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Reign of Henry IV page 5


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In league with this villanous uncle and his villanous confidant Ramorgny were now, unfortunately, the Earl of Douglas, whose sister Rothsay had married but neglected, and Sir William Lindsay of Rossy, whose sister he had loved and forsaken. These noblemen now united in a plot which at this time of day appears not more revolting than astonishing - the murder of the heir apparent to the throne.

To effect this, it was represented by them to the aged king, who lived in close retirement, and knew nothing of what passed without but through the medium of Albany, that such were the excesses of the prince that it was absolutely necessary to put him under some closer restraint. Ramorgny and Lindsay, as the most apparently disinterested, were made to introduce this to the king, and with such effect that the afflicted old monarch gave an order under the royal signet to arrest the prince and place him in temporary confinement. The victim was now in their power. Ramorgny and Lindsay seized him as he was on his way to St. Andrews with only a few followers, and shut him up in the castle of St. Andrews. Having sent off to Albany the tidings of their success, they were instructed by him to convey him to the solitary castle of Falkland. One tempestuous day, therefore, they threw a cloak over his rich dress, mounted him on a sorry horse, and, in this disguise, attended by a strong body of soldiers, they hurried him to Falkland and thrust him into a dungeon.

For fifteen days the unhappy prince was kept there under the charge of two ruffians of the names of Wright and Selkirk, whose business it was to starve him to death. When groaning in the agonies of hunger, his voice became known to a poor woman, who contrived to steal to his grated window, which was level with the ground, and convey him food, by dropping small barley cakes through the bars, and nourishing him with her own milk, conveyed to him through a pipe.

But the protracted life of their victim roused the suspicion of the assassins; they watched, and drove away the kind woman, and Rothsay soon perished in such terrible agonies that it was found, after his death, that he had gnawed the flesh from his own shoulder. His body was buried privately in the monastery of Lindores, and it was proclaimed that he had died of dysentery. But the fatal truth was not long in becoming known, and the public, forgetting the follies of the prince, [ now joined in universal execration against Albany as his j murderer. Yet what availed it? The monarch, who bitterly bewailed the death of his son, and is supposed to have been well aware of his murderers, was himself in Albany's hands, and that daring and unscrupulous man not only demanded examination before Parliament of his conduct, but obtained for himself and Douglas an acquittal from all charge of guilt, which none dared to advance against them, and still more, an attestation from, the powerless king, under his own seal, of their innocence, which, however, nobody believed.

While these horrors had been maturing and transacting, the Earl of March, resenting the treatment of himself and his daughter by the court and Douglas, had retreated to his impregnable castle of Dunbar, renounced his allegiance to the King of Scotland, done homage to Henry of England, and joined energetically the Percies of Northumberland in their attacks on his native country. What stimulated him to more bitterness was to see his vast estates conferred on Douglas, the hereditary enemy of his house. He made frequent inroads, either to recover his lands, or, by laying them waste, to render them useless to the intruder. These devastating visits obliged the border barons, the Haliburtons, the Cockburns, Hep-burns, and Lauders, to make common cause with the Douglas. They agreed to give the command by turns to the different chiefs, and each was ambitious to excel his associates by some feat of arms, called in the language of the times chevanche. On one of these occasions, the command being in the hands of Sir Patrick Hepburn of Hailes, the Scots broke into England and laid waste the country with great fury; but going too far, they were intercepted by Percy and March on Nesbit Moor in the Merse. The Scots were only 400 in number, but they were well armed and mounted, and consisted of the flower of the Lothians. The battle was long doubtful, but March, who had not arrived before, coming up with 200 men from the garrison at Berwick, decided the fortune of the day. Hepburn himself was killed, and such was the destruction of his best knights and his followers that the spot still retains the name of Slaughter Hill.

Henry was delighted with the news of this victory. He complimented the Percies and March on their prompt bravery, and commanded them to call out and assemble the feudal levies of the northern counties, as the Scots were menacing the borders on the west, and ravaging the neighbourhood of Carlisle. Henry's information was correct. To revenge the defeat of Nesbit Moor, Lord Archibald Douglas took the field with 10,000 picked men, and Albany, who now wielded unlimited power in Scotland, sent his son Murdoch to join him with a strong body of archers and spearmen. The most distinguished knights and barons of Scotland followed the Douglas banner. There were the Earls of Moray and Fife, Fergus Macdowall with his wild Galwegians, the chiefs of the houses of Erskine, Grahame, Montgomery, Seton, Sinclair and Lesley, the Stewarts of Angus, Lorn, and Durisdeer, with many other gentlemen. A nobler army for its numbers, never left Scotland under a Douglas. But the present Earl of Douglas was as noted for his lack of caution, and for his numerous consequent defeats, as his ancestors had been for their care and success, so that he had acquired the by-name of "the Tyne-man," the losing man. He rushed on across the Tweed with his accustomed impetuosity, and never stayed his course till he arrived before the gates of Newcastle. Everywhere the country people, unsupported by any armed force, had fled before him, and he and his followers now found themselves so loaded with booty that it was necessary to return.

Secure in their numbers and in the flight of the inhabitants, the Scots pursued their homeward way leisurely, till they arrived near Milfield, not far from Wooler, in Northumberland. But here they found themselves confronted by a strong force under the Earl of Northumberland, his son Hotspur, and the Earl of March. Douglas seized on an excellent position, a hill called Homildon, had he only had cavalry and men-at-arms to contend with; but the forces of the Percies consisted chiefly of archers, and there were many eminences round Homildon which completely commanded it, and whence the English bowmen could shoot down the Scots at pleasure.

The English occupied a strong pass; but perceiving their advantage, and that the Scots had not even taken possession of the eminence opposed to them, they advanced and secured that important ground. Had the Scots taken care to pre-occupy that, they could have charged down on the English archers, if they ventured to leave the pass, and the battle must speedily have been brought to a hand fight, where the Scots, from their vantage ground, could have committed great havoc.

The English, having posted themselves, to their own surprise, on the eminence opposite to the Scots, saw that Douglas had crowded his whole force into one dense column, exposing them to the enemy, and impeding, by their closeness, their own action. Hotspur, at the head of the men-at-arms, proposed to charge the Scots, but March instantly seized his bridle rein, and showed him that he would, by his advance, lose the grand advantage offered them by the oversight of Douglas. He made him aware that the bowmen could speedily level the serried ranks of the Scots without any danger to themselves. The truth of this was at once perceived; the English archers advanced, pouring their arrows in showers upon the Scots, who were so thickly wedged together, and so scantily furnished with armour, having little more on them than a steel cap and a slender jack or breast-plate, or a quilted coat, that the cloth-yard arrows of the English made deadly work amongst them. As the English continued to advance, the best armour of the knights was found incapable of resisting their arrows, while the Scottish archers drew feebler and more uncertain bows, and produced little effect. The confusion among the forces of Douglas became terrible; the bravest knights and barons fell mortally wounded; the horses struck with the arrows reared and plunged, and trod down the riders of their own party. The Galwegians, only half clad, presented, according to the accounts of the time, the appearance of huge hedgehogs, so thickly were they bristled over with the shafts of the enemy.

In this mortal dilemma a brave knight, Sir John Swinton, exclaimed, "My friends, why stand we here to be marked down by the enemy, and that like deer in a park? Where is our ancient valour? Shall we stand still, and have our hands nailed to our lances? Follow me, in the name of God; let us break yonder ranks, or die like men!"

On hearing this, Sir Adam Gordon, who had long been at deadly feud with Swinton, threw himself from his horse, entreated his forgiveness, and kneeling, begged the honour of being knighted by his hand. Swinton instantly complied, and the two knights, tenderly embracing each other, mounted and charged down on the enemy, followed by a hundred horsemen. Had the whole body of the Scots followed, they might have retrieved the day; but such was the confusion in the Scottish lines, that before Douglas could advance to support them, Swinton and Gordon were slain, and their little band slaughtered or dispersed. When at length Douglas was able to move on, the English archers, keeping perfect order, fell back upon their cavalry, but poured, Parthian-like, showers of arrows behind them on the Scots. The carnage was awful. No defence could withstand the English arrows; and the Earl of Douglas himself, who wore on this fatal day a suit of armour of the most tried temper and exquisite workmanship, which had required three years to manufacture, was wounded in five places, and taken prisoner, together with Murdoch Stewart - the son of the governor, Albany - eighty knights, the Earls of Moray and Angus, and a crowd of esquires and pages, some of them French. The Scottish army was utterly routed; 1,<500 men are said to have perished in attempting to escape across the Tweed; and amongst the numerous slain, besides the chivalric knights Swinton and Gordon, were Sir John Levingston of Calendar, Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie, Sir Roger Gordon, Sir Walter Scott, and Sir William Sinclair.

Such was the bloody battle of Homildon Hill, another of those great victories which the English owed entirely to the matchless superiority of their bows and bowmen; for Walsingham declares that neither earl, knight, nor squire handled their weapons, or came into action; though, when the Scots were broken, they joined in. the pursuit. It was a most decisive battle, effacing, on the part of Hotspur, the memory of Otterburn, and affording to March a signal vengeance upon Douglas, who was defeated, desperately wounded with the loss of an eye, and taken prisoner.

When Henry received the news of this great victory, achieved on the day of the exaltation of the holy cross, September 14th, 1402, he instantly dispatched a messenger with letters of congratulation to the Percies and the Earl of March, but commanded them not on any account to admit to ransom any of their prisoners, of any rank whatever, or to suffer them to be upon parole until they received further instructions. The object of this order was plainly to keep Scotland quiet by retaining so many of her bravest leaders in his power; but the peremptory tone of the command, coming in the hour of victory, gave great offence to the commanders. It was a settled and ancient right of the conqueror to ransom his prisoners, and it came with a more sensible effect on the fiery spirit of Hotspur from the recent refusal of Henry to permit him to ransom his brother-in-law, the Earl of Marche, from Owen Glendower. Henry took care to assure the victors that it was not his intention to deprive ultimately any of his liege subjects of their undoubted rights in regard to their captives; but Henry was not famous for keeping his word in opposition to his interests, as had been shown to all the world in the case of the Queen Isabella. The reader will recollect the indignant language put by Shakespeare into the mouth of Hotspur on this occasion, and, notwithstanding the assertion of recent writers that the offence really taken by the Percies was not from this cause, we see no reason to doubt the relations of Rymer and other authorities. This second interference of Henry was the deciding cause of that immediately following revolt of the Percies, to which they were already no little disposed.

They had been the means of placing Henry on the throne, as it would seem, without intending it, for he had sworn to them on the Gospels at Doncaster that he aimed at nothing more than asserting his own invaded rights. Henry had rewarded them with large grants of land, including those of their prisoner Douglas, which lay in Eskdale, Liddesdale, with Ettrick Forest, and the lordship of Selkirk. The Percies, indeed, might regard these last as scarcely more than nominal gifts, for they would require a powerful force to keep possession of them, and they were almost immediately retaken by the Scots. The Percies, in fact, were ill pleased with the haughty tone of Henry, who owed them so much, and they were now in close alliance with the Mortimers, who had the real claim to the throne. That Henry received their desire to liberate their royal relative with fear and suspicion was clear from the fact that he made no resistance to the ransom of Lord Grey de Ruthyn. Henry did not hesitate to say in reply to Hotspur's pertinacious demands of Marche's liberty, that he and his uncle Mortimer had gone to Glendower of their own accord, and that no loyal subject would, therefore, wish them back again.

This was pointed language to a mind like Hotspur's. But there were still other causes at work. The Earl of Northumberland attended at Westminster with his prisoner Murdoch Stewart, the son of Albany, and six other captives. They were presented to Henry, who, though he invited them to dine with him, received them rather coldly, and used severe language to Sir Adam Forster, one of them. The earl pressed Henry for the payment of large sums of money due to him for the custody of the Marches and the costs of the Scottish war. This of all subjects was the most distasteful to Henry, who was always short of money, and reluctant to part with it when he had it. To balance this account - as he had done that of the dowry of Queen Isabella, by a credit on the unpaid ransom of King John - he now gave Northumberland, instead of hard cash, the lands of Douglas, which would require 'for their defence still more hard blows. Northumberland returned home in no good humour, and the work of revolt now went rapidly on.

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