Story of Robert Bruce - Jeanie Lang

King Robert of Scotland

All over England and Scotland, like fire on a heather moor, went the news of the slaying of Comyn.

When King Edward heard it, his rage was very great. The Bruce had escaped him. He had slain the man who had betrayed him to the king. More than that, he and his followers had gone from the church of the Greyfriars to the castle of Dumfries, had turned out the English garrison, and had put a Scottish one in its place.

From Lochmaben Castle the Bruce called on the men of the Scottish borders, and on his friends in every part of the land, to come and help him to fight for a country and a crown.

And there was one man who joined him then, who, of all the friends Bruce ever knew, was the truest and the best.

Sir James Douglas was the son of Sir William Douglas, who was Governor of Berwick when it was sacked by the English. For years Sir William was a prisoner in chains, his lands were all taken from him, and in 1298 he died in the Tower of London.

Sir James was a tiny boy when the siege of Berwick took place, and his uncle, Lord Keith, was a father to him while his own father lay imprisoned in the Tower. The boy got his schooling at Glasgow, and in France, and was "the most complete and best accomplished young man in all Scotland or in any other land." We know him now as "the Good Lord James," but while he lived he was known and feared as "the Black Douglas." His dark hair and eyes won for him his name. He was tall and slim and pale. In company he was always sweet and gentle, talking with a little lisp. "When he was blythe, he was lufly" (they did not spell it "lovely" then), one old chronicler tells us, and he also tells us that, although he was so gentle and courteous and true that all men loved him, yet in battle his fearlessness made him a terrible enemy. From France he came to Scotland to be page to his kinsman, Bishop Lamberton of St. Andrews.

The bishop took him to see King Edward, and asked the king to restore to Douglas his father's lands and to give him a place at Court.

"I have given the lands to better men than you," said Edward roughly, "and had they not been given, still you should not have had them. I have no service for the sons of traitors." With a bitter heart Sir James went back to St. Andrews.

As soon as he heard that Bruce had slain Comyn, he rode off in haste to join him. In a lonely pass of Upper Tweeddale the Bruce, riding from Lochmaben to Glasgow, met and welcomed to his service the young knight, who never to his life's end bowed the knee to any king save Robert, King of Scots. With not more than forty followers they rode on to Glasgow, where the Bishop of Glasgow joyfully welcomed Bruce as the man who was to fight for Scotland's freedom and to be Scotland's king.

From Glasgow Bruce went to Scone, the place where all the kings of Scotland were crowned.

The Stone of Destiny was in England, and there were no royal robes and no crown for the new king.

A golden, coronella was hastily made, and the Bishop of Glasgow provided robes and a banner of the arras of the Scottish kings that he had had long concealed in his treasury.

It had always been the right of the earls of Fife to place the crown on a new king's head, but the ear1 of Fife served the King of England. Down from her castle in the north, a great retinue with her, came the Earl of Fife's sister, the Countess of Buchan. Her husband was a Comyn, but she cared for nothing but to do honour to the man who was to make Scotland a free country.

Robert the Bruce, then thirty-one years old, was crowned King of Scotland on March 27, 1306. Three bishops, one abbot, and three earls were the only great people of the land who were there to say "God save the King!"

But by his side he had his four sturdy brothers, the Black Douglas, his nephew Randolph, and a handful of other brave knights who were ready to draw their swords for their king and their country.

"Henceforth," said King Robert to his wife, "thou art Queen of Scotland, and I king."

"Alas!" she answered, "we are but King and Queen of the May! such as boys crown with flowers and rushes at the summer sports."

A king with a title and nothing else was the Bruce when the coronation was over.

King Edward, in the same fury of rage that made him massacre the people of Berwick, punished the Bruce every way that lay in his power. He gave his lands to others. His earldom of Carrick he took from him, and the earls who stood by Bruce as he was crowned also had their earldoms taken away. The earldom of Lennox was given to the traitor who had sold William Wallace.

The Earl of Buchan wished to kill his wife for crowning the Bruce, but Edward had for her a harder punishment. She was imprisoned, like a dangerous animal, in a huche, or iron cage, in a turret of Berwick Castle. Some chroniclers say that this cage dangled outside the walls for all the world to see. It seems more likely that the unhappy Countess was kept inside the walls, where no salt breezes from the North Sea could reach her, nor the song of the birds in the spring. There she died before the king she had crowned could set her free.

Edward was hunting in the New Forest when news of the Comyn's death reached him. From that day until he died, the Hammer of the Scots—as he called himself—hunted bigger game. He vowed he would conquer and humble the Scottish rebels, and punish without mercy "King Hobbe," as he scornfully nicknamed their king.

Such a conquest must have seemed an easy matter to Edward of England.

England was then, perhaps, the greatest power in Europe. Its navy ruled the seas. Its barons were united, and their followers were ready to fight and to die for them. The yeomanry helped to form a magnificent army—an army so strong, so brave, and so perfectly disciplined that not many years later it humbled France. Moreover, England was a very wealthy and prosperous country. The king knew that his treasuries could easily supply money enough to carry on a long war.

All these things were also known to Robert the Bruce. There was no army, no royal treasury behind King Robert. Yet, with only forty men at his back, he dared all.

In England Edward was scheming for Bruce's speedy overthrow. Orders were sent post haste to his generals in Scotland to have everything in train for war. More troops and more supplies were sent north. Edward was a great general as well as a great king, and it was not long ere his armies were ready to destroy Bruce and his little following.

At Whitsuntide a great feast was held at Westminster, when the Prince of Wales was knighted, along with 300 young noblemen.

It was then that King Edward swore a mighty oath. "By God and the swans" (emblems of faith and purity) he vowed that all the rest of his life should be spent in avenging the murder of Comyn, in hunting the Bruce and his followers to their death, and in breaking the spirit of rebellious Scotland.

At St. Paul's Cathedral a ceremony also took place for the humbling of Bruce. In a solemn service, where candles were lighted by the priests and then put out, Robert Bruce and three other knights were condemned for evermore as being the most wicked of sinners.

When the boggy lands of Scotland were golden with marsh buttercups, and when birds were singing in bracken and birch, an English army met with Bruce and his men in the woods of Methven in Perthshire.

The English outnumbered the Scots by 1500, and Bruce was taken by surprise.

A fierce fight took place, and Bruce led his men with splendid courage. Three times was a horse slain under him, and once he was taken prisoner, but the man who captured him was a Scottish knight who generously let him go. The grass grew red with the blood of brave men, and of all who fought there none fought more bravely than the Scottish king—

"So hard and heavy dints he gave

That where he came they made him way."

But vainly he fought, vainly rallied his men. The English were so strong that the Scots had to flee before them. Many brave knights were taken prisoners, and to them Edward showed no mercy. Some were hanged, some beheaded, one—the bravest of all—met with an even more cruel death, and his head was placed beside that of Wallace on London Bridge.

After this defeat, the common people did not dare to own the Bruce as their king. His only followers were a few trusty friends. With them, hiding in woods and on lonely mountain sides, he wandered northwards. Their clothes and shoes were sadly rent and worn by the time they reached Aberdeen.

"We are but King and Queen of the May," his wife had said at Scone.

What she had said now seemed to be true. All women whose husbands had fought for the Bruce were to be punished, commanded King Edward, and so the queen and her little daughter Marjory, Bruce's two sisters, and many other women joined Bruce at Aberdeen. An English army followed them there, and then they "took to the heather " with Bruce and his men.

Bruce's youngest brother, Nigel, though he was but a boy, took the ladies specially under his care. But the one who served them best of all was the Black Douglas. While they hid in woods and on moors and hills where the English with their heavy horses could not follow them, it was Douglas who was best at tracking and slaying the red deer for their food. His skillful hands made nets and rods and caught salmon, trout, eels, and even—when they were hard pressed—minnows. And ever he was so gay, so brave, and so sure that in the end all must go well, that he always brought comfort and hope to the Bruce's heart.