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The Scottish Nation

WOOD, SIR ANDREW, of Largo, a celebrated Scottish admiral of the 16th century, is generally stated to have been born about the middle of the 15th century at the old Kirkton of Largo, Fifeshire, and was originally a merchant trader of Leith. His genius for naval warfare had been cultivated by his frequent encounters with French, English, and Portuguese pirates in defence of his ships and merchandise. By James III. he was employed in several warlike and diplomatic missions, which he executed with fidelity and honour. He possessed and commanded two armed vessels, of about 300 tons each, called The Flower and the Yellow Caravel. With these he made voyages to the Dutch and Hanse towns, whither in those days the Scots sent wool and hides, bringing “therefrom small mercery and haberdashery ware in great quantities; moreover, half the Scottish ships came generally laden from Flanders with cart wheels and wheelbarrows.” He bravely attacked and repulsed a squadron of English ships which appeared in the Firth of Forth in 1481, and the same year gallantly and successfully defended Dumbarton when besieged by the fleet of Edward IV. James III. granted to him, as master of the “Yellow Kerval,” (Alexander duke of Albany being then lord-high-admiral,) a tack or lease of the lands of Largo to keep his ship in repair, and the same monarch, on 18th March 1482, conferred on him for his eminent services by land and sea, in peace and in war, a charter under the great seal, to him and his heirs in fee, of the lands and village of Largo. He also knighted him. This charter was confirmed by James IV. in 1497.

Sir Andrew Wood is famed in the history of his country no less for his faithful adherence to his sovereign when abandoned by his nobles, that for his courage and naval skill. Prior to 1487 he appears to have entirely relinquished trading as a merchant, and to have entered into the service of the king. Early in 1488, when the rebellious nobles had collected an army and marched upon the capital, the king took refuge on board one of Sir Andrew Wood’s ships, then anchored in the Roads of Leith, and crossing over to Fife, landed there, resolved to throw himself on his northern subjects for support. The ships of the admiral had been lying at Leith for some time, previous to sailing for Flanders, and, on their weighing anchor, a report was spread that James had fled to the Low Countries. Upon this the malcontents “seized on his luggage and furniture in their passage to the Forth, surprised his castle of Dunbar, furnished themselves with arms and ammunitions out of the royal stores, and overran the three Lothians and the Merse, rifling and plundering all honest men.” (Abercrombie’s Martial Achievements.) James speedily found himself at the head of a well-appointed force of 30,000 men, and recrossing the Forth, in April 1488, he marched past Stirling, and pitched his standard near the ancient castle of Blackness. He soon, however, disbanded his army, but the rebel peers again mustering their vassals, he was defeated at Sauchieburn on the 11th of the following June, and the unfortunate monarch, in riding from the field, fell from his horse, and was stabbed to death by a pretended priest, in the miller’s cottage at Beaton’s mill, a hamlet on the Bannock, into which he had been carried. At the time, he was endeavouring to make his way across the country to Sir Andrew Wood at Alloa, where the latter was cruising with his two ships, the Flower and the Yellow Carvel. On the right bank of the Forth he kept several of his boats close by the shore, to receive the king if the tide of battle turned against him; and he often landed with his brothers, John and Robert, and “a competent number of men, hoping to share in the dangers of the day; but no such opportunity occurred.”

The insurgent nobles had advanced with their victorious army to Linlithgow, and a report reached their camp that, while sailing up and down the Forth, Sir Andrew Wood’s ships had been seen taking on board men wounded in the battle, and there was good reason for believing that the king, whose fate was unknown, having effected his escape, was on board one of them. This occasioned the insurgents to remove their camp to Leith. Thence messengers were sent to Sir Andrew in the name of James, duke of Rothesay, prince of Scotland, the king’s son, whom the insurgents had kept with them and forced to act against his father, to inquire if this was the case. Sir Andrew solemnly declared that the king was not with him, and gave the messengers leave to search the ships. A second message was sent, requesting an interview. To this he agreed, on condition that the Lords Seton and Fleming should remain on board his ships, as hostages for his safe return.

On his appearance before the council, arrayed in magnificent armour, the young prince, then in his sixteenth year, is said to have wept as he entered the council-room, and asked timidly, “Sir, are you my father?” Sir Andrew replied, “I am not your father, but his faithful servant; and the enemy of those who have occasioned his downfall.” “Know you where the king is?” asked several of the lords, “or who those were you took on board after the battle?” “As for the king,” replied Sir Andrew, “I know nothing of him. My brothers and I were ready to have risked our lives in his defence. We landed in our boats opposite Alloa; but finding our efforts to fight or to save him vain, we returned to the fleet.” “He added,” says Buchanan, “that if the king were alive, he was resolved to obey none but him, and if he were slain, he was ready to revenge him.” Again he was asked “if the king were not really on board either of his ships.” “He is not,” he sternly replied; “I would to God he was, for then he would be in safety. Then I could defend him from those vile traitors who, I fear, have slain him, and whom I hope to see, one day, rewarded as they deserve.” He then withdrew, and returned on board, where his brothers had begun to be seriously alarmed at his long absence.

Of Sir Andrew Wood’s interview with the rebel lords, Lindsay of Pitscottie has given a graphic and circumstantial account, and although the affecting statement that the young king, James IV., mistook him for his father, has been generally received, it is not likely to have been the case, as there is no hint in history of his ever having been excluded from the presence of his father, and at the time he was sixteen years of age, and must have known his person well. It is not probable that he could have been misled by the noble and dignified aspect of the admiral, or by any fancied resemblance which he bore to James III., as some writers assume. This would make a mere child of him, and we therefore entirely discredit the story.

Irritated at the plainness with which Wood had spoken his mind to them, the insurgent nobles, on the return of the Lords Fleming and Seton, resolved to punish him for what they were pleased to consider his insolence. Summoning all the master mariners of Leith before them in council, they commanded them “to rig and man their ships, to subdue Andrew Wood,” offering them artillery and munition, and holding forth noble rewards in the event of his capture; but they all declined, and the elder Barton, a man of great naval skill and bravery, afterwards the famous Sir Andrew Barton, who fought the English fleet in the downs, declared that Sir Andrew Wood’s two ships “were so well equipped with all things for fighting, so well furnished with able and valiant seamen, and withal that Captain Wood was so skilful in naval affairs, so practiced in war, and had such notable artillery that ten of the best ships in Scotland would not be able to cope with his two.” The design, therefore, of seizing him was reluctantly abandoned. The death of the unhappy James was soon fully ascertained, but Wood refused for a time to give in his adherence to James IV.

Towards the end of 1488, Sir Andrew appeared, with his two ships, off Aberdeen. Declaring that he had received from James III. a grant of the forest of Stocket and the Castle hill of Aberdeen, he attempted to take possession of them. His claim, however, was resisted by the council and burgesses, and the admiral was only prevented from having recourse to force by the interference of the king and privy council, who sustained the right of the citizens as defined by a charter of Robert the Bruce.

Soon after, -- the precise date is not very clear, but it is supposed to have been in the beginning of the following year, -- Henry VII. of England sent “five tall ships” to the firths of Forth and Clyde, characterized by Tytler as pirates, as they came in time of truce, which seized and plundered several merchant ships belonging to Scots traders, and to the Flemings their allies, as well as made many destructive descents upon the little villages and fishing towns on the coasts of Fife and Lothian. Enraged at this wanton aggression, the young king and his council eagerly desired to be revenged. Notwithstanding, however, their persuasions and promises of reward, none of the masters of the ships then in the harbours of the Forth would venture to attack the enemy. Hoping to prevail on Sir Andrew Wood to consent, James requested him to appear before the lords of the privy council, to consider means for curbing the outrages of the English, pledging his royal word and the public faith for his safety. On their meeting, he represented to Sir Andrew “what a shame, dishonour, and loss it was, that a few English ships should ride under their eyes with impunity, committing every outrage and excess,” and by inflaming the patriotism of Wood, “who had a true Scottish heart,” he readily undertook the enterprise.

Amply furnished with men and artillery, Wood immediately proceeded with his two ships, ‘The Flower,’ and ‘The Yellow Caravel,’ against the English, with their five. He met them opposite to Dunbar, and at once engaged with them, when a sanguinary and obstinate battle ensued. The skill and courage of Wood at length overcame the superior force of the English. Their five ships were taken and carried into Leith, and their commander presented to the king and council. Sir Andrew was well rewarded by James and his nobles for his valour, and his name was so greatly extolled that, we are told, it “became a byword and a terror to all the skippers and mariners of England.” He received from James charters confirming all former grants, and bestowing on him the lands of Balbegnoth, the cotelands of Largo, 11th March, 1490, all of which were ratified by parliament in the following year. He obtained various other possessions, besides acquiring the superiority of Inch-Keith, and by a charter under the great seal, 18th May 1491, the king granted to him “license to build a castle at Largo, with gates of iron, as a reward for the great services done and losses sustained by the said Andrew, and for those services which there was no doubt he would yet render.” This castle, as well as various houses, he is said to have compelled some English pirates, whom he had captured on the high seas, to build. It was engrafted on an ancient edifice which had formerly been a jointure house of the Scottish queens. He also received an augmentation of his coat armour. It appears, too, to have been in this reign that he was appointed pilot to the king to the Isle of May, that “being skilful in piloting, he should be ready, upon the king’s call, to pylot and convey him and the queen, in visit to St. Adrian’s chapel,” on that isle, where there was a holy shrine and well, and there is a charter of some lands granted to him for that service.

Meantime the English king, indignant at the disgrace which his flag had sustained, and that from a foe so little known on the sea, determined to assert the naval pre-eminence of England. He offered an annual pension of £1,000 to any of his commanders who should capture the ships of Wood, and take him prisoner. One Stephen Bull, when other English commanders of ships had declined to attempt such a hazardous enterprise, engaged to take Wood, and bring him to London, dead or alive. Appointed to three stout ships fully equipped for war, Bull sailed for the Forth, in July 1490, and entering the firth, cast anchor at the back of the Isle of May. In the belief that peace had been established with England, Sir Andrew Wood had gone to Flanders as convoy to some merchant vessels. To prevent the Scots fishermen from giving him notice, on his return, of his appearance there, Bull took the precaution to seize all the fishing boats on the coast, and he retained a few of the fishermen on board his own ship, that they might point out to him the ships of the Scots admiral, on their arrival in the firth. The English continued to keep a good look out at sea, and one summer morning they discovered to vessels passing St. Abb’s Head at the mouth of the Forth. The fishermen who had been taken captives were ordered to the masthead, to give their opinion of the ships in sight. At first they hesitated to say whether the approaching vessels were Wood’s or not, but on their liberty being promised them, they immediately declared them to be his. The English commander now ordered his men to prepare for battle, distributing wine among them. Meanwhile, on the morning of the 10th of August, Sir Andrew Wood was steering up the firth, unconscious of an enemy being so near at hand, but no sooner had he perceived the three ships of England coming from the shelter of the Isle of May, than he gave orders to clear away everything for battle; and calling his men together, he thus addressed them: “These, my lads, are the foes who expect to convey us in bonds to the English king, but, by your courage and the help of God, they shall fail. Set yourselves in order every man to his station. Charge gunners; let the cross-bows be ready; have the lime pots and fire balls to the tops; and the two-handed swords to the fore rooms. Be stout, be diligent, for your own sakes, and for the honour of this realm.” Wine was handed round, and the Scottish ships resounded with cheers.

The sun having now arisen, fully displayed the strength of the English force; but the Scots were prepared for them. By skilful management, Wood got to windward of the foe; and immediately a close and furious combat began, which lasted till night. During the whole day the shores of Fife were crowded with spectators, who by their shouts and gesticulations did all in their power to encourage their countrymen in the arduous fight. At the close of the day, the ships mutually drew off, and the battle remained undecided. The night was spent in refitting, and in preparation for the ensuing day. On the dawn of morn the trumpets sounded, the battle was renewed, and the ships, closely locked together, floated unheeded by the combatants, and before an ebb tide and a south wind drifted round the east coast of Fife till they were opposite the mouth of the Tay. The seamanship of Wood and the valour of the Scottish sailors at length prevailed. The three English ships grounded on the sand-banks and were captured. Bull surrendered, and, with his ships, was carried into Dundee, where the wounded of both parties had every attention paid to them. The unfortunate English commander was conducted to Edinburgh by Wood, and presented to the king. On this occasion James gave a noble proof of the generosity of mind which so remarkably distinguished him. He bestowed gifts upon Bull and on his followers, and, without exacting any ransom, sent them home with their ships as a present to the English king. At the same time he desired them to inform their master, that Scotland, like England, could boast of brave and warlike sons both by sea and land; and he requested that England should no more disturb the Scottish seas, else a different fate would hereafter await the intruders.

In 1503, Sir Andrew Wood was employed with a small naval squadron against the rebel chiefs of the Isles, and under the dates of May 18 and 19, and June 22, of that year, are several entries in the accounts of the high-treasurer, for wine, bread, &c., and wages to his mariners. In this expedition he was successful. After laying siege to the strong insular fortress of Carneburg, one of the Treshinish Isles, assisted by his lieutenant, Robert Barton, he succeeded in reducing it, taking prisoner its commander, one of the island chiefs.

James was ambitious of possessing a fleet strong enough to protect the commerce of Scotland, and he spent large sums on the building of a ship, called the ‘Great Michael,’ of such enormous dimensions, as to excite the desire of both Francis I. and Henry VIII. to possess one like it, as it was larger and stronger than any ship which England or France had ever possessed. For her construction, large quantities of timber were brought from Norway, after the oak forests of Fife, with the exception of that of Falkland, had been exhausted in the work, and numbers of foreign as well as Scottish carpenters were employed in building her, under the almost daily inspection of the king himself. She was two hundred and forty feet in length, but disproportionately narrow, being only thirty-six feet across the beams. He sides were ten feet thick, and were obviously meant to defy the power of any artillery which could be brought against her. The cannon carried by the Great Michael, considering her size, amounted only to thirty-six, with three of a smaller caliber. Her crew consisted of three hundred sailors, one hundred and twenty gunners, and one thousand fighting men. This great ship was finished in 1511, and put under the charge of Sir Andrew Wood, and Robert Barton, another eminent Scottish mariner of the period; but in the following year, Sir Andrew was superseded as captain by Henry, Lord Sinclair.

In August 1513, James fitted out a fleet, the principal ships in which were the Great Michael, the Margaret, and the James, for the purpose of assisting the French, then attacked by England. The command of the troops, 3,000 strong, he gave to the earl of Arran, and of the fleet to Gordon of Letterfury, a son of the earl of Huntly, having under him, as vice-admirals, Lord Fleming and Lord Ross of Halket. Lindsay of Pitscottie says that Arran was both general of the troops and admiral of the fleet. Instead of proceeding to France, however, Arran ordered the fleet to Ireland, and landing at Carrickfergus, sacked and plundered it with great barbarity. After committing this outrage, he sailed back to Scotland, and at Ayr deposited his spoil in safety. Enraged at his conduct, James ordered Sir Andrew Wood to proceed immediately, with a herald, to supersede Arran, and take the command of the fleet. Previous to his arrival, however, the earl had sailed with his ships for France. The Great Michael afterwards became the property of the French monarch, having been sold to Louis XII. For 40,000 livres.

After the disastrous battle of Flodden, Sir Andrew Wood was sent to France, to invite John, duke of Albany, nephew of James III., to come to Scotland, and assume the regency, during the minority of James V. In 1526, occurred the battle of Linlithgow Bridge, which was caused by an attempt on the part of the earl of Lennox to rescue the young king from the domination of the Douglases. Sir Andrew Wood was sent specially by the king to protect Lennox, but he arrived only in time to behold the unhappy earl expiring under the sword of Sir James Hamilton, after quarter had been given.

It is recorded of Sir Andrew Wood that he caused a canal to be formed from his house in Largo almost down to the parish church, and on this he used to sail in state to the church, in his barge, every Sabbath-day. On 23d July 1538, he and others, his kinsmen and servants, had a remission, under the great seal, for all crimes except treason. He is described by Mr. Tytler as “a brave warrior, and skilful naval commander, an able financialist, intimately acquainted with the management of commercial transactions, and a stalwart feudal baron, who, without abating anything of his pride and his prerogative, refused not to adopt, in the management of his estates, some of those improvements whose good effects he had observed in his travels over various parts of the continent.” He lived to a good old age, and is supposed to have died about 1540. He was buried in the family aisle of Largo church, where his tomb is still pointed out. Within the grounds which surround Largo House, there is a circular tower, which formed part of the old castle inhabited by Sir Andrew Wood, and which, it is alleged, once formed a jointure house of the queens of Scotland.

His eldest son, Andrew Wood of Largo, was high in favour with James V., and was one of the few faithful councillors of that monarch who stood round his bed when he died in 1542. John Wood of Tillydoun, his second son, was educated for the church, but was appointed a lord of session, 9th December 1562. Alexander, his third son, was progenitor of the Woods of Grange, Fifeshire, and a son of his obtained a charter of legitimation in 1575.

Sir Andrew Wood of Largo, the grandson of the brave old admiral, was one of the barons in the parliament of 1560, and on 25th July 1567, he subscribed the articles agreed on in the General Assembly for the upholding of the Reformed religion. He also signed the famous bond for the protection and defence of James VI. He was comptroller of Scotland, and died about 1592. He had a daughter, Jean, who married James Drummond, first Lord Madderty. His son and successor, Andrew Wood of Largo, had a son, James, who received a charter of the lands of Lambeletham and Cairngown, Fifeshire.
The last of the family, John Wood of Orkie, was, as Lamont says in his Diary, “sometime a courtier.” By a deed of mortification, dated 7th July 1659, this John Wood, a younger son of the family of Wood of Largo, bequeathed the sum of £68,418 Scots, for the purpose of building and endowing an hospital within the parish of Largo, for the maintenance of thirteen indigent and enfeebled persons of the name of Wood, besides a gardener, a porter, and a chaplain. The building was commenced in April 1665, and appears to have been first inhabited abut Candlemas 1667. IN 1830, this building was found to be in a state of great decay, and a new one was erected by the patrons, which is not only more commodious, but is an elegant and ornamental building, in the Elizabethan style, from designs by Mr. James Leslie, civil engineer. The annual allowance to each inmate is £15 sterling, paid monthly, and a supply of vegetables. The funds arise from the interest of £2,000 sterling, and the rent of a farm which averages about £280 sterling. The patrons are the earl of Wemyss, the lairds of Largo, Lundin, and Balfour, with the minister and kirk-session of Largo. Besides this hospital, Mr. Wood founded a school at Drumeldrie, and built a wall round the churchyard at Largo. He is said to have died poor in London, in 1661. His body being brought by sea to Elie, was interred in the family aisle of Largo church, where a monument was erected to his memory.

The lands and barony of Largo passed from the descendants of Sir Andrew Wood to a Mr. Peter Black, and from him to Sir Alexander Gibson of Durie, who disponed of them to Sir Alexander Durham, lord lyon king at arms.

WOOD, JOHN PHILIP, an eminent antiquary, genealogist, and biographer, who was deaf and dumb from his infancy, was descended from an old and respectable family in the parish of Cramond, where he himself was born. His principal publication was a new edition of ‘The Peerage of Scotland, by Sir Robert Douglas of Glenbervie, Bart.’ Edinburgh, two volumes folio, 1813. Notwithstanding the privations under which he laboured, he for many years held the office of auditor of excise in Scotland. He was brother-in-law of Mr. Cadell, the partner of Mr. Constable. He died at Edinburgh, at an advanced age, in December 1838.

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