Having secured the advantages he had gained in the town and on the works of the castle, by manning all the strong places, Wallace set forward with his chosen troops to intercept De Warenne.
He took his position on a commanding ground about half a mile from Stirling, near to the Abbey of Cambus–Kenneth. The Forth lay before him, crossed by a wooden bridge, over which the enemy must pass to reach him, the river not being fordable in that part.
He ordered the timbers which supported the bridge to be sawed at the bottom, but not displaced in the least, that they might stand perfectly firm for as long as he should deem it necessary. To these timbers were fastened strong cords, all of which he intrusted to the sturdiest of his Lanark men, who were to lie concealed amongst the flags. These preparations being made, he drew up his troops in order of battle. Kirkpatrick and Murray commanded the flanks. In the center stood Wallace himself, with Ramsay on one side of him, and Edwin, with Scrymgeour on the other, awaiting with steady expectation the approach of the enemy, who, by this time, could not be far distant.
Cressingham was not less well-informed of the advance of De Warenne; and burning with revenge against Wallace, and earnest to redeem the favor of De Valence by some act in his behalf, he first gave secret orders to his lieutenant, then set forth alone to seek an avenue of escape, never divulged to any but to the commanders of the fortress. He soon discovered it; and by the light of a torch, making his way through a passage bored in the rock, emerged at its western base, screened from sight by the surrounding bushes. He had disguised himself in a shepherd’s bonnet and plaid, in case of being observed by the enemy; but fortune, favored him, and unseen he crept along through the thickets, till he descried the advance of De Warenne’s army on the skirts of Tor Wood.
Having missed Wallace in West Lothian, De Warenne divided his army into three divisions, to enter Stirlingshire by different routes; and so he hoped, certainly, to intercept him in one of them. The Earl of Montgomery led the first, of twenty thousand men; the Barons Hilton and Blenkinsopp, the second, of ten thousand; and De Warenne himself the third, of thirty thousand.
It was the first of these divisions that Cressingham encountered in Tor Wood; and revealing himself to Montgomery, he recounted how rapidly Wallace had gained the town, and in what jeopardy the citadel would be, if he were not instantly attacked. The earl advised waiting for a junction with Hilton or the lord warden, “which,” said he, “must happen in the course of a few hours.”
“In the course of a few hours,” returned Cressingham, “you will have no Stirling Castle to defend. The enemy will seize it at sunset, in pursuance of the very agreement by which I warded him off, to give us time to annihilate him before that hour. Therefore no hesitation, if we would not see him lock the gates of the north of Scotland upon us, even when we have the power to hurl him to perdition.”
By arguments such as these the young earl was induced to give up his judgment; and, accompanied by Cressingham, whose courage revived amid such a host, he proceeded to the southern bank of the Forth.
The bands of Wallace were drawn up on the opposite shore, hardly five thousand strong, but so disposed the enemy could not calculate their numbers, though the narrowness of their front suggested to Cressingham that they could not be numerous; and he recollected that many must have been left to occupy the outworks of the town and the citadel. “It will be easy to surround the rebel,” cried he; “and that we may effect our enterprise before the arrival of the warden robs us of the honor, let us about it directly, and cross the bridge.”
Montgomery proposed a herald being sent to inform Wallace that, besides the long line of troops he saw, De Warenne was advancing with double hosts, and if he would now surrender, a pardon should be granted to him and his, in the king’s name, for all their late rebellions. Cressingham was vehement against this measure, but Montgomery being resolute, the messenger was dispatched.
In a few minutes he returned, and repeated to the Southron commanders the words of Wallace: “Go,” said he, “tell your masters we came not here to treat for a pardon of what we shall never allow to be an offense; we came to assert our rights-to set Scotland free. Till that is effected, all negotiation is vain. Let them advance; they will find us prepared.”
“Then onward!” cried Montgomery; and, spurring his steed, he led the way to the bridge; his eager soldiers followed, and the whole of his center ranks passed over. The flanks advanced, and the bridge, from end to end, was filled with archers, cavalry, men-at-arms, and war-carriages. Cressingham, in the midst, was hallooing in proud triumph to those who occupied the rear of the straining beams, when the blast of a trumpet sounded from the till now silent and immovable Scottish phalanx. It was re-echoed by shouts from behind the passing enemy, and in that moment the supporting piers of the bridge31 were pulled away, and the whole of its mailed throng was precipitated into the stream.
31 This historical fact relating to the bridge is yet exultantly repeated on the spot, and the number of the Southrons who fell beneath the arms of so small a band of Scots, is not less the theme of triumph.-(1809.)
The cries of the maimed and the drowning were joined by the terrific slogan of two bands of Scots. The one with Wallace toward the head of the river, while the other, under the command of Sir John Graham, rushed from its ambuscade on the opposite bank upon the rear of the dismayed troops; and both divisions sweeping all before them, drove those who fought on land into the river, and those who had just escaped the flood, to meet its waves again, a bleeding host.
In the midst of this conflict, which rather seemed a carnage than a battle, Kirkpatrick, having heard the proud shouts of Cressingham on the bridge, now sought him amidst its shattered timbers. With the ferocity of a tiger hunting its prey, he ran from man to man, and as the struggling wretches emerged from the water, he plucked them from the surge; but even while his glaring eye-balls and uplifted ax threatened destruction, he only looked on them; and with imprecations of disapointment, rushed forward on his chase. Almost in despair that the waves had cheated his revenge, he was hurrying on in another direction, when he perceived a body moving through a hollow on his right. He turned, and saw the object of his search crawling amongst the mud and sedges.
“Ha!” cried Kirkpatrick, with a triumphant yell, “art thou yet mine? Damned, damned villain!” cried he, springing upon his breast: “Behold the man you dishonored!-behold the hot cheek your dastard hand defiled! Thy blood shall obliterate the stain; and then Kirkpatrick may again front the proudest in Scotland!”
“For mercy!” cried the horror-struck Cressingham, struggling with preternatural strength to extricate himself.
“Hell would be my portion did I grant any to thee,” cried Kirkpatrick; and with one stroke of the ax he severed the head from its body. “I am a man again!” shouted he, as he held its bleeding veins in his hand, and placed it on the point of his sword. “Thou ruthless priest of Moloch and of Mammon, thou shalt have thine own blood to drink, while I show my general how proudly I am avenged!” As he spoke, he dashed amongst the victorious ranks, and reached Wallace at the very moment he was freeing himself from his fallen horse, which a random arrow had shot under him. Murray, at the same instant, was bringing up the wounded Montgomery, who came to surrender his sword, and to beg quarter for his men. The earl turned deadly pale; for the first object that struck his sight was the fierce knight of Torthorald, walking under the stream of blood which continued to flow from the ghastly head of Cressingham, as he held it exultingly in the air.
“If that be your chief,” cried Montgomery, “I have mistaken him much-I cannot yield my sword to him.”
Murray understood him: “If cruelty be an evil spirit,” returned he, “it has fled every breast in this army to shelter with Sir Roger Kirkpatrick; and its name is Legion! That is my chief!” added he, pointing to Wallace, with an evident consciousness of deriving honor from his command. The chief rose from the ground dyed in the same ensanguined hue which had excited the abhorrence of Montgomery, though it had been drawn from his own veins, and those of his horse. All, indeed, of blood about him seemed to be on his garment; none was in his eyes, none in his heart but what warmed it to mercy and to benevolence for all mankind. His eyes momentarily fell on the approaching figure of Kirkpatrick, who, waving the head in the air, blew from his bugle the triumphal notes of the Pryse, and then cried to his chief: “I have slain the wolf of Scotland! My brave clansmen are now casing my target with his skin,32 which, when I strike its bossy sides, will cry aloud. So, perishes thy dishonor! So perish all the enemies of Scotland!”
32 It is recorded that the memory of Cressingham was so odious to the Scots, they did indeed flay his dead body, and made saddles and girths and other things of his skin.-(1809.)
“And with the extinction of that breath, Kirkpatrick,” cried Wallace, looking serenely from the head to him, “let your fell revenge perish also. For your own honor commit no indignities on the body you have slain.”
“’Tis for you to conquer like a god!” cried Kirkpatrick; “I have felt as a man, and like a man I revenge. This head shall destroy in death; it shall vanquish its friends for me; for I will wear it like a Gorgon on my sword, to turn to stone every Southron who looks on it.” While speaking, he disappeared amongst the thickening ranks; and as the victorious Scots hailed him in passing, Montgomery, thinking of his perishing men, suffered Murray to lead him to the scene of his humility.
The ever-comprehensive eye of Wallace perceived him as he advanced; and guessing by his armor and dignified demeanor who he was, with a noble grace he raised his helmed bonnet from his head when the earl approached him. Montgomery looked on him; he felt his soul, even more than his arms, subdued; but still there was something about a soldier’s heart that shrunk from yielding his power of resistance. The blood mounted into his before pale cheeks; he held out his sword in silence to the victor; for he could not bring his tongue to pronounce the word “surrender.”
Wallace understood the sign, and holding up his hand to a herald, the trumpet of peace was raised. It sounded-and where, the moment before, were the horrid clashing of arms, the yell of savage conquest, and direful cries for mercy, all was hushed as death. Not that death which had passed, but that which is approaching. none spoke, not a sound was heard, but the low groans of the dying, who lay, overwhelmed and perishing, beneath the bodies of the slain, and the feet of the living.
The voice of Wallace rose from this awful pause. Its sound was ever the harbinger of glory, or of “good will to men.” “Soldiers!” cried he, “God has given victory-let us show our gratitude by moderation and mercy. Gather the wounded into quarters and bury the dead.”
Wallace then turned to the extended sword of the earl; he put it gently back with his hand: “Ever wear what you honor,” said he; “but, gallant Montgomery, when you draw it next, let it be in a better cause. Learn, brave earl, to discriminate between a warrior’s glory and his shame; between the defender of his country, and the unprovoked ravager of other lands.”
Montgomery blushed scarlet at these words; but it was not with resentment. He looked down for a moment: “Ah!” thought he, “perhaps I ought never to have drawn it here!” Then raising his eyes to Wallace, he said: “Were you not the enemy of my king, who, though a conqueror, sanctions none of the cruelties that have been committed in his name, I would give you my hand, before the remnant of his brave troops, whose lives you grant. But you have my heart: a heart that knows no difference between friend or foe, when the bonds of virtue would unite what only civil dissensions hold separate.”
“Had your king possessed the virtues you believe he does,” replied Wallace, “my sword might have now been a pruninghook. But that is past! We are in arms for injuries received, and to drive out a tyrant. For believe me, noble Montgomery, that monarch has little pretensions to virtue, who suffers the oppressors of his people, or of his conquests, to go unpunished. To connive at cruelty, is to practice it. And has Edward ever frowned on one of those despots, who, in his name, have for these two years past laid Scotland in blood and ashes?”
The appeal was too strong for Montgomery to answer; he felt its truth, and bowed, with an expression in his face that told more than, as a subject of England, he dared declare.
The late respectful silence was turned into the clamorous activity of eager obedience. The prisoners were conducted to the rear of Stirling; while the major part of the Scots (leaving a detachment to unburden the earth of its bleeding load), returned in front to the gates, just as De Warenne’s division appeared on the horizon, like a moving cloud gilded by the now setting sun. At this sight Wallace sent Edwin into the town with Lord Montgomery, and marshaling his line, prepared to bear down upon the approaching earl.
But the lord warden had received information which fought better for the Scots than a host of swords. When advanced a very little onward on the Carse of Stirling, one of his scouts brought intelligence that having approached the south side of the Forth, he had seen that river floating with dead bodies; and soon after met Southron horns blowing the notes of victory. From what he learned from the fugitives, he also informed his lord, “that not only the town and citadel of Stirling were in the possession of Sir William Wallace, but the two detachments under Montgomery and Hilton had both been discomfited, and their leaders slain or taken.”
At this intelligence, Earl de Warenne stood aghast; and while he was still doubting that such disgrace to King Edward’s arms could be possible, two or three fugitives came up, and witnessed to its truth. One had seen Kirkpatrick, with the bloody head of the Governor of Stirling on his sword. Another had been near Cressingham in the wood, when he told Montgomery of the capture of De Valence; and concluding that he meant the leader of the third division, he corroborated the scout’s information of the two defeats, adding (for terror magnified the objects of fear), that the Scots army was incalculable; but was so disposed by Sir William Wallace, as to appear inconsiderable, that he might ensnare his enemies, by filling them with hopes of an easy conquest.
These accounts persuaded De Warenne to make a retreat; and intimidated by the exaggerated representations of those who had fled, his men, with no little precipitation, turned to obey.
Wallace perceived the retrograde motion of his enemy’s lines; and while a stream of arrows from his archers poured upon them like hail, he bore down upon the rear-guard with his cavalry and men-at-arms, and sent Graham round by the wood, to surprise the flanks.
All was executed with promptitude; and the tremendous slogan sounding from side to side, the terrified Southrons, before in confusion, now threw away their arms, to lighten themselves for escape. Sensible that it was not the number of the dead, but the terror of the living, which gives the finishing stroke to conquest, De Warenne saw the effects of this panic, in the total disregard of his orders; and dreadful would have been the carnage of his troops had he not sounded a parley.
The bugle of Wallace instantly answered it. De Warenne sent forward his herald. He offered to lay down his arms, provided he might be exempted from relinquishing the royal standard, and that he and his men might be permitted to return without delay to England.
Wallace accepted the first article; granted the second; but with regard to the third, it must be on condition that he, the Lord de Warenne, and the officers taken in his army, or in other engagements lately fought in Scotland, should be immediately exchanged for the like number of noble Scots Wallace should name, who were prisoners in England; and that the common men of the army, now about to surrender their arms, should take an oath never to serve again against Scotland.
These preliminaries being agreed to (their very boldness arguing the conscious advantage which seemed to compel the assent), the lord warden advanced at the head of his thirty thousand troops; and first laying down his sword, which Wallace immediately returned to him, the officers and soldiers marched by with their heads uncovered, throwing down their weapons as they approached their conqueror. Wallace extended his line while the procession moved, for he had too much policy to show his enemies that thirty thousand men had yielded, almost without a blow, to scarce five thousand. The oath was afterward administered to each regiment by heralds, sent for that purpose into the strath of Monteith, whither Wallace had directed the captured legions to assemble and refresh themselves, previous to their departure next morning for England. The privates thus disposed of, to release himself from the commanders also, Wallace told De Warenne that duty called him away, but every respect would be paid to them by the Scottish officers.
He then gave directions to Sir Alexander Ramsay to escort De Warenne and the rest of the noble prisoners to Stirling. Wallace himself turned with his veteran band to give a conqueror’s greeting to the Baron of Hilton, and so ended the famous battles of Cambus–Kenneth and the Carse of Stirling.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59