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The Story of Robert Bruce by  Jeanie Lang


 

 

VICTORIES FOR BRUCE, AND THE DEATH OF KING EDWARD

[59] WHILE the Bruce was having adventure after adventure in his own kingdom, King Edward lay idle and useless at Carlisle. Mortal illness kept him from crossing the Border to humble his enemy, as he believed he was sure to do.

In March 1307, when snow lay on the Galloway moors and uplands, an English general, De Valence, resolved that he would gain a victory that would gladden the sick king's heart.

Bruce was known to be in hiding in lonely Glen Trool, and De Valence bribed a woman to go up the glen and find out where Bruce and his men were sheltering. He, and a large, well-armed force, followed their spy. But the Bruce knew a spy when he saw one. The woman was threatened with death unless she confessed all. She told the king that De Valence was coming behind her up the glen.

[60] From what is still called "the King's Seat," a ledge on a mountain above Glen Trool, the Bruce watched the English army coming to take him. On either side of the loch the mountains run down so sharply into the water that there is but a narrow path for men to pass by, one at a time.

The Bruce made his men hide in the woods on these mountains, and himself kept guard above. Onward and upward came the English, clambering slowly and with difficulty up the narrow foothold by the loch side. No sign was to be seen of Bruce and his men until an arrow from the king's bow made the first Englishman leap in the air with a choking cry and roll over like a shot rabbit. Then, from far up the mountain side, came the clear call of a bugle. It was the Bruce who sounded it, and at once, as though it had been a fairy horn, the woods became alive with armed men. Stones and arrows rained down on the English soldiers. Great boulders crashed through the trees and swept the English, maimed and senseless, into the waters of the lake. The path was too narrow for those behind to help those in front, and so the slaughter went on until what was left of 1500 men had to flee in terror before 300.

[61] Even now you may see a green strip between the brown mountains and the dark waters of Loch Trool, and you will find that the country people call it "the Soldiers' Holm," for they say that it was there that De Valence's men were buried.

For Bruce the victory meant much. The Scottish people began to flock to his standard.

"It now appears," says one old writer, "that he has the right, and God is openly for him."

On May to, 1307, yet another victory was his. In Clydesdale the Black Douglas had laid an ambush for De Moubray, an English general, and had routed him and his men with great slaughter.

De Valence heard the tale of this defeat with much wrath, and proudly sent Bruce a challenge to come down from the hills with his men and fight his army in open field.

Bruce accepted the challenge. On Loudon Moor the two armies met.

Bruce had with him about 600 fighting men, and about the same number of "rangale" (rabble), while De Valence had 3000 well-armed, well-trained soldiers. Between two peat mosses, at "a yellow, benty, mossy, boggy place," Bruce posted his men, and there dug three deep trenches.

A flight of arrows from the English yeomen did little harm to men protected in trenches— [62] of a rougher sort than those that our soldiers had in the Crimea—and De Valence led his horsemen, their armour gleaming in the sun, dashingly across the "haughs," down the course of a little hill burn, in a splendid cavalry charge. But the Scots grimly met the horsemen with a solid hedge of pikes. The horses, hideously wounded, swerved, screamed in pain and terror, and galloped back riderless, throwing the rest of De Valence's army into wild confusion.

It was then Bruce's turn to charge, and this he and his men did so successfully that before the day was done—

"The field was well nigh covered all Both with slain horses and with men."

The English army, in shameful flight, was pursued by the Scots, who took many prisoners. The king was no longer captain of a band of outlaws, lurking in woods and in caves of the hills. He was general of an army that could meet 3000 Englishmen in the open field and win a gallant victory.

Three days later he defeated another English general, Sir Ralph de Monthermer, who had to seek refuge in Ayr Castle.

The news of these victories reached King Edward at Carlisle. He was furious with his [63] generals because of their defeat. No longer would he leave the humbling of "King Hobbe" to them. He must rise from his sick bed and march to Scotland.

On the march, his last sickness came upon him. He was dying when, on July 6, he reached Burgh-on-Sands, a little town on the Solway from whence he could look across the grey water at the land he had tried in vain to conquer.

"What town is this?" he asked.

"They call it Burgh-on-Sands, sire," they answered.

"I thought to reach the burgh of Jerusalem," said he. "I thought of no other burgh."

Then, in pain and mortal weakness, he sent for his son Edward, Prince of Wales. In the presence of all the barons, Edward made the prince swear that he would take his heart to the Holy Land and there bury it, but that his bones should be carried at the head of the English army until Scotland was a conquered land.

On July 7 he died, but the new king, Edward II., paid no heed to his dead father's wishes, nor to the oath he had sworn.

In Westminster they laid the body of the man who was so brave, so ambitious, and so great a king, and so cruel an enemy.

[64] On his tomb they carved words that he himself had chosen

EDVARDVS: PRIMVS:
SCOTTORVM: MALLEVS:
HIC: EST: PACTVM: SERVA.

"Here is the first Edward, Hammer of the Scots. Keep Covenant."

Of the new king, Bruce said that he feared the dead king's bones more than Edward II.'s living body.

The Scots hated Edward I., but they feared him. To those whom he judged by his laws to have been disloyal to him he was mercilessly cruel. They were burned to death, hanged, or torn to pieces at the heels of horses. But now the Hammer of the Scots was dead, and his son was a man that his enemies despised.

And now, too, those who hated England and the English had for their king a true and noble knight, without fear and without reproach. In those hard days when alone, cold, hungry, and tired out, body and soul, he had had to clamber barefoot—for often his shoes were worn out—to some mountain shelter, or had had for weeks at a time to live only on roots, and water from some spring in the hills, the Bruce had learned to forget himself, to endure without [65] complaint, pain and bitter hardship. And he who has learned perfectly how to govern himself must ever be a very perfect leader of men.

In August Edward II. carried out his father's wishes so far, by leading an army into Ayrshire. But a few weeks of campaigning wearied him, and, without fighting, he went back to London, where he found things that amused him more.

No sooner had he gone than the men of Tweeddale, Teviotdale, and Ettrick Forest threw off all pretence of being loyal to Edward. They rose in force, and the English who lived on the Border fled in terror into England.

Early in the winter of 1307 Bruce marched northwards, leaving the Black Douglas behind him to guard the Border.

"I love better to hear the lark sing than the mouse cheep," said the Douglas; but when castles were to be taken, he was always ready.

While he fought and won on the Border, the Bruce lay at Inverurie in Aberdeenshire, a very sick and weary man.

His spirit was strong to withstand hunger, cold, stormy weather, constant anxiety, want of rest, peril, and suffering. His bravery and good-humour never failed. But the years of hardship had worn him out. His health broke down, and for weeks he lay at death's door.

[66] His men began to lose heart. Without Bruce to lead them they dared not face an English army. When they heard that John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, and many English and Scottish nobles were coming against them, they marched across the hills to a place called Slioch, bearing the king on a litter.

The snow lay deep; they had brought little food with them, and after three days, during which the English and Scottish archers shot at each other, Edward Bruce, who held command while his brother lay sick, brought his little army back to Inverurie. Slowly, with the king's litter in the centre of a column, the march was made, in full view of the English army. They out-numbered the Scots by two to one, yet no attack was made.

Before daybreak, on Christmas Eve 1307, Buchan attacked the Bruce's outposts at Inverurie, slaying some of his men, and making the others fly before him.

When this news reached the king, he rose from his bed.

"No medicine could have cured me as this has done," said he.


[Illustration]

SLOWLY, WITH THE KING'S LITTER IN THE CENTRE OF A COLUMN, THE MARCH WAS MADE.

Though still so weak that two men had to hold him up, he had his armour buckled on, and was helped on to his horse. Then, "with a [67] cheerful countenance," he " hastened with his army against the enemy, to the battle-ground."

The mere sight of the Bruce, whom they believed to be dying, leading an army, was too much for Buchan's men, who were triumphantly routed. The fight seemed to cure the king, for from that day he got well.

In May of that year, at Old Meldrum, he surprised and defeated Buchan, burning and laying waste his lands. In no way did he spare his old enemy. It is said that thirty of the Comyns were beheaded in one day. Their grave is still known as "The Grave of the Headless Comyns."

To this day charred trunks of trees are found in the northern mosses to remind us of the "Herschip (or Harrying) of Buchan."


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