Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 15

Notwithstanding the valiant defence maintained by the Scots, their country was reduced to a most disastrous state, by the continued wars of Edward III, who was a wise and warlike King as ever lived. Could he have turned against Scotland the whole power of his kingdom, he might probably have effected the complete conquest, which had been so long attempted in vain. But while the wars in Scotland were at the hottest, Edward became also engaged in hostilities with France, having laid claim to the crown of that kingdom. Thus Edward was obliged to slacken his efforts in Scotland, and the patriots began to gain ground decisively in the dreadful contest which was so obstinately maintained on both sides. The Scots sent an embassy to obtain money and assistance from the French; and they received supplies of both, which enabled them to recover their castles and towns from the English. Edinburgh castle was taken from the invaders by a stratagem. The Knight of Liddesdale, with two hundred chosen men, embarked at Dundee, in a merchant vessel commanded by one William Curry. The shipmaster, on their arrival at Leith, went with a party of his sailors to the castle, carrying barrels of wine and hampers of provisions, which he pretended it was his desire to sell to the English governor and his garrison. But getting entrance at the gate under this pretext, they raised the war-shout of Douglas, and the Knight of Liddesdale rushed in which his soldiers, and secured the castle. Perth, and other important places, were also retaken by the Scots, and Edward Baliol retired out of the country, in despair of making good his pretensions to the crown. The nobles of Scotland, finding the affairs of the kingdom more prosperous, now came to the resolution of bringing back from France, where he had resided for safety, their young king, David II., and his consort, Queen Joanna. They arrived in 1341.

David II was still a youth, neither did he possess at any period of life the wisdom and talents of his father, the great King Robert. The nobles of Scotland had become each a petty prince on his own estates; they made war on each other as they had done upon the English, and the poor King possessed no power of restraining them. A most melancholy instance of this discord took place, short after David’s return from France. I have told you how Sir Alexander Ramsay and the knight of Liddesdale assisted each other in fighting against the English. They were great friends and companions in arms. But Ramsay, having taken by storm the strong castle of Roxburgh, the King bestowed on him the office of sheriff of that county, which was before enjoyed by the Knight of Liddesdale. As this was placing another person in his room, the Knight of Liddesdale altogether forgot his old friendship for Ramsay, and resolved to put him to death. He came suddenly upon him with a strong party of men, while he was administering justice at Hawick. Ramsay, having no suspicion of injury from the hand of his old comrade, and having few men with him, was easily overpowered, and being wounded, was hurried away to the lonely castle of the Hermitage, which stands in the middle of the morasses of Liddesdale. Here he was thrown into a dungeon, where he had no other sustenance than some grain which fell down from a granary above; and after lingering seventeen days in that dreadful condition, the brave Sir Alexander Ramsay died. This was in 1342. Nearly four hundred and fifty years afterwards, that is, about forty years ago, a mason, digging amongst the ruins of Hermitage castle, broke into a dungeon, where lay a quantity of chaff, some human bones, and a bridle bit, which were supposed to mark the vault as the placed of Ramsay’s death. The bridle bit was given to grandpapa, who presented it to the present gallant Earl of Dalhousie, a brave soldier, like his ancestor Sir Alexander Ramsay, from whom he is lineally descended.

The King was much displeased at the commission of so great a crime, on the person of so faithful a subject. He made some attempts to avenge the murder, but the Knight of Liddesdale was too powerful to be punished, and the King was obliged to receive him again into friendship and confidence. But God in his own good time revenged this cruel deed. About five years after the crime was committed, the Knight of Liddesdale was taken prisoner by the English at the battle of Neville’s Cross, near Durham, and is suspected of having obtained his liberty by entering into a treacherous league with the English monarch. He had no time to carry his treason, however, into effect; for, shortly after his liberation, he was slain whilst hunting in Ettrick Forest, by his near relation and godson, William Lord Douglas.(8/1353) The place where he fell was called from his name, William-hope. It is a pity that the Knight of Liddesdale committed that great crime of murdering Ramsay, and entered into the treasonable treaty with the King of England. In other respects, he was ranked so high in public esteem, that he was called the Flower of Chivalry; and an old writer has said of him, “He was terrible in arms, modest and gentle in peace, the scourge of England, and the buckler and wall of Scotland; one whom good success never made presumptuous, and whom evil fortune never discouraged.” We return to the state of Scotland at the time when the young King was restored. Battles and skirmishes were fought on all sides; but the Scots having gained back the whole of their own country, the war became less inveterate; and although no settled peace took place, yet truces, to endure for a certain number of months and years, were agreed upon from time to time; and the English historian allege that the Scottish nation were always ready to break them when a tempting opportunity occurred.

Such a truce was in existence about 1346, when, Edward the Third being absent in France, and in the act of besieging Calais, David was induced, by the pressing and urgent counsels of the French King, to renew the war, and profit by the King’s absence from England. The young King of Scotland raised, accordingly, a large army, and entering England on the west frontier, he marched eastward towards Durham, harassing and wasting the country with great severity; the Scots boasting, that, now the King and his nobles were absent, there were none in England to oppose them, save priests and base mechanics.

But they were greatly deceived. The lords of the northern counties of England, together with the Archbishop of York, assembled a gallant army. They defeated the vanguard of the Scots, and came upon the main body by surprise. The English army, in which there were many ecclesiastics, bore, as their standard, a crucifix, displayed amid the banners of the nobility. The Scots had taken post among some enclosures, which greatly embarrassed their movements, and their ranks remaining stationary, were, as on former occasions, destroyed by the English arrows. Here Sir John Grahame offered his services to disperse the bowmen, if he were intrusted with a body of cavalry. But although this was the movement which decided the battle of Bannockburn, Grahame could not obtain the means of attempting it. In the mean time the Scottish army fell fast into disorder. The King himself fought bravely in the midst of his nobles and was twice wounded with arrows. At length he was captured by John Copland, a Northumberland gentleman; the same who was made prisoner at Dunbar. He did not secure his royal captive without resistance; for in the struggle, the King dashed out two of Copland’s teeth with his dagger. The left wing of the Scottish army continued fighting long after the rest were routed, and at length made a safe retreat. It was commanded by the Steward of Scotland and the Earl of March. Very many of the Scottish nobility were slain; very many made prisoners. The King himself was led in triumph through the streets of London, and committed to the Tower a close prisoner. This battle was fought at Neville’s Cross, near Durham, on 17th October, 1346.

Thus was another great victory gained by the English over the Scots. It was followed by farther advantages, which gave the victors for a time possession of the country from the Scottish Border as far as the verge of Lothian. But the Scots, as usual, were no sooner compelled to momentary submission, than they began to consider the means of shaking off the yoke.

William Douglas, son to that Douglas who was killed at Halidon hill, near Berwick, now displayed his share of that courage and conduct which seemed the birthright of that extraordinary family. He recovered his own territories of Douglasdale, drove the English out of Ettrick forest, and assisted the inhabitants of Teviotdale in regaining their independence.

On this occasion, indeed, the invasion of the English was not attended with same extensively bad effects as on former victories obtained by them. The title of Baliol was not again set up, and that nominal sovereign surrendered to the English monarch all his right and interest in the kingdom of Scotland, in testimony of which he presented him a handful of earth belonging to the country, and crown of gold. Edward, in reward of this surrender of the Scottish crown, fixed a large annual income upon Baliol, who retired from public affairs, and lived ever afterwards in such obscurity, that historians do not even record the period of his death. Nothing which he afterwards did bore the same marks of courage and talent, as the enterprise in which he commanded the disinherited barons, and obtained the great victory at the battle of Dupplin. It seems therefore likely, that he had upon that occasion some assistance which he did not afterwards enjoy.

Edward III was not more fortunate in making wars on Scotland in his own name, than when he used the pretext of supporting Baliol. He marched into East–Lothian in spring 1355, and committed such ravages that the period was long marked by that name of the Burned Candlemas, because so many towns and villages were burned. But the Scots had removed every species of provisions which could be of use to the invaders, and avoided a general battle, while they engaged in a number of skirmishes. In this manner Edward was compelled to retreat out of Scotland, after sustaining much loss.

After the failure of this effort, Edward seems to have despaired of the conquest of Scotland, and entered into terms for a truce, and for setting the King at liberty.

Thus David II. at length obtained his freedom from the English, after he had been detained in prison eleven years. The Scots agreed to pay a ransom of one hundred thousand merks, a heavy charge on a country always poor, and exhausted by the late wars. The people were so delighted to see the King once more, that they followed him every where; and (which shows the rudeness of the times) rushed even into his private chamber, till, incensed at their troublesome and intrusive loyalty, the King snatched a mace from an officer, and broke with his own royal hand the head of the liegeman who was nearest to him. After this rebuke, saith the historian, he was permitted to be private in his apartment.

The latter years of this King’s life have nothing very remarkable, excepting that, after the death of Joanna of England, his first wife, he made an imprudent marriage with one Margaret Logie, a woman of great beauty, but of obscure family; he was afterwards divorced or separated from her. He had no children by either of his wives. )David the Second died at the age of forty-seven years, in the castle of Edinburgh, 22nd February, 1370–1. He had reigned forty-two years, of which eleven were spent in captivity.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00