Story of Robert Bruce - Jeanie Lang

How the War Between England and Scotland Began

"Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves!

Britons never, never, never will be slaves!"

Do you know that song, you English boys and girls? and do you ever think, when you hear it, that not so very many hundreds of years ago there was no such kingdom as the kingdom of Great Britain? Or do you remember that before the country of Britain became the kingdom of Great Britain, Scotland had to fight for her freedom, and, with the blood of her people, win it from the king who ruled over England?

This is the story of how Scotland fought and won. And before we begin the story of Robert the Bruce, who led Scotland safely through those evil days, we must first learn something about how the war between England and Scotland began.

For nearly seven centuries the English and Scottish kings had quarrelled over certain pieces of land. These were mostly in the "Debateable Land," as it is still called, that lies on either side of the Tweed and the Cheviots, and where still, in many parts, only the wail of the curlews and the tinkle of mountain burns break the stillness of the lonely hill and moorland.

Because England was a much richer land than Scotland, and because its people had ceased to be savage long before the people of the north land, each succeeding king of England also thought that the Scottish king should be his "man"—that is, that he should own him to be his overlord and master.

In the thirteenth century a king called Edward I. sat on the English throne.

If you, who read this story, should be an English girl or boy, you will probably have learned that Edward I. was one of the wisest and bravest kings that England ever knew.

But should you be a Scottish girl or boy, it is more likely that you may believe that Edward I. of England was one of the most cruel, most greedy, and most unjust kings that ever wore a crown.

Had we lived in Scotland in the days of Wallace and of Bruce, it must have been impossible to think anything else. We must have hated the English as the Boers hated the British a short time ago; as the Japanese hated the Russians; as one nation has, from the beginning of time, always hated the nation with which it was at war. And we must have hated the king who ruled England just as much as English boys and girls then, and English men and women, hated the man they called "The Wicked Wallace."

But now that we Scotch and English are one nation under one king, we are able to look back and see that Edward I. was truly a very great king and a very wise one, and that he was one of the strongest men that ever held the English sceptre. Far, far ahead of his own time he looked, and saw how good a thing it would be to have, instead of four countries always at war, one great kingdom, the Great Britain of to-day, in which should reign peace and prosperity.

But instead of bringing peace to his own country and to Scotland, it was Edward who brought about the war which ended in Scotland gaining her freedom.

For the lands held by the English kings in France they rendered homage to the French king.

For those lands held by them in England the Scottish kings did the same to the English king.

But in England the English king, and in Scotland the Scottish king, owned no master.

In England the King of Scotland was on the same footing as the English barons, and was ready to fight against foreign kings for the King of England if need arose.

This was exactly what the kings of England had never thought enough.

Edward I. had not long come to the throne before he began to claim more than merely his allegiance for his English lands from Alexander of Scotland.

At Westminster, in 1278, Alexander did homage for the lands he held in England—"saving my own kingdom."

The Bishop of Norwich interrupted him. "And saving the right of my lord, King Edward, to homage for your kingdom," said the bishop.

"I own my kingdom direct from God," proudly answered the Scottish king.

On a stormy night in March 1286, Alexander III. met his death by falling over a steep cliff on the Fife coast. His two sons died before him. His daughter, the Queen of Norway, was also dead.

And Scotland was left with no one to rule her but a motherless baby girl of three, the Princess Margaret, whose father was king of the land that in Scotland they called "Noroway owre the faem."

Edward of England lost no time in making up his mind what he had best do now, to gain Scotland for himself and for future kings of England. He arranged a marriage between the little queen and his son Edward, Prince of Wales, a boy only fourteen years old.

The marriage must take place in England, he said, and when Princess Margaret was six years old, he sent what was then called "a great ship" from Yarmouth to Norway to fetch the little bride.

It was like a ship in a fairy tale, richly furnished, and loaded with all the sweetmeats and good things that the wise English king knew that little girls liked. There were sugar—then thought a rare and delicious thing in England—walnuts, figs, and raisins, and 28 lbs. of gingerbread.

But the ship came home without her.

It was on a Norwegian ship that, a few months later, she left her snowy hills, and blue fjords, and great pine forests, and sailed away to Scotland to be its queen.

But she never got further than the bleak Orkney Islands.

Just when the land over which she was to reign was seen, a faint blue line in the south, the little maid sickened and died.

It was a sad ship that sailed again across the sea, and took home a little dead queen to lie in her own north land.

She had reigned four years, six months, and seven days.