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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter VIII


IT is necessary that we should now glance at some of the leading national events that occurred immediately prior to the memorable siege just described, and those that followed that event. Wallace, on being defeated at Falkirk, resigned the office of Governor of Scotland, to which he had been elevated by his grateful countrymen; and it was then held by Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick (grandson of the Competitor); John Comyn, younger, of Badenoch (grandson of Devorgilla); and William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, who ruled the country in the name of Baloil, though that crownless and luckless sovereign was an exile in France, and politically dead. The Scots had repeatedly endeavoured to gain assistance from Philip of France, the Brother-in-law of their oppressor; but as Philip allowed the claims of his ancient allies to be overborne by those of a personal nature, the patriots resolved to invoke the aid of the Roman Pontiff. [Fordun, p. 983; and Wyntoun, vol. ii., p. 105.]

Accordingly, a deputation from Bruce and his colleagues waited upon Pope Boniface, depicted the woes under which Scotland groaned, and prayed him to take action against the tyrant author of them all. “We shall interfere for the relief of your country,” said his Holiness in effect; “but we shall claim the kingdom that we mean to wrest from Edward of England as the immemorial fief of the Holy See.” Whether the Scottish Triumvirate were more displeased than gratified with this intimation, we cannot say: if they desired to see an end put to the English domination, it was not that it might be succeeded by the supremacy of Rome – their country independent of any foreign potentate whatever, was what Bruce at least sought to secure. We know that this preposterous claim of the Pope enraged King Edward. It was set forth in a bull, directed to that monarch, bearing date July 5th, 1299; and he was warned by it that if he resisted or demurred, Jerusalem would not fail to protect her sons, and Mount Zion her worshippers. This spirited Papal missive was forwarded to Winchelsea, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was ordered to deliver it to the King; and the prelate (as we learn from a curious letter left by him detailing his journey [Prynne’s History of Edward I., p. 882.]) set out with his suit of clerks and other officials for Nithsdale, where his royal master then was. He incurred no small risk on his travels from numerous bands of Scottish marauders, who would gladly have plundered him, and called the deed patriotic. Taking a somewhat roundabout route, he followed Edward to Kirkcudbright, where he learned that he had just returned to Dumfriesshire, crossed the Solway with his chariots and horses, and finding the King in Carlaverock Castle, soon after the period of its capture, delivered to him the Papal bull.

Many strange and momentous incidents have occurred within the walls and under the shadow of the old British fortress and its two feudal successors; and this interview between Edward I. and the Primate of Canterbury is entitled to rank high among the number, whether we look to the dignity of these personages, or the subject which they discussed. Edward read the bull, his wrath gathering all the time, and eventually boiling over, as, bit by bit, the bold assumptions of the Pope broke upon him, and the document went on to lay his own proud claims in the dust. It needed not the prelate’s appended admonition on the duty of obedience to Mother Church to inflame his Majesty’s rage. Rising into a paroxysm of passion, he stormed and swore, declaring that he would not be silent at the bidding of the Holy See; and that, despite of Mount Zion or Jerusalem, he would, whilst there was breath in his nostrils, claim and retain what all the world knew to be his rights. The King cooled down after this explosion. He saw that it would impolitic to quarrel outright with the Pope, and, lowering his tone, told Winchelsea that before giving a conclusive answer to the missive of his Holiness, he would require to take the advise of his counsellors on the subject. [Walsingham, p. 78; and Prynne, p. 883.]

The Archbishop thereupon withdrew; and, shortly after this remarkable audience, a Court was held by the King at Dumfries, at which the Papal bull, and the propriety of granting a peace to the Scots, in terms of its recommendation, were discussed. Reserving the question of his claims, he agreed to grant an armistice; and, on returning to England, at the close of the year, he summoned a Parliament to meet him at Lincoln, by which body the assumptions of the Pope of Scotland were condemned, and the English monarch was declared to be, as regards temporal matters, entirely independent of the Holy See. A written reply to this effect was forwarded to Boniface, attested to it the emphatic intimation, that the barons of England would not permit their sovereign to subordinate his claims to those of his Holiness, were he so inclined. [Rymer’s Fœdera, vol. i., p. 923; and Tyrrel, vol. iii., p. 146.]

The King spent a considerable portion of the summer and autumn of 1300 in Dumfries and its neighbourhood. After taking Carlaverock, he went, as has been already stated, into Kirkcudbrightshire for the purpose of overawing the Gallovidians. He appears to have been at Lochrutton on the 17th of July, and at the capital of the shire on the 22nd of that month. Proceeding further into Galloway, Edward granted an interview to the bishop of that diocese, who – prompted by the Pope, in all probability – tried to mediate a peace, but without success. Then the Earl of Buchan and John Comyn (one of the regents) ventured into the royal presence, and had the further hardihood to demand that Baliol, their lawful king, should be permitted to reign over the country, and that the estates, which had been given to English nobles, should be restored to their proper owners. We can fancy the mingled surprise and scorn with which the haughty Edward would receive these requests, coming, as they did, from men whom he looked upon as rebels. The wonder is, not that his answer was in the negative, but that he did not seize and send them, as he had done to Baliol, to the Tower.

Returning at the close of August to Carlaverock, where the provoking Papal bull greeted him, he, after temporarily disposing of it, went to Holm-cultram – a large body of his soldiers following him through Dumfriesshire to Carlisle, and laying the country to waste along their line of march. Edward once more retraced his steps from Carlisle, reaching Dumfries on the 16th of October, where he continued with his queen and court till the beginning of the following month. The inhabitants of the Burgh would thus be but too familiar with the features and figure of the usurper. Often would he be seen by them, noticeably by his length of stature and majestic mien, riding with his retinue up High Street to the Castle: and doubtless many a muttered curse would follow the cavalcade; for the Dumfriesians detested the English yoke, and, though partially kept in check by the garrison, were always ready, as we have seen, to take part against the invaders, when an opportunity offered. It is in vain for us to inquire as to the style kept up by the conqueror’s Court at Dumfries. His beautiful queen, sister of the King of France, would of course be its ruling star and attraction; but whether the royal lady held levees and other fashionable assemblies in the Castle during her three weeks’ sojourn, and tried her blandishments for a political purpose on the daughters of the town and district, is not on record. Probably, on Sundays, the King – for he was very pious after a sort – would repair for worship, accompanied by his queen, to the Greyfriars’ Church in the Vennel; or proceed for that purpose to Lincluden Abbey, [We learn from Prynne that the Abbes of Lincluden about this period was named Alienore.] on the opposite bank of the Nith, which, as we have seen, had some half century before been built and endowed by Uchtred, Lord of Galloway. When Edward first visited Dumfries, on June 18th, 1300, he became, as already stated, the guest of the Grey Friars; but as there are no entries of payment to them in the Wardrobe Accounts on the occasion of his second visit, we may conclude that, in October, he and his Court were indebted for board and lodgings to his own Keeper of the Castle, St. John. The likelihood also is, considering the feelings of the inhabitants towards him, and the weak tenure by which he held the town and its vicinity, that he would live rather in the style of a fighting captain than of a great king, and that his consort, however bent on a queenly life in Scotland, would conform to the circumstances of their position.

At length, on the 30th of October, the truce solicited by Pope Boniface was signed by Edward at Dumfries [Hailes’s Annals, p. 266], the Commissioners on the Scottish side being probably the two barons who had a few weeks before exchanged angry words with him in Galloway; and letters from the King, dated at Dumfries, were sent to his subordinates throughout Scotland, ordering them to give effect to the treaty. The peace was to last till Whitsunday in the following year. Acting upon its provisions, Edward left Dumfries and returned with his army into England, retaining, however, all the places of strength that had come into his possession. Thus the magnificent host described by Walter of Exeter in glowing terms, and from which so much was anticipated and feared, accomplished little after all. It was essentially the same army, however, by which the war was renewed on St. Andrew’s Day, 1302, the period to which the truce was eventually prolonged.

That year and the two following ones saw Scotland ravaged, desolated, and brought to the very verge of ruin. On the expiry of the truce, Edward sent into the country twenty thousand soldiers, chiefly horsemen, under the command of Sir John de Segrave. When encamped near Roslin in three divisions, lying wide apart, each was encountered after the other by the Scots under Comyn and Sir Simon Fraser, and thoroughly put to the rout, only a few straggling fugitives reaching their own land in safety. The English chroniclers of the time tell us that the news of this triple defeat was very trying to the temper of King Edward – that his wrath found vent as usual in terrible oaths and maledictions. Just before receiving the unwelcome tidings, he had induced his brother-in-law, Philip, to abandon the interests of the Scots, which that monarch had for a time endeavoured to promote, and had, by bribes and artful representations, so bought Boniface over, that the Scottish bishops were enjoined by a Papal bull to submit to Edward of England, his “dearest son in Christ,” on peril of themselves and country being put under ban. France had disowned the rebels, the Church had threatened them with spiritual thunder – a very serious menace in those times; yet here they were, audaciously self-reliant, snapping their fingers at the Pope, and scattering the forces of England as chaff before the wind.

What a long list of heart-aches and perplexities – what an immense amount of treasure – what rivers of blood this conquest of Scotland business had cost the King! Shall he give it up in despair? Such a question never occurred to him; or if it did, for a moment, “to be once in doubt was once to be resolved.” The Pope had given over the rebellious country to his tender mercies, backing his temporal might and authority by spiritual power; and, thus doubly armed, he would reduce the Scots to utter serfdom, even if to carry out his resolution he had to turn their country into a howling wilderness. So resolving, he crossed the Border with an army much larger than the one whose exploits are celebrated in the verse of Walter. It was divided into two parts – one division led by himself, the other by his eldest son. Its progress was like that of a great fire on an American prairie – consuming everything before it.

Dumfriesshire was not subjected to the destructive visitation, Bruce and its other chiefs having purchased immunity by prompt submission; and the chief course of the burning torrent was through the middle districts, northward by Roxburgh and Linlithgow, no place offering resistance to its tide save the Castle of Brechin, which succumbed after a three weeks’ siege. Stirling Castle might possibly have defied it, had Comyn, mindful of Wallace’s strategy years before, given battle to the enemy when crossing the wooden bridge over the Forth. Vainly thinking to arrest his march, Comyn destroyed the bridge; and ere long brief struggle – a total rout – a terrible massacre. Then open resistance was at an end; and Edward, more truly than he had ever been before, was master of Scotland. With sullen reluctance the Scottish chiefs submitted to the conqueror. Some he pardoned, others he reserved for vengeance; all acknowledged his sway save one – Sir William Wallace – name ever dear to his country and to freedom, and never more proudly, yet tearfully remembered, than at the time when, soon after the defeat at Stirling, betrayed to the English, he was cruelly put to death, crowning his long fight on behalf of Scotland by dying for her sake. [Wallace was executed on the 23rd of August, 1305.]

Edward, in order to secure his conquest, set about abrogating all the old laws and customs of the country, and substituting those of England in their stead. Provisional arrangements for these ends seem to have been made by him at Dunfermline, and to have been afterwards consolidated by a Commission at London, composed of thirty members, twenty of whom were English, and ten Scottish. Among other regulations, it was provided that Scotland should be ruled in the King’s name by a Lieutenant appointed by him; that new Sheriffs should be named for the different counties; that, for the administration of justice, the country should be divided into four quarters, with two justices for each – the divisions being, first, Dumfriesshire and Galloway; secondly, the Lothians; thirdly, the land between the Forth and the mountains; and fourthly, the district between the latter and the sea. The judges went on circuit as they do at present day, the principal residence of those for the southern district being Dumfries, and there also the Sheriff of the two shires had his seat and held his court. [Redpath’s Border History, p. 225.] Armed resistance rooted out – the traces of Scotland’s nationality obliterated – the dead Wallace “hewn into four quarters,” as Langtoft says, “which were hung up in four towns as a warning to all who, like him, raised their arms against their lord” – surely if ever the English monarch was justified in supposing that the great object of his ambition had been attained, it was under circumstances such as these.

But the fond idea was a mere delusion. German philosophers speak of an impalpable emanation which, proceeding from the human body under certain conditions, influences more or less all who come within its reach; and the gory fragments of the mutilated martyr seem to have exercised a somewhat similar power when set up near the Eastern Border at Newcastle, at Berwick, at Perth, and at Aberdeen. These trophies of the usurper’s triumph did not inspire terror, but mingled sorrow and admiration. Those who tearfully surveyed them, felt their love of country and their hatred of its enemies inflamed by the sight. They were as so many silent epistles in favour of patriotism – as so many eloquent, though inarticulate, protests against tyranny, and incentives to insurrection and revenge. And the English King found such to be the case whilst yet in the full flush of his exultation, and before the first acclaim of his courtiers, hailing him Conqueror and undisputed King of Scotland, had fairly died away. In what manner the feeling of the people, thus kept alive, was turned to practical account by one who proved to be a fit successor to the heroic Wallace, was now proceed to relate.

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