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Raiderland, All about Grey Galloway
Chapter 15


A GLIMPSE OF BALMAGHIE IN THE

TIMES OF OLD

  THRIEVE CASTLE and its island are in Balmaghie, and It is quite likely that the central position of the parish, as well as the strength of the situation, may have had something to do with the choice of the warrior lords of Douglas, when they built them their “head-house and principal stronghold of the Thrave."

  At any rate no parish was so immediately under their stern eye as Balmaghie. It was in a manner their home-farm, and the marshy nature of the ground on the Kelton side makes the tradition exceedingly probable that the great Douglas tournaments took place on the braes of Balmaghie, some­where between the fords of Glenlochar and the green hill called Knockcannon, on which in after-times Mons Meg was placed for the battering down of the last strength of the Douglases.

  Thus were the lists closed for the tourney in the times of old.

  “By ten of the clock the braes of Balmaghie were a sight most glorious to look upon. Well-nigh twelve thousand men were gathered there, of whom five thousand were well-mounted knights and fully-equipped men-at-arms, every man of them ready and willing to couch a lance or ride a charge.

  “The line of the tents which had been set up extended from opposite the castle island of Thrieve to the kirk hill of Balmaghie. Every knight's following was strictly kept within its own pale, or fence of green wands set basket-wise, pointed and thrust into the earth like the spring traps of those who catch moudieworts.

  “Each camp displayed the device of its own lord, but higher than all, from the top of every mound and broomy hillock floated the banner of the overlord. This was the lion of Galloway, white on a ground of blue, and beneath it, but on the same staff, a pennon whereon was the Bleeding Heart of the Douglas family.

  “The lists were set up on the level meadow that is now called the Boat Croft. At either end a pavilion had been erected, and the jousting-green was strongly fenced in, with a rising tier of seats for the ladies along one side, and a throne in the midst for the Douglas himself, as high and as nobly upholstered as if the King of Scots had been presiding in person.

  "At ten by the great sun-dial of Thrieve, the earl, armed in complete armour of rare Tourainian work, damascened with gold, and bearing in his hand the truncheon of commander, rode first through the fords of Lochar, and immediately after him came his brother David, a tall, handsome boy of fourteen, whose olive skin and dark high-bred beauty attested his DougIns birth.

  “Next rode their cousin, the Earl of Angus, a red, foxy-­featured man, with mean and shifty eyes. He sat his horse

awkwardly, perpetually hunching his shoulders forward as if he feared to fall over his beast's head. And saving among his own company, no man did him any honour, which caused him to grin with wicked sidelong smiles of hate and envy. .

  "Then amid the shouting of the people there appeared, on a milk-white palfrey, Margaret, the earl's only sister, already famous over all Scotland as ‘The Fair Maid of Galloway.'

 The Tournament at Glenlochar.

 “Behind these came the whole array of the knights and barons who owned allegiance to the Douglas–Herons and Maxwells, Ardwell Macullochs, Gordons from the Glen of Kells, with Agnews and MacDowalls from the Shireside. But above all, and outnumbering all, there were the lesser chiefs of the chief's own mighty name–Douglases of the North, the future Moray and Ormond among them, the noble young sons of James the Gross of Avondale, who rode nearest their cousin, the head of that clan. Then came Douglases of the Border, Douglases of the Hermitage, of Renfrew, of Douglasdale. Every third man in that great company which splashed and caracoled through the fords of Lochar was a William, a James, or an Archibald Douglas. The king himself could not in all Scotland have raised such a following, and it is small wonder if the heart of the young earl expanded within him.

  "Presently, soon after the arrival of the cavalcade, the great wappenshaw was set in array, and forming up company by company the long double line extended as far as the eye could reach from north to south along the side of the broad and sluggish-moving river.

  " The great muster was at last over. The tents which had been dotted thickly athwart the castle island were already mostly struck, and the ground was littered with miscellaneous debris, soon to be carried off in trail carts with square wooden bodies set on boughs of trees, and flung into the river by the earl's varlets and stablemen.

 

  “The multitudinous liege men of the Douglas were by this time streaming homewards along every mountain pass. Over the heather and through the abounding morasses horse and foot took their way, no longer marching in military order, as when they came, but each lance taking the route which appeared the shortest to himself. North, east, and west spear-heads glinted and armour flashed against the brown of the heather and the green of the little vales, wherein the horses bent their heads to pull at the meadow hay as their riders sought the nearest way back again to their peel-towers and forty-shilling lands.

  " But the long files of horsemen threaded their way across the green plain of the isle towards the open space in front of Thrieve Castle, the points of their spears shining high in the air, and the shafts so thick underneath that, seen from a distance, they made a network of slender lines reticulated against the brightness of the sun.

  “The great island strength of the Douglases was then in its highest state of perfection as a fortress and of dignity as a residence. Archibald the Grim, who built the keep, could not have foreseen the wondrous beauty and strength of which Thrieve would attain under his successors. This night of the wappenshaw the lofty grey walls were hung with gaily-coloured tapestries draped from the overhanging gallery of wood which ran round the top of the castle. From the four corners of the roof flew the banners of four provinces which owned the sway of the mighty house–Galloway, Annandale, Lanark, and the Marches, while from the centre, on a flagstaff taller than any, flew their standard royal, for so it might truly be called, the heart and stars of the Douglases' more than royal house.

  “While the outer walls thus blazed with colour, the woods around gave back the constant reverberation of cannon, as with hand-guns and artillery of weight the garrison greeted the return of the earl and his guests. The green castle island was planted from end to end thick with tents and gay with pavilions of many hues and various design, their walls covered with intricate devices, and each flying the colours of its owner; while on poles without dangled shields and harness of various  kinds, ready for the younger squires to polish as their office demanded. Many of these were already at their work. and as one and another joined the throng they took up the chorus of the Douglas gathering-song:–

‘Hasten ye, hastenye! Come to the riding,
Hasten ye, hasten ye, lads of the Dee–
Douglasdale come–come Galloway, Annandale–
Galloway blades are the wale o’ the three!’”
1

1 “The Black Douglas,” p. 163 (Smith, Elder & Co.)


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