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Arran of the Bens, The Glens and the Brave
Chapter XIX. The Ambush at Brodick Castle

Many romances have left their traces on Arran: that of the dim far-off days of the great monuments of Machrie Moor, the defensive camps, the stone circles; the fine dreamers, thinkers, and artists too, who strove for high ideals in the highly civilised Dalriadic colony, must have left their imprint on Arran more than on any part of Scotland save Kintyre and Knapdale. Finally came the romance of the terrible days of the Norse invasions, days of darkness and of blood; and of the later times when a leader of the island race shattered the power of these arch-enemies of the men of Arran. Yet not one of those stirring stories can compare in picturesque-ness, in the immediate touch with our own day, with the charming tale of Bruce's adventures, when, defeated and deserted by all save a mere handful, he sought refuge amongst the bold and faithful hearts of Kintyre and Arran.

It was worthy of the old quixotic spirit of the sons of Somerled, who himself took up the almost hopeless cause of Mac Eth, that Angus and the Islesmen of Arran, who in blood and in spirit traced themselves to the days when King David gave Arran to Somerled, should receive with open arms the deserted King of Scots : that at the moment when most men worshipped the rising sun, they should turn to that which seemed almost submerged in the western waters.

Barbour, in his poem of "The Bruce," tells this, Arran's most moving story :—

"To King Robert again go we,
That in Rauchryne with his men,
Lay till the winter near was gane,
And of that He his met has ta'en.
James of Douglas was angry
That they so long should idle lie,
And to Sir Robert Boyd said he:
The poor folk of this countree
Are chargit upon great manner
Of us, that idle lies here.
And I hear say, that in Arane,
In-till a stith castell of stane,
Are English men that, with strong hand,
Holds the lordship of that land.
Go we thither; and well may fall,
Annoy them in some way we sail.'
Sir Robert said, ' I grant thar-till;
To lie here more were little skill:
Therefore to Arane pas will we,
For I know right well that countree,
And the castle also know I. . . .'
With that they buskit them on-aue,
And at the king their leave have ta'en,
And went them forth then on their way.
Into Kin tyre soon come are they;
Then rowed always close to land,
Till at the night was near at hand;
Then to Arane they went their way,
And safely there arrivit they.
And under a brae their galley drew,
And then it holdit well enew
Their tackle, oars, and their stere;
They hide all in the same manere.
And held their way right in the night,
So that, or day was dawned light,
They were ambushed the castle near,
Armit in the best manere;
And though they wet were and wearie,
And for lang fasting all hungry,
They thought to hold them all privie
Till that they well their point might see.
Sir John the Hastings, at that tide
With knights of full mickle pride,
With squires and good yeomanry,
That were a weill great company,
Was in the Castle of Brodwick . . .
The time that James of Douglas,
As I am told, ambushed was;
So happened at that time by chance,
With victuals and provisions,
And with clothing and arms,
The day before, in the evening,
The under warden arrived was
With three boats, quite near the place,
Where that the folk I spoke of before
Privily ambushed were.
Soon from the boats the batis saw them gae,
Of English men, thirty and mae,
Charged all with sundry things,
Some bore wine and some arms . . ."

Douglas and his party then burst from their ambush,

"And slew all they might overtake.
The cry raised hideously and high,
From they, that dreading well to die,
Right as beasts can roar and cry
They rushit forth to the fighting;
But when Douglas saw their coming,
On his men he knew he could rely.
And went to meet them hastily.
And when they of the castle saw . . .
They fled forouten more debate;
And they them followed to the gate,
And slew of them, as they in past."

Douglas and his men then took the arms and provisions they had captured, and went their way.

Ten days later, the king, with all the men who had followed him, set out in thirty-three small galleys, and "arivit in Arane."

"And syne to the land is gane,
And we in a toune took shelter;
And soon speired carefully,
If any man could tell tithand
Of any stranger in that land."

A woman tells him of Douglas and his men, who had discomfited the warden.

"'Dame,' said the king, 'should you me vis
To that place where their hiding is,
I will reward you but lesing:
For they are all of my own dwelling;
And I right blithely would them see,
And right so trow I they would me.'"

And so the good woman led him, though, as the islanders were all Gaelic speakers for five hundred years afterwards, it is certain that, if the poet writes truly, the king must have learnt Gaelic in his youth in his mother's land of Galloway or Carrick.

"They followed her as she them led,
Till at the last she shewed the stead,
To the king in a woody glen."

The place is said by tradition to have been the ancient fort called Tornanschian in Glencloy.

The king wound his horn three times, and Douglas knew the sound, and went forth with Sir Robert Boyd.

"And blithely welcomed them the king,
That joyfull was of their meeting,
And kissed them and speired them
How they had fared in their hunting."

Bruce, according to the tradition, took up his quarters in the caves of Drumadoon, which are associated with his name, but he later set to work to capture Brodick Castle, and there took up his quarters. The spot is shown in the castle where his little party used to sit and chat and so beguile the time, and the king used to tell stories of chivalry to entertain his men; for he was a genial and kindly man was our strong-armed king, and was not of the sort, as he proved later, who forgot or neglected those who helped them.


According to tradition, the cottage in which the defeated and discouraged king watched the spider in its many attempts to weave its web, as described in the well-known ballad, stood on the shore at Whiting Bay, and the wife of the cottage, the story says, told him his fortune, as Barbour describes, and brought him her two sons to aid in the great fight for the throne. The cottage is said to have stood close by the standing - stone which marks the place of his departure for the Carrick coast.


It was from the walls of Brodick that he watched for the red light on Turnberry beacon which was to lead him forth to many perilous adventures. For one day the king decided to send a man to his own realm of Carrick—

"To spy and speir how the kingdom
Is led, or who is friend or foe,
And if he sees we land may too,
On Turnberry's snook he may
Make a fire on a certain day,
As token to us that we may
There arrive into safety."

The king then sent one Cuthbert, a native of Carrick, who found, however, that few spoke well of the Bruce in Carrick, and that the land, both high and low, hill and valley, was occupied by Englishmen,

"That despised above all thing
Robert the Bruce, the doughty king."

He saw that in Turnberry Castle was the Lord Percy with three hundred men, so he decided not to light the fire, but to return to his master.

"The king that into Arane lay,
When that coming was the day,
That he gave to his messenger.
After the fire he looked fast,
And as soon as the noon was past
He thought that he saw a fire,
By Turnberry burning weill schyre;
And to his men he can it show
Every man thought that he it saw.
Then with blithe heart the folk began to cry,
' Good king, speed you deliuerly,
So that we soon in the evening
Arrive, without perceiving.'

Then in short time men might them see
Shoot all their galleys to the sea."

And as the king was walking up and down on the shore at Whiting Bay, opposite the Castle of Turnberry, while his men were making all ready, his hostess came to him and told him his fortune. She warns him of terrible things that he must go through, but says that no might or strength of hand shall send him forth again out of his land:—

"Within short time ye shall be king,
And have the land at your liking,
And overcome your foemen all."

And then, to show how much she believed her own prophecy, she gave him her two sons to accompany him. The king thanked her, and was comforted, though not quite convinced ; for, as the old poet says :—

"Indeed it is wonderful, perfay,
How any man through stars may
Know the things that are to come,
Determinedly, all or some.
But me think it were great mastery
For any astrologer to say
This shall fall here and on this day."

Barbour says when the king left—

"This was in spring, when winter-tide
With his blasts, hideous to bide,
Was overpast, and birdis smale,
The thristill and the nightingale,
Began right merrily to sing.
Into that time the noble king,
With his fleet and a few menyie,
Three hunder I trow they might well be,
Was to the sea furth of Arane."

They rowed across without compass, keeping the fire always in view; and there Cuthbert awaited them, full of fear, for the fire, he said, had not been kindled by him, and all the country was full of Bruce's foes. They held counsel, and Edward Bruce, the king's brother, settled matters by refusing to go back.


Then Angus rose—"Lead on, brave Bruce,
The foemen who thy footsteps cross
In silence wrapped shall sleep to-night,
Or hie them back owre Milton Moss.

Here stand arrayed my Hielan men,
From yon green islands by Kintyre;
Clan Cholla and the brave Brandanes;
Cold is their steel—their hearts are fire!

They stand arrayed to win or die;
As on its prey the grey gled springs
So shall their claymores swiftly strike
For honour of a race of kings."

They charge ! MacDonald and MacCug,
MacBride, MacKinnon and MacLoy,
Shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot,
Like some wild torrent mad with joy.

And who shall stand and stem that flood?
Back to the bum the foe they fling;
Horo ! Hera ! the day is ours,
And Randolph breaks their wav'ring wing.

Then, 'mid the din of splintering lance
And crash of axe on iron mail,
Down all Clan Cholla's kilted ranks
The cry arose, "They fail! they fail!"

And thus they shattered Edward's might,
That we, their children, should be free,
To wanton in the wind that sweeps
Our islands by the western sea.—M'K. M'B.

Angus appears to have joined Bruce at the Torwood, near Falkirk, and it was there that the king addressed to him the famous words quoted by Sir Walter Scott: " My hope is constant in thee."

Bruce's army at Bannockburn consisted of 30,000 men, according to Barbour, and the king divided them into four "battels," or divisions: Randolph led the vanguard, Sir Edward Bruce the second division, the Steward, then a boy, with Douglas led the third division, and

"The fourth battel the noble king
Took to himself in governing;
And had intill his company
The men of Carrick all halely,
And of Argyle and of Kentyr,
And of the Isles, whereof was
Sir Angus of Isla and Bute, all they.
He of the plain land had alsua
Of armyt men a meikle rout."

The description of the battle is well done by Barbour, and full of detail probably taken down from the tongues of people who had actually been in the fight. A touch of humour is given by a wise old knight, Sir Ingraham Umfraville, who fears the men who would fight on foot, and suggests to Edward that he might win the battle by ordering his army to retire behind their pavilions and tents, and so tempt the enemy to leave their strong position. He had evidently had experience of the Scots; he said to the king—

"You shall see that they,
Despite their lords, shall break away
And scale them our harness to take.
And when we see them scaled away,
Prik we on them hardily."

The men of Randolph and Douglas and Edward Bruce soon got to blows with the enemy, and so eagerly the Scots fought,

"That they made neither noise nor cry
But dang on the other at their might."

And when Bruce saw all his three divisions doing well, he brought in "the Westland men " with their terrible axes.

"So great dinging there was of dints
As weapons upon weapon stints,
And of spears so great brusting,
With such throwing and such thrusting,
Such girning and groaning, and so great
A noise, as they can other beat
That it was hideous for to hear."

At Bannockburn, in addition to Islesmen and Highlanders under Angus of Isla and Kintyre, Major tells us that in the force under Douglas and Randolph, Bruce put "seven thousand of the Border youth, who from their earliest years had known no occupation than fighting; along with these he joined three thousand Wild Scots, whose arms consisted of a two-edged battle-axe, equally sharp on both sides ; men, these last, who will rush upon the enemy with the fury of a lioness in fear for her cubs." Again he says: "The Wild Scots rushed upon them in their fury as wild boars do: hardly would any weapon make stand against their axes, handled as they knew to handle them; all around them was a very shambles of dead men, and when, stung by wounds, they were yet unable by reason of the long staves of the enemy to come to close quarters, they threw off their plaids, and, as their custom was, did not hesitate to offer their naked bellies to the point of the spear. Now in close contact with the foe, no thought is theirs but of the glorious death that awaited them if only they could compass his death too. Once entered in the heat of the conflict, even as one sheep will follow another, so they, and hold cheap their lives. The whole plain is red with blood; from the higher parts to the lower blood flows in streams. In blood the heroes fought, yea knee-deep."

It would have been interesting to know from which part of Scotland the particular men Major refers to came. He probably refers only to the general custom amongst them.

In Bruce's six invasions of England which followed Bannockburn, it is probable that the Brandanes were present.

Bruce lived for a time in Arran in 1326 with Menteith, who had long since come over to his cause, and the king gave him back his Arran lordship, and also conferred upon him the district of Knapdale.

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