Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. — John Adams

Story of the English - Helene Guerber




Bruce and the Spider

You remember, do you not, how Edward I. defeated

Robert Bruce? Although this brave man had been driven out of Scotland, he was not ready to give up. Several times he tried to win back his kingdom, and several times he failed. An interesting story is told of how he gained the courage to persevere so patiently.

He was lying in a poor thatch-roofed cottage one day, wondering whether he had not better cease all efforts. Suddenly his eye rested upon a spider which was weaving its web. It climbed away up to the roof, but before it could fasten its thread there, it lost its hold and fell to the ground. A moment later, he saw the spider climb up and try again. Nine times the insect fell; but at the tenth attempt the thread was fastened and the web woven.

Bruce, who had watched the nine failures, gladly saw the patient spider succeed, and declared that the little creature had taught him a good lesson, and that he too would persist, in spite of repeated disappointments, until he should triumph at last. So, instead of giving up, Bruce tried again, and soon found that his luck had turned.

He and his faithful followers took one castle after another, and every day their little force increased, until they could boast of an army. Some of the strongholds garrisoned by the English were taken by force, and others by strategy.

For instance, when the Scotch were very anxious to secure Linlithgow, they hid some of their men under a load of hay, and bade a farmer drive the cart for them. The castle gates were readily opened to admit the load of hay with its farmer driver. But the peasant pretended to be awkward, and turned the cart in such a way that the gates could not be closed. At that moment the hidden men sprang out, sword in hand; and as they were soon joined by their companions, who were hiding near there, they boldly attacked the garrison and took the castle.

The news of Bruce's earlier successes did not greatly trouble Edward; but when he heard that Stirling, the last great English fortress, would surrender if not succoured within a certain number of days, he set out for Scotland. He was at the head of an army of one hundred thousand men, while Bruce had only thirty thousand with whom to oppose him.

Nevertheless, knowing that a battle would be best, Bruce got ready to meet Edward. First he chose a good battle-field, and then he had his men dig pits which they covered with brush and grass, hoping that the English cavalry would tumble into them. Lastly, Bruce hid the camp followers and baggage wagons behind a hill, that they might not cause disorder in the ranks.

When all was ready, the Scots knelt in prayer, and the English army, coming up, fancied they were begging for mercy. An Englishman, impatient to strike the first blow, rushed forward on his battle steed before the signal was given, and attacked the Bruce. Although he had not yet mounted his war horse, and was riding a mere pony, Bruce boldly advanced, and, avoiding the Englishman's blow, cleft his skull in two with his battle-ax. The Scotch, who had trembled for the life of their king, now applauded him wildly, and, rushing forward, they fought with such courage that the English soon began to yield.

This advantage was no sooner gained than the Scotchmen managed to force the English cavalry towards the pits, where the fallen horses and riders increased the confusion. Just at this moment, either because they received the agreed-on signal or because they did not wish to miss their share of the plunder, the camp followers, who had supplied themselves with old armour and banners; came running over the hill.

When the Englishmen became aware of the approach of what they took for a fresh army, they broke ranks and fled. The Scotchmen pursued them, and we are told that they followed the fugitives ninety miles before stopping.

This victory of Bannockburn (1314) terrified the English soldiers so sorely that many years elapsed before they again dared face their brave neighbours in pitched battle. Edward barely escaped with his life, and the fortress which he had intended to rescue fell into the hands of the Scotch.

Robert Bruce was now sole master of Scotland. He tried to conquer Ireland also, but soon gave up the attempt, and, returning to Scotland, took Berwick. You can imagine how happy he was to become master of this city, when you hear that members of his family had been prisoners there many years, as well as some Scotch nobles who had helped him in the days of Edward I.

Robert Bruce now began to think of governing his kingdom wisely; but he was not to enjoy his triumph long, for he was already suffering from a very painful disease, the result of the many hardships he had endured. When he saw that his end was near, Robert I., King of Scotland, called his friends around him and gave them his last instructions for ruling the land he loved so well. Then, having attended to his public affairs, he said that he was sorry to die before he had visited the tomb of our Lord at Jerusalem, according to a vow he had once made.

As he could not go himself, he begged Douglas, his best friend, to have his heart cut out of his dead body, and, after it had been embalmed and put in a golden casket, to carry it to the Holy Land. We are told that these directions were carefully carried out when he had breathed his last, and that Douglas set out for Palestine.

But on the way thither, he and his followers stopped in Spain to help the Christians there in one of their battles against the Saracens. In the midst of the fray, Douglas flung the casket forward, crying, "Go ahead, thou Bruce, as was ever thy wont, and I will follow thee." Tradition relates that when the battle was over the dead body of Douglas was found beside the casket.

Melrose Abbey.
MELROSE ABBEY.


In spite of Bruce's last wish, his heart was then brought back to Scotland, where it was buried in Melrose Abbey. This building is now a picturesque ruin, which strangers love to visit.



Contents

Front Matter
Review

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
"Remember"
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee