Story of Robert Bruce - Jeanie Lang

How Edward II and Robert the Bruce Did their Campaigning

Leaving blackened moors and woods and smoking ruins behind him, Bruce marched southwards.

In those days Scotland was thickly studded with castles—most of them sturdy little grey peel towers, perched upon rocks—and within a year of Edward I.'s death, Bruce had destroyed 137 of them.

It was then only the Scottish cathedrals and a few castles belonging to very great lords that were large and beautiful. The towns consisted mostly of wooden buildings. Many of the churches were made of oak and thatched with straw. Even the bridges were wooden, and the hovels of the peasantry were built of turf and twigs, so that it was easy for a conqueror to burn down the towns and villages that fell before him.

Bruce's army always travelled light. No heavy baggage waggons with rich stock of wines and provisions lumbered after them, keeping them from hastening onwards. Each man had behind his saddle a little sack of oatmeal, a "girdle," or flat iron plate upon which to bake himself oat-cakes, and some strips of dried flesh, like the biltong of the Boers. If their stock of meat gave out, they killed some of the black cattle, or sheep, or pigs they came upon, or the red deer of the hills, or, it might be, the oxen that then drew ploughs and waggons, and roasted them in their skins. For drink they had the pure water of the burns and rivers. The English kings with their great retinue were as sorely handicapped by these light horse-men as the Britons were by the Boers a few years ago, when the war in South Africa first began. The English took with them all the means for turning a campaign in an enemy's country into a prolonged picnic. In 1300 Edward I. brought his own nets and fishermen to Scotland to supply his royal table.

Aberdeen fell before the Bruce, and Forfar Castle. Perth was less easily taken.

In chill winter weather Bruce laid siege to it, but its walls were strong, and it was well defended.

For six weeks "bickerings " went on between the besieged and besiegers. Then, amidst the jeers of the garrison, Bruce marched his men away. His general's eye had seen that open assault would never take the town, and he had noted well the point where the defence was weakest.

On the eighth night after they left, under cover of darkness, Bruce and his men came back again.

Carrying scaling-ladders, they made for the part of the moat that Bruce's quick eye had noticed.

With his lance shaft Bruce sounded the moat until he found a place where the water was only throat-high. It was an icy bath for a January night, and a dangerous one, but in he plunged, carrying a ladder with him. A French knight in his company crossed himself for wonder at the sight. "What shall we say of our lords of France!" he exclaimed, "when a king of such chivalry as this—

"'In such peril has him set

To win a wretched hamlet!'"

With that he leapt into the moat after the king. The king's men quickly followed. They plunged into the water up to their necks, put up their ladders, and scaled the walls. The sentinels were taken unawares. The Scots, pouring into the town, soon had the sleeping, or sleepy, garrison at their mercy. They slew only a few men, but they tumbled down walls and towers, took much rich booty of arms and merchandise, and marched away to further victories.

Early in the same year the Bruce's castle of Lochmaben became his own once more, and the other castles of Annandale soon fell before him.

The Black Douglas was also winning victories. One night he came to a house on Lyne Water in Tweeddale, meaning to shelter there until morning with his men. He found other armed men there before him. As he stood by the window he could clearly hear what they said, and knew one voice to be that of Thomas Randolph, the Bruce's nephew.

Randolph had fought for his uncle when Bruce's warfare first began, but was taken prisoner at Methven. To save his head he then joined the English, and since then had helped John of Lorn and many another to hunt and harry the Bruce.

The Douglas signed to his men to surround the house. Ere those inside could grip their swords, the door was burst open, and the slogan of "A Douglas! a Douglas!" told them into whose hands they had fallen. There was a fierce fight. In the darkness some men escaped, but Randolph was one of the prisoners taken.

When Randolph was brought before the king, "You have been unfaithful to me for some time," said the Bruce, "but now you must be my friend again."

Randolph was as hot-tempered as he was brave, and he rudely answered his uncle.

"You challenged the King of England to open warfare!" he said, "and yet you stoop to unknightly tricks."

"Since you speak so rudely and with such proud words," said the Bruce quietly, "it will be well for you to go to prison until you have learned how to behave."

So to prison Randolph went for a time. But it was not long before the Black Douglas had a rival in brave and daring deeds, gladly and fearlessly done for the king by his trusty knight, Sir Thomas Randolph.

In Galloway Edward Bruce was winning fights. One by one the English garrisons were driven out, until thirteen castles had been taken by Edward Bruce. Before the end of the year 1308 the Border land was almost all won to King Robert.

In 1309, when March winds were blowing shrewdly down the passes in the western hills, the Bruce came to grips with his old enemy, John of Lorn.

Lorn now stationed his force of 2000 men on a steep hillside, just above the narrow gorge where the waters of Loch Awe rush down the Pass of Brander. He himself stayed in his boat on Loch Etive. Round a spur of Ben Cruachan, in the rear of the men of Lorn, Bruce sent Douglas and a company of archers. With the rest of his men he entered the Pass. They were met by a hail of arrows from the enemy, and by a murderous storm of great stones, sent crashing down the hillside upon them. But quickly the Bruce's little army charged up the hill—as Scottish regiments since have charged at Alma and Dargai—and soon were fighting hand to hand with the men of Lorn. Then, from the mountain above them, came the ringing cry, "A Douglas! a Douglas!" and Douglas and his archers bore down on the enemy from the rear. Many a clansman lay on the hillside that day, sleeping never to wake. Those who could rushed to a bridge over the Awe, but the bridge was won by Bruce's men. The men of Lorn were slain or drowned. John of Lorn had to make for the sea in his galley, while his country was wasted by the king he had tried to hunt to his death.

Later on in the year, Bruce took Dunstaffnage Castle at Oban, the stronghold of Lorn's clan, and John of Lorn had to fly to England, and never had a home in Scotland again.

While Bruce and his men were driving their foes before them, Edward of England was feebly deciding on ways of treating Scotland, and as feebly changing his mind. Robert the Bruce had friends. Edward had favourites, and his selfish love of pleasure made him do just as these men—especially one man named Piers Gaveston—wished.

In September 1310 he at length resolved to invade Scotland, and marched across the Border, by way of St. Boswells and Selkirk, as far as Linlithgow.

It was a bad year for campaigning. In Scotland famine had wrecked the land, and horse-flesh was being used for food.

In front of the invading army, with its cumbrous following of all the luxurious things that Edward wanted, went Bruce and his force of light horse and hardy infantry. They "lifted" all the cattle they came to, like the Border raiders of later days, and drove them before them, so that no fresh beef was to be found to supply King Edward and his forces.

From every side they seemed ready to fall on the great army. A party of Welsh and English, supported by cavalry, went out to forage and to plunder. From an ambush Bruce and his men suddenly appeared, slew three hundred of the Southerners, and vanished again.

A hungry winter of hardships and dangers spent out of England was not at all to King Edward's mind. Without any fighting he came from Linlithgow to Berwick-on-Tweed, where at least there were always salt herrings—the chief food of garrisons in these days—to be had for his men, and where Flemish and English boats could keep him supplied with luxuries. He wintered there, and then returned to England.

Hardly had he gone, than Bruce crossed into Northumberland by the lonely Rede Valley. He did not slay men nor burn houses, but his army drove a great booty of cattle in front of them when they rode home, and the people of Northumberland had to own themselves conquered. Two thousand pounds was thankfully paid by them for a six months' truce.

Later on he sacked Durham, while Douglas, marching further afield, sacked Chester. Money flowed into the Bruce's coffers, paid by the people of counties and towns who were glad to purchase peace with him. Berwick, the "key of Scotland," he knew would be useful to him, and on a December night in 1312, when the east wind must have been blowing chill from the grey North Sea, he tried to take it. He had some ladders cleverly made of ropes, with wooden steps, and iron hooks to grip the top of the wall. Two of these were up without the sentries noticing, and Berwick would have been the Bruce's that night, had not a dog—he must have been an English terrier—barked so loud that he roused the garrison.

During the year 1313 three Scottish castles which had been English strongholds were taken by the Scots. By his skill and bravery the Black Douglas took Roxburgh. Edinburgh Castle fell before Randolph, and to a gallant farmer, named Bunnock, fell the honour of taking Linlithgow.

The stories of how these castles fell are three of the finest tales that ever were written, but for them you must go to an old poet named Barbour, or to Sir Walter Scott. There is no room for them in this little book.