Ten Great Events in History
By James Johonnot

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Drawing of the Mayflower
From the collection of the
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Chapter IV. Bruce and Bannockburn

1. Six hundred years ago the duty of defending freedom fell to King Robert Bruce and the Scotch. And this is how it happened. The time was during the crusades, when all Europe was marching to the East, and engaging in battle with the Moslems. Scotland had been an independent country for many years, but some of her princes were too weak for those troublous times. The witches that deceived Macbeth seem to have cast a spell upon the prosperity of the country. Clan was at enmity with clan, and one great chieftain waged relentless war with another. The fierce nobles paid little heed to the king, and showed no regard for the rights of the people. It seemed that peace and liberty had departed forever.

2. Alexander III died, leaving no direct heir. The Scottish nobles assembled to elect who should be their king. The choice lay between Robert Bruce and John Balliol. As the nobles could not agree, the matter was referred to King Edward I, of England, who decided in favor of Balliol. The new prince was weak, and, when he resented the interference of King Edward in some of his affairs, he was easily defeated and driven from the kingdom. Scotland was now regarded as a conquered country, and the people were terribly oppressed. The nobles were deprived of their estates, and the poor people were taxed to the verge of starvation. For fifteen years King Edward held on to his usurped power, while the weak king Balliol was wandering in foreign lands, paying no attention to the distracted state of his country.

3. At last the oppression became so great that conflicts took place almost daily between the Scotch peasants and the English soldiery. On one occasion, a young man named William Wallace was out a-fishing with a boy to carry the fish. Two or three English soldiers came along and insisted on taking the fish. Wallace offered to divide with them, but they insisted on taking the whole, when he flew in a rage, killed one with his fishing-pole, and, seizing a sword, put the others to flight. He then fled, and concealed himself in the mountains until the matter blew over. On another occasion he killed an Englishman who insulted him at a fair, and fled to his home, where he was pursued by the soldiers. He escaped by the back door, but the cruel English leader, Hazelrigg, put his wife and servants to death. From that time Wallace devoted himself to fighting the English. He soon collected a band of outlaws and attacked the English whereever he found a favorable opportunity. He soon had the satisfaction of killing Hazelrigg, and of capturing many important places.

4. The Scotch rose everywhere and joined Wallace, who soon found himself at the head of a formidable army. With this lie captured the English fortresses, and finally defeated the chief English army under Earl Warren. Scotland was now free, but the English king hastened back from Flanders to punish the Scotch. The battle of Falkirk was fought July 22, 1298, and the Scotch were entirely defeated. Wallace again became a fugitive, but was betrayed into the hands of Edward, and was beheaded and quartered, according to the barbarous custom of the times.

5. The eyes of all Scotland were now turned to Robert Bruce as the only remaining champion who would be likely to make head against the English, and he accepted the proffered leadership. His principal rival was a powerful noble called the Red Comyn, and with this rival Bruce sought to make friends. The two met in a church, and Comyn flatly refused to join the Scottish cause, but openly proclaimed his adherence to the English. A quarrel arose, and, in the excitement, Bruce stabbed Comyn. Almost paralyzed at his act, he rushed out of the house and called for his horse. His friends eagerly inquired what was the matter. “I doubt,” said Bruce, “that I have slain the Red Comyn." “Do not leave the matter in doubt,” said Kirkpatrick; “I will make it certain.” He and his companions then rushed into the church and soon dispatched Comyn with their daggers.

6. This deed is the one great blot upon the name of Bruce, and bitterly did he repent of his rashness. It called down upon his devoted head the anathema of the church for sacrilege in committing violence before the holy altar. It arrayed against him the kinsmen and friends of the Red Comyn, and it produced distrust in the minds of many true friends of Scotland, who could never have confidence in such an impetuous leader. Bruce made a vow that, if he succeeded in securing the freedom of Scotland, he would do penance for his crime by entering upon a crusade and fighting for the holy sepulchre.

7. On the 29th of March, 1306, Bruce was crowned king. His enemies immediately attacked and defeated him, and he was obliged to take refuge in the mountains of the Highlands. Here he was hunted like a wild animal, and was obliged to flee from one fastness to another. One of the most malignant of his enemies was Lord Lorn, a kinsman of the Red Comyn. At one time Bruce and his few followers were retreating through a narrow pass, when he was set upon by Lorn and a much superior force. Sending his followers ahead, he stopped his horse in the narrow way, and covered their retreat. Upon seeing the king thus alone, three powerful highlandmen–a father and two sons–set upon him, determined to kill him or take him prisoner for their master, Lord Lorn. Bruce struck the first man who came up and seized his bridle such a blow with his sword as to cut off his hand and free the bridle. The man bled to death. The other brother seized him by the leg and attempted to throw him from his horse. The king, setting spurs to the horse, made the animal spring forward so that the Highlander fell under the horse’s feet, and, as he endeavored to rise, the king cleft his head in two with his sword. The father, seeing his two sons thus slain, flew at Bruce and grasped him in his mantle so close to his body that he could not have room to wield his long sword. But with an iron hammer which hung at his saddle-bow, Bruce dashed out the brains of this new assailant. The dying man still clung to the king’s mantle, so that, to get free, Bruce was obliged to undo the brooch by which it was fastened, and leave it with the mantle behind. This brooch fell into the hands of Lorn, and was kept in the family for many generations as a memorial of Bruce.

8. But Bruce was soon reduced to greater straits, and, without followers, was obliged to conceal himself in stables and caves. In all his misfortunes he never gave up the cause of his country, and he sacredly devoted his life to the freedom of Scotland. After one of his defeats he was lying one night on a wretched bed in a rude hut, while debating in his own mind whether it were not best to enlist in a crusade, when his attention was directed to a spider on the rafters overhead. He saw that the little spinner was trying to swing from one rafter to another, so as to fix his thread across the space. Time and again it tried and failed. Admiring the perseverance of the creature, Bruce began to count the number of times he tried. One, two, three, four, five, six. It suddenly occurred to Bruce that this was just the number of times he had failed in his attempts against the enemy. He then made up his mind that if the spider succeeded in the next trial he would make one more endeavor to recover his kingdom, but if it failed he would start at once for Palestine. The spider sprang into the air, and this time succeeded, so the king resolved upon another trial, and never after met with a defeat.

9. Many a wild story is told of his feats of arms and hairbreadth escapes while he wandered about without a country. Sir Walter Scott, in his poem, “The Lord of the Isles,” records one of these legends. It is reported that, on one occasion, with his brother Edward and sister Isabel in a boat, he was driven by stress of weather to take refuge in one of the Hebrides upon the western coast, the home of Roland, the Lord of the Isles. It happened to be a festive occasion, a large assembly having met to celebrate the marriage of the Lord of the Isles with the sister of the Lord of Lorn. As Bruce entered the banquet-hall, Lorn recognized him:

  10. “Now, by Columba’s shrine I swear,
  And every saint that’s buried there,
  ’Tis he himself!” Lorn sternly cries;
  “And for my kinsman’s death he dies!"
  As loudly Roland calls, “Forbear!
  Not in my sight while brand I wear,
  O’ermatched by odds shall warrior fall,
  Or blood of stranger stain my hall!
  This ancient fortress of my race
  Shall be misfortune’s resting-place,
  Shelter or shield of the distressed,
  No slaughter-house of shipwrecked guest!"

  11. “Talk not to me,” fierce Lorn replied,
  “Of odds or match! When Comyn died,
  Three daggers clashed within his side!
  Talk not to me of sheltering hall,
  The church of God saw Comyn fall!
  On God’s own altar streamed his blood,
  While o’er my prostrate kinsman stood
  The ruthless murderer–e’en as now–
  With armèd hand and scornful brow!
  Up, all who love me! blow on blow,
  And lay the outlawed felons low!”


  12. Then waked the wild debate again,
  With brawling threat and clamor vain,
  Vassals and menials thronging in,
  Lent their brute rage to swell the din;
  When far and wide a bugle clang
  From the dark, ocean upward rang.
  “The abbot comes!” they cried at once,
  “The holy man whose favored glance
    Hath sainted visions known;
  Angels have met him on the way,
  Beside the blessed martyr’s bay,
    And by Columba’s stone.
  He comes our feuds to reconcile,
  A sainted man from sainted isle;
  We will his holy will abide,
  The abbot shall our strife decide!"

  13. The abbot on the threshold stood,
  And in his hands the holy rood;
  Back on his shoulders flowed his hood,
    The torch’s glaring ray
  Showed, in its red and flashing light,
  His withered cheek and amice white,
  His blue eye glistening cold and bright,
    His tresses scant and gray.
  “Fair lords,” he said, “our lady’s love,
  And peace be with you from above,
    And benedicite!
  But what means this? no peace is here!
  Do dirks unsheathed suit bridal cheer?
    Or are these naked brands
  A seemly show for churchman’s sight,
  When he comes summoned to unite
    Betrothed hearts and hands?"
  Then, cloaking hate with fiery zeal,
  Proud Lorn answered the appeal:
    “Thou comest, O holy man,
  True sons of blessed church to greet,
  But little deeming here to meet
    A wretch, beneath the ban
  Of pope and church, for murder done
  Even on the sacred altar-stone!
  Well may’st thou wonder we should know
  Such miscreant here, nor lay him low,
  Or dream of greeting, peace, or truce,
  With excommunicated Bruce!
  Yet will I grant, to end debate,
  Thy sainted voice decide his fate."

  14. Then Roland pled the stranger’s cause
  And knighthood’s oath and honor’s laws;
  And Isabel on bended knee
  Brought prayers and tears to back her plea;
  And Edith lent her generous aid,
  And wept, and Lorn for mercy prayed.

  15. Then Argentine, in England’s name,
  So highly urged his sovereign’s claim,
  He waked a spark, that, long suppressed,
  Had smoldered in Lord Roland’s breast;
  And now, as from the flint the fire,
  Flashed forth at once his generous ire.
  “Enough of noble blood,” he said,
  “By English Edward had been shed,
  Since matchless Wallace first had been
  In mockery crowned with wreaths of green,
  And done to death by felon hand,
  For guarding well his native land.
  Where’s Nigel Bruce? and De la Haye,
  And valiant Seaton–where are they?
  Where Somerville, the kind and free?
  And Fraser, flower of chivalry?
  Have they not been on gibbet bound,
  Their quarters flung to hawk and hound,
  And hold we here a cold debate
  To yield more victims to their fate?
  What! can the English leopard’s mood
  Never be gorged with Northern blood?
  Was not the life of Athole shed
  To soothe the tyrant’s sickened bed?
  Nor must his word, till dying day,
  Be  nought but quarter, hang, and slay?"

  16. “Nor deem,” said Dunnegan’s knight,
  “That thou shalt brave alone the fight!
  By saints of isle and mainland both,
  By woden wild–my grandsire’s oath–
  Let Rome and England do their worst;
  Rowe’er attainted and accursed,
  If Bruce shall e’er find friends again,
  Once more to brave a battle-plain,
  If Douglas couch again his lance,
  Or Randolph dare another chance,
  Old Torquil will not be to lack
  With twice a thousand at his back;
  Nay, chafe not at my bearing bold,
  Good abbot! for thou knowest of old,
  Torquil’s rude thought and stubborn will
  Smack of the wild Norwegian still
  Nor will I barter freedom’s cause
  For England’s wealth or Rome’s applause!"

  17. The abbot seemed with eye severe,
  The hardy chieftain’s speech to hear;
  Then on King Robert turned the monk,
  But twice his courage came and sunk,
  Confronted with the hero’s look;
  Twice fell his eye, his accents shook;
  At length resolved in tone and brow,
  Sternly he questioned him, “And thou
  Unhappy, what hast thou to plead,
  Why I denounce not on thy deed
  That awful doom which canons tell
  Shuts paradise and opens hell?
  Anathema of power so dread,
  It blends the living with the dead,
  Bids each good angel soar away,
  And every ill one claim his prey;
  Expels thee from the church’s care,
  And deafens Heaven against thy prayer;
  Arms every hand against thy life,
  Bans all who aid thee in the strife;
  Nay, each whose succor, cold and scant,
  With meanest alms relieves thy want;
  Haunts thee when living; and, when dead,
  Dwells on thy yet devoted head,
  Rends honor’s ’scutcheon from thy hearse,
  Stills o’er thy bier the holy verse,
  And spurns thy corpse from hallowed ground
  Flung like vile carrion to the hound;
  Such is the dire and desperate doom
  For sacrilege, decreed by Rome;
  And such the well-deserved meed
  Of thine unhallowed, ruthless deed."

  18. “Abbot!” the Bruce replied, “thy charge
  It boots me not to dispute at large;
  This much, howe’er, I bid thee know,
  No selfish vengeance dealt the blow,
  For Comyn died his country’s foe.
  Nor blame I friends whose ill-timed speed
  Fulfilled my soon-repented deed,
  Nor censure those from whose stern tongue
  The dire anathema has rung.
  I only blame my own wild ire,
  By Scotland’s wrongs incensed to fire.
  Heaven knows my purpose to atone,
  Far as I may, the evil done,
  And bears a penitent’s appeal,
  From papal curse and prelate zeal.
  My first and dearest task achieved,
  Fair Scotland from her thrall relieved,
  Shall many a priest in cope and stole
  Say requiem for Red Comyn’s soul,
  While I the blessèd cross advance,
  And expiate this unhappy chance
  In Palestine, with sword and lance.
  But, while content the church should know
  My conscience owns the debt I owe,
  Unto de Argentine and Lorn
  The name of traitor I return,
  Bid them defiance, stern and high,
  And give them in their throats the lie!
  These brief words spoke, I speak no more,
  Do as thou wilt; my shrift is o’er."

  19. Like man by prodigy amazed,
  Upon the king the abbot gazed;
  Then o’er his pallid features glance
  Convulsions of ecstatic trance.
  His breathing came more thick and fast,
  And from his pale-blue eyes were cast
  Strange rays of wild and wandering light;
  Uprise his locks of silver white,
  Flushed is his brow, through every vein
  In azure tides the currents strain,
  And undistinguished accents broke
  The awful silence e’er he spoke.

  20. “De Bruce, I rose with purpose dread
  To speak my curse upon thy head,
  And give thee as an outcast o’er
  To him who burns to shed thy gore;
  But like the Midianite of old
  Who stood on Zophin, heaven-controlled,
  I feel within my aged breast
  A power that can not be repressed.
  It prompts my voice, it swells my veins,
  It burns, it maddens, it constrains!
  De Bruce, thy sacrilegious blow
  Hath at God’s altar slain thy foe;
  O’ermastered, yet by high behest,
  I bless thee, and thou shalt be blest!"
  He spoke, and o’er the astonished throng
  Was silence, awful, deep and long.
  Again that light has fired his eye,
  Again his form swells bold and high,
  The broken voice of age is gone,
  ’Tis vigorous manhood’s lofty tone
  “Thrice vanquished on the battle-plain,
  Thy followers slaughtered, fled, or ta’en,
  A hunted wanderer on the wild,
  On foreign shores a man exiled,
  Disowned, deserted, and distressed,
  I bless thee, and thou shalt be blessed
  Blessed in the hall and in the field,
  Under the mantle as the shield.
  Avenger of thy country’s shame,
  Restorer of her injured name,
  Blessed in thy scepter and thy sword,
  De Bruce, fair Scotland’s rightful lord,
  Blessed in thy deeds and in thy fame,
  What lengthened honors wait thy name!
  In distant ages, sire to son
  Shall tell the tale of freedom won,
  And teach his infants, in the use
  Of earliest speech, to falter Bruce.
  Go then, triumphant! sweep along
  Thy course, the theme of many a song!
  The power, whose dictates swell my breast,
  Hath blessed thee, and thou shalt be blessed!”

21. With the faithful islanders Bruce remained for some months, while his friends were making preparations for a rising upon the mainland. At last the time came, and Bruce, at the head of a little force, landed in the night and surprised and captured a castle held by the Lord of Lorn. Holding this as a basis of operations, the king and his principal followers, Douglas and Randolph, went out in different directions to arouse the people against their English oppressors, and to raise forces of sufficient strength to risk their cause in battle. This was a matter of great hazard, as every movement of the Scotch was closely watched by the enemy, and, when any one was suspected of opposing the English rule, he was at once imprisoned and probably executed. The patriots were obliged to move with great caution, and often to secrete themselves in the fastnesses of the mountains or in the lonely huts of the peasants. Blood-hounds were employed to track the fugitives, and it is related that Lorn at one time followed Bruce with a blood-hound that had once been his own. The king, seeing that he was followed by a large body of soldiers, divided his men into three separate parties, hoping to throw the hound off the track. The blood-hound, when he came to the point of separation, would not even notice the two other divisions, but followed that of the king. Finding his last expedient had failed, Bruce ordered his whole party to disperse, keeping with him only his foster-brother as an attendant. When Lorn discovered the party had broken up, he sent five of his men who were speedy on foot to follow the king and put him to death. They ran so fast that they soon gained sight of Bruce and his companion. The two turned upon the five men of Lorn, who came up one by one, exhausted with running, and put them all to death.

22. By this time Bruce was much fatigued, but he dared not stop to rest, for he could hear every moment the deep bay of the hound. At length they came to a wood through which ran a small stream of water. Into the stream they waded and followed it for a long distance; the blood-hound followed the track to the water, but he could trace the scent no farther, and Lorn gave up the chase. But Bruce’s adventures were not at an end. After resting themselves in the woods, the two set out to find some human habitation, or to fall in with some party of their friends. In the midst of the forest they met three men who looked like ruffians. “They were well armed, and one of them bore a sheep on his back, which it seemed he had just stolen. They saluted the king civilly, and he, replying to their salutation, asked them where they were going. The men answered that they were seeking for Robert Bruce, for they intended to join him. The king answered that, if they would go with him, he would conduct them where they could find the Scottish king. Then the man who had spoken changed color, and Bruce, who looked sharply at him, began to suspect that the ruffian guessed who he was, and that he and his companions had some design against his person, in order to gain the reward which had been offered for his life.

23. “So he said to them, ’My good friends, as we are not well acquainted with each other, you must go before us, and we will follow near to you.’ ’You have no occasion to suspect any harm from us,’ said the man. ’Neither do I suspect any,’ said Bruce, I but this is the way it, which I choose to travel.’

24. “The men did as he commanded, and thus they traveled till they came to a waste and ruinous cottage, where the men proposed to dress down part of the sheep which they were carrying. The king was glad to hear of food, but he insisted that two fires should be kindled, one for himself and foster-brother at one end of the cottage, the other at the other end for the three companions. The men did as he desired. They broiled a quarter of the mutton for themselves, and gave another to the king and his attendant. They were obliged to eat it without bread or salt; but, as they were very hungry, they were glad to get food in any shape, and partook of it heartily.

25. “Then so heavy a drowsiness fell on King Robert that he greatly desired to sleep. But, first, he desired his foster-brother to watch as he slept, for he had great suspicion of his new acquaintances. His foster-brother promised to keep awake, and did his best to so keep his word. But the king had not been long asleep ere his foster-brother fell into a deep slumber also, for he had under-gone as much fatigue as the king.

26. “When the three villains saw the king and his attendant were asleep, they made signs to each other, and, rising up, at once drew their swords with the purpose to kill them both. But the king slept but lightly, and, as little noise as the traitors made in rising, he was awakened by it, and, starting up, drew his sword and went to meet them. At the same moment he pushed his foster-brother with his foot to awaken him, and he started up; but, ere he got his eyes cleared to see what was about him, one of the ruffians that were advancing to slay the king killed him with the stroke of a sword. The king was now alone–one man against three, and in the greatest danger of his life; but his amazing strength, and the good armor which he wore, freed him from this great danger, and he killed the men one by one.

21. “King Robert was now alone, and he left the cottage very sorrowful for the death of his foster-brother, and took himself in the direction toward where he had directed his men to ensemble after their dispersion. It was now near night, and, the place of meeting being a farm-house, he went boldly into it, where he found the mistress, an old true-hearted Scotchwoman, sitting alone. Upon seeing a stranger enter, she asked him who and what he was. The king answered that he was a traveler, who was journeying through the country. ’All travelers,’ answered the good woman, ’are welcome here for the sake of one.’ ’and who is that one,’ said the king, ’for whose sake you make all travelers welcome?’ ’It is our lawful King Robert the Bruce,’ answered the mistress, ’who is the rightful lord of this country; and, although he is now pursued and hunted after with hounds and horns, I hope to live to see him king over all Scotland.’

28. “’Since you love him so well, dame,’ said the king, ’know that you see him before you. I am Robert the Bruce.’ ’You!’ said the good woman in great surprise; ’and wherefore are you thus alone? Where are all your men?’ ’I have none with me at this moment,’ answered the Bruce, ’and therefore I must travel alone.’ ’But that shall not be,’ said the brave old dame, ’for I have two stout sons, gallant and trusty men, who shall be your servants for life and death!’ So she brought her sons, and, though she well knew the danger to which she exposed them, she made them swear fealty to the king; and they afterward became high officers in his service.” Now the loyal old woman was getting everything ready for the king’s supper, when suddenly there was a trampling of horse heard around the house. They thought it must be some of the English or John of Lorn’s men, and the good wife called upon her sons to fight to the last for King Robert. But, shortly after, the voices of James of Douglas and of Edward Brute, the king’s brother, were heard, who had come with a hundred and fifty horsemen to this farm-house, according to the instructions of the king when they parted.

“Robert the Bruce was right joyful to meet his brother and faithful friend Lord James, and had no sooner found himself at the head of such a considerable body of followers, than, forgetting hunger and weariness he began to inquire where the enemy who had pursued him so long had taken up their quarters; ’for,’ said he, ’as they must suppose we are totally scattered and fled, it is likely they will think themselves quite secure, and disperse themselves into distant quarters, and keep careless watch.’

“’That is very true,’ answered James of Douglas; ’for I passed a village where there are two hundred of them quartered who had placed no sentinels; and, if you have a mind to make haste, we may surprise them this very night.’ Then there was nothing but mount and ride; and, as the Scots came by surprise on the body of the English whom Douglas had mentioned, and rushed suddenly into the village where they were quartered, they easily dispersed and cut them to pieces; thus doing their pursuers more injury than they themselves had received during the long and severe pursuit of the preceding day.”

On another occasion Bruce, with sixty men, was wandering in the county of Galloway, awaiting the gathering of forces. Now the people of Galloway are mostly friendly to the Lord of Lorn, and a large number of them collected, determined to capture him. They felt sure of the success of their enterprise, as they had a blood-hound to track the king, and had such superior numbers.

33. “Now Bruce, who was always watchful and vigilant, had received some information of this party to come upon him suddenly in the night. Accordingly, he quartered his party of sixty men on the farther side of a deep and swift-running river, that had very steep and rocky banks. There was but one ford by which this river could be crossed in the neighborhood, and that ford was deep and narrow, so that two men could scarcely get through abreast; the bank on which they were to land on the other side was steep, and the path that led upward from the water’s edge extremely narrow and difficult.

34. “Bruce caused his men to lie down and sleep, at a place about half a mile distant from the river, while he, with two attendants, went down to watch the ford, and thinking how easy the enemy might be kept from passing there, providing it was bravely defended–when he heard the distant baying of a hound, which was always coming nearer and nearer. This was the blood-hound which was tracing the king’s steps to the ford where he had crossed, and the two hundred Galloway men were along with the animal and guided by it. Bruce thought of going back to awaken his men; but then he thought it might be some shepherd’s dog. ’My men,’ said he, ’are sorely tired; I will not disturb them by the barking of a cur till I know something more of the matter.’

35. “So he stood and listened; and, by and by, as the cry of the hound came nearer, he began to hear the trampling of horses, and the voices of men, and the ringing and clattering of armor; and then he was sure the enemy were coming to the river-side. Then the king thought, ’If I go back to give my men the alarm, these Galloway men will get through the ford without opposition, and that would be a pity, since it is a place so advantageous to make a defense against them.’ So he looked again at the steep path and the deep river, and he thought it gave him so much advantage that he could defend the passage with his own hand until his men came to assist him. His armor was so good and strong that he had no fears of their arrows, and therefore the combat was not so very unequal as it must have otherwise seemed. He therefore sent his followers to waken his men, and remained alone on the bank of the river.

36. “In the meanwhile the noise and the trampling of the horses increased, and, the moon being bright, Bruce saw the glancing arms of about two hundred men, who came down to the opposite bank of the river. The men of Galloway, on their part, saw but one solitary figure guarding the ford, and the foremost of them plunged into the river without minding him. Bruce, who stood high above them on the bank where they were to land, killed the foremost man with a thrust of his long spear, and with a second thrust stabbed the horse, which fell down, kicking and plunging in his agonies, on the narrow path, and so preventing the others from getting out of the river. In the confusion five or six of the enemy were slain, or, having been borne down the current, were drowned in the river. The rest were terrified, and drew back.

37. “But, when they looked again and saw only one man, they themselves being so many, they cried out that their honor would be lost forever if they did not force their way; and encouraged each other with loud cries to plunge in and assault him. But by this time the king’s soldiers came up to his assistance, and the Galloway men retreated and gave up their enterprise.”

38. These successes of Bruce inspired great confidence, and he soon found himself at the head of a formidable force. With this he marched up and down the country, and compelled the English to keep strictly within their castles and fortified places; and even several of these were captured. King Edward I, of England, heard of these successes of Bruce with astonishment and rage. Though old and sorely diseased, he raised a large army and marched for the north; but he had scarcely crossed the Scottish border when his physician informed him that he had but a few hours to live. He immediately called his son to his bed-side, and made him swear that he would push forward this expedition against the Bruce; and he died cursing the whole Scotch people. He even gave direction that his body should be boiled, and that his bones, wrapped in a bull’s hide, should be carried at the head of the army as often as the Scots attempted to recover their freedom.

39. Edward II was a weak prince, neither so wise nor so brave as his father. He marched a little way on to Scotland, but, having no great liking for war, he turned and marched back into England. He disregarded his father’s injunction about the disposition of his bones, but took them back to London, and deposited them in Westminster Abbey.

40. From this time the cause of Bruce was a succession of victories. During the winter and spring one English fortress after another surrendered, until there only remained the strong castle of Stirling held by the English power. This castle was besieged, and Sir Philip Mowbray, the commander, agreed to surrender it if it was not reinforced by the English before midsummer. Then came a cessation of hostilities, and a period of rest for the Scots. King Edward had made no arrangement to again interfere in Scottish affairs. But now, when Sir Philip Mowbray, the governor of Stirling, came to London to tell the king that Stirling, the last Scottish town of importance which remained in possession of the English, was to be surrendered if it were not relieved by force of arms before midsummer, then all the English nobles called out, it would be a sin and shame to permit the fair conquest which Edward I had made to be forfeited to the Scots for want of fighting. It was, therefore, resolved that the king should go himself to Scotland with as great forces as he could possibly muster.

41. King Edward II, therefore, assembled one of the greatest armies which a king of England ever commanded. There were troops brought from all his dominions. Many brave soldiers from the French provinces which the king of England enjoyed in France; many Irish, many Welsh, and all the great English nobles and barons, with their followers, were assembled in one great army. The number was not less than one hundred thousand men.

42. King Robert the Bruce summoned all his nobles and barons to join him, when he heard of the great preparation which the king of England was making. They were not so numerous as the English by many thousand men. In fact, his whole army did not very much exceed thirty thousand men, and they were much worse armed than the wealthy Englishmen; but then Robert, who was at their head, was one of the most expert generals of the time, and the officers he had under him were his brother Edward, his nephew Randolph, his faithful follower the Douglas, and other brave and experienced leaders, who commanded the same men that had been accustomed to fight and gain victories under every disadvantage of situation and numbers.

43. The king, on his part, studied how he might supply, by address and stratagem, what he wanted in numbers and strength. He knew the superiority of the English both in their heavy-armed cavalry, which were much better mounted and armed than those of the Scots, and in the archery, in which art the English were better than any people in the world. Both these advantages he resolved to provide against. With this purpose, Bruce led his army down into a plain, near Stirling, called the Park, near which, and beneath it, the English army must needs pass through a boggy country, broken with water-courses, while the Scots occupied hard, dry ground. He then caused all the hard ground upon the front of his line of battle, where cavalry were likely to act, to be dug full of holes, about as deep as a man’s knee. They were filled with light brushwood, and the turf was laid on the top, so that it appeared a plain field, while in reality it was all as full of these pits as a honeycomb is of holes. He also, it is said, caused steel spikes, called calthrops, to be scattered up and down in the plain, where the English cavalry were most likely to advance, trusting to lame and destroy their horses.

44. When his army was drawn, the line stretched north and south. On the south it was terminated by the banks of the brook called Bannockburn, which are so rocky that no troops could come on them there. On the left the Scottish line extended near to the town of Stirling. Bruce reviewed his troops very carefully; all the useless servants and drivers of carts, and such like, of whom there were very many, he ordered to go behind a height called the Gillies’ Hill–that is, the Servants’ Hill. He then spoke to the soldiers, and expressed his determination to gain the victory or to lose his life on the field of battle. He desired that all those who did not propose to fight to the last would leave the field before the battle began, and that none would remain except those who were determined to take the issue of victory or death, as God should send it.

45. Burns has expressed Bruce’s sentiments in his fiery poem.

Bruce’s Address.

  46. Scots who have with Wallace bled,
  Scots whom Bruce has often led,
  Welcome to your gory bed
    Or to victory!
  Now’s the day, and now’s the hour;
  See the front of battle lower;
  See approach proud Edward’s power,
    Chains, and slavery!

  47. Who would be a traitor knave,
  Who would fill a coward’s grave,
  Who so base as be a slave,
    Let him turn and flee!
  Who for Scotland’s king and law,
  Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
  Freeman stand, or freeman fa’,
    Let him follow me!

  48. By oppressions, woes, and pains,
  By our sons in servile chains,
  We will drain our dearest veins,
    But they shall be free!
  Lay the proud usurper low
  Tyrants fall in every foe–
  Liberty at every blow;
    Let us do or die!

49. When the main body of his army was thus placed in order, the king posted Randolph, with a body of horse, near to the church of St. Mirau’s, commanding him to use the utmost diligence to prevent any succorers from being thrown into Stirling Castle. He then dismissed James of Douglas and Sir Robert Keith, the marshal of the Scottish army, in order that they might survey, as nearly as they could, the English force, which was now approaching from Falkirk. They returned with information that the approach of that vast host was one of the most beautiful and terrible sights which could be seen; that the whole country seemed covered with men-at-arms on horse and foot; that the number of standard banners and pennants made so gallant a show, that the bravest and most numerous host in Christendom might be alarmed to see King Edward moving against them.

50. It was upon the 23d of June, 1314, that the King of Scotland heard the news that the English army were approaching Stirling. He drew out his army, therefore, in the order which he had before resolved upon. After a short time, Bruce, who was looking out anxiously for the enemy, saw a body of English cavalry trying to get into Stirling from the eastward. This was the Lord Clifford, who, with a chosen body of eight hundred horse, had been detached to relieve the castle.

51. “See, Randolph,” said the king to his nephew, “there is a rose fallen from your chaplet.” By this be meant that Randolph has lost some honor by suffering the enemy to pass where he had been commanded to follow them. Randolph made no reply, but rushed against Clifford with little more than half his number. The Scots were on foot. The English turned to charge them with their lances, and Randolph drew up his men in close order to receive them. He seemed to be in so much danger that Douglas asked leave of the king to go and assist him. The king refused permission.

52. “Let Randolph,” he said, “redeem his own fault. I can not break the order of battle for his sake.” Still the danger appeared greater, and the English horse seemed entirely to encompass the small handful of Scottish infantry. “To please you,” said Douglas to the king, “my heart will not suffer me to stand idle and see Randolph perish. I must go to his assistance.” He rode off accordingly, but long before they had reached the place of combat they saw the English horses galloping off, many with their empty saddles.

53. “Halt!” said Douglas to his men. “Randolph has gained the day. Since we were not soon enough to help him in the battle, do not let us lessen his glory by approaching the field.” Now, that was nobly done, especially as Douglas and Randolph were always contending which should rise highest in the good opinion of the king and the nation.

54. The van of the English army now came in sight, and a number of their bravest knights drew near to see what the Scottish were doing. They saw King Robert dressed in his armor, and distinguished by a gold crown which he wore over his helmet. He was not mounted on his great war horse, because he did not expect to fight that evening. But he rode on a little pony up and down the ranks of his army, putting his men in order, and carried in his hand a short battle-axe made of steel. When the king saw the English horsemen draw near, he advanced a little before his own men, that he might look at them more nearly.

55. There was a knight among the English called Sir Henry de Bohun, who thought this would be a good opportunity to gain great fame to himself and put an end to the war by killing King Robert. The king being poorly mounted, and having no lance, Bohun galloped on him suddenly and furiously, thinking, with his long spear and his big strong horse, easily to bear him down to the ground. King Robert saw him and permitted him to come very near, then suddenly turned his pony a little to one side, so that Sir Henry missed him with the lance point, and was in the act of being carried past him by the career of his horse. But as he passed, King Robert rose up in his stirrups and struck Sir Henry on the head with his battle-axe so terrible a blow that it broke to pieces his iron helmet, as if it had been a nut-shell, and hurled him from his saddle. He was dead before he reached the ground. This gallant action was blamed by the Scottish leaders, who thought Bruce ought not to have exposed himself to so much danger when the safety of the whole army depended on him. The king only kept looking at his weapon, which was injured by the force of the blow, and said, “I have broken my good battle-axe.” This is the way Scott describes this incident in the “Lord of the Isles”:

  56. O gay yet fearful to behold,
  Flashing with steel and rough with gold,
    And bristled o’er with balls and spears,
  With plumes and pennons waving fair,
  Was that bright battle front! for there
    Rode England’s king and peers.

  57. And who that saw that monarch ride,
  His kingdom battling by his side,
  Could then his direful doom foretell;
  Fair was his seat in knightly selle,
  And in his sprightly eye was set
  Some sparks of the Plantagenet.
  Though bright and wandering was his glance,
  It flashed at sight of shield and lance.
  “Knowest thou,” he said, “De Argentine,
  Yon knight who marshals thus their line?"

  58. “The tokens on his helmet tell
  The Bruce, my liege; I know him well."
  “And shall the audacious traitor brave
  The presence where our banners wave?"
  “So please my liege,” said Argentine,
  “Were he but horsed on steed like mine,
  To give him fair and knightly chance,
  I would adventure forth my lance."

  59. “In battle-day,” the king replied,
  “Nice tourne rules are set aside;
  Still must the rebel dare our wrath!
  Set on him–sweep him from our path!"
  And, at King Edward’s signal, soon
  Dashed from the ranks Sir Edward Bohun!

  60. Of Hereford’s high blood he came,
  A race renowned for knightly fame;
  He burned before his monarch’s eye
  To do some deed of chivalry.
  He spurred his steed, he couched his lance,
  And darted on the Bruce at once.
  As motionless as rocks, that bide
  The wrath of the advancing tide,
  The Bruce stood fast; each breast beat high,
  And dazzled was each gazing eye;
  The heart had hardly time to think,
  The eyelid scarce had time to wink,
  While on the king, like flash of flame,
  Spurred to full speed, the war-horse came!
  The partridge may the falcon mock,
  If that slight palfrey stand the shock;
  But, swerving from the knight’s career,
  Just as they met, Bruce shunned the spear;
  Onward the baffled warrior bore
  His course–but soon his course was o’er!
  High in his stirrups stood the king,
  And gave his battle-axe the swing.
  Right on De Bohun, the whiles he passed,
  Fell that stern dint–the first–the last!
  Such strength upon the blow was put,
  The helmet crushed like hazel-nut,
  The axe-shaft, with its brazen clasp,
  Was shivered to the gauntlet grasp.
  Springs from the blow the startled horse,
  Drops on the plain the lifeless corse;
  First of that fatal field, how soon,
  How sudden fell the fierce De Bohun!

  61. One pitying glance the monarch shed
  Where on the field his foe lay dead;
  Then gently turned his palfrey’s head,
  And, pacing back his sober way,
  Slowly he gained his own array.
  There round their king the leaders crowd
  And blame his recklessness aloud,
  That risked ’gainst each adventurous spear
  A life so valued and so dear.
  His broken weapon’s shaft surveyed
  The king, and careless answer made
  “My loss must pay my folly’s tax–
  I’ve broke my trusty battle-axe”

62. The next morning, being the 24th of June, at break of day the battle began in terrible earnest. The English as they advanced saw the Scots getting into lines. The Abbot of Inchaffray walked through their ranks barefooted, and exhorted them to fight for their freedom. They kneeled down as he passed, and prayed to heaven for victory. King Edward, who saw this, called out: “They kneel down; they are asking forgiveness.” “Yes,” said a celebrated English baron, called Ingelram de Umphraville, “but they ask it from God, not from us; these men will conquer, or die upon the field.” The English king ordered his men to begin the battle. The archers then bent their bows, and began to shoot so closely together that the arrows fell like flakes of snow on a Christmas-day.

    63. Upon the right, behind the wood,
    Each by his steed, dismounted, stood
      The Scottish chivalry;
    With foot in stirrup, hand on mane,
    Fierce Edward Bruce can scarce restrain
    His own keen heart, his eager train,
    Until the archers gain the plain;
    Then “Mount ye gallants free!"
    He cried; and, vaulting from the ground,
    His saddle every horseman found.
    On high their glittering crests they toss,
    As springs the wild-fire from the moss;
    The shield hangs down on every breast,
    Each ready lance is in the rest,
      And loud shouts Edward Bruce:
    “Forth, marshal! on the peasant foe
    We’ll tame the terrors of their bow,
      And cut the bow-string loose!"

  64. Then spurs were dashed in chargers’ flanks,
  They rushed among the archer ranks.
  No spears were there the shock to let,
  No stakes to turn the charge were set,
  And bow shall yeoman’s armor slight,
  Stand the long lance and mace of might?
  Or what may their short swords avail,
  ’Gainst barbed horse and shirt of mail?
  Amid their ranks the chargers spring,
  High o’er their heads the weapons swing,
  And shriek and groan and vengeful shout
  Give note of triumph and of rout!
  Awhile, with stubborn hardihood,
  Their English hearts the strife made good;
  Borne down at length on every side,
  Compelled to flight, they scatter wide.
  Let stags of Sherwood leap for glee,
  And bound the deer of Dallorn-Lee!
  The broken bows of Bannock’s shore
  Shall in the greenwood ring no more!
  Round Wakefield’s merry May-pole now,
  The maids may twine the summer bough,
  May northward look with longing glance
  For those that went to lead the dance,
  For the blithe archers look in vain!
  Broken, dispersed, in flight o’erta’en,
  Pierced through, trod down, by thousands slain,
  They cumber Bannock’s bloody plain!

65. The fine English cavalry then advanced to support their archers, and to attack the Scottish line. But coming over the ground which was dug full of pits the horses fell into these holes, and the riders lay tumbling about, without any means of defense, and unable to rise, from the weight of their armor. The Englishmen began to fall into general disorder; and the Scottish king, bringing up more of his forces, attacked and pressed them still more closely.

66. On a sudden an event happened which decided the victory. The servants and attendants on the Scottish camp bad been sent behind the army to a place called Gillies’ Hill; but now, when they saw that their masters were like to gain the day, they rushed from their place of concealment with such weapons as they could get, that they might have their share in the victory and in the spoil. The English, seeing them come suddenly over the hill, mistook the disorderly rabble for a new army coming up to sustain the Scots; and, losing all heart, began to shift every man for himself. Edward himself left the field as fast as he could ride, and was closely pursued by Douglas, with a party of horse, who followed him as far as Dunbar, where the English had still a friend in the governor, Patrick, Earl of Mans. The earl received Edward in his forlorn condition, and furnished him with a fishing skiff, or small ship, in which he escaped to England, having entirely lost his fine army, and a great number of his bravest nobles.

67. The English never before or afterward lost so dreadful a battle as that of Bannockburn, nor did the Scots ever gain one of the same importance. Many of the best and bravest of the English nobility and gentry lay dead on the field; a great many more were made prisoners, and the whole of King Edward’s immense army was dispersed or destroyed.

68. Thus did Robert Bruce arise from the condition of an exile, hunted with blood-bounds like a stag or beast of prey, to the rank of an independent sovereign, universally acknowledged to be one of the wisest and bravest kings who then lived. The nation of Scotland was also raised once more from the state of a distressed and conquered province to that of a free and independent state, governed by its own laws, and subject to its own princes; and although the country was, after the Bruce’s death, often subjected to great loss and distress, both by the hostility of the English and by the unhappy civil wars among the Scots themselves, yet they never afterward lost the freedom for which Wallace had laid down his life, and which King Robert had recovered no less by his wisdom than by his weapons. And therefore most just it is that, while the country of Scotland retains any recollection of its history, the memory of these brave warriors and faithful patriots ought to be remembered with honor and gratitude.

69. In 1328, fourteen years after the battle of Bannockburn, peace was concluded between England and Scotland, in which the English surrendered all pretension to the Scottish crown. King Robert was now fifty-four years old, and he prepared to enter upon a crusade in accordance with his vow, and in expiation of his offense of slaying the Red Comyn. But, being smitten with a fatal disease, he directed Lord James, of Douglas, upon his death, to take his heart and carry it to Palestine, in fulfillment of his vow. Douglas accepted the sacred trust, and encased the heart in silver, and hung it about his neck. On his way to the Holy Land he turned aside to help the Spaniard in a campaign against the Moors. In one battle, being sorely beset, he flung the heart of Bruce into the midst of the enemy, and followed it up with the war-cry of the Douglas, which had so often cheered to victory among his native hills. At every step a Moslem bit the dust until he reached the spot where his master’s heart had fallen. Here he was slain by the numbers which pressed in on every side, and he was found with his body still in the attitude of guarding the heart. The body of Lord James, together with the heart, were returned to Scotland The precious relic–the last that remained of the Bruce, the greatest of Scottish kings–was deposited in Melrose Abbey, where it remains to-day a sacred shrine for every Scotchman, and for every lover of liberty. Rarely in the history of man has the prediction of the old abbot been so literally fulfilled:

“I bless thee, and thou shalt be blest!”


Preface  •  Chapter I. Defense of Freedom By Greek Valor  •  Chapter II. Crusades and the Crusaders  •  Chapter III. Defense of Freedom in Alpine Passes  •  Chapter IV. Bruce and Bannockburn  •  Chapter V. Columbus and the New World  •  Chapter VI. Defence of Freedom On Dutch Dikes  •  Chapter VII. The Invincible Armada  •  Chapter VIII. Freedom’s Voyage to America  •  Chapter IX. Plassey; and How An Empire Was Won  •  Chapter X. Lexington and Bunker Hill

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