Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 13

ROBERT BRUCE, the greatest king who ever wore the Scottish crown, being dead, as you have been told, the kingdom descended to his son David, who was called David the Second, to distinguish him from the first king of that name, who reigned about a hundred years before. This David the Second was only four years old at his father’s death; and although we have seen children who thought themselves very wise at that age, yet it is not usual to give them the management of kingdoms. So Randolph, Earl of Murray, of whom you have heard so much, became what is called Regent of the kingdom of Scotland; that is, he exercised the royal authority until the King should be old enough to take the charge upon himself. This wise provision had been made by Bruce, with consent of the Parliament of Scotland, and was very acceptable to the kingdom.

The Regent was very strict in administering justice. If a husbandman had the plough-irons stolen from his plough when he left them in the field, Randolph caused the sheriff of the county to pay the value; because it was the duty of that magistrate to protect property left in the open fields. A fellow tried to cheat under colour of this law: he hid his own plough-irons, and pretending that they had been stolen, claimed the price from the sheriff, and was paid accordingly the estimated value, which was two shillings. But the fraud being discovered, the Regent caused the man to be hanged.

Upon one occasion, a criminal who had slain a priest, and afterwards fled to Rome, and done penance there, was brought before the Regent. The culprit confessed the murder, but pleaded that he had obtained the Pope’s pardon. “The Pope,” said Randolph,” might pardon you for killing a priest, but his remission cannot avail you for murdering a subject of the King of Scotland,” and accordingly he caused the culprit to be executed. This was asserting a degree of independence of the Pope’s authority, which was very unusual among the princes and governors of that time. While the Regent was sitting in judgment at Wigton, in Galloway, a man stepped forward to complain, that at the very time he was speaking, a company of his enemies were lying in ambush in a neighbouring forest, to put him to death. Randolph sent a party of his attendants to seize the men, and bring them before him. “Is it you?” said he, “who lie in wait to kill the Kings liege subjects? — To the gallows with them instantly.” Randolph was to be praised for his justice, but not for his severity. He appears to have taken a positive pleasure in putting criminals to death, which marked the ferocity of the times and the turn of his own disposition. Having sent his coroner before him to Ellandonan castle in the Highlands, to execute certain thieves and robbers, that officer caused their heads to be hung round the walls of the castle, to the number of fifty. When Randolph came down the lake in a barge, and saw the castle adorned with these grim and bloody heads, he said, “He loved better to look upon them than on any garland of roses he had ever seen.” The efforts of the Regent to preserve the establishment of justice and order, were soon interrupted, and he was called upon to take measures for the defence of the country; for Robert Bruce was no sooner in his grave than the enemies of his family began to plot the means of destroying the government which he had established. The principal person concerned in these machinations was Edward Baliol, the son of that John Baliol who was formerly created King of Scotland by Edward I, and afterwards dethroned by him, and committed to prison, when Edward desired to seize upon the country for himself. After being long detained in prison, John Baliol was at length suffered to go to France, where he died in obscurity. But his son, Edward Baliol, seeing, as he thought, a favourable opportunity, resolved to renew the claim of his father to the Scottish throne. He came over to England with this purpose, and although Edward III, then King of England, remembering the late successes of the Scots, did not think it prudent to enter into a war with them, yet Baliol found a large party of powerful English barons well disposed to aid his enterprise. Their cause of resentment was as follows:— When Scotland was freed from the dominion of England, all the Englishmen to whom Edward the First, or his successors, had given lands within that kingdom, were of course deprived of them. But there was another class of English proprietors in Scotland, who claimed estates to which they succeeded, not by the grant of the English prince, but by inheritance from Scottish families, to whom they were related, and their pretensions were admitted by Robert Bruce himself, at the treaty of peace made at Northampton, in 1328, in which it was agreed that these English lords should receive back their Scottish inheritances. Notwithstanding this agreement, Bruce, who did not desire to see Englishmen enjoy land in Scotland, under what pretext soever, refused, or delayed at least, to fulfil this part of the treaty. Hence, upon the death of that monarch, the disinherited lords resolved to levy forces, and unite themselves with Edward Baliol, to recover their estates, and determined to invade Scotland for that purpose. But their united forces did not amount to more than four hundred men-at-arms, and about four thousand archers and soldiers of every description. This was a small army with which to invade a nation which had defended itself so well against the whole English forces; but Scotland was justly supposed to be much weakened by the death of her valiant King. A great misfortune befell the country, in the unexpected death of the Regent Randolph, whose experience and valour might have done so much for the protection of Scotland. He had assembled an army, and was busied with preparations for defence against the enterprise of Baliol and the disinherited lords, when, wasted by a painful and consuming disorder, he died at Musselburgh, July, 1332. The regret of the Scottish nation for the Regent’s death was so great, that it has occasioned their historians to allege that he was poisoned by the English; but for this there seems no foundation. Donald, Earl of Mar, nephew to Robert Bruce was appointed by the Scottish Parliament to be Regent in the room of the Earl of Murray; but he was without experience as a soldier, and of far inferior talents as a man.

Mean time, the King of England, still affecting to maintain peace with Scotland, prohibited the disinherited lords from invading that country from the English frontier. But he did not object to their equipping a small fleet in an obscure English seaport, for the purpose of accomplishing the same object by sea. They landed in Fife, with Baliol at their head, and defeated the Earl of Fife, who marched hastily to oppose them. They then advanced northward towards Dupplin, near which the Earl of Mar lay encamped with a large army, whilst another, under the Earl of March, was advancing from the southern counties of Scotland to attack the disinherited lords in the flank and in the rear. It seemed as if that small handful of men must have been inevitably destroyed by the numbers collected to oppose them. But Edward Baliol took the bold resolution of attacking the Regent’s army by night, and in their camp. With this purpose he crossed the Earn, which river divided the two hostile armies. The Earl of Mar had neither placed sentries, nor observed any other of the usual precautions against surprise, and the English came upon his army while the men were asleep and totally unprepared. They made a great slaughter amongst the Scots, whose numbers only served to increase the confusion. The Regent was himself slain, with the Earls of Carrick, of Murray, of Menteith, and many other men of eminence. Many thousands of the Scots were slain with the sword, smothered in the fight, or drowned in the river. The English were themselves surprised at gaining, with such inferior numbers, so great and decided a victory.

I said that the Earl of March was advancing with the southland forces to assist the Regent. But upon learning Mar’s defeat and death, March acted with so little activity or spirit, that he was not unjustly suspected of being favourably inclined to Baliol’s cause. That victorious general now assumed the crown of Scotland, which was placed upon his head at Scoon; a great part of Scotland surrendered to his authority, and it seemed as if the fatal battle of Dupplin fought 12th August, 1332, had destroyed all the Edward Baliol made an unworthy use of his success. He hastened again to acknowledge the King of England as his liege lord and superior, although every claim to such supremacy had been renounced, and the independence of Scotland explicitly acknowledged by the treaty of Northampton. He also surrendered to the King of England the strong town and castle of Berwick, and engaged to become his follower in all his wars at his own charges. Edward III. engaged on his part to maintain Baliol in possession of the crown of Scotland. Thus was the kingdom reduced pretty much to the same state of dependence and subjection to England, as when the grandfather of Edward placed the father of Baliol on the throne, in the year 1292, about forty years before. But the success of Baliol was rather apparent than real. The Scottish patriots were in possession of many of the strongholds of the country, and the person of the young King David was secured in Dumbarton castle, one of the strongest fortresses in Scotland, or perhaps in the world. At no period of her history was Scotland devoid of brave men, able and willing to defend her rights. When the scandalous treaty, by which Baliol had surrendered the independence of his country to Edward, came to be known in Scotland, the successors of Bruce’s companions were naturally among the first to assert the cause of freedom. John Randolph, second son of the Regent, had formed a secret union with Archibald Douglas, a younger brother of the Good Lord James, and they proceeded to imitate the actions of their relatives. They suddenly assembled a considerable force, and attacking Baliol, who was feasting near Annan, they cut his guards in pieces, killed his brother, and chased him out of Scotland in such haste, that he escaped on horseback without time to clothe himself, or even to saddle his horse. Archibald Douglas, who afterwards became Earl of Douglas, was a brave man like his father, but not so good a general, nor so fortunate in his undertakings.

There was another Douglas, called Sir William, a natural son of the Good Lord James, who made a great figure at this period. Although a bastard by birth, he had acquired a large fortune by marrying with the heiress of the Grahames of Dalkeith, and possessed the strong castle of the same name, with the still more important one called the Hermitage, a large and massive fortress situated in the wild country of Liddesdale, within three or four miles of the English Border. This Sir William Douglas, called usually the Knight of Liddesdale, was a very brave man and a valiant soldier, but he was fierce, cruel, and treacherous; so that he did not keep up the reputation of his father the Good Lord James, as a man of loyalty and honour, although he resembled him in military talents. Besides these champions, all of whom declared against Baliol, there was Sir Andrew Murray of Bothwell, who had married Christian, sister of Robert Bruce, and aunt of the young King David. He had so high a reputation, that the Scottish Parliament appointed him Regent, in room of the Earl of Mar, slain at Dupplin.

Edward III of England now formally declared war against Scotland, proposing to support the cause of Baliol, to the possession of Berwick, which that pretended King had yielded up to him, and to chastise the Scots for what he called their rebellion. He placed himself at the head of a great army, and marched towards the frontier. In the mean time, the war had begun in a manner most unfavourable for Scotland. Sir Andrew Murray, and the Knight of Liddesdale, were both made prisoners in separate skirmishes with the English, and their loss at the time was of the worst consequence to Scotland.

Archibald Douglas, the brother, as I have just said, of the Good Lord James, was hastily appointed Regent in the room of Sir Andrew Murray, and advanced with a large army to relieve the town of Berwick, then closely besieged by Edward III with all his host. The garrison made a determined defence, and the Regent endeavoured to relieve them by giving battle to the English, in which he showed more courage than military conduct. The Scottish army were drawn up on the side of an eminence called Halidon hill, within two miles of Berwick. King Edward moved with his whole host to attack them. The battle, like that of Falkirk and many others, was decided by that formidable force, the archers of England. They were posted in a marshy ground, from which they discharged their arrows in the most tremendous and irresistible volleys against the Scots, who, drawn up on the slope of the hill, were fully exposed to this destructive discharge, without having the means of answering it.

I have told you before, that these English archers were the best ever known in war. They were accustomed to the use of the bow from the time they were children of seven years old, when they were made to practice with a little bow suited to their size and strength, which was every year exchanged for one larger and stronger, till they were able to draw that of a full-grown man. Besides being thus familiarized with the weapon, the archers of England were taught to draw the bow string to their right ear, while other European nations only drew it to their breast. If you try the difference of the posture, you will find that a much longer arrow can be drawn to the ear than to the breast, because the right hand has more room.

While the Scots suffered under these practised and skilful archers, whose arrows fell like hail amongst them, throwing their ranks into disorder, and piercing the finest armour as if it had been pasteboard, they made desperate attempts to descend the hill, and come to close combat. The Earl of Ross advanced to the charge, and had he been seconded by a sufficient body of the Scottish cavalry, he might have changed the fate of the day; but as this was not the case, the Earls of Ross, Sutherland, and Menteith, were overpowered and slain, while their followers were dispersed by the English cavalry, who advanced to protect the archers. The defeat of the Scots was then complete (19/7/1333). A number of their best and bravest nobility were slain, and amongst them Archibald Douglas, the Regent; very many were made prisoners. Berwick surrendered in consequence of the defeat, and Scotland seemed again to be completely conquered by the English. Edward once more over-ran the kingdom, seized and garrisoned castles, extorted from Edward Baliol, the nominal king, the complete cession of great part of the southern districts, named governors of the castle and sheriff of the counties, and exercised complete authority, as over a conquered country. Baliol, on his part, assumed once more the rule of the northern and western part of Scotland, which he was permitted to retain under the vassalage of the English monarch. It was the opinion of most people that the Scottish wars were ended, and that there no longer remained a man of that nation who had influence to raise an army, or skill to conduct one.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29