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The Story of Robert Bruce by  Jeanie Lang


 

 

BRUCE IN IRELAND

[97] ALL seemed now to go well with Robert the Bruce. Soon after Bannockburn, his daughter Marjory married Sir Walter Steward, the gallant young noble who had been knighted on the field. In 1315 she had a baby boy, but Bruce's gladness at the birth of little Robert, who became King Robert II., only lasted a very short time, for the Princess Marjory died soon after her baby was born.

In August 1314 the Douglas and others raided Northumberland, and the poor farmers ruefully watched their crops burning and their cattle being driven away. The English durst not help them. Gladly the people of the northern counties paid large sums to the Scots in order to buy peace.

The only bit of luck that Edward of England had was when John of Lorn, the Bruce's old [98] enemy, took the Isle of Man from the Scots. But he did not hold it long, though all his life he troubled the Bruce by attacks from the sea with his galleys.

In 1315 the Bruces sought to win for themselves another kingdom.

Edward Bruce, who was, it is said, "braver than a leopard," was so strong a man and so powerful a leader that he found Scotland too small for himself and his brother. So, when the Irish of Ulster asked him to come and turn out the English and be their king, to Ireland he went, with many brave nobles in his train.

On May 2, 1316—a year of terrible famine all over Britain—Edward Bruce was crowned King of Ireland. It was a strange kingdom that he ruled over, for the Irish nobles were mostly King Edward's men, and the Irish kernes who owned Edward Bruce as king were almost as savage as the people of Central Africa are to-day. In famine times many of them were cannibals.

Leaving the Black Douglas and Walter Steward to govern Scotland, Robert the Bruce sailed to Ireland to help his brother.

In Ireland he won, and he lost. There was none of the steady flow of victory he had had in his own kingdom, and it was a hard campaign, for horseflesh was the hungry soldiers' chief food.


[Illustration]

THE YOUNG KNIGHT'S HORSE FELL TO THE GROUND.

[99] On a May morning, when the blossoms and flowers of spring were at their best, and the grass of the Emerald Isle at its greenest, Richard of Clare, an Irish knight, gathered together 4000 men to meet the brother kings. In spite of his big army, he feared to meet the Scots in open fight, and so laid an ambush for them in a wood. When the Scots drew near, some of Clare's archers sent their arrows flying out from amongst the leaves of the wood. The Scots would have pressed forward to punish them, but the Bruce, suspecting a trick, kept his men back.

Young Sir Colin Campbell, the Bruce's nephew, saw no reason why the shooters should be allowed to go on making marks of them. He spurred on his horse, and with his spear slew one of two archers who had left the shelter of the wood. The other man ran for it, but first let fly a shaft that brought the young knight's horse dead to the ground.

Up to his nephew galloped the Bruce in great wrath. Scarcely had the rash and disobedient young knight risen to his feet, than the Bruce's truncheon felled him again.

"Ye have broken bidding," he said—been disobedient, that is—"and such disobedience to your general might have put the whole army in deadly peril, and lost us the day."

[100] Wasting and burning and slaying, the Scots marched west to Limerick.

After a halt near there, the troops had fallen in, ready to march on, when the king heard a woman's cry.

"Who is the woman who cries in pain?" he asked.

"It is a poor washerwoman," they told him. "She has just had a baby, and we must leave her behind."

"That we will not do!" said the Bruce. "Here we shall wait until she is able to go on. Certes! there is no man who will not pity a weak woman."

He then ordered a tent to be unpacked for the woman, and other women to be sent to care for her and her baby.

And there, because of their great king's great and tender heart, the Scottish army halted, until a poor washerwoman and her little baby were fit to go on.

In May 1317 Robert the Bruce went home, but until October 1318 Edward Bruce fought on, trying to make Ireland a kingdom such as Scotland had now become.

But though Edward Bruce was as brave as his brother, he was not nearly so wise a general. Nor were the Irish people steadfast and true to their leader as the Scots had been proved to be.

[101] At Dundalk in the north of Ireland, a great force of English and Irish marched against Edward Bruce. His Scottish generals begged him not to meet this army in battle until reinforcements from Scotland reached him.

In great anger King Edward answered them, "Now help me who will, for surely this day fight will I! No man shall say that strength of man shall make me flee!"

Many were the women and children across the sea in Scotland whose tears were shed because of the battle on that autumn day at Dundalk. For as the dead leaves dropped from the trees and strewed the ground, so fell the soldiers of Edward Bruce.

At the first onset King Edward was slain by the sword of a giant Anglo-Irish knight, Sir John de Maupas. They found him at the end of his last battle with the huge body of the giant who, in dying, he had killed, lying across him. His body was hewn in pieces and his limbs were stuck on the walls of Irish towns held by the English.

While sad things were happening in Ireland, in Scotland the Black Douglas was holding his own.

So good a watch-dog was he while the Bruce was away that, after many defeats, the English [102] feared to try their fortunes again near the Cheviots and the Tweed.

A force of 500 sailed up the east coast and landed in Fife.

The Earl of Fife and the King's Sheriff went to meet them, but on seeing their numbers their hearts failed them, and they and their followers went inland in great haste. In their flight they met a body of sixty horse, led by William Sinclair, Bishop of Dunkeld.

"Himself was armit jolily And rode upon a stalwart steed."

Over his armour he wore a bishop's frock. "Where ride ye in such haste?" asked Bishop Sinclair of the Earl and Sheriff.

"The English have landed in such great numbers," said they, "that it is hopeless for us to fight them, and we must flee."

"Fine guardians are you to your country when your king is away!" quoth the angry Bishop. "You should have your gilt spurs cut off, you poor cowards!"

Then to the horsemen who followed, pell-mell, the Earl and the Sheriff, he cried—

"You who love your king and your country, turn smartly now again with me!"

With that he cast off his bishop's robe, and [103] in his armour, spear in hand, galloped forward. In furious charge he and his men met the English, swiftly routed them, and drove those who escaped in confusion to their ships. Their panic was so complete that one boat was overladen and sunk, and all who were in it were drowned.

When Robert the Bruce heard the tale of Bishop Sinclair of Dunkeld, "He shall be my own bishop!" cried he.

And "The King's own Bishop" he was called until the day of his death. The fighting men of Scotland knew him under a name that they loved still more—that of "The Fechtin' Bishop."


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