of Annandale, Sir John Charters, and the King,
of the widow told
That lived in Annandale:
It does much credit to the king,
And is a goodly tale.
the king was progressing through the south-western counties of Scotland, for
the purpose of noting the depredations of the mosstroopers round about
Solway, a widow, who lived by the water of Annan, came to him one day with a
piteous tale of injury done to her by some lawless Southrons. She told him
that a party of these cruel foes had made an incursion over the border, had
attacked her house in passing through the dale, and had brought irreparable
ruin and calamity upon her, by carrying off her son and her two cows. The
former was her last support—the latter her entire property. She further
said, that she had, immediately on the receipt of this wrong, gone to his
majesty's warden of the Western Marches, Sir John Charters, of Amisfield,
informing him of all that had befallen; feeling not only sure that he would
succour her against the common enemy of the country, as an act of friendly
justice, but that he would readily proceed to take vengeance on the
invaders, as a duty which he, the warden, owed to the king his master, in
fulfilment of his office. The party, at the moment of her application, was
still ravaging the district only a few miles from Amisfield; and she had
urged him to go in quest of the depredators, and dispossess them of their
foully gotten booty.
howbeit, was not a trustworthy servant. Instead of protecting James's lands
from herriment, and James's people from insult, he preferred the luxury and
ease of banqueting merrily within his castle walls. Sir John treated the
widow with contempt; he jeered at her losses; laughed at her complaint; and
rudely dismissed her from his presence.
these things had been laid before the king, the fire of honest anger arose
within his bosom. He comforted her by saying, that he would shortly be in
Annandale; that he would not forget her evil usage; that he would get
justice done to her; and moreover, that justice should also be done to this
traitorous warden, who cared not to do his duty either to his country or to
light heart thp gudewife returned home to abide James's coming into those
time after he proceeded thitherward.
arriving at the head of Nithsdale, he left the greater number of his
retainers behind him, and secretly advanced to the village of Duncow: here,
again^ he assumed a more perfect disguise, for the purpose of better
achieving his meritable design. He dismissed all his attendants saving only
two or three, and dressing himself in a foreign habit, he directed his way
immediately to the castle of Amisfield, the residence of the warden. When he
came to the small brook that ran hard by the building, he advanced entirely
alone right up to Amisfield gate.
the porter, he addressed him with some urgency of manner, requesting him to
go to Sir John Charters, and say that the English had crossed the Debateable
Land with no friendly • intention, and that if the loyal warden and
protector of King James's Marches would repel these bloody heralds of
slaughter, he must at once up and be doing.
porter, knowing his master's humour, declared to the stranger, that he was
passing loth to disturb him; but this reluctance was speedily over-ruled
when the king put a silver groat into his hand—and so he went.
In a few
minutes he returned, saying that Sir John had just sat down to dinner, and
that forsooth he would not be interrupted.
indifference about protecting the land from invaders, was no great proof of
devotion to his country and prince ; and to make this essay, had now indeed
been the monarch's scheme.
he bribed the porter with two groats, desiring him to go once more to his
master, and to say, that the general safety of the country depended on his
directly firing the beacons, alarming the neighbourhood, and assembling his
knight, upon this second message, flew into a great rage, and threatened to
punish the troublesome messenger for his temerity, if he did not leave the
castle gate and depart.
had not yet done. He sought out another servant, (for the first was too
terrified to go of any more errands,) and him he induced, through the
potency of gold, to proceed to the banquet hall, and tell the Warden that
the guide man of Ballengeigh had been waiting a
long space at his gate for admittance, but in vain.
the interval of the transmission of this message, he threw off his rude
attire that covered and concealed the rich vestments of the king of
Scotland, and sounded a shrill blast on his bugle horn, as a signal for his
attendants to come up.
is celebrated in the ballad of the
a ballad of his own writing.
a horn frae his side, and blew baith loud and shrill, And four-and-twenty
belted knights came skipping o'er the hill."
assured that Sir John Charters was no stranger to the title of the
gude man of Ballengcighand
that as soon as this third mission had been taken to him, he fell into a
sore perplexity and a most .piteous troublement. He felt like one who had
suddenly put himself into infinite jeopardy; — not through weakness or
frailty or misfortune, which might be excused, but through a dereliction of
duty and an act of absolute treason. And his king too, was actually at the
gate, and had been witness to it all !
no alternative; he could not shun James's presence. With a guilty
conscience, a cowed aspect, and a faltering step, he came out to the
high-spirited and offended king now sharply reprimanded him for his criminal
abuse of the important trust that had been committed to his charge and
fidelity; and bringing to his recollection the ease of the poor widow, lie
commanded him to indemnify her tenfold for her loss—aye tenfold. He further
added, that if her son were not ransomed within less than a fortnight, he,
the offending warden, should assuredly be hung up by the neck.
public servant was not immediately dispossessed of his office ; but as a
further token of the royal displeasance, James punished Sir John in a way
which proved severe, but at the same time carried along with it a ludicrous
idea. He ruined the knight whilst he conferred an honour upon him. He
billeted his retinue consisting of two thousand barons and feudatories, upon
him, obliging him to maintain them during the whole of his sojourn in
Annandale. The expenses which this honour brought upon him were so ruinous,
that the Amisfield family are said never to have extricated themselves out
of their encumbrance.