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Reign of Edward II. Part 1 page 3

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In the spring of 1308, the year following the death of Edward I., Bruce appeared to be sinking under the effects of the hardships and exposures which he had endured, combined with the almost superhuman exertions he had long made. Pie was in such a state of debility that his life was despaired of. Yet an English force under Mowbray, an Englishman, and John Comyn, Count of Buchan, having approached Inverury, in Aberdeen shire, Bruce caused himself to be lifted from his bed, and held by two men on his horse, and in that condition charged and routed his enemies. "What might not be expected from resolution like that! Castle after castle fell into his hands. Aberdeen and Forfar were surprised the same year and razed. In 1309 and 1310 truces were entered into, but badly kept on both sides. In the autumn of that year Edward made an expedition' into Scotland, but could not find an enemy, Bruce and his followers having adroitly disappeared, and, as Edward described it in a letter to the Pope, hidden themselves after the manner of foxes. But no sooner had Edward returned to London the following July, than Bruce actually pursued in the track of his army, and laid waste Durham. Returning laden with spoil, he next besieged and took Perth in January, 1312. He then made another excursion into the north of England, burned the towns of Corbridge and Hexham, in Northumberland; afterwards destroyed a great part of the city of Durham; then marched upon Chester and Carlisle, and was only induced to return to his own country by a payment of 8,000, raised in the four northern counties.

On the 7th of March of that year the important castle of Roxburgh was surprised and taken by Lord James Douglas. This was the same James Douglas who in 1307 had surprised his own castle of Douglas, which was hell by Lord Clifford. He had contrived to get in on Palm Sunday, when the soldiers were in church. Having cut them to pieces, he and his followers found only a few soldiers in the castle cooking the dinner. They ate the dinner, and finding great stores for the garrison, threw them on a heap in the middle of the floor, knocked oat the heads of the wine barrels, slew the soldiers, flung them on the pile, and so set fire to the castle, casting dead horses into the well to spoil it. The castle being restored by the English, Douglas again took and destroyed it, and vowed that he would thus avenge himself on any one who took possession of his house. There is a romantic but true story of a great and very beautiful heiress in England, who told her lovers that she would accept the man who would defend this castle of Douglas, now called Perilous Castle. This enterprise a brave young officer. Sir John Wilton, undertook, and maintained the castle for some time; but at length was lured out by a stratagem of Douglas and slain, a letter of the lady being found in his pocket.

The manner in which Douglas surprised several of the mist formidable castles of Scotland has all the wonder of romance about it. The castle of Roxburgh, which now fell into his hands, was only five miles from the English border, numerously garrisoned, and vigilantly watched, from the surprising successes of the Scots of late against such places, and Douglas was known to be in the neighbourhood. It was a holiday again, as at Douglas Castle; not now Palm Sunday, but Shrovetide. The soldiers were carousing, but had taken care to set watches on the battlements.

An Englishwoman, the wife of one of the officers, was sitting on the battlement with her child in her arms. She was looking out over the fields below, when she saw some black objects creeping along near the foot of the tower. The sentinel to whom she pointed them out said, "Pooh, they are only black cattle." So the lady sat still, and in a while began to sing to her child -

"Hush ye, hush ye, little pet ye;

Hush ye, hush ye, do not fret ye;

The Black Douglas shall not get ye."

"You are not so sure of that," said a voice close beside her, and at the same time she felt her arm grasped by an iron glove, and, looking round in affright, she saw a tall, dark, powerful man - the Black Douglas himself. Another man was at the moment coming over the wall near the sentinel; this was one Simon Ledehouse. The sentinel perceiving him rushed at him with his lance, at the same time shouting an alarm. Ledehouse put aside the lance, and struck down the sentinel with his dagger. The Scots now came pouring pell-mell over the walls, and the castle was taken; but the Douglas protected the woman and child.

Still more remarkable was the surprise of the castle of Edinburgh only a week afterwards. Any one who has seen the lofty precipice on which this castle was situated would regard the scaling of that cliff as next to impossible, especially while a strong garrison was watching above. Yet this was done by Thomas Randolph - that same Randolph, the nephew of Bruce, who was taken prisoner at the battle of Methven, and who had now become Earl of Moray, and afterwards was regent of the kingdom. Randolph was informed by a man of the name of Francis that, in his youth, he had frequently descended, when a soldier in the garrison, by a secret path, to visit a girl that he was in love with in the Grass Market. He offered to show Randolph the way, who at once resolved to make the attempt, though a more perilous one could not be conceived, for if discovered by the garrison above while ascending the cliff, not a man of them would be left alive.

The brave Randolph selected thirty men for the enterprise, and came to the foot of the cliff on a dark night. Francis led the way; and a perilous way they found it - "a path," says Sir Walter Scott, "fitter for a cat than a man." A falling stone, or a word uttered, would have alarmed the watchmen, and brought instant destruction upon them. They, therefore, were obliged to creep on with the utmost caution; and when they had nearly reached the castle wall they could hear the guards going their rounds, and were obliged to lie close to escape attention. And here they were startled by a man suddenly throwing a stone from the wall, and crying out, "Aha! I see you well." They believed they were discovered, but lay firm, and close, while the stone thundered down over their heads, and passed on. One movement, and they had been utterly destroyed, for the guard, only by throwing stones down, must have killed every one of them. But they were chosen as men who were prepared for anything. They lay quiet as the rocks themselves. The English soldier, as it proved, only did it in joke to alarm his comrades, and they, knowing that, all passed on. Then Randolph and his brave men, headed by Francis their guide - who proved himself a stout soldier - and Sir Andrew Grey, speedily fixed their scaling ladders to the walls, which at that place were only about twice a man's height, surprised, and very easily destroyed the garrison, who, except the sentinels, were asleep and unarmed.

By such daring courage, and by a variety of stratagems, the strongest castles fell rapidly into their hands. Dumfries, Butel, Dalswinton, and Linlithgow swelled the list. The last was taken by the assistance of a farmer of the name of Binnock, or Binny, who used to supply the garrison with hay. This man concerted with the soldiers, his countrymen, that he should cut his soame - a yoke which fastened the horses to the cart - just as his loaded cart was in the gateway, and then crying, "Call all, call all!" the soldiers should rush in, as they did.

While Douglas, Randolph, and their heroic compeers were thus performing the most surprising feats of daring and of heroism, Bruce, who had now an effective army, marched to every point of the country where the enemy was to be found, defeating and chasing them away. He did not neglect to make a visit to the north, to the country of the Comyns, who had pursued him with peculiar animosity on account of his killing their relative, the Red Comyn, and who had joined the English with all their forces. Robert Bruce now ravaged their district, and slew them remorselessly, as the enemies of their country, causing more than thirty of them to be beheaded in one day, and thrown into a pit, called ever after "The grave of the headless Comyns." Neither did he forget John of Lorn, who had joined with the Comyns and the English, and had hunted him with bloodhounds. He penetrated into the very heart of Argyll, Lorn's country, beset him in the mountains, and was very near securing Lorn himself. He managed with difficulty to escape in a boat; but King Robert did not suffer his country to escape, for he bestowed a large portion of it on his own nephew, Sir Colin Campbell, and thus founded the great ducal family of Argyll.

Thus it came at last to the pass that, as we have described, the English had only the castle of Stirling left in all Scotland; and Sir Philip Mowbray, after a brave defence, had agreed to deliver that up if not relieved by a certain day. He had, as we have said, arrived in London with this message. Perhaps even such a message as this, full of national disgrace, might not have moved Edward out of his epicurean listlessness, but it aroused the nobles. They exclaimed unanimously that it would be an eternal shame thus to let the great conquest of Edward I. fall out of their hands without a blow. It was therefore resolved that the king should lead an army to the rescue.

A royal summons was issued for all the military force of England to meet the king at Berwick on the 11th of June, 1314. The most warlike of the British subjects from the French provinces were called forth; troops were enlisted in Flanders; the Irish and "Welsh were tempted in great numbers to Edward's standard by hopes of plunder; and altogether an army of not less than 100,000 men, including 40,000 cavalry - 3,000 of whom, men and horse, were clad in complete armour - assembled. A large fleet attended to act in concert with the army; and at the head of this mighty force the king took his way towards Edinburgh, advancing along the east coast, and thence along the right bank of the Forth to Stirling.

Robert Bruce, who had been lying before Stirling awaiting the result of Sir Philip Mowbray's mission to London, now saw that the fate of the kingdom must be decided on or near that spot. His army was much inferior to the English one in numbers, amounting to between 30,000 and 40,000 men. But then they were tried troops, fighting for the very existence of their country, and under such leaders as Robert Bruce, Randolph, and Douglas - men whom they had followed into exploits almost miraculous. The English army was far better armed and provided, except in one particular, and that the most essential of all - a commander. Instead of that, instead of a man of courage, experience, and sagacity, they had a timid, effeminate puppet; and where so much depended on the commander-in-chief - even more than at the present day - that single circumstance was fatal,

Bruce made preparations for the decisive struggle with his usual ability. He had collected his forces in the forest called Torwood; but as he knew the superiority of the English, not merely in numbers, but in their heavy-armed cavalry (far better mounted and equipped than his own) and in their archers (the very best in the world), he determined to provide against these advantages. He therefore led his army into a plain on the south side of Stirling, called the New Park, close beneath which the English army would be obliged to pass through a swampy country, broken up with watercourses, while the Scots stood on firm, dry ground. With this morass in front, and the deep, woody, and broken banks of the little rivulet of Bannockburn on his right, so rocky that no troops could pass them, he took care to secure the more assailable ground on his left by digging a great number of pits, about knee-deep, which he covered with brushwood, and over that with turf, so as to look like solid grassy ground. In these pits he is said by some writers to have fixed pointed stakes. The whole ground, says Barbour, the poetical chronicler, was like a honeycomb with the holes. Besides this, Bruce sought to disable the English cavalry by sowing the front of the battle-field with those cruel, three-pointed steel spikes called caltrops and crow-feet, which lamed and disabled the horses which trod upon them.

Bruce then divided his forces into four divisions. Of these he gave the command of the right wing, flanked by the Bannockburn, to his brother Edward; of the left, near Stirling, to Randolph, who was posted near the church of St. Ninians, and had orders at all risks to prevent the English throwing succours into the city; Sir James Douglas and Walter the Steward commanded the centre; and Bruce headed the reserve in the rear, consisting of the men of Argyll, the islanders, and his own vassals of Carrick.

Douglas and Sir Robert Keith, Mareschal of the Scottish army, were dispatched by King Robert to take a view of the English forces, now approaching from Falkirk. They returned saying the vast host approaching was one of the most beautiful and terrible sights imaginable; that the whole country appeared covered with moving troops: and that the number of banners, pennons, standards, flags, all of different kinds, made so gallant a show, that the bravest and most numerous army in Christendom might be alarmed to behold it coming against them. I: was Sunday, and Barbour describes it as so bright that the armour of the English troops made the country seem all on fire. Never had England sent forth a more magnificent host, and never did one approach the battle-field with more imposing aspect; but the Lion-heart of the army, the terrible "Hammer of Scotland," was no longer there.

As the army drew in sight, Edward sent forward Lord Clifford with 800 horse to endeavour to gain the castle by a circuitous route, hidden by rising grounds from Bruce's left wing. They had already passed the Scottish line when Bruce was the first to descry them. "See, Randolph," he cried, riding up to him, "there is a rose fallen from your chaplet - you have suffered the enemy to pass!" Randolph made no reply, but rushed upon Clifford with little more than half his number. The English wheeled round to charge and to encompass the little band of Scots, but Eandolph drew them up back t: back, and they defended themselves valiantly. Douglas. who saw the perilous position of Randolph, asked to be allowed to ride up to his relief. "No," replied the king. "let Randolph redeem his own fault." But the danger became so imminent, that Douglas exclaimed, "So please you, my liege, I must aid Randolph; I cannot stand idle and see him perish." He therefore rode off with a strong detachment, but seeing, as he drew near, that the English were giving way, he cried, "Halt! Randolph has gained the day: let us not lessen his glory by approaching the field." A noble sentiment, for Randolph and Douglas were always striving which should rise the highest in the nation.

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