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History Of The Scottish Nation
Vol 3, Chapter 20 - David I and new age Europe; The Anglo-Saxon Line in England


Alexander dying without issue, David, the youngest of the sons of Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret, ascended the throne (1124). The accession of David synchronises with a great epoch in the history of Europe. For some centuries the ecclesiastical authority had been slowly but steadily gaining upon the civil power, and undermining its foundations. Under the insidious working of the former, the sphere within which kings were to exercise their authority and nations their independence was continually narrowing, and all the while the spiritual was a constantly widening the limits of its jurisdiction, and boldly pushing its arrogant claims to absolute and supreme sovereignty.

These lofty pretensions it based on its higher origin and nature. It was spiritual, and must take precedence of what was temporal; it was from heaven, and must therefore govern, and not be governed by what was merely terrestrial. It claimed, in fact, to be able to produce in writing a divine charter, setting it over the whole of mundane society, and commanding kings and all in authority to be obedient to it. When it found that it could not obtain the submission of men simply by the dogmatic proclamation of this vast prerogative it had recourse to the sword. The prolonged and sanguinary conflict to which this claim gave rise is known in history as "the war of the mitre against the empire." This was waged betwixt the pontiffs of Italy and the emperors of Germany. Nevertheless although these were the two powers immediately concerned, there was not a kingdom in Europe that had not a stake in the controversy, seeing what was aimed at was the subordination of the civil magistracy all over Christendom, and the installation of a spiritual magistracy in its room, with its centre and head at Rome. This was what lay under the claim of the pontiff to the investiture of bishops. It seems plausible and right that the spiritual monarch of Christendom should appoint his spiritual prefects and magistrates throughout all his dominions, but a moment’s reflection will show us that this arrangement lodged the government of Christendom, temporal and spiritual, in one centre, and that centre the papal chair.

This great war had ended in the triumph of the mitre. It is not easy to take in all at once the dimensions of this revolution. It had turned the world upside down. For some centuries to come the church and not the empire was to be the ruler of the nations. Kings and emperors were to be subject to pontiffs and bishops. The "church" was to have full freedom to display what of power was in her for good or for evil. For this end a large measure of time, as well as power was accorded her. The struggled she had waged had brought her dominion, not for a few years, but for three centuries, and if her fitness to reign was at all what she pretended it to be, how great the happiness in store for the world! The church was to stand at the helm during the currency of these happy centuries. Laymen were to withdraw their unholy hands from the administration of affairs. They did so. Century after century the laity fell more and more into the background, while the ecclesiastical caste came to the front, and blossomed into power and wealth and grandeur and great dominion.

It was just when this revolution had been accomplished, and only a few years after the pontiff to whose daring and genius it was owing, had gone to the tomb that David came to the throne of Scotland. Did he find his northern kingdom untouched by this revolution? Remote from Rome, and the seat of a church which for five centuries had protested against her assumptions, one might have indulged the hop that Scotland had escaped the spirit of change that was abroad. But no; the theocratic element pervaded the air of all Christendom. It had reached the shores of Scotland before David took possession of its throne. Its first entrance was with the monk Egbert, through whom Rome won her first victory in our country, when her emissary prevailed on the elders of Iona to bow their heads and receive her tonsure—a little rite but of vast significance, as are all the rites of Rome. The door thus set ajar was thrown wide open by Queen Margaret. The pope had crept stealthily into the chair of Columba under Egbert, covering the tiara with the cowl. Under Margaret he walked in openly and planted his jurisdiction at the heart of the kingdom, though not without opposition and remonstrance. And last of all came King David to complete the change which his mother had inaugurated.

Before entering on what was the great event of David’s reign, and the great labour of his life, let us contemplate him as a man and as a king. He is undoubtedly one of the best of our early princes. In the long line of our monarchs there are few figures that draw the eye so powerfully to them, or that reward its gaze by imparting so much pleasure. In David some of the best qualities of his mother live over again. As a man he is capable and sagacious. He is healthy in his tastes and amusements. He has sunk nothing of his manhood in the prince: he is courteous in manners, benevolent in disposition; like his mother he cares for the poor, but his compassion and charity do not take the form of those menial personal services in which Margaret so delighted, and which while they made such heavy demands on her time and strength, did but little, we fear, to diminish the pauperism of her husband’s dominions. History has no vice of which to accuse him. It records against him no dishonoured friendships, no violated pledges, no desecrated family or social ties. He was unstained by treachery or cowardice. He shunned the enticements of the wine cup, and he kept himself uncontaminated by the baser passions in which too many monarchs have sunk character and manhood.

King David was a lover of justice. So far as he could help it, no one of his subjects should have cause to say that he had been wronged in judgment. He put his own hand to the work. Though one of the most onerous, anxious, and responsible of the functions of royalty, he did not roll over on his judges the entire burden of the administration of the laws. He shared the labour with them, making justice all the sweeter, and it might be the purer, that it came direct from the royal hand. The sentence was the more welcome and the more sacred that the royal mouth had spoken it. And he was a patient and painstaking administrator. We see him sitting at the gates of his palace waiting there to give audience to the humblest subject, and pronounce judgment in the humblest cause. David inherited the Norman passion for the chase. It was absolute exhilaration to him to vault into the saddle on a crisp September morning, and uncoupling hound and falcon, to ride away, followed by his attendants, through forest and moor, in pursuit of hart and roe, and wild boar. At the call of duty, however, he could forego this dearly loved sport. It would happen at times, so says his contemporary and biographer, Abbot Ailred, when the king was in the saddle and the hawks unloosed for a day’s hunting, that there would come a suitor craving audience of him. The gracious sovereign would instantly dismount, lead the applicant into his closet, and patiently listen while he explained and enforced his suit. The steeds were led back to the stable, hound and hawk were returned into the leash, and the hunt which had been arranged and looked forward to with such anticipations of delight was postponed to the first convenient day.

David was monarch of a country abounding in every variety of picturesque scenery, from the dark glen amid the rugged Grampians to the soft open and sunny vales which the Jed or the Dee waters. To him nature opened those sources of quiet but exquisite enjoyment which she locks up from the sensualist and the voluptuary. We infer his appreciation of the beautiful in landscape from his frequent and extensive peregrinations through his dominions. He looked at his kingdom with his own eyes. He investigated the condition of his subjects by contact and converse with them in their dwellings, and the plough, at their handicrafts, or among their flocks and herds. This exercised and extended his powers of the observation, and gave him more real knowledge of his subjects in the course of a single journey than he would have acquired in a year from the reports of his officers and justiciars.

While the monarch thus gathered knowledge he at the same time reaped enjoyment. We trace his movements in the numerous charters which he issued, and which show that while there was scarcely any part of his dominions which he did not visit, he was partial to certain spots, and those the most marked by their natural beauty. He paid occasional visits to the Forest Tower at Dunfermline, drawn thither doubtless by the touching memories of his mother rather than by any natural beauty of which the place can boast. Stirling was a favourite residence of the monarch. From the battlements of his castle he could look down on the rich corn lands of the Carse, through which, in silvery mazes, the Forth would be seen stealing quietly onwards to the ocean. While the incessant flickering of light and shade on the Ochils gave a magic beauty to the great bounding wall of the valley. There was one spot within range of David’s eye to which he would have turned with even greater interest than was awakened in him by the rich prospect beneath him. But that spot had then no name, and was wholly undistinguished from the rest of the plain. Yet it was not to be so in years to come. One heroic battle was to kindle that spot, at a future day, into a glory that should fill the world and be a beacon-light to nerve the hero and inspire the patriot for all time—Bannockburn!

Again we find David at Perth, Holding Court on the banks of the Scottish Tiber, in the midst of scenery than which Italy has hardly anything richer or more romantic to show. Anon he moves eastward to Glammis or Forfar, where the greatest of Scottish straths is bounded by the grandest of Scottish mountain chains. Than this immense plain, nobler hunting field the monarch could nowhere find in Scotland. Where else could hawk spread his wings for a nobler flight, or hound be unleashed for a longer run, or steed career over more boundless amplitude of level plain than in the space betwixt the Grampians and the Sidlaws. Moreover, it abounded in game of all kinds, and David often came to it to pursue the sport for which it was so well adapted, and in which he took so great a delight.

Moving southwards the king would exchange the Grampians for the pastoral Cheviots. We find him at Melrose, at Kelso, at Jedburgh, and other places on the Border. This region had a lyrical sweetness, and softness of scenery which, to one whose tastes were natural and pure, offered a charming contrast to the ruggedness of the northern portions of Scotland. The light of genius in after days was to glorify this region. Ballad and romance were to make it classic and stored. Meanwhile it possessed attractions which perhaps David prized more than these other substantial glories which at a future age were to add their attractions to it. Its parks and forest glades were plentifully stocked with game, and if the sport was good, David did not much concern himself whether it was over common or over classic earth that he chased the roe and hunted the wild boar.

We find King David holding court on the Castle Rock. Edinburgh at that day had taken no high place among the cities of Scotland. Its site was strangely rugged and uneven, and gave no promise of ever becoming the seat of a great and magnificent capital such as it is at this day. Yet these seeming deformities, it would seem, were the very peculiarities that recommended this site to Art as a fitting stage for her marvels. Amid these rocky ridges and precipices she could display her power, as nowhere else, in overcoming the obstacles of nature, and her skill in converting difficulties into helps, and transforming deformity into beauty and grandeur. And the result has justified her choice. The hills on which, in David’s days, were cowered a few tenements mostly of wood, flanked on either side by unsightly and stagnant lochs, and shut in at the eastern extremities by an escarpment of crags, which steep and lofty, frowned over a forest in which, whoever ventured to stray, had to lay his account with a possible encounter with the wild boar, a chance which tradition says once befell David himself, are now the seat of the Scottish metropolis. It is one of Art’s grandest triumphs. Here she has given to the world a second Athens, only the second Athena excels the first in that it has a more romantic site, a grander Acropolis, and an Altar in the midst of it on which there is no longer the inscription, "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD."

Before entering on what was the principal work of David’s life, and the work most frequently connected with his name, we shall dispatch whatever may be worth narrating in his civil and military career. The passion for was even stronger in the Norman than the passion for the chase. With David it was the latter passion that was the strongest. But though peace-loving in the main we find him at times on the battle-field. His relationship to the royal family of England drew him into these quarrels. To judge how far these armed interferences of his in the affairs of his neighbours, and which, in one instance at least, drew upon himself defeat and upon his army a terrible destruction, were justifiable or called for, we must pay some attention to his connection with the royal family of the southern kingdom, and the duty which, in David’s opinion, that connection imposed upon him. Both David and his sister Matilda were educated in England. His sister became the wife of Henry I. Henry Beauclerk (the scholar), as Hume tells us he was called, from his knowledge of letters. There were born to Henry and Matilda, a son, who was named William, and a daughter who bore her mother’s name, Matilda or Maud. Prince William died at the age of eighteen, leaving Maud, the niece of David, heiress presumptive to the throne of England. Maud had been affianced (1110) by her father, though only eight years of age, to the Emperor of Germany, Henry V. On the death of Henry I. (1131) the empress Maud, now a widow, was left by her father’s will the heir of all his dominions. Another claimant to the throne, however, came forward to contest the rights of the princess Maud. This was Stephen, also a kinsman of King David, by his younger daughter Mary, and a grandson of William the conqueror by his daughter, the wife to Eustace, Earl of Boulogne. Stephen had long resided in England, and knowing the disinclination of the Norman nobility to the rule of a woman, he boldly seized the crown, and raising an army he marched northward with great celerity to meet David of Scotland, now in arms in support of the Title of his niece, the Empress Maud. It was natural that he should espouse his side of the quarrel, and his conduct in doing so is all the more free from the imputation of interest or partiality, inasmuch as he was related to Stephen as well as to Maud. He is not to be so easily vindicated from the charges preferred against him on the ground of the barbarities committed by his army on its march into Yorkshire. These massacres and devastations were as impolitic as they were cruel. They enraged the powerful barons of the North of England, and alienated from him Robert de Brus, Walter l’Espec, and many others, who otherwise would have ranged themselves under his standard, and fought for the cause of his niece.

When the two combatants met at Durham neither felt himself prepared to commit the issue of the quarrel all at once to the decision of a battle. A treaty was patched up betwixt the English and Scotch king, in which the chief article agreed on was that Prince Henry, the son of King David, should receive investiture of the earldom of Northumberland. Peace being concluded, Stephen returned to London, and thence passed to Normandy, but failing ultimately to implement the treaty as regarded the investiture of Prince Henry with Northumbria, the war soon again broke out.

We behold the two kings once more at the head of their armies (1138), and the north of England about to be watered with torrents of Scotch and English Blood. On both sides the utmost diligence was shown in raising soldiers, and the utmost celerity in moving them to the spot where terrible battle should decide the quarrel. The Scotch king at the head of the twenty-six thousand of his subjects penetrated into Northumbria. The English, disregarded the humane wishes of David, and renewed the old depredations of Northumberland, to the disgust of the barons of Yorkshire, the former companions-in-arms of the Scottish monarch. The offended nobles went over to the standard of the enemy. The two armies met at Cutton Moor, near Northalerton. Ailred of Rivaux has given us the speeches delivered on both sides before battle was joined. They are wonderful specimens of rhetoric, taking into account the men from whom they came, and the moment at which they were spoken. If we may judge from these addresses, the Norman barons were as distinguished orators as they were redoubtable warriors. Their speeches make pleasant reading in the closet, but we may conclude that they were never spoken on the field.

Let us note the disposition of the two armies. The English force was the smaller in point of numbers, but the richer in those elements which command victory. Its movements were directed by Norman skill, and its soldiers were inspired by Norman valour. The standard, which towered aloft in the middle of the host, added the powerful stimulus of fanaticism to the other incentives to valour and courage. It was so remarkable of its kind that it has given its name to the action fought under it, and which is known as "the Battle of the Standard." It was a tall pole like the mast of a ship, fixed in a moveable car, and bearing a-top a large cross, and in the centre of the cross a silver box which enclosed the consecrated wafer. Below the cross the banners of St Peter of York, of St. John of Beverley, and St Wilfrid of Ripon, were seen to float. The standard sanctified the host and the cause for which it was in arms, and gave to every soldier assurance that should he fall in battle he would find the gates of Paradise open for his admission. The superiority of his armour furnished him with a more solid ground of confidence. This holy ensign was mainly the device of Thurstan, Archbishop of York, whom age and sickness alone prevented putting on his armour and appearing in the field.

Massed around the standard was a compact body of Norman knights, clad from head to foot in mail. The front rank of the army was composed of the infantry, or men-at-arms. They were flanked on either side by the terrible archers of England. Even should the Scots break through the ranks in the front and pass unscathed through the deadly shower of arrows that awaited them right and left, they had still to encounter the rock-like mass of Norman chivalry at the centre. They must break in pieces that all but impenetrable mass of valour and steel before they could possess themselves of the standard, and claim the victory.

Behind King David came a numerous but somewhat motley host, variously armed. Hardly was there shire betwixt the Solway and the Spey which had not sent its contingent to this war. The clansmen of the Grampians were there, wielding the claymore, and covered their bodies with the small wicker-work shield which their ancestors had opposed to the Roman sword at the battle of Mons Grampius. There, too, were the men of the Scottish Midlands and the Lothians with spear and cuirass. From the Western Isles came a horde of fighters to confront the foe with their battle-axes. The bowmen of the border counties mustered on that field, as did also the Britons of Cumbria. And there, too, were the fierce Galwegians, brandishing their long pikes, and, like their Pictish ancestors of past ages, disdaining the use of defensive armour, and making valour to be to them for mail. Around the king road a select company of Scottish and Norman knights, the latter the party of Maud, who wore their coats of mail, without, however, any impeachment of their bravery.

Before encountering the enemy, this host of diverse nationalities had a point of honour to settle among themselves. Who shall lead in the assault? The Galwegians clamoured loudly for the honour as their right. The rest of the army objected, for the obvious reason that it was risking too much to oppose unarmed men to the Norman steel. "Let the men-at-arms," said the counsellors of the king, "form the front line." The blood of the Galwegians boiled up higher than ever. "What the better," they scornfully asked, "were the Normans of their mail at Clitherow? Were they not fain to throw away their steel coats and flee before our pikemen?" The controversy was getting hotter every instant, and the king, to avoid a quarrel at a moment so critical, gave, orders that the plan of the battle should be as the Galwegians desired.

They rushed forward, shouting their war cry, "Alban, Alban!" The English front sustained the shock of the levelled pikes, and the moment of greatest danger to them had passed. The terrible mistake of placing unarmed pikemen in the van of battle was now seen when it was too late. The long handle of the weapon they carried was shivered on the iron harness against which it struck, and the hapless owner was left with only a broken staff in his hand at the mercy of the English sword. The ranks behind pressed forward, but only to have their weapons shivered in their turn, and to stand unarmed like their comrades in the presence of the enemy. The confusion at the front, which was now great, seriously obstructed the advance of the Highlanders and the isles-men. But to stand idle spectators of the bloody fray was more than they were able to do. Unsheathing their claymores and brandishing their battle-axes they rushed forward over the bodies of the fallen pike-men. They made terrible havoc in the English ranks, but when they had hewed their way to the centre of the field their progress was arrested. The Norman knights stood firm. They kept their place around the standard sheathed in steel. They received the onset of the foe on the points of their lances, and the swords and battle-axes of their assailants became unserviceable. The English archers now saw that the moment had come for making their weapon, which already had become the terror of the battle-field, to be felt by the Scots. From both flanks they let fly a shower of yard-cloth shafts which did terrible execution. The position of the Scots was not intolerable. In front of them was a wall of levelled lances, through which they could not break. Above and around them was a cloud of arrows against which their claymores and battle-axes were powerless to defend them. Atlas! That they should ever have been drawn to a field where their blood was to be poured out so freely in a quarrel which concerned them so little!

The fighting had lasted two hours. The numbers who had fallen were about equal on both sides, yet there was no decided indication how the day would go. At this moment, however, a small artifice turned the tide of fortune against the Scots. An English soldier, severing the head from one of the many corpses on the field, held it aloft in token that the King of the Scots had been slain. The northern army was seized with dismay. King David hastily threw up his vizor to show his soldiers that he was still alive and in the midst of them. But the impression produced by the exhibition of the ghastly trophy could not be undone, and the king, judging it useless to prolong the effusion of blood, drew off his men from the field. He retired with rather more than half the army he had brought with him: the rest were to return no more.

The loss of the Battle of the Standard does not appear to have weakened David’s power, or lowered his prestige as a great monarch. He retreated, but did not frilly, and his retreat was conducted in a style that gave no encouragement to the English to pursue. In truth David was not more pleased to find himself in his own country than Stephen was to see him out of his. Negotiations were soon thereafter opened betwixt the two sovereigns. Had the Scotch and English monarchs made trial of a conference in the first instance, they might have been spared the necessity of assembling fifty thousand of their subjects in arms, and burying the one half of them on Cutton Moor. In these negotiations David gained, and Stephen conceded, all the objects, one only excepted, which had prompted the former to undertake his expedition into England. Cumberland was recognised, as by ancient right, as under the Scottish sceptre. Henry, the son of King David, a youth of rich promise, but fated to die early, received investiture of Northumberland, as far as the river Tees, and the earldom of Huntingdon. This last princely inheritance came to Henry through his mother, the daughter of Earl Waltheop.

This treaty was concluded in A.D. 1139. Its provisions must have been satisfactory so far to the Scottish king, yet it did not include that on which doubtless heed laid greatest stress. It contained no recognition of the right of his niece, the Empress Maud, to the throne of England. William the Norman had been placed on the throne of that kingdom by the battle of Hastings. To reverse the verdict of that field King David had assembled his army, and carried war into England. He thought to expel Stephen, and bring back the old Saxon line of princes. Happily he was unable to effect what wished. With his niece on the English throne, Scotland might have been conquered without the interposition of arms, and the two countries quietly made one, to the grievous and lasting injury of both. Neither country had as yet developed its individuality, and the time was not ripe for the two to take their place by the side of each other as sister kingdoms, equally independent, and mutual workers in the cause of liberty. It is true, no doubt, that the war of independence, with its many bloody fields, would have been averted, had the two crowns now been united, but the higher interests of the world required that they should for some centuries longer, remain separate. Scotland had to be prepared in isolation as a distinct theatre for patriotic and religious achievements of the highest order. As regards England, her sceptre needed a stronger hand to hold it than the Saxon. The strong-minded, self-willed Norman was required to keep in check that ecclesiastical Power which was shooting up into an astuteness and arrogancy which threatened alike prince and subject. The Saxon would have weakly succumbed to that power, and the vassalage of the English people would have been deeper than it ever became in even the worst times of the Papacy. The Norman refused to have a master in his own dominions, and waged an intermittent war against the Papal assumptions all through till the times of the Reformation. To make way for this valorous race the Saxon princes were removed, and all the efforts of King David, whether on the battle-field or in the council chamber, to effect their restoration, came to nothing. The verdict of the field of Hastings could not be reversed, nor the Norman displaced from the throne to which the great Ruler had called him.


 

 


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