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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter VIII


Military Annals: Bruce and Baliol. Border Laws.

Of kings deposed, or made, or dead,
And what might be the cause;
Of Warden Courts where much was said
Touching the Border Laws.

The dead bones of Edward I. were not borne forward through Gretna into Albin, as he had enjoined with his latest breath ; but his successor, of an easy and placable constitution, averse to the stern life of a campaigner, and less vigorous than his father, gave up the Scottish war, retired southwards, and disbanded his army.

At this, the young Bruce issued from his fastnesses, and commenced a most brilliant career of victory. He paid a visit to the capital of Cumberland, by traversing the amorous regions wherein our scene is for the most part laid ; and then, veering eastward, put a crowning glory upon his fame by scattering his foes on the banks of the streamlet of Bannockburn.

This amorous region was also trodden under the feet of slaughtermen and barbed steeds a space after, when the naked-kneed Northerners poured through the western marches to carry herriment into Lancashire; and again, in the following reign of Edward III., no less than twenty thousand cavalry, armed at all points, covered the Moss, and the Sands of Burgh, with the prints of iron horseshoes.

John Baliol, who had been duly enthroned by Edward I., and then as duly deposed and put in the Tower, had a son ycleped Edward, who now started up against Bruce,—or rather his infant successor David,—and prepared to carry a species of York-and-Lancaster war into Scotland, such as in aftertimes dislocated the frame of England so cruelly. He quitted Normandy, where he had dwelt in seclusion since his father's death, and, with the aid of certain powerful allies, invaded his own country with much success. His claim to the crown having lain dormant for some time, and Bruce having built unto himself a stable throne by valour and activity, it was not without much difficulty that he effected a lodgement in Fife, notwithstanding he had vainly flattered himself that the offspring of the former acknowledged monarch would have been welcomed with friendly zeal.

Although forty thousand men debated his coming, he contrived, during the turmoil of a hard fight by the river Erne, to use up twelve thousand of them—himself only losing thirty men. This was "doing the thing" in grand style. Other victories, nearly as decisive, followed in succession ; so that, in an incredibly short period after his landing, he brought all Scotland to his feet, and a thorough revolution was effected, when his coronation at Scone speedily took place.

But there is nothing sure under the sun (with few exceptions), not even the retention of a diadem; and it was in Annandale, where many remarkable things in all ages have befallen, that a counter-revolution to his prejudice was effected, entirely sapping and subverting the splendid edifice that his labours had erected.

The youthful Baliol was now king of his own realm ; his father's claim was confessed by a large body of nobles, and they had anointed him their liege lord and sovereign head within the walls of the royal palace of Scone. The rapidity of his elevation had been the unspeakable dismay of his foes, the admiration of his friends, and the wonder of both.

But divers pesterous gad-flies of the adverse party still buzzed about his ears, and it was expedient that these should be beaten down. Sir Archibald Douglas, his evil genius and his terror, was one of these, and not the least. This noxious creature, together with Simon Fraser and William

Lord of Liddesdale above Gretna, had a kind of wasp's nest near Annan, and the new king set out upon a martial progress thitherward in order to destroy it. This matter was commenced incontinently ; the clash of weapons was loud, and the notches on their edges were hacked so deep and so thick, that swords soon became saws : but the just do not always prosper in this world, for Douglas and his partizans won the day before night, and Baliol lost it before sun-down.

This was a sad reverse; and so complete was the success on one side, and so crushing was the defeat on the other, that Baliol, in bodily fear of Douglas his foe, hastily took horse, saith the legend, "without saddle or bridle," being "almost frightened to death;" and riding, in his hurry, "half naked" through the modern parish of Gretna and the Debateable Land, he made for Carlisle, where he fortified himself, "to shun the fury of Douglas."

Thus he lost his throne by as sudden a revolution as he had won it, being now destitute of resources, means, rescues, and friends. But it was the policy of Edward to lend him a hand in his reverses, and to establish his- ascendancy in Scotland, because he would promise to consider this monarch his liege lord, as his father had abjectly done, and himself only a vassal in his own kingdom ; wherefore Edward invested Berwick in Baliol's behalf, and in two months reduced it to extremity, so much so, that the governor promised to surrender to the English if his own countrymen did not lend him succours speedily. This fact having become known to Douglas the Scotch commander, he hastened to the relief, and drew up his forces in battle-array nigh unto Halidon Hill; but Victoria, the bright goddess of success and triumph, raised her diadem over England, and prosperity attended her. The tartaned sons of the Grampians were driven off with the immense slaughter of thirty thousand men; whilst we are assured that, under the wing of the above-mentioned goddess, the Southrons lost but .one knight, one esquire, and twelve private soldiers,— or, to take it at the worst, according to Hume, thirteen private soldiers.

This brought about another revolution ; such is the tossing to and fro of those who put to sea on the billows of Fortune. Baliol was again acknowledged king; a parliament was assembled at Edinburgh town; his peers drew round him with bended knee and infinite obeisance, and his title was fully confirmed.

We are compelled to say that Gretna had nothing to do with this : at least, it had no connexion with the brilliant achievement, any more than that Gretna most certainly formed a part of the realm in which it took place, and in the event of which it was much concerned; and that both Baliol and Douglas, and the English army, had in aforetime often marched through the said Gretna in their various skirmishes. More than this we cannot say.

During the half-century succeeding, revolutions and counter-revolutions once more befel north the Cheviots: Bruce was recalled—glaives and claymores were bared,—battles were lost and won,— and Mars, divorced from his wife Venus, stalked over the land.

About this time the depredations on the border, the raids of divers bands of moss-troopers, and forays for the purpose of indiscriminate plunder, had become so notorious that the youthful King Richard II. led a host over the frontiers of his kingdom proper, to the end that he might stop this beginning ; but, whilst he made pleasant pastime to himself and his followers by burning Edinburgh, Perth, and Dundee, the untrowsered Scots in the west also made indifferent good pastime to themselves on the arena and stage of this veritable history, by devastating the green face of the land whithersoever they trod.

The French had from time to time been the close allies of the Scotch, sometimes for the purposes of mutual combination, strength, and the better to overwhelm a common enemy, and at others they had been brought a great deal in contact for reasons less amicable and beneficial; but in either case the consequence arrived at was, that they both became intimate with each other. In the former relations it happened, that, when the Scotch were collecting their powers against the southern moiety of the island, the French (when it was their interest) readily sent over vast reinforcements to assist them ; and thus it was, that during the struggles of the middle ages, whether on the frontier or in the more central counties, we often find the mincing wearers of trunk-hose and slashed doublets marshalled in rank and file along with the ruder Kelts, who went with bare legs, raw-hide boots with the hair outwards, and that scanty Roman legacy, the philibeg.

Owing to the rivalries and jealousies that rankled between the neighbouring barons, -who fought under different colours, it was not possible that peace could be maintained between them; they were the petty sovereigns of their fief, having many vassals under them, ready at their nod to do their bidding, however arbitrary, against any neighbour or any rival, whether in good or evil. As they lived by plunder, and furnished their larders by the proceeds of rapine, the nearest and most wealthy barons in their vicinage were often their most deadly foes, because they may have been the most often preyed upon. Hence "good neighbourhood" in those days, and especially on the territory of which we speak, consisted in mutual depredation, robbery, assault, and retaliation. They paid very little deference to the commands of their respective sovereigns, kept national truces but imperfectly, and made war or peace on those around them, just as it suited their humour, passions, or larder and store-room.

Albeit the statutes of the realm at large were set at nought, as being in no wise compulsory,— that is, unless it were convenient,—still, for their own use, and for the further security of their own power in transactions touching themselves, or applying to their' own peculiar intercourse, they established, gradatim, a series of conventional regulations, which, when collected in a better digested form in later times, was known by the name of the body of Border Laws. The wardens of the marches, who were officers appointed by the crown to repress the inroads of the dalesmen of the antagonist realm, and to maintain good order, were empowered to hold courts of justice, and decide cases, and return verdicts against such offenders as were apprehended and brought before them. "Jeddart Justice," or hanging the prisoner first and trying him afterwards, was however too often the procedure of these courts; for the wardens were despotic and tyrannical, armed with the diploma of their sovereign, which gave them immense power, and, in themselves, allowing their passions, their revenge, or their hatred to award his doom, just as the impulse of the moment prompted.

In seasons of national war, he had the right of calling out all the fencible men dwelling within the circuit of his wardenry, between the ages of sixteen and sixty; and these he headed as captain-general, leading them against such freebooters as infested his district, or else conducting them to the more important work of invading the enemy's country. On these occasions it was his duty to observe, and cause to be observed, all the ancient' rules and customs which had been recognised as laws by common consent amongst the marchmen ; arid through the barbarism of these enactments may be here and there traced the veins of a rude yet chivalrous idea of honour. Some of the enactments pointed to the observance of equity of dealing and the preservation of privilege between man and man amongst themselves; others referred to their treatment of their prisoners, non-intercourse or traitorous correspondence with any individual of the obverse country, and such other items as enforced subordination amongst a semi-barbarous conjunction of men. Thus, it was laid down, that if any soldier followed the chase on a horse belonging to his comrade, the true owner of the horse was entitled to half the booty taken. This was done in order to make them use their

own horses, and not appropriate those of their neighbours. Again :—He who detected a traitor, was rewarded with the sum of one hundred shillings; and he who aided his escape from justice, suffered the pain of death. If the stewards of Annandale and Kircudbright omitted to fire the beacons, and give timely notice on the approach of a foe, they were fined one merk; and he who neglected to join the array of the country to oppose the foe at the signal of the beacon-lights, forfeited his goods, and was placed at the disposal of the warden's will. In the partition of spoil, two portions were allowed to each bowman. Whoever deserted his commander and comrades, and abode not in the field to the uttermost, forfeited his goods, and became liable to the punishment of a traitor. Whoever bereft his comrade of his horse, spoil, or prisoner, was subject to the pains of treason, if he did not make^ restitution when the right of property became known to him.

These and certain other military regulations were of no small necessity and benefit to those who were constantly engaged in Border warfare; indeed, without law of some sort or other, no race of beings and no order of society, however crude, can at all maintain an existence for any length of time.

Marauders and moss-troopers taken in the act were dealt with in the most summary manner,— Jeddart justice, in these cases, being the least trouble ; and drowning or hanging were the favourite modes of punishment. "The next tree, or the deepest pool of the nearest stream," says the author of the Border antiquities, "was indifferently used on these occasions."

The principal part of the warden's duty respected his transactions in the opposite kingdom in the time of both peace as well as war ; in short, he was the bull-dog stationed at the outer gale, in order to guard the national premises.

The military regulations, hereinbefore discoursed of, were arranged by William, Earl of Douglas, in the year 1468; and the exordium runs thus:—"Be it remembered that, on the 18th daie of December, 1468, Earle William Douglas assembled the whole lordes, freeholders, and eldest borderers, that best knowledge had, at the college of Linclouden ; and there he caused those lordes and borderers bodylie to be sworne, the holie Gospel touched, that they justly and trewlie, after their cunning, should decrete, decern, deliver, and put in order and writinge the statutes, ordinances, and uses of Marche that were ordained in Black Archibald of Douglas days;" Sec. &c. And it appears that they were thence adopted by the English, after certain necessary alterations made therein; for a copy of them is found in the MS. of Master Bell, a warden clerk of the western marches of England in tempore Elizabeths Regiria.

These frontier Cerberi, who guarded the portals of the realm, had the means of formally concluding truces with the opposite warden for their own jurisdictions, even as they were also able to carry death and destruction along with them, if they saw fitting to go to warfare; and the process of documentarily making out such an agreement was carried through with the show of no small pomp and circumstance.

A notable indenture of this kind was achieved between the Percy out of Northumberland, and Archibald Douglas, Lord of Galloway, at the water of Esk, beside Salon or Solway, when these two chieftains bore themselves with all the parade of monarchs of interminable kingdoms.

In times of peace it was the Warden's province to maintain and cultivate a good understanding betwixt all parties ; and to prevent, where it was possible, the nightly practice of spoliation and plunder by moss-troopers. Few depredators were so notorious, and so incorrigible, as the clans of the western march; and, amongst these, more particularly the Elliots and Armstrongs of Liddesdale, who, according to the proverb, were "thieves all," the Nixons, Grahames, and Crossers of the Debateable Land ; and, with shame be it spoken, the Johrtstones of the since gentle, amiable, and most loving soil of Gratney or Gretna. But if Gretna was not free from fierce hatred in a bygone age, assuredly she has, in later times, made ample amends for past cruelty, by cultivating more love in one year within the precincts of her amorous parish, than all the parishes in the world are able to cultivate besides.


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