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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter X


Border Feuds.

The Battle of the Sark was fought
Hard-by the Solway Firth;
But sure the victory was bought
For more than it was worth.

Bickerings at home and broils domestic had made so much ado for Richard II. and Henry IV., that Scotland had been disregarded for some years. Wat Tyler had been put down, and the bloody dagger added to the dexter chief of the city of London arms; the war of the Roses had commenced ; the Duke of Lancaster had returned from banishment, and had deposed his cousin; Owen Glendower had been chastised; and now that the Scotch had been taking advantage of these commotions by ravaging the northern counties of England to such an extent as to be no longer endurable, Henry projected an expedition into the Highlands. He proceeded as far as Edinburgh, where he summoned Robert III. to do homage for his crown, much after the precedents of his predecessors; and, three weeks having elapsed, finding that the red-shanks would neither fight him or allow him to fight them, but preferred retiring to their mountains with their cattle, he veered about once more for his own country, and disbanded his army.

Scotland was suffering severely from internal commotions; the Earl of Buchan had been evil entreating the land at the head of his catterenes or Caledonian banditti; and the Duke of Albany had removed one obstacle between himself and the throne, by starving his eldest nephew, David, to death, in prison. Robert, being duly advertised of the wicked design of his brother the Duke, and fearing lest his only remaining son, James, should share a like fate, in which event, Albany would succeed to the sovereignty if he outlived- him, the king secretly despatched a vessel containing the prince his only heir, purposing to send him to the care and protection of the court of France ; but, alack, and wellaway ! the vessel was captured off Flamborough Head by a privateer, and James, who was then no more than nine years old, was borne away in triumph to Henry IV. of England, and committed to the Tower.

The tidings of this piteous affair killed Robert III. in three days.

Although forays and local skirmishes on the borders never ceased to give employment to the Dalesmen and Deucalidonians, yet, for many years succeeding the death of Robert, the governments did not formally enter upon a national warfare. They had other matters to attend to, and, therefore, let each other alone.

The powers of England had long been turned into a different channel: France had been won out of the hands of her monarch and people by the armies of Henry V.; and then, by a sudden revolution in fortune, that wonderful woman, the Maid of Orleans, had beaten the English precipitately off every hyde of land in the country. The quarrels of the White and Red Roses had, by this time, become a serious affair: Henry VI. and Edward IV. had met with various success on the battle field, and had alternately been inhabiting, now the palace and now the prison: and it was not until after the battle of Touton, when the Lancastrians were defeated, and Henry fled to Scotland to crave the protection of James III., that this northern kingdom again arose as a notable object to the attentions of Englishmen.

But he did not long # remain in his lurking place ; for he rushed out into open day and the face of his enemies, from whom he received various fortune during the vicissitudes of times sequent.

On the septentrional side of the border, "the sun of Douglas set in blood that great family had become so powerful, and too often so disaffected, that the nobles, as well as the prince, had doomed it to destruction. The sixth Earl and his brother were murdered in Edinburgh Castle; James II. poignarded the successor of these with his own hand at Stirling: and the next who enjoyed the title, unable any longer to maintain his authority, was defeated, first at Arkinholme in Annandale, and afterwards at Burnswark near Dumfries, where he was made prisoner by a son of Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, one of his quondam' vassals.

"The Battle of the Sark," so called, wherein we come directly upon the boards of our drama, was fought in 1447, when the English met with a remarkably similar fate to that which we have elsewhere related, when their immense host, was scared into the waters by a mere handful in comparison.

The mighty English took exceptions at the Scottish monarch, and fell at jars with his majesty because he chose to select a wife for himself, forsooth! at the suggestion of Charles of France. It is not likely that the English had any scheme for a marriage at Gretna, which the new match never hinted at; but in matters of marriage England always likes to be father, mother, guardian, and everything else, over foreign princes and princesses, and to give their wards away just as England pleases: and as foreign princes and princesses don't like on every occasion to succumb to this un-understandable authority, they venture to choose for themselves, without asking consent of their testy and domineering would-be great grandmamma.

To chastise the rough-footed Scots for their presumption, the Earl of Salisbury crossed over the western marches by the Sands of Burgh, and made for the town of Dumfries: in this he committed certain excesses, such as oftentimes attend on the steps of war ; and, by way of a crowning mercy, he set the place in flames, and burnt it to the ground.

The Earl of Northumberland invaded the Merse, and amused himself by doing the same to Dunbar at the same time ; but, as his exploits were not celebrated on our own particular arena, we must not wander from our subject to celebrate them here. As there were heroes who lived before Agamemnon, so there were historians who lived before us; and, for all we know, they have recorded the rare deeds which have been done by great men, whether within, without, or round about Dunbar.

In return for the compliment of the Earl of Salisbury at Dumfries, Sir John Douglas of Bal-veny marched into Cumberland, and made reprisals by plundering or destroying all he could come near, whether of person or property. This was an amiable way, surely, of making, things square between them.

The English armies, in high dudgeon that their foes should dare to murder and rob, even as they had just been doing, hastened back into their own country, only to levy still greater forces, that they might commit still greater excesses; and now, under the commandment of the Percy out of Northumberland, together with "Magnus with the red mane" as the Scots called this lieutenant, owing to a prodigiously long, bushy, and carroty beard, they prepared to carry ruin over Solway Moss and the river Sark. This Magnus was a soldier of fortune, who had been serving in the French ranks on the continent of Gaul, because he had nothing else to do for recreation ; and, much like most other volunteers who enlist for the same reason, he was always ready to hit at anybody who came nearest, or most comfortably within arm's length. It mattered little to him who it might be; for as he fought for amusement, and out of the pure delight he derived from flinging his steel brand about him, the first who came was always the first that was served.

This soldier had an indifferent good sort of opinion of his great manhood, not thinking meanly of himself, or of his abilities in the art of jesting with an enemy; and being well inflated with this buoyant self-assurance, he is said to have demanded from the English court no other recompense for the martial achievements which he was about to perform, than that he should enjoy and call his own all the broad acres (or counties per-adventure) that he meant to conquer in Scotland. With such an opportunity of winning unto himself an immeasurable territory, who indeed would not fight with a strong arm and, of a truth, he had fully purposed to lay about him with no sparing hand, but with infinite willingness to dispense his courtesies unto all whom it might concern.

An it be. that Magnus, who drew his blade under the Percy's banner in this expedition, did not fight for money, (which is the meanest possible form in which to receive recompense,) he, at least, was not'fired with the high and refined notions of disinterested patriotism, such as we have been essaying to inculcate.

The Scotch, having had timely intimation of the invasion, raised a numerous army to oppose it, the chief commanders being George Douglas, Earl of Ormond, Wallace of Craigie, and the Lords Maxwell and Johnston.

The English multitude trampled down the reeds on the banks of the Eden and the Esk, and the moss, fern, and heather, upon the flats of the Solway; the warriors were enforced to wet their shoon as they forded the Sark, for the neat stone bridge which now spans the stream was not built then.

They forthwith proceeded to lay waste the whole of this matrimonial district, in which they succeeded, if not to admiration, at least to wonderment ^ and they made no scruple of seizing, plundering, or enthralling, every borderer they could come near. But it was declared that the Earl of Ormond was marching down upon them from the north with vast expedition; wherefore the invaders hastily called in their straggling parties, and encamped upon the banks of the river, which is now spanned by that bridge which has borne more lovers than any other bridge in Christendom—or Pagandom either.

Their advanced guard was commanded by Magnus aforesaid, who fought as disinterestedly for his sovereign as many others had done before him, and as many others continue to do after him ; the Earl of Northumberland led on the centre ; and the rear, which was composed mostly of Welsh, now fully under the yoke of England, was headed by Sir John Pennington.

The Scotch, by this time within sight, and bravely marshalled in battle-array, drew up in three divisions also, face to face, and almost within spear's length. Their right wing was commanded by Wallace, the left by Maxwell and Johnston, and the centre by Ormond himself. Before the strife of weapons began, this last nobleman harangued his naked-kneed followers with much eloquence, using forcible words to inflame their resentment against the new comers, by declaring that they had violated the existing truce, and that they merited nothing but hard blows, and those, too, not given with the flats of their swords. The signal was made, and with great impetuousity the right wing under Wallace rushed upon the antagonist van led by Magnus. At first the English archers gained a slight advantage ; but the valour of Wallace, his example in lancing forward into the thickest of the fight, together with certain cheering words which he broached on the occasion, served to turn the fortune of the day in his favour, and especially to make Magnus look small, and his conquered acres still less. The encounter now became general; and such was the rigour, animosity, and fierceness of the Scots, that no effort could drive them back; the advantage they had gained they held to stoutly, and still continued to gain more and more. Magnus fell dead, bravely contending to the last; and the English, seeing their champion overthrown, and seeing the divisions under Northumberland and Pennington completely routed, gave up all for lost, and fled away toward the Solway. It chanced to be high tide, so that the brine of the sea, flowing up into the channel of the Sark, covered the fords and filled the banks of the river to the topmost verge ; and in these swollen waters the panic-stricken vanquished were drowned by multitudes.

Lord Percy, Northumberland's eldest son, Sir John Pennington, Sir Robert Harrington, and others, were made prisoners. The English lost at least three thousand men; whilst the Scots missed but six hundred, and none of them of consideration saving Wallace, who died of his hurts three months afterwards.


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