The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter

Chapter 36.

The Carse of Stirling.

The fame of these victories, the seizure of Stirling, the conquest of above sixty thousand men, and the lord warden with his late deputy taken prisoners, all spread through the country on the wings of the wind.

Messengers were dispatched by Wallace, not only to the nobles who had already declared for the cause by sending him their armed followers, but to the clans who yet stood irresolute. To the chiefs who had taken the side of Edward, he sent no exhortation. And when Lord Ruthven advised him to do so, “No, my lord,” said he, “we must not spread a snare under our country, and as they had the power to befriend her, they would not have colleagued with her enemies. They remember her happiness under the rule of our Alexanders; they see her sufferings beneath the sway of a usurper; and if they can know these things, and require arguments to bring them to their duty, should they then come to it, it would not be to fulfill, but to betray. Ours, my dear Lord Ruthven, is a commission from Heaven. The truth of our cause is God’s own signet, and is so clear, that it need only be seen to be acknowledged. All honest minds will come to us of themselves; and those who are not so, had better be avoided, than shown the way by which treachery may effect what open violence cannot accomplish.”

This reasoning, drawn from the experience of nature, neither encumbered by the subtleties of policy nor the sophistry of the schools, was evident to every honest understanding, and decided the question.

Lady Mar, unknown to any one, again applied to her fatal pen; but with other views than for the ruin of the cause, or the destruction of Wallace. It was to strengthen his hands with the power of all her kinsmen; and finally, by the crown which they should place on his head, exalt her to the dignity of a queen. She wrote first to John Cummin, Earl of Buchan, enforcing a thousand reasons why he should now leave a sinking cause and join the rising fortunes of his country.

“You see,” said she, “that the happy star of Edward is setting. The King of France not only maintains possession of that monarch’s territory at Guienne, but he holds him in check on the shores of Flanders. Baffled abroad, an insurrection awaits him at home; the priesthood whom he has insulted, trample name with anathemas; the nobles whom he has insulted, trample on his prerogative; and the people, whose privileges he has invaded, call aloud for redress. The proud barons of England are ready to revolt; and the Lords Hereford and Norfolk (those two earls whom, after madly threatening to hang,34 he sought to bribe to their allegiance by leaving them in the full powers of Constable and Marshal of England), they are now conducting themselves with such domineering consequence, that even the Prince of Wales submits to their directions, and the throne of the absent tyrant is shaken to its center.

34 Edward intended to send out forces to Guienne, under the command of Humphrey Earl of Hereford, the constable, and Roger Earl of Norfolk, the Marshal of England, when these two powerful nobles refused to execute his commands. A violent altercation ensued; and the king, in the height of his passion, exclaimed to the constable, “Sir Earl, by G-, you shall either go or hang.” “By G-, Sir King,” replied Hereford, “I will neither go nor hang.” And he immediately departed with the marshal and their respective trains.

“Sir William Wallace has rescued Scotland from his yoke. The country now calls for her ancient lords-those who made her kings, and supported them. Come, then, my cousin! espouse the cause of right; the cause that is in power; the cause that may aggrandize the house of Cummin with still higher dignities than any with which it has hitherto been blazoned.”

With these arguments, and with others more adapted to his Belial mind, she tried to bring him to her purpose; to awaken what ambition he possessed; and to entice his baser passions, by offering security in a rescued country to the indulgence of senses to which he had already sacrificed the best properties of man. She dispatched her letter by a messenger, whom she bribed to secrecy; and added in her postscript, “that the answer she should hope to receive would be an offer of his services to Sir William Wallace.”

While the Countess of Mar was devising her plans (for the gaining of Lord Buchan was only a preliminary measure), the dispatches of Wallace had taken effect. Their simple details, and the voice of fame, had roused a general spirit throughout the land; and in the course of a very short time after the different messengers had left Stirling, the plain around the city was covered with a mixed multitude. All Scotland seemed pressing to throw itself at the feet of its preserver. A large body of men brought from Mar by Murray according to his uncle’s orders, were amongst the first encamped on the Carse; and that part of Wallace’s own particular band which he had left at Dumbarton, to recover their wounds, now, under the command of Stephen Ireland, rejoined their lord at Stirling.

Neil Campbell, the brave Lord of Loch-awe, and Lord Bothwell, the father of Lord Andrew Murray, with a strong reinforcement, arrived from Argyleshire. The chiefs of Ross, Dundas, Gordon, Lockhart, Logan, Elphinstone, Scott, Erskine, Lindsay, Cameron, and of almost every noble family in Scotland, sent their sons at the heads of detachments from their clans, to swell the ranks of Sir William Wallace.

When this patriotic host assembled on the Carse of Stirling, every inmate of the city, who had not duty to confine him within the walls, turned out to view the glorious sight. Mounted within the walls, turned out to view the glorious sight. Mounted on a rising ground, they saw each little army, and the emblazoned banners of all the chivalry of Scotland floating afar over the lengthened ranks.

At this moment, the lines which guarded the outworks of Stirling opened from right to left, and discovered Wallace advancing on a white charger. When the conqueror of Edward’s hosts appeared-the deliverer of Scotland-a mighty shout, from the thousands around, rent the skies, and shook the earth on which they stood.

Wallace raised his helmet from his brow, as by an instinctive motion every hand bent the sword or banner it contained.

“He comes in the strength of David!” cried the venerable bishop of Dunkeld, who appeared at the head of his church’s tenantry; “Scots, behold the Lord’s anointed!”

The exclamation, which burst like inspiration from the lips of the bishop, struck to every heart. “Long live our William the Lion! our Scottish King!” was echoed with transport by every follower on the ground; and while the reverberating heavens seemed to ratify the voice of the people, the lords themselves (believing that he who won had the best right to enjoy) joined in the glorious cry. Galloping up from the front of their ranks, they threw themselves from their steeds, and before Wallace could recover from the surprise into which this unexpected salutation had thrown him, Lord Bothwell and Lord Loch-awe, followed by the rest, had bent their knees, and acknowledged him to be their sovereign. The Bishop of Dunkeld at the same moment drawing from his breast a silver dove of sacred oil, poured it upon the unbonneted head of Wallace. “Thus, O King!” cried he, “do I consecrate on earth, what has already received the unction of Heaven!”

Wallace, at this action, was awe-struck, and raising his eyes to that Heaven, his soul in silence breathed its unutterable devotion. Then looking on the bishop: “Holy father,” said he, “this unction may have prepared my brows for a crown, but it is not of this world, and Divine Mercy must bestow it. Rise, lords!” and as he spoke, he flung himself from his horse, and taking Lord Bothwell by the hand, as the eldest of the band, “kneel not to me,” cried he; “I am to you what Gideon was to the Israelites-your fellow-soldier. I cannot assume the scepter you would bestow; for He who rules us all has yet preserved to you a lawful monarch. Bruce lives. And were he extinct, the blood royal flows in too many noble veins in Scotland for me to usurp its rights.”

“The rights of the crown lie with the only man in Scotland who knows how to defend them! else reason is blind, or the nation abandons its own prerogative. What we have this moment vowed, is not to be forsworn. Baliol has abdicated our throne; the Bruce deserted it; all our nobles slept till you awoke; and shall we bow to men who may follow, but will not lead? No, bravest Wallace, from the moment you drew the first sword for Scotland, you made yourself her lawful king.”

Wallace turned to the veteran Lord of Loch-awe, who uttered this with a blunt determination that meant to say, the election which had passed should not be recalled. “I made myself her champion, to fight for her freedom, not my own aggrandizement. Were I to accept the honor with which this too grateful nation would repay my service, I should not bring it that peace for which I contend. Struggling for liberty, the toils of my brave countrymen would be redoubled; for they would have to maintain the tights of an unallied king against a host of enemies. The circumstances of a man from the private stations of life being elevated to such a dignity would be felt as an insult by every royal house, and foes and friends would arm against us. On these grounds of policy alone, even were my heart not loyal to the vows of my ancestors, I should repel the mischief you would bring upon yourselves by making me your king. As it is, my conscience, as well as my judgment, compels me reject it. As your general, I may serve you gloriously; as your monarch, in spite of myself, I should incur your ultimate destruction.”

“From whom, noblest of Scots!” asked the Lord of Bothwell.

“From yourselves, my friends,” answered Wallace, with a gentle smile. “Could I take advantage of the generous enthusiasm of a grateful nation; could I forget the duty I owe to the blood of our Alexanders, and leap into the throne, there are many who would soon revolt against their own election. You cannot be ignorant, that there are natures who would endure no rule, did it not come by the right of inheritance; a right by dispute, lest they teach their inferiors the same refractory lesson. But to bend with voluntary subjection, to long obey a power raised by themselves, would be a sacrifice abhorrent to their pride. After having displayed their efficiency in making a king, they would prove their independence by striving to pull him down the moment he made them feel his specter.

“Such would be the fate of this election. Jealousies and rebellions would mark my reign; till even my closest adherents, seeing the miseries of civil war, would fall from my side, and leave the country again open to the inroads of her enemies.

“These, my friends and countrymen, would be my reasons for rejecting the crown did my ambition point that way. But as I have no joy in titles, no pleasure in any power that does not spring hourly from the heart, let my reign be in your bosoms; and with the appellation of your fellow-soldier, your friend! I will fight for you, I will conquer for you-I will live or die!”

“This man,” whispered Lord Buchan, who having arrived in the rear of the troops on the appearance of Wallace, advanced within hearing of what he said-“this man shows more cunning in repulsing a crown than most are capable of exerting to obtain one.”

“Ay, but let us see,” returned the Earl of March, who accompanied him, “whether it be not Caesar’s coyness; he thrice refused the purple, and yet he died Emperor of the Romans!”

“He that offers me a crown,” returned Buchan, “shall never catch me playing the coquette with its charms. I warrant you, I would embrace the lovely mischief in the first presentation.” A shout rent the air. “What is that?” cried he, interrupting himself.

“He has followed your advice,” answered March, with a satirical smile, “it is the preliminary trumpet to long live King William the Great!”

Lord Buchan spurred forward to Scrymgeour, whom he knew, and inquired, “where the new king was to be crowned? We have not yet to thank him for the possession of Scone!”

“True,” cried Sir Alexander, comprehending the sarcasm; “but did Sir William Wallace accept the prayers of Scotland, neither Scone nor any other spot in the kingdom would refuse the place of his coronation.”

“Not accept them!” replied Buchan; “then why the shout? Do the changelings rejoice in being refused?”

“When we cannot gain the altitude of our desires,” returned the knight, “it is yet subject for thankfulness when we reach a step toward it. Sir William Wallace has consented to be considered as the protector of the kingdom; to hold it for the rightful sovereign, under the name of regent.”

“Ay,” cried March, “he has only taken a mistress instead of a wife; and, trust me, when once he has got her into his arms, it will not be all the gray beards in Scotland that can wrest her thence again. I marvel to see how men can be cajoled and call the visor virtue.”

Scrymgeour had not waited for this reply of the insolent earl, and Buchan answered him: “I care not,” said he; “whoever keeps my castle over my head, and my cellars full, is welcome to reign over John of Buchan. So onward, my gallant Cospatrick, to make our bow to royalty in masquerade.”

When these scorners approached, they found Wallace standing uncovered in the midst of his happy nobles. There was not a man present to whom he had not given proofs of his divine commission; each individual was snatched from a state of oppression and disgrace, and placed in security and honor. With overflowing gratitude, they all thronged around him; and the young, the isolated Wallace, found a nation waiting on his nod; the hearts of half a million of people offered to his hand to turn and wind them as he pleased. No crown sat on his brows; but the bright halo of true glory beamed from his godlike countenance. It even checked the arrogant smiles with which the haughty March and the voluptuous Buchan came forward to mock him with their homage.

As the near relations of Lady Mar, he received them with courtesy; but one glance of his eye penetrated to the hollowness of both; and then, remounting his steed, the stirrups of which were held by Edwin and Ker, he touched the head of the former with his hand; “Follow me, my friend; I now go to pay my duty to your mother. For you, my lords,” said he, turning to the nobles around, “I shall hope to meet you at noon in the citadel, where we must consult together on further prompt movements. Nothing with us can be considered as won till all is gained.”

The chieftains, with bows, acquiesced in his mandate, and fell back toward their troops. But the foremost ranks of those brave fellows, having heard much of what had passed, were so inflamed with admiration of their regent, that they rushed forward, and collecting in crowds around his horse, and in his path, some pressed to kiss his hand, and others his way, shouting and calling down blessings upon him, till he stopped at the gate of Snawdoun.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24