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The Bruce
Book 11

The Eve of Battle

WHEN this covenant was made Sir Philip rode into England, and told the king the whole tale, how, according to the treaty, he had a full twelve-month to rescue Stirling by battle. And when King Edward heard Sir Philip say that the Scots had set a day to fight, and that he had so much time to prepare, he was right glad, and said it was great presumption that urged them to such folly, for he intended before that time to be so provided, and in such array, that no force should withstand him.

And when the English lords heard that this day was openly set, they deemed it great foolishness, and thought to have all at their pleasure if the Scots met them in battle. But the fool's purpose often fails, and even wise men's aims come not always to such issue as they expect. A little stone often, they say, may overturn a great waggon. No man's strength can stand against the grace of God, who guides all things. He knows whither all things tend, and disposes all things at His pleasure, according to His ordinance.

When Sir Edward, as I have said, had given this extraordinary time for the yielding or rescue of Stirling, he went forthwith to the Bruce, and told the treaty he had made, and the time he had given. The king, when he heard the time, said, "That was unwisely done indeed. Never have I heard so long a warning given to so mighty a king as the King of England. For he has now in his hand England, Ireland, Wales, and Aquitaine, with all under his seignory, and a great part of Scotland, and he is so provided with treasure that he can have plenty of paid soldiers. We are few against so many. God may deal us our destiny right well, but we are set in jeopardy to lose or win all at one throw."

"As God will judge me," said Sir Edward, "though the King of England and all he can lead come hither, we shall fight, were they twice as many."

When the Bruce heard his brother speak thus boldly as to the battle, he esteemed him greatly in his heart, and said, "Brother, since it so happens that this covenant has been made, let us prepare manfully for the struggle, and let all that love us and the freedom of this country make ready for that time with all the force they can, so that if our foes attempt to rescue Stirling by battle we may defeat their purpose."

To this all agreed, and all men were bid make ready and be equipped in their best fashion against that day. Then all in Scotland who were valiant to fight set their whole strength to prepare against that day. They made ready weapons and armour, and all that pertains to war.

And the mighty King of England purveyed himself so great an array as never yet was heard of in that country. And when the time was drawing near he gathered all his power, and besides his own chivalry it was marvellous great. He had with him good men of great valour from many a far country. In his company was a valiant body of French knights. The Earl of Hainault too was there, and with him valiant men of Gascony and Germany. Edward had also from the Duchy and from Brittany active and well-favoured men completely armed from head to foot. He had gathered so completely the whole knighthood of England, that he left none that could wield weapons, or were able to take the field in battle. From Wales also and from Ireland he had a great following. From Poitiers, Aquitaine, and Bayonne he had full many of great renown. And from Scotland besides he had a great following of men of might.

When all these were gathered together he had a hundred thousand fighting men and more. Of these, forty thousand were horsemen, armed both head and hand, and of these, three thousand had their horses covered with complete mail, to make the front of the battle. He had also fifty thousand archers, with light-armed horsemen, and men on foot, besides camp-followers to look after harness and victual. He had so many, it was a marvel. A vast number of carts also went with them. Besides those that carried armour, and those that were loaded with tents and vessels, and furnishings of chamber and hail, and wine and wax, shot and victual, fourscore were loaded with fuel. They were so many as they rode, and their ranks were so broad, and such great space did their baggage train take up, that their vast host could be seen over-spreading the whole land.

There might be seen many a valiant and active man, and many a gaily armed knight, and many a sturdy, stirring steed, richly arrayed, and many helms and habergeons, shields and pennoned spears, and so many comely knights, it seemed indeed that they might vanquish the whole world in battle.

Why should I make my tale too long? They all came to Berwick, and some took quarters in the town, and some lodged without in tents and pavilions. And when King Edward saw his host so great, so gallant, and so complete, he was right joyful in heart, and deemed there was not indeed in the world a king that could withstand him. He thought to bring all into his power, and he liberally dealt the lands of Scotland among his host. He was liberal with other men's lands, and his followers menaced the Scots one and all with great words. Nevertheless, ere all came to pass as they expected, there were to be rents made in much whole cloth.

King Edward, by advice of his leaders, divided his men into ten battles. In each battle were fully ten thousand men, all determined to make a stout stand and bold fight, and leave nothing in their foes' power. He set leaders to each battle, known men of good generalship. And he gave the leading of the vanguard to two renowned earls, Gloucester and Hereford, with many captains under their command, in right great ordered array. Right brave were they, and believed if they came to battle no strength could withstand them. And when his followers were thus disposed, King Edward ordered his own battle, and arranged who should be at his bridle. Sir Giles d'Argentine he set upon one side to hold his rein, and, on the other, the valiant Sir Aymer de Valence; for above the rest he trusted in their sovereign great valour.

When the king in this fashion had arranged his battles and his leadership, he rose early one morning and set out from Berwick. The English covered hills and valleys, as their broad battles rode separate over the fields. The sun was shining bright and clear, and their newly burnished armour flashed in the light, while banners blazed brightly, and pennons waved to the wind, and the whole field was aflame. So many were their banners and pennons, and of such different device, that it would need great skill to describe them. Were I to tell all their show, their colour and bearings, I should be cumbered in the doing of it, even were it in my power.

King Edward, with all that great host, rode straight to Edinburgh. They were altogether too many to fight with the few folk of a harmless land. But where God helps, what can withstand?

When King Robert heard that the English had come into his country in such array and such number, he sent abroad a summons to his knights, and they all came right willingly to the Torwood, where he had ordained their meeting. The valiant Sir Edward Bruce came with a right great company of good men well armed and equipped, bold and strong for the battle. Walter, Steward of Scotland, too, who was but a beardless boy, came with a noble rout that all might know by their bearing. And the good Lord of Douglas brought with him men well used, I warrant, to battle. Such men were less likely to be dismayed in the press of the fight, and likely to see more quickly the chances of confounding the strength of their enemies, than men unused to war. The Earl of Moray came also with his men well arrayed, in good order for the strife, and determined to uphold their rights. Many other stout barons also, and knights of full great fame, came right valiantly with their men.

When the brave array had come together there were, I trow, thirty thousand and more of fighting men, besides baggage-carriers and camp- followers who tended harness and provender. The king then went over all the host, and noted their bearing, and saw that all were fully equipped. They were bold of carriage. The most timid among them seemed likely to do his part right well. The king noted all their looks as, at such a pass, he well knew how, and saw that they were all of bold and assured countenance, without dismay or fear. It greatly pleased his heart, and he was persuaded that men of such a mind, if they set their strength to it, must be indeed right hard to vanquish. Ever as he met them in the way he welcomed them in hearty manner, speaking brave words here and there; and they, seeing their lord welcome them so graciously, were right glad, and deemed they might well put themselves to the touch of hard fighting and stress of battle to uphold his honour.

When the valiant king saw his host all forthwith assembled, eager with heart and mind to do his pleasure and maintain their freedom, he was glad in many ways, and called all his privy council, and said, "Sirs, now ye see how the English in great strength have disposed themselves for battle in order to rescue yonder stronghold. Therefore it is well we now ordain how we shall hinder their purpose, and so close the road to them that they pass not without great obstacle. We have here at our command full thirty thousand men. Of the whole number make we four battles, and so arrange that when our enemies come near we take our way to the New Park. [The New Park, or King's Park, was the old royal hunting ground of Stirling. It was formerly of much greater extent than now, and stretched from the King's Knot, or Round Table, under the castle walls, southward to the Bannockburn, three miles away, and beyond.] There for certain they behove to pass, unless they march beneath and go over the morass. Thus we shall have them at advantage. Methinks it most expedient that we go to this battle on foot, arrayed only in light armour. Our foes are in more strength and better horsed than we, and should we fight mounted we must be in great peril. But if we fight on foot, it is certain we shall always have the advantage, for in the Park among the trees the horsemen must always be cumbered, and the ditches below must also throw them into confusion."

All agreed to what he said, and in a little space they ordered their four battles. The king gave the leading of the vanguard to the Earl Thomas, for all had full assurance and trust in his noble leadership and high courage. To uphold his banner, lords of great valour with their followings were assigned to his division. The leadership of the second battle was given to the valiant Sir Edward, doughty in deed and famous for his great feats of arms. I trow that, howoever the game might go, his enemies were likely to have cause to mourn. The king gave the third battle to Walter Stewart to lead, and to the doughty Douglas. They were cousins in near degree; therefore Stewart, being young, was given to Douglas in charge. Nevertheless, I trow the young leader was to do his duty so manfully and bear himself so well, that he was to need no guardianship. The command of the fourth battle the noble king took to himself, and had in his company all the men of Carrick, and of Argyll, Kintyre, and the Isles, among whom were Sir Angus of Islay and Bute, and all his following. He had also a great host of armed men of the lowlands. His division, which was strong and formidable, he said should form the rearguard, and straight in front of him should go the vanguard, and behind it, a little space apart on either hand, should march the other battles. So the king, being behind, should see where most need was, and bring his banner to the relief.

Thus the Bruce, in every way wise and active and right valiant, and above everything bold, ordered his men for the battle. And on the morrow, which was Saturday, he heard from his scouts that the English, in great strength, had lain that night at Edinburgh. Accordingly, without more delay, he set out with his whole host, and quartered in the New Park. And in an open field, where he thought the English must needs pass if they held their way through the Park to the castle, he caused many pits to be dug, of a foot's breadth and the depth of a man's knee. So thickly were they dug that they might be likened to the wax comb of a hive. He toiled all that night, so that before day he had made these pits, and had covered them with sticks and green grass, that they might not easily be seen.

On Sunday, in the morning, very soon after sunrise, the Scots most reverently heard mass, and many shrived themselves devoutly, determined to die in that struggle or make their country free. They prayed to God for their cause. None of them dined that day, but all fasted on bread and water for the Vigil of St. John.

The king, whenever mass was done, went to the pits, and saw they had been made as he desired. On either side the road a full broad space was honey-combed as I have described. If their foes advanced on horseback in that direction, I trow they could not well escape without overthrow. Then he caused the cry to go forth throughout the host, that all should arm at once, and make ready in their best fashion. And when they were all assembled he had them arrayed for the battle. Next, along all the line he caused it to be cried aloud, that whatsoever man found his heart not assured to stand and win all, and to maintain that mighty struggle or die with honour, should betimes leave the field, and that none should remain but those who would stand by him to the end, and take the fortune God sent. Then all answered with a shout, and with one voice cried that none should fail him for fear of death till the battle was won.

When the good king heard his men so boldly make answer, and declare that neither death nor fear could daunt them, or bring them to avoid the battle, he rejoiced greatly in his heart. He felt sure that men of such a mind, so stout, so bold, and so trusty, must hold their own well in battle against the strongest enemies. Then he sent all the small folk and camp-followers, and all the harness and victual that were in the Park, a great way from him, and made them leave the field of battle. They took their departure as he ordered, to the number of nigh twenty thousand, and made their way to a hollow ground. Nevertheless, the king was left with a complete host of thirty thousand men. I trow they were to make a stalwart stand, and do their duty as they ought. They stood then in rank, all ready to abide any attack.

The king made them all arm themselves, since he knew for a certainty that the enemy had lain that night at Falkirk, and were marching straight upon him in strong and great array. He bade his nephew, the Earl of Moray, keep the road beside the kirk [The church of St. Ninian's, between Bannockburn and Stirling.] with his host, so that no man should pass that way to the castle without fighting. He himself, he said, with his division, should keep the approach through the Park if any sought to attack there. At the same time his brother, Sir Edward, and young Walter the Steward, with the Lord Douglas and their host, should take good heed which of them had need of help, and should help them that had need. He then sent James of Douglas and Sir Robert of Keith, marshal of all the feudal host, to spy the English advance. They mounted and rode forth with well-horsed followers, and soon beheld the great array coming on, with shields shining clear, and basnets burnished full brightly, flashing back the strong beams of the sun. They saw so many braided banners, standards, and spear pennons, and so many mounted knights all flaming in gay attire, and so many broad battles taking such vast space as they rode, as might, by their number and battle array, have dismayed the greatest and boldest and best host in Christendom.

When the scouts had had sight of the enemy they made their way to the king, and told him in great privacy the multitude and splendour of their foes, and the breadth of their array, and the great strength they had. And the king bade them give no sign of these things, but declare throughout the host that the enemy were coming in ill array, and thus encourage his men. For ofttimes a single word may cause discouragement and damage, and in the same way a word may bring about the courage and hardihood that make men succeed. Thus it happened here; the courage and good cheer of the scouts so greatly raised the spirits of the host that the least bold was, by his looks, most forward to begin the great struggle.

In this fashion the noble king, by the bold countenance and cheer that he so bravely made, gave courage to all his men. It seemed to them that no great mischance could happen while he was their leader, and no danger befall that his valour could not avert. His bravery and carriage so encouraged them that the most faint-hearted became bold.

On the other hand, the English approached in their battles with their banners waving to the wind in such right stalwart array as I have already described. And when they were come so near, that but two miles lay between the hosts, they chose a doughty company of men-at- arms, active and stout, on fair full-armed steeds. Three bannerets of right great might were captains of that company, and the stout Lord Clifford was their chief leader. They were, I trow, eight hundred armed men. They were all young and gay and eager to do feats of arms, the best of all the host in bearing and array, the fairest company in such number to be found. They thought to make their way to the castle, and they deemed, if they could reach it, it should be held relieved. This host rode forward, and took the way towards Stirling. They avoided the New Park altogether, for they knew well the king was there, and they kept the lower ground all in a body till they were below the kirk.

The stout Earl Thomas, when he saw them thus take the field, made for them with the greatest speed at the head of only five hundred men. He was grieved and troubled in heart that they had so far passed him, for the king had said to him roughly that a rose of his chaplet had fallen, since these men had passed where he was set to keep the way. Because of this he made double haste, and in short space came with his following to the open field, for he meant to amend his fault or end his life.

When the English saw him come on without doubt or fear, and so boldly take the plain, they sped against him, spurring their steeds, and riding straight and bold and swift. And the Earl, seeing that host coming so stoutly, said to his men, "Be not dismayed because of their din, but set your spears before you, and keep all back to back with the spear-points out. Thus shall we best defend us if we be surrounded."

They did as he bade, and forthwith the enemy came on. Before them all came pricking a knight bold of heart and hand, a great lord at home, Sir William Dayncourt by name. He spurred on them so hardily, and they met him so stubbornly, that both he and his horse were borne down and slain beyond recovery on the spot. Greatly were he and his valour lamented by the English that day.

The rest came on them sturdily, but none rushed among them so boldly as did he. Riding far more cautiously, they gathered all in a body, and surrounded the Scottish company, attacking them on every side. But - the Earl's men with their spears gave wide wounds to the horses that came near, and the riders when they lost their seats lost their lives. Many spears, darts, knives, and weapons of all sorts were cast among the Scots, but they defended themselves so skilfully that the English were filled with wonder. For some would dash out of their company and stab the steeds, and throw down men among their assailants. So fiercely did the English throw swords and maces among the Scots, that a mound of the weapons cast there arose in their midst.

The Earl and his men were fighting thus at great disadvantage, for they were fewer by far than their enemies, and were wholly surrounded. Many a blow was dealt, and their enemies harassed them most straitly and mercilessly. In two ways were they hard beset, by the heat of fighting and the heat of the sun, and all their flesh was drenched with sweat. There rose above them such a mist of the breathing of horses and men, and of dust, that it made a darkness in the air wondrous to see, and put them to great perplexity. Making great endeavour, they manfully defended themselves, and set will and skill and strength to overthrow the foes so fiercely harassing them. Nevertheless, except God helped them quickly, they were like to have their fill of fighting.

But when the king and the lords beside him saw the Earl recklessly take the open field, James of Douglas came up to the Bruce and said, "Ah, sir, by Saint Mary, the Earl of Moray takes the plain field openly with his following. He is in peril unless he be helped soon, for his enemies are more than he, and horsed well besides. With your leave I will speed to help him at his need, for he is surrounded with foes."

"As our Lord sees me," said the king, "thou shalt not stir a foot towards him. Let him take the fortune that falls to him; whether he happen to win or lose, I shall not break my battle plan for him."

"Of a surety," said Douglas, "I will in no wise see him overwhelmed by his foes when I can bring him help. With your leave I will assuredly help him, or die in the endeavour."

"Do so then," said the king, "and speed thee soon again."

So Douglas set forth. If he should arrive in time, I trow he was like to help the Earl in a fashion that his foes should feel.


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