Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 26

QUEEN Margaret, who hated her husband Angus, as I have told you, now combined with his enemy Arran, to call James V, her son (though then only twelve years old), to the management of the public affairs; but the Earl of Angus, returning at this crisis from France, speedily obtained a superiority in the Scottish councils, and became the head of those nobles who desired to maintain a friendly alliance with England rather than to continue that league with France, which had so often involved Scotland in quarrels with their powerful neighbour. Margaret might have maintained her authority, for she was personally much beloved; but it was the fate or the folly of that Queen to form rash marriages. Like her brother Henry of England, who tired of his wives, Margaret seems to have been addicted to tire of her husbands; but she had not the power of cutting the heads from the spouses whom she desired to be rid of. Having obtained a divorce from Angus, she married a young man of little power and inferior rank, named Henry Stewart, a younger son of Lord Evandale. She lost her influence by that ill-advised measure. Angus, therefore, rose to the supreme authority in Scotland, obtained possession of the person of the King, transacted every thing in the name of James, but by his own authority, and became in all respects the regent of Scotland, though without assuming the name.

The talents of the Earl of Angus were equal to the charge he had assumed, and as he reconciled himself to his old rival the Earl of Arran, his power seemed founded on a sure basis. He was able to accomplish a treaty of peace with England, which was of great advantage to the kingdom. But, according to the fashion of the times, Angus was much too desirous to confer all the great offices, lands, and other advantages in the disposal of the crown, upon his own friends and adherents, to the exclusion of all the nobles and gentry, who had either taken part against him in the late struggle for power, or were not decidedly his partisans. The course of justice also was shamefully perverted, by the partiality of Angus for his friends, kinsmen, and adherents.

An old historian says, “that there dared no man strive at law with a Douglas, or yet with the adherent of a Douglas; for if he did, he was sure to get the worst of his lawsuits. And,” he adds, “although Angus travelled through the country under the pretence of punishing thieves, robbers, and murderers, there were no malefactors so great as those which rode in his own company.” The King, who was now fourteen years old, became disgusted with the sort of restraint in which Angus detained him, and desirous to free himself from his tutelage. His mother had doubtless a natural influence over him, and that likewise was exerted to the earl’s prejudice. The Earl of Lennox, a wise and intelligent nobleman, near in blood to the King, was also active in fostering his displeasure against the Douglasses, and schemes began to be agitated for taking the person of the King out of the hands of Angus. But Angus was so well established in the government, that his authority could not be destroyed except by military force; and it was not easy to bring such to bear against a man so powerful, and of such a martial character.

At length it seems to have been determined to employ the agency of Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, a man of great courage and military talent, head of a numerous and powerful clan, and possessed of much influence on the Border. He had been once the friend of Angus, and had even scaled the walls of Edinburgh with a great body of his clan, in order to render the party of the Earl uppermost in that city. But of late he had attached himself to Lennox, by whose counsel he seems to have been guided in the enterprise which I am about to give you an account of. Some excesses had taken place on the Border, probably by the connivance of Buccleuch, which induced Angus to march to Jedburgh, bringing the King in his company, lest he should have made his escape during his absence. He was joined by the clans of Home and Ker, both in league with him, and he had, besides, a considerable body of chosen attendants. Angus was returning from this expedition, and had passed the night at Melrose. The Kers and Homes had taken leave of the Earl, who with the King and his retinue had left Melrose, when a band of a thousand horsemen suddenly appeared on the side of an eminence called Halidonhill, and, descending into the valley, interposed between the Earl and the bridge, by which he must pass the Tweed on his return northward. “Sir,” said Angus to the King, “yonder comes Buccleuch, with the Border thieves of Teviotdale and Liddesdale, to interrupt your grace’s passage. I vow to God they shall either flight or fly. You shall halt upon this knoll with my brother George, while we drive off these banditti, and clear the road for your grace.”

The King made no answer, for in his heart he desired that Buccleuch’s undertaking might be successful; but he dared not say so. Angus, mean time, despatched a herald to charge Buccleuch to withdraw with his forces. Scott replied, “that he was come, according to the custom of the Borders, to show the King his clan and followers, and invite his grace to dine at his house.” To which he added, “that he knew the King’s mind as well as Angus.” The Earl advanced, and the Borderers, shouting their war-cry of Bellenden, immediately joined battle, and fought stoutly; but the Homes and Kers, who were at no great distance, returned on hearing the alarm, and coming through the little village of Darnick, set upon Buccleuch’s men, and decided the fate of the day. The Border riders fled, but Buccleuch and his followers fought bravely in their retreat, and turning upon the Kers, slew several of them; in particular, Ker of Cessford, a chief of the name, who was killed by the lance of one of the Elliots, a retainer of Buccleuch. His death occasioned a deadly feud between the clans of Scott and Ker, which lasted for a century, and cost much blood. This skirmish took place on the 25th of July, 1526. About eighty Scotts were slain on the field of battle, and a sentence was pronounced against Buccleuch and many of his clan, as guilty of high treason. But after the King had shaken off the yoke of the Douglasses, he went in person to Parliament to obtain the restoration of Buccleuch, who, he declared on his kingly word, had come to Melrose without any purpose of quarrel, but merely to pay his duty to his prince, and show him the number of his followers. In evidence of which the King said that the said Wat was not clad in armour, but in a leathern coat (a buff-coat, I suppose), with a black bonnet on his head. The family were restored to their estates accordingly; but Sir Walter Scott was long afterwards murdered by the Kers, at Edinburgh, in revenge of the death of the Laird of Cessford.

The Earl of Lennox, being disappointed in procuring the King’s release by means of Buccleuch, now resolved to attempt it in person. He received much encouragement from the Chancellor Beaton (distinguished at the skirmish called Clean-the Causeway), from the Earl of Glencairn, and other noblemen, who saw with displeasure the Earl of Angus confining the young King like a prisoner, and that all the administration of the kingdom centered in the Douglasses. Lennox assembled an army of ten or twelve thousand men, and advanced upon Edinburgh from Stirling. Angus and Arran, who were still closely leagued together, encountered Lennox, with an inferior force, near the village of Newliston. The rumour that a battle was about to commence soon reached Edinburgh, when Sir George Douglas hastened to call out the citizens in arms, to support his brother, the Earl of Angus. The city bells were rung, trumpets were sounded, and the King himself was obliged to mount on horseback, to give countenance to the measures of the Douglasses, whom in his soul he detested. James was so sensible of his situation, that he tried, by every means in his power, to delay the march of the forces which were mustered at Edinburgh. When they reached the village of Corstorphine, they heard the thunder of the guns; which inflamed the fierce impatience of George Douglas to reach the field of battle, and also increased the delays of the young King, who was in hopes Angus might be defeated before his brother could come up. Douglas, perceiving this, addressed the King in language which James never forgot nor forgave; —“Your grace need not think to escape us,” said this fierce warrior; “if our enemies had hold of you on one side, and we on the other, we would tear you to pieces ere we would let you go.”

Tidings now came from the field of battle that Lennox had been defeated, and that Angus had gained the victory. The young King, dismayed at the news, now urged his attendants to gallop forward, as much as he had formerly desired them to hang back. He charged them to prevent slaughter, and save lives, especially that of Lennox. Sir Andrew Wood, one of the King’s cup-bearers, arrived in the field of battle time enough to save the Earl of Glencairn, who was still fighting gallantly by assistance of some strong ground, though he had scarce thirty men left alive; and Wood contrived to convey him safe out of the field. But Lennox, about whose safety the King was so anxious, was already no more. He had been slain, in cold blood, by that bloodthirsty man, Sir James Hamilton of Draphane, who took him from the Laird of Pardivan, to whom he had surrendered himself. This deed seemed to flow from the brutal nature of the perpetrator, who took such a pleasure in shedding blood, that he slashed with his own hand the faces of many of the prisoners. Arran, the father of this ferocious man, bitterly lamented the fate of Lennox, who was his nephew. He was found mourning beside the body, over which he had spread his scarlet cloak. “The hardiest, stoutest, and wisest man that Scotland bore,” he said, “lies here slain.”

After these two victories, the Earl of Angus seemed to be so firmly established in power, that his followers set no bounds to their presumption, and his enemies were obliged to fly and hide themselves. Chancellor Beaton, disguised as a shepherd, fed sheep on Bogrian-knowe, until he made his peace with the Earls of Angus and Arran, by great gifts, both in money and in church lands. Angus established around the King’s person a guard of a hundred men of his own choice, commanded by Douglas of Parkhead; he made his brother George, whom James detested, Master of the Royal Household; and Archibald of Kilspindie, his uncle, Lord Treasurer of the Realm. But the close restraint in which the King found himself, only increased his eager desire to be rid of all the Douglasses together. Force having failed in two instances, James had recourse to stratagem. He prevailed on his mother, Queen Margaret, to yield up to him the castle of Stirling, which was her jointure-house, and secretly to put in into the hands of a governor whom he could trust. This was done with much caution. Thus prepared with a place of refuge, James watched with anxiety an opportunity of flying to it; and he conducted himself with such apparent confidence towards Angus, that the Douglasses were lulled into security, and concluded that the King was reconciled to his state of bondage, and had despaired of making his escape.

James was then residing at Falkland, a royal palace conveniently situated for hunting and hawking, in which he seemed to take great pleasure. The Earl of Angus at this period left the court for Lothian, where he had some urgent business — Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie went to Dundee, to visit a lady to whom he attached — and George Douglas had gone to St Andrews, to extort some farther advantages from Chancellor Beaton, who was now archbishop of that see, and primate of Scotland. There was thus none of the Douglasses left about the King’s person, except Parkhead, with his guard of one hundred men, in whose vigilance the others confided. The King thought the time favourable for his escape. To lay all suspicion asleep, he pretended he was to rise next morning at an early hour, for the purpose of hunting the stag. Douglas of Parkhead, suspecting nothing, retired to bed after placing his watch. But the King was no sooner in his private chamber, than he called a trusty page, named John Hart:— “Jockie,” said he, “dost thou love me?”

“Better than myself,” answered the domestic. “And will you risk any thing for me?” “My life, with pleasure,” said John Hart. The King then explained his purpose, and dressing himself in the attire of a groom, he went with Hart to the stable, as if for the purpose of getting the horses ready for the next day’s hunt. The guards, deceived by their appearance, gave them no interruption. At the stables three good horses were saddled and in readiness, under charge of a yeoman, or groom, whom the King had intrusted with his design.

James mounted with his two servants, and galloped, during the whole night, as eager as a bird just escaped from a cage. At daylight he reached the bridge of Stirling, which was the only mode of passing the river Forth, except by boats. It was defended by gates, which the King, after passing through them, ordered to be closed, and directed the passage to be watched. He was a weary man when he reached Stirling castle, where he was joyfully received by the governor, whom his mother had placed in that strong fortress. The drawbridges were raised, the portcullises dropt, guards set, and every measure of defence and precaution resorted to. But the King was so much afraid of again falling into the hands of Douglasses, that, tired as he was, he would not go to sleep until the keys of the castle were placed in his own keeping, and laid underneath his pillow.

In the morning there was a great alarm at Falkland. Sir George Douglas had returned thither, on the night of the King’s departure, about eleven o’clock. On his arrival, he enquired after the King, and was answered by the porter as well as the watchmen upon guard, that he was sleeping in his chamber, as he intended to hunt early in the morning. Sir George therefore retired to rest in full security. But the next morning he learned different tidings. One Peter Carmichael, bailie of Abernethy, knocked at the door of his chamber, and asked him if he knew “what the King was doing that morning?”

“He is in his chamber asleep,” said Sir George. “You are mistaken,” answered Carmichael; “he passed the bridge of Stirling this last night.” On hearing this, Douglas started up in haste, went to the King’s chamber, and knocked for admittance. When no answer was returned, he caused the door to be forced, and when he found the apartment empty, he cried, “Treason! — The King is gone, and none knows whither.” Then he sent post to his brother, the Earl of Angus, and despatched messengers in every direction, to seek the King, and to assemble the Douglasses. When the truth became known, the adherents of Angus rode in a body of Stirling; but the King was so far from desiring to receive them, that he threatened, by sound of trumpet, to declare any of the name of Douglas a traitor who should approach within twelve miles of his person, or who should presume to meddle with the administration of government. Some of the Douglasses inclined to resist this proclamation; but the Earl of Angus and his brother resolved to obey it, and withdrew to Linlithgow.

Soon afterwards, the King assembled around him the numerous nobility, who envied the power of Angus and Arran, or had suffered injuries at their hands; and, in open parliament, accused them of treason, declaring, that he had never been sure of his life all the while that he was in their power. A sentence of forfeiture was, therefore, passed against the Earl of Angus, and he was driven into exile, with all his friends and kinsmen. And thus the Red Douglasses, of the house of Angus, shared almost the same fate with the Black Douglasses, of the elder branch of that mighty house; with this difference, that as they had never risen so high, so they did not fall so irretrievably; for the Earl of Angus lived to return and enjoy his estates in Scotland, where he again played a distinguished part. But this was not till after the death of James V, who retained, during his whole life, an implacable resentment against the Douglasses, and never permitted one of the name to settle in Scotland. James persevered in this resolution even under circumstances which rendered his unrelenting resentment ungenerous. Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie, the Earl of Angus’s uncle, had been a personal favourite of the King before the disgrace of his family. He was so much recommended to James by his great strength, manly appearance, and skill in every kind of warlike exercise, that he was wont to call him his Graysteil, after the name of a champion in a romance then popular. Archibald, becoming rather an old man, and tired of his exile in England, resolved to try the King’s mercy. He thought that as they had been so well acquainted formerly, and as he had never offended James personally, he might find favour from their old intimacy. He, therefore, threw himself in the King’s way one day as he returned from hunting in the park at Stirling. It was several years since James had seen him, but he knew him at a great distance, by his firm and stately step, and said, “Yonder is my Graysteil, Archibald of Kilspindie.” But when they met, he showed no appearance of recognising his old servant. Douglas turned, and still hoping to obtain a glance of favourable recollection, ran along by the King’s side; and although James trotted his horse hard against the hill, and Douglas wore a heavy shirt of mail under his clothes, for fear of assassination, yet Graysteil was at the castle gate as soon as the King. James passed him, and entered the castle; but Douglas, exhausted with exertion, sat down at the gate, and asked for a cup of wine. The hatred of the King against the name of Douglas was so well known, that no domestic about the court dared procure for the old warrior even this trifling refreshment. The King blamed, indeed, his servants for their discourtesy, and even said, that but for his oath never to employ a Douglas, he would have received Archibald of Kilspindie into his service, as he had formerly known him a man of great ability. Yet he sent his commands to his poor Graysteil to retire to France, where he died heart-broken soon afterwards. Even Henry VIII of England, himself of an unforgiving temper, blamed the implacability of James on this occasion, and quoted an old proverb,

“ A King’s face

Should give grace.”

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