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The Bruce
Book 16

King Robert in Ireland

WHEN Sir Edward by his valiant prowess had three times defeated Richard of Clare and the whole baronage of Ireland, and afterwards, with all his men of might, was come again to Carrickfergus, Thomas, the good Earl of Moray, took his leave to pass into Scotland. Sir Edward gave him leave reluctantly, and charged him especially to pray the king to come to see him in Ireland, for were they both in that country, he said, none should withstand them.

The Earl took his departure and went to his ships, and passing over sea soon arrived in Scotland. Forthwith he went to the king, who received him gladly, and inquired how his brother fared and of his doings in Ireland; and the Earl told him truly all that had taken place.

When the king had done asking, the Earl gave him his message, and the Bruce said he would gladly see his brother, and also all belonging to that country and the war there. He then gathered a great host, and appointed two lords of great valour, Walter Stewart and James of Douglas, to be wardens in his absence, and to defend the country. Then he set out for the sea, and at Lochryan in Galloway took ship with all his following, and soon came to Carrickfergus.

Sir Edward was blithe at his coming, and went swiftly down to meet him, and welcomed him with gladsome cheer. He did the same to all who were with the king, and especially his nephew Thomas, Earl of Moray. And they went to the castle, and lie made them much feasting and good fare. They sojourned there for three days in great mirth and royal state.

In this wise King Robert arrived in Ireland, and when lie had sojourned with his men three days in Carrickfergus, they took counsel, and determined to make their way with their whole host through all Ireland from one end to the other.

Sir Edward, the king's brother, rode in front with the vanguard. The king himself had the rearguard, and in his company had the valiant Earl Thomas. They took their way forth, and soon passed Endwillane. It was the month of May, when birds on the bough sing many a different note for the softness of that sweet season, when the branches are covered with leaves and bright blossoms, the fields are gay with sweet-smelling many-coloured flowers, and all things become blithe and glad. At that season the good king rode forth. [According to Hailes, king Robert's Irish campaign took place in the autumn and early spring of 1316-17.]

The warden, Richard of Clare, knew that the king had arrived, and learned that he purposed to march towards the south country. He gathered to him out of all Ireland a right great armed host of squires, burghers, and yeomanry, to the number of nigh forty thousand. Yet he would not venture to fight his enemies all together in open field, but bethought him of a stratagem. He planned that he, with all that great host, should privily make ambush in a wood by the way side, where the Scots must march, and that they should let the vanguard pass to a distance, and then fall boldly with all their men upon the rearguard.

They did as he devised, and took ambush in a wood. The Scottish van rode past them close at hand, while the Irish made no showing of themselves. Sir Edward rode a long way to the front with his host, taking no heed to the rearguard. And when Sir Edward had passed by, Sir Richard of Clare sent active yeomen who could shoot well to skirmish on foot with the rearguard. Now, two of the men sent out skirmished at the wood- side, and shot arrows among the Scots.

The king had with him five thousand active and bold men, and when he saw these two come so nigh, and recklessly shoot among them, he judged right well that of a certainty they had support very near. Accordingly he gave order that no man should be so reckless as ride at them, but that all should keep close together, and ride ever in battle order, ready to make defence if they should be attacked, "For we shall soon, I warrant, have to deal with more of them."

But Sir Colin Campbell, [The king's nephew, son of Lady Mary Bruce and Sir Neil Campbell, Bruce's early adherent, ancestor of the house of Argyll.] who was near by the place where these two yeomen were boldly shooting, spurred on them at full speed, and soon overtook one and slew him with his spear. The other turned, and shot again, and slew Sir Cohn's horse. With that the Bruce came hastily, and, in great displeasure, with a truncheon that was in his hand, gave Sir Colin a stroke that sent him crashing down on his saddle-bow. Then he bade them quickly pull him down; but other lords who were there in some measure appeased the king.

"Disobedience," said the Bruce, "might bring about our discomfiture. Think ye yonder rascals durst assail us so near our host unless they had support at hand? Right well am I assured that we shall have enough to do presently; therefore let each man look to it that he be ready."

With that some thirty bowmen came and skirmished, and hurt a number of the king's men; till the Bruce caused his archers to drive them back with arrows. By this time the Scots entered an open field, and saw forty thousand men arrayed in four battles against them.

"Now, sirs," said the king, "let us see who shall prove valiant in this fight! On them forthwith!"

So stoutly then did the Scots ride at them, and so hardily did they join battle, that a great number of their foes were brought to the ground at the first encounter. Then was heard a dreadful breaking of spears, and mighty noise of onset, as each side rode against the other. Horses came crashing head against head, so that many fell lifeless to the ground. Many an active and valiant man, as one ran upon the other, was stricken dead to the earth. The red blood poured from many a wound in such great quantity that the streams ran with it. Both sides, filled with rage and hate, drove at each other boldly with their bare flashing weapons, and many a strong man was slain on the spot. For those that were bold and active pressed to be foremost, and fight face to face with their foes. There, I warrant, many a cruel conflict and stern battle was to be seen.

In all the Irish war was no such hard fighting known. In less than three years Sir Edward won nineteen great victories, and in sundry of these battles he vanquished twenty thousand men and more, with horses mailed to the feet. But at all these times he bad at least one against five. In this struggle the king had always eight enemies to one of his own men. But he so bore himself that his brave feats and his valour encouraged all his host, and the most faint-hearted was made bold. Wherever he saw the battle thickest he rode most boldly into it, and ever made room about him, slaying all he could overtake, and furiously driving them back.

The valiant Earl Thomas was at all times near him, and fought as if he were mad. From the prowess of these two their men took mighty hardihood. They shunned no danger, but demeaned themselves most stoutly, and so boldly drove at the enemy that their foes were all dismayed. Then the Scots, seeing by their looks that the enemy somewhat avoided the fight, dashed against them with all their strength, and pressed them so hard with blows, that at last they gave way. And now, seeing them take flight, they charged them with all their force, and slew many as they fled.

The king's men so pursued them that they were every one scattered. Richard of Clare made his way at the utmost speed to Dublin, with other lords that fled beside him. There they garrisoned both the castle and the towns in their possession. So desperately were they daunted that I trow Richard of Clare had no desire to prove his strength in battle or skirmish while King Robert and his host tarried in that country. They kept within garrison in this fashion.

And the king, who was so much to be prized, saw in the field right many slain. And one of the prisoners, who was bravely arrayed, he saw weep wondrous tenderly. He asked him why he made such cheer, and the prisoner answered, "Sir, of a surety it is no marvel that I weep. I see here stricken under foot the flower of all the North of Ireland, boldest of heart and hand, and most doughty in fierce attack."

"By my faith," said the king, "thou art wrong. Thou hast more cause to make mirth, since thou hast thus escaped death."

In this fashion Richard of Clare and all his following were overthrown by a slender host. And when the bold Edward Bruce knew that the king had fought thus with so great a host and he away, there could have been seen no more wrathful man. But the good king told him the fault lay in his own folly, by reason that he rode so heedlessly and far ahead, and made no vanguard to them of the rear. "In war," he said, "those who ride in the van should at no time press far from sight of the rear, else great peril may befall."

Of this battle we shall speak no more. The king and all who were with him rode forward in better array and nearer together than they did before. They rode openly through all the land, but found none to say them nay. They rode even before Drogheda and before Dublin, but found none to give battle. Then they went further inland, and held their way south to Limerick, which is the southmost town in Ireland. There they lay for two or three days, and got ready again for the march.

And when they were all ready the king heard a woman's cry, and forthwith asked what that was.

"Sir," said some one, "it is a laundress who just now has been seized with labour, and whom we must leave here behind us. For this reason she makes yonder evil cheer."

"Certes," said the king, "it were shame that she should be left in that strait! Of a surety he is no man I trow who will not pity a woman then."

At that he halted his whole host, and caused a tent to be pitched, and made her go into it, and bade other women stay beside her till her child was born, and gave order before he left how she should be carried with the host. Then be rode forward on his way. It was a right sovereign courtesy for so great and so mighty a king to cause his men to tarry in this fashion for a poor humble laundress. They marched northward again, and passed athwart all Ireland, through Munster and Connaught right to Dublin, and through all Meath and Uriel, [Now the counties of Louth and Monaghan.] as well as Leinster, and afterwards through the whole of Ulster to Carrickfergus. They fought no battle in all that march, for there was none that durst attack them. And all the Irish chiefs, except one or two, came to Sir Edward and did homage to him. Then they each went home again to their own districts, undertaking to do in everything the bidding of Sir Edward, whom they called their king.

He was now well on the way to conquer the whole land, for he had the Irish and Ulster on his side, and he was so far advanced in his war that lie had passed with force of arms through all Ireland from end to end. Could he have governed himself with reason, and not followed his impulses too fast, but have been moderate in his actions, it seems almost certain that he should have conquered the whole country of Ireland. But his extravagant pride and his wilfulness, which was more than boldness, prevented his intent, as I shall hereafter describe.

Here now we leave the noble king at his ease and pleasure, and speak of the Lord Douglas, who was left to keep the marches. He had crafty wrights brought, and caused them to make a fair manor in the meadow of Lintalee, [The spot, which has been already referred to, is still pointed out in the old Jed Forest, a few miles to the south of Jedburgh.] and when the houses were built he brought thither ample provision, for he meant to have a house-warming, and make good cheer to his men.

There was then dwelling at Richmond an Earl called Sir Thomas. [The expedition here described was in reality led by the Earl of Arundel; Sir Thomas of Richmond, who was slain by Douglas, was not its leader, nor was he an earl. He was a knight of Yorkshire.] Moved with envy at Douglas, he said that if his banner could be seen displayed in the field he should soon attack it. He heard how Douglas intended to make a feast at Lintalee, and he had full knowledge also that the king, with Thomas, Earl of Moray, and a great host, were out of the country. For this reason he thought Scotland scant of men to withstand a strong attack, and he himself had at that time the government and command of the Border. He gathered a force till he had nigh ten thousand men, and he took wood-axes with him, for his plan was to make his men hew down the whole of Jedwood forest, so that no tree should be seen there.

They set out on their march; but the good Lord of Douglas had spies constantly out on every side, and was well aware that they meant to ride and come suddenly upon him. In the utmost haste he gathered those that he could of his following. I trow he had then with him fifty who were valiant and active, well armed and equipped in all points. He had also with him a great host of archers.

There was a place on the way where he knew well the English must pass. It had forest upon either side; the entrance was right large and wide, and like a shield it narrowed ever till at one place the way was not a quoit-throw broad. The Lord of Douglas went thither when he knew the enemy were coming near, and in a hollow on one side he placed all his archers in ambush. He bade them keep themselves secret till they heard him raise his battle-cry; then they were to shoot boldly among their foes, and keep them there till he passed through; afterwards they were to march forth with him. On either side of the pass were birch trees growing young and thick. Those he twisted together in such fashion that men could not easily ride through them. When this was done he waited upon the other side of the passing place.

Richmond came riding in the first battle in brave array. The Lord Douglas saw everything, and caused his men to keep still till the enemy came close at hand and entered the narrow way. Then with a shout, crying aloud, "Douglas! Douglas!" the Scots dashed upon them.

When Richmond, who was right valiant, heard the cry thus rise, and plainly saw the banner of Douglas, he made with speed to the spot. But the Scots came on so boldly that they made themselves good passage through the midst of their foes, bearing down to the ground all they met. Richmond was borne down there. Douglas paused above him, and turned him over, and with a dagger took his life on the spot. On his helmet Richmond wore a hat. This Douglas took with him for a token, for it was of fur. Then he made haste out of the way and returned again to the Forest.

In that attack the archers bore their part well, for they shot well and boldly, and the English host was set in great panic. Then, before they knew, Douglas suddenly, with all his company, was among them, and pierced them wellnigh through and through, and had almost finished his exploit before they could take heed to help themselves.

And when they saw their lord was slain they took him up and retreated, to withdraw themselves from the shot. They gathered together in an open place, and because their lord was dead they made ready to take quarters in that spot for the night.

The doughty Douglas got knowledge that a clerk Ellis, with nigh three hundred of the enemy, had gone straight to Lintalee and taken quarters there. He hastened thither with all his company, and found clerk Ellis at meat, and all his rout set down about him. The Scots came boldly upon him, and with sharp swords right quickly did his carving. The English were so wholly cut to pieces there that wellnigh none escaped. The Scots carved for them to such purpose, with shearing swords and daggers, that well nigh all lost their lives. It was a dire side-dish they got, a bellyful more than enough.

Those who by chance escaped made their way to their host, and told how their men were slain and how hardly one had escaped. And when the English heard how Douglas had done, slaying their harbingers and driving themselves back, and slaying their lord in the midst of his host, there was none of them all so bold as desire further to attack the Douglas. Accordingly they held a council, and determined to march homeward. They took their departure, and made such haste that they soon reached England. The Forest they left standing; they had no desire to hew it down at that time, especially while the Douglas was so near a neighbour to them.

When Douglas saw them retreat he perceived their lord was indeed slain. He knew this also by the hat he had taken, for one of the prisoners said to him that for a truth Richmond commonly was wont to wear that fur hat. Douglas at this was happier than before, for he was assured that Richmond, his cruel foe, was brought to destruction.

In this wise Sir James of Douglas, with valour and great daring, gallantly defended the land. This action, I warrant, was boldly undertaken and right stoutly achieved, for with no more than fifty armed men he overthrew a host full ten thousand strong.

There were two other exploits well achieved with fifty men, and sovereignly esteemed above all other deeds of war done in their time.

This was the first of three that was boldly accomplished with fifty men. The second befell in Galloway, when, as ye formerly heard me tell, Sir Edward the Bruce with fifty followers overthrew Sir Aymer of St. John and fifteen hundred men all told. The third happened in Eskdale, when Sir John de Soulis was governor of that region. With fifty men he beset the march of Sir Andrew Hardelay, who had in his company three hundred excellently mounted men. Sir John by his hardihood and sovereign valour vanquished them sturdily, every one, in plain battle, and captured Sir Andrew. The whole manner of the exploit I will not rehearse, for whoso likes may hear young women sing it among them every day as they amuse themselves.

These were three valiant exploits which I trow shall evermore be esteemed in the memory of men. It is without question most just that the names of those who were so valiant in their time, and of whose courage and worth men still take pleasure to hear, should endure in praise for evermore. May He who is the King of heaven take them up to heaven's bliss, where prayer is everlasting.

At the time when Richmond was in this fashion brought to the ground the men of the English coast near the Humber gathered a great force, and taking ship, sailed for Scotland, and came suddenly into the Firth. They thought to have everything at their pleasure, knowing full well that the king and many of great valour were then far out of the country. Therefore they came into the Firth, and held their way in a straight course to its western shore, beside Inverkeithing, near Dunfermline. There they landed and began busily to ravage.

The Earl of Fife and the Sheriff saw ships approaching their coast, and gathered a force to defend their country. And ever, as the ships sailed up the coast, they marched over against them, intending to prevent the landing of the enemy. When the shipmen saw them show such array they said among themselves that the Scots should not hinder their landing. Then they hastened to the land, and reached it very speedily, and right boldly came ashore.

The Scots saw them coming, and were dismayed, and all in a body rode away and let them land without hindrance. Though near five hundred in number they durst not fight, but all together withdrew. But while they were thus riding away without beginning a defence, the good Bishop of Dunkeld, William Sinclair by name, came in brave fashion with a host of some sixty horsemen. He himself was fully armed, and rode upon a stalwart steed, wearing a loose gown above his armour, to cover his array; and his men were as well armed as he. He met the Earl and the Sheriff retreating with their great host, and forthwith asked them what pressing business made them turn so suddenly. They said their foes had landed by main force and in such number that they deemed them too many, and themselves too few to deal with them.

When the Bishop heard this he said, "The king ought to make much of you, who so finely take on hand to defend the country in his absence! Certes, if he served you rightly he should forthwith have the gilt spurs hewed from your heels. Thus should cowards be rightly served. Let him who loves his king and his country turn smartly now again with me!"

With that he cast off his bishop's robe, and took in his hand a strong spear, and rode with speed towards the enemy. All the Scots turned with him, for he had so reproved them that none of them all went from him. He rode before them sturdily, and they followed him in close array till they came near the foes who had landed.

Some of the English were massed together in good order, and some had set out to the foray.

When the good Bishop saw them be said, "Sirs, without doubt or fear prick we boldly upon them, and we shall have them full easily. If they see us come without dismay and without stopping they shall right soon be discomfited. Now fight well, and men shall see who loves the honour of the king to-day."

Then all together in good order they spurred sturdily upon the enemy. The Bishop, who was right bold and big and stark, rode ever in front. They joined battle with a crash, and at the first meeting the English felt so sorely the pricking of their spears that they gave way and made off. They made in haste towards their ships, and the Scots pursued fiercely, and slew so many that all the fields were strewn with English slain, while those that survived hastened to the sea. In the chase the Scots slew all they could overtake; and some that fled, in their haste to reach their ships, went too many on board some of the barges because of the Scots pursuing them, and, the boats capsizing, the men in them were all drowned.

There it was, I have heard tell, that an Englishman did a right great feat of strength. When be was chased to the boat he seized by the two arms a Scotsman who had laid hands upon him, and, whether he would or not, threw him across his back, and, despite all his struggles, carried him to the boat and cast him in. This methinks was a right great feat.

The English who escaped hastened to their ships, and sailed home vexed and sorrowful that they had been thus overwhelmed.

When the shipmen were in this wise discomfited nearly five hundred English lay dead, besides those that were drowned, and the Bishop who had borne himself so well and encouraged all who were there remained on the scene of the fight. And not till the field was plundered bare did the Scots all go home. High honour befell the Bishop who by his enterprise and valour achieved this great feat of arms. On account of it the king ever from that day loved, honoured, and prized him, holding him in such esteem that he called him "his own Bishop."

Thus they defended the country upon both sides of the Scottish Sea while the king was away.

Meanwhile the Bruce had made his way through all Ireland, and come again to Carrickfergus. And when Sir Edward, in royal fashion, had all the Irish at his bidding, and all Ulster as well, the king made ready to return home. A great number of his men, the boldest and most approved in feats of war, he left with his brother. Then he passed to the beach, and when their leaves were taken on either side, he went on board, carrying the Earl Thomas with him, and, setting sail forthwith, arrived without mishap in Galloway.


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