Story of Robert Bruce - Jeanie Lang

The Heart of Bruce

It was easy for Edward II. to see that he could never be the Bruce's master. And so, where force of arms failed, he thought he might call in another power to his aid.

You remember that when Bruce killed the Red Comyn, the Pope excommunicated him. That is, the Pope said that Bruce had committed a sin so great that he could no longer belong to the Roman Church, and that any one who punished him would be doing a good deed.

Edward now turned to the Pope, and begged him to command Bruce to keep the peace.

This command the Pope at once gave. For two years, he said, no Scot nor Englishman must meet in battle. Those who dared to fight would be cursed by him.

Letters giving this command to Bruce were brought to him from France by two cardinals.

They were addressed to "Robert Bruce, governing in Scotland."

The cardinals did not enjoy their mission. On the Border they were stopped by English reivers, who took their precious papers from them, stole their clothes, and let them go on half-naked to Scotland.

When, at last, they reached the court, the Bruce received them most courteously.

They handed him the letters.

"To Robert Bruce," he read.

Then, very politely, but with a twinkle in his keen blue eyes, he said—

"Amongst my barons who help me to govern Scotland there are several called Robert Bruce. These letters may probably be meant for one of them, and I therefore cannot open them. The only letters I open are those addressed to me, and my title is King of Scotland."

The cardinals tried to make excuses and explanations.

When they had done, the king said, quite affably, "Had you dared to carry letters so addressed to any other king, you might have had a harsher answer."

The cardinals then begged him to keep the two years' truce, as commanded by the Pope. "To that I cannot consent without the consent of my Parliament," said the king, "especially not when my people are daily troubled and harried by the English."

He then graciously bade them farewell, and the cardinals had to go away, their letters undelivered.

A Minorite priest of Berwick was next sent to tell Bruce and all the Scottish priests and bishops that the Pope had proclaimed the truce, and that he must be obeyed. At Old Cambus, not far from Berwick, he found the Bruce with an army, making ready to besiege the town.

"Were the letters he brought addressed to the King of Scotland?" asked the Bruce.

The friar had to own that they were not, and was told he might go about his business.

On his way back to Berwick he was fallen upon by "four ill-favoured ones," who robbed him of his clothes and all else that he had, tore up his letters, and allowed him to go on to the old town by the sea, a naked and miserable friar.

In Berwick the people were near starvation, for the Scots were too near for supplies of food to reach the garrison. The governor was a rude and haughty Englishman, and the burghers had come to hate him.

A burgess of Berwick, named De Spalding, feeling that anything was better for the town than starvation under the harsh rule of an insolent bully, got word to Bruce that he would help him to take it.

One night, when Spalding was on guard, a party of Scots under Douglas and Randolph scaled the walls at a place of which Spalding had told them, and very soon the town of Berwick was in Scottish hands.

With the help of a gallant Flemish sea-rover, named John Crab, who might have been at the head of Woolwich Arsenal or the Elswick Works had he lived now, the Bruce armed it very thoroughly.

Furious at the loss of Berwick, Edward II. came in 1319 with a great army and laid siege to it. With him he had a great movable mine, called a "sow." In this men could be brought safely up to the walls and then spring forth to the attack.

As the sow came near the walls, a stone from a great engine that John Crab himself managed smashed it into pieces.

"The sow has got little pigs!" laughed the Scots, as they shot the English soldiers who were trying to clamber out of the ruins.

The garrison was much outnumbered, but every one fought gallantly. Women and children carried arrows for the bowmen.

It was time to distract Edward's attention from Berwick-on-Tweed.

Off to the north of England rode Randolph and Douglas and their men, burning and plundering as they went.

At Myton, near York, an English archbishop brought an army of 4000 to check them.

But with ease the Scots routed this force, driving it in such confusion before them that many were drowned in the river Swale. So many priests and bishops were present at this defeat, that for ever after it was known as "The Chapter of Myton."

The news of this defeat reached Edward as he besieged Berwick. In terror lest the Scottish light horse might do still greater harm in England if they were not checked, he raised the siege and hastened to the south. The boys and girls who carried arrows for their fathers must have shouted for glee when they saw the banners with the three golden leopards set in red disappearing over the crest of the hill above Tweed-mouth.

In 1320 the Scottish nation drew up a letter which they sent to the Pope.

From its earliest days, they said, Scotland had been a free country. It had enjoyed peace and liberty and the Pope's protection until Edward I., "in the guise of a friend and ally," had invaded and oppressed their land. Their king, Robert the Bruce, had freed them from the tyranny of England, but, said they, "should even he wish us to become thralls to England, we would refuse to obey him. While there exist a hundred of us, we will never submit to England."

To this letter the Pope gave some attention, and the result was a short truce between the two countries.

In March 1322, however, the two nations were again fighting as fiercely as before.

In August of that year Edward marched northward.

The Bruce had no wish to have another Bannockburn. He preferred to starve out the English troops, and let hunger drive them home, without any shedding of blood.

For many miles on the line of march every head of cattle, every sack of corn, everything that the invading army could use for food, was driven or carted out of reach.

To the Archbishop of Canterbury Edward wrote that he "found neither man nor beast." At Tranent, in East Lothian, a foraging party at length came upon one lame cow.

"Certes, it is the dearest beef I ever saw yet," said one of Edward's generals, "for it must have cost 1000 and more."

Storms kept the English ships from landing provisions. The English troops began to suffer from famine and disease.

After three dreary days spent in Edinburgh, waiting for ships which contrary winds drove away from the port of Leith, Edward was forced to beat a retreat.

Before going he sacked Holyrood, and on his way south he revenged himself on the Bruce by sacking and burning the beautiful abbeys of Melrose and Dryburgh. At Melrose he slew a sick monk and two lay brethren, and mortally wounded many monks.

Douglas, who followed in the rear of the retreating army, had a fierce skirmish at Melrose with the English light horse. He defeated them, but had too few men to prevent the holy things of the abbey from being stolen or desecrated and the monks from being slain.

A couple of months later Edward was punished for the mischief he had done. Crossing the Solway, Bruce marched into England, plundering and burning the towns and monasteries he passed on his way.

At Byland Abbey, in Yorkshire, Edward and his army were encamped.

When they heard of the advance of the enemy they took up their places on "a craggy brae," which the Scots must pass ere they came to Byland. When the Scots advanced, Douglas saw an adventure after his own heart, and got leave to storm the hill, Randolph leaving his own command and going with him as a volunteer.

Up the cliff path dashed the Scots and their two leaders. They were met by great boulders, crashed down from the heights, and by a hot fire of arrows. Yet those who did not fall held on their way until they could come to grips with their foes. Then came a fierce fight, and the Bruce, seeing that his men were greatly out-numbered, sent up a reinforcement of men from Argyll and the Isles. The sturdy clansmen did not keep to any path, but swarmed up the crags as though they were stalking deer in their forests and mountains by the western sea.

Before the attack, the English army "ran before the Scots like hares before greyhounds," writes one of their own historians.

Amongst the prisoners taken by the Douglas were certain French knights. They were brought before the Bruce.

"I well understand," said he, with gracious courtesy, "that chivalry could not permit you to be in England and not break a lance in the cause of the king whose guests you were. As friends I welcome you here."

Free of ransom, and with handsome gifts, he sent them back to France. Instead of the money for their ransom he gave Douglas a grant of lands, held on "The Emerald Charter," sealed by the gift of a magnificent emerald ring.

The Earl of Richmond, who had once used insulting words about him, Bruce treated less gently.

"Wert thou not such a caitiff," said Bruce, "dearly shouldst thou pay for what thou hast said." He seemed to pay fairly dearly in any case, for he lay in prison for many a long day till he bought his freedom for 220,000.

In spring of the next year Randolph was sent on a mission to the Pope at Avignon.

The Pope at last consented to give Bruce his well-won title of King of Scotland, and Bruce, in his turn, consented to a thirteen years' truce with England.

In March 1324 a son was born to Robert the Bruce—David, who was afterwards King of Scotland.

Edward of England saw fading away from him altogether the hope that one day the Plantagenets might reign over Scotland. The Bruce was firm on his throne, and now had a son to succeed him.

A few years later Edward II. was a king no longer. He was deposed, and afterwards barbarously murdered, and his son, Edward III., a boy of fifteen, reigned in his stead.

With the beginning of Edward III.'s reign came the breaking of the truce between England and Scotland.

Randolph and Douglas, with many ill deeds to avenge, marched across the Border, raiding and burning. Against them came the little English king on his first campaign. It was a campaign of failure and disappointment for him.

He burst into tears when he had to go home to his mother, feeling that he had only been mocked at by the Bruce's men.

While Randolph and Douglas fought in England, the Bruce was in Ireland, leading a campaign which failed through the treachery of the Irish.

But the Bruce's fighting days were very nearly over.

Those hard years, when he was hunted and starved, and through wet and bitter weather had no right place to lay his head, had told even on the iron frame of the King of Scots.

A terrible disease called leprosy came upon him, and his courage now had to be used to bear illness and pain.

But he was never one to think of himself. Even now he was full of plans for the good of the country he loved so much.

He built many strong castles, and he started the navy of which Scotland stood so much in need.

He made his home chiefly at Cardross on the Clyde, and there kept "a great ship," which we should now probably call a yacht, and sailed much round the western coast. Sometimes he would revisit some of the lonely islands and glens where he had hidden from the English. He hawked and hunted and farmed, and in his castle he had a goldsmith's workshop. His royal pet was a lion. Its food cost 6, 13s. 4d. a year, and for its cage he paid 1, 13s. Amongst the old accounts of the Scottish kings we also find one from the Bruce's gardener of Is. 6d. for seeds.

In 1325 the Bruce found time to make careful arrangements for the rebuilding of Melrose Abbey, which the English had destroyed.

In 1327 the Bruce's wife died, and in 1328 the peace between England and Scotland had a visible seal put upon it by the marriage of Prince David of Scotland—"young Davy," as an old chronicler calls him—with Princess Joanna, King Edward's little sister.

Robert the Bruce


The bridegroom was four and the bride six, and great and gorgeous were the wedding feasts and rejoicings at Berwick-on-Tweed.

The Bruce himself was too ill to come to the wedding, but the prince brought his pretty little bride home with him, and "the king made them fair welcoming," we are told.

"The Treaty of Northampton," which arranged for this marriage, gained every point for which Bruce had striven so long. In the same year the Pope removed his sentence of excommunication, and the King of England no longer wrote of "the rebel, Robert de Brus, lately Earl of Carrick." He was now, in letters from Edward III., "the magnificent Prince Sir Robert, by the grace of God, King of Scots, his dearest friend."

In March 1329 the Bruce paid a last visit to Galloway, the country of his old adventures, and the Black Douglas returned with him to Cardross. The two true friends knew that it must be their last journey together. For so grave had the Bruce's illness become, that, as Froissart tells us, "there was no way with him but death."

In those last weeks of his life, the Bruce set in order his own affairs and those of his kingdom, and arranged in every possible way for the welfare of his son and of his subjects.

When death was drawing near, he called the Black Douglas to him and said to him before all the lords—

"Sir James, my dear friend, ye know well that I have had much ado in my days to uphold and sustain the right of this realm; and when I had most ado I made a solemn vow, the which as yet I have not yet accomplished, whereof I am right sorry."

He went on to say that he had vowed that, once he had made an end of all his wars and brought peace to his kingdom, he would go to fight against the Saracens, "the enemies of Christ."

"To this purpose my heart hath ever intended," he said, "but our Lord would not consent thereto, for I have had so much ado in my days, and now my body cannot go nor achieve that my heart desireth."

Then he directed that on his death his heart should be taken from his body and embalmed, and he asked the Black Douglas, "mine own dear especial friend," that he would take it with him to Palestine, and carry it to the Holy Sepulchre.

"Ali, gentle and noble king," said the Douglas, with a sob that choked his voice, "a hundred times I thank you for the great honour that ye do me. With a glad heart, to the best of my power, will I do what you command, though indeed I am not worthy."

"I thank you, gentle knight, so that ye will promise to do it," said the Bruce.

"By the faith that I owe to God and to the order of knighthood, I will faithfully do it, sire," said Douglas.

"I thank you," again said the Bruce. "Now I can die in peace, for the best and bravest knight in any kingdom will do for me what I cannot do for myself."

On June 7, 1329, when the June mornings must have been making his thoughts go back to Bannockburn, the sufferings which the Bruce had borne so bravely came to an end.

"He was, beyond all living men of his day, a valiant knight," says one of the monks who chronicled the history of Scotland in long ago days.

From Cardross he made his last journey, past "the bonny banks of Loch Lomond," and was buried at Dunfermline, under a beautiful marble tomb made in Paris.

Two centuries later, Reformers wrecked the tomb, and in 1819 his body was found, wrapt in mouldering linen shot with gold, and was buried once again with honour.

The promise of the Black Douglas was one that had to be broken.

The heart, in a silver casket, cunningly enamelled, he bore round his neck by a string of silk and gold.

In February 1330 he set sail with a noble company for the Holy Land.

In Spain he stopped, hearing of a war between the Moors of Granada and the Spanish King of Castile. Feeling that, as a true knight, he could not pass on without drawing his sword for God and the right, against the hated Saracen, he halted there.

"Now shame it were," cried good Lord James,

"Shall never be said of me,

That I and mine have turned aside,

From the Cross in jeopardie!

Have down, have down, my merry men all—

Have down unto the plain; We'll let the Scottish lion loose

Within the fields of Spain!"

From the Spaniards he and his knights received a royal welcome.

There were few knights in Europe as famous as the good Lord James—most fearless, and yet most gentle of knights.

One famed Spanish warrior, his face scarred with many an old wound, looked with surprise at the Douglas's smooth brown face.

"Ye have been in so many fights," said he; "how comes this miracle, that you have escaped with never a scar?"

"Praise God," said Douglas, "I always had hands to defend my head."

On August 25, 1330, the Spanish army met the Moors in battle.

The advance was sounded, and the Douglas, mistaking it for a general attack, galloped forward with his men in furious charge.

"Allah! illah! Allah!" came the fierce cry from many Saracen throats.

"A Douglas! a Douglas!" shouted the men of the Border, the chivalry of Bruce's land.

It was a terrible fight. The Scots, with no backing from their Spanish allies, were outnumbered and surrounded by the men who were then the most dangerous fighters on earth.

Even then he might have escaped, but he saw his friend, Sir William St. Clair of Roslin, in danger of his life, and pressed forward to help him. On every side of him were the dark faces of the Saracens; around him his bravest men lay slain.

"Allah! Il! Allah!" triumphantly came the war-cry of the bloodthirsty host.

There was for him, as for the Bruce, "no way but death."

Taking the precious casket from his neck, he cast it before him where the fight was fiercest.

"Pass first in fight, as thou wert wont to do! he cried. "Douglas will follow thee or die!"

They found him lying dead on the field, where the slain were thickest, with the heart of the king he loved so well sheltered under his body.

In St. Bride's Church of Douglas the faithful knight now lies at rest.

Where the high altar once stood in Melrose Abbey, close to the murmuring Tweed, which no longer divides foe from foe, but friend from friend, rests the heart of the greatest king that Scotland ever knew.