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The Bruce
Book 10

The Capture of Castles

WHEN Thomas Randolph was taken, in the way I here describe, and sent to safe keeping for the words he spake to the Bruce, the good king took thought of the hurt, the hatred, and the cruelty he had suffered from John of Lorne, and soon afterwards he gathered his host, and marched toward Lorne in good array.

Long before he arrived John of Lorne had knowledge of his coming, and gathered men from all sides, two thousand in number they might be, and sent them to stop the way by which the king behoved to march. This was in a difficult place, so strait and narrow that in some parts of the hillside two men could not ride abreast. The lower side was perilous, for a sheer crag, high and hideous, dropped from the path to the sea, and above rose a mountain so steep and difficult that it was hard to pass that way. Ben Cruachan was the name of the mountain. I trow that in all Britain there is not a higher hill. [The place where John of Lorne laid his ambush for Bruce is pointed out under Ben Cruachan at the foot of the Pass of Awe. Some funeral cairns still mark the scene of the struggle, near the old Bridge of Awe. Ben Cruachan, though 3689 feet, is not even the highest mountain in Argyllshire, that honour being held by Bidean nam Bean, 3766 feet, above Glencoe. Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain, is 4408 feet.]

There John of Lorne caused his host to lie in ambush above the road, and considered that if the king came that way he should soon be overthrown. He himself kept on the sea [Loch Etive receives the waters of the Awe, a mile away.] near the pass, with his galleys.

But the king, wise and prudent in all his undertakings, perceived their cunning. He knew also that he must needs go that way. He parted his men in two bodies, and committed the archers to the good Lord of Douglas, in whom was all wisdom and valour. This good lord took with him the stout Sir Alexander Fraser, and William Wiseman, a good knight, as well as good Sir Andrew Gray. These with their following went forward, and nimbly climbed the hill, and, before they were perceived, had seized the high ground above their enemies. The king and his men marched on, and when they had entered the pass the men of Lorne raised a cry and rushed and began to throw down on them great and heavy stones. But these did not greatly hurt the king, for he had there in his following men light and nimble and lightly armed, and they boldly climbed the hill and prevented the enemy fulfilling most of their fell purpose. Also, on the other side came James of Douglas and his men, and rushed with a shout upon them, and wounded them sore with arrows, and at last dashed boldly among them with their swords.

Right manful, great, and active defence was made by the men of Lorne, but. when they saw they were assailed thus upon two sides, and perceived that their enemies had all the best of the fight, they took flight in utmost haste. Bruce's men made a fierce pursuit, and slew all they could overtake. The fugitives made for a water that ran under the hillside, and was right strong, and both deep and wide, and could be crossed nowhere except at a bridge beneath that place. To that bridge they eagerly made their way, and strove diligently to break it down. But the pursuers, when they saw them pause, rushed instantly and boldly upon them and overcame them utterly, and held the bridge whole until the king and all his following passed it at their ease.

It must have displeased John of Lorne, I trow, when from his ships on the sea he saw his men slain and chased from the hill, while he could give them no help. For hearts that are good and valiant are vexed as greatly to see their foes accomplish their ends as they are to suffer hurt themselves.

In evil case were the men of Lorne, for many had lost their lives, and the rest were in flight. The king quickly caused the spoil of the whole land to be seized, and such an abundance of cattle was to be seen there as was a marvel to behold. Meanwhile the Bruce, bold, stark, and stout, passed suddenly to Dunstaffnage, and besieged it sturdily, and made assault to capture the castle. [Dunstaffnage, on its small peninsula at the mouth of Loch Etive, was the capital seat of the Scottish monarchy till 878, when Kenneth MacAlpine removed the Coronation Stone to Scone and the seat of government to Forteviot. It was afterwards a chief stronghold of the Lords of the Isles, and from Somerled, the great Lord of the Isles in the 12th century, it passed to his son Dugal and his descendants, the MacDougals of Argyll and Lorne of Bruce's time.] And in a short time he brought the garrison to such distress that, despite their strength, he won the place. He set a good warden in it, and furnished him with both men and meat, so that he should be able to hold the castle a long time notwithstanding all the men of that country.

Sir Alexander of Argyll, seeing the Bruce altogether destroying his land, made treaty with him, and without delay became his man, and was received into his peace. But his son, John of Lorne, still remained a rebel as before, and fled in his ships to sea. All those left on land, however, were obedient to the king, and he took homage of them all. Then he passed again to Perth to pleasure him in the open country.

Lothian was still against him, and at Linlithgow there was a peel great and strong, well garrisoned with Englishmen, which was a place of refuge for those going from Edinburgh to Stirling and back with arms and food, and which did great hurt to the country.

Now may ye hear, if ye will, episodes [The word here used by Barbour is 'interludys,' which might go some way to suggest that even in the 14th century the stage was familiar with a style of entertainment which is not generally supposed to have been invented till a couple of centuries later.] and hazards of many kinds that were essayed for the taking of peels and castles. This Linlithgow was one of these places, and I shall tell how it was taken. In that countryside there dwelt a small farmer who with his cattle often led hay to the peel. William Bunnock was his name, and he was a stalwart man in a fight. He was greatly vexed and grieved to see the country so hard bested, and troubled beyond measure, through fortresses filled and commanded by Englishmen. He was a stout, strong earl, stubborn and bold himself, and he had friends dwelling near. To some of them he shewed his secret plan, and got them to agree to make an ambush while he went with his waggon to lead hay to the peel. His waggon was to be well filled, for eight armed men were to sit secretly in the body of it, covered about with hay, while he himself, being hardy and bold, went idly beside it, and an active stout yeoman in front drove the waggon, and carried a sharp-cutting hatchet under his belt. And when the gate was opened, and they were at it, when the yeoman heard him cry sturdily, "Call all! call all!" then he was quickly to strike the traces in two with the axe, and at once the men within the waggon were to leap out and give fight, while their fellows, who were to be in ambush near, came to maintain the struggle.

This was in harvest time, when fields fair and wide were filled with ripe corn, and the various grains they bore waxed ready to be gathered for the food of man, while the trees stood loaded with fruits of sundry kinds. Now the men of the peel had made hay, and had bespoken Bunnock, as he was at hand, to lead it in, and he had agreed without difficulty, and had said that in the morning very early he should bring a load fairer and greater and much more than any he had yet brought that year. And assuredly he kept his covenant with them, for that night he secretly warned the men who were to go in the waggon, and bade the ambush be made. And they sped so fast that before day they were ambushed very near the peel, where they could hear the cry as soon as any arose. There they kept themselves so secret, without movement, that none had knowledge of them. Meanwhile Bunnock took much pains to dress his company in the waggon, and some time before day he had them covered with hay. Then he set himself to yoke his cattle, till the sun could be seen shining.

Some of the garrison of the peel had come forth, to their own misfortune, to gather their harvest at hand. Then Bunnock, with the company enclosed in his waggon, without waiting longer, started and drove his load towards the peel. The porter, when he saw him very near, opened the gate. Thereupon Bunnock, without delay, caused the waggon to be driven rapidly, and when it was just between the cheeks of the entrance, so that the gate could in no way be closed, he cried, "Thief! call all! call all!" Then his man dropped his whip, and quickly hewed in two the trace. With that Bunnock nimbly dealt the porter a knock that dashed out both blood and brains. And they within the waggon leapt forth lightly and slew the men of the castle standing about. Then in a moment the cry arose, and the men in ambush leapt out with swords bare, and came and took the whole castle without trouble, and slew those within it. And when the men who had gone forth before, saw the castle utterly lost, they fled to and fro for refuge. Some made their escape to Edinburgh, and others to Stirling, and some were slain by the way.

Thus Bunnock with his waggon took the peel and slew its men. Then he hastened and delivered it to the king, who worthily rewarded him. Bruce caused it to be thrown down to the ground, then went over the country setting all the land at peace that was willing to obey him.

And when a little time was gone he sent after Thomas Randolph, and dealt so well with him that he promised to be his man, and the king soon forgave him, and to heighten his estate gave him Moray and made him earl of it, and gave him sundry other broad lands in heritage. He knew his valiant prowess and his great wisdom and prudence, his faithful heart and loyal service. Therefore he put trust in him, and made him rich in land and cattle, as was indeed right proper to do. If men speak truth, he was a knight courageous, wise, brave, and active, and of great and sovereign nobleness, and many great things can be told of him. Therefore I think to speak of him, and to show part of his achievement, and describe his appearance and something of his character. He was of middle stature, every way well formed, with broad visage, pleasant and fair, courteous at all points, debonair, and of right steadfast demeanour. Loyalty he loved above everything; falsehood, treason, and cruelty he constantly withstood. He esteemed honour and liberality, and ever upheld righteousness. He was agreeable in company, and amorous, and ever loved good knights. In truth he was full of all nobleness, and made of all virtues. I will commend him no more here, but ye shall assuredly hear furthermore how he, for his valiant deeds, was in truth to be sovereignly esteemed.

When the king was thus reconciled with him, and had bestowed great lordships on him, he waxed very wise and prudent. First he settled his own lands, then he sped to the war to help his uncle in his affairs. With the consent of the good king, but with small preparation, he hastened to Edinburgh with a company of trusty men, and laid siege to the castle. The stronghold was then wondrous well furnished with men and victual, so that it feared no man's might. Nevertheless this good Earl right boldly set his siege, and pressed the garrison so that none durst pass the gate. They might abide within and eat their victual while they had it, but I trow they were prevented getting more in the country outside.

At that time King Edward of England had given the keeping of the castle to Sir Piers Lumbard, a Gascon. And when the men of his garrison saw the siege so strongly set, they suspected him of treason, because he had spoken with the Bruce, and for that suspicion they took and put him in prison, and made one of their own nation constable, a leader right wary, wise, and active. This leader set skill, strength, and craft to keep the castle in his charge.

But of this siege I will now be silent, and speak a little while of the doughty Lord of Douglas. At that time he was in the Forest, [The remains of the ancient Caledonian Forest extended about all the upland waters of Clyde and Tweed, Ettrick, Yarrow, Teviot and Jed. Douglas's camp is still pointed out at Lintalee in the old forest country above Jedburgh.] where he tried many a hazard and fair point of chivalry, both day and night, against the garrisons of Roxburgh and Jedburgh castles. Many of these exploits I will let pass, for I cannot rehearse them all, and though I tried ye may well believe I could not compass the task, so much should there be to describe. But those that I know certainly I shall, out of my knowledge, relate.

While, as I have said, the good Earl Thomas besieged Edinburgh, James of Douglas set all his wit to discover how, by any craft or stratagem, Roxburgh could be taken. At length he caused Sim of the Leadhouse, a crafty and skilful man, to make ladders of hempen ropes with wooden steps, so bound that they should in no way break. They devised and made a hook of iron, strong and square, which if once fixed on a battlement, with the ladder straitly stretched from it, should hold securely.

As soon as this was devised and done, the Lord of Douglas, in secret, gathered trusty men— I trow there might be three score of them—and on Fastern's Even, [It was Shrove Tuesday, February 27, 1813.] in the beginning of the night, took the road for the castle. They covered all the armour they wore with black frocks. Soon they came near the castle; then they sent all their horses back, and went along the path in single file on hands and feet, as if they were cows and oxen that had been left out unsecured.

It was very dark, without a doubt; nevertheless, one of the garrison, who lay on the wall, said to his fellow beside him, "This man," and he named a small farmer near the place, "thinks to make good cheer, for he has left all his oxen out." The other said, "No doubt it is so. He makes merry to-night, though they should be driven off by the Douglas."

They supposed the Douglas and his men were oxen because they went on hands and feet, always one by one. Douglas took right good heed to all they said, but soon they passed indoors, talking as they went.

Douglas's men were glad at this, and sped swiftly to the wall, and soon set up their ladders. But one made a sound when the hook fastened hard in the battlement. This was clearly heard by one of the watchmen, and he instantly made for the spot. Leadhouse, who had made the ladder, hastened to be first to climb the wall, but, ere he had quite got up, the warder met him, and, thinking to throw him down, without noise, cry, or sound, dashed quickly at him. Then Leadhouse, who was in hazard of his life, made a leap at him and got him by the throat, and stabbed him upwards with a knife till he took the life in his hand. And when he saw him lie dead he went forthwith upon the wall, and cast the body down to his fellows, and said, "All goes as we wish; speed quickly up!"

This they hastened to do, but before they came up, a man came along and saw Leadhouse standing alone, and knew he was not of the garrison. This man rushed at him, and attacked him stoutly, but was quickly slain, for Leadhouse was armed and active, and the other had no armour and nothing to stop a stroke.

Thus Leadhouse did battle upon the wall till Douglas and his company were come up. Then they went quickly into the tower. At that moment the garrison were all in the hall, dancing, singing, and otherwise at play, as is the joyous and glad custom upon Fastern's Even among folk in safety, as they believed themselves to be. But, ere they knew, Douglas and all his men poured into the hail, crying aloud, "Douglas! Douglas!" And though they were more in number than he, when they heard the dreadful shout of "Douglas!" they were dismayed, and set up no right defence. Douglas's men slew them without mercy till they got the upper hand, and the garrison, fearing death beyond measure, fled seeking safety. The warden, Gylmyne de Fiennes, saw how it went, and got into the great tower with others of his company, and hastily closed the gate. The rest, who were left outside, were taken or slain, except some who leapt the wall.

That night Douglas held the hall, to the sorrow of his enemies. His men kept going to and fro throughout the castle all that night till daylight on the morrow. The warden in the tower, Gylmyne de Fiennes, was a man of great valour, and when he saw the castle altogether lost, he set his force to defend the keep. Those without sent arrows in upon him in such number that he was greatly distressed; nevertheless, he held the tower stubbornly till the next day. Then, in an attack, he was wounded so badly in the face that he feared for his life. For this reason he speedily made parley, and yielded the tower on condition that he and all with him should pass safely to England. Douglas kept good faith with them, and convoyed them to their own country, but De Fiennes lived there but a short time, for, by reason of the wound in his face, he soon died and was buried.

Douglas seized all the castle, which was then enclosed with a strong wall, and he sent Leadhouse to the king, who rewarded him greatly. Bruce at once sent thither his brother, the doughty Sir Edward, to cast down tower, castle, and dungeon, and the latter came with a great company, and so busily set to work that tower and wall were thrown down to the ground in little space. And he dwelt quietly there till Teviotdale came wholly to the king's peace, except Jedburgh and other places near the English bounds.

While Roxburgh was thus being won the Earl Thomas, who ever set high value upon sovereign valour, was lying with his company at the siege of Edinburgh, as I have already told. But when he heard how Roxburgh was taken by a stratagem, he set all his endeavour by skill and searching to compass some device that might help him, by stratagem and feat of arms, to win the castle wall. He knew well that no strength could take the place openly while the garrison within had men and meat. So he privily enquired whether any man was to be found who could show any bold way of secretly climbing the walls, and he should have his reward. For it was his intention to make the adventure, before the siege should miscarry for his fault.

There was one William Francis, active and brisk, wise and courteous, who in his youth had been in the castle. When he saw the Earl so specially set upon finding some subtle device or wile by which he might take the stronghold, he came to him in secret, and said, "Methinks ye would gladly find some bold plan for getting over the walls. If ye will indeed make the attempt in such a way, I undertake for my service to let you know how the wall may be climbed, and I shall go foremost of all. There is a place where with a short ladder of twelve foot we may easily climb the wall. And if ye will understand how I know this I shall freely tell you. In days past, when I was young, my father was keeper of yonder house, and I was somewhat giddy, and loved a wench here in the town; and in order that I might repair to her secretly without suspicion, I made a ladder of ropes, and therewith slipped over the wall. Then I went down a narrow way I had spied in the crag, and ofttimes came to my love. And when it drew near day I went again that same way, and ever came in without discovery. I long used that way of going, so I can find the road aright though the night be ever so dark. If ye think ye will make the attempt to climb up after me by that way I shall bring you up to the wall. God keep us from being seen by the watchers there! If it so fair befalls us that we can set up our ladder, and if a man can get upon the wall, he shall defend, if need be, till the rest speed up."

The Earl was blithe at his words, and promised him full fair reward, and undertook to go that way. He bade him make his ladder soon, and hold him privy till they could set a night for their purpose.

Soon afterwards the ladder was made. Then the Earl, without more delay, provided himself on a night secretly with thirty active and bold men. It was a dark night when they started, and they set themselves a right bold attempt, and put themselves assuredly in great peril. I trow, could they have seen clearly, that path had not been undertaken though there had been no man to oppose them. For the crag was high and dreadful, and the climbing right perilous, and if any happened to slide or fall he must at once have been broken in pieces.

The night was dark, I have heard say, and they were soon come to the foot of the high, sheer crag. Then William Francis climbed before them in the crevices, and they followed at his back, with much difficulty, sometimes near, sometimes at a distance. They climbed thus in the crannies till they had surmounted half the crag, and there they found a place so broad that they could just sit on it. They were breathless and weary, and tarried there to get their wind. And just as they were sitting so, above them, on the wall, the officers of the watch all came together.

Now help them, God, that can do all things! for in right great peril are they. Should they be seen, there should none escape out of that place alive. They must be stoned to death and could help themselves nothing.

But all the night was wondrous dark, so that the enemy had no sight of them. Nevertheless, there was one who threw down a stone, and said, "Away, I see you well!" But he saw them not a bit, and the stone flew over their heads, and they sat still, each one keeping quiet.

The watches, when they heard nothing stir, passed all in a body from that place, and moved far off, talking as they went. Then at once Earl Thomas and those who sat by him on the crag climbed hastily towards the wall, and reached it after much effort and with great difficulty and peril. From that point upwards the climb was more grievous by far than the part beneath. But, whatever were their difficulties, they came at last right to the wall. It was very nigh twelve foot in height, and without sight or knowledge they set their ladder to it, and there, before them all, Francis climbed up, and then Sir Andrew Gray, and after him the Earl himself was the third man to take the wall.

When those below saw their lord climb up thus upon the rampart., they all, like madmen, climbed after him. But before they were all come up the officers of the watch heard moving and speaking and the clashing of arms, and dashed full sturdily upon them. The Earl and his men met them right boldly, and made furious slaughter of them. Then the cry rose through the castle, "Treason! treason!" and some of the garrison were so terrified that they fled and leapt over the wall. But to tell the truth, not all of them fled; for the constable, a brave man, rushed forth fully armed at the shout, and many bold and stout men with him.

The Earl was still with all his company fighting upon the wall, but he soon discomfited all those against him. By that time all his men had come up, and he made his way forthwith down to the castle. He put himself in great peril, for there were far more men within it than with him, if they had been of good heart; but they were dismayed. Nevertheless, with drawn weapons the constable and his company right boldly met him and his men. Then arose a great conflict, for with their weapons they struck at each other with all their might, till their fair, bright swords were all bloody to the hilts. And there began a dreadful uproar, for those that were felled or stabbed shouted and shrieked and made great noise.

The good Earl and his company fought so sturdily in that fight that all their foes were overthrown. The constable was slain on the spot, and when he fell the rest fled where they best could for refuge. They durst not stay nor fight more. The Earl was so hotly handled there, that had it not chanced that the constable was slain he had been in great peril; but at that the garrison fled, and there was no more to fear. Each man sought to save his life and live forth his days, and some slid down outside the wall. The Earl took the whole castle, for there was none durst withstand him.

Never in any land have I heard of a castle so boldly taken, excepting Tyre alone, when Alexander the Conqueror, who captured the Tower of Babylon, leapt from a tower to the wall, and there, among all his foes, right doughtily defended himself till his noble knights came with ladders over the walls. None of these knights turned back for death or fear, for after they were well assured that the king was in the town nothing could stop them, and they set all peril at nought. They climbed the walls, and Aristaeus came first to the good king. Alexander was defending himself with all his might, but was so hard beset that he was brought down on one knee. He had set his back to a tree for fear they should attack him behind. Then Aristaeus sped valiantly to the rescue, and dealt blows so doughtily on the enemy that the king was saved. For his men in sundry places climbed over the wall and sought their lord, and rescued him with hard fighting, and speedily took the town.

Except this capture alone I never heard in time past of a castle so stoutly taken. And of this capture that I describe, Saint Margaret, the good, holy queen, knew in her time through the revelation of Him who knows all things. Thereof, instead of prophecy, she left a right fair token. In her chapel she caused to be pictured a castle, a ladder standing up to the wall, and a man climbing on it, and wrote above him in French, as old men tell, "Gardez vous de Francois!" And because of this word which she caused to be written men believed the French should take it. But since Francis was the name of him who thus climbed secretly up, her writing proved prophetic. The thing fell out indeed just as she said, for the place was taken, and Francis led them up.

In this wise was Edinburgh stormed, all therein being taken or slain or leaping the wall. The Earl's men seized all their goods, and searched every one of the houses. Sir Piers Lumbard, who was made prisoner as I said before, they found sitting fettered with gyves in the dungeon. They brought him quickly to the Earl, and he at once caused them to loose him, and he became the king's man. Straightway then they sent word to the king, and told how the castle was taken; and he speedily went thither with many in his company, and caused them to undermine wholly both tower and wall, and cast them to the ground. Then he went over all the land taking the country to his peace. For this valiant deed the Earl was mightily praised. The king, seeing him so worthy, was blithe and joyous above the rest, and to maintain his state gave him rents and fair lands enough; and he drew to such great valour that all men spake of his great excellence. his foes he greatly dismayed, for he never fled because of force in battle. What shall I say more of his might! His great manhood and valour make him still renowned.

At the time that these hazardous enterprises were so boldly achieved, the valiant Sir Edward the Bruce had won all Galloway and Nithsdale to his pleasure, and thrown down all the castles, tower and wall, into the ditch. He heard say then, and was well aware, that there was a peel tower in Rutherglen. Thither he went with his company, and shortly took it. Then he set out for Dundee, which was then held, I have been told, against the king. Forthwith he laid siege stoutly to it, and lay there till it was yielded. Next he made his way to Stirling. There good Sir Philip the Mowbray, right doughty in attack, was warden, and had that castle of the English king in his keeping. To it Sir Edward laid strong siege. They skirmished sturdily and often, but no great deed of arms was done. Sir Edward, after the siege was set, lay before the place a very long time; that is to say, from Lent till before the mass of St. John. Then the English folk within the castle began to find their victual fail, and the doughty Sir Philip made a treaty to which both sides agreed, that, if at midsummer a year thence it was not rescued by battle, he should without fail yield the castle freely. To this covenant they firmly bound themselves.


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