Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

A History of the Border Counties
Chapter VII


A period of warfare was now to follow, which was redeemed neither by substantial success nor by the distinction of individuals engaged in it. Of the three Scottish estates which a provision of the Treaty of Northampton had sought to secure to their English owners, only one had been given up. Of the two remaining, one — that of Liddel, or Liddesdale, claimed by Thomas, Lord Wake—lay on the Borders. It had been repeatedly demanded by Edward for his subject; but Moray, who acted as regent for Bruce’s infant son, David II., seems to have seen good reasons for delaying to comply with the demand. It is true that a dispute as to the ownership of Upsctlington, a Border village, had been amicably conducted, and that Edward had even taken special measures for preserving peace on the Borders. But, on the other hand, the government of England was at this time extremely unsettled, whilst the arrival and honourable entertainment of the son of John Baliol at the English court might well be regarded as a suspicious symptom. Moray was also far too sagacious to overlook the important fact that, in case of war, the lands of Liddesdale would afford a convenient entrance to Scotland. Students of history will remember that the difference of opinion now under notice became eventually a cause of war—resulting in an invasion of Scotland by the claimants, Wake and Buchan, in conjunction with other barons who had been called upon to choose between England and Scotland, and having chosen England, had found themselves dispossessed of Scottish estates. As this invasion took place by sea, the Borders for once did not suffer from it in any special degree; but its result was the placing of Edward Baliol upon the Scottish throne. After his coronation, Baliol made his way to Roxburgh, which then became the scene of the “solemn surrender of the liberties of Scotland” by this subservient son of a subservient father. His passage thither had been opposed, and some fighting now followed—in the form partly of civil war, partly of raids over the Border, the principal leaders on the national side being Sir Andrew Murray of Bothwell, the late king’s brother-in-law, who was now regent, and two Douglases—namely, Archibald, brother of the Good Sir James, and William, known as the Knight of Liddesdale. Among the. incidents of this warfare were the capture and burning by Baliol of a castle in Teviotdale which Hailes identifies as that of Oxnam, a fight at Roxburgh bridge, a raid by the elder Douglas into Gilsland, and a counter-raid, in which the Knight of Liddesdale, otherwise called the Flower of Chivalry, was made prisoner. The English, maintaining that the terms of a treaty had been broken, now laid siege to Berwick. Archibald Douglas had become regent in succession to Murray. He marched with an army to its relief, but only to sustain the crushing defeat of Halidon Hill, in which he himself was slain (1333). Berwick now passed to the English, to whom the county, town, and castle of Roxburgh, the town, castle, and forest of Jedburgh, with Selkirk and Peebles, were also given up.

If we are to trust such questionable evidence as English records of Scottish Acts of Parliament which have no place among the Scottish records, this substantial tract of territory was to serve as security for a gift promised by Baliol to the English king, in acknowledgment of support received. In English keeping, at any rate, through much indecisive fighting, this part of the country remained, until lust of a richer prize drew the attention of Edward III. to France. Then the national party, under Murray and Robert the Steward as regents, began actively to recover their losses. In 1339 Baliol withdrew from Scotland. Two years later, the young king, who for safety had been sent to France, returned; and in 1342 Roxburgh, the last or almost the last of the strongholds, was retaken by Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie. In recognition of this service Dalhousie was appointed Sheriff of Teviotdale—a piece of preferment which aroused the jealousy of the “ Flower of Chivalry.” Grossly belying his title of honour, Douglas forcibly seized his rival, while the latter was peaceably performing his official duties in the church at Hawick, and hurrying him away into the wilds of Liddesdale, secured him . in an oubliette at Hermitage. Tradition has it that the vault lay beneath a loft where corn was stored, and that the grain sifted through the interstices of the floor sufficed to sustain life in the captive until the seventeenth day, when he at last succumbed to the pangs of hunger. Douglas duly succeeded to the coveted office, but from this time forth his fair fame is tarnished. Suspected of treachery to his country and of complicity in murder, he was himself slain by his godson and namesake William, Lord Douglas, whilst hunting in Ettrick Forest. The place of his death was Galsewood—afterwards called Williamshope—on Minch Moor, where a cross known as William’s Cross was still standing in Godscroft’s day. He was buried in Melrose Abbey. Ballad literature has woven a tale of lawless love and jealousy around his death, but the author of ‘ The Douglas Book ’ shows that the subject of the fatal dispute was much more probably the land on which the two men met than any lady’s love.

This, however, is an anticipation. Soon after his return from France, David thrice crossed the Border with an army. On the first occasion he is said to have laid siege to Wark, which was valorously defended by Joan Plantagenet, Countess of Salisbury, famous in the story of the origin of the Order of the Garter—an incident located in that fortress. But though this is a Border history, were every Border raid or 'ncursion which took place to be so much as named in it, not only would our prescribed limits be greatly exceeded, but the patience of a Job or a Griselria among readers would be exhausted. Suffice it for the present, then, to say that a truce followed, which upon the Borders was not observed very strictly. In 1346, the year of Cressy, whilst Edward was still absent in France, David, acting in the interest of his ally the king of that country, once more marched at the head of an army into England. The battle which followed recalls, in the religious enthusiasm which animated the opposing party, the defeat sustained by the king’s great namesake and predecessor at the battle of the Standard. Guided by the dream of a monk, on the day of battle the English fastened their cherished relic, the chalice-cloth of St Cuthbert, to a spear-head and displayed it by way of banner. Their force in the field, being under the authority of the Archbishop of York, numbered in its ranks many of the clergy, who doubtless relied upon supernatural assistance; but — a precaution which had bet-n neglected at Mitton — the secular arm was also powerfully represented by the captains, Henry Percy of Northumberland and Ralph Neville of Raby. The English gained a decisive victory, making many prisoners, among whom was the Scottish king. They also captured, in the “ Black Rood,” a Scottish relic of great reputed sanctity from the times of St David and St Margaret. The scene of the engagement was afterwards marked by a cross—from which the battle was named — which in 1589 fell an early victim to Puritanical iconoclasm. Flushed with victory, the English now pushed on across the Border, where Roxburgh was surrendered to Percy by its governor, Tassy Loran. Hermitage followed, and soon the whole of Teviotdale, Tweeddale, and the Forest were again in English hands.

David II. now endured an eleven years’ captivity in England, his sister’s son, Robert the Steward, acting as regent during his absence. Meantime a succession of truces between the two countries, which followed the battle of Neville’s Cross and lasted over several years, were observed with the usual laxity on the Borders, until the outbreak of a pestilence more terrible than any yet known in the history of the land for a time drew men’s thoughts away from fighting. This scourge first appeared in England, and if one authority is to be credited, Scotland owed her inoculation to an attempt to profit by the sufferings of her neighbour. Having mustered in Selkirk Forest, a Scottish army was marching to invade the plague-stricken kingdom, when 5000 men are said to have dropped dead. The remainder, retreating, sowed the seeds of death broadcast among their countrymen, until, as is estimated by the chroniclers, one-third of the total population must have perished. The bodies of persons attacked, who were generally of the poorer classes, are described as becoming inflated in a terrible manner, the patients seldom lingering more than two days. The panic and demoralisation which ensued were indescribable. Ties of blood were forgotten, and children fled from their dying parents “as before a serpent”. There were other visitations of the pestilence within the next few years. .

At last, in 1355, the King of France stirred up the Scots to further hostilities against his enemy, Edward of Windsor. The means employed towards this end were the sending of a renowned knight, De Garancieres by name, with funds and picked followers to Scotland. The gold was judiciously kept in pocket until the Scots had pledged themselves to a war to the knife. But it ought to have been paid for performances rather than for promises or preparations, for, even so, very little was accomplished. An expedition to plunder Norham was, however, arranged by the Earl of March and William, Lord Douglas, slayer of the Knight of Liddesdale, who intrusted its execution to Sir William Ramsay of Dalhousie. Having executed his task, and finding himself hard pressed by the enemy, this knight retreated, contriving to draw his pursuers after him towards Nisbet, where he knew that Douglas with his Scots and Frenchmen lurked in concealment. Putting the spur of a hill between him and the enemy, Ramsay then hastened on to announce their approach. Douglas’s men came forth merrily to meet them, and as there was no time for flight, the English, utterly taken by surprise as they were, had perforce to stand their ground. They were easily routed, and though but few were slain, the ransom of prisoners made the victory profitable to the Scots. The principal loss on their side was that of a most valiant and warlike John of Haliburton1—a name which Sir Walter Scott, tracing through his grandmother, claimed afterwards to represent. The commander on the English side was the valiant Sir Thomas Gray, keeper of Norham Castle, whose capture on the field and subsequent confinement in Edinburgh Castle were the occasion of his composing the famous ‘Scalacronica.’

Berwick was entered by escalade by the Scots, who had approached it by sea, during the night. But though the intruders plundered the city, they were not strong enough to hold it, and on Edward’s advancing against them, they retired. From Berwick Edward proceeded to Roxburgh, where he was met by Baliol, who now made a surrender which was even more degrading than that which he had made in the same place some years before. Scarcely containing himself for wrath, says the chronicler, he burst forth into “words bitterer than death itself”: “Oh king! most powerful of princes, who art as I know more excellent than any other man of the time, to thee I yield, wholly, once for all, and without reserve, my cause and every right which I possess, or shall come to possess, in the kingdom of Scotland. This I do in order that you may avenge me of my enemies, to wit the Scottish nation, a people most unjust, who have cast me out from reigning over them.” Then, gathering up earth and stones from the ground, as symbols of the kingdom which he resigned, he held them forth, together with the crown, and said, “All these I give you in token of your investiture. Act but manfully and be strong, and so conquer, to be yours for ever, the kingdom which was once my due.” The date of this ignominious and unpatriotic cession is January the 20th, 1356. The King of England remained for some days at Roxburgh, apparently awaiting the submission of the Scottish barons. Enraged to find this expectation disappointed, he made the ferocious raid into the country which caused the Feast of Purification in that year to be long remembered by the name of the “Burnt Candlemas.” It was the eastern counties, however, which sustained the brunt of his ire,—the destruction of the beautiful Abbey Church of Haddington, known as the Lamp of Lothian, being specially bewailed. But the elements, fighting against him, compelled him to retreat before his time. Meanwhile the Scots harassed his rear, slew many of his men, and from an ambuscade under Douglas, in the forest near Melrose, came very near taking his life. Notwithstanding the comparative failure of the incursion, it served to bring a great part of the Border country again under English rule; and that it so remained for a good many years to come is shown by an Act of the Scottish Parliament of 1367, which refers to the inhabitants of the district as “ at the peace of the King of England,” and makes provision for recording the succession to estates within its bounds by subjects of the Scottish crown who are debarred from taking possession. During this period the inhabitants, though subject to England, were governed in accordance with Scottish custom, as in a proc lamation issued after the Burnt Candlemas Edward had promised that they should be. As a further attempt to win the Borderers to him, it is recorded that he offered to confirm the men of Teviotdale, in consideration of past good hehaviour, in certain, undefined, “liberties and privileges” supposed to be their right.

Edward's attention being now again drawn to France, a treaty was entered upon between De Bohun, Earl of Northampton, his warden of the marches, and Lord Douglas, by which the latter agreed, so long as his own estates and those of the Earl of March were respected, to abstain from molesting the English. This did not, however, prevent his taking part in the battle of Poictiers on the French side. There was also present his kinsman, Archibald, a natural son of the Good Sir James, who owed his escape from captivity after the battle to Ramsay, of Colluthy, who feigned to recognise him as a knave masquerading in his master’s armour, and thus as a prize not worth retaining.3 From 1357, the year of David’s return from imprisonment in England, to his death in 1371, a succession of truces between the two kingdoms, better observed than commonly on the Border, made the history of that part of the country unusually uneventful.

On the death of David, Robert the Steward succeeded to the throne. His title was opposed by William, Lord Douglas, who in right of his mother, a sister of the Red Comyn, declared himself the representative of the claim which had been resigned by Baliol. He was not supported, but by way of consolation his son, James, received the king’s daughter in marriage. The Borders had now enjoyed an unusual interval of rest, but the old state of matters was soon to recur. The body-servant of George, Earl of March, attending the fair at Roxburgh, was slain in the market-place by the English, who, it will be remembered, were in possession. The earl’s appeals for redress being met with jeers by the English wardens of the marches, he bided his time, and when the fair came round again, and the English were flocking thither with their goods, surrounded the town and wrought such great slaughter that it is said no Englishman escaped. The houses into which they ran were burnt, and large booty was secured. This was the signal for a general outbreak of Border hostilities—forays, ravages, and burnings becoming now of daily occurrence. On the English side these were directed specially against the lands of the Lord of Gordon, who had been prominent at the “ Bloody Fair,” and who gave back as good as he got. He was intercepted at Carham by Sir John Lilburn, when returning from a raid into England, and a fierce battle was fought, in which the Scots had the advantage. This led Sir Henry Percy, the English warden, to take up the matter. He marched into Scotland, wasting and burning, at the head of 7000 men-at-arms. But when he reached Duns Park, some Scottish countrymen, not unmindful of the advice of Bruce’s Testament, by an ingenious use at night of shepherds’ horns and the clochbolg, or husbandman’s rattle, created such a panic among his horses as drove him to an ignominious retreat.

There was now an interval of a few years, and then, in 1377, once more irregular warfare broke out on the Borders. Roxburgh was again' burnt by the Scots, which led Percy, who at the coronation of Richard II. had been created Earl of Northumberland, to retaliate by ravaging the Earl of March’s lands for three days with 10,000 men. Peace negotiations were then entered upon, but were rendered abortive by one of the favourite night-attacks on Berwick, in which seven daring Scots made themselves masters of the town, which they contrived to hold for a few days against a strong force of English. Taxed with this infringement of the status quo, March disavowed all knowledge of it; but his honesty seems to have been suspected, for an expedition under Sir Thomas Musgrave was sent into Scotland, whence it was expelled by Archibald Douglas, who met it near Melrose. In this incursion young Henry Percy, afterwards known to fame as Hotspur, earned distinction.

At last these continued Border disturbances roused the attention of the central authority, and John of Gaunt, Duke of I^ancaster, acting as principal regent for his young nephew, marched to Scotland in hopes to end them. Meetings took place, first between the Scottish commissioners and the Earls of Warwick and Suffolk at Lyliot’s Cross, Maxton, and Muirhouselaw, and then at Ayton between the Duke of Lancaster himself and the Scottish wardens of the marches —William, Earl of Douglas; George, Earl of March ; and Archibald Douglas, Lord of Galloway. An attempt to arrange a modus vivcndi between the two kingdoms was now made, which, being suspended during a two years’ truce, was resumed in 1383, when I^ancaster, returning to Scotland, met the king’s eldest son, the Earl of Carrick, at Lyliot’s Cross and Muirhouselaw. In the interval the situation had been complicated by an attack of the Scots upon Wark Castle, damages for which were now to be assessed by a mixed board of arbitration, to act with the aid of experts. There is, indeed, about the whole of these proceedings a curious inconsistency, — elaborate machinery being employed to gain an end not really desired, — and one is not surprised when the Scots, having concluded a treaty w’ith the mad king Charles VI. of France, resume hostilities against England on the expiration of the current truce. Lancaster now made a second, and this time really warlike, invasion of Scotland, which was, however, cut short by famine and the rigour of a tempestuous March. Douglas retaliated, and enjoyed the satisfaction in this the last warlike enterprise of his life of finally driving the English from that part of the Scottish Border, excepting Roxburgh, which they had held practically since the battle of Neville’s Cross, nearly forty years before. He died not long afterwards, and was buried at Melrose, being succeeded by James, his son, and the heir of his hostility to England.

In fulfilment of the new treaty, in this year (1385) Jean de Vienne, Admiral of France, was sent with men, arms, and money to assist the Scots. Acting in conjunction with the Frenchmen, the Border chieftains now took and razed the fortresses of Wark, Ford, and Cornhill, and, after two or three raids into England, laid siege to Roxburgh. But here a dispute arose through the French claiming to keep the castle when they should have taken it. This led to a disruption, and the French returned to their native country, full of contempt and dislike for the Scottish Border, which they had expressed to their admiral by saying: “Sir, what pleasure hath brought us hither? We never knew what poverty meant till now. We find now the old saying of our fathers and mothers true when they would say, Go your way, an ye live long ye shall find hard and poor beds’—which now we find.” The restrictions put upon their plundering habits by the independent spirit of the country they found in particular inconvenient. But in justice it must be added that, exclusive of the gifts which they brought with them, the soldiers were paid in advance, and were no tax to the country.

Before the French left Scotland, Richard II. had crossed the Border at the head of a vast army.2 It is said that the dashing Frenchmen were all for immediately attacking him, but that Douglas, taking De Vienne up into a high place whence he could look down on the enemy, so impressed him with the contrast between the two armies that he made no further difficulty as to following the traditional Scottish methods of war. These were soon as effectual with Richard as they had been with his predecessors, but unhappily they were powerless to prevent his wanton destruction of Melrose Abbey. The obscurity of Richard’s last days has given rise to various stories regarding his end, among which the monkish chronicler of Pluscarden tells us that, for this and other impious acts, he was doomed to wander, a beggar, among the Scottish isles, until recognised and brought to the Scottish court, where he ended his days in idiotcy.

There is mention about this time of two raids into Cumberland; but it is a relief to turn from such obscure and petty wars to the deathless fame of Otterburn. The occasion of that well - fought field was as follows. When John of Gaunt retired from the North some years before, he had left the English marches to the care of Percy of Northumberland, empowering him to levy the forces of the northern counties to repel invasion, and placing the castles of Wark and Norham at his disposal; In 1386 John Neville of Raby had succeeded ’ Percy in this office, which in 1388—the year to which we have now come—had been taken from Neville and given back to the Percys. A feud between the two great northern families was the result. In this juncture James, second Earl of Douglas, saw his opportunity for repaying the ravages of Richard’s late invasion. The Scottish plans were laid—in secret, as was believed— at Aberdeen, far off from the Border, and an army numbering upwards of 40,000 assembled at the kirk of Southdean, within the shade of Jed Forest. The principal leaders on the Scots side were the Douglases, the Earl of March, and the king’s second son, Robert, Earl of Fife and Menteith. They passed the Carter Fell, entering England by the Reidswire, having previously taken prisoner an English spy, and formed their plans by the light of information elicited from him. The result was that the army divided — the main body pursuing its way towards Carlisle to plunder, whilst Douglas led a detachment estimated at 300 men-at-arms and 2000 infantry to Durham, to divert the attention of the English warden. But in spite of precautions the Scottish plans had been betrayed by spies of the seneschal of York and the governor of Berwick, who had been present in the masquerade of minstrels at the meeting at Aberdeen. Northumberland ought therefore to have been warned in time, but his first intimation of the actual proximity of the Scots was derived from the smoke of devastated hamlets. He at once despatched his sons, Henry and Ralph, to collect the northern levies at Newcastle, where they were encountered by Douglas, when he recrossed the Tyne, having harried the country about Brancepeth.

Taking up a position to the north of the town, so as to keep open a retreat, Douglas spent several days in the neighbourhood of Newcastle. The time was passed in skirmishing with the enemy, and thus occurred the incident which was to lead up to the battle. The Percys are described by the old translator of Froissart as “yonge lusty knyghtes,” ever foremost at the barriers to skirmish, where were many proper feats of arms achieved. Douglas was just thirty years of age, and no less eager for distinction. One day he fought hand to hand writh Harry Percy, and vanquishing him, bore away his pennon, declaring that he would carry it into Scotland and set it on high on his castle of Dalkeith, to be seen far off as a sign of Percy’s prowess. One can fancy how the fiery Hotspur would brook this affront. He vowed to retrieve the gage. But next morning the Scots broke up their camp and turned homewards without his having done so.

Passing by Ponteland, the Scots reached Otterbum, w'hich is situated in a green rolling country, traversed by the brawling river Rede, and at that time probably much overgrown by the small natural birchwood of which patches remain to this day.

They were now within a long day’s march of the hill barrier of their own country; but, instead of pushing on, Douglas proposed that, in order to give Percy another chance, they should assail the tower of Otterburn. This, “for their honour and for the love of him,” the rest accorded. Availing themselves of the marshy nature of the ground, and using their carriages for barricades, they made lodgings of boughs and “great herbes,” and there passed the time without molestation.

It was in this position that Hotspur came upon them. Chafing under the sense of injury, he had clamoured to pursue them instantly, but had been overruled by more prudent counsellors, so that it was not ur..'l definite in formation as to the size of the Scottish armament had been received that his representations availed. Then, with a force more than double that of the Scots, he was allowed to start in their pursuit. It was late in the evening, and though there was a moon, the Scots had given up expecting an attack for that day, so that Hotspur took them by surprise. He had first told off a division of his men under Sir Thomas Umfraville, who knew the ground, to pass to the northward of the Scots, so as to cut off their retreat; then with the remainder of his force he fell upon the camp.

By a mistake, arising from the half-darkness, his first attack was made upon the servants’ quarters. Fortunately the camp was fairly strong, and the servants defended themselves stoutly, thus affording their masters a moment in which to arm themselves. As it was, Douglas fought with armour only partly fastened, Moray without a helmet. Now, though the Scots had allowed themselves to be surprised, they were not without a plan previously formed to meet the case of sudden attack.

On this they now proceeded to act. A body of men was first sent forward to relieve the servants, and whilst these held the enemy engaged, a second body, leaving the camp by the rear, made a circuit, and in their turn took the others by surprise by falling upon their flank. The battle now waxed keen, and cries of “Douglas!” “Percy!” filled the air.

State papers of the period show us that Borderers of the two countries could not always be depended upon to fight each other in the field. There were times when a national cause in which they had no personal interest would yield to natural feeling and to ties of propinquity and fellowship. But, as was now seen, when march men met in a private feud, and, as in the present case, one of old standing, the case was very different The Earl of Douglas, impatient for renown, ordered his banner to advance; Percy did the same, and the two banners met. Great then was the pushing of lances, many gallant deeds were done, and many on both sides were struck down. Froissart, who drew his information from men of either side who had taken part in the affray, records it as the hardest and most obstinate battle ever fought. Meantime the moon lighted the assailants; we are also told that the August night was temperate and serene.

The press of battle was so great that bows were useless —the fight was at close quarters. Seeing that the Scots were losing ground, Douglas, seeking to rally them, seized a battle-axe with both hands and dashed in among the foe, dealing deadly blows about him, hewing himself a passage through their midst. In this moment of battle-rapture, Froissart likens him to Hector. But such a triumph could not last. Struck by three spears at once, he was borne fighting to the ground. The darkness, now probably thickening as the moon set, prevented his being recognised for more than “ some person of considerable rank.” He received a blow on the head from an axe, and the rush of battle passed over him. When his friends gathered round him, in a lull of the fray, they found his body defended by his chaplain, William Lundie. By his side, covered with fifteen wounds, lay the body of another faithful attendant, Sir Robert Hart, who had fought beside him all night. Asked by Sir John Sinclair, one of the first to come up to him, how he did, he replied, “ Right evil; yet, thank God! but few of my ancestors have died in their beds. I am dying, for my heart grows faint; but I pray you to avenge me. Raise my banner, which lieth near me on the ground. Show my state neither to friend nor foe, lest mine enemies rejoice and my friends be discomfited.” These were his last words. Having covered the body with a mantle, Sir John Sinclair raised the fallen banner from the ground, and returned to the charge, to such good purpose that the ranks of the English were broken, and they were soon in full retreat. Thus, as some think, was fulfilled an ancient prophecy of the Douglas clan that a dead man should win a field. It must not, however, be forgotten that the English, hurried on by Percy’s impetuosity, had entered the battle at a disadvantage, coming as they did direct from marching more than thirty miles through the heat of a summer day. The Scots did not neglect to follow up the advantage they had gained, but the failing moonlight deprived them of its full effect. Froissart, however, states the English loss at about 1040 taken or slain in the field, and upwards of 800 in the pursuit. The Scots, according to the same authority, lost but 100 slain, and 200 made prisoners. The ransoms of English prisoners, amongst whom was Hotspur, amounted to ^8000. But the death of Douglas dashed the joy of victory with mourning. His body was placed upon a bier and borne to Melrose Abbey, where it was interred beside his father’s, his banner being left to droop above the tomb. Leaving no son, he was succeeded in the earldom by his kinsman, Archibald, Lord of Galloway, sumamed the Grim, a natural son of the Good Sir James. The Percy pennon, the cause of so much grief and valour, is preserved to this day at Cavers House, with Douglas’s armour and other relics. In this sceptical age it would be strange if doubt had not been cast upon its authenticity; but the author of *The Douglas Book,’ after weighing the evidence, concludes that in this case tradition is “ probably correct.” The banner bears the badge of the Percys, the white lion, together with that of the Douglases, the bloody heart and mullet, and their motto, “Jamais arriere,”—the most plausible theory being that the latter are an addition made after its capture. With the pennon are preserved a pair of gauntlets, elegantly embroidered with seed-pearls, which are supposed to have been captured at the same time.

Thus ended the battle of Otterburn, famous in history, more famous still in song. The present age, utilitarian as well as sceptical, may ask what results were obtained at so great cost. We see that, since the days of Bruce, the struggle against England had declined from a war of patriotism to what one may almost call a war for war’s sake, a mere war of habit, or, as it has been otherwise put, an “episode in the larger contest which it had stirred between England and France.” To the utilitarian, at first sight the net result of Otterburn seems nil. But, from another point of view, if Bruce’s wars had illustrated a noble national spirit, no less did Otterburn illustrate a noble individual one. It was an age when in the natural course of events fighting had come to be looked on as the finest work a man could turn his hand to, and in the generous ardour of the time the cause of fighting would often be left out of sight. We read that Edward III. once kept his Easter at Berwick, and there held a tournament. Twelve Scottish knights entered the lists against as many English, and three were left lifeless on the field. This was by way of sport. Cui bono? Was the game worth the candle? Yes. For a high spirit and a noble scorn of pain and danger are always good; and, at least until we finally turn the spear into the pruning-hook, they are most useful too. Nor need we fear lest they become too common. Douglas and Hotspur were men of their own age, as all great men of action must always be; but the story and example of their meeting and fight at Otterburn remain to stir and to uplift the hearts of fighters in a better cause, as they stirred the gallant heart of Sidney, and have stirred many others before and since.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus