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Arran of the Bens, The Glens and the Brave
Chapter XVIII. The Great War of Independence

The relations of England and Scotland were never more friendly than in 1290, when the Scots paid Edward I. the compliment of calling him to act as umpire between the claimants for the crown of Scotland, on the death of Alexander in. and of his little granddaughter, the "Maid of Norway." To this girl, then a mere child, it had been arranged that Edward's son should be married, and so fulfil the great dream of the ambitious English king by uniting the two kingdoms.

Until the Union of the Crowns in 1707 Scotland had no enemy in the world save England, and during the reigns of David I. and her three excellent Alexanders she had been happy and prosperous. Mr. Renwick says: "It is universally agreed that, throughout her long career as an independent kingdom, no period was more prosperous for Scotland than the century and a half which elapsed between the accession of the first David and the death of the last Alexander. . . . The Scottish monarchs ... ruled over a united people from Maidenkirk to John o' Groats."

It is well to remember this, for Scotsmen are apt to despise their early ancestors, and to believe that all good things commenced in the reign of Robert Bruce. Yet many of our native kings, like Brude or Bride of Columba's time, Constantine of Brunanburh fame, and that grand old fighter, Malcolm Canmore, showed sterling character and strength. The Alexanders and David I. were indeed men of conspicuous wisdom and uprightness. Only with the Norman and feudal taint came the tendency to tyranny so familiar in England and in some of the later Scottish kings; though it must be admitted that the Stewarts were conspicuously superior, both in mind and manners, to the Plantagenet and Tudor monarchs. Indeed, no king of the low mental calibre of the Georges ever sat upon the Scottish throne. On this point the old ballad put the feeling of the Scottish people admirably—

"Wha the deil hae we gotten for a king,
But a wee, wee German lairdie!
When we gaed owre tae bring him hame,
He was delvin' in his kail yairdie.
He was sheughin' kail, and layin' leeks,
Without the hose, and but the breeks;
And up his beggar duds he cleeks,
This wee, wee German lairdie."

The laws of the Scots kingdom made kingly tyranny difficult, just as the old Scottish pre-feudal laws made difficult the tyranny of the great lords and chiefs. It was the feudal system that made it easy in both countries. Save in the set-back due to the Norse invasions, Scotland suffered no more terrible calamity than the persecutions of Edward I. and his efforts to convert the country into an English province. The only satisfaction is that they ended in utter failure, and brought the commons into the field, as men whose honour and weal were alike concerned in keeping their country independent. This was a negative kind of benefit, and it is probable that the same end would have been far better served by other and less costly means; but it is a benefit of which historians of a certain type have made much, as they have of the Norse invasions—as though a great war can be a benefit, can be anything other than a great calamity; as though invasions by North American Indians could be anything less than a great curse to a civilised community. What the Norsemen and the feudal system robbed us of was a national culture which had grown up during a thousand years, a culture which was our own, which had received the imprint of our race, and which had splendid prospects of development.

There was little of patriotism in the thirteen candidates who came forward to claim the crown of Alexander in. on his sad and sudden death by the fall of his horse over the cliffs at Kinghorn in Fife. Only two of them, indeed, had any real claim; but it suited Edward's purpose to cause difficulty and confusion, so that in making his award as umpire he might place the successful candidate under an obligation to himself. It cannot be said that the candidates were in any sense Scottish in feeling or sentiment or education ; they all had a share of Scottish blood in the female line. It was a dark hour for Scotland this when, as the poet says, her "golde changed into lede." After eighteen months of deliberation, Edward gave his award to John Baliol, a man of weak character but not without courage. As soon as he became king, Edward commenced to heap indignities upon him ; assuming the character of an overlord, to which he had no tittle of right, he commanded that any act of injustice, or complaint should be referred to him by the King of Scotland, who must appear before him personally at Westminster. Even Baliol, the "toom tabard," could not stand this kind of degradation, and he threw off his allegiance and invaded England.

Edward had now got what he aimed at, and he marched north with a huge army backed by a great fleet. Taking Berwick, then our first seaport, he slew, in the streets of the town, no less than seventeen thousand persons, and finally utterly routed Baliol's army at Dunbar. He then marched north as far as Elgin, and made himself master of the country. Baliol submitted and did penance before the English knights in the churchyard of Strathcathro. His crown was taken from his brow, and he was publicly unfrocked, while he stood and admitted his guilt, dressed only in his shirt and drawers. The crown he resigned, and he was sent a prisoner to the Tower of London. The insult was deeply felt by the Scottish people. Edward appointed the Earl of Surrey Guardian of Scotland, filled all the castles with English garrisons and the public offices with Englishmen, and took away to Westminster the famous Stone of Destiny on which the Scottish kings had been crowned from immemorial time. It is, however, pretty clear that this "lawyer king," as he has been called, did not remove the national documents as has been stated. Mr. Joseph Bain has cleared this stain from his character. Fearing lest the Scots should join Philip of France in his war against him, he ordered that no Scotsman should be allowed to leave the kingdom.

This was in January 1296-7. In the winter of the same year a young man, son of Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie in Renfrew, was insulted by the English in the streets of Lanark. With a handful of men and his friend Sir John the Graeme (the remains of whose castle may still be seen near Balfron) they fought their way through the streets to his house, from which they escaped into the woods. The English governor, Haselrig, knowing that Wallace's young sweetheart, the heiress of the Bradfuites of Lamington, had helped their escape, had her put to death; and Wallace, the first of Scottish patriots, who had already been engaged in fighting the invaders, came into prominence by the revenge he exacted for this murder. He broke into the house of the governor, Haselrig, at midnight, and, dragging him into the street, had him instantly beheaded. The people of the town then rose, and slew twelve-score of the men of Edward's garrison.

Some of the nobles now came over to the popular side. Amongst them, the Steward of Scotland and Sir John Stewart of Bonkill joined Wallace, who united his force, largely composed of Lanark townsmen, with that under Sir William Douglas.

The Stewarts brought into the field the men of Bute and Arran, the famous Brandani; and after the successful campaign in the Glasgow neighbourhood, Wallace appears to have taken them, with "Westland men all sturdy, stout, and bold, five hundred next, Sir John the Graeme he got, Lundie five hundred more," in his march through Glen-dochart to Brander and Loch Awe to trap the Irish mercenary general, Mac Fadzean. Thence they seem to have marched to Ard-chattan, and here held a kind of conference with the West Highland leaders.

Carrick suggests that it was owing to the growing strength of Wallace's force, and possibly to his severe punishment of deserters of rank, that some of the barons left him a little later.

These deserters included the best of the nobles, like Sir William of Douglas, the Steward, Stewart of Bonkill, Robert Bruce, Lindsay, and the Bishop of Glasgow, Wishart. Wallace marched north, followed only by his poorer adherents, the free yeomanry of Scotland. These, as Carrick says, were the tenants and descendants of tenants of the crown and church lands, or those who occupied farms on the demesnes of the barons, for which they paid an equivalent rent in money or produce. They had the power "of removing to whatever place they might think most desirable, and owed no military service except to the king for the defence of the country. Among them the independence of Scotland always found its most faithful and stubborn supporters. These liberi firmarii, for so they are called in the Chartularies and Chamberlain's Accounts, were considered so useful . . . that, during the minority of the Maid of Norway, a sum of money appears to have been distributed among them as an inducement to remain on the crown lands of Liberton and Lawrence-toun, which they were preparing to leave in consequence of a mortality amongst their cattle." These and the freemen of the boroughs, rather than the cottars or villeins who followed the barons, we are told, supplied the material out of which Wallace recruited his ranks; and the extraordinary frequency with which the Scottish nobles, including even the Steward and Robert Bruce himself, changed sides, leaving Wallace for Edward and Edward for Wallace, made little difference beyond disgusting and disheartening the great leader.

At the battle of Stirling Bridge it is probable that Sir John Menteith, on whom the lordship of Arran had been conferred by the Steward, and also Stewart of Bonkill, leader of the Arran men, were all present. The Steward was now on the side of the English, but his tenants were on that of the people. He played a curious part, for, pretending to make peace for the English with the Scots, he turned round upon them when the actual fighting began, and with the Earl of Lennox assisted the Scots in pursuing and killing the English who were trying to save themselves. It may have been a deliberate trick on their part, but it was not an honourable trick. In fact, never did the great mass of the Scoto-Norman nobility show in a meaner light than all through this campaign and at the great commoner's battle of Stirling Bridge, when Wallace unaided, nay, hindered, by the nobility, utterly annihilated a huge English army.


The most famous achievement of the Brandani was undoubtedly the prolonged resistance and splendid devotion they showed at the battle of Falkirk—a battle which, though it ended in defeat, was one of the things of which Scotsmen may well be proud. There Wallace was at his greatest and best, and there the commoners of Scotland—small lairds, tacksmen, and "kindly tenants," and the independent clansmen from the non-feudal, Gaelic-speaking districts of Scotland—showed best their tenacity and their stern bravery; for Falkirk, like later Poitiers, was essentially a soldiers' battle. And of all the soldiers engaged in it, the name of the "Brandanys" comes down to us as those who bore the brunt of the fight. The subsequent references to them in the story of Wallace shows in what high estimation they were held. They it was who withstood and defeated the great attack of Lincoln and Hereford, and the second onslaught by Bek and Bruce, and they it was, "the men who would hazard anything," who at the end of the fight were called upon when Wallace gathered a few chosen men to guard the retreat of the remnant of his army. So effective does their resistance and the generalship of Wallace appear to have been in covering the retreat of his men, that there was no rout or disorder or pursuit; though they were but a handful, the English were glad to allow them to retire unmolested; and it is certain that the Scots were able to bury quietly the dead Sir John the Graeme, and possibly Bonkill, in Falkirk graveyard before their march westwards upon Stirling. It was, indeed, not till four days later that Edward entered that town. He had won, but his army had had their fill of fighting, and he knew it. The Lord of Arran was at this time, as we. have said, Sir John Menteith, who was a Stewart; Blind Harry tells us how he had joined Wallace:

"Sir John Monteith was then of Arran lord,
To Wallace came and made a plain record,
With witness there by his oath he him band [bound],
Faithful to keep to Wallace and Scotland."

Sir John, "the false Menteith," is one of the most famous figures in Scottish history, as the man who later betrayed Wallace to the English.

The lordship of the island of Arran had been given to him by the Steward of Scotland a very little earlier, but the Arran men followed his nephew Bonkill, brother of the Steward, as the representative of Jane, granddaughter of Angus, son of Somerled.

It is curious that Menteith's brother was at this time governor of the great castle of Rothesay in Edward's interest, while Brodick castle was held by Menteith himself for the Scots. It is clear that the natives were wholly and heartily in sympathy with the popular cause, despite the fact that Rothesay was in the hands of Edward.

The English army which marched on Falkirk, according to English accounts, was a magnificent one : it numbered over 123,000 men, including 3000 horsemen armed at all points, and 4000 hobilers or light horse, while the footmen numbered 80,000 ; but these were not all, for reinforcements came up on the march. The army, moreover, included Edward's splendid veterans who had done such service in the French war. It was supported by a great fleet of vessels anchored in the Forth, with which communication was quite easy by the river Carron, then navigable right up to the present town of Falkirk, Grahamston, and Bainsford—or more properly Briansford ; for the name was taken from that of Brian le Joy, Prior of the Knights Templars in Scotland, who joined Edward and was slain by Wallace's own hand in Callendar Wood, near this spot. With him were many of the Scottish nobles who had also joined Edward, and one of them, the Earl of Angus, who was with Wallace, is said to have sent secret information to Edward as to the position of the Scottish army and of Wallace's intention to make a night attack. So was Scotland betrayed on all sides by her Norman nobility.

On Edward's side were arrayed all the great men of his realm, Lincoln and Hereford, Butler and Clifford, FitzAlan and Fitz-Marmaduke, Hastings and Bruce.

The Scottish army numbered 30,000, and it had the fatal defect of being almost without cavalry. Wallace was in favour of avoiding so great an army, and adopting a waiting policy by retiring north. There were serious dissensions amongst the three leaders, and much jealousy. So the little army, consisting of spearmen chiefly, paused on that historic plain, close to the remains of the Roman city of Camelon—a plain which had been the battleground of Scotland during so many ages. The three divisions of the army were under Wallace, Comyn, and Sir John Stewart of Bonkill. It is said that Stewart wished to take supreme command, as brother to the High Steward, who was not present; Comyn, again, claimed the command on account of his near kinship to the throne ; while Wallace declined to surrender his authority. One remark of Stewart's, quoted by Blind Harry, is of interest, as it shows, whether Stewart actually made it or not, that the retainers of the peers had joined the popular cause independently of their feudal superiors—

"Then of your men be not so vain, but mind
Had each his own there would be few left."

"If every nobleman in Scotland were to claim his part of those vassals which now follow your banners, your own personal retainers would make but a sorry appearance in support of your high pretensions."

Comyn deserted at the beginning of the battle, taking with him 10,000 men ; leaving Stewart with his Selkirk archers and his Arran and Bute men, and MacDuff with the men of Fife, to bear the brunt of Hereford's attack. Stewart, according to Blind Harry, met the advancing division of 30,000 men with his 10,000:

". . . the brave Stewart stood so fierce and hot,
That Hareford's men lay dead upon the spot.
When spears were broke, boldly their swords they drew,
And many thousand of the Southron slew.
The rest they fled unto their king with grief,
Who sent ten thousand for a fresh relief."

The Brandani fought on though their leader fell early in the day, and Wallace, according to Blind Harry, said—

"They have done well in that fellon stoure;
Rescue them now, and take a high honour."

They had withstood the onset of a whole division, and being freemen, lairds, and free clansmen, and not feudal serfs or vassals, they were used to acting independently, and so, though leaderless, fought on. Wyntoun says:

"The Scottis thare slayne were in that stoure;
There Jhon Stwart apon fute,
Wyth him the Brandanys thare of Bute."

It has been always a sore thing for Scottish historians to believe that Bruce, afterwards the good king, was on Edward's side at that great fight: it is humiliating, but the fact was evidently too universally known during Bruce's own lifetime to be suppressed.

Fordun makes it quite clear, and he wrote about the year 1380, or only some fifty years after the death of Bruce, and must have been born not more than fifteen or twenty years after that event, when the story of the great struggle was in every one's mouth. He says :—

"While the Scots were holding their ground invincible, and could not be broken by either force or stratagem, this Robert of Bruce, with a body of men commanded by Antony de Bek, taking a long circuit round a mountain, attacked the Scots in the rear. Thus the Scots, whose ranks were impenetrable and invincible in front, were cunningly vanquished in the rear." Blind Harry gives the same account.

Wyntoun also, who wrote in 1426, would no doubt have been glad enough to suppress facts which soiled the character of so popular a hero as Bruce, had it been possible to do so. It remained for later historians near to our own day to attempt the task, but, however unpalatable,

"Truth will stand though all things failin'."

Blind Harry tells how the Brandani stood over their fallen leader:

"Sir John the Graym, and mony worthy wicht,
Wepyt in woe for sorrow of that sicht,
When Bruce his battaill apon the Scottis straik,
Thair cruel com made cowards for to quake;
Lord Cumyn fled to Cummyrnauld away.
About the Scottis the Suthernes lappit they
The men of Bute before thair lord thai stud,
Defendand him, when fell streams of blood,
Were there about in floodis where they went.
Bathed in blood was Bruce's sword and dress,
Through fell slaughter of trewmen of his own.
Soon to the death the Scots were overthrown.

So, exposed to the famous bowmen of England, and surrounded by the men of Bruce and Bek, the close-locked, invincible schiltrons of Brandanes were mown down till they lay heaped up like a wall around their fallen leader. Then Wallace gathered his knights, and, ordering his army to retire towards the Torwood, where they would be protected from Edward's cavalry and bowmen, to cover their retreat—

"He and Sir John the Graham, and Lauder then, Stayed with three hundred stout West Countrymen, Expert in war would hazard anything."

So much the great leader thought of our forbears of the West, to whom went the chief honours of that fatal day, though justice has never been done to the fact.

It was at this time that the good Sir John the Graeme fell, in a conflict, it seems, between the few knights of Wallace's force and those accompanying Bruce's party. The Scottish host, or what was left of it, retired to the Torwood above Larbert on Carron side, and Bruce is described as returning to Edward's tent where he,.

"Sitting down in his own vacant seat,
Call'd for no water, but went straight to meat.
Tho' all his weapons and his other weed 
Were stained with blood, yet he began to feed;
The Southron lords did mock him in terms rude,
And said, behold yon Scot eats his own blood!
The king he blenched at this so home a jest,
And caused bring water to the Bruce in haste;
They bade him wash, he told them he would not,
The blood is mine, which vexes most my thought."


According to Carrick's account, made up from the English writers, who do not differ materially from the foregoing, the Scottish army, which principally consisted of spearmen or lancers, was arranged in four divisions or schiltrons. "Those in the centre held their long spears perpendicular, and stood ready to fill up a vacancy, while each intervening rank gradually sloped their weapons till they came to a level. The front rank kneeling, and the whole closely wedged together, presented to the enemy the appearance of four enormous, impenetrable porcupines, the space between each being filled up with archers." Seeing the strong appearance of the Scots, the king desired to wait, but gave way to the opinions of his followers, and sent forward the Earls of Lincoln and Hereford with a squadron of 30,000 men. Their progress, however, was retarded by an extensive morass, which covered the front of the Scots and obliged their enemies to make a circuit to the west. While thus employed, the powerful squadron under Bishop Bek of Durham managed to get in front of the enemy. Bek, however, on observing the formidable appearance of his opponents, wished to delay the charge till supported by the column under the command of the king. "Stick to thy mass, Bishop," said Ralf Basset of Drayton, "and teach us not what to do in the face of an enemy." "On, then," said Bek; "set on in your own way ; we are all soldiers to-day, and bound to do our duty." At this his men rushed forward, and "became engaged with the first schiltron, which was almost simultaneously attacked on the opposite quarter by the division of Lincoln and Hereford which had cleared the morass. The cavalry of the Scots, and a large body of the vassals of John Comyn, immediately wheeled about, and left the field without awaiting the attack. The schiltrons of spearmen, however, stood firm, and repulsed all efforts of their numerous and heavy-armed assailants, who recoiled again and again before the mass of spears. Baffled in their attack, Edward's cavalry charged upon the archers, who, less able to stand their ground against the weight of their mail-clad adversaries, gave way. In the confusion, Sir John Stewart of Bonkill was thrown to the ground, while attempting to rally his followers, the archers of Selkirk, and, though many of them rushed forward to his assistance, their exertions were in vain: their gallant leader fell surrounded by the bodies of his faithful tenantry."

Though heavy squadrons of cavalry were continually pushed forward against the Scottish spearmen, "still they maintained their ranks, and displayed such admirable discipline and stubborn resolution, that Edward, convinced of the inability of breaking their array, suspended the charges of his horsemen, and ordered all his archers and slingers to advance." Of these, it is interesting to note, 40,000 Welsh archers refused to act against the Scots. Langtoft says :

"The Walsch folk that tide did nouther ille nor good;
They held them alle beside, upon a hille they stood.
Where they stood that while, tille the battle was done."

Of the Scottish spearmen he says :

"Ther foremast conrey, their backs together set,
Their speares poynt over poynt, so sare and so thick,
And fast together joined, to see it was ferlike.
As a castle they stood, that were walled with stone,
They wende no man of blood through them should have gone;
These folk was so big, so stalwart and so clean,
Their foyntes forward prikelle, nohut would they vvene,
That if all England from Berwick unto Kent,
The therein men fond had been thither sent,
Stenth should none have had, to perte them through-
oute, So were they set sad with poyntes round about."

The schiltron formation, we are told, was well adapted for defence, and, despite their small number and the vast odds against them, had they been supplied with a good detachment of cavalry to have scattered the terrible archers of Edward, they would have probably held their ground. As it was, they were exposed to clouds of arrows and other missiles till they were reduced, it is estimated, to a fourth of their number, while the chosen English cavalry which had previously tried to move them, sat on their great horses and quietly waited till the cloth yard arrows had done what they, the veterans of the French war, had failed to do. And so the lads of Argyll and Arran and Bute, of Lanark and the Lennox, of Ayr and Renfrew, of Fife and Strathearn and Stirlingshire,—an army which, by the way, would be composed almost entirely of Gaelic - speaking persons, — was gradually mown down till the field was encumbered with their dead, to the number of 15,000 out of an army of 20,000—15,000 of the finest soldiers Europe could then produce.


Sir John the Graeme was buried in the old graveyard of Falkirk, where his grave may still be seen. There the late Marquis of Bute erected a monument to Stewart of Bonkill and the Brandanes, though it is probable that Stewart himself was actually buried in Bute.

After the battle, the leaders had to hide ; for Edward's armies went through all the land, and Scotland lay at his feet. For six months she was almost conquered. Bute and Arran were once more regarded as the safe refuges of the patriotic party, and

"The earl Malcolm and Campbell part, but let
In Bute, succour with Synclar for to get."


"Adam Wallace, and Lyndsay of Cragye,
Away they fled by nicht upon the sea;
And Robert Boid, which was baith wyss and wicht;
Arane they took to fend them at their micht."

During Wallace's absence in France, the Scots fought and won the important threefold battle of Roslin, which was then the talk of Europe, and which had given so much encouragement to the Scots. Neither Wallace nor " the Westland men " were present at this battle, of which an excellent account has been written by the late Mr. E. Bruce Low. In July 1300 Edward again set out to conquer Scotland with a magnificent army; and again in 1302, after a short truce, when Wallace gathered his old friends, Seton, Lauder, and Lundy from the Bass, where they were in hiding, and the Earl of Lennox, Sir Neil Campbell, and the Brandanes from Bute and Arran. For the Brandani had not yet had their fill of fighting, though there was many a sore heart in Arran and Bute, and for many a day Falkirk was remembered by the vacant places it had left.

"The Iordis then and good Synclair
Soon out of Bute they made a ballinger
For good Wallace."

And some time later, when they had no men with which to attack Perth, Wallace says:

"In to the North therefore let us bound,
In Ross ye know, good men a strength have made,
Here then aff us + they will come without delay;
Also in Bute the bishop good Sinclair,
(Fra he get wit he comes without mar)
Good Westland men of Arane and Rauchle,
If they be warned they will all come to me."


"Byscop Synclar intill all haste him dycht
Com out of Bute with seemly men to sicht;
Out of the isles of Rauchle and Aran."

They appear to have been with Wallace in his adventures till his capture by means of Sir John Stewart of Menteith, but we have no details of their doings. The great patriot wascaptured on 5th August 1305. Attempts have been made to whitewash Menteith, but the fact remains that he, a friend, a brother in arms, who had been ardently on the side of the people and the independence of Scotland, hunted down and, by a low trick, betrayed the patriot who had saved her alike from Edward and from the Scoto-Norman nobles.


According to Hemingford's Chronicle, about this time Thomas Bisset of the Glens, in Ireland, lord of the island of Rathlin, which had given so many men to the support of Wallace, and later sheltered Bruce, landed in Arran with a large force, and held it for Edward. Bisset's tenure, however, seems to have been a short one, for in 1306 Sir John Hastings was made Governor of Brodick. In the year previous Wallace had been taken and executed, and Edward also executed an extraordinary number of Bruce's friends, including his brothers Neil, Thomas, and Alexander, his brother-in-law Christopher Seton, and Simon Fraser, the brilliant soldier but extraordinary renegade of Roslin.

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