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The History of Glasgow
Chapter XXV - National Calamities—War of Independence—Wallace and the Battle of the Bell o' the Brae—Bishop Wischart—English Occupation


BY a series of misfortunes in the last quarter of the thirteenth century, the prosperous condition of Scotland was completely arrested, and for a long time the story which the annalist has to tell is one of overbearing oppression on the one side and of patriotic and ultimately successful resistance on the other. Through the loss of his children, two sons and a daughter, who all died within the years 1281-3, King Alexander III., when accidentally killed on 19th March, 1285-6, left as his successor to the Scottish throne an infant grand-daughter, Margaret the Maid of Norway, who survived him for no more than the short period of four years. On account of the divided interests of the claimants to the crown, chiefly in consequence of their landed estates being spread over both countries, and those situated in England being held of King Edward as feudal superior, that monarch's ambitious scheme for the union of the two kingdoms was not devoid of Scottish support, and but for the patriotism of some of the lesser barons and the feeling of sturdy independence which pervaded large masses of the people, his purpose might have been accomplished. During this critical period Glasgow must have had its share of the country's prevailing troubles, and though many of its citizens, barony men and churchmen, may have had their names inscribed on the Ragman Roll, it is known that Robert Wischart, the warrior bishop, was not without local followers in his valiant contest for freedom.

Bishop Wischart was appointed one of the guardians of Scotland after the death of King Alexander, and throughout subsequent events, the interregnum of 1290-2, the inglorious reign of John Balliol, 1292-6, the interregnum of 1296-1306, Wallace's protectorate and the early years of Bruce's reign, the bishop took a prominent part in public affairs. He was keenly patriotic,

[Though in the elaborately formal record of proceedings which resulted in the selection of John Balliol as king no express disavowal of Edward's supremacy appears, independent chroniclers are not so reticent, and paraphrasing their statements, Wyntoun, in a passage marked, perhaps, more by poetical license than strict historical accuracy, ascribes to Bishop Wischart delivery of this spirited protest:

"Excellend Prynce (he sayd), and Kyng,
the ask ws ane unleffull thyng,
That is supery oryte;
We ken rycht noucht, quhat that suld be;
That is to say, off our kynryk,
The quhilk is in all fredome lik
Till ony rewme, that is mast fre,
In till all Crystyanyte,
Wndyr the sown is na kyngdome,
Than is Scotland, in mare fredome.
Off Scotland oure Kyng held evyr his state
Off God hym-selff immedyate,
And off nane othir mene persowne.
Thare is nane dedlyke king with crowne,
That ourlard till oure Kyng suld be
In till superyoryte."

Wyntoun's Chronicle (Historians of Scotland), book viii. ch. v. p. 301, lines 821-36. Some words in the quotation may be glossed thus: "unleffull" - unlawful; "We ken," etc.—we well know that should not be; "kynryk" — country; "rewme"—realm; "sown"—sun; "mene"—mediate; "dedlyke"—mortal; "ourlard"—overlord.]

and though, under compulsion or urgent expediency, he swore allegiance to Edward, the oath was broken as often as the opportunity occurred. [A list of these occasions is given in Burton's History of Scotland, vol. ii. pp. 260-1.] As Cosmo Innes has observed, it was a time when strong oppression on the one side made the other almost forget the laws of good faith and humanity. The bishop was a friend and supporter of Wallace, and having joined the army gathered under Bruce and others, was among those who surrendered and made " peace " at Irvine in July, 1297. [Bain's Calendar, ii. Nos. 907-10.]

To about this time may be assigned the encounter known as the battle of the Bell o' the Brae. An animated passage in the metrical narrative of Harry the iinstrel describes how Wallace overcame a body of English troops in the streets of Glasgow. The story is circumstantially told and vouched by the expression "as weyll witnes the buk," suggesting that the minstrel was proceeding on something more substantial than oral tradition. Starting from Ayr one evening, Wallace and his band rode "to Glaskow bryg, that byggit was of tre," which they reached next morning at nine. Here the attacking party was formed into two divisions. One division, under thelaird of Auchinleck, "for he the pasage kend," made a detour, and seems to have crossed the Clyde above the town, while the other division, headed by Wallace, marched up the "playne streyt" leading to the castle, and attacked the garrison in front. Then at the opportune moment Auchinleck's division rushed in by "the north-east raw" (i.e. the modern Drygait), " and partyt Sotheron rycht sodeynly in twyn." Thus pressed in front and surprised in rear, the garrison forces were completely routed, and fled to Bothwell, there joining another English army, who checked the further pursuit of Wallace and his men. The retreat is thus described:-

"Out off the gait the byschope Beik thai lede,
For than thaim thocht it was no tyme to bide,
By the Frer Kyrk, til a wode fast besyde.
In that forest, forsuth, thai taryit nocht;
On fresche horss to Bothwell sone thai socht.
Wallace followed with worthie men and wicht."
[The Wallace, book vii. lines 515-616.]

At that time, the open ground east of the Blackfriars' Kirk and the woods and fields beyond, would afford the readiest route in the retreat to Bothwell. The narrative is true to the locality in its outstanding features; and, keeping in mind that Wallace, from his early days, was well acquainted with the district, that he had the co-operation of the bishop, and was on intimate terms with his co-patriots, the monks of Paisley, [See The Abbey of Paisley, by Dr. J. Cameron Lees (1878), chap. x. As a reward for the patriotism of the monks during the wars of Wallace and Bruce. the English burned their monastery in 1307 (Glasgow Memorials, pp. 28, 29).] who had dwellings and dependents in Glasgow, and that these dependents had the opportunity of knowing and communicating to Wallace the most favourable time and place of attack, it would have been strange if some attempt had not been made to molest the English garrison. Notwithstanding the absence of notice in the scant remains of contemporary chronicles, and though some of the details are erroneous or exaggerated, there is reason to believe that the account of the battle of the "Bell o' the Brae" was founded on a real incident in the career of our national hero.

Bothwell, situated about eight miles south-east of Glasgow, to which the vanquished remnant fled, was long the headquarters of the English armies in Clydesdale. Bothwell castle, while occupied by the English towards the end of the thirteenth century, stood out a siege by the Scots for more than a year, but the garrison were at last starved into submissions. [Bain's Calendar, ii. Nos. 1093, 1867.] From that time the castle seems to have been held by the Scots till retaken by the English in the autumn of 1301. During part of the time occupied by the latter siege, King Edward was in the vicinity and doubtless took an active part in directing operations. On 12th August, while the besiegers were still busy, he granted to Aymer de Valence the castle and barony of Bothwell, and all other lands which William de Moray had forfeited through his patriotism. In August Edward was in Glasgow, and took the opportunity of making devout oblations at the local shrines and altars. Offerings were made on the 20th of the month at the shrine of St. Kentigern; on the following day at the high altar and at the shrine; on the 24th in his own portable chapel, in honour of St. Bartholomew (whose day it was) ; again on 25th in his chapel, this last being a special offering on account of good news of the capture of Sir Malcolm Drummond. The king's oblations, costing in money seven shillings each, were continued in September, an offering having been made on the 2nd of that month in his portable chapel; on the 3rd at the shrine of St. Kentigern; and on the 23rd at the high altar and at the tomb of St. Kentigern. The tomb is expressly described as being situated " in volta," meaning apparently the crypt of the cathedral. On 6th September the sum of six shillings was given to the Friars Preachers as a contribution towards their food supply.

For prosecuting the siege of Bothwell Castle supplies of material were forwarded from Glasgow. In August timber was obtained from the neighbouring woods for the construction of a siege engine, brushwood was collected for hurdles to form a bridge, and night watchmen were employed to guard the implements and stores. Waggons were hired at Glasgow for carriage of the engine to Bothwell. Purchases of coal, iron, and tools were made at Glasgow, both during and after the siege, the implements so procured including anvils, hammers, chisels, nails, picks, shovels, an axe, a ploughshare, a grindstone, a cauldron, coffers and locks. Congratulations on the surrender of the castle were transmitted to Edward on 2nd October, by which time he had apparently left the district. [Bain's Calendar, ii. and iv.; Rhind Lectures (1900), "The Edwards in Scotland," pp. 35, 36; Reg. Episc. p. xxxiii. Edward's usual offering of seven shillings was equal to about five guineas of the present day.]

Notwithstanding the siege and similar successes Edward was experiencing the difficulty of keeping the Scots under control, for no sooner had he secured submission in one district than trouble broke out elsewhere, and in this spasmodic warfare both Bishop Wischart and the men of the barony had their share. In August, 1302, Pope Boniface VIII. wrote the bishop expressing astonishment that, as reported, he had been the "prime instigator and promoter of the fatal disputes which prevailed between the Scottish nation and King Edward," and calling upon him, by earnest endeavour after peace, to obtain forgiveness. [Hailes' Annals, 3rd edition, i p. 330.] This appeal had no immediate effect on the bishop's course of action, and in 1302-3 he was treated as a rebel, his estates were forfeited and parts of his lands in Glasgow barony were laid waste. Even Edward's collector could not get certain sums from the "farm of the burgh of Glasgow, because the tenants were destroyed by the Irish," apparently alluding to the Irish foot soldiers who formed a large section of the English army. There was also a deficiency in the barony collection, as distinguished from that of the burgh, because so much "land of the barony lay waste." [Bain's Calendar, ii. p. 424.] The burgesses of Rutherglen, also, took the opportunity of discontinuing payment of tolls on their goods bought or sold in Glasgow. [Antea, p. 100.]

In consequence of Edward's energetic campaign of 1303, and the apparent hopelessness of further resistance, the bishop again became reconciled to Edward [In or about January, 1303-4, Edward had stated the conditions for receiving the bishop of Glasgow, William le Waleys, Sir David de Graham, Sir Alexander de Lindesey and Sir John Comyn (Bain's Calendar, ii. No. 1444).] and besought him to authorise the levying of tolls, as formerly, and to confirm the charters of the church, that he and his clergy might be paid their arrears. [Bain's Calendar, ii. No. 1626-7.] That the desired restoration of temporalities was conceded may be inferred from a letter dated 10th April, 1304, in which Edward thanked the bishop, "dearly," for giving the prebend of Old Roxburgh to his (the king's) clerk who was about to be sent out of the country on special business, thus making it desirable that he should obtain immediate possession. [Ib. No. 1502. ] In August, also, the bishop and chapter were in a position to give to the Friars Preachers the Meadow-well in Deanside, the water of which was to be led to their cloister. [Antea, p. 117.]

The friendly attitude thus subsisting between King Edward and the bishop was not long maintained. Sir William Wallace having been betrayed into Edward's hands had met his death in London in August, 1305. According to Blind Harry, the place of capture was Robrastoun or Robroystoun, [Book xi. lines 997, 1083.] situated in the barony, about four miles north-east from Glasgow Cross ; but some chroniclers, including Walter Bower, assert that Wallace was seized "at Glasgow," which, taken literally, would mean in the city itself. [Pictorial History of Scotland, i. pp. 776-7. John Major, in his History of Greater Britain, published in 1521, when he was principal Regent of the University, says that, "by a shameful stratagem, Wallace was seized in the city of Glasgow" (Scottish History Society edition, p. 203).] The actual place of capture is accordingly doubtful, but all accounts agree in crediting Sir John Monteith, governor of the castle of Dumbarton, with the chief part in the transaction. At this stage King Edward, deeming that Scotland was finally at his disposal, proceeded to supply it with a constitution, and an "Ordinance for the settlement of Scotland" was drawn up to his satisfaction. [Bain's Calendar, ii. No. 1691-2.] But before six months had elapsed the scheme became utterly inoperative, and the English king had virtually to recommence the work of conquest. In the spring of 1305-6 Robert Bruce took the field and forthwith the irrepressible bishop joined his standard, and it is said that from vestments in the cathedral he prepared the robes and royal banner for the coronation. Exasperated at this turn of affairs Edward, on 26th May, 1306, issued his commands for taking the most effectual means for seizing the bishop and sending him to the king. Shortly afterwards came the announcement that Wischart had been taken prisoner at the siege of Cupar castle, news which elicited

from Edward the avowal that he was almost as much pleased with the capture of the bishop as if it had been that of the Earl of Carrick. [Bain's Calendar, Nos. 1777, 1780, 1786.]

The forfeiture of the bishop's interest in the temporalities of his see, which followed this new rupture, afforded an opportunity of bestowing on Wallace's captors part of their reward. It had been arranged that 40 merks should be given to the valet who spied Wallace, that 6o merks should be divided among those who assisted at his seizure, and that land of the yearly value of £100 should be assigned to Monteith. [Palgrave's Illustrations, p. 295; Wallace Papers, No. XX.; as cited in Burns' Scottish Way of Independence, ii. p. 134.] In part fulfilment, apparently, of the last of these grants, King Edward, on 16th June, 1306, instructed Aymer de Valence to give to Sir John de Meneteth the "temporality of the bishopric of Glasgow, towards Dumbarton"; but seeing that in course of time the revenues of the see would require to be applied to their legitimate uses, Sir John's possession was only to last during the king's pleasure. [Bain's Calendar, ii. No. 1785.] It is likely enough that the portion of the temporality vaguely described as "towards Dumbarton" consisted of the clearly defined area of the barony lands lying on the Dumbarton side of the Clyde and west side of the river Kelvin. These lands, including the " toune of Partik," were valued at £74 12s. 4d. old extent.

Bishop Wischart was removed to England and there kept in strict confinement for many years. While he was a prisoner in Porchester Castle, near Portsmouth, the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce, restored to him his churches, lands and possessions. This was done by a charter dated 26th April, 1309, in which sympathetic reference was made to "the imprisonments and bonds, persecutions and afflictions which a reverend father, lord Robert, by the grace of God, bishop of Glasgow, has up to this time constantly borne, and yet patiently bears for the rights of the church and our kingdom of Scotland." [Glasg. Chart. i. pt. ii. p. 21.] But, unfortunately, formal concessions of this sort were of no avail in procuring relief to the unhappy victim, and efforts in other directions for his release were likewise futile. With the view of thwarting applications to Rome for help, King Edward II., on 4th December, 1308, represented to the pope that the crimes, lese-majesty, and other offences of the bishop of Glasgow against the late king and himself, forbade any hope that he could be allowed to return to Scotland. [Bain's Calendar, iii. No. 61.] Two years later, Edward, hearing that the bishop, "who has sown such dissensions and discord in Scotland," was busy suing for his deliverance at the court of Rome, with "leave to return to his own country, which would be most prejudicial to the king's affairs there, and an encouragement to his enemies," the English chancellor was instructed to concert measures for opposing the bishop's restoration either to his office or his country, " pointing out his evil conditions and his oaths repeatedly broken, and anything else to induce the pope to refuse him leave even to return to Scotland." [Ibid. No. 194. ] After being summoned before the pope to answer for his offences against Edward I., he was sent back to England in November, 1313, "to be detained by the king at pleasure, till Scotland was recovered," [Ibid. No. 342.] but following upon the military and political events of the following year, the final liberation of the bishop was secured. By that time, however, he had become blind, and he survived his long hoped-for deliverance only two years. He died on 26th November, 1316, and was buried in the crypt of the cathedral between the altars of St. Peter and St. Andrew. A dilapidated effigy now lying in the open arch of one of the cross walls, at the east end of the crypt, is supposed to have once covered his tomb. [Book of Glasgow Cathedral, pp. 412-3; Mediaeval Glasgow, pp. 58, 59.]


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