The generality of his prisoners Bruce directed should be kept safe in the citadel; but to Mobray he gave his liberty, and ordered every means to facilitate the commodious journey of that brave knight whom he had requested to convey the insane Lady Strathearn to the protection of her husband.
Mowbray accepted his freedom with gratitude, and gladly set forth with his unhappy charge to meet his sovereign. Expectation of Edward’s approach had been the reason of his withdrawing his herald from the camp of Bruce, and though the king did not arrive time enough to save Stirling, Mowbray yet hoped he might still be continuing his promised march. This anticipation the Southron’s loyalty would not allow him to impart to Bruce, and he bade that generous prince adieu, with the full belief of soon returning to find him the vanquished of Edward.
At the decline of day Bruce returned to his camp, to pass the night in the field with his soldiers, intending next morning to give his last orders to the detachments which he meant to send out under the command of Lennox and Douglas, to disperse themselves over the border counties, and there keep station till that peace should be signed by England which he was determined, by unabated hostilities, to compel.
Having taken these measures for the security of his kingdom and the establishment of his own happiness, he had just returned to his tent on the banks of the Bannockburn when Grimsby, his now faithful attendant, conducted an armed knight into his presence. The light of the lamp which stood on the table, streaming full on the face of the stranger, discovered to the king his English friend, the intrepid Montgomery. With an exclamation of glad surprise Bruce would have clasped him in his arms; but Montgomery dropping on his knee, exclaimed, “Receive a subject as well as a friend, victorious and virtuous prince! I have forsworn the vassalage of the Plantagenets; and thus, without title or land, with only a faithful heart, Gilbert Hambledon comes to vow himself yours and Scotland’s forever.”
Bruce raised him from the ground, and welcoming him with the warm embrace of friendship, inquired the cause of so extraordinary an abjuration of his legal sovereign. “No light matter,” observed the king, “could have so wrought upon my noble Montgomery!”
“Montgomery no more!” replied the ear, with indignant eagerness; “when I threw the insignia of my earldom at the feet of the unjust Edward, I told him that I would lay the saw to the root of the nobility I had derived from his house, and cut it through; that I would sooner leave my posterity without titles and without wealth, than deprive them of real honor.62 I have done as I said! And yet I come not without a treasure, for the sacred corpse of William Wallace is now in my bark, floating on the waves of the Forth!”
62 This event is perpetuated in the crest of the noble family of Hamilton in Scotland.
The subjugation of England would hardly have been so welcome to Bruce as this intelligence. He received it with an eloquent though unutterable look of gratitude. Hambledon continued: “On the tyrant summoning the peers of England to follow him to the destruction of Scotland, Gloucester got excused under a plea of illness, and I could not but show a disinclination to obey. This occasioned some remarks from Edward respecting my known attachment to the Scottish cause, and they were so couched as to draw from me this honest answer; my heart would not, for the wealth of the world, permit me to join in the projected invasion, since I had seen the spot in my own country where a most inordinate ambition had cut down the flower of all knighthood, because he was a Scot who would not sell his birthright! The king left me in wrath and threatened to make me recant my words — I as proudly declared I would maintain them. Next morning, being in waiting on the prince, I entered his chamber, and found John le de Spencer (the coward who so basely insulted Wallace on the day of his condemnation); he was sitting with his highness. On my offering the services due from my office, this worthless minion turned on me, and accused me of having declined joining the army for the sole purpose of executing some plot in London, devised between me and my Scottish partisans for the subversion of the English monarchy. I denied the charge. He enforced it with oaths, and I spurned his allegations. The prince, who believed him, furiously gave me the lie, and commanded me as a traitor to leave his presence. I refused to stir an inch till I made the base heart of Le de Spencer retract his falsehood. The coward took courage on his master’s support, and drawing his sword upon me, in language that would blister my tongue to repeat, threatened to compel my departure. He struck me on the face with his weapon. The arms of his prince could not then save him; I thrust him through the body, and he fell. Edward ran on me with his dagger, but I wrested it from him. Then it was that, I reply to his menaces, I revoked my fealty to a sovereign I abhorred, a prince I despised. Leaving his presence before the fluctuations of so versatile a mind could fix upon seizing me, I hastened to Highgate, to convey away the body of our friend from its brief sanctuary. The same night I embarked it and myself on board a ship of my own, and am now at your feet, brave and just king! — no longer Montgomery, but a true Scot in heart and loyalty.”
“And as a kinsman, generous Hambledon!” returned Bruce, “I receive and will portion thee. My paternal lands of Cadzow, on the Clyde, shall be thine forever; and may thy posterity be as worthy of the inheritance as their ancestor is of all my love and confidence.”
Hambledon, having received his new sovereign’s directions concerning the disembarkation of those sacred remains, which the young king declared he should welcome as the pledge of Heaven to bless his victories with peace, returned to the haven, where Wallace rested in that sleep which even the voice of friendship could not disturb.
At the hour of the midnight watch, the trumpets of approaching heralds resounded without the camp. Bruce hastened to the council-tent to receive the now anticipated tidings. The communications of Hambledon had given him reason to expect another struggle for his kingdom, and the message of the trumpets declared it might be a mortal one.
At the head of a hundred thousand men, Edward had forced a rapid passage through the Lowlands, and was now within a few hours’ march of Stirling, fully determined to bury Scotland under her own slain, or, by one decisive blow, restore her to his empire.
When this was uttered by the English herald, Bruce turned to Ruthven with an heroic smile:
“Let him come, my brave barons, and he shall find that Bannockburn shall page with Cambus–Kenneth!”
The strength of the Scottish army did not amount to more than thirty thousand men against this host of Southrons. But the relics of Wallace were there! His spirit glowed in the heart of Bruce. The young monarch lost not the advantage of choosing his ground first, and therefore, as his power was deficient in cavalry, he so took his field as to compel the enemy to make it a battle of infantry alone.
To protect his exposed flank from the innumerable squadrons of Edward, he dug deep and wide pits near to Bannockburn, and having overlaid their mouths with turf and brushwood, proceeded to marshal his little phalanx on the shore of that brook till his front stretched to St. Ninan’s Monastery.
The center was led by Lord Ruthven and Walter Stewart; the right owned by the valiant leading of Douglas and Ramsay, supported by the brave young Gordon with all his clan; and the left was put in charge of Lennox, with Sir Thomas Randolph, a crusade chieftain, who, like Lindsay and others, had lately returned from distant lands, and now zealously embraced the cause of his country.
Bruce stationed himself at the head of the reserve; with him were the veterans Loch-awe, and Kirkpatrick, and Lord Bothwell with the true De Longueville, and the men of Lanark, all determined to make this division the stay of their little army, or the last sacrifice for Scottish liberty and its martyred champion’s corpse. There stood the sable hearse of Wallace, rather than yield the ground which he had rendered doubly precious by having made it the scene and the guerdon of his invincible deeds! When Kirkpatrick approached the side of his dead chief, he burst into tears, and his sobs alone proclaimed his participation in the solemnity. The vow spread to the surrounding legions, and was echoed, with mingled cries and acclamations, from the furthest ranks.
“My leader, in death as in life!” exclaimed Bruce, clasping his friend’s sable shroud to his heart; “thy pale corpse shall again redeem the country which cast thee, living, amongst devouring lions! Its presence shall fight and conquer for thy friend and king!”
Before the chiefs turned to resume their martial stations, the abbot of Inchaffray drew near with the mysterious iron box, which Douglas had caused to be brought from St. Fillan’s Priory. On presenting it to the young monarch, he repeated the prohibition which had been given with it, and added, “Since, then, these canonized relics (for none can doubt they are so) have found protection under the no less holy arm of St. Fillan, he now delivers them to your youthful majesty, to penetrate their secrets, and to nerve your mind with redoubled trust in the saintly host.”
“The saints are to be honored, reverend father, and on that principle I shall not invade their mysteries till the God in whom alone I trust, marks me with more than the name of king; till, by a decisive victory, he establishes me the approved champion of my country — the worthy successor of him before whose mortal body and immortal spirit I now emulate his deeds. But as a memorial that the host of heaven do indeed learn from the bright abodes to wish well to this day, let these holy relics repose with those of the brave till the issue of the battle.”
Bruce, having placed his array, disposed the supernumeraries of his army, the families of his soldiers, and other apparently useless followers of the camp, in the rear of an adjoining hill.
By daybreak the whole of the Southron army came in view. The van, consisting of archers and men-at-arms, displayed the banner of Earl de Warenne; the main body was led on by Edward himself, supported by a train of his most redoubted generals. As they approached, the bishop of Dunkeld stood on the face of the opposite hill between the abbots of Cambus–Keneth and Inchaffray, celebrating mass in the sight of the opposing armies. He passed along in front of the Scottish lines barefoot, with the crucifix in his hand, and in few but forcible words exhorted them by every sacred hope, to fight with an unreceding step for their rights, their king, and the corpse of William Wallace! At this abjuration, which seemed the call of Heaven itself, the Scots fell on their knees, to confirm their resolution with a vow. The sudden humiliation of their posture excited an instant triumph in the haughty mind of Edward, and spurring forward, he shouted aloud, “They yield! They cry for mercy!”
“They cry for mercy!” returned Percy, trying to withhold his majesty, “but not from us. On that ground on which they kneel, they will be victorious or find their graves.”
The king contemned this opinion of the earl, and inwardly believing that, now Wallace was dead, he need fear no other opponent (for he knew not that even his cold remains were risen in array against him), he ordered his men to charge. The horsemen, to the number of thirty thousand, obeyed; and, rushing forward, with the hope of overwhelming the Scots ere they could rise from their knees, met a different destiny. They found destruction amid the trenches and on the pikes in the way, and with broken ranks and fearful confusion, fell or fled under the missive weapons which poured on them from a neighboring hill. De Valence was overthrown and severely wounded, and being carried off the field, filled the rear ranks with dismay; while the king’s division was struck with consternation at so disastrous a commencement of an action in which they had promised themselves so easy a victory. Bruce seized the moment of confusion, and seeing his little army distressed by the arrows of the English, he sent Bothwell round with a resolute body of men to drive those destroying archers from the heights which they occupied. This was effected; and Bruce coming up with his reserve, the battle in the center became close, obstinate, and decisive. Many fell before the determined arm of the youthful king; but it was the fortune of Bothwell to encounter the false Monteith in the train of Edward. The Scottish earl was then at the head of his intrepid Lanarkmen.
“Fiend of the most damned treason,” cried he, “vengeance is come!” and with an iron grasp, throwing the traitor into the midst of the faithful clan, they dragged him to the hearse of their chief, and there, on the skirts of its pall, the wretched villain breathed out his treacherous breath, under the strokes of a hundred swords.
“So,” cried the veteran Ireland, “perish the murderers of William Wallace!”
“So,” shouted the rest, “perish the enemies of the bravest, the most loyal of Scots, the benefactor of his country!”
At this crisis the women and followers of the Scottish camp, hearing such triumphant exclamations from their friends, impatiently quitted their station behind the hill, and ran to the summit, waving their scarfs and plaids in exultation of the supposed victory. The English, mistaking these people for a new army, had not the power to recover from the increasing confusion which had seized them on King Edward himself receiving a wound, and panic-struck with the sight of their generals falling around them, they flung down their arms and fled. The king narrowly escaped; but being mounted on a stout and fleet horse, he put him to the speed and reached Dunbar, whence the young Earl of March, being as much attached to the cause of England as his father had been, instantly gave him a passage to England.
The Southron camp, with all its riches, fell into the hands of Bruce. But while his chieftains pursued their gallant chase, he turned his steps from warlike triumph, to pay his heart’s honors to the remains of the hero whose blood had so often bathed Scotland’s fields of victory. His vigils were again beneath that sacred pall — for so long had been the conflict, that night closed in before the last squadrons left the banks of Bannockburn.
At the dewy hour of morn Bruce reappeared upon the field. His helmet was royally plumed, and the golden lion of Scotland gleamed from under his sable surcoat. Bothwell rode at his side. The troops he had retained from the pursuit were drawn out in array. In a brief address he unfolded to them the solemn duty to which he had called them — to see the bosom of their native land receive the remains of Sir William Wallace.
“He gave to you your homes and your liberty! — grant, then, a grave, the peace of the tomb to him, whom some amongst you repaid with treachery and death!”
At these words a cry, as if they beheld their betrayed chief slain before them, issued from every heart.
The news had spread to the town, and with tears and lamentations a vast crowd collected round the royal troop. Bruce ordered his bards to raise the sad coronach, and the march commenced toward the open tent that canopied the sacred remains. The whole train followed the speechless woe, as if each individual had lost his dearest relative. Having passed the wood, they came in view of the black hearse, which contained all that now remained of him who had so lately crossed these precincts in all the panoply of triumphant war, in all the graciousness of peace, and love to man! The soldiers, the people rushed forward, and precipitating themselves before the bier, implored a pardon for their ungrateful country. They adjured him, by every tender name of father, benefactor, and friend, and in such a sacred presence, forgetting that their king was by, gave way to a grief which, most eloquently, told the young monarch that he who would be respected after William Wallace must not only possess his power and valor, but imitate his virtues.
Scrymgeour, who had well remembered his promise to Wallace on the battlements of Dumbarton, with a holy reference to that vow now laid the standard of Scotland upon the pall. Hambledon placed on it the sword and helmet of the sacrificed hero. Bruce observed all in silence. The sacred burden was raised. Uncovering his royal head, with his kingly purple sweeping in the dust, he walked before the bier, shedding tears, more precious in the eyes of his subjects than the oil which was soon to pour upon his brow. As he thus moved on, he heard acclamations mingle with the voice of sorrow.
“This is our king, worthy to have been the friend of Wallace! worthy to succeed him in the kingdom of our hearts.”
At the gates of Cambus–Kenneth, the venerable abbot appeared at the head of his religious brethren; but without uttering the grief that shook his aged frame, he raised the golden crucifix over the head of the bier, and after leaning his face for a few minutes on it, preceded the procession into the church. None but the soldiers entered. The people remained without, and as the doors closed they fell on the pavement, weeping as if the living Wallace had again been torn from them.
On the steps of the altar the bier rested. The bishop of Dunkeld, in his pontifical robes, received the sacred deposit with a cloud of incense, and the pealing organ, answered by the voices of the choristers, breathed the solemn requiem of the dead. The wreathing frankincense parted its vapor, and a wan but beautiful form, clasping an urn to her breast, appeared stretched on a litter, and was borne toward the spot. It was Helen, brought from the adjoining nunnery, where since her return to these once dear shores, now made a desert to her, she had languished in the gradual decay of the fragile bonds which alone fettered her mourning spirit, eager for release.
All night had Isabella watched by her couch, expecting that each succeeding breath would be the last her beloved sister would draw in this calamitous world; but as her tears fell in silence from her cheek upon the cold forehead of Helen, the gentle saint understood their expression, and looking up:
“My Isabella,” said she, “fear not. My Wallace is returned. God will grant me life to clasp his blessed remains!”
Full of this hope, she was borne, almost a passing spirit, into the chancel of Cambus–Kenneth. Her veil was open, and discovered her face like one just awakened from the dead; it was ashy pale, but it bore a celestial brightness, which, like the silver luster of the moon, declared its approach to the fountain of its glory. Her eye fell on the bier, and, with a momentary strength, she sprung from the couch on which she had leaned in dying feebleness, and threw herself upon the coffin.
There was an awful pause while Helen seemed to weep. But so was not her sorrow to be shed. It was locked within the flood-gates of her heart.
In that suspension of the soul, when Bothwell knelt on one side of the bier and Ruthven bent his knee on the other, Bruce stretched out his hand to the weeping Isabella; “Come hither, my youthful bride, and let thy first duty be paid to the shrine of thy benefactor and mine! So may we live, sweet excellence; and so may we die, if the like may be our meed of heavenly glory!”
Isabella threw herself into his arms and wept aloud. Helen, slowly raising her head at these words, regarded her sister with a look of awful tenderness, then turning her eyes back upon the coffin, gazed on it as if they would have pierced its confines, and clasping the urn earnestly to her heart, she exclaimed, “’Tis come! the promise — Thy bridal bed shall be William Wallace’s grave!”
Bruce and Isabella, not aware that she repeated words which Wallace had said to her, turned to her with portentous emotion. She understood the terrified glance of her sister, and with a smile which bespoke her kindred to the soul she was panting to rejoin, she answered, “I speak of my own espousals. But ere that moment is — and I feel it near — let my Wallace’s hallowed presence bless your nuptials! Thou wilt breathe thy benediction through my lips,” added she, laying her hand on the coffin, and looking down on it as if she were conversing with its inhabitant.
“O, no, no” returned Isabella, throwing herself on her knees before the almost unembodied aspect of her sister; “let me ever be the sharer of your cell, or take me with you to the kingdom of Heaven!”
“It is thy sister’s spirit that speaks,” cried Dunkeld, observing the awe which not only shook the tender frame of Isabella, but had communicated itself to Bruce, who stood in heart-struck veneration before the yet unascended angel, “holy inspiration,” continued the bishop, “beams from her eyes, and as ye hope for further blessings, obey its dictates!”
Isabella bowed her head in acquiescence. As Bruce approached to take his part in the sacred rite, he raised the hand which lay on the pall to his lips. The ceremony began — was finished! As the bridal notes resounded from the organ, and the royal pair rose from their knees, Helen held her trembling hands over them. She gasped for breath, and would have sunk without a word, had not Bothwell supported her shadowy form upon his breast. She looked round on him with a grateful though languid smile, and with a strong effort spoke:
“Be you blessed in all things as Wallace would have blessed you! From his side I pour out my soul upon you, my sister — my being — and, with its inward-breathed prayers to the Giver of all good for your eternal happiness, I turn, in holy faith — to my long looked-for rest!”
Bruce and Isabella wept in each other’s arms. Helen slid gently from the boom of Bothwell prostrate on the coffin, and uttering, in a low tone:
“I waited only for this! We have met — I unite thy noble heart to thee again — I claim my brother — at our Father’s hands — in mercy! — in love — by his all-blessed Son!”
Her voice gradually faded away as she murmured these broken sentences, which none but the close and attentive ear of Bothwell heard. But he caught not the triumphant exclamation of her soul, which spoke, though her lips ceased to move, and cried to the attending angels:
“Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?”
In this awful moment the Abbot of Inchaffray, believing the dying saint was prostrate in prayer, laid his hand on the iron box, which stood at the foot of Wallace’s bier. “Before the sacred remains of the once champion of Scotland, and in the presence of his royal successor,” exclaimed the abbot, “let this mysterious coffer of St. Fillan’s be opened, to reward the deliverer of Scotland, according to its intent!”
“If it were to contain the relics of St. Fillan himself,” returned the king, “they could not meet a holier bosom than this!” and resting the box on the coffin, he unclasped the lock, and the regalia of Scotland was discovered! At this sight, Bruce exclaimed, in an agony of grateful emotion, “Thus did this truest of human beings protect my rights, even while the people I had deserted, and whom he had saved, knelt to him to wear them all!”
“And thus Wallace crowns thee!” said Dunkeld, taking the diadem from its coffer, and setting it on Bruce’s head.
“My husband, and my king!” gently exclaimed Isabella, sinking on her knee before him, and clasping his hand to her lips.
“Hearest thou that, my beloved Helen?” cried Bothwell, touching the clasped hands which rested on the coffin. He turned pale, and looked on Bruce. Bruce, in the glad moment of his joy at this happy consummation of so many years of blood, observed not his glance, but in exulting accents exclaimed, “Look up, my sister; and let thy soul, discoursing with our Wallace, tell him that Scotland is free, and Bruce’s king indeed!”
She spoke not, she moved not. Bothwell raised her clay-cold face. “That soul has fled, my lord!” said he; “but from yon eternal sphere, they now together look upon your joys. Here let their bodies rest; for ‘they loved in their lives, and in their deaths they shall not be divided!”
Before the renewing of the moon, whose waning light witnessed their solemn obsequies, the aim of Wallace’s life, the object of Helen’s prayers, was accomplished. Peace reigned in Scotland. The discomfited King Edward died of chagrin in Carlisle; and his humbled son and successor sent to offer such honorable terms of pacification, that Bruce gave them acceptance, and a lasting tranquility spread prosperity and happiness throughout the land.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59