Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 23

The fate of James III was not known for some time. He had been a patron of naval affairs; and on the great revolt in which he perished, a brave sea officer, Sir Andrew Wood of Largo, was lying with a small squadron in the frith of Forth, not far distant from the coast where the battle was fought. He had sent ashore his boats, and brought off several wounded men of the King’s party, amongst whom it was supposed might be the King himself.

Anxious to ascertain this important point, the lords sent to Sir Andrew Wood to come on shore, and appear before their council. Wood agreed, on condition that two noblemen of distinction, Lords Seton and Fleming, should go on board his ships, and remain there as hostages for his safe return. The brave seaman presented himself before the Council and the young King, in the town of Leith. As soon as the prince saw Sir Andrew, who was a goodly person, and richly dressed, he went towards him, and said, “Sir, are you my father?” “I am not your father,” answered Wood, the tears falling from his eyes; “but I was your father’s servant while he lived, and shall be so to lawful authority until the day I die.” The lords then asked what men they were who had come out of his ships, and again returned to them on the day of the battle of Sauchie. “It was I and my brother,” said Sir Andrew, undauntedly, “who were desirous to have bestowed our lives in the King’s defence.” They then directly demanded of him, whether the King was on board his ships? To which Sir Andrew replied, with the same firmness, “He is not on board my vessels. I wish he had been there, as I should have taken care to have kept him safe from the traitors who have murdered him, and whom I trust to see hanged and drawn for their demerits.”

These were bitter answers; but the lords were obliged to endure them, without attempting any revenge, for fear the seamen had retaliated upon Fleming and Seton. But when the gallant commander had returned on board his ship, they sent for the best officers in the town of Leith, and offered them a reward if they would attack Sir Andrew Wood and his two ships, and make him prisoner, to answer for his insolent conduct to the Council. But Captain Barton, one of the best mariners in Leith, replied to the proposal by informing the Council, that though Sir Andrew had but two vessels, yet they were so well furnished with artillery, and he himself was so brave and skilful, that no ten ships in Scotland would be a match for him.

James IV afterwards received Sir Andrew Wood into high favour; and he deserved it by his exploits. In 1490, a squadron of five English vessels came into the Forth, and plundered some Scottish merchant-ships. Sir Andrew sailed against them with his two ships, the Flower, and the Yellow Carvel, took the fire English vessels, and making their crews and commander prisoners, presented them to the King at Leith. Henry VII of England was so much incensed at this defeat, that he sent a stout sea-captain, called Stephen Bull, with three strong ships, equipped on purpose, to take Sir Andrew Wood. They met him near the mouth of the Frith, and fought with the utmost courage on both sides, attending so much to the battle, and so little to any thing else, that they let their ships drift with the tide; so that the action, which began off Saint Abb’s Head, ended in the Frith of Tay. At length Stephen Bull and his three ships were taken. Sir Andrew again presented the prisoners to the King, who sent them back to England, with a message to Henry VII, that he had as manly men in Scotland, as there were in England, and therefore he desired he would send no more captains on such errands. To return to the lords who had gained the victory at Sauchie. They took a resolution, which appears an act of daring effrontery. They resolved to try some of the principal persons who had assisted King James III in the late civil commotion, as if in so doing they had committed treason against James IV, although the last was not, and could not be king, till after his father’s death. They determined to begin with Lord David Lindsay of the Byres, a man well acquainted with military matters, but otherwise blunt and ignorant; so they thought it would be ho difficult matter to get him to submit himself to the King’s pleasure, when they proposed to take a fine in money from him, or perhaps confiscate some part of his lands. This they thought would encourage others to submit in like manner; and thus the conspirators proposed to enrich themselves, and to impoverish those who had been their enemies.

It was on the 10th of May, 1489, that Lord David Lindsay was called upon before the Parliament, then sitting at Edinburgh, to defend himself against a charge of treason, which stated, “that he had come in arms to Sauchie with the King’s father against the King himself, and had given the King’s father a sword and good horse, counselling him to devour the King’s Grace here present.” Lord Lindsay knew nothing about the form of law affairs, but hearing himself repeatedly called upon to answer to this accusation, he started up, and told the nobles of the Parliament they were all villains and traitors themselves, and that he would prove them to be such with his sword. The late King, he said, had been cruelly murdered by villains, who had brought the prince with them to be a pretext and colour for their enterprise, and that if he punish not you hastily for that murder, you will murder him when you think time, as you did his father. “And,” said the stout old lord, addressing himself personally to the King, who was present in Parliament, “if your grace’s father were still living, I would fight for him to the death, and stand in no awe of these false lurdans” (that is villains). “Or, if your grace had a son who should come in arms against you, I would take your part against his abettors’ and fight in your cause against them, three men against six. Trust me, that though they cause your grace to believe ill of me, I will prove in the end more faithful than any of them.”

The Lord Chancellor, who felt the force of these words, tried to turn off their effect, by saying to the King, that Lord Lindsay was an old-fashioned man, ignorant of legal forms, and not able to speak reverently in his grace’s presence. “But,” said he, “he will submit himself to your grace’s pleasure, and you must not be severe with him; “and, turning to the Lord David, he said, “It is best for you to submit to the King’s will, and his grace will be good to you,”

Now you must know, that the Lord David had a brother-germain, named Patrick Lindsay, who was as good a lawyer as Lord Lindsay was a soldier. The two brothers had been long upon bad terms; but when this Mr Patrick saw the chancellor’s drift, he trode upon his elder brother’s foot, to make him understand that be ought not to follow the advice given ham, nor come into the King’s will, which would be in fact confessing himself guilty. The Lord David, however, did not understand the hint. On the contrary, as he chanced to have a sore toe, the tread of his brother’s foot was painful to him, so that he looked fiercely at him, and said, “Thou art too pert, thou loon, to stamp upon my foot-if it were out of the King’s presence, I would strike thee upon the face.”

But Mr Patrick, without regarding his brother’s causeless anger, fell on his knees before the assembled nobles, and bethought that he might have leave to plead for his brother; “for,” said he, “I see no man of law will undertake his cause for fear of displeasing the King’s grace; and though my lord my brother and I have not been friends for many years, yet my heart will not suffer me to see the native house from which I am descended perish for want of assistance.”

The King having granted Mr Patrick Lindsay liberty of speech in his brother’s behalf, he began by objecting to the King’s sitting in judgment in a case, in which he was himself a party, and had been an actor. “Wherefore,” said Mr Patrick, “we object to his presence to try this cause, in which, being a party, he ought not to be a judge. Therefore we require his Majesty, in God’s name, to rise and leave the court, till the question be considered and decided.” The lord chancellor and the lords, having conversed together, found that this request was reasonable. So the young King was obliged to retire into an inner apartment, which he resented as a species of public affront. Mr Patrick next endeavoured to procure favour, by entreating the lords, who were about to hear the cause, to judge it with impartiality, and as they could wish to be dealt with themselves, were they in misfortune, and some party adverse to them possessed of power.

“Proceed and answer to the accusation,” said the chancellor. “You shall have justice at our hands.”

Then Mr Patrick brought forward a defence in point of legal form, stating that the summons required that the Lord Lindsay should appear forty days after citation, whereas the forty days were now expired; so that he could not be legally compelled to answer to the accusation until summoned anew.

This was found good law; and Lord David Lindsay, and the other persons accused, were dismissed for the time, nor were any proceedings ever resumed against them.

Lord David, who had listened to the defences without understanding their meaning, was so delighted with the unexpected consequences of his brother’s eloquence, that he broke out into the following rapturous acknowledgment of gratitude:—“Verily, brother, but you have fine piet words” (that is, magpie words). I could not have believed, by Saint Mary, that ye had such words. Ye shall have the Mains of Kirkfother for your day’s wage.”

The King, on his side, threatened Mr Patrick with a reward of a different kind, saying, “he would set him where he should not see his feet for twelve months.” Accordingly, he was as good as his word, sending the successful advocate to be prisoner in the dungeon of the castle of Rothsay, in the island of Bute, where he lay for a whole year.

It is curious to find that the King’s authority was so limited in one respect, and so arbitrary in another. For it appears, that he was obliged to comply with Patrick Lindsay’s remonstrance, and leave the seat of regal justice, when his jurisdiction was declined as that of a partial judge; whilst, on the other hand, he had the right, or at least the power, to inflict upon the objecting party a long and rigorous imprisonment, for discharging his duty towards his client.

James IV was not long upon the throne ere his own reflections, and the remonstrances of some of the clergy, made him sensible, that his accompanying the rebel lords against his father in the field of Sauchie was a very sinful action. He did not consider his own youth, nor the enticements of the lords, who had obtained possession of his person, as any sufficient excuse for having been, in some degree, accessory to his father’s death, by appearing in arms against him. He deeply repented the crime, and, according to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic religion, endeavoured to atone for it by various acts of penance. Amongst other tokens of repentance, he caused to be made an iron belt, or girdle, which he wore constantly under his clothes; and every year of his life he added another link of an ounce or two to the weight of it, as if he desired that his penance should not be relaxed, but rather should increase during all the days of his life. It was, perhaps, in consequence of these feelings of remorse, that the King not only forgave that part of the nobility which had appeared on his father’s side, and abstained from all further persecution against Lord Lindsay and others, but did all in his power to conciliate their affections, without losing those of the other party. The wealth of his father enabled him to be liberal to the nobles on both sides, and at the same time to maintain at more splendid appearance in his court and royal state than had been practised by any of his predecessors. He was himself expert in all feats of exercise and arms, and encouraged the use of them, and the practice of tilts and tournaments in his presence, wherein he often took part himself. It was his frequent custom to make proclamation through his kingdom, that all lords and gentlemen who might desire to win honour, should come to Edinburgh or Stirling, and exercise themselves in tilting with the lance, fighting with the battle axe, the two-handed sword, shooting with the long bow, or any other warlike contention. He who did best in these encounters had his adversary’s weapon delivered up to him; and the best tilter with the spear received from the King a lance with a head of pure gold.

The fame of these warlike sports — for sports they were accounted, though they often ended in sad and bloody earnest-brought knights from other parts of Europe to contend with those of Scotland; but, says the historian, with laudable partiality, there were none of them went unmatched, and few that were not overthrown. We may mention as an example, the combat in the lists betwixt a celebrated German knight, who came to Scotland in search of champions with whom to match himself in single fight, and whose challenge was accepted by Sir Patrick Hamilton, a brother of the Earl of Arran, and near kinsman to the King. They met gallantly with their lances at full gallop, and broke their spears without doing each other further injury. When they were furnished with fresh lances, they took a second course; but the Scottish knight’s horse, being indifferently trained, swerved, and could by no endeavours of the rider be brought to encounter his adversary. Then Sir Patrick sprung from his saddle, and called to the German knight to do the same, saying, “A horse was a weak warrant to trust to when men had most to do.” Then the German dismounted, and fought stoutly with Sir Patrick for the best part of an hour. At length Hamilton, by a blow of his sword, brought the foreigner on his knees, whereupon the King threw his hat into the lists, as a sign that the combat should cease. But the honour of the day remained with Sir Patrick Hamilton.

Besides being fond of martial exercises, James encouraged the arts, and prosecuted science, as it was then understood. He studied medicine and surgery, and appears to have been something of a chemist.

An experiment made under his direction, shows at least the interest which James took in science, although he used a whimsical mode of gratifying his curiosity. Being desirous to know which was the primitive or original language, he caused a deaf and dumb woman to be transported to the solitary island of Inchkeith, with two infant children, devising thus to discover what language they would talk when they came to the age of speech. A Scottish historian, who tells the story, adds, with great simplicity, “Some say they spoke good Hebrew; for my part I know not, but from report.” It is more likely they would scream like their dumb nurse, or bleat like the goats and sheep on the island.

The same historian gives a very pleasing picture of James IV.

There was great love, he says, betwixt the subjects and their sovereign, for the King was free from the vice of avarice, which was his father’s failing. Neither would he endure flatterers, cowards, or sycophants about his person, but ruled by the counsel of the most eminent nobles, and thus won the hearts of all men. He often went disguised among the common people, and asked them questions about the King and his measures, and thus learned the opinion which was entertained of him by his subjects.

He was also active in the discharge of his royal duties. His authority, as it was greater than that of any king who had reigned since the time of James I, was employed for the administration of justice, and the protection of every rank of his subjects, so that he was reverenced as we11 as beloved by all classes of his people. Scotland obtained, under his administration, a greater share of prosperity than she had yet enjoyed. She possessed some share of foreign trade, and the success of Sir Andrew Wood, together with the King’s exertions in building vessels, made the country be respected, as having a considerable naval power. These advantages were greatly increased by the unusually long continuance of the peace, or rather the truce, with England. Henry VII had succeeded to the crown of that kingdom, after a dreadful series of civil strife; and being himself a wise and sagacious monarch, he was desirous to repair, by a long interval of repose and quiet, the great damage which the country had sustained by the wars of York and Lancaster. He was the more disposed to peace with Scotland, that his own title to the throne of England was keenly disputed, and exposed him more than once to the risk of invasion and insurrection.

On the most memorable of those occasions, Scotland was for a short time engaged in the quarrel. A certain personage, calling himself Richard duke of York, second son of Edward IV, supposed to have been murdered in the Tower of London, laid claim to the crown which Henry VII wore. On the part of Henry, this pretended prince was said to be a low-born Fleming, named Perkin Warbeck, trained up by the Duchess of Burgundy (sister of King Edward IV), to play the part which he now assumed. But it is not, perhaps, even yet certain, whether he was the real person he called himself, or an impostor. In 1498, he came to Scotland at the head of a gallant train of foreigners, and accompanied by about fifteen hundred men, and made the greatest offers to James IV, providing he would assist him in his claims against England. James does not appear to have doubted the adventurer’s pretensions to the character which he assumed. He received him with favour and distinction, conferred on him the hand of Lady Catharine Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Huntly, the most beautiful woman in Scotland, and disposed himself to lend him assistance to ascend the English throne.

The Scottish King with this view entered Northumberland, and invited the people of that warlike country to join the ranks of the supposed prince. But the Northumbrians paid no attention to this invitation, and when the adventurer besought James to spare the country, the Scottish monarch answered with a sneer, that it was very kind of him to interfere in behalf of a people who did not seem at all disposed to acknowledge him. The English in 1497 revenged his inroad by an invasion of Berwickshire, in which they took a small castle, called Ayton. No other mischief was done on either side, for James gave up the cause of Perkin Warbeck, satisfied either that he had no right to the throne, or that he had not a hold on the affections of any considerable party sufficient to make such a right good. The adventurer, abandoned by James, made afterwards no attempt to invade England from Cornwall, and, being made prisoner, was executed at Tyburn. His wife, who had faithfully attended him through all his misfortunes, fell into the hands of Henry VII, who assigned her a pension, and recommended her to the protection of his Queen. She was commonly called, from her grace and beauty, the White Rose of Scotland.

After this short war had been made up by a truce of seven years, Henry’s wisdom was employed in converting that truce into a stable and lasting peace, which might, for a length of time at least, unite two nations, whose mutual interest it was to remain friends, although circumstances had so long made them enemies. The grounds of the inveterate hostility between England and Scotland had been that unhappy claim of supremacy set up by Edward I, and persevered in by all his successors. This was a right which England would not abandon, and to which the Scots, by so many instances of determined resistance, had shown they would never submit. For more than a hundred years there had been no regular treaty of peace betwixt England and Scotland, except for the few years which succeeded the treaty of Northampton. During this long period, the kindred nations had been either engaged in the most inveterate wars, or reposing themselves under the protection of short and doubtful truces. The wisdom of Henry VII endeavoured to find a remedy for such great evils by trying what the effects of gentle and friendly influence would avail, where the extremity of force had been employed without effect. The King of England agreed to give his daughter Margaret, a beautiful and accomplished princess, to James IV in marriage. He offered to endow her with an ample fortune, and on that alliance was to be founded a close league of friendship between England and Scotland, the Kings obliging themselves to assist each other against all the rest of the world. Unfortunately for both countries, but particularly so for Scotland, this peace, designed to be perpetual, did not last above ten years. Yet the good policy of Henry VII bore fruit after a hundred years had passed away; and in consequence of the marriage of James IV and the Princess Margaret, an end was put to all future national wars, by their great grandson, James VI of Scotland and I of England, becoming King of the whole island of Great Britain.

The claim of supremacy, asserted by England, is not mentioned in this treaty, which was signed on the 4th of January, 1502; but as the monarchs treated with each other on equal terms, that claim, which had cost such oceans of Scottish and English blood, must be considered as having been then virtually abandoned.

This important marriage was celebrated with great pomp. The Earl of Surrey, a gallant English nobleman, had the charge to conduct the Princess Margaret to her new kingdom of Scotland. The King came to meet her at Newbattle Abbey, within six miles of Edinburgh. He was gallantly dressed in a jacket of crimson velvet, bordered with cloth of gold, and had hanging at his back his lure, as it is called, an implement which is used in hawking. He was distinguished by his strength and agility, leaping on his horse without putting his toe in the stirrup, and always riding full gallop, follow who could. When he was about to enter Edinburgh with his new bride, he wished her to ride behind him, and made a gentleman mount to see whether his horse would carry double. But as his spirited charger was not broken for that purpose, the King got up before his bride on her palfrey, which was quieter, and so they rode through the town of Edinburgh in procession, in the same manner as you may now see a good farmer and his wife riding to church. There were shows prepared to receive them, all in the romantic taste of the age. Thus they found in their way a tent pitched, out of which came a knight armed at all points, with a lady bearing his bugle-horn. Suddenly another knight came up, and took away the lady. Then the first knight followed him, and challenged him to fight. They drew swords accordingly, and fought before the King and Queen for their amusement, till the one struck the sword out of the other’s hands, and then the King commanded the battle to cease. In this representation all was sport except the blows, and these were serious enough. Many other military spectacles were exhibited, tilts and tournaments in particular. James, calling himself the Savage Knight, appeared in a wild dress, accompanied by the fierce chiefs from the Borders and Highlands, who fought with each other till several were wounded and slain in these ferocious entertainments. It is said the King was not very sorry to see himself thus rid of these turbulent leaders, whose feuds and depredations contributed so often to the public disturbance. The sports on occasion of the Queen’s marriage, and indeed the whole festivities of King James’s reign, and the style of living at his court, showed that the Scots, in his time, were a wealthier and a more elegant people than they had formerly been. James IV was renowned, as we have seen, among foreign nations, for the splendour of his court, and for the honourable reception which he gave to strangers who visited his kingdom. And we shall see in the next chapter, that his leisure was not entirely bestowed on sport and pastime, but that he also made wise laws for the benefit of the kingdom.


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