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Significant Scots
Thomas Randolph


RANDOLPH, THOMAS, EARL OF MORAY.—This ancient Scottish paladin, who occupies so prominent a part in the wars of Robert Bruce, was sister’s son of that great sovereign. He first appears among the adherents of good King Robert, when the latter commenced his desperate attempt to win the crown of Scotland, and make it worth wearing. In this way his name, as Thomas Randolph, knight of Strahdon, occurs in the list of that intrepid band who crowned his uncle at Scone; and in the disastrous skirmish soon after, near Methven, he was one of the prisoners who fell into the hands of the English. As the insurgent Scots were regarded as rebels against their liege lord, Edward I., the usual laws of war were dispensed with; and thus, either with or without trial, the noblest and best of Scotland were consigned to the dungeon or the gallows. The worst of these alternatives would probably have been the fate of Randolph, in consequence of his near relationship to Bruce, had not the brave Adam De Gordon, who was a favourite with the English king, interceded in his behalf. Randolph’s life in consequence was spared, but it was only on condition that he should swear fealty to Edward; and to this he submitted with that facility so characteristic of the knightly fidelity of the middle ages. He swore that he would be Edward’s man, and the deadly enemy of all his enemies (including, of course, his own uncle and kindred), and thus was transformed in a trice from a Scottish patriot into a friend and servant of the oppressor. If anything can apologize for such tergiversation, it might be the difficulty of deciding at times with which party the right remained; and many may have thought, with Sir Roger de Coverly, that much might be said on both sides—especially when they had a gallows in view.

Randolph having thus changed his party, appears to have fought for it with a courage that did not belie his future renown. He was even among that band, headed by Aymer de Valence and John of Lorn, that chased Robert Bruce among the wilds of Galloway with blood-hounds, and nearly succeeded in capturing or slaying him. On this occasion, Sir Thomas pursued the chase so eagerly, that he took his uncle’s standard-bearer prisoner, along with the royal banner. But this unworthy alienation was not to continue much longer, and an event occurred by which Randolph was to be recovered to his country and his true fame. At this time Sir James Douglas, renowned far and wide by his terrible vengeance upon the English, who had garrisoned the castle of his fathers, was intrenched among the depths of Ettrick Forest, and making it good by prowess and stratagem against every assailant. This was a tempting adventure for Randolph, and accordingly, accompanied by Sir Alexander Stewart of Bonkill, and Sir Adam Gordon—Anglicized Scots, like himself—he set off upon the enterprise, and encamped for the night at a solitary house on the Lyne-water, a tributary stream that falls into the Tweed a little above Peebles. Douglas, however, whom no enemy ever caught asleep, happened to be in the neighbourhood; and on approaching the house, he overheard some one within exclaiming "the devil!" with true military emphasis. Guessing from this token that the building was tenanted by stout soldiers, he made a sudden assault, scattered the surprised inmates, and captured Stewart and Randolph, whom he conducted to his master next morning. The meeting between the king and his renegade nephew was characteristic of such a party-changing period. "Nephew," said Bruce, "you have for a while renounced your faith, but now you must be reconciled to me." "You reproach me," answered the nephew sharply, "and yet better deserve to be reproached yourself; for since you made war against the king of England, you should have vindicated your right in the open field, and not by cowardly sleights and skirmishes." "That may hereafter fall out, and soon," replied the king—who had commenced in this very fashion, until misfortune taught him a wiser course of action—"meantime, since you have spoken so rudely, it is fitting that your proud words should receive due chastisement, until you learn to know the right, and how to it as you ought." After this sage rebuke, Randolph was sent into close and solitary confinement, to digest the lesson at leisure. How wisely such a punishment was inflicted, and how well it wrought, was attested not only in the future life of Randolph, but in the history of his country.

On being set at liberty, Randolph was not only restored to the king’s favour, but invested with the earldom of Moray, which had large territories attached to it; and having set these in order, he repaired to that warfare in which he was to be surpassed by none except Bruce himself. It was now also, perhaps, that the generous rivalry commenced between him and his gallant captor, Sir James Douglas, which continued to the end of their lives. This noble contention was now signalized by the "good Lord James" undertaking the siege of Roxburgh Castle, and Randolph that of Edinburgh, the two strongest fortresses in the kingdom, and still in possession of the English. The garrison in Edinburgh Castle was commanded by Sir Piers Leland, a knight of Gascony, but the soldiers having suspected him of holding communication with the Scottish king, deposed and imprisoned him, and set one of their own countrymen in his place, who was both wight and wise. While Randolph beleaguered the well-defended castle, tidings reached him that Douglas had succeeded at Roxburgh; and perceiving that force was useless, he resolved, like his rival in arms, to have recourse to stratagem. A favourable opportunity soon occurred. One of his soldiers, William Frank, had in his youth been wont to descend from the apparently inaccessible ramparts by a secret way in the rock, aided by a ladder of ropes, to visit a woman in the town with whom he intrigued; and he now offered to be the foremost man in conducting a party up the same path, which he still distinctly remembered. The proposal was accepted, and Randolph, with thirty followers, and Frank for his guide, commenced at midnight this dangerous escalade. With the aid of a rope-ladder they ascended in file, one man, following another in silence, and by ways where a single false step might have precipitated the whole party to the bottom, or roused the sentinels above. They could even hear the footsteps of the guards going their rounds upon the ramparts. At this instant a stone came whizzing over their heads, with a cry from above, "Aha! I see you!" and they thought that all was over. "Now, help them, God," exclaims Barbour, at this point of the narrative, "for in great peril are they!" But the sentry who had thrown the stone and uttered the cry, saw and suspected nothing, and was merely diverting his companions. After waiting till all was quiet, they resumed their desperate attempt, but had scarcely reached the top of the wall, Randolph being the third man who ascended, than the alarmed garrison rushed out upon them, and a desperate fight commenced. It fared, however, with the English as is the wont of such strange surprisals; they were confounded, driven together in heaps, and unfitted either for safe flight or effectual resistance. The result was, that the governor and several of his soldiers were slain, others threw themselves from the ramparts, and the rest surrendered.

While the report of this gallant deed was still circulating throughout the country, those events occurred that led to the battle of Bannockburn. At this great assize of arms, which seemed to be the last appeal of Scottish liberty previous to the final and decisive sentence, the arrangements which Bruce made for the trial were such a master-piece of strategy as has seldom been equalled, even by the science of modern warfare. Among these dispositions, the command of the left wing was intrusted to Randolph, with strict charge to prevent the English from throwing reinforcements into the castle of Stirling. Here, however, the cunning captor of Edinburgh Castle was about to be out-witted in turn, for 800 horsemen detached from the English army, under the command of Sir Robert Clifford, made a circuit by the low grounds to the east, and, unperceived by Randolph, whose post they had thus turned, were in full progress to the castle. The quick military eye of Bruce detected the movement, and riding up to the earl, he pointed to the detachment, and sharply exclaimed, "A rose has fallen from your chaplet!" Impatient to retrieve his lost honour, and recover the important pass, which was the key of the Scottish position, Randolph, at the head of 500 spearmen, hurried off with such speed, that he soon interposed his force between the enemy and the castle. The English thus interrupted, resolved to reach the castle by trampling down the little band with a single charge, and for this purpose came on with loosened rein. This contempt of foot soldiers, which was common to the chivalry of the period, cost them dear, for Randolph causing his men to place themselves in a ring, back to back, with their spears pointing outward, presented an impenetrable hedge to the enemy, through which they were unable to ride. Still, the appearance of that charge, as seen from the Scottish army, was so terrible, and the little phalanx was so eclipsed by the throng of cavaliers that surrounded and seemed to tread it under foot, that Sir James Douglas could endure the sight no longer, and cried to the king, "Ah, sir! the Earl of Moray is in danger unless he is aided: with your leave, therefore, I will speed to his rescue." "No," replied the king, "you shall not stir a foot for him: whether he may win or lose, I cannot alter my plan of battle." But Douglas was not to be thus silenced. "I may not stand by," he impetuously exclaimed, "when I can bring him aid, and therefore, with your leave, I will assuredly help him or die with him!" Having extorted from the king a reluctant assent, he hastened to the aid of his rival; but before he could reach the spot, he saw that the Scottish phalanx was still unbroken, while the English cavalry were reeling in disorder, and had already lost some of their bravest. On seeing this, Douglas cried to his party, "Halt! our friends will soon be victorious without our help; let us not therefore lessen their glory by sharing it!" His prediction was accomplished, for Randolph and his band so bestirred themselves, that the English were broken and chased off the field, while the earl, with the loss of only one yeoman, returned to his companions.

In the great battle that followed, by which the independence of Scotland was secured, the master-mind and towering form of the Bruce are so pre-eminent over every part of the field, that no room is left for meaner men. On this account we cannot discover the gallant Randolph amidst the dust and confusion of the strife, where he no doubt performed the office of a gallant man-at-arms, as well as a wise and prompt captain. He figures, indeed, in Barbour, where, as leader of the left wing, he resisted the shock of the English cavalry, in which the enemy chiefly rested their hopes, and kept his ground so gallantly, although his troops looked "as thai war plungyt in the se," that

"Quha sa had sene thaim that day,
I trow forsuth that thai suld say
That thai suld do thair deiver wele,
Swa that thair fayis suld it felle."

His name next appears in the parliament held at Ayr on the 26th of April, 1315, when an act was passed for the succession to the crown of Scotland. On this occasion it was ordained, that should the king or his brother, Edward Bruce, die during the minority of the heirs male of their bodies, "Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, should be guardian of the heir, and of the kingdom, until the major part of the states should hold the heir fit to administer the government in his own person." In an important event that occurred only one month afterwards—the invasion of the Scots into Ireland, for the purpose of driving the English out of that island, and placing Edward Bruce upon its throne—Randolph was one of the principal leaders of the expedition, and, as such, was repeatedly employed in bringing over reinforcements from Scotland. Three years afterwards (1318), while Bruce was laying siege to Berwick, Spalding, one of the citizens, who had been harshly treated by the governor of Berwick, offered, by letter written to a Scottish nobleman, to betray upon a certain night the post upon which he was appointed to mount guard. This lord, unwilling to act in so important a matter upon his own responsibility, brought the letter to the king. "You did well," said Bruce, "that you revealed this to me, instead of to Randolph or to Douglas, for you would thus have offended the one whom you did not trust. Both of them, however, shall aid you in this adventure." The rival pair were accordingly enlisted for the purpose, and under their joint efforts the important town of Berwick was taken in a few hours.

The loss of Berwick was so disastrous to the English, as it furnished an open door to Scottish invasion, that they made every effort to recover it; and for this purpose they laid siege to it in such force, and with a camp so well fortified, that to assail them would have been a perilous adventure. Bruce, therefore, resolved to withdraw them by an invasion of England, and for this purpose sent Randolph and Douglas, at the head of 15,000 soldiers, who penetrated through the West Marches, wasted Yorkshire, and attempted to carry off the queen of. Edward II., at that time residing near York, whom they meant to keep as a hostage for their retention of Berwick. But, unluckily for these heroes— and more unluckily by far for her husband, to whom her bondage would have been a blessing—the queen escaped when she was almost within their toils. A battle followed soon after, in which the English, under the command of the Archbishop of York, were routed at Mitton, near Borough-Bridge, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, with great slaughter; and such was the number of priests who accompanied the standard of the archbishop, and fell on this occasion, that the Scots derisively termed it the "Chapter of Mitten." This event raised the siege of Berwick, and although the English army on its way homeward endeavoured to intercept the Scots, Randolph and Douglas eluded them, and returned in safety to Scotland. Another expedition into England, in which the pair were engaged under the leading of Bruce himself, occurred in 1322, or three years after the victory at Mitton. On this occasion the Scots almost succeeded, by a forced march, in capturing Edward II. himself, at the monastery of Bilaud, in Yorkshire; and although he escaped with difficulty to York, it was after leaving all his baggage and treasure in the hands of the pursuers. During this campaign Bruce resolved to attack the English camp, which was so completely fortified that it could only be reached, as was supposed, by a narrow pass. This pass Douglas undertook to force, and Randolph generously left his own command to serve as volunteer under him. The English gallantly defended this entrance to the camp; but while their attention was thus wholly occupied, Bruce, who was skilled in mountain warfare, turned their position in the rear by a body of Highlanders and Islesmen, who scaled the precipices, and unexpectedly came down upon the English while they were fully occupied with Randolph and Douglas in front.

The Earl of Moray was now to combat the enemy upon a new field of battle, and with very different weapons, in the capacity of envoy to the court of Rome, by which his sovereign had been excommunicated for the murder of Comyn, and where envoys from England were busily employed in stirring up the pontiff against the Scots. It was a strange match, where an illiterate soldier had to confront a conclave—a blunt straightforward Scot to wage a controversy with Italian cunning and finesse—and it was a still stranger result that the ultramontane, the barbarian, the man of Thule, should have had the best of it. Perhaps the College of Cardinals thought it impossible that such a person could know anything of the "trick of fence" in a political conflict, and therefore did not think it worth while to "lie at their old ward." Be that as it may, Randolph managed the negotiation so wisely and dexterously, that in spite of the evil odour under which his master’s reputation suffered at the papal court, and in spite of the intervention of wealthy powerful England—compared with which the interests of Scotland were of little price at Rome—the pope accorded to Bruce a temporary absolution, by refusing the request of his enemies to ratify and publish, in due form, the sentence of excommunication—accorded to the Scots the right of electing their own bishops, although they had been accused of despising the authority of the church, slaughtering ecclesiastics, and subjecting them to capital trial and punishment, and showing, on not a few occasions, a strong leaning towards heresy—and gave Bruce himself the title of KING, thus recognizing his right to rule as a legitimate sovereign, notwithstanding his ecclesiastical offences, the claims of the house of Comyn to the Scottish throne, and the still more formidable pretensions of Edward II. himself, as lord paramount of Scotland. After having suffered these concessions to be extracted from him, the pope seems to have been astonished at his own facility; and he wrote accordingly to the king of England an apologetic letter, in which he fully stated the inducements presented to him by the Scottish envoy. This missive is a most incontestable proof of the sagacity of Randolph, and shows that he was as fitted to excel in diplomacy as in war.

After having accomplished the emancipation of Scotland, the great work for which he had lived, and toiled, and suffered, Robert Bruce, prematurely worn out by his heroic exertions, and languishing under an incurable disease, retired to a castle on the banks of the Clyde, to spend in peace the few days that might be allotted him, and prepare for his departure. Still it was necessary, for the purpose of securing the advantages he had already won, to continue the war against England, until the independence of his country was fully recognized by the latter. This was the more necessary, as Edward III. had now succeeded to the English throne, and, although only sixteen years old, was already impatient to win his spurs, and giving promise that he might become as formidable a foe to Scotland as his grandfather, Edward I., had been. Bruce, therefore, from his sick-bed, dictated the plan of a formidable invasion into England, and intrusted the management of it to Randolph and Douglas, upon whose fitness for the under taking he could now confidently rely, for hitherto they had been his right and left arms during the course of the eventful war. Seldom, indeed, have two military rivals been so completely at one in their joint undertakings, so that what the wisdom of the one could plan, the daring courage of the other was fully ready to execute. In this respect Randolph, who was the chief leader of the enterprise, appears to have wonderfully changed from that fiery young knight of Strahdon, who joined in the hot chase against his uncle in the wilds of Galloway, and afterwards, when taken prisoner, had reproached him to his beard for having recourse to delays and stratagems, instead of hazarding all upon an open field. His wisdom was as conspicuous through the whole of this singular campaign, as the daring valour and chivalrous deeds of the Douglas. Into the particulars of the campaign itself we do not enter, as these have been fully detailed in another part of this work. [See Sir James Douglas.] After the pair had wrought fearful havoc, defied the whole chivalry of England, and shifted their ground so rapidly that they could not be overtaken, or intrenched themselves so skilfully that they could not be attacked, they returned to Scotland unmolested, and laden with plunder. The blow they had dealt on this occasion was so heavy, that England, wearied with so disastrous a strife, succumbed to a treaty of peace, which was ratified in a parliament held at Northampton in April, 1328. The conditions were glorious to Scotland, for by these the independence of the kingdom was recognized, and all the advantages that Edward I. had won with so much toil and expense, were renounced and relinquished; and, if not honourable, they were absolutely necessary for England, whose treasures were exhausted, and her people dispirited by defeat, while her councils, controlled by a profligate queen and her minion, promised to end in nothing but ruin and shame.

Only a year after this event, by which Bruce’s utmost hopes were realized, he breathed his last, at Cardross, surrounded by the faithful warriors who had partaken of his victories, as well as his trials and cares. His dying testament, which he gave on this occasion, for the future protection of the kingdom, as well as the commission which he intrusted to the "good Lord James," to carry his heart to the holy sepulchre, are matters familiar to every reader of Scottish history. By the act of settlement, passed in 1315, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, became regent of the kingdom during the minority of his young cousin, David II.

On entering upon the duties of the regency, the Earl of Moray showed himself not only an able but strict and stern justiciary. In such a situation, indeed, severity to the criminal was true clemency to society at large, in consequence of the wild insecurity which so protracted a warfare had occasioned. The strictness with which he enforced the laws, gives us not only a strange picture of the state of society in general, but the nature of Scottish legislation since the days of Malcolm Canmore. Minstrels and players, who often made their profession a cover for every kind of license, he prohibited from wandering about the country, under severe penalties. If any one assaulted a traveller, or any public officer while in the discharge of his duty, he made it lawful for any man to kill the offender. To prevent robberies, and promote a feeling of security among the industrious, he made a law that the countrymen should leave their iron tools and plough-gear in the field, and that they should not shut their houses nor stalls at night. If anything was stolen, the loss was to be repaired by the sheriff of the county, and the sheriff was to be reimbursed by the king; and the king was to be indemnified out of the goods of the robbers when they were taken. To insure the due execution of the laws, he also held justice-aires, travelling for this purpose over the whole country; and while his sentences were severe, and often measured by the mere purpose of the criminal, whether it had succeeded or not, prompt execution was certain to follow. Thus, at a justice-court which he held at Wigton, a man complained at his tribunal that an ambush was placed in a neighbouring wood for the purpose of murdering him, but that happily he escaped it, and now claimed protection. Randolph immediately sent to the place, where the men in ambush were arrested, and had them forthwith executed, as if they had committed the murder. On another occasion, he showed an instance of boldness in vindicating the claims of natural justice, in defiance of ecclesiastical immunities, upon which few in England, or even in Europe, whether magistrate or king, would have dared to venture. A man having slain a priest, had subsequently passed over to Rome, where, after confession of his offence, and full performance of penance, he received clerical absolution. Being thus, as he thought, rectus in curia, he ventured back to Scotland, as if every penalty had been liquidated, and, in an evil hour for himself, ventured into the presence of Randolph. while the latter was holding a justice-court at Inverness. The quick eye of the earl detected the culprit, who was immediately arrested, and placed on trial for the murder. The man pleaded that the person he had slain was a priest, not a layman; and that for this he had received the absolution of the church, whose subject the priest was. But this was not enough for Randolph; the priest, he said, was a Scottish subject and king’s liege-man, irrespective of his clerical office; and, therefore, as the murderer of a Scottish subject, the culprit was adjudged to suffer the full penalty of the law.

Although a perpetual peace had been ratified between Scotland and England, the injuries each country had received were too recent, and the claims for compensation were too numerous and unreasonable, to give hope that it would be lasting. Scarcely, therefore, had Randolph held the regency for three years, when certain English nobles, who were disappointed in the recovery of their Scottish estates, adopted the cause of Baliol as their pretext for breaking the treaty of Northampton, and made formidable preparations to invade Scotland by sea. In consequence of this intelligence, Randolph assembled an army, and marched to Colbrandspath, expecting the invasion would be made by land; but as soon as he learned that the enemy had embarked at Ravenshire in Holderness, he turned his course northwards, to be ready for the assailants at whatever point they might land in the Forth. But on reaching Musselburgh, his last march was ended. For some time past he had been afflicted with that excruciating disease, the stone, and he suddenly died on the 20th of July, 1332, in the midst of his political anxieties and warlike preparations. Never, indeed, has Scotland—so often harassed with minority and interregnum—possessed, either before or afterwards, such a deputy-sovereign, with the single exception of his noble namesake of after centuries, that Earl of Moray who was called "the good regent." Randolph’s death was the commencement of heavy woes for Scotland. From the suddenness of his departure, and its disastrous consequences, it was suspected that the invaders, who had no hope of success as long as he lived, had caused him to be removed by poison; but the incurable nature of the malady under which he died sufficiently accounts for his decease.


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