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Reign of Edward I. Part 2 page 2

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Edward having once more finished his work of subjugation, and all Scotland lying prostrate at his feet, he now set to work about the important task of so modelling the government and administration of the country that it should most completely remain in his grasp as a permanent portion of his realm. For this purpose he appointed a council, so called, of the Scottish nation. This was to consist of two bishops, two abbots, two earls, two barons, and two representatives of the boroughs, who were to assemble in London, and to sit, in conjunction with twenty commissioners of the English Parliament, to frame a constitution for the conquered territory. But this council, as was intended, carried things with a high hand against the people of Scotland. It cleared away all the Scottish laws and customs at a sweep, and substituted English ones in their stead. It destroyed all 'ancient monuments which perpetuated the spirit of nationality. Whatever histories or records had escaped the former search of the king were now ruthlessly destroyed; and the work of utterly rooting out the Scottish name and institutions was going on, when the whole was suddenly brought to a stand by a fresh and more determined insurrection.

The resolve of Bruce to throw off: ail disguise and declare himself openly for his country had been accelerated by the treason of Comyn; and six months had scarcely passed over the bloody relics of Wallace when the Scots were up in arms again, round the champion he had himself invoked to assume that post. In June. 1305 - two months before the execution of Wallace - it appears that Bruce had made a secret compact with William de Lamberton, the Bishop of St. Andrews, of mutual aid and support. This contract, still preserved in the Annals of Lord Hailes, had for its ultimate object the claims of Bruce on the crown. Comyn had come by some means to the knowledge of this league; had pretended to join in it, but had betrayed it to the king. Bruce was marked for due vengeance by Edward, who only waited for an opportunity also to seize his three brothers, resident in Scotland. But, through the friendship of the Earl of Gloucester, the son-in-law of the king, Bruce was apprised of his danger by the earl sending him a pair of gilt spurs and a purse of gold, under pretence that he had borrowed them of him. Bruce caught the meaning of the device, and resolved to escape at once. To this purpose, tradition says, he had his horse shod backwards, so as to deceive those who might attempt to trace his route, for the ground was then covered with snow. I Bruce arrived safely in a few days at his castle of Lochmaben, in Annandale, the chief seat of his family; and I here he found, fortunately, a great number of the Scottish I nobility assembled, and in the midst of them 110 other 1 than John Comyn, his professed friend, but treacherous, secret foe. If he had wanted any evidences of the perfidy of this man, he had them now in his pocket for on the way thither from town he had mat a courier bearing letters from Comyn to King Edward, urging the absolute necessity of his instant death or imprisonment. This man he slew, on the principle "that dead men tell no tales, and carry no messages;" and the fatal secret I in his possession presents us with a certain clue to the motive of a much more startling act which he perpetrated soon after.

The assembled nobles were astonished at his sudden apparition among them; and, doubtless, much more was Comyn. Bruce made no secret of his purpose, though the Judas was present. He declared that he was come to live and die amongst them in defence of his country and its liberties; to wipe from the Scottish name the shame which it endured from the tyranny of the usurper, and to wash it away in the blood of their oppressor. He pointed to the mountains which had defended them from the Romans, and would still defend them from every attempt on their homes and rights. He reminded them of the fate of Wallace, and bade them assure themselves that the same fate inevitably awaited them, if they did not scorn to live the life of dogs, or were not determined to drive the implacable tyrants from the land.

Certain that this harangue, which electrified the whole assembly, would be transmitted without delay to London, he followed Comyn, on the dissolution of the party, into the cloisters of the Minorites at Dumfries, and ran him through the body. Hurrying from the convent, he cried, "To horse!" and Sir Roger Kirkpatrick, one of his attendants, seeing him greatly agitated, demanded whether the traitor was slain. "I doubt so," replied Bruce. "You doubt!" exclaimed Kirkpatrick; "I will make sure;" and so saying, he rushed into the monastery, stabbed the Comyn to the heart, and killed also his kinsman, Sir Robert Comyn, who strove to defend him. From this circumstance the Kirkpatrick family adopted the crest of a bloody hand holding a dagger, and the motto, "I make sicker."

The die was now cast. There was no retreat, no reconciliation after that terrible deed. Bruce called his staunchest friends hastily around him; they were few, but devoted spirits. The Bishops of St. Andrews and Glasgow, the Abbot of Scone, the four brothers of Bruce, his nephew Thomas Randolph, his brother-in-law Christopher Seton, and some ten or twelve young men, gathered at the call. Bruce new in various directions, exciting his countrymen to arms. He attacked and defeated the English, took some of their forts, and drove them from the open country.

Edward, on receiving this news, at once prepared to take signal vengeance on the insurgents, and this time to give the nation such a castigation as should effectually quell its spirit. Not waiting for his own slower movements, he sent on Aymer de Valence, the Earl of Pembroke, with a small army, to check the spread of the disaffection. He met with Bruce near Methven, in Perthshire, on the 19th of June, and falling on his forces by surprise, he put them utterly to the rout. Bruce was three times unhorsed in the battle, and escaped with the greatest clanger. His friends the Earl of Atholl, Simon Frazer, and Sir Christopher Seton, were taken prisoners and executed. Amongst the prisoners was also his nephew Randolph. His wife and his daughter Marjory having left the fortress of Kildrummie, were seized by the Earl of Ross in the sanctuary of St. Duthac, at Tain: the knights who attended them were put to death, and they themselves were sent to England, where they remained prisoners eight years. His brother Nigel, much beloved by the people, was compelled to surrender Kildrummie, and was also hanged and afterwards beheaded at Berwick, with many other knights and gentlemen. He himself with great difficulty made his escape into the mountains of Atholl, with about five hundred followers the sole remnant of the army with which he had hoped to redeem Scotland. For many months lie and this little band wandered amongst the hills in the utmost wretchedness, destitute of shelter, and often of food. A price was set upon their heads; their enemies, the Comyns, infuriated by the slaughter of their chief, and now in the ascendant as allies of England, pursued them with vindictive rage, driving them farther and farther into the labyrinth of the hills. On reaching the borders of Argyll, they encountered the Lord of Lorn, who had married an and of the Comyn, at the head of 1,000 men, and who occupied a narrow defile. A desperate conflict took place, and Bruce and his followers narrowly escaped extermination. Finally, Bruce found means to pass over to the Isle of Rachrine, on the north coast of Ireland.

Here was a reverse terrible and complete enough to have extinguished the hopes of all but a true hero. His forces defeated, destroyed, or dispersed his wife and daughter captive; his brother and most of his chief men taken and executed himself a fugitive the English, king still lord paramount in Scotland. All readers are familiar with the story of the spider which Bruce saw in a moment of his deepest depression - a moment when he was nearest to despair, and which rekindled his hope and ardour, by six times failing in its attempt to raise itself to the roof of the hut under which he lay, but accomplishing its object on the seventh essay. But it is not so generally known that such was his distress of mind, and the hardships he endured after the battle of Methven that he was affected by a scorbutic disorder, then styled leprosy. Mr. Train informed Sir Walter Scott that Bruce was, according to tradition, benefited by drinking the waters of a well about a mile north of the town of Ayr - thence called "King's Ease;" that, in grateful memory of this, and of the immortal hero of his time. Sir William Wallace, he built eight houses for lepers round the well, to whom and their successors he left stated allowance of oatmeal and 28, Scottish money, per annum; and that this institution remained so long as the family of Wallace existed there, when the property was purchased by the town of Ayr, and its proceeds devoted to the poor.

Whatever was the momentary despondency and misery of Bruce, he passed over from Rachrine early in the spring of 1307, in order to make one more effort for the expulsion of the English. His followers, on landing on the Carrick coast, near his ancestral castle of Turnberry, amounted only to 300; and he was there nearly betrayed by the unexplained lighting of a fire upon a hill, the very signal which he had agreed upon if it were safe to approach. As he drew near the landing-place, he was met by the information that the English were in full possession of Carrick, and Lord Percy, with a strong garrison, held Turnberry Castle. Bruce was thunderstruck at the intelligence; but making a sudden attack on a party of English that lay close at hand, he created a momentary panic, and, under advantage of that, made good his retreat into the mountains. The war became desultory and undecided; and two of Bruce's brothers, Thomas and Alexander, as they were bringing over a band of Irish adventurers to his assistance, were taken prisoners by Duncan M'Dowal, a chief of Galloway and, being conducted to King Edward, were instantly ordered for execution.

Fortune still continued to pursue Bruce. He could only preserve himself by hiding in the hills and wastes of Galloway, till, on the 10th of May, he succeeded at London Hill in completely defeating the Earl of Pembroke. Three days after, he again defeated the English under the Earl of Gloucester, and pursuing them to the castle of Ayr, there besieged them.

Meantime Edward had been advancing by slow marches northward. Though it is not distinctly stated by the historians, there is little doubt that his health was giving way at the time that he first received the news at Winchester. He had immediately sent off the Earl of Pembroke, and prepared to follow himself. He knighted his son, the Prince of Wales, with great pomp and ceremony, preparatory to his taking part in the expedition, who, in turn, knighted, on the 22nd of May, 270 young men of noble family. At the feast given on this occasion, in the Palace of Westminster, Edward made a solemn vow to God to avenge the death of Comyn, and punish the insurgent Scots; and at this time he conjured his son, and the whole company, in the event of his death, to keep his body unburied until this vow was accomplished. Thus he had the probability of death in his thoughts at the outset of this expedition, and he advanced in it with the tardiness of a sick man. While Bruce was spending the winter at Rachrine, he was passing it in severe illness at Lanercost. It was the commencement of July when he arrived at Carlisle, where the news of Bruce's fresh successes, and the defeat and close besiegement of his generals, had the effect of rousing his irritable temperament to a desperate effort. He threw aside the litter in which he had hitherto travelled, mounted his horse, and having reached, on the 7th of that month, the village of Burgh-upon-Sands, he sank completely exhausted, with his latest breath, and with a tenacity of purpose characteristic of the man, enjoining his successor, through the ministers who surrounded him, never to cease his efforts till he had thoroughly subjugated Scotland.

Thus terminated this remarkable man his remarkable career, in the sixty-ninth year of his age, and the thirty-fifth of his reign. Since the days of Richard I. there had been no martial monarch of equal bravery and ability; since those of the Conqueror, none who had the same genius for civil administration and the framing of laws and institutions which gave not only a character to his own times, but to the ages which came after him. Hume docs not hesitate to assert that "the enterprises of this prince, and the projects which he formed and brought near to a conclusion, were more prudent, more regularly conducted, and more advantageous to the solid interests of his kingdom, than those which were undertaken in any reign, either of his ancestors or successors." However we may be disposed to modify this praise in regard to what Edward actually carried out, there can be no question that his perception of the vast advantages which would result to every part of the island from its consolidation into one kingdom was evidence of a great and comprehensive genius; and the ardour, based on an indomitable spirit of perseverance, with which he pursued that great end, is equal evidence of a mind, not only of the clearest acumen, but of the loftiest qualities of human nature. He succeeded in winning to the English nation, and amalgamating with it for ever, the principality of Wales; and if he failed in effecting the annexation of Scotland, it was only through being actuated more by the military spirit of the times than by those moral and political influences which later generations have discovered to be the most prevailing. It was beyond the intellectual horizon of the age to aim at the union of the kingdoms by the careful demonstration of those greater mutual advantages, and of the infinitely expanded capabilities of glory and power to Britain, as a whole, which were applied successfully four centuries afterwards.

By seeking to accomplish the union of England and Scotland by the forces most familiar to the spirit of that era - that is, by the power of aims and numerical ascendancy - his scheme, grand and beneficent in itself, necessarily failed. The plan was premature; it existed in the nature of things, but it lacked that philosophical regard to national character and feeling, and that tone of mutual forbearance, which it required centuries yet to ripen. The rude idea of bearing down a brave and high-spirited people by armed power and arbitrary will necessarily irritated those on whom the attempt was made; and it then became a question of moral forces, and of the natural defences of the country, whether it should succeed. It succeeded in Wales, though after a brave resistance, because there was no proportion betwixt the extent and the physical resources of the two countries. It failed in Scotland, because the areas of the two contending kingdoms, though greatly unequal, were yet more approximate; and because the martial qualities and spirit of proud independence had been long fostered in Scotland by the arduous contests of different clans and parties. The Scotch were a hardy and an heroically brave people, with their magnificent mountains at their back; and, in their struggles with the ponderous power of England, discovered an invincible vigour, not only of resistance, but of resilience. Though hurled violently to the earth time after time, they rose, Antaeus-like, as if with augmented strength and freshness. While the two nations, therefore, heated by contest and the savage warfare of that age, learned to hate one another with a vigorous and long-continuing hatred, they learned also to know each other's strength, and inwardly to respect it. Therefore, after the battle of Bannockburn, English dreams of the subjugation of Scotland began to wane, and though there still were many and bloody wars between the two nations, there ceased to exist on either side the hope of conquest by mere force of arms.

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