Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 25

THE event of the defeat at Flodden threw all Scotland into a degree of mourning and despair, which is not yet forgotten in the southern counties, on whom a great part of the loss fell, as their inhabitants, soldiers from situation and disposition, composed a considerable portion of the forces which remained with the King’s army, and suffered, of course, a great share in the slaughter which took place. The inhabitants of the smaller towns on the Border, as Selkirk, Hawick, Jedburgh, and others, were almost entirely cut off, and their songs and traditions preserve to this day the recollection of their sufferings and losses.

Not only a large proportion of the nobility and of the baronage, who had by right of birth the important task of distributing justice and maintaining order in their domains, but also the magistrates of the burghs, who, in general, had remained with the army, had fallen on the field; so that the country seemed to be left open to invasion and conquest, such as had taken place after the loss of the battles of Dunbar and Halidon–Hill. Yet the firm courage of the Scottish people was displayed in its noblest colours in this formidable crisis; — all were ready to combat, and more disposed, even from the excess of the calamity, to resist, than to yield to the fearful consequences which might have been expected.

Edinburgh, the metropolis, or capital city of Scotland, set a noble example of the conduct which should be adopted under a great national calamity. The provost, bailies, and magistracy of that city, had been carried by their duty to the battle, in which most of them, with the burghers and citizens who followed their standard, had fallen with the King. A certain number of persons called Presidents, at the head of whom was George Towrs of Inverleith, had been left with a commission to discharge the duty of magistrates during the absence of those to whom the office actually belonged. The battle was fought, as we have said, on the 9th of September. On the 10th, being the succeeding day, the news reached Edinburgh, and George Towrs, and the other presidents, published on that day a proclamation, which would do honour to the annals of any country in Europe. The presidents must have known that all was lost; but they took every necessary precaution to prevent the public from yielding to a hasty and panic alarm, and to prepare with firmness the means of public defence.

“Whereas,” says this remarkable proclamation, “news have arrived, which are yet uncertain, of misfortune which hath befallen the King and his army, we strictly command and charge all persons within the city to have their arms in readiness, and to be ready to assemble at the tolling of the common bell of the town, to repel any enemy who may seek to attack the city. We also discharge all women of the lower class, and vagabonds of every description, from appearing on the street to cry and make lamentations; and we command women of honest fame and character to pass to the churches, and pray for the King and his army, and for our neighbours who are with the King’s host.” In this way the gallant George Towrs took measures at once for preventing the spreading of terror and confusion by frantic and useless lamentation, and for defence of the city, if need should arise. The simplicity of the order showed the courage and firmness of those who issued it, under the astounding national calamity which had been sustained.

The Earl of Surrey did not, however, make any endeavour to invade Scotland, or to take any advantage of the great victory he had obtained, by attempting the conquest of that country. Experience had taught the English, that though it might be easy for them to overrun their northern neighbours, to ravage provinces, and to take castles and cities, yet that the obstinate valour of the Scots, and their love of independence, had always, in the long run, found means of expelling the invaders. With great moderation and wisdom, Henry, or his ministers, therefore, resolved rather to conciliate the friendship of the Scots, by foregoing the immediate advantages which the victory of Flodden afforded them, than to commence another invasion, which, however distressing to Scotland, was likely, as in the Bruce and Baliol wars, to terminate in the English also sustaining great loss, and ultimately being again driven out of the kingdom. The English counsellors remembered that Margaret, the widow of James, was the sister of the King of England — that she must become Regent of the kingdom, and would naturally be a friend to her native country. They knew that the late war had been undertaken by the King of Scotland against the wish of his people; and with noble as well as wise policy, they endeavoured rather to render Scotland once more a friendly power, than, by invasion and violence, to convert her into an irreconcilable enemy. The incursions which followed the battle of FLODDEN extended only to the Borders; no great attempt against Scotland was made, or apparently meditated.

Margaret, the Queen Dowager, became Regent of Scotland, and guardian of the young King, James V, who, as had been too often the case on former similar occasions, ascended the throne when a child of not two years old.

But the authority of Margaret was greatly diminished, and her character injured, by a hasty and imprudent marriage which she formed with Douglas, Earl of Angus, the grandson of old Bell-the-Cat(6 Aug. 1514). That celebrated person had not long survived the fatal battle of Flodden, in which both his sons had fallen. His grandson, the inheritor of his great name, was a handsome youth, brave, high-born, and with all the ambition of the old Douglasses, as well as with much of their military talents. He was, however, young, rash, and inexperienced; and his elevation to be the husband of the Queen Regent excited the jealousy and emulation of all the other nobles of Scotland, who dreaded the name and the power of the Douglas.

A peace now took place betwixt France and England, and Scotland was included in the treaty; but this could hardly be termed fortunate, considering the distracted state of the country, which, freed from English ravages, and no longer restrained by the royal authority, was left to prosecute its domestic feuds and quarrels with the usual bloody animosity. The nation, or rather the nobles, disgusted with Margaret’s regency, chiefly on account of her marriage with Angus, and that young lord’s love of personal power, now thought of calling back into Scotland John Duke of Albany, son of that Robert who, was banished during the reign of James III. This nobleman was the nearest male relation of the King, being the cousin-german of his father. The Queen was by many considered as having forfeited the right of regency by her marriage, and Albany on his arrival from France, was generally accepted in that character(18 May 1515).

John Duke of Albany had been born and bred in France, where he had large estates by his mother, a daughter of the Earl of Boulogne; and he seems always to have preferred the interests of that kingdom to those of Scotland, with which he was only connected by hereditary descent. He was a weak and passionate man, taking up opinions too slightly, and driven out of his resolutions too easily. His courage may justly be suspected; and, if not quite a fool, he was certainly not the wise man whom Scotland required for a governor. He brought over with him, however, a large sum of money from France; and as his manners were pleasing, his birth high, and his pretensions great, he easily got the advantage over Queen Margaret, her husband the Earl of Angus, and other lords who favoured her interest.

After much internal disturbance, Queen Margaret was obliged altogether to retire from Scotland and to seek refuge at her brother’s court, where she bore a daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas, of whom you will hear more hereafter(18 Oct. 1515). In the mean time, her party in Scotland was still farther weakened. Lord Home was one of her warmest supporters; this was the same nobleman who commanded the left wing at the battle of Flodden, and was victorious on that day, but exposed himself to suspicion by not giving assistance to the other divisions of the Scottish army. He and his brethren were enticed to Edinburgh, and seized upon, tried, and beheaded, upon accusations which are not known (8 Oct. 1516). This severity, however, was so far from confirming Albany’s power, that it only excited terror and hatred; and his situation became so difficult, that to his friends in secret he expressed nothing but despair, and wished that he had broken his limbs when he first left his easy and quiet situation in France, to undertake the government of so distracted and unruly a country as Scotland. In fact, he accomplished a retreat to France, and, during his absence, committed the wardenry of the Scottish frontiers to a brave French knight, the Chevalier de la Bastie, remarkable for the beauty of his person, the gallantry of his achievements, but destined, as we shall see, to a tragical fate (8 June 1517). The office of warden had belonged to the Lord Home; and his friends, numerous, powerful, and inhabiting the eastern frontier, to which the office belonged, were equally desirous to avenge the death of their chief, and to be freed from the dominion of a stranger like De la Bastie, the favourite of Albany, by whose authority Lord Home had been executed. Sir David Home of Wedderburn, one of the fiercest of the name, laid an ambush for the unfortunate warden, near Langton, in Berwickshire. De la Bastie, seeing his life aimed at, was compelled to fly, in the hope of gaining the castle of Dunbar; but near the town of Dunse, his horse stuck fast in a morass. The pursuers came up and put him to death. Sir David Home knitted the head, by the long locks which the deceased wore, to the mane of his horse, rode with it in triumph to Home castle, and placed it on a spear on the highest turret (19 Sept. 1517). The hair is said to be yet preserved in the charter chest of the family. By this cruel deed, Wedderburn considered himself as doing a brave and gallant action in avenging the death of his chief and kinsman, by putting to death a friend and favourite of the Regent, although it does not appear that De la Bastie had the least concern in Lord Home’s execution.

The decline of Albany’s power enabled Queen Margaret and her husband to return to Scotland, leaving their infant daughter in the charge of her maternal uncle, King Henry. But after their return to their own country, the Queen Dowager quarrelled, to an irreconcilable pitch, with her husband Angus, who had seized upon her revenues, and paid her little attention or respect, associating with other women, and giving her much cause for uneasiness. She at length separated from him, and endeavoured to procure a divorce, which she afterwards obtained. By this domestic discord, the power of Angus was considerably diminished; but he was still one of the first men in Scotland, and might have gained the complete government of the kingdom, had not his power been counterbalanced by that of the Earl of Arran. This nobleman was the head of the great family of Hamilton; he was connected with the royal family by blood, and had such extensive possessions and lordships as enabled him, though inferior in personal qualities to the Earl of Angus, to dispute with that chief of the more modern Douglasses the supreme administration. All, or almost all, the great men of Scotland were in league with one or other of these powerful earls; each of whom supported those who followed him, in right or wrong, and oppressed those who opposed him, without any form of justice, but merely at his own pleasure. In this distracted state of things, it was impossible for the meanest man in Scotland to obtain success in the best-founded suit, unless he was under the protection either of Angus or Arran; and to which ever he might attach himself, he was sure to become an object of hatred and suspicion to the other. Under pretence, also, of taking a side, and acting for the interests of their party, wicked and lawless men committed violences of every kind, burned, murdered, and plundered, and pretended that they did so in the cause of the Earl of Angus, or of his rival the Earl of Arran. At length, on the 30th of April, 1520, these two great factions of the Douglasses and the Hamiltons came both to Edinburgh to attend a parliament, in which it was expected that the western noblemen would in general take part with Arran, while those of the east would side with Angus. One of the strongest supporters of Arran was the Archbishop of Glasgow, James Beaton, a man remarkable for talents, but unfortunately also for profligacy. He was at this time Chancellor of Scotland; and the Hamiltons met within his palace, situated at the bottom of Blackfriars–Wynd, one of those narrow lanes which run down from the High Street of Edinburgh to the Cowgate. The Hamiltons, finding themselves far the more numerous party, were deliberating upon a scheme of attacking the Douglasses, and apprehending Angus. That earl heard of their intentions, and sent his uncle, Gawain Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld (a scholar and a poet), to remonstrate with Beaton, and to remind him, that it was his business as a churchman to preserve peace; Angus offering at the same time to withdraw out of the town, if he and his friends should be permitted to do so in safety. The chancellor had, however, already assumed armour, which he wore under his rochet, or bishop’s dress. As he laid his hand on his heart, and said, “Upon my conscience, I cannot help what is about to happen,” the mail which he were was heard to rattle. “Ha, my lord!” said the Bishop of Dunkeld, “I perceive that your conscience is not sound, as appears from its clatters!” And leaving him after this rebuke, he hastened back to his nephew, the Earl of Angus, to bid him defend himself like a man. “For me,” he said, “I will go to my chamber and pray for you.”

Angus collected his followers, and hastened, like a sagacious soldier, to occupy the High Street of the city. The inhabitants were his friends, and spears were handed out to such of the Douglasses as had them not; which proved a great advantage, the Hamiltons having no weapons longer than their swords.

In the mean time Sir Patrick Hamilton, a wise and moderate man, brother to the Earl of Arran, advised his brother strongly not to come to blows; but a natural son of the earl, Sir James Hamilton of Draphane, notorious for his fierce and cruel nature, exclaimed that Sir Patrick only spoke this “because he was afraid to fight in his friend’s quarrel.”

“Thou liest, false bastard!” said Sir Patrick; “I will fight this day where thou darest not be seen.”

Immediately they all rushed towards the street, where the Douglasses stood drawn up to receive them.

Now the Hamiltons, though very numerous, could only come at their enemies by thronging out of the little steep lanes which open into the High Street, the entrance of which the Douglasses had barricaded with carts, barrels, and suchlike lumber. As the Hamiltons endeavoured to force their way, they were fiercely attacked by the Douglasses with pikes and spears. A few who got out on the street were killed or routed. The Earl of Arran, and his son the bastard, were glad to mount upon a coal-horse, from which they threw the load, and escaped by flight. Sir Patrick Hamilton was killed, with many others; thus dying in a scuffle, which he had done all in his power to prevent. The confusion occasioned by this skirmish was greatly increased by the sudden appearance of Sir David Home of Wedderburn, the fierce Border leader who slew De la Bastie. He came with a band of eight hundred horse to assist Angus, and finding the skirmish begun, made his way into the city by bursting open one of the gates with sledge-hammers. The Hamiltons fled out of the town in great confusion; and the consequences of this skirmish were such, that the citizens of Edinburgh called it Clean-the-Causeway, because the faction of Arran was, as it were, swept from the streets. This broil gave Angus a great advantage in his future disputes with Arran; but it exhibits a wild picture of the times, when such a conflict could be fought in the midst of a populous city.

A year after this battle, the Duke of Albany returned from France, again to assume the Regency. He appears to have been encouraged to take this step by the King of France, who was desirous of recovering his influence in the Scottish councils, and who justly considered Angus as a friend of England. The Regent being successful in again taking up the reins of government, Angus was in his turn obliged to retire to France, where he spent his time so well, that he returned much wiser and more experienced than he had been esteemed before his banishment. Albany, on the contrary, showed himself neither more prudent nor more prosperous than during his first government. He threatened much, and did little. He broke the peace with England, and invaded that country with a large army; then made a dishonourable truce with Lord Dacre, who commanded on the English frontier, and finally retired without fighting, or doing any thing to support the boasts which he had made. This mean and poor-spirited conduct excited the contempt of the Scottish nation, and the duke found it necessary to retreat once more to France, that he might obtain money and forces to maintain himself in the Regency, which he seemed to occupy rather for the advantage of that country than of Scotland.

The English, in the mean while, maintained the war which Albany had rekindled, by destructive and dangerous incursions on the Scottish frontiers; and that you may know how this fearful kind of warfare was conducted, I will give you some account of the storming of Jedburgh, which happened at this time.

Jedburgh was, after the castle and town of Roxburgh had, been demolished, the principal town of the county. It was strongly walled, and inhabited by a class of citizens, whom their neighbourhood to the English frontier made familiar with war. The town Was also situated near those mountains in which the boldest of the Scottish Border clans had their abode.

The Earl of Surrey (son of him who had vanquished the Scots at Flodden, and who was now Duke of Norfolk) advanced from Berwick to Jedburgh in September 1523, with an army of about ten thousand men. The Border chieftains, on the Scottish frontier, could only oppose to this well-appointed army about fifteen or eighteen hundred of their followers; but they were such gallant soldiers, and so willing to engage in battle, that the brave English general, who had served in foreign countries as well as at home, declared he had never met their equal. “Could forty thousand such men be assembled,” said Surrey, “it would be a dreadful enterprise to withstand them.” But the force of numbers prevailed, and the English carried the place by assault. There were six strong towers within the town, which continued their defence after the walls were surmounted. These were the residences of persons of rank, walled round, and capable of strong resistance. The Abbey also was occupied by the Scots, and most fiercely defended. The battle continued till late in the night, and the English had no way of completing the victory, but by setting fire to the town; and even in this extremity, those who manned the towers and the Abbey continued their defence. The next day Lord Dacre was despatched to attack the castle of Fairniehirst, within about three miles of Jedburgh, the feudal fortress of Sir Andrew Ker, a border chief, formerly mentioned. It was taken, but with great loss to the besiegers. In the evening; Lord Dacre, contrary to Surrey’s commands, chose to encamp with his cavalry without the limits of the camp which the latter had chosen. About eight at night, when the English leaders were at supper, and concluded all resistance over Dacre’s quarters were attacked, and his horses all cut loose. The terrified animals, upwards of fifteen hundred in number, came galloping down to Surrey’s camp, where they were received with showers of arrows and volleys of musketry; for the English soldiers, alarmed by the noise, thought the Scots were storming their intrenchments, and shot off their shafts at a hazard. Many of the horses ran into Jedburgh, which was still in flames, and were seized and carried off by the Scottish women, accustomed like their husbands to the management of horses. The tumult was so great, that the English imputed it to supernatural interference, and Surrey alleged that the devil was seen visibly six times during the confusion. Such was the credulity of the times; but the whole narrative may give you some notion of the obstinate defence of the Scots, and the horrors of a Border foray. The Scots, on their side, were victorious in several severe actions, in one of which the Bastard Heron, who had contributed so much to Surrey’s success at Flodden, was slain on the field. The young King of Scotland, though yet a boy, began to show tokens of ill-will towards the French and Albany. Some nobles asked him what should be done with the French, whom the Regent had left behind. “Give them,” said James, “to Davie Home’s keeping.” Sir David Home, you must recollect, was the chieftain who put to death Albany’s friend, De la Bastie, and knitted his head by the hair to his saddlebow.

Albany, however, returned again from France with great supplies of money, artillery, arms, and other provisions for continuing the war. These were furnished by France, because it was the interest of that country at all hazards to maintain the hostility between Scotland and England. The Regent, once more, with a fine army, made an attack upon Norham, a castle on the English frontier; but when he had nearly gained this fortress, he suddenly, with his usual cowardice, left off the assault, on learning that Surrey was advancing to its relief. After this second dishonourable retreat, Albany left Scotland, detested and despised alike by the nobles and the common people, who felt that all his undertakings had ended in retreat and disgrace. In the month of May, 1524, he took leave of Scotland, never to return.


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