Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 4

THE last chapter may seem to have little to do with Scottish history, yet the Norman Conquest of England produced a great effect upon their neighbours. In the first place, a very great number of the Saxons who fled from the cruelty of William the Conqueror, retired into Scotland, and this had a considerable effect in civilizing the southern parts of that country; for if the Saxons were inferior to the Normans in arts and in learning, they were, on the other hand, much superior to the Scots, who were a rude and very ignorant people. These exiles were headed and accompanied by what remained of the Saxon royal family, and particularly by a young prince named Edgar Etheling, who was a near kinsman of Edward the Confessor, and the heir of his throne, but dispossessed by the Norman conquerors.

This prince brought with him to Scotland two sisters, named Margaret bad Christian. They were received with much kindness by Malcolm III, called Canmore (or Great Head), who remembered the assistance which he had received from Edward the Confessor, and felt himself obliged to behave generously towards his family in their misfortunes. He himself married the Princess Margaret [1068], and made her the Queen of Scotland. She was an excellent woman, and of such a gentle, amiable disposition, that she often prevailed upon her husband, who was a fierce, passionate man, to lay aside his resentment, and forgive those who had offended him. When Malcolm King of Scotland was thus connected with the Saxon royal family of England, he began to think of chasing away the Normans, and of restoring Edgar Etheling to the English throne. This was an enterprise for which he had not sufficient strength; — but he made deep and bloody inroads into the northern parts of England, and brought away so many captives, that they were to be found for many years afterwards in every Scottish village, nay, in every Scottish hovel. No doubt, the number of the Saxons thus introduced into Scotland, tended much to improve and civilize the manners of the people: for, as I have already said, the Scots were inferior to the Saxons in all branches of useful knowledge. Not only the Saxons, but afterwards a number of the Normans themselves, came to settle in Scotland. King William could not satisfy the whole of them, and some, who were discontented, and thought they could mend their fortunes, repaired to the Scottish court, and were welcomed by King Malcolm. He was desirous to retain these brave men in his service, and for that purpose, he gave them great grants of land, to be held for military services; and most of the Scottish nobility are of Norman descent. And thus the Feudal System was introduced into Scotland as well as England, and went on gradually gaining strength, till it became the general law of the country, as indeed it was that of Europe at large.

Malcolm Canmore, thus increasing in power, and obtaining reinforcements of warlike and civilized subjects, began greatly to enlarge his dominions. At first he had resided almost entirely in the province of Fife, and at the town of Dunfermline, where there are still the ruins of a small tower which served him for a palace. But as he found his power increase, he ventured across the frith of Forth, and took possession of Edinburgh and the surrounding country, which had hitherto been accounted part of England. The great strength of the castle of Edinburgh, situated upon a lofty rock, led him to choose that town frequently for his residence, so that in time it became the metropolis or chief city of Scotland. This King Malcolm was a brave and wise prince, though without education. He often made war upon King William the Conqueror of England, and upon his son and successor William, who, from his complexion, was called William Rufus, that is, Red William. Malcolm was sometimes beaten in these wars, but he was more frequently successful; and not only made a complete conquest of Lothian, but threatened also to possess himself of the great English province of Northumberland, which he frequently invaded. In Cumberland, also, he held many possessions. But in the year 1093, having assembled a large army for the purpose, Malcolm besieged the border fortress of Alnwick, where he was unexpectedly attacked by a great Norman baron, called Robert de Moubray, who defeated the Scottish army completely. Malcolm Canmore was killed in the action, and his eldest son fell by his side.

There is a silly story told of Malcolm being killed by one of the garrison of Alnwick, who, pretending to surrender the keys of the castle on the point of a spear, thrust the lance-point into the eye of the King of Scotland, and so killed him. They pretend that this soldier took the name of Pierce-eye, and that the great family of the Percies of Northumberland were descended from him. But this is all a fable. The Percies are descended from a great Norman baron, who came over with William, and who took his name from his castle and estate in Normandy.

Queen Margaret of Scotland was extremely ill at the time her husband marched against England. When she was lying on her death-bed, she saw her second son, who had escaped from the fatal battle, approach her bed. “How fares it,” said the expiring Queen, “with your father, and with your brother Edward?”— The young man stood silent. — “I conjure you,” she added, “by the Holy Cross, and by the duty you owe me, to tell me the truth.”

“Your husband and your son are both slain.” “The will of God be done!” answered the Queen, and expired, with expressions of devout resignation to the pleasure of Heaven. This good princess was esteemed a Saint by those of the period in which she lived, and was called Saint Margaret.

After the death of Malcolm Canmore, the Scottish crown was occupied successively by three princes of little power or talent, who seized on the supreme authority because the children of the deceased sovereign were under age. After these had ended their short reigns, the sons of Malcolm came to the throne in succession, by name Edgar, — Alexander, called the First — and David, also called the First of that name. These two last princes were men of great ability. David, in particular, was a wise, religious, and powerful prince. He had many furious wars with England, and made dreadful incursions into the neighbouring provinces, which were the more easy that the country of England was then disunited by civil war. The cause was this:

Henry I., the youngest son of William the Conqueror, had died, leaving only one child, a daughter, named Matilda, or Maud, whose mother was a daughter of Malcolm Canmore, and a sister, consequently, of David, King of Scotland. During Henry’s life, all the English barons had agreed that his daughter should succeed him in the throne. Upon the King’s death [1135], however, Stephen, Earl of Mortagne, a great Norman lord, usurped the government, to the exclusion of the Empress Matilda (so called because she had married the Emperor of Germany), and caused himself to be proclaimed King. Many of the English barons took arms against Stephen, with the purpose of doing justice to the Empress Maud, and her son Henry. It was natural that David, King of Scotland, should join the party which favoured his niece. But he also took the opportunity to attempt an extension of his own dominions.

He assembled from the different provinces of Scotland a large but ill-disciplined army, consisting of troops of different nations and languages, who had only one common principle — the love of plunder. There were Normans, and Germans, and English; there were the Danes of Northumberland, and the British of Cumberland, and of the valley of Clyde; there were the men of Teviotdale, who were chiefly Britons, and those of Lothian, who were Saxons; and there were also the people of Galloway. These last were almost a separate and independent people, of peculiarly wild and ferocious habits. Some historians say they came of the race of the ancient Picts; some call them the wild Scots of Galloway; all agree that they were a fierce, ungovernable race of men, who fought half naked, and committed great cruelty upon the inhabitants of the invaded country. These men of Galloway were commanded by several chiefs. Amongst others, was a chief leader called William MacDonochy, that is, William the son of Duncan.

The barons of the northern parts of England, hearing that the King of Scotland was advancing at the head of this formidable army, resolved to assemble their forces to give him battle. Thurstan, the Archbishop of York, joined with them. They hoisted a banner, which they called that of Saint Peter, upon a carriage mounted on wheels; from which circumstance the war took the name of the Battle of the Standard. The two armies came in sight of each other at Cuton Moor, near Northallerton, and prepared to fight on the next morning. It was a contest of great importance; for if David should prove able to defeat the army now opposed to him, there seemed little to prevent him from conquering England as far as the Humber. There was in the English army an aged baron named Robert Bruce, father of a race afterwards very famous in Scottish history. He had great estates both in England and Scotland. He loved King David, because he bad been formerly his companion in arms, and he resolved to make an effort to preserve peace.

He went, therefore’ to the Scottish camp, and endeavoured to persuade King David to retreat, and to make peace — remonstrated with him on the excesses which his army had committed — exaggerated the danger in which he was placed; and finally burst into tears when he declared his own purpose of relinquishing his allegiance to the King of Scotland, and fighting against him in battle, if he persevered in his invasion. The King shed tears at this exhortation; but William MacDonochy exclaimed,” Bruce, thou art a false traitor!” Bruce, incensed at this insult, left the camp of the Scots, renouncing for ever all obedience to David, and giving up the lands he held of him in Scotland. A dispute arose in the Scottish council of war. The Galloway men, who had gained a considerable battle in their advance into England, were intoxicated with their own success, and demanded peremptorily that they should lead the van in the battle of the next day. King David would fain have eluded the request. He had more confidence in the disciplined valour of the men-at-arms in his service, than in those brave, but tumultuous barbarians.- A chief, called Malise, Earl of Strathearn, saw and was angry at David’s hesitation. “Why so much confidence in a plate of steel, or in rings of iron?” said he. “I who wear no armour, will go as far tomorrow with a bare breast, as any one who wears a cuirass.”

“Rude earl,” said Allan de Percy, a Norman knight,” you brag of what you dare not do.” The King interposed, and with difficulty appeased the dispute. He granted with reluctance the request of the men of Galloway. In the morning, David prepared for the eventful contest. He drew his army up in three lines. The first, according to his promise, consisted of the Galloway men, who were commanded by William MacDonochy, and Ulrick, and Dovenald. The second line consisted of the men-at-arms, the Borderers of Teviotdale, with the archers of Cumberland and Strathclyde. They were headed by Henry, Prince of Scotland, a brave and amiable youth. The King himself, surrounded by a guard consisting of English and Norman men-at-arms, commanded the third body of troops, who were the men of Lothian, with the Northern Scots, properly so called.

The English were formed into one compact and firm battalion, in the midst of which the consecrated Standard was displayed. The bishop of Orkney, as deputed by the aged Thurstan, mounted the carriage of Saint Peter’s Standard, and proclaiming the war was a holy one, assured each English soldier that those who fell should immediately pass into Paradise. The English barons grasped each other’s hands, and swore to be victorious, or die in the field.

The armies being now near each other, the men of Galloway charged, with cries which resembled the roar of a tempest. They fought for two hours with the greatest fury, and made such slaughter amongst the English spearmen that they began to give way. But the archers supported them, and showered their arrows so thick upon the Galloway men, that, having no defensive armour to resist the shot, they became dismayed, and began to retreat. Prince Henry of Scotland advanced to their support with the men-at-arms. He rushed at full gallop on that part of the English line which was opposed to him, and broke through it, says a historian, as if it had been a spider’s web. He then attacked the rear of the English; the men of Galloway rallied, and were about to renew the contest, when an English soldier showed the head of a slain man on a spear, and called out it was the King of Scots. The falsehood was believed by the Scottish army, who fell into confusion, and fled. The King in vain threw his helmet from his head, and rode barefaced among the soldiers, to show that he still lived. The alarm and panic were general, and the Scots lost a battle, which if they had won, must have given them a great part of England, and eventually, it may be, the whole of that kingdom, distracted as it was with civil war. Such was the famous battle of the Standard. It forced David to make peace with England, but it was upon the most favourable terms; since excepting the fortresses of Newcastle and Bamborough, the whole of Northumberland and Durham was surrendered by Stephen to the Scottish monarch. David died in the year 1153. His brave and amiable son, Henry, had died two or three years before his father. David was a most excellent sovereign. He would leave his sport of hunting, or any thing in which he was engaged at the time, if the meanest of his subjects came to complain of any wrong which he had received; nor would he resume his amusement till he had seen the poor man redressed. He is also much praised by historians, who, in those times, were chiefly clergymen, for his great bounty to the church. He founded bishoprics, and built and endowed many monasteries, which he vested with large grants of lands out of the patrimony of the kings. Amongst these were the Abbeys of Holyroodhouse, near Edinburgh; of Melrose, in Roxburghshire; of Dryburgh, in Berwickshire; of Newbattle, in Lothian; of Cambuskenneth, in Stirlingshire; also the Abbeys of Kelso and Jedburgh, and many ecclesiastical houses of less note.

It was, perhaps, as much from his munificence to the church, as from his private virtues and public deeds, that this monarch was received into the catalogue of holy persons, and called Saint David. One of his successors, James I., who esteemed his liberality to the church rather excessive, said, “St. David had proved a sore saint for the crown.” But we ought to recollect, that the church lands were frequently spared, out of veneration to religion, when, in those restless times, all the rest of the country was burned and plundered. David, therefore, by putting these large estates under the protection of the church, may be considered as having done his best to secure them against devastation; and we may observe that most of his monasteries were founded in provinces peculiarly exposed to the dangers of war. The monks, it must be also remembered, were the only persons possessed of the most ordinary branches of knowledge. They were able to read and write; they understood French and Latin; they were excellent architects, as their magnificent buildings still testify; they possessed the art of gardening, and of forming plantations; and it appears that the children of the gentry were often educated in these monasteries. It was, therefore, no wonder that David should have desired to encourage communities so nearly connected with arts and learning, although he certainly carried to excess the patronage which he was disposed to afford them.

It was during the reigns of Malcolm Canmore and his successors, that a dispute arose, grounded upon the feudal law, which occasioned a most dreadful quarrel between England and Scotland; and though Master Littlejohn be no great lawyer, it is necessary he should try all he can to understand it, for it is a very material point in history. While the English were fighting among themselves, and afterwards with the Normans, the Scottish Kings, as I have repeatedly told you, had been enlarging their dominions at the expense of their neighbours, and had possessed themselves, in a great measure, of the northern provinces of England, called Lothian, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmoreland. After much fighting and disputing. it was agreed that the King of Scotland should keep these English provinces, or such parts of them as he possessed, not as an independent sovereign, however, but as a vassal of the King of England; and that he should do homage for the same to the English King, and attend him to the field of battle when summoned. But this homage, and this military service, were not paid on account of the kingdom of Scotland, which had never since the beginning of the world been under the dominion of an English King, but was, and had always remained independent, a free state, having sovereigns and monarchs of its own. It may seem strange to Master Littlejohn, how a King of Scotland should be vassal for that part of his dominions which lay in England, and an independent prince when he was considered as King of Scotland; but this might easily happen, according to the regulations of the feudal system. William the Conqueror himself stood in the same situation; for he held his great dukedom of Normandy, and his other possessions in France, as a vassal of the King of France, by whom it had been granted as a fief to his ancestor Rollo; but he was, at the same time, the independent Sovereign of England, of which he had gained possession by his victory at Hastings. The English Kings, however, occasionally took opportunities to insinuate, that the homage paid by the Scottish Kings was not only for the provinces which they at this time possessed in England, but also for the kingdom of Scotland. The Scottish Kings, on the contrary, although they rendered the homage and services demanded, as holding large possessions within the boundaries of England, uniformly and positively refused to permit it to be said or supposed, that they were subject to any claim of homage on account of the kingdom of Scotland. This was one cause of the frequent wars which took place betwixt the countries, in which the Scots maintained their national independence, and though frequently defeated, were often victorious, and threatened, upon more than one occasion, to make extensive acquisitions of territory at the expense of their neighbours.

At the death of David the First of Scotland, that monarch was in full possession of Lothian, which began to be considered as a part of Scotland, and which still continues to be so; as also of Northumberland and of Cumberland, with great part of Westmoreland, of which his sovereignty was less secure.

David was succeeded by his grandson, named MALCOLM [1153, in his twelfth year], the eldest son of the brave and generous Prince Henry. Malcolm did homage to the King of England for the possessions which he had in England, He was so kind and gentle in his disposition, that he was usually called Malcolm the Maiden. Malcolm attached himself particularly to Henry II, King of England, who was indeed a very wise and able Prince. The Scottish King at one time went the length of resigning to Henry the possessions he held in the North of England; nay, he followed that prince into France, and acted as a volunteer in his army. This partiality to the English King disgusted the Scottish nation, who were afraid of the influence which Henry possessed over the mind of their youthful sovereign. They sent a message to France to upbraid Malcolm with his folly, and to declare they would not have Henry of England to rule over them. Malcolm returned to Scotland with all speed, and reconciled himself to his subjects. He died at Jedburgh in the year 1165. Malcolm the Maiden was succeeded by his brother WILLIAM [crowned 24th December, ll65], a son of Prince Henry, and grandson of the good King David. In his time, warriors and men of consequence began to assume what are called armorial bearings, which you may still see cut upon seals, engraved on silver plate, and painted upon gentlemen’s carriages. Now, Master Littlejohn, it is as well to know the meaning of this ancient custom. In the time of which I am speaking, the warriors went into battle clad in complete armour, which covered them from top to toe. On their head they wore iron caps, called helmets, with visors, which came down and protected the face, so that nothing could be seen of the countenance except the eyes peeping through bars of iron. You have seen such helmets in grandpapa’s entrance-hall. But as it was necessary that a king, lord, or knight, should be known to his followers in battle, they adopted two ways of distinguishing themselves. The one was by a crest, that is, a figure of some kind or other, as a lion, a wolf, a hand holding a sword, or some such decoration, which they wore on the top of the helmet, as we talk of a cock’s comb being the crest of that bird, But, besides this mark of distinction, these warriors were accustomed to paint emblematical figures, sometimes of a very whimsical kind, upon their shields. These emblems became general; and at length no one was permitted to bear any such armorial device, excepting he either had right to carry it by inheritance, or that such right had been conferred upon him by some sovereign prince. To assume the crest or armorial emblems of another man was a high offence, and often mortally resented; and to adopt armorial bearings for yourself, was punished as a misdemeanour by a peculiar court, composed of men called Heralds, who gave their name to the science called Heraldry. As men disused the wearing of armour, the original purpose of heraldry fell into neglect, but still persons of ancient descent remained tenacious of the armorial distinctions of their ancestors; and, as I told you before, they are now painted on carriages, or placed above the principal door of country-houses, or frequently engraved on seals. But there is much less attention paid to heraldry now than there was formerly, although the College of Heralds still exists.

Now, William King of Scotland having chosen for his armorial bearing a Red Lion, rampant (that is, standing on its hind legs, as if it were going to climb), he acquired the name of William the Lion. And this Rampant Lion still constitutes the arms of Scotland, and the President of the Heralds’ Court in that country, who is always a person of high rank, is called Lord Lion King-at-Arms. William, though a brave man, and though he had a lion for his emblem, was unfortunate in war. In the year 1174, he invaded England, for the purpose of demanding and compelling restoration of the portion of Northumberland, which had been possessed by his ancestors. He himself, with a small body of men, lay in careless security near Alnwick, while his numerous, but barbarous and undisciplined army, were spread throughout the country, burning and destroying wherever they came. Some gallant Yorkshire barons marched to the aid of their neighbours of Northumberland. They assembled four hundred men-at-arms, and made a forced march of twenty-four miles from Newcastle towards Alnwick, without being discovered. On the morning a thick mist fell — they became uncertain of their road-and some proposed to turn back. “If you should all turn back,” said one of their leaders, named Bernard de Baliol, “I would go forward alone.” The others adopted the same resolution, and, concealed by the mist, they rode forward towards Alnwick. In their way they suddenly encountered the Scottish King, at the head of a small party of only sixty men. William so little expected a sudden attack of this nature, that at first he thought the body of cavalry which he saw advancing was a part of his own army. When he was undeceived, he had too much of the lion about him to fear. “Now shall we see,” he said, “which of us are good knights;” and instantly charged the Yorkshire barons, with the handful of men who attended him. But sixty men-at-arms could make no impression on four hundred, and as the rest of William’s army were too distant to give him assistance, he was, after defending himself with the utmost gallantry, unhorsed and made prisoner. The English immediately retreated with their royal captive, after this bold and successful adventure. They carried William to Newcastle, and from that town to Northampton, where he was conducted to the presence of Henry II., King of England, with his legs tied under his horse’s belly, as if he had been a common malefactor or felon.

This was a great abuse of the advantage which fortune had given to Henry, and was in fact more disgraceful to himself than to his prisoner. But the English King’s subsequent conduct was equally harsh and ungenerous. He would not release his unfortunate captive until he had agreed to do homage to the King of England, not only for his English possessions, but also for Scotland, and all his other dominions. The Scottish Parliament were brought to acquiesce in this treaty; and thus, in order to recover the liberty of their King, they sacrificed the independence of their country, which remained for a time subject to the English claim of paramount sovereignty. This dishonourable treaty was made on the 8th of December. 1174. Thus the great national question of supremacy was for a time abandoned by the Scots; but this state of things did not last long. In 1189, Henry II died, and was succeeded by his son, Richard the First, one of the most remarkable men in English history. He was so brave, that he was generally known by the name of Coeur de Lion, that is, the Lion-hearted; and he was as generous as he was brave. Nothing was so much at his heart, as what was then called the Holy War, that is, a war undertaken to drive the Saracens out of Palestine. For this he resolved to go to Palestine with a large army; but it was first necessary that he should place his affairs at home in such a condition as might ensure the quiet of his dominions during his absence upon the expedition. This point could not be accomplished without his making a solid peace with Scotland; and in order to obtain it, King Richard resolved to renounce the claim for homage, which had been extorted from William the Lion. By a charter, dated 5th December of the same year (1189), he restored to the King of Scots the castles of Berwick and Roxburgh, and granted an acquittance to him of all obligations which Henry II had extorted from him in consequence of his captivity, reserving only Richard’s title to such homage as was anciently rendered by Malcolm Canmore. For this renunciation William paid ten thousand merks; a sum which probably assisted in furnishing the expenses of Richard’s expedition to Palestine.

Thus was Scotland again restored to the dignity of an independent nation, and her monarchs were declared liable only to the homage due for the lands which the King of Scotland held beyond the boundaries of his own kingdom, and within those of England. The period of Scottish subjection lasted only fifteen years.

This generous behaviour of Richard of England was attended with such good effects, that it almost put an end to all wars and quarrels betwixt England and Scotland for more than a hundred years, during which time, with one or two brief interruptions, the nations lived in great harmony together. This was much to the happiness of both, and might in time have led to their becoming one people, for which Nature, which placed them both in the same island, seemed to have designed them. Intercourse for the purpose of traffic became more frequent. Some of the Scottish and English families formed marriages and friendships together, and several powerful lords and barons had lands both in England and Scotland. All seemed to promise peace and tranquillity betwixt the two kingdoms, until a course of melancholy accidents having nearly extinguished the Scottish royal family, tempted the English monarch again to set up his unjust pretensions to be sovereign of Scotland, and gave occasion to a series of wars, fiercer and more bloody than any which had ever before taken place betwixt the countries.

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