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Significant Scots
Robert the Bruce, King of Scots
Part 2

Edward resided with his court at Winchester when the intelligence of the murder of Comyn, and the revolt of Bruce reached his ears. That monarch, whose long career of successful conquest was once again to be broken and endangered, had reached that period of life is when peace and tranquility even to the most indomitable spirits become not only desirable but coveted blessings. The great natural strength of his constitution had, besides, ill withstood the demands which long arduous military service, and the violent excitations of ambition had made upon it. He was become of unwieldy bulk, and so infirm in his limbs as to be unable to mount on horseback, or walk without difficulty. Yet the spirit which had so strongly actuated the victor on former occasions did not desert the king on the present emergency. He immediately despatched a message to the Pope, demanding in aid of his own temporal efforts, the assistant thunder of the holy see, a requisition which Clement V., who had formerly been the subject of Edward, readily complied with. The sentence of excommunication was denounced against Bruce and all his adherents, and their possessions placed under the dreaded ban of interdiction. The garrison towns of Berwick and Carlisle were strengthened ; and the Earl of Pembroke, also was appointed guardian, was ordered to proceed against the rebels in Scotland, at the head of a small army, hastily collected, for the occasion.

Those were but preparatory measures. Upon Edward’s arrival in London, he conferred knighthood upon his son the Prince of Wales, and nearly three hundred other persons, consisting, principally, of young men selected from families of rank throughout the kingdom ; and conducted the ceremony with a pose and magnificence well calculated to rouse the martial ardour and enterprise of his subjects. At a splendid banquet to which his nobility and the new made knights were invited, the aged king is recorded to have made a solemn vow to the God of heaven, that he would execute severe vengeance upon Bruce for the daring outrage which he had committed against God and his church ; declaring, that when he had performed this duty, he would never more unsheath his sword against a Christian enemy; but should devote the remainder of his days to waging war against the Saracens for the recovery of the Holy Land, thence never to return from that sanctified warfare. Addressing his son, he made him promise, that, should he die before time accomplishment of his revenge, he should carry his body with the army, and not commit it to the earth, until a complete victory over his enemies should be obtained.

Pembroke, the English guardian, tools early possession of the trust which had been confided to him ; and marching his small army upon Perth, a walled and strongly fortified town, he there established his head—quarters. Bruce, during the short interval which had elapsed since his coronation, had not been altogether unsuccessful in recruiting the numbers and establishing order among his band of followers; nor did he think it prudent to delay engaging this portion of the English forces, greatly superior as they were, in every respect, to his own, prompted perhaps by the desire of striking an early and effectual blow, by which he might give credit and confirmation to his cause before the important succours expected by the enemy should arrive. On drawing near Perth, he sent a challenge, according to the chivalrous practice of the age, defying the English commander to battle in the open field. Pembroke returned for answer, that the day was too far spent, but that he would be ready to join battle on the morrow. Satisfied with this acceptance, Robert drew off his army to the neighbouring wood of Methven, where he encamped for the night; parties were dispersed in search of provisions, and the others, throwing aside their armour, employed themselves in making the necessary arrangements for comfort and repose. By a very culpable neglect, or a most unwarrantable reliance on the promise of the English Earl, the customary watches against surprise were either altogether omitted, or very insufficiently attended to. Pembroke having, by his scouts, intelligence of this particular, and of the negligent posture of the Scottish troops, drew out his forces from Perth, towards the close of day; and gaining the unguarded encampment without observation, succeeded in throwing the whole body into complete and irremediable confusion. The Scots made but a feeble and unavailing resistance, and were soon routed and dispersed in every direction. Philip de Mowbray is said to have unhorsed the king, whom he seized, calling aloud that he had got the new made king; when Robert was gallantly rescued from his perilous situation by Chrystal de Seton his body esquire. Another account affirms that Robert was thrice unhorsed in the conflict, and thrice remounted by Simon Fraser. So desperate, indeed, were the personal risks which the King encountered on that disastrous night in the fruitless efforts which he made to rally his dismayed and discomfited followers, that, for a time, being totally unsupported, he was made prisoner by John de Haliburton, a Scotsman in the English army, but who set him at liberty on discovering who he was.

To have sustained even a slight defeat at the present juncture would have proved of incalculable injury to Bruce’s cause: the miserable overthrow at Methyen, seemed to have terminated it for ever; and to have left little else for Edward to do, unless to satisfy at his leisure the vindictive retribution which he had so solemnly bound himself to execute. Several of Robert’s truest and bravest friends were made prisoners; among whom were Haye, Barclay, Fraser, Inchmartin, Sommerville, and Randolph. With about five hundred men, all that he was able to muster from the broken and dispirited remains of his army, Bruce penetrated into the mountainous country of Athole. In this small, but attached band, he still numbered the Earls of Athole and Errol, Sir James Douglas, Sir Neil Campbell, and his own brave brothers, Edward and Nigel.

Bruce and his small party, reduced indifferently to the condition of proscribed and hunted outlaws, endured the extremity of hardships among the wild and barren fastnesses to which they had retreated for shelter. The season of the year, it being then the middle of summer, rendered such a life, for a time, possible; but as the weather became less favourable, and their wants increased in proportion, they were constrained to descend into the low country of Aberdeenshire. Here Robert met with his queen and many other ladies who had fled thither for safety; and who, with an affectionate fortitude resolved, in the company of their fathers and husbands, to brave the same evils with which they found them encompassed. The respite which the royal party here enjoyed was of brief duration. Learning that a superior body of English was advancing upon them, they were forced to leave the low country and take refuge in the mountainous district of Breadalbane. To these savage and unhospitable retreats they were accompanied by the queen and the other ladies related to the party and to their broken fortunes by ties, it would seem, equally strong and again had the royalists to sustain, under yet more distressing circumstances, the rigorous severity of their lot. Hunting and fishing were the precarious, though almost the only means, which they had of sustaining life; and the good Sir James Douglas is particularly noticed by the minute Barbour for his success in these pursuits; and the devoted zeal which he manifested in procuring every possible alleviation and comfort for his folorn and helpless companions.

While the royalists thus avoided the immediate peril which had threatened them from one quarter, by abiding in those natural strong—holds which their enemy could not force, they almost inevitably came in contact with another danger no less imminent. They fell upon Charybdis seeking to avoid Scylla. The Lord of Lorn, upon the borders of whose territories they lay, was nearly connected by marriage with the family of the murdered Comyn; and, as might be expected, entertained an implacable hatred towards the person and the cause of the Scottish king. Having early intelligence of the vacinity, numbers, and necessities of the fugitive royalists, this powerful baron collected together a body of  nearly a thousand of his martial dependants, men well acquainted with the advantages and difficulties of such a country, and besetting the passes, obliged the king to come to battle in a narrow defile where the horse of the party could possibly prove of no service, but were indeed an incumbrance. Considerable loss was sustained on the king’s side in the action ; and Sir James Douglas and de la Haye were both wounded. The king dreading the total destruction of his followers, ordered a retreat; and himself boldly taking post in the rear, by desperate courage, strength, and activity, succeeded in checking the fury of the pursuers, and in extricating his party. The place of this memmorable contest is still pointed out, and remembered by the name of Dalry, or the king’s field.

The almost incredible displays of personal prowess and address which Robert made on this occasion, are reported to have drawn forth the admiration even of his deadly enemies. In one of those repeated assaults which he was obliged to make in order to repress the impetuous pursuit of the assailants, he was beset, all at once, by three armed antagonists. This occurred in a pass, formed by a loch on the one side, and a precipitoss bank on the other, and so narrow as scarcely to allow of two horses riding a-breast. One seized the king’s horse by the bridle ; but by a blow, which severed his arm in two, was almost instantly disabled. Another got hold of the rider’s foot within the stirrup iron with the purpose of unhorsing him ; hut the king standing up in the stirrup, and urging his steed forward, dragged the unfortunate assailant to the ground. The third person leaped up behind him in hope of pinioning his arms and making him prisoner, or of despatching him with his dagger; but turning round, and exerting his utmost strength, Robert forced him forwards upon the horse’s neck and slew him ; after which he killed the helpless wretch who still dragged at his side. Barbour, the ancient authority by whom this deed of desperate valour is recorded, has contrived, whether intentionally or not, to throw an air of probability over it. The laird of Macnaughton, a follower of the lord of Lorn, we are told, was bold enough, in the presence of his chief, to express a generous admiration of the conduct of the heroic king. Being upbraided for a liberality which seemed to imply a want of consideration for the lives and honour of his own men, he replied by nobly observing, that he who won the prize of chivalry, whether friend or foe, deserved to be spoken of with respect."

The danger which the royalist party had thus for the time escaped, the near approach of winter, during which, in so sterile a country, the means of support could not be procured, and the almost certain destruction which they would encounter should they descend into the level country, induced the king to give up all thoughts of keeping the field longer in the face of so many pressing and manifest perils and difficulties. The queen and the ladies who accompanied him, were put under the escort of the remaining cavalry; and the charge of conducting them safely to the strong castle of Kildrummie, committed to Nigel, the king’s second brother, and the earl of Athole. The parting was sorrowful on both sides; and Robert here took the last leave of his brother Nigel, who not long after fell among many others, a victim to the inexorable vengeance of Edward.

Robert now resolved, with the few followers whom he still retained, amounting to about two hundred men, to force a passage into Cantire; that thence he might cross over into the north of Ireland, probably with the hope of receiving assistance from the earl of Ulster, or, at all events, of eluding for a season the hot pursuit of his enemies. At the banks of Lochlomond the progress of the party was interrupted. They dared not to travel round the lower end of the lake, lest they should encounter the forces of Argyle; and until they should reach the friendly country of the earl of Lennox, they could not, for a moment, consider themselves safe from the enemies who hung upon their rear. Douglas, after a long search for some means of conveyance, was fortunate enough to discover a small boat capable of carrying three persons, but so leaky and decayed, that there would be much danger in trusting to it. In this, which was their only resource, the king and Sir James were ferried over the lake. Some accomplished the passage by swimming; and the little boat went and returned until all the others were at length safely transported. The royalists, forlorn as their circumstances were, here felt themselves relieved from the harassing disquietude which had attended their late precipitate marches; and the king, while they were refreshing themselves, is said to have recited for their entertainment the story of the siege of Egrymor, from the romance of Fevenebras : thus with a consciousness of genuine greatness, which could afford the sacrifice, was Robert cheerfully contented to resign the privilege which even superior calamity itself bestowed upon him ; awl divert his own sympathies, in common with those of his humblest followers, into other and more pleasing channels.

It was here, while traversing the woods in search of food, that the king accidentally fell in with the earl of Lennox, ignorant till then of the fate of his sovereign, of whom he had received no intelligence since the defeat at Methven. The meeting is said to have affected both, even to tears. By the earl’s exertions the royal party were amply supplied with provisions, arid were shortly after enabled to reach in safety the castle of Dunaverty in Cantire, where they were hospitably received by Angus of Isla. Bruce remained no longer in this place than was necessary to recruit the strength and spirits of his companions. Sir Niel Campbell having provided a number of small vessels, the fugitive and now self-exiled king, accompanied by a few of his most faithful followers, passed over to the small island of Rachrin, on the north coast of Ireland, where they remained during the ensuing winter.

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