Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Sir William Wallace
Chapter V Wallace Guardian of Scotland

THE immediate outcome of the victory of Stirling Bridge was the clearance of the English out of the realm of Scotland. At the same time, the success gave no measure of the relative strength of the two countries, now fully transformed from friendly neighbours into bitter enemies. It in no way diminishes the glory of Wallace to recognise the accidental weakness of the English at Stirling—the illness of Warenne, the headstrong folly of Cressingham, and the absence of Edward in Flanders. Wallace, on the other hand, had also his own disadvantages in men and means, owing especially to the fatal operation of the feudal machinery of society. He was grievously weakened by the absence of adherents of hereditary name and territorial importance; and yet the presence of such adherents was soon destined to paralyse his efforts. Whatever the difficulties of Edward—foreign expeditions, vexatious claims of intractable barons, or lack of ready money—he could always in the last resort raise a large army of veteran troops, against which the raw levies of Wallace could not possibly hold a plain field. But then Wallace had the courage never to submit or yield. The military determination of such a conflict could not lie in a single decisive battle; it could be reached only through long years of desultory and embittered warfare. Yet the victory of Stirling was all-important to the Scots, in demonstrating that even the mighty armies of England might be disastrously overthrown, and that Scotland might, after all, succeed in throwing off the intolerable yoke of foreign domination. It was a star of hope.

There can be little doubt as to the course taken by the Scots leaders after the expulsion of the English. They summoned a council or convention at St. Johnston. At this council they elected William Wallace and Andrew de Moray 'generals of the army of Scotland,' with full civil powers as well, in the name of King John. By the victory of Stirling, Wallace stood forth the foremost man in Scotland. He had held the leadership, and he had proved himself worthy. But while his deserts were beyond cavil, there was a natural reluctance on the part of the barons to serve under such a 'new man'; and, to obviate this difficulty, it was necessary, or at least desirable, to join with him in command a representative of the baronage. The choice of Andrew de Moray was no doubt suggested by his conspicuous services, especially his recent action in Moray, and his conduct at the bridge. Baronial considerations may also explain the official precedence of Moray's name. Some of the chroniclers say that Sir Andrew de Moray, his father, fell at Stirling; but Sir Andrew was lying safe in the Tower of London. The report of an inquisition at Berwick in 1300 incidentally mentions that it was Andrew de Moray himself that fell at Stirling, but this must be a blunder. The fallen Moray must have been some other member of the brave and prolific family of Morays.

For all practical purposes, at any rate, the interests of the country were in the keeping of Wallace, and he undoubtedly proceeded to establish order with a firm hand and with unflagging energy. One of the most powerful of the Scots nobles, Patrick Earl of March, did not appear to the summons to council. The general feeling, Harry tells us, ran in favour of proceeding against him without delay. Wallace, however, deprecated such brusqueness of action, and induced the Council to despatch a special invitation to the Earl, urging him to come and take his proper place in the counsels of his countrymen. Patrick, however, returned an insulting answer, contemptuously pointed at Wallace, whom he called a 'King of Kyle'; implying thereby much what Langtoft means when he calls Wallace a 'master of thieves'; for Kyle signifies 'forest,' as well as designates the district of Wallace's birth. Thereupon Wallace at once went against him, defeated him in a hard fight near Dunbar, and took his castle, Patrick himself escaping into England. Even after the expedition into England, which was no doubt now resolved upon, had reached Berwick, Wallace, it is said, on learning that certain recalcitrants as far north as Aberdeen ignored the summons to render aid, left Moray in charge and proceeded at once to the spot, where he promptly hanged such as failed to furnish a good excuse. Wallace appears to have carried out consistently the rule of driving furth of Scotland every Englishman, layman or ecclesiastic; unless exception must be made of the garrison of Roxburgh. Scotland for the Scots! On the death of Fraser, he had William de Lamberton appointed Bishop of St. Andrews, defeating the opposition of William Comyn, brother of the Earl of Buchan.

The military situation was but a temporary respite, and required instant preparation for both attack and defence. The condition of the country was lamentable. The land south of Forth had been denuded of everything likely to afford subsistence to the invaders; and what the Scots had not drawn off had been eaten up or destroyed by the English troops. Throughout Scotland there was severe scarcity, if not actual famine, with pestilence in its track. In view of relieving the pressure at home, and of adding to the supplies from the plenty of the northern counties of England, as well as of heartening his men and people by striking a counterblow to the enemy in their own territory, Wallace—or the Council— projected a strong foray across the border. For that enterprise, however, it was necessary to make adequate preparations.

Wallace appears to have not rested content with marshalling afresh his Stirling forces, with the later recruits that flocked to his standard. He is stated to have now made a deliberate attack upon the feudal vassalage, which hampered him so menacingly. He is said to have divided the country into military districts, establishing district muster-rolls of all persons between sixteen and sixty, capable of bearing arms. Over every four men he appointed a fifth; over every nine, a tenth; over every nineteen, a twentieth; and so on upwards. A gibbet frowning over every parish enforced respect to the conscription; examples were not wanting. The barons were threatened with imprisonment or confiscation in case they offered any obstacle to the incorporation of their vassals in the army of liberation. The particular process outlined by the later historian Bower may be no more than his own interpretation of facts he little understood; but there need be no hesitation in believing that Wallace at this time made some strenuous effort of reorganisation, directed to blunting the force of feudal influences, as well as to rendering his army both, more flexible and more efficient.

At the same time it is certain that his mind was much occupied in devising means of alleviation of the internal distress occasioned by the prolonged inflictions of foreign invasion and foreign occupation. The trading activity of the seaports, animated by settlers from the Continent, notably by enterprising Flemings, had permeated and vivified the whole country; but the wars had seriously checked the streams of business across the North Sea, as well as the inland trade and industry. That Wallace took energetic measures of amelioration has been happily placed beyond question by Lappenberg's discovery (1829) of a most significant letter still extant in the archives of the city of Lubeck. This letter, which is in Latin, may be rendered thus:

'Andrew de Moray and William Wallace, the Generals of the army of the realm of Scotland, and the Community of the same realm, to the prudent and discreet men and well-beloved friends, the Mayors and Commons of Lubeck and Hamburg, greeting, and increase ever of sincere friendship.

'We have learned from trustworthy merchants of the said realm of Scotland that you, of your own goodwill, lend your counsel, aid, and favour in all matters and transactions touching us and the said merchants, although we on our part have previously done nothing to deserve such good offices; and all the more on that account are we bound to tender you our thanks and to make a worthy return. To do so we willingly engage ourselves to you, requesting that you will make it known among your merchants that they can have safe access to all the ports of the realm of Scotland with their merchandise; for the realm of Scotland, thank God, has been recovered by war from the power of the English. Farewell.

'Given at Hadsington (Haddington), in Scotland on October ii, in the year of Grace 1297.

'We further request you to have the goodness to forward the business of John Burnet and John Frere, merchants of ours, as you would wish us to forward the business of merchants of yours. Farewell. Given as above.'

Moray and Wallace, it is to be noted, designate themselves 'the Generals,' and join with themselves 'the Community' of Scotland. They are Joint-Guardians in effect, though not in official name.

The Scots army mustered on Roslin Moor. As it approached the border, the English settlers in Roxburgh and Berwick mostly fled into Northumberland, whence the Northumbrians themselves were fleeing to the protection of Newcastle. Towards the end of October, the Scots streamed into England, and ravaged Northumberland at will, molested only in its fringes by occasional and trifling sallies from strongholds like Alnwick Castle. Here they derived effective assistance from the local knowledge and strong arm of Sir Robert de Ros of Wark; and they apparently made Rothbury Forest a rallying ground. They next directed their march to Carlisle; but Carlisle, like Alnwick, was too strongly fortified to yield to besiegers unprovided with 'engines.' We have the Bishop's word for it, however, that they wasted the country for some thirty leagues around; and the chroniclers tell us how they traversed Englewood Forest and Allerdale with fire and sword, penetrating as far as to the Derwent at Cockermouth. Crossing country again from Cumberland, with designs on the bishopric of Durham, they were repelled by a timely storm—hail, snow, and hard frost—invoked by St. Cuthbert. Many of them, Hemingburgh affirms, perished from hunger and cold. Thereupon they fell back on Hexham.

At Hexham Priory, which Comyn's expedition had left in ruins some eighteen months before, the Scots found only three canons, who had valorously ventured to return. These now took refuge in their oratory, which they had newly erected in the midst of the desolation, there to die, should such be the will of God, in the odour of holiness. 'Show us the treasury of your church,' roared the marauders, brandishing their spears, 'or you shall instantly die.' 'It is no long time,' stoutly replied one of the canons, 'since you and your people carried off pretty well everything we possessed, and what you have done with it you know best yourselves. Since then, we have got together but a few things, as you now see.' At this moment, Wallace himself opportunely entered, and, ordering his men to fall back, requested that one of the canons would celebrate mass. On the elevation of the Host, Wallace went out to lay aside his arms, and, when the celebrant was about to receive the sacred elements, the Scots crowded up to him, with the intention of snatching away the chalice. He retired into the sacristy to wash his hands. Then the rapacity of the soldiers broke loose. They seized the chalice from the altar, where the canon had left it in unsuspecting confidence, the napkins, the altar ornaments, and the very mass book the canon had been using. Wallace, on his return, found the canon in bewildered consternation, and instantly ordered the culprits to be sought for and beheaded. They were not found, says the historian ruefully, for the seeking was without intention of finding. Wallace, however, took the canons under his immediate protection, warning them to keep close to his person, for his men were full of mischief, and little amenable either to law or to punishment. This story, Canon Raine thinks, 'was probably told to the historian by his brother canon, William de Hexham, who migrated from the north to Leicester in 1321.' Knighton of Leicester, however, copied or adapted the story from Hemingburgh; but Hemingburgh himself may have got it at Guisborough in Yorkshire in some such direct way. It forms a very striking episode, and it fits in perfectly with Wallace's grant of two charters—one of protection and one of safe-conduct—to the Prior and convent.

The violence of the soldiery of the time, Scots or English, is a fact, demanding such blame or palliation as may be fairly evoked by the circumstances of each case. The specific protections now issued by Wallace, as certified by Hemingburgh, himself an English chronicler, constitute a conspicuous and irrefragable testimony to the hero's humanity. Did Wallace's conduct touch the old chronicler himself? At this story he drops his usual epithet for Wallace—'that notorious bandit' (ille lairo). We refrain from pressing the obvious contrasts to Wallace's considerate action. The charter of protection to the Prior and convent of Hexham may be rendered thus:

'Andrew de Moray and William Wallace, Generals of the army of Scotland, in the name of the renowned Prince Lord John, by the grace of God, the illustrious King of Scotland, with the consent of the Community of the same realm, to all men of the said realm to whom the present writing shall come, greeting,—

'Know that we, in the name of the said King, have duly taken the Prior and convent of Hexham in Northumberland, their lands, their men, and the whole of their possessions, including all their goods, movable and immovable, under the firm peace and protection of the said Lord King and of ourselves. Wherefore we strictly forbid that any one presume to do them any evil, annoyance, injury, or offence in their persons, lands, or goods, under penalty of forfeiture of all the offender's property to the said Lord King, or to put them, or any one of them, to death, under penalty of loss of life and limbs. These presents to remain in force for one year and no longer.

'Given at Hexham, November 7.'

A letter of safe-conduct was at the same time granted in the following terms:-

'Andrew de Moray and William Wallace . . . (as before).

'Know that we have received one canon of Hexham, with his squire and two attendants, to the safe and secure conduct of our King and of ourselves, to enable them to come to us wherever we may be, whenever it shall be necessary and expedient for the said house. And therefore, in the name of the said Lord King, we order and strictly enjoin you, all and every, that, when any canon of the said house, with the squire aforesaid and his attendants, shall come to you with the object of coming to us, bearing the present letter, you conduct them to us under safe charge, in such manner that no one shall molest them in their persons or in their belongings in any respect, under penalty of forfeiture of all the offender's property to the King, or shall put them or any of them to death, under penalty of loss of life and limbs. These presents to remain force during our pleasure.'

Moray and Wallace are still 'the Generals of the army of Scotland,' but now it is further stated that they are acting in the name of King John. The deposition of John is defiantly ignored. It has been supposed that between October 11 and November 7, John had sent them a commission authorising them to act under his sanction. This is not impossible; but the step would have involved extreme risk of personal danger to himself, however it might have strengthened the official influence of the Generals. It seems too hazardous to conjecture that the fresh expression implies a fresh sanction, obtained in such circumstances. One had rather regard it as simply a fuller statement of the view that the Generals now, if not all along, held as to the nature of their position. There seems little reason, however, to doubt that the Council had from the first resolved that all official acts should be in the name of King John.

Having spent two days at Hexham, the expedition headed for Newcastle, burning Ritton on the way. The garrison of Newcastle showed fight, and the garrison of Durham also; otherwise there was no opposition. The Scots had no means to enter upon an effective siege, and accordingly they wasted no efforts upon an attempt. They recrossed the border about Christmas, having worked their will in the three northern counties for the best of two months.

The narratives of the inroad are, perhaps unavoidably, somewhat confused. The movements of the Scots seem to have been exceedingly rapid; they may, not improbably, have come and gone in relays, keeping temporary headquarters in Rothbury Forest; and it may be that the incidents are not all treated in their right order. But the general account of a comprehensive ravage of the three northern counties from Tweed to Tyne and Derwent, during November and December, is solid fact. The effects of the visitation may be partly gathered from Hemingburgh's narrative. 'During that time,' he says, 'the praise of God ceased in all the monasteries and churches of the whole province from Newcastle-upon- Tyne to Carlisle; for all the monks, canons regular, and other priests, servants of the Lord, had fled, with (one may say) the whole of the common folk, from the face of the Scots.' We cannot attend Harry on his rambles to two sieges of York and a descent upon St. Albans (to say nothing of the Queen's embassy) much less can we go with Boece as far as Kent—which his editor, however, boldly converts into 'Tyne.'

About the same time, Sir Robert de Clifford, the Warden of the Western Marches, had executed a diversion by way of reprisal. He sallied from Carlisle with ioo men-at-arms and (says Hemingburgh) 20,000 chosen foot soldiers, crossed the Solway, and ravaged Annandale with fire and sword, carrying back considerable booty. The raiders returned to Carlisle on Christmas Eve. Probably Clifford had in fact no great force at command, even if the levies ordered for him in Lancashire in the middle of November had by this time joined him. Towards the end of February he made a like foray, and burnt the town of Annan, but apparently this was a less forcible effort than the raid of December.

Meantime extensive preparations had been in progress in England for a fresh expedition against the Scots. Edward was still in Flanders. After Stirling Bridge, Warenne had gone to consult with Prince Edward at York. On September 24, the northern barons, who had been summoned to join the Prince in London, were directed to join Warenne; and Clifford and Fitz Alan were instructed to act in concert with him. On October 23, Ormsby received orders to raise levies numbering over 35,000 men. On October 26, it was ordered that provisions and stores should be forwarded from all the eastern seaboard, by sea and land, to Holy Island or Newcastle. On December 10, an order was issued for levies to be raised in Wales, and to be ready at Durham or Newcastle by January 28 at the latest. On the same day Warenne was formally appointed to the command. The available strength of England was to be hurled against Scotland.

The main body of the English army was to assemble at York on January 20. On the 14th a parliament was held. The English magnates attended in great force, and their goodwill was conciliated by a confirmation of Magna Carta (with certain additional concessions) and of the Forest Charter, sent by Edward from Flanders. The Scots nobles that had been summoned 'neither came nor sent.' Warenne proceeded to Newcastle. There, on January 28, Hemingburgh says, he marshalled 2000 armed horse, over 1200 unarmed horse, and more than 100,000 foot, including the Welsh contingent; and the army was steadily augmented as it advanced. Warenne relieved Roxburgh and recovered Berwick, the Scots having retired before his overwhelming force. There, however, his expedition was stayed by a despatch from Edward, announcing the conclusion of peace with France, and directing Warenne to hold Berwick, but not to undertake any enterprise of importance till he himself should arrive. Warenne therefore temporarily disbanded his army, retaining with him in Berwick 100 armed horse and some 20,000 foot from Wales and from the remoter parts of England.

The retreat of the English before the Scots at Stan- more is very differently related by Scots and English historians; and the Scots writers are undoubtedly wrong in stating that Edward himself was present. It can be readily explained by the orders to Warenne; and, in any case, it is of no importance. Plainly the Scots were unable to hold the open field. How Wallace was engaged immediately after the retreat from Roxburgh, where he is said to have been personally in command, we do not know. It seems probable that, amidst all his concern for the military situation, he was not neglecting the internal reorganisation of the country. Under date March 29, 1298, he granted to Alexander Scrymgeour the hereditary Constableship of Dundee 'for his faithful service and aid in bearing the Royal Banner in the army of Scotland,' a service he was then actually performing. The charter bears to be granted by 'Sir William Wallace, Guardian of the realm of Scotland and leader of the armies of that realm, in the name of the renowned Prince Lord John, by the Grace of God, the illustrious King of Scotland, with the consent of the community of the said realm.' In the body of the document the grant is stated to be made 'by the consent and approbation of the magnates of the said realm.' 'The common seal of the aforesaid realm of Scotland' is stated to be impressed on the charter, and the seal of John is attached. The place of grant is Torphichen.

Andrew de Moray is no more in joint authority—very likely he had died; and Wallace is officially designated 'Guardian of the realm of Scotland.' He may, as is usually said, have been elected in the Forest of Selkirk —a very wide place in those days; and the immediate reason may possibly have been the expediency of an undivided authority in the face of an overwhelming army of invasion. Lord Hailes says he 'assumed' the title; but if this means that Wallace adopted the title without having it conferred on him, the suggestion is wholly improbable. It is interesting to know that on December 5, 1303 (?1300) Bruce, as one of the Guardians, recognised and enforced this charter.

It is a point of small importance when or by whom, if ever, Wallace was formally knighted. But since it has been made an occasion for carping at Wallace, we may cite an English political song in default of better authority. Philip of France, in a letter quoted on a subsequent page, styles him nil/es, but the objectors say that may mean simply 'soldier.' The song says—

That is to say: - 'Now return to Scotland the malignant people; and to William is given the knightly pledge—knighthood: from a robber he becomes a knight, as from a raven a swan; the unworthy takes the seat, when there is none worthy by.' Thanks to the 'malignant' poet. The writer of the Cottonian MS., referring to this song, states that it was one of the foremost Scots earls that girded Wallace with the belt of knighthood; but he places the date just before, not after, the foray into England.

Edward landed at Sandwich on March 14, and lost no time in pushing forward the Scottish expedition. He accommodated his nobles with a promise of reconfirmation of the charters, the York confirmation not having been made in England. Fresh orders were issued for provisions, the Carlisle depot to be specially supplied from Ireland. A parliament was held at York on May 25, the place and date originally fixed for the muster. Again, it is stated, the Scots nobles summoned 'neither came nor sent.' On May 27, Edward issued orders to the sheriffs to have their men up at Roxburgh by June 23; and next day he appointed Earl Patrick Captain of Berwick Castle. Meantime he sought inspiration at the shrines of St. John of Beverley and of two other less famous saints. On reaching Roxburgh, he found his army ready to march. According to Hemingburgh, there were 3000 armed horse, 4000 unarmed horse, and So,000 foot, consisting largely of Welsh and Irish. At the head of this immense force, Edward advanced to Kirkliston.

By this time Sir Aymer de Valence and Sir John Siward, who had sailed direct from Flanders, had landed in Fife. Wallace found them in the Forest of Blackearnside, and defeated them severely on June 12. He is said to have lost Sir Duncan Balfour, Sheriff of Fife, and perhaps Sir Christopher Seton, while Sir John the Graham was badly wounded. This is one of Blind Harry's great fights. One would much like to have certain authority for his statement that Wallace, in a respite from actual fighting in the heat of the day instead of taking much needed rest, carried water in a helmet from a neighbouring brook for the relief of his wounded men. We should not hesitate to accept it, on a general impression of the character and temperament of the Guardian. Having reasserted his authority in Fife, Wallace drew south again to keep the English army under observation.

The English army lay at Kirkliston. Edward had suffered much annoyance from parties sallying on the fringes of his army from Dirleton and two other castles and he had sent the Bishop of Durham to reduce them. The Bishop found his task by no means an easy one. He was not well furnished either with provisions or with engines, and the garrison of Dirleton fought him manfully. He sent a messenger to Edward, a truculent soldier, Sir John Fitz Marmaduke. With a sub- humorous reply to Antony, Edward is said by Hemingburgh to have thus instructed Fitz Marmaduke: 'You are a relentless soldier, Marmaduke. I have often had to reprove you for too cruel exultation over the death of your enemies. But return now whence you came, and be as relentless as you choose—you will deserve my thanks, not my censure. But look you do not see my face again till these three castles are razed to the ground.' The three castles were soon taken and burnt down.

Still Edward waited anxiously for his provision ships from Berwick, which had been long detained by contrary winds. There was little to be got from the country around, for the Scots had adopted the usual tactics and cleared the land before the approach of the enemy. The army began to feel the sharp pinch of hunger. The Scots, perfectly aware of the plight of the English, were keeping close in touch with them, ready to harass the anticipated retreat. At last some provisions arrived, including 200 casks of wine, which Edward did not hesitate to distribute freely. Two of the casks, it is stated, went to the Welsh, who had broken down greatly, many of them having died. Some of the Welshmen incontinently got drunk, raised a quarrel with some of the English, and eventually developed an affray, killing eighteen English ecclesiastics, possibly peacemakers, and wounding many more. A party of English horse, excited by the disturbance, charged upon the Welsh, and killed eighty of them, the rest taking to flight. If, as Hemingburgh says, there were 40,000 Welsh—or even, as another writer says, io,000—the two casks look like a niggardly proportion, monopolised by a few. The whole of the Welsh contingent stood aloof in deep dudgeon, and it was believed in the English camp that they would go over to the Scots, unless some steps were taken to mollify their resentment. Edward, relying no doubt on his mounted troops, treated the camp rumours with contempt: 'What matter if enemies join with enemies? Let them go where they please; we will beat the Scots and them too.' But still the gripe of hunger tightened upon his men, and it must have been a cruel moment for him when at last he gave the order to prepare to retire upon Edinburgh.

Suddenly, however, the order was reversed, much to the astonishment of the uninstructed camp. Early in the morning of July 21, the King had learned that the Scots army was but a few leagues off, near Falkirk, in the Forest. He at once put his men under arms, and moved steadily forward to seek the enemy. That night the English encamped some way east of Linlithgow, lying on their arms in the fields. The horses had nothing to eat—'nothing but hard iron,' and were kept in readiness beside their riders. On this occasion Edward himself met with an awkward accident, attributed to a page's lack of care. His destrier trampled on him as he lay asleep, says Hemingburgh; and, as news of his hurt passed through the army, there arose shouts of treason and exclamations that the enemy were on them. According to Rishanger, there broke out a terrible uproar in the camp at daybreak, under the impression that the enemy were at hand; and the King's steed, catching the excitement, threw him as he mounted, and kicked him in the side, breaking two ribs. Both accounts testify to a lively sense of insecurity in the English camp. Edward, with the stoical firmness of a veteran, mounted another horse, and advanced with his army.

As day broke on July 22, Edward passed Linlithgow. With the growing light, he discovered the Scots posted on an opposite eminence, in preparation for battle. Wallace now lacked the natural strength of the slopes of the Abbey Craig, but he again signalised his military ability by a masterly disposition of his troops—masterly, yet desperately daring. The real strength of the Scots cannot be even approximately estimated but though one English chronicler mentions that prisoners said there were 300,000 foot, and another English scribe numbers them at over 200,000, and yet another imaginative English annalist says ioo,000 of them were slain, it is extremely unlikely that they approached the numbers of the English. Be this as it may, Wallace threw the whole of his infantry in front, disposing them in four circular bodies or schiltrons, exactly analogous to the modern square to receive cavalry, the front rank sitting on their heels, the next ranks successively rising, and all presenting to the foe an oblique 'wood of spears.' The intermediate spaces were occupied by the archers, under the command of Sir John Stewart of Bonkill, the Steward's brother. The cavalry were placed in the rear: even the English chroniclers do not number these higher than i000. The front of the position was protected by a morass—a peat moss, or turf bog; and it was further strengthened by a stockade, consisting of long stakes firmly driven into the ground and connected securely by ropes. On the military theory of the day, which laid all stress on ironclad horse and relegated footmen to contemptuous subordination, the Scots were hopelessly inferior. It may safely be said that no competent living general, except Wallace, would have dared to meet Edward in the open field on such terms; and it seems all but certain that even Wallace would not have dared it otherwise than as a desperate alternative to an impossible retreat. The dispositions completed, Wallace is said to have addressed his first line in one of his crisp, gay, and homely speeches: 'I have brought you to the ring: hop (dance) if you can.' The remark glows with the joy of battle, and thrills with the general's confidence in the prowess of his men.

On the English side, there is no record of the dispositions of the infantry—a comparatively unconsidered quantity. The cavalry was massed in two main divisions: the first under the Earl Marshal, and the Earls of Hereford and Lincoln; the second under the warlike Bishop of Durham and Sir Ralph Basset of Drayton. The rest of the army, horse and foot, was immediately under the King himself.

Edward opened the attack by ordering the Welsh to advance, no doubt making a preliminary trial of their temper. The Welsh, however, 'from the inveterate hatred they bore the King' (says Rishanger), declined to move; possibly with an idea of joining eventually the side that should prove victorious. Edward accordingly gave the signal to the first cavalry division. The Earl Marshal rode straight ahead, ignorant of the peat bog in front; but, after a little embarrassment, he led his men round the west side, and dashed upon the Scots right. The Bishop was before him, however; having known of the bog, and led his men round the east end, he had already struck the left of the foremost Scots schiltrons. The hedge of stakes had gone down with a crash. The Scots cavalry, witnessing the combined shock of the English horsemen, incontinently fled without striking a blow—all except a few, who had been specially detailed to head the schiltrons. The bowmen were the next to fail, though not with dishonour. Their commander, Sir John Stewart, fell from his horse, while directing the operations of the Selkirk Forest contingent, and was killed in the thickest of the onset. His men—fine tall men, says Hemingburgh - bravely, though vainly, formed around him, and fell by his side. The spearmen of the schiltrons, however,

'still made good
Their dark impenetrable wood,

Each stepping where his comrade stood,
The instant that he fell.'

The defence was undoubtedly magnificent. The cavalry could neither break up the circles nor ride them down, and many a saddle was stoutly emptied. At last a large body of infantry was brought up, armed partly with arrows, partly with stones, which grievously harassed the Scots, and eventually disorganised the front-line. The moment the edge of the schiltron showed a gap, the cavalry dashed in, and the battle was converted into a massacre.

The Scots losses must have been very heavy: one annalist runs them up to 'about' ioo,000—'like snow in winter'-'the living could not bury the dead'; Hemingburgh is content with 50,000 foot slain, besides some 30 horsemen, and an unknown number drowned. Sir John Stewart and his men of Bute, and Macduff and his men of Fife, died where they stood. Sir John the Graham is also said to have fallen: Wallace's lament over his dead body forms one of the finest passages in Harry's poem. The most distinctive loss on the English side was Sir Brian le Jay, the Master of the Templars in England. The English loss in common folk cannot even be guessed at: one patriotic scribe places it at 'about 30 foot.' The romance of this history is no monopoly of poor old Harry's.

Lord Hailes remarks on 'the fatal precipitancy of the Scots.' 'If,' he says, 'they had studied to protract the campaign, instead of hazarding a general action at Falkirk, they would have foiled the whole power of Edward, and reduced him to the necessity of an inglorious retreat.' But there surely can be no question that this was the very policy of Wallace, now as ever; and we have seen how very near Edward was to a retreat upon Edinburgh, which must soon have been extended to a retreat into England. If this be so, the real question is, Why did the policy fail? The Scots were, of course, keeping as close to the English as was consistent with safety, in order to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a retreat necessitated by hunger. Were they suddenly caught, so as to be unable to retire without excessive danger? The greater probability seems to be that they were ; for it is inconsistent with Wallace's stern assertion of authority to believe that he would have yielded his better judgment to the urgency even of the Steward and Comyn. How came it about, then, that a general of Wallace's discretion, vigilance, and personal activity allowed himself to be caught?

The Scots chroniclers tell of grave and heated dissension among the Scots captains. Comyn is said to have worked on the pride of the Steward so as to induce him to claim to lead the van. We can quite believe that Wallace, on hearing this claim offensively urged, 'burnt as fire,' as Harry says he did. It was not, as Hailes jeeringly misrepresents, a question of 'the punctilio of leading the van of an army which stood on the defensive.' The claim was simply an insolent usurpation of the plain function of the Guardian of Scotland—a claim, too, preferred by a noble whose conduct had aggravated Wallace's difficulties in making a Scots Guardian of Scotland so much as a possibility. Wallace's resentment was most just and proper the absence of it would have been contemptible pusilIanimity;, and it is impossible to doubt that Wallace would sooner have died on the spot, at the hands of the English or otherwise, than have submitted for a moment to any such pretension on the part of any man living, Balliol alone excepted. Nor is it at all in consonance with one's conception of the character of Wallace, that he would, as Harry says he did, have stood apart, under the constraint of a heated vow, and let the Steward be borne down by the enemy: such a representation is no less degrading than preposterous. Boece is no authority, indeed, but it is interesting to remark that he explicitly denies Harry's version, and says Wallace fought and was.unable to help the Steward as a far more probable story. Whatever dissensions there may have been—and it is far from improbable that baronial pride did give rise even to violent dissensions - still such dissensions would, as Hailes remarks, have had no 'influence on their conduct in the day of battle.' But the proposition must be guarded by a proviso neglected by Hailes; and that essential proviso is, that all the men were honest patriots. For the moment, there need be no question as to the temporary patriotism of the Steward.

It is different with Comyn. Comyn is believed, almost with certainty, to have commanded the cavalry, and the cavalry fled at mere sight of the first shock on the schiltrons, without striking a blow, or even with Basset, and what was to happen to the foot circles. Bruce thinks the truth of the matter is this: Baliol, 'one cavalry, seeing that they were greatly outnumber the English cavalry, and far less effectively equipped were intimidated and fled. But they knew all that before. Even if they had remained on the field, Hailes thinks, though they might have preserved their honour, they never could have turned the chance of the day. It was natural, he adds, for such of the infantry as survived to impute their disaster to the defection of the cavalry; a natural pride would ascribe their flight to treachery rather than to pusillanimity. Well, the readiness to invoke treachery as an explanation of such reverses is very familiar; but it does not follow that it is always untrue. It is impossible, however, to impute cowardice to Comyn personally; nor does Hailes do so. But it is equally impossible to impute cowardice, without proof, to Comyn's men, any more than to the humbler men of the schiltrons. This, however, is what Hailes quietly postulates; for he says the commander must follow his men, as Warenne did from Stirling Bridge, though he forgets that Warenne did not budge till it was plain to everybody that the day was disastrously lost. Comyn could not have been unaware of Wallace's expectations from the schiltrons, based on tried experience in many another, if smaller, combat. Whether or not his active assistance would have turned the day, is beyond positive decision; but the stubborn resistance of the schiltrons shows that an additional force of 1000 horse would have proved very materially helpful. In any case, the very least Comyn could have done would have been to attempt to break the force of the attack on the schiltrons, and when the schiltrons were finally broken, to have protected the rear of the retreat, as no doubt Wallace himself did with a body of his devoted lieutenants. Pusillanimity is no appropriate name for such glaring misconduct as Comyn's.

Hailes finds ample exculpation of Comyn in the fact that he was presently chosen one of the Guardians, in succession to Wallace. It is said that Sir John general of Wallacie Guardian on Wallace's resignation, activity allowed hn de Soulis was associated with Comyn The Scots If so, who elected Comyn? And was sion amc.illanimity' at Falkirk a recommendation? We woriw the nature of the next election, at Peebles, on August 19, 1299, when the assembly was a scene of violence, and the Guardians practically elected themselves by way of temporary accommodation of their warring ambitions.

The election of Comyn, now or subsequently, does not in the smallest degree 'indicate that the charge of treachery is of later concoction.' The positive and strong assertions of the Scots chroniclers are not to be so lightly set aside. One does not expect an English chronicler to mar the glory of the English King by any mention of extraneous aid of such a quality. Yet Hemingburgh remarks a fact that is at any rate very suggestive. He says it was Earl Patrick and the Earl of Angus that brought the news of the Scots position to Bishop Bek, and then the three introduced a youth to tell the King the information he was supposed to have spied out. Earl Patrick and the Earl of Angus were nearly related to Comyn; and the Comyn envy of Wallace was undoubtedly intense and bitter. Yet Comyn did not go over to Edward; on the contrary, he was presently made a Guardian of Scotland. Did Comyn scheme to get rid of Wallace, either by the sword of the English in a hopeless battle, or by the unpopularity attendant upon a great military disaster? We should be glad to discover some less dastardly reason for his ignominious conduct at Falkirk.

There is great unanimity among the Scots chroniclers that, apart from the treachery of Comyn and his adherents, the essential cause of the disaster at Falkirk was the action of Robert Bruce. They say that the schiltrons resisted every attempt to force them, till Bruce and Bek came round in the rear, and broke the line. This is a very fine illustration of the irony of fate, but it is not history. Bruce was certainly not on the field, neither was he at this time in Edward's allegiance; scarcely a month before (June 24) Edward had ordered his goods and chattels in Essex to be sold UJ). It is possible that this very grave blunder arose from confounding Bruce with Basset, and a flank with a rear attack. Presently, too, Bruce was elected one of the Guardians in the name of Balliol—.' one of those historical phenomena which are inexplicable,' says Hailes, rather helplessly.

The remnants of the Scots army drew off from Falkirk towards the north, burning the town and castle of Stirling as they passed. So far Edward pursued them. Having repaired the castle and garrisoned it strongly with Northumbrians, he is said to have harried St. Andrews and St. Johnston. He then passed through Selkirk Forest to the west, where he found that Bruce had burnt down Ayr Castle and retired into Carrick, but he could not pursue for want of provisions. Continuing his journey through Annandale, Edward took Lochmaben Castle and burnt it. At Carlisle he held a parliament, and distributed lands in Scotland to his deserving officers— lands in prospect rather than in possession and, having arranged affairs at Durham and Tynemouth, he settled down at Cottingham to spend his Christmas in the neighbourhood of the comforting shrine of St. John of Beverley.

Shortly after Falkirk, whether at the Scots Water or at a convention in St. Johnston, Wallace is said to have resigned voluntarily the office of Guardian of Scotland. The Scots writers attribute this step to his recognition of the impossibility of maintaining the independence of his country in co-operation with the jealous nobles. There is much reason to accept this explanation. Not one of the brood could be relied on, except to undermine his authority. He may therefore have determined to stand by himself henceforth, as he had done before, aided by such as might choose to attach themselves to his standard. In the political conditions of the time this result would be not only not surprising, but, to all appearance, inevitable. The envy and malice of the magnates, the natural leaders of the nation, had driven from the wheel of State the one man that was then capable of steering the shattered bark to a safe and quiet haven.

Comyn and Soulis are said to have been the new Guardians, and, in place of Soulis, Lamberton and Bruce were added at Peebles in August 1299. Yet it may be worth while to keep an open eye for further light on the question, whether Wallace did not remain Guardian till near the latter date, resigning only in view of his purpose to visit France.

Return to Book Index Page


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

comments powered by Disqus