Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 18

ALBANY, the brother of Robert III, was now Regent of the kingdom, of which he had long actually possessed the supreme government. He was, it may be supposed, in no great hurry to obtain the release of his nephew Prince James, whose return to Scotland must have ended his own power. He was, as we have seen, a wicked, cruel, and ambitious man; yet he was regular in administering justice, and took great care not to lay any taxes on the people. Even in his time, it would seem that the extent of writings used for the transference of property, had become a subject of complaint. When upon this subject, Albany used often to praise the simplicity and brevity of an ancient charter by King Athelstane, a Saxon monarch. It had been granted to the ancient Northumbrian family called Roddam of Roddam, and had fallen into the hands of the Scots on some of their plundering parties.

Jedburgh castle, which the English had kept ever since the battle of Durham, had been taken by the Teviotdale Borderers, and it was proposed that it should be pulled down, in order that it might not again afford the enemy a stronghold on the frontiers. This was a common policy with the Scots, who considered their desert woods and mountains as better points of defence than walled castles, which the English understood how to attack or defend much better than they did. To defray the expense of maintaining the men engaged in demolishing this large and strong fortress, it was proposed to lay a small tax of two pennies on each hearth in Scotland. But the Regent determined to pay it out of his own and the King’s revenue, resolved, as he said, that he would not begin his regency by a measure which must afflict the poor.

In other respects, Albany was an unworthy character. He was not even brave, which was a failing uncommon in his age and family; and though he engaged in several wars with England, he did not gain either honour or success in any of them.

One of the most remarkable events during his government was the battle of Harlaw. This was fought by a prince, called Donald of the Isles, who possessed all the islands on the west side of Scotland. He was also the proprietor of great estates on the mainland, and aspired to the rank, and used the style, of an independent sovereign. This Donald, in the year 1411, laid claim to the earldom of Ross, then vacant, which the Regent had determined to bestow on a member of his own family. Donald of the Isles raised ten thousand men, all Highlanders like himself, and invading the north of Scotland, came as far as a place called Harlaw, about ten miles from Aberdeen. Here he was encountered by the Earl of Mar, at the head of an inferior army, but composed of Lowland gentlemen, better armed and disciplined than the followers of Donald. A most desperate battle ensued, in which both parties suffered great loss(24 July 1411). On that of Donald, the chiefs of the clans called MacIntosh and MacLean were both slain, with about a thousand men. Mar lost nearly five hundred brave gentlemen, amongst them Ogilvy, Scrymgeour, Irvine of Drum, and other men of rank. The Provost of Aberdeen, who had brought to the Earl of Mar’s host a detachment of the inhabitants of that city, was slain, fighting bravely. This loss was so much regretted by the citizens, that a resolution was adopted, that no Provost should in future go out in his official capacity beyond the limits of the immediate territory of the town. This rule is still observed.

But though the Lowlanders suffered severely, the Highlanders had the worst, and were obliged to retreat after the battle. This was fortunate for Scotland, since otherwise the Highlanders, at that time a wild and barbarous people, would have overrun, and perhaps actually conquered, a great part of the civilized country. The battle of Harlaw was long remembered, owing to the bravery with which the field was disputed, and the numbers which fell on both sides.

The Regent Albany, after having ruled Scotland for about thirty-four years, including the time under his father and brother, died at the castle of Stirling in the thirteenth year of his sole regency, aged upwards of eighty years, on the 3d September, 1419. He was succeeded in his high office by his son Murdac, Duke of Albany, a man who had neither the vices nor the virtues of his father. Duke Robert was active, crafty, suspicious, and, in one sense at least, wise. The son was indulgent, indolent, and at the same time simple and easy to be imposed upon. Many quarrels and feuds broke out in the country, and even in his own family, which had been suppressed by the strong hand of his father. Little memorable took place in the regency of Murdac, but it was remarkable for the great renown which the Scots won in the wars of France.

I have told you that a body of French knights came to Scotland to assist the Scots against the English; and you must now know bow the Scots repaid the obligation, by sending over a body of men to assist Charles, King of France, then in great danger of being completely conquered by Henry V of England, who seemed on the point of expelling him from the kingdom, and possessing himself of the crown of France. A small army of about six or seven thousand chosen Scots had gone to France, under the command of John Stewart, Earl of Buchan, the second son of the Regent Robert, Duke of Albany. He had under him Lindsay, Swinton, and other men of consequence and fame. They gained an important victory over the English, then under command of the Duke of Clarence, brother to Henry V. This prince, hearing that there was a body of Scots encamped at a town called Bauge, and enraged that this northern people should not only defend their own country from the English, but also come over to give them trouble in France, made a hasty march to surprise them. He left behind him those celebrated archers, who had usually afforded the English means of conquest over the enemy, because he relied upon the rapidity of his motions, and understood the Scots were observing indifferent discipline, and not keeping a vigilant watch. He arrived at Bauge, followed only by the knights and men-at-arms on horseback. Having forced the passage of a bridge, Clarence was pressing forward at the head of his cavalry, distinguished by the richness of his armour, and by a splendid golden coronet which he wore over his helmet. At this moment the Scottish knights charged the enemy. Sir John Swinton galloped against the Duke of Clarence, and unhorsed him with his lance, and the Earl of Buchan dashed out his brains with a battle-axe or mace. A great many English knights and nobles were slain at this rencounter(22 March 1421). The French King, to reward the valour of the Scots, created the Earl of Buchan Constable of France (one of the highest offices in the kingdom), and Count of Aubigny.

The Scots, incited by the renown and wealth which their countrymen had acquired, came over to France in greater numbers, and the Earl of Douglas himself was tempted to bring over a little army, in which the best and noblest of the gentlemen of the south of Scotland of course enrolled themselves. They who did not go themselves, but sent there sons and brothers. Sir Alexander Home of Home had intended to take this course; and his brother, David Home of Wedderburn, was equipped for the expedition. The chief himself came down to the vessel to see Douglas and his brother embark. But when the earl saw his old companion in arms about to take leave of him, he said, “Ah I Sir Alexander, who would have thought that thou and I should ever have parted!” “Neither will we part now, my lord,” said Sir Alexander; and suddenly changing his purpose, he sent back his brother David to take care of his castle, family, and estate, and going to France with his old friend, died with him at the battle of Verneuil. The Earl of Douglas, whose military fame was so great, received high honour from the King of France, and was created Duke of Touraine. The earl was used to ridicule the Duke of Bedford, who then acted as Regent for Henry VI in France, and gave him the nickname of John with the leaden sword. Upon the 17th August, 1424, Douglas received a message from the Duke of Bedford, that he intended to come and dine and drink wine with him. Douglas well understood the nature of the visit, and sent back word, that he should be welcome. The Scots and French prepared for battle, while their chiefs consulted together, and unfortunately differed in opinion. The Earl of Douglas, who considered their situation as favourable, recommended that they should receive the attack of the English, instead of advancing to meet them. The French Count de Narbonne, however, insisted that they should march forward to the attack; and putting the French in motion, declared he would move to the fight whether the Scots did so or not. Douglas was thus compelled to advance likewise, but it was in disorder. The English archers in the mean time showered their arrows on the French; their men-at-arms charged; and a total rout of the allied army was the consequence. Douglas and Buchan stood their ground, fought desperately, and died nobly. Home, Lindsay, Swinton, and far the greater part of that brave Scottish band of auxiliaries, were killed on the spot.

The great Earl of Douglas, who was slain at Verneuil, was distinguished from the rest of his family by the name of Tine-man, that is Lose-man, as he was defeated in the great battles of Homildon, Shrewsbury, and finally in that of Verneuil, where he lost his life. His contemporary and rival, George Earl of March, though not so celebrated a warrior, was as remarkable for being fortunate; for whether he fought on the Scottish or English side, his party was always victorious. The slender remains of the Scottish forces were adopted by Charles of France as a life-guard; an establishment which was continued by his successors for a great many years, We return now to Scotland, where the Regent Murdac of Albany was so far from being able to guide the affairs of the state, that he could not control his own sons. There were two of them, haughty, licentious young men, who respected neither the authority of God nor man, and that of their father least of all. Their misbehaviour was so great, that Murdac began to think of putting an end to their bad conduct and his own government at the same time, by obtaining the deliverance of the King from English captivity. A singular piece of insolence, on the part of his eldest son, is said to have determined him to this measure. At this time the amusement of hawking (that is, of taking birds of game by means of trained hawks) was a pastime greatly esteemed by the nobility. The Regent Murdac had one falcon of peculiar excellence, which he valued. His eldest son, Walter Stewart, had often asked this bird of his father, and been as often denied. At length one day when the Regent had the hawk sitting upon his wrist, in the way that falconers carry such birds, Walter renewed his importunity about the falcon; and when his father again refused it, he snatched it from his wrist, and wrung its neck round. His father, greatly offended at so gross an insult, said, in his anger, “Since thou wilt give me neither reverence nor obedience, I will fetch home one whom me must all obey.” From that moment, he began to bargain with the English in good earnest that they should restore James, now King of Scotland, to his own dominions.

The English government were not unwilling to deliver up James, the rather that he had fallen in love with Joan, the Earl of Somerset’s daughter, nearly related to the royal family of England. They considered that this alliance would incline the young prince to peace with England; and that the education which he had received, and the friendships which he had formed in that country, would incline him to be a good and peaceable neighbour. The Scots agreed to pay a considerable ransom; and upon these terms James, the first of that name, was set at liberty, and returned to become king in Scotland, after eighteen years’ captivity. He and his queen were crowned at Scone, 21st May, 1424.


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