Reign of Henry IV page 5
David, the Duke of Rothsay, the eldest son of Robert, was, like the son of Henry in England, gay and dissipated. He was at the same time brave, generous, and honourable, and, therefore, the more liable to be entrapped by the crafty arts of Albany. The king and queen were anxious to have their son well married, but Albany prevailed on them to select a wife from a Scottish house which would pay the largest dower. On this disgraceful principle he sought to degrade the prince, and make him enemies. He succeeded completely. George, Earl of March - not the English Marche - made the most ample offer for the honour of this connection with royalty. The prince was said to have his own attachment, but that was by no means consulted. When, however, the match was arranged with the daughter of the Earl of March, Archibald, Earl of Douglas, the most powerful and overbearing baron in Scotland, felt himself aggrieved, and determined to place his own daughter, as Rothsay's wife, on the throne. Earl James, his predecessor, had married the king's sister, and he was resolved that no subject but himself should hold the same relation to the crown. He outbade March, the Duke of Albany gave him the preference, the alliance already arranged was broken off with March, and Mariell Douglas was married to Rothsay.
It was not to be expected that such a marriage should be an auspicious one. Rothsay loved another, and not only hated but despised his wife, who is said to have been at once plain and hard, with all the towering pride of her family. Rothsay not only neglected but ridiculed her amongst his dissolute companions. The injury sunk deep in the minds of the younger Douglases, and was not to be forgiven. All this was so much gain to the plans of the base Albany, who had long determined at any cost to clear Rothsay out of his own path to the throne. For some time the impediments to this murderous career were too great. The queen had for her advisers the old Earl of Douglas, Archibald the Grim, and Trail, the Archbishop of St. Andrews. By their united authority and counsels they restrained both the wildness of Rothsay and the ambitious schemes of Albany. But after the death of these three beneficent guardians, with whom, says Fordun, it was commonly said through the land, that the glory and honesty of Scotland were buried, the Duke of Rothsay plunged once more into his excesses, and it was advised by Albany that he should be put under some degree of restraint. In an evil hour the old king listened to this, and the fate of Rothsay was sealed.
Amongst the duke's companions was a Sir John Ramorgny, the most accomplished villain of his time. His education was of the most complete character for the age, for it seems he had been originally intended for the Church, but the profligacy and reckless spirit of his youth had disqualified him, and he had become first a soldier and then a diplomatist. His handsome person, his fascinating manners, the insinuating address and grace of his demeanour, which covered no single spark of conscience or principle, peculiarly fitted him to be the supple tool of princes. He was accordingly employed by Albany in state negotiations, both at home and abroad.
This man was just the person to attract the attention of the young Rothsay. He could inform him of all the life and follies of foreign courts, and introduce him to the most criminal pleasures of his own capital. Rothsay, with his openness of character, did not for a moment conceal his hatred of Albany, and Ramorgny, with the utmost coolness, advised him to have him assassinated. From this diabolical counsel Rothsay, who, however misguided, was honourable by nature, revolted in horror, and heaped such terms of abhorrence on his adviser, that Ramorgny, stung with all the resentment of a fiend, and incapable of the remorse of a man, conceived the most deadly hatred to the young duke, betrayed his conversations to Albany, and lent himself to assist in his destruction.
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.
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