Scotland's Story Chapter XXV. John Baliol - The Siege of Berwick
JOHN BALIOL was made king in 1292 A.D., two years
after the death of the Maid of Norway. The crown of Scotland. had indeed
been placed upon his head, but in order to win that crown he had been
obliged to own himself to be the King of England's subject. Perhaps he
thought that to do homage to Edward was only a form, and that once he was
safe upon the throne he would be able to defy the King of England. But
Edward very soon showed him that he was mistaken. Edward was a great king,
and to his own subjects at least, a just one. But lie loved power. He
believed, perhaps, that lie had really the right to be Scotland's over-lord,
and lie meant to insist on that right, not in name only, but in deed.
Whenever King Baliol tried to act as any free king
would, Edward would send for him and scold him, and ask him how he dared act
without leave from his over-lord. If Baliol punished a rebellious noble, the
noble would go to Edward and complain. Then Edward would take the side of
the noble and be angry with Baliol, not perhaps because he cared whether the
noble had been justly or unjustly punished, but because he wanted to make
Baliol feel that he was under the King of England, and must do what he was
No man, however unworthy of the name of
king, could long suffer such tyranny, and soon Baliol, weak though he was,
Edward was at war with France, and
as he wanted more soldiers he sent to Baliol, ordering him to come with some
of his best men to fight for England against France.
But the Scottish people were tired of the insolence
and tyranny of the English King. They had never agreed to Baliol's bargain,
so now they refused to send a single man to fight against the French.
Instead, they drove all the English from the Scottish court, and agreed to
help the French to fight them. Edward was very angry at this, and
gathering an army, he marched into Scotland. The Scots too gathered all
Their Parliament declared, in the name of their King, that they no longer
considered Edward as over-lord, and, in case Baliol should be weak enough to
yield again, they shut him up in a strong castle, and went to war without
But, unfortunately, all the Scottish
people were not united. As many of the great lords owned lands in both
countries, they owed obedience both to the King of Scotland and to the King
of England. in times of peace that did not matter much, but in times of war
it caused great difficulties, for as you know, they only held their lands on
condition of fighting for their over-lord in battle. So, as their two
over-lords were fighting against each other, many of them, as was natural,
sided with the stronger, which was Edward. Besides this, many of the
Scottish lords were angry because Baiol was kept a prisoner, so they would
not join in fighting Edward.
Among those who
fought for Edward was Robert Bruce, the husband of Lady Marjorie. Bruce
joined Edward, because he was an English as well as a Scottish lord, because
he hated Baliol, and because he hoped Baliol would be driven from the
throne, and that then Edward would help him to become King. Edward
marched north as far as Newcastle-upon- Tyne. From there he sent a message
to the King of Scotland, ordering him to come to him. But, after waiting a
few days, and finding that Baliol did not come, he marched oil and crossing
the Tweed, laid siege to the town of Berwick. Berwick was at this time the
most important seaport in Scotland.
siege to a town means to surround it on all sides, so that the people in the
town cannot come out, and so that no one can go in carrying help and food.
Sometimes, if a siege lasts a long time, the people within a town suffer
terribly from hunger.
As the English lay
before Berwick, the Scots taunted King Edward, and made a song about him.
What turns the King Edward With his long shanks,
For to win Berwick And our unthanks? Go pike it him, And when
he have it eon, Go dike it him.
considered very scornful and very funny, and, although it is difficult now
to understand why, it is said to have made King Edward very angry. Perhaps
he did not like being called 'Long Shanks.' He got that name because he was
tall, and had long, thin legs.
The siege of
Berwick did not last long, for although the town was protected by the sea on
one side, on land there was only a low mud wall to keep the enemy back.
Edward attacked it both by land and sea. The Scots set the English ships on
the, and drove them back. But on land, the English army broke down the
walls, and entered the town.
himself, mounted upon his great horse Bayard, was the first to leap over the
wall. After him swarmed his soldiers, eager to kill.
There was terrible bloodshed and slaughter. Such was
the fury of the English, that none were saved, and the streets ran red with
In the town was a place called the Red
House. It belonged to Flemish merchants, who had come to live in Berwick,
and who had helped to make the town rich and prosperous. It was a very
strong place, and when the rest of the town had been taken, the merchants of
the Red House still held out and fought bravely. These gallant men, although
they were not Scotsmen, had made up their minds to die for the land in which
they had found a home.
When the English saw
that they could not take the Red House, they set it on fire. Still, these
brave Flemish merchants would not yield to the English King, and they died,
every man of them, amid the roaring flames, and were buried beneath the
ruins of their Red House.
Then King Edward,
lest the Scots should take their town again, dug a ditch, and built a wall
round it to make it strong. King although he was, he wheeled a barrow and
used a spade himself, so eager was he to encourage the men, and help on the
work. The remains of these fortifications can he seen to this day.
Fortification comes from a Latin word which means 'strong,' so to fortify
means to make strong.
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