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The Bruce
Book 9

The Taking of Perth

NOW in the forest leave we Douglas, who was to have little rest till the country was delivered from Englishmen and their might, and turn we to the noble king who, with his followers, had set forth right stoutly, and in good array, towards the Mounth. There he was met by Alexander Fraser and his brother Simon, and all the folk they had with them. The king made them good countenance and was right glad of their coming. They told him all the purpose of John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, who had taken to help him Sir John Mowbray and Sir David the Brechin, with all their following, "and more than anything desire to take vengeance on you, Sir King, for the sake of Sir John Comyn, who was slain in Dumfries."

"As Our Lord will forgive me," said the king, "I had great cause for slaying him; but since they take on hand to war against me because of him, I shall wait a while, and see how they show their strength, and if so be they seek to fight we must defend ourselves, and take the fortune God sends us."

After this speech the king hastened straight to Inverury, and there was seized with such a sickness as put him to the direst distress, and made him forbear both drink and meat. His men could get no medicine that helped him, and his strength so wholly failed him that he could neither ride nor walk. Then, ye may well believe, his men were sad, for there was none in that company who would have been half so grieved to see his own brother lying there dead before him as they all were for the king's sickness, for he was their whole encouragement. But good Sir Edward, his brother, the gallant and bold, stalwart and wise, strove with all his might to cheer them. And when the lords who were there saw that the sickness ever more and more troubled the king, they thought presently it was not expedient to lie in that place. For the country there was all plain, and they were but a small company to lie, without a stronghold, in the open. Therefore, till their captain recovered from his great malady, they resolved to make their way to some fastness.

Folk without a captain, unless they be the better men in a difficulty, shall not be wholly so stout of deed as if they had a lord to lead them who dare put it to the touch boldly to take the fortune God will send. When a leader is of such heart and valour as to dare an exploit, his men take example from his manhood and bravery, so that each one of them becomes worth three others who have only a sorry chief. A leader's cowardice, on the other hand, so acts upon his men that they lose their manliness through the unskilfulness of his leadership. For when the lord who should lead them is no better than a dead man, or flees the field, trow ye not they shall be vanquished in their hearts? Yea, indeed they shall, I trow, except their hearts be so high that because of their valour they will not flee. And some, though they be of such nobleness, yet, when they see the lord and his company flee, shall flee at a pinch, for all men right gladly flee from death.

See what he does who thus so foully flees because of his cowardice! Both he and his men are vanquished, and his foes are set uppermost. But he who, by reason of his great nobility, devotes himself to dangers to encourage his host, fills his men with such bravery that many a time they bring unlikely ventures to a right good end.

Thus did King Robert, of whom I tell. By extraordinary manhood he so encouraged his men that none knew fear where he was. They desired not to fight while he was lying in such sickness, and so they laid him in a litter, and made their way to the Sliach, [A fastness of the hills on the borders of the Garioch, sixteen miles north-west of Inverury.] and resolved to lie in that fastness till his malady was past.

But when the Earl of Buchan knew that they were gone thither, and learned that the king was so sick that men doubted his recovery, he sent hastily after his men, and assembled a great company. All his own men were there, and all his friends were with him, Sir John the Mowbray and his brother, I have heard, also Sir David of Brechin, and many in their following.

And when they were all come together they set out forthwith in full force, on the march to the Sliach to attack the sick king. This was after Martinmas, when snow had covered all the land.

As they came near the Sliach, in their best array, the king's men, who knew of their coming, armed themselves to make defence if they should be attacked. They did this notwithstanding that their enemies were two to their one.

The earl's men were coming close, blowing trumpets and making a great show. They made knights too when they were near. And the king's men stood in the woodside in close array and determined to await the coming of their enemies boldly there. They would on no account issue forth to an attack till the king was recovered, but if the others should attack them they would make defence, help what might.

And when the earl's company saw they wrought so busily and prepared to defend that fastness, they sent forth their archers to skirmish with them as men of might. And Bruce's party sent archers against these, who skirmished so stoutly with them that the earl's skirmishers withdrew into their ranks.

Thus they lay there three days, and skirmished each day, and the earl's bowmen ever had the worst. And when the king's company saw the foes before them growing more in number each day, while they themselves were few and so placed that they had nothing to eat unless they toiled to get it, they took counsel and agreed to lie there no longer, but make their way to a place where they could get victual and meat for them and theirs.

They laid the king in a litter, and made ready, and set out, and all their foes could see each man armed in his degree to fight if they were assailed. They bore the king in their midst, and marched closely around him, and made no great haste.

The earl and his men saw them make ready to march, and beheld with how little fear they set forth with the king, and how they were ready to fight whoever might attack; and the hearts of the assailants failed, and they let the company go their way in peace, and themselves went home.

The earl made his way to Buchan, and Sir Edward the Bruce went straight to Strathbogie with the king, and made sojourn there till he began to recover and walk, then they returned to Inverury. For they wished to lie during the winter in the low country, where victual could not fail them.

The earl learned they were there, and gathered his scattered host. Brechin, Mowbray, and their men all gathered to him, and were a right great company bravely arrayed. They came to Old Meldrum, and quartered there, a thousand strong, on the night before Christmas Eve. [December 23, 1307.] They all lodged there that night, and on the morrow, at daylight, Sir David, the lord of Brechin, went towards Inverury, to see whether he could in any manner do hurt to his enemies. So suddenly did he come riding into the end of Inverury that he slew some of the king's men, while the rest withdrew and fled towards the king, who, with most of his followers, was then lying in the further half of the place. And when he was told the tidings how Sir David had slain his men, Bruce asked quickly for his horse, and bade his men make ready with the greatest speed, since he would go to fight his enemies. With that, though not yet fully recovered, he made ready to rise.

Then some of his servants said, "What! think ye, Sir, thus to go and fight, and not yet recovered of your sickness?"

"Yea," said the king, "without a doubt, their insolence has made me sound and whole. No medicine could so soon have recovered me as this has done. Therefore, as God sees me, I shall either have them, or they me."

And when his men heard the king so wholly set on fighting, they all rejoiced at his recovery, and made ready for the battle.

The noble king and his host, which might be very near seven hundred strong, set out for Old Meldrum, where the earl and his company lay. The scouts saw them coming, with banners waving to the wind, and they told it quickly to their lord, and he caused his men to arm in haste, and arrayed them for battle. Behind them they set the rabble of their camp, and made a good show for the fight.

The king came on in great strength, and the earl's men stood their ground, making great show till they were near joining battle. But when they saw the noble king come on stoutly and without check, they backed their steeds a little. And the Bruce, who knew right well that they were all well-nigh discomfited, pressed on them with his banner. Then they withdrew more and more, and when the small folk saw their lords thus retreat they all turned their backs, dispersed, and fled, scattered here and there. The lords, who still held together, saw their small folk flee and the king coming stoutly on, and were so dismayed that they, too, turned their backs and fled. A little space they held together, and then each man took his own way.

Never so foul mischance befell a host, after making so sturdy a show. For when the king's company saw they fled so cravenly, they chased them with all their might, and took some and slew others. The rest fled without pause. He whose horse was good got best away. The Earl of Buchan fled to England, and Sir John Mowbray went with him, and found refuge with King Edward. But they had both only a short respite, for they died soon afterwards. And Sir David of Brechin fled to Breehin, his own castle, and provisioned and armed it well. But David, son of the Earl of Atholl, who was in Kildrummy, came presently and besieged him there, and he, wishing to war and battle no more against the noble king, shortly, with fair treaty, became his man. [According to Fordoun this battle occurred in 1303, and Lord Hailes in his Annals makes May 22 the date.]

Now go we again to the king. He was right glad of his victory, and caused his men to burn all Buchan from end to end, and spared none. He harried the region in such fashion that nigh fifty years afterwards men lamented the Ravage of Buchan. The Bruce then took the north country to his peace, and it humbly obeyed his sovereignty, so that north of the Mounth there was none that was not his man, and his rule waxed ever more and more. He made his way then towards Angus, and planned soon to free all the country north of the Scottish Sea. [The old name for the Firth of Forth.]

The castle of Forfar was then garrisoned with Englishmen, but Philip the Forester of Platane took his friends and ladders, and went secretly to the stronghold, and climbed the stone wall, and with little difficulty, by fault of the watch, took the place. He slew all whom he found, then yielded the castle to the king, who made him right good reward, and afterwards had the wall broken down and the castle and well destroyed.

When the castle of Forfar and all its towers were thrown down, the wise king, active and bold, went with all his rout to Perth, and beset the town and laid siege to it. But so long as it had men and meat it could not be taken, except with great trouble, for the walls were all of stone with strong and high towers. At that time there dwelt in it Moffat and Oliphant. These two had the whole town in ward. The Earl of Strathearn also was there, but his son and many of his men were without in the king's host.

There was frequent skirmishing hard and stubborn, and men were slain on each side, but the good king, shrewd in every act, saw the strength of the wall, and the defence the garrison could make, and how hard the town was to take by strength or force in open assault, and he resolved to work by stratagem. All the time he lay there he espied and cunningly caused discovery to be made as to where the ditch was shallowest, till at last he found a place which men might wade to their shoulders. And when he had found that place he caused his followers each one to make ready. Six weeks of the siege were then gone. They packed up their armour altogether, and openly left the siege, and the king marched away with all his folk as if he would do no more to the place.

They that were within the town, when they saw him make ready to march, shouted and scoffed at him. And he rode forth on his way as if he had no wish to return or make sojourn beside them. But in eight days he had ladders made secretly, sufficient for his purpose, and then in a dark night went with his host towards the town. He left all the horses and grooms far from the place, and took the ladders, and went on foot secretly towards the walls.

No sentinels were heard to speak or cry, for the folk within, mayhap, as men that fear nothing, all slept. They had no dread of the king, for they had heard no tidings of him these three days and more, and so they were trusting and secure.

When the king heard nothing stir he was greatly pleased, and took his ladder in hand for an example to his men. Then, full arrayed in all his armour, he plunged into the ditch, and, testing with his spear, waded across. But the water stood to his throat.

There was at that time in his company a stout and active knight of France, and when he saw the king thus crossing in the water, and undauntedly carrying his ladder, he crossed himself at the marvel, and said, "Ah, Lord! what shall we say of our nobles of France who for ever stuff their paunch with sweet morsels, and think but to eat and drink and dance, when a knight so very valiant and renowned for feats of arms sets himself in such peril as this to win a wretched hamlet!"

With that he ran to the ditch and made his way across after the king.

And when the Bruce's followers saw their lord pass over, in a short space they crossed the ditch, and without further hindrance set their ladders to the wall, and pressed diligently to climb up. And the good king, I have heard, was the second man to take the wall.

He waited there till all his force was over. Still there rose neither noise nor outcry. But soon afterwards a noise was made by some that perceived them, and from that the alarm rose through the town. But the king, being ready with his men to attack, entered the town. He sent most of his force scattering through the place, but kept a large body with himself, so that he should be provided with defence, if he were attacked. Those, however, whom he sent through the town soon put their foes to great confusion, they being in bed or flying scattered here and there, and before the sun rose the enemy were every one discomfited and taken.

Both of the wardens were captured, and Malise of Strathearn went to his father, the Earl Malise, and took him by force, and all his people. Afterwards, for his son's sake, the noble king gave the earl his land to rule. The others of the king's party ran throughout the town, and seized for themselves in great abundance men, armour, merchandise, and other goods of sundry sort, till some who before were poor and bare became rich and mighty with the spoil. But there were few slain, for the king had given command, with great penalty, that his men should slay none who could be taken without much conflict. He considered they were natives of the country, and he had pity for them. [According to Fordoun, Perth was captured January 8, 1312.]

Thus the town was taken. Then the king caused the towers and walls to be every one thrown down. He left no stone wall or tower standing about that town, but wholly destroyed them all. The prisoners he sent to safe keeping, and he took all the land to his peace. There was none then who durst withstand him. All north of the Scottish Sea obeyed his sovereignty except the Lord of Lorne and the people of Argyll who sided with him. That lord remained ever against the king, and hated him above all else. Yet, before all the play was done, the king was, I trow, to take vengeance on his great cruelty, and make him sore repent, when he, could not mend the matter, that he ever persecuted the Bruce.

When the town was thus taken and cast down, the king's brother, the valiant Sir Edward, took with him a great company, and set out for Galloway. For with his men he desired to try whether he could recover that country out of the hand of the English.

This Sir Edward, of a truth, I promise, was a noble knight of his hands, and in manner delightful and joyous. He was extraordinarily bold, and so high of courage that he never was dismayed by the number of his enemies. Because of this he often discomfited many with few, and was renowned above his peers. Of the rehearsal of all his deeds, his valour, and his manhood, many romances might be made. Though I take on hand to say something of him, it is nevertheless not the tenth part of his labours.

This good knight and all the folk with him very soon reached Galloway. There he made all his that he found, and greatly harried the country.

At that time there dwelt in Galloway Sir Ingraham Umphraville, renowned for high prowess and more than common valour. By reason of this, and for a sign that he was set in the highest rank of chivalry he caused ever to be borne before him a red bonnet on a spear. There was also Aymer de St. John. These two had the country in charge, and when they heard of the coming of Sir Edward, and how he so openly rode over the land, they in great haste got together all their host. Twelve hundred, I trow, they might be.

But with fewer men he met them beside the Oree, and so boldly assailed them in hard battle that he put them all to flight, and slew more than two hundred of them. The chiefs fled to Butel for safety, and though Sir Edward chased them fast, both Sir Ingraham and Sir Aymer at last reached the castle. The best of their company, however, they left behind them dead on the ground. And when Sir Edward saw the chase had failed he secured the prey, and carried off such a number of cattle as was a wonder to see. From Butel tower they saw how he made his men drive the prey with them, but to this they could set no hindrance.

Galloway was vastly astonished by this chivalrous feat of arms, and feared Sir Edward for his valour. Some of the men of the country came to his peace, and made oath to him. But Sir Aymer, after the defeat, rode to England, and procured there a great company of armed men to avenge him of the disgrace done him by the noble Sir Edward in the battle. He got together fifteen hundred and more good men of right fair renown, and set out privily with that armed force to surprise Sir Edward, if he could. He planned to attack him in open battle before he could get away.

Now may ye hear of a great marvel, and of the highest feat of arms. Sir Edward was in the country near at hand with his company, and very early in the morning he heard a cry that the English were coming. Then without delay he armed himself, and leapt nimbly on his horse. He had fifty men in his rout, well mounted and armed, and he caused his small folk every one to withdraw to a strait place near by, and rode forth with his fifty.

A knight valiant and active, stalwart and stout, courteous and fair and of good repute, Sir Alan of Cathcart by name, who was then in his company, told me this tale as I shall tell it.

There fell that morning a great mist, so that men could not see a full bow-shot's distance for it. But it chanced that the little company found the trace of the route by which their enemies had passed. Sir Edward, who had at all times a great eagerness for valorous achievements, spurred with his whole rout upon the track. And before mid-morning the mist all suddenly cleared away, and he and his company saw themselves not a bow-shot from the enemy. Then with a shout they dashed upon them; for they saw that if they fled, not a fourth part should well get away, so Sir Edward took the risk of onset rather than of flight, and with a shout the little Scottish company dashed forward.

When the English host saw this band come so suddenly and dauntlessly upon them they were confounded with fear, and their assailants rode so boldly among them that at once they bore many to the earth. Sir Aymer's men were right greatly dismayed by the force of that first attack, and were put in great fear, and supposed, because they were so assailed, that the Scottish troop was larger by far. Then Sir Edward's company, having pierced quickly through the enemy, turned their horses' heads stoutly at them again, and at this charge a great number of their foes were borne down and slain. The English were then so much dismayed that they became greatly scattered. And when Sir Edward and his men saw them in such ill array they pricked on them the third time. And the enemy, seeing them come on so stoutly, were cast into such fear that all their rout, both greater and less, fled, scattering each one here and there. None among them was so bold as stay, but all in common fled for a place of safety.

Sir Edward, being eager to destroy them, gave chase, and took some and slew others. But Sir Aymer with much difficulty escaped, and went his way. His men were discomfited every one— some were taken, some were slain, some escaped. This was indeed a right fair feat of arms.

Lo, how a bold deed suddenly conceived, and forthwith driven sharply forward, may cause an unlikely enterprise to come to a right fair and good ending. Just so it fell out in this case, for boldness, without doubt, caused fifty to overcome fifteen hundred, though it was thirty to one, and two men are one man's master. But fate led the English in such a way that they were each one discomfited.

Sir Aymer made for home, right glad that he got so away. I trow he had no desire for many a day to harry the country where Sir Edward was. And Sir Edward dwelt from that time in Galloway, harrying those in rebellion, and carried on the warfare so that in a year he brought that region freely to the peace of his brother the king. It was a year of nought but hard fighting, and in that time there fell to him many a fair achievement which is not written here. I know of a truth that in that year he won by force thirteen castles, and overcame many a proud man. From this the truth about him may be judged. Had he been moderate in action I trow none worthier than he could have been found in his time, excepting only his brother, to whom, in fair feats of arms, I dare compare none then alive. For the king governed himself always with moderation, and managed his feats of arms always with such valour and wisdom that often he brought an unlikely enterprise to a right fortunate issue.

In all this time James of Douglas was wandering in the Forest, [The remnant of the ancient Caledonian Forest about the springs of Ettrick and Tweed was for centuries known as par excellence The Forest. it was the haunt of the historic Merlin in the sixth century—his grave is still pointed out at Drummelzier within its bounds, and in the sixteenth century the Seventy of Selkirk who fell round James IV. at Flodden were lamented as the 'Flowers o' the Forest.'] and held it, by hardihood and stratagem, despite all the strength of his many foes, notwithstanding that they full often beset him with fierce attack. But, sometimes by wisdom and sometimes by bravery, he brought his purpose to a happy issue.

It happened that one night at that time, as he was journeying, and thought to lodge in a house on the Water of Lyne, when he came with his company near the place he listened and heard the words, every one, of those within. And by these he perceived that strangers were that night quartered there. It was as he thought, for Alexander Stewart, the Lord of Bonkyl, [This was the son of Sir John Stewart of Bonkyl who fell while marshalling the Scottish archers at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. That hero was the John of Gaunt of Scotland. A younger son of the fourth High Steward, he was ancestor of four Earls of Angus, the French Lords d'Aubigny, the Stewart Lords of borne and Earls of Atholl, the Stewarts of Appin, the Earls of Galloway, the Earls of Traquair, the Barons of Blantyre, and the Earls of Lennox, who finally ascended the throne in the person of James VI.] was there, and others besides of great valour. Thomas Randolph, of great renown, was among them, and Adam of Gordon also. They had come thither with their company, and meant to lie in The Forest, and hold it by means of their great force, and with marching and stout fighting chase Douglas out of that country.

But otherwise altogether went the game. For when Douglas was aware that strangers had taken quarters in the place where he meant to lie, he went hastily to the house, and beset it all about. When those within heard such a noise around the walls they rose in haste, and hurriedly seized their weapons, and armed themselves, and rushed forth.

Their foes met them with bare weapons, and attacked right boldly, and they defended themselves doughtily with all their might, but at last they were pressed so hard that their folk all failed them. Thomas Randolph was taken, and Alexander Stewart was wounded in a place or two. Adam of Gordon alone, by dint of stratagem and force, escaped from the fight, with many of his men. Those who were seized were wondrous woeful at their capture, but this of necessity it behoved them to be.

That night the good Lord of Douglas made right gladsome cheer to Sir Alexander, who was his uncle's son. So also assuredly he did to Thomas Randolph, since he was in near degree of blood to the Bruce, being his sister's son. And on the morrow, without more ado, he rode towards the noble king, and carried both of these two with him.

The king was blithe at his coming, and thanked him many times for it. And to his nephew he said, "Thou hast a while denied thy faith, but must now be reconciled."

Then forthwith Randolph answered and said, "Ye reprove me, but ye have better need to be reproved, for seeing ye make war upon the king of England, ye should endeavour to make good your right in open battle, and not by stratagem and craft."

"Mayhap," said the king, "it shall come ere very long to such endeavour. But since thou speakest so royally, there is much reason to reprove thy proud words, till thou knowest what is right and bowest to it as thou oughtst."

Without more delay the king sent him to close keeping, where for a time he should not be altogether at his own disposal


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