the alert. It is easy, from this description, to conjure up the picturesque figures of these sons of Scotland, as, proud of their trust and themselves, they marched airily along with a free proud gait, but always on the watch for hidden or open foe.

George Cavendish, in his Life of Cardinal Wolsey, when recording the Cardinal’s interview with Francis I., in 1527, mentions that the King had “about his person, both before him and behind him, besides the wonderful number of noblemen and gentlemen, three great guards diversely apparelled.” And he adds—“The third guard was pour le corps, which was of tall Scots, much more comelier persons than all the rest. The French guard and the Scots had all one livery, which was rich coats of fine white cloth, with a guard of silver bullion embroidered an handful broad.”

In 1488, the Duke of Orleans (afterwards Louis XII.), having been taken prisoner at the battle of Saint-Aubin (July 27), was detained in the great Tower of Bourges until July 1489, in the custody of a company of Scotch archers, commanded by Captain Patrick Maclellan. They not only garrisoned the Tower, but also occupied some of the neighbouring houses.

Yielding to the earnest entreaties of his sister, Jeanne de France, Charles VIII. pardoned her husband. One evening the King set out secretly from the Castle of Plessis-les-Tours, under the pretence that he was going hunting, and forbade his suite to follow him. Attended by a small escort, he rode to Montrichard, where he passed the night, and on the day after followed the banks of the Cher to the bridge of Barangeon, near the confluence of the Cher and the Indre. There he halted, and sent forward to Bourges a certain Bernard Stuart, Lord of Aubigny, who afterwards became Viceroy and Constable of Sicily and Jerusalem.

The Lord of Aubigny was well known at Bourges. He went straight to the great Tower, and in virtue of the King’s orders, released from custody the Duke of Orleans, then mounted him on horseback, and conducted him to the bridge of Barangeon. On arriving in the presence of the King, who awaited him with patience, the Duke hastily dismounted and threw himself on his knees: Charles VIII. raised him, embraced him, and both then rode to Bourges. There they were seated at the same table, and after dinner remained together unattended, conversing for a long time. The bursts of laughter which were heard without sufficiently attested to the thoroughness of the reconciliation between the two princes; of which a further proof was given, after the fashion of the age, by their occupying the same bed at night.

A few years later, another distinguished prisoner, Ludovic Sforza, of Milan, was entrusted by Louis VII. to the fidelity of some of the Scots Guard in the Castle of Loches. The chronicler relates that in the early days of his captivity he was shut up in a subterranean chamber, of which the door and roof were of iron; but afterwards, in the custody of “some Scotch soldiers!” he was allowed more liberty.

This paragraph is a digression. Let us return to Charles VIII., and follow him on his celebrated expedition into Italy in 1494. From the pages of Paulus Jovino we learn that the gigantic and brawny Scots of the royal guard were the observed of all observers on the King’s entrance into Rome ; and that there, as elsewhere, they guarded not only the entrance to the royal lodgings, but every door which gave access to his private apartment. Their prowess was the theme of universal admiration throughout the campaign; and at the battle of Fornovo, where nine of them were slain, they specially distinguished themselves.

In the Naples campaign, in 1495, the Scotch archers, under Bernard Stuart, Lord of Aubigny (to whom I have already referred), displayed their characteristic intrepidity. D’Aubigny, however, found himself unable to resist the attacks of the “Great Captain,” Gonzalvo of Cordova, and fell back into Calabria, the greater portion of which was in the hands of the French. But the arms of the Great Captain continued to be successful; and, after losing Manfredonia and Cosenza, finding himself besieged in Groppoli without hope of assistance, he abandoned the province, and obtained permission to return to France by land.

On his return he was rewarded for his services with the collar of the Order of Saint Michael. As for his gallant Scotch archers, he would seem to have lost twenty-two; for when their equipment was renewed, payment was made for the embroidery of only eight-and-seventy hauberks (1500).

I pass briefly over these events because, even to the Scots reader of to-day, unless he be a student or an expert, they belong to ancient history, and have no living interest or importance wherefore he should give them any special attention; yet, at the same time, as his ancestors and countrymen were concerned in them—the members of the famous Scots Guard which so bravely upheld the good repute of the Scottish arms—he cannot be supposed to be wholly indifferent.

There is not much more to be said about them. Henry II. held them in as much esteem as Charles VIII. or Louis XI. had done, and was never loth to grant them his special patronage. During his reign occurred a quaint little affair of which Sir James Melville speaks in his Memoirs. Briefly told, this is the sum of it.—Captain Ringan Cockburn of the Scots Guard, after a visit to the home country, had just returned to his post. Melville describes him as a plunderer, who visited some of Melville’s friends. One day he asked Melville if he spoke French well. No, he did not. He was always talking—this captain—of the important things he wanted to confide to the Constable, who then governed France under the King; and he entreated Melville to act as his interpreter, since he himself could stammer out only a few French phrases. But he refused to reveal what he wanted to say to the Constable, except in his presence. At last, the Constable agreed to give them an audience, and they were ushered, one day, into his cabinet, when he was alone with his secretary. Then the captain began his declaration, and invited Melville to translate it, but that shrewd Scot wished to know more. Whereupon the captain recited a tremendously prolix narrative about the Archbishop of St. Andrews and his recent cure of an attack of asthma by Cardano, an Italian magician. Pressed to translate what the captain had been saying, young Melville, reddening to the eyes, boldly replied to the Constable with the advice not to waste his time in listening to such a rigmarole—a plainness of language and a common-sense which greatly impressed the French statesman. He took down the name of the young Scot, and his interest knew no bounds when he saw him refuse the assistance which the captain had offered through a fiction. Melville afterwards entered the French service (in July 1553).

The members of the Scots Guard were doughty swordsmen, but, I suspect, indifferent penmen. One of them, however, not only wrote a book but printed it. This was Robert Norvill, man-at-arms, who embraced the principles of the reformed religion, and in consequence was sent to the Bastile. To beguile the weary hours of his captivity he wrote a small volume entitled “The Mirroure of the Christian, composed and drawn from the Holy Scriptures by Robert Norvill, man-at-arms, during the time of his captivitie at Paris in the Bastillie for the testimonie of our saviour Jesus Christ,” which he dedicated to his comrades—“To all the Archers of the Scottish Guard I wish health, honour, and prosperity.” NorvilPs book was printed at Edinburgh in 1561. Probably he had been dismissed from the French service, and had returned to his own country.

I shall conclude this chapter with the tragic story of Robert Stuart, who, like Norvill, was a Reformer, but met with a harsher fate. It throws a vivid side-light on the stormy lives that were led by these Scottish adventurers in the stirring times of old.

One December evening, in 1559, Antoine Minard, President of the Parliament of Paris, a zealous partisan of the Guises, was killed with a pistol-shot by some unknown hand as he was returning from the palace. The voice of rumour was immediately busy as to the author of the crime, and his motive. Motives were readily conjectured, for the President’s immorality was as notorious as the general viciousness of his conduct; besides, it was known that he was exceedingly obnoxious to the Lutherans, because he instigated the Guises to persecute them, and did them many other wrongs, though he had formerly professed their doctrine. Suspicion, after hovering over many persons, settled at last upon this Robert Stuart, who claimed kinship with the Queen (Mary Stuart); and as he was known to have paid several visits to his imprisoned co-religionists, he was arrested on an accusation of having schemed to effect their deliverance by setting fire to the city, and in the consequent confusion breaking open the various prisons.

I suspect that the charge was not without foundation, for Stuart did not succeed in shaking the evidence of those witnesses with whom he was confronted; but the Parliament refused to condemn him. Of this laxity the King wras far from approving; and he sent instructions to the parliament to put the unfortunate Scot to the torture, in order to get at the bottom and source of the evil. Stuart made an appeal to Mary Stuart; but that princess, desirous of pleasing her uncles, the Guises, disavowed her alleged kinsman, and he was bound to the rack. Nothing, however, was extorted from him; and eventually he was set free.

Not the less was he fated to come to a violent end. The old Constable, Anne de Montmorency, having been killed, like President Minard, by a pistol-shot, his death also was attributed to Stuart, who, it was alleged, made his bullets of such a composition that no cuirass, however well tempered, was proof against them. He called them “ Stuardio,” says Brantome, and gave them to his Huguenot friends.

This Stuart, says the gossiping old chronicler, was taken prisoner at the battle of Jarnac, and brought before the General, M. le Marquis de Villars, who, as soon as he caught sight of him, went up to him, and cried, “Wretch that thou art, it is thou who didst wickedly kill my brother; thou shalt die.” And turning to Monsieur le Prince, he said—“Monsieur, I beg you, for the services which I have done you, give me leave to kill this man now in your presence.” Monsieur at first refused; but the Marquis pressing him with ceaseless importunity, he reluctantly exclaimed, “Well, be it so.” “Oh, Monsieur,” cried Stuart, “you are so magnanimous and generous a prince that you would not pollute your eyes or your beautiful soul with so foul a sight.” But having been dragged to some distance from Monsieur, though not so far but that he could hear the poor wretch’s prayers, he was disarmed and killed in cold blood.

This cruel deed was the subject of much angry discussion, and called forth a strong remonstrance from the Prince of Navarre, afterwards Henry IV.

Thus did the bold Scottish adventurer literally carry his life in his hands. He played for high stakes, and if he lost — as lose he sometimes did — it was with this he paid.


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