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The History of Stirlingshire
Chapter VIII. Battle of Stirlingshire (1297)


The extinction of the royal line of Scotland, by the death of Alexander III., who was killed in the prime of life, by a fall from his horse, at Kinghorn, in March, 1285, created such confusion as brought the kingdom to the very brink of ruin. At that time lived Thomas Learmont of Earlston, commonly called Thomas the Rhymer, on account of his unintelligible rhapsodies, which are extant. Many strange stories are told of him, and among others the following. Having been asked by the Earl of March, the day before the king’s death, what sort of weather the next day would produce, he replied, "Before tomorrow at noon, such a tempest shall blow, as Scotland has not felt for many years." Next forenoon had proved remarkably fine, and the Earl said to him, "Learmont, thou art a false prophet." He answered, "Noon is not yet over." Meanwhile, an express arrived, to inform the Earl of his Majesty’s death. "This is the tempest I have foretold, " quoth the Rhymer, "and so it shall prove to Scotland."

The next heir to the crown was a princess, scarcely three years of age, grandchild of the late king, by his daughter, who had been married to the King of Norway. This infant, commonly called the Maiden of Norway, was immediately acknowledged as queen by the States, who at the same time established a regency for the management of affairs during her minority. Her death, in 1290, threw the kingdom into a general consternation, and left the succession altogether perplexed. The history of the different competitors for the empty throne, upon this occasion, is foreign to our purpose. John Baliol and Robert Bruce, grandfather of the future monarch of this name, were generally allowed to stand foremost in the list; but, as it admitted of dispute to which of them the preference belonged, they both agreed, with the consent of the Scottish nobility, to refer the decision of it to Edward, king of England. A malicious policy, which in all ages has too much guided the councils of princes, suggested to that monarch that he had now in his hands the most favourable opportunity of gratifying his ambition. Instead, therefore, of acting the part of a fair arbiter, he sought to avail himself of the present distracted state of a free people to enslave them. He called in question the independency of Scotland; pretending that that kingdom was a fief of his crown, and subjected to all conditions of a feudal tenure. Each competitor, with a spirit truly mean, acknowledged his claim; as did also many subjects of the greatest distinction. Having thus established his paramount power over Scotland, he decided in favour of Baliol; who instantly did homage, and swore fealty to him as his liege-lord. Bruce, although he did not cordially acquiesce in the sentence, was incapable of making any successful opposition. Edward, however, found his new vassal not so pliant as he had expected. Baliol, either ashamed of a pusillanimity by which he had lost the affection and confidence of his subjects, or sensibly galled by the oppressive yoke wreathed about his neck, began to attempt a more spirited behavior; though the general tenor of his conduct savoured of a feeble and imprudent mind. After having repeatedly discovered a failure of respect to his rigid and imperious lord, he at length expressly renounced his allegiance, and made some feeble exertions to establish his own independence. This so provoked the haughty mind of Edward that he immediately proceeded to every act of tyrannical rage. He invaded Scotland with a numerous army, and after having defeated Baliol at Dunbar, he forced him to a formal surrender of himself and kingdom, and then shut him up in the Tower of London. He filled the garrisons with English soldiers, and carried many of the nobility south, where they were detained as securities for the peaceable behavior of the rest. He required all ranks to swear fealty to him; and the names of those who upon that occasion professed submission, amounting to an amazing number, were inserted in what, from the poverty of many who signed it, has been called "the Ragman Roll." This curious catalogue is preserved in the Tower of London, and was published by Prynne, keeper of the records there. The facility with which so many of the Scots were induced to take repeated oaths of fealty to Edward, which they intended to break upon the first favourable opportunity, is perhaps to be ascribed not so much to necessity, and the influence of superior force, as to the genius of that popular creed which sapped all the foundations of morality, and proclaimed a license to crimes, by establishing the delusive doctrine of absolution for a small pecuniary consideration. It ought, however, in candour, to be stated, that this abominable casuistry has not, in practice, been confined to the Papal period. Mr. Wodrow says of a similar roll, "I find it said that many of these who signed the bone" of allegiance, after the battle of Bothwell-bridge, "did it under the thoughts, that their rising was not against his Majesty’s authority, and, consequently, that it did not bind them up from any such appearance, when occasion offered again." Prynne, who, indeed, is a special pleader, and, in the title-page of his voluminous work, is styled "a Bencher and Reader of Lincoln’s Inn," diffusely displays a laudable indignation at the apostacy of those who had signed the Ragman Roll. "All these abbots," says he, "abbesses, priors, parsons, friars, earls, lords, knights, citizens, burgesses, communalities in Scotland, in the Parliament held at Berwick, by their joynt and several deeds, under their respective seals, dated at Berwick, the 24th day of August in the 24th year of the reign of Edward I.," are here inserted to "evidence to the Scottish nation, their most execrable perjury, treachery, disloyalty to King Edward, in revolting form, confederating with, and adhering to the French kings, rebelling against Edward and his posterity, kings of England, soon after these their most solemn doubled, yea trebled abjurations, oaths, homages, leagues, convenants, ratified with their respective publicke and private deeds and seals to the contrary, recorded in these rolls to all posterity." Amid the general want of patriotism among the Scots at this melancholy epoch, we find two priests who had the boldness to excommunicate Edward before his whole army. "At a goal delivery at Striveling, on Thursday, the first of the feast of St. Michael, 24 Ed. I. (1296), Thomas, chaplain of Edinburgh, was attached, for that he had publicly excommunicated Edward, our Lord the king, by bell and candle, before the army, in despite of our Lord the king; and also Richard Tulle was attached, for that he had rung the bell on that occasion in contempt of the king. They were both afterwards delivered to the Archdeacon of Loves.

Edward having seized the public archives, and getting possession of many historical monuments proving the antiquity and freedom of Scotland, was the means of their destruction. He also appointed a lieutenant, with other officers of state, in that kingdom, and settled the government of it as if it had been a province of England.

The Scottish nation were partly so blind to their interest, partly so intimidated, that, at first, they silently acquiesced in Edward’s claims, and beheld the various acts of his oppressive usurpation, without making any vigorous attempts to preserve their independence. At length, a patriot hero stept forth to stem the tide of foreign tyranny and assert the liberties of his country. This was the renowned Sir William Wallace, second son of Malcolm Wallace, of Elderslie, near Paisley, by his wife, who was a daughter of Ronald Crawford, Sheriff of Ayr. He was a man of great sagacity of mind, and uncommon bodily strength. He had beheld, with deep concern, the fetters worn by his countrymen; and had the honour of being the first who rekindled the almost extinguished spark of liberty among them. His first appearance was in no higher a character than that of volunteer for the freedom of his country. In his mouth he had often the following monkish couplet, composed by his uncle, who was pastor at Dunipace:

"Dico tibi verum, libertas est optima rerum.
Nunquam servili sub nexu vivite, fili."

Having communicated his sentiments to a few friends, he found them animated by the same spirit, and equally disdainful of the claims of England. An illustrious fraternity was soon formed, with the laudable view of delivering Scotland from thralldom, and restoring her independence. And, although they had not the sanction of public authority, the circumstances of the nation sufficiently vindicate their conduct. The premature death of Margaret of Norway had prevented the much-to-be-wished-for union of the two kingdoms upon the honourable, and, in some degree, equal terms of matrimonial connexion. And now, while reaping the fruits of a union which was accomplished some centuries after, we are the better in a condition to perceive the force and beauty of the poet’s sentiments put into the mouth of the heroine of an exquisite drama whose scene is Stirlingshire, and period the eleventh century. The extract is from the play of "Douglas," by Home.

"War I detest; but war with foreign foes,
Whose manners, language, and whose looks are strange,
Is not so horrid, nor to me so hateful
As that which with our neighbours oft we wage.
A river here, there an ideal line
By Fancy drawn, divides the Sister-Kingdoms;
On each side dwells a People, similar
As twins are to each other, valiant both –
Both for their valour famous through the world.
Yet will they not unite their kindred arms,
And, if they must have war, wage distant war;
But with each other fight in cruel conflict.
Gallant in strife, and noble in their ire,
The battle is their pastime. They go forth
Gay, in the morning, as to summer-sport:
When evening comes, the glory of the morn
(The youthful warrior) is a clod of clay.
Thus fall the prime of either hapless land!
And such the fruit of Scotch and English wars!"

Wallace, having the direction of this association, began the execution of his designs by attacking and cutting off such small bodies of the English as he found traversing the country. He next proceeded to attack their forts, and carried many of them by storm. Frequent exploits soon rendered his name conspicuous; and every advantage gave new spirits to his little band, and encouraged others to join him, till, at length, he found himself at the head of a considerable army.

He had not, indeed, the happiness of seeing his patriotic design so generally supported as it deserved. His feats, however, though not crowned with final success, preserved the spirit of liberty, and paved the way to that independence, which the nation, not long after his death, obtained.

Sundry places in Stirlingshire are still memorable for having been the scenes of this hero’s exploits. Torwood was a place where he and his party, when engaged in any expedition in this part of the country, often held their rendezvous, and to which they retreated in the hour of danger. At Gargunnock the English had a small fort called "the Peel," in which a garrison was stationed, to watch the passage of the Forth at the ford of Frew, in its neighbourhood. Wallace, with a small party, attacking this fort, carried it by storm. The same success attended him in an assault upon the tower of Airth, which was garrisoned by English soldiers, whom he put to the sword.

Edward was then in France, waging war on that nation. He sent over a very express commission to John de Warrenne, earl of Surrey and Sussex, whom he had appointed lieutenant in Scotland, and Hugh Cressingham, the treasurer, to suppress the Scottish insurrection. They raised an army of 50,000 foot, beside 1,000 horse, and advanced towards Stirling in quest of Wallace, then in the north, and engaged in reducing the English fortresses. Having obtained timeous intelligence of the formidable armament advancing against him, he quickly collected an army of 10,000, and, with great celerity, marched southward, to dispute the passage of the Forth.

When the English had come in sight of Stirling, they beheld the Scottish army posted near Cambuskenneth, on a hill now known by the name of the Abbey-Craig. The two armies continued some time in full view of each other, on opposite banks of the river. The English generals sent two Dominican friars to offer peace to Wallace and his followers, upon their submission. Wallace replied that the Scots had come thither to fight, not to treat; and that their country’s freedom was the great object they had in view, and what they were prepared to defend. He concluded by challenging the English to advance. His answer so provoked the hostile commanders, that they immediately prepared to cross the river and attack the Scots.

The bridge across the Forth was then of timber, and stood at Kildean, half-a-mile above the present bridge. Some remains of the stone-pillars which supported the wooden beams, are still to be seen. Though this bridge was so narrow that only two persons abreast could pass it, the English generals proposed to transport along it their numerous army. One Lunday, however, strenuously opposed the measure; and pointed out a neighbouring ford, where they could easily pass sixty abreast. He had suspected a snare from Wallace, whose genius he knew to be very fertile in stratagems, and sagacity too great to risk a battle with so small a handful of men, without having made some unseen preparations to compensate the vast inequality of numbers. No regard, however, was paid to Lunday’s opinion. The event soon showed how just it was.

The English army continued to cross by the bridge, from the dawn till eleven o’clock, without any impediment. Now, indeed, the Scots had advanced to attack those who had got across; and they had also sent a strong detachment to stop the passage. This they effected; and caused so great a confusion amongst the English, that many upon the bridge, in attempting to return, were precipitated into the water and drowned.

Some writers affirm that the wooden fabric suddenly gave way by the weight, or rather by the stratagem of Wallace, who, guessing that the enemy would pass that way, had ordered the main beam to be sawn so artfully, that the removal of a single wedge should cause the downfall of the whole erection; and had stationed a man beneath it in a basket, in such a manner, as that, unhurt himself, he could execute the design upon a signal, viz., the blowing of a horn by the Scottish army.

By this means, numbers fell into the river; and those who had passed were vigorously attacked by Wallace. They fought for a while with great bravery, under the command of Sir Marmaduke Twenge, an officer of noted courage and experience. The Scots at first made a feint of retreating; but, soon facing about, gave the enemy a vigorous onset, whilst a party, who had taken a compass round the Abbey Craig, fell upon the rear. The English were at last entirely routed, and five thousand of them slain; amongst whom was a nephew of Sir Marmaduke Twenge, a youth of great hopes, whose death was generally lamented. Sir Marmaduke, with the rest falling back to the river, crossed it with much difficulty. Some finding fords, plunged through with great precipitation, and others escaped by swimming.

Cressingham was amongst the slain, having early passed the bridge in full confidence of victory. He was an ecclesiastic; but, as in those times, it was common for such to possess civil offices, he had been advanced by Edward to that of High Treasurer of Scotland. His rapine and oppression had rendered him very detestable. The Scots, however, disgraced their victory, by their treatment of his corpse. They flayed off the skin, and cut it in pieces, to make girths and other furniture for their horses.

The battle of Stirling was fought on the 13th of September, 1297. The scene of action appears to have been about the place now called Corntown, and in a plain north of the river, opposite to the castle. It was the most complete victory that Wallace had ever gained in a regularly fought field. Nor was his loss considerable. Sir Andrew Moray of Bothwell was the only person of note amongst the slain.

The Earl of Surrey, who, with the rest of the English army, was upon the south side of the river, beholding this disaster, immediately retreated southward, after having set fire to the remains of the bridge, to prevent a quick pursuit from the victorious Scots. He was greatly harassed, however, in his march by the Lord High Steward, and the Earl of Lennox, who came upon him from behind the neighbouring mountains, where, with a large force, they had been posted in ambush. Wallace, too, having speedily crossed, soon joined them; and coming up with the main body of the retreating army at Torwood, commenced a sharp action. The Scots obtained the victory, and Surrey himself escaped with great difficulty, being so closely pursued, that the historians of those times have been careful to inform us, that, when he had reached Berwick, his horse was so fatigued as to be unable to eat.

This signal victory so raised the fame of Wallace, and struck the English with such terror, that they yielded up their forts, as soon as he had appeared before them. In a few months, all the places of strength in the kingdom were recovered, and scarce an Englishman was to be seen in the country.

The Scots, also, looking upon the brave Sir William as the deliverer of their country, crowded to his standard; and an assembly of the States chose him to be general of the army, and protector of the kingdom, under Baliol, who was still in a state of confinement. This high office he executed with great dignity, though not without much envy and malevolent opposition from several of the chief nobility. He found, however, as many among the middle ranks, friends of liberty, as not only supported him in the internal government of the kingdom, but enabled him to penetrate into England.


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