The next day Archie, with Andrew Macpherson and Cluny Campbell, made their way through the woods until within sight of the castle, which was but a mile distant. The strongholds of the lords of Carrick stood on a bold promontory washed by the sea.
"It would be a hard nut to crack, Sir Archie," his lieutenant said. "Unless by famine, the place could scarce be taken."
"No," Archie replied, "I am glad that our mission is rather to capture the earl than his castle. It is a grand fortalice. Would that its owner were but a true Scotchman! This is a good place on which we are standing, Andrew, to place a scout. Among the trees here he can watch the road all the way from the castle to the point where it enters the forest. Do you, Cluny, take post here at once. Mark well all that passes, and what is doing, and all bodies of men who enter or leave the castle. There is no occasion to bring news to me, for it would be unlikely that we should meet in the forest; you have therefore only to watch. Tomorrow I shall return with the band, and encamp in the woods farther back. Directly we arrive, you will be relieved of your guard."
The following day the band moved up to a spot within half a mile of the seaward edge of the forest, and a few hundred yards from the road to Crossraguel Abbey. It was only on this road that Archie could hope to effect a capture; for the country near the coast was free of trees, and no ambush could be set. The lords of Carrick were, moreover, patrons of the abbey; and Bruce might ride over thither with but a small party, whereas, if journeying south, or southeast towards Douglasdale, he would probably be marching with a strong force. For several days they watched the castle; bodies of mounted men entered and departed. Twice parties, among whom ladies could be seen, came out with their hawks; but none came within reach of their lurking foes.
On the fifth morning, however, the lad on watch ran into the glade in which they were encamped and reported that a small body of seemingly two or three knights, with some ladies, followed by four mounted men, had left the castle and were approaching by the route towards the abbey.
Not a moment was lost. Archie placed six of his company, with pike and sword, close to the road, to form across it when he gave the order, and to bar the retreat of any party who had passed. Another party of equal strength he placed 100 yards further on, and with them himself took post; while he placed four, armed with bows and arrows, on either side, near the party which he commanded. Scarcely had his preparations been made when a trampling of horses was heard, and the party were seen approaching. They consisted of Robert Bruce, his brother Nigel, and three of his sisters—Isabel, Mary, and Christina. Behind rode four men-at-arms. From the description which he had heard of him Archie had no doubt that the elder of the two knights was Robert Bruce himself, and when they approached within thirty yards he gave a shout, and, with his band, with levelled spears, drew up across the road. At the same moment the other party closed in behind the horsemen; and the eight archers, with bent bows and arrows drawn to the head, rose among the trees. The party reined in their horses suddenly.
"Hah! what have we here?" Bruce exclaimed. "An ambush—and on all sides too!" he added as he looked round. "What means this? Are you robbers who thus dare attack the Bruce within a mile of Turnberry? Why, they are but lads," he added scornfully. "Rein back, girls; we and the men-at-arms will soon clear a way for you through these varlets. Nay, I can do it single handed myself."
"Halt! Sir Robert Bruce," Archie exclaimed in a loud clear voice. "If you move I must perforce give the word, and it may well be that some of the ladies with you may be struck with the arrows; nor, young though my followers may be, would you find them so easy a conquest as you imagine. They have stood up before the English ere now; and you and your men-at-arms will find it hard work to get through their pikes; and we outnumber you threefold. We are no robbers. I myself am Sir Archibald Forbes."
"You!" exclaimed Robert Bruce, lowering his sword, which he had drawn at the first alarm and held uplifted in readiness for a charge; "you Sir Archibald Forbes! I have heard the name often as that of one of Wallace's companions, who, with Sir John Grahame, fought with him bravely at the captures of Lanark, Ayr, and other places, but surely you cannot be he!"
"I am Sir Archibald Forbes, I pledge you my word," Archie said quietly; "and, Sir Robert Bruce, methinks that if I, who am, as you see, but yet a lad—not yet having reached my seventeenth year—can have done good service for Scotland, how great the shame that you, a valiant knight and a great noble, should be in the ranks of her oppressors, and not of her champions! My name will tell you that I have come hither for no purpose of robbery. I have come on a mission from Wallace—not sent thereon by him, but acting myself in consequences of words which dropped from him. He said how sad it was that you, who might be King of a Scotland free and independent, by the choice of her people, should prefer the chance of reigning, a mere puppet of Edward, over an enslaved land. He spoke in the highest terms of your person, and held that, did you place yourself at its head, the movement which he commands would be a successful one. Then I determined, unknown to him, to set out and bring you to him face to face—honourably and with courtesy if you would, by force if you would not. I would fain it shall be the former; but believe me, you would not find it easy to break away through the hedge of pikes now around you."
By this time the whole party had gathered round the horsemen. Bruce hesitated; his mind was not yet made up as to his future course. Hitherto he had been with England, since upon Edward only his chances seemed to depend; but latterly he had begun to doubt whether even Edward could place him on the throne in despite of the wishes of his countrymen. His sisters, who, taking after their mother, were all true Scotchwomen, now urged upon him to comply with Archie's request and accompany him to Lanark. Their hearts and wishes were entirely with the champion of their country.
"Go with him, Robert," Isabel, the eldest, exclaimed. "Neither I nor my sisters fear being struck with the arrows, although such might well be the case should a conflict begin; but, for your own sake and Scotland's, go and see Wallace. No harm can arise from such a journey, and much good may come of it. Even should the news of your having had an interview with him come to the ears of Edward, you can truly say that you were taken thither a captive, and that we being with you, you were unable to make an effort to free yourself. This young knight, of whose deeds of gallantry we have all heard"—and she smiled approvingly at Archie—"will doubtless give you a safeguard, on his honour, to return hither free and unpledged when you have seen Wallace."
"Willingly, lady," Archie replied. "One hour's interview with my honoured chief is all I ask for. That over, I pledge myself that the Earl of Carrick shall be free at once to return hither, and that an escort shall be provided for him to protect him from all dangers on the way."
The Council at Stirling
Archie had been mounted on the march from the camp, and his horse being now brought, he started with Bruce, young Nigel and the ladies saluting him cordially.
"I trust," the former said, "that Wallace will succeed in converting my brother. I am envious of you, Sir Archie. Here are you, many years younger than I am, and yet you have won a name throughout Scotland as one of her champions; while I am eating my heart out, with my brother, at the court of Edward."
"I trust it may be so, Sir Nigel," Archie answered. "If Sir Robert will but join our cause, heart and soul, the battle is as good as won."
The journey passed without adventure until they arrived within two miles of Lanark, where Archie found Wallace was now staying. On the road Bruce had had much conversation with Archie, and learned the details of many adventures of which before he had only heard vaguely by report. He was much struck by the lad's modesty and loyal patriotism.
"If ever I come to my kingdom, Sir Archie," he said, "you shall be one of my most trusted knights and counsellors; and I am well assured that any advice you may give will be ever what you think to be right and for the good of the country, without self seeking or in the interest of any; and that is more than I could look for in most counsellors. And now methinks that as we are drawing near to Lanark, it will be well that I waited here in this wood, under the guard of your followers, while you ride forward and inform Wallace that I am here. I care not to show myself in Lanark, for busy tongues would soon take the news to Edward; and as I know not what may come of our interview, it were well that it should not be known to all men."
Archie agreed, and rode into the town.
"Why, where have you been, truant?" Sir William exclaimed as Archie entered the room in the governor's house which had been set apart for the use of Wallace since the expulsion of the English. "Sir Robert Gordon has been here several times, and tells me that they have seen nought of you; and although I have made many inquiries I have been able to obtain no news, save that you and your band have disappeared. I even sent to Glen Cairn, thinking that you might have been repairing the damages which the fire, lighted by the Kerrs, did to your hold; but I found not only that you were not there yourself, but that none of your band had returned thither. This made it more mysterious; for had you alone disappeared I should have supposed that you had been following up some love adventure, though, indeed, you have never told me that your heart was in any way touched."
Archie laughed. "There will be time enough for that, Sir William, ten years hence; but in truth I have been on an adventure on my own account."
"So, in sober earnest, I expected, Archie, and feared that your enterprise might lead you into some serious scrape since I deemed that it must have been well nigh a desperate one or you would not have hidden it from my knowledge."
"It might have led to some blows, Sir William, but happily it did not turn out so. Knowing the importance you attached to the adhesion of the cause of Scotland of Robert the Bruce, I determined to fetch him hither to see you; and he is now waiting with my band for your coming, in a wood some two miles from the town."
"Are you jesting with me?" Wallace exclaimed. "Is the Bruce really waiting to see me? Why, this would be well nigh a miracle."
"It is a fact, Sir William; and if you will cause your horse to be brought to the door I will tell you on the road how it has come about."
In another five minutes Sir William and his young follower were on their way, and the former heard how Archie had entrapped Robert Bruce while riding to Crossraguel Abbey.
"It was well done, indeed," the Scottish leader exclaimed; "and it may well prove, Archie, that you have done more towards freeing Scotland by this adventure of yours than we have by all our months of marching and fighting."
"Ah! Sir William, but had it not been for our marching and fighting Bruce would never have wavered in his allegiance to Edward. It was only because he begins to think that our cause may be a winning one that he decides to join it."
The meeting between Wallace and Bruce was a cordial one. Each admired the splendid proportions and great strength of the other, for it is probable that in all Europe there were no two more doughty champions; although, indeed, Wallace was far the superior in personal strength while Bruce was famous through Europe for his skill in knightly exercise.
Archie withdrew to a distance while the leaders conversed. He could see that their talk was animated as they strode together up and down among the trees, Wallace being the principal speaker. At the end of half an hour they stopped, and Wallace ordered the horses to be brought, and then called Archie to them.
"Sir Robert has decided to throw in his lot with us," he said, "and will at once call out his father's vassals of Carrick and Annandale. Seeing that his father is at Edward's court, it may be that many will not obey the summons. Still we must hope that, for the love of Scotland and their young lord, many will follow him. He will write to the pope to ask him to absolve him for the breach of his oath of homage to Edward; but as such oaths lie but lightly on men's minds in our days, and have been taken and broken by King Edward himself, as well as by Sir William Douglas and other knights who are now in the field with me, he will not wait for the pope's reply, but will at once take the field. And, indeed, there is need for haste, seeing that Percy and Clifford have already crossed the Border with an English army and are marching north through Annandale towards Ayr."
"Goodbye, my captor," Bruce said to Archie as he mounted his horse; "whatever may come of this strife, remember that you will always find a faithful friend in Robert Bruce."
Wallace had, at Archie's request, brought six mounted men-at-arms with him from Lanark, and these now rode behind Bruce as his escort back to his castle of Turnberry. There was no time now for Archie and his band to take the rest they had looked for, for messengers were sent out to gather the bands together again, and as soon as a certain portion had arrived Wallace marched for the south. The English army was now in Annandale, near Lochmaben. They were far too strong to be openly attacked, but on the night following his arrival in their neighbourhood Wallace broke in upon them in the night. Surprised by this sudden and unexpected attack, the English fell into great confusion. Percy at once ordered the camp to be set on fire. By its light the English were able to see how small was the force of their assailants, and gathering together soon showed so formidable a front that Wallace called off his men, but not before a large number of the English had been killed. Many of their stores, as well as the tents, were destroyed by the conflagration. The English army now proceeded with slow marches towards Ayr. At Irvine the Scotch leaders had assembled their army—Douglas, Bruce, The Steward, Sir Richard Loudon, Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, and others. Their forces were about equal to those of the English marching against them. Wallace was collecting troops further north, and Archie was of course with him.
"I fear," the lad said one day, "that we shall not be able to reach Irvine before the armies join battle."
"Sir William Douglas and Bruce are there, and as it lies in their country it were better to let them win the day without my meddling. But, Archie, I fear there will be no battle. News has reached me that messengers are riding to and fro between Percy's army and the Scots, and I fear me that these half hearted barons will make peace."
"Surely that cannot be! It were shame indeed to have taken up the sword, and to lay it down after scarce striking a blow."
"Methinks, Archie, that the word shame is not to be found in the vocabulary of the nobles of this unhappy land. But let us hope for the best; a few days will bring us the news."
The news when it came was of the worst. All the nobles, headed by Wishart, Douglas, and Bruce, with the exception only of Sir Andrew Moray of Bothwell, had made their submission, acknowledging their guilt of rebellion, and promising to make every reparation required by their sovereign lord. Percy, on his part, guaranteed their lives, lands, goods, and chattels, and that they should not be imprisoned or punished for what had taken place.
Sir William Douglas and Bruce were ordered to find guarantees for their good conduct; but Sir William Douglas, finding himself unable to fulfil his engagements, surrendered, and was thrown into prison in Berwick Castle, and there kept in irons until he died, his death being attributed, by contemporary historians, to poison.
The surrender of the leaders had little result upon the situation. The people had won their successes without their aid, and beyond the indignation excited by their conduct, the treaty of Irvine did nothing towards ensuring peace, and indeed heightened the confidence of the people in Wallace. The movement spread over the whole of Scotland. Skirmishes and unimportant actions took place in all quarters. The English were powerless outside the walls of the fortresses, and in Berwick and Roxburgh alone was the English power paramount. Most of the great nobles, including Comyn of Buchan, Comyn of Badenoch, and twenty-six other powerful Scottish lords, were at Edward's court, but many of their vassals and dependants were in the field with Wallace.
About this time it came to the ears of the Scotch leader that Sir Robert Cunninghame, a Scotch knight of good family, who had hitherto held aloof from any part in the war, had invited some twelve others resident in the counties round Stirling, to meet at his house in that city that they might talk over the circumstances of the times. All these had, like himself, been neutral, and as the object of the gathering was principally to discover whether some means could not be hit upon for calming down the disorders which prevailed, the English governor had willingly granted safe conducts to all.
"Archie," Sir William said, "I mean to be present at the interview. They are all Scotch gentlemen, and though but lukewarm in the cause of their country, there is no fear that any will be base enough to betray me; and surely if I can get speech with them I may rouse them to cast in their lot with us."
"It were a dangerous undertaking, Sir William, to trust yourself within the walls of Stirling," Archie said gravely. "Remember how many are the desperate passes into which your adventurous spirit has brought you, and your life is of too great a consequence to Scotland to be rashly hazarded."
"I would not do it for a less cause," Sir William said; "but the gain may be greater than the risk. So I shall go, Archie, your wise counsel notwithstanding, and you shall journey with me to see that I get not into scrapes, and to help me out of them should I, in spite of your care, fall into them."
"When is the day for the meeting?" Archie asked.
"In three days' time. The day after tomorrow we will move in that direction, and enter the town early the next day."
No sooner had he left Wallace than Archie called his band together. They still numbered twenty, for although three or four had fallen, Archie had always filled up their places with fresh recruits, as there were numbers of boys who deemed it the highest honour to be enrolled in their ranks. Archie drew aside his two lieutenants, Andrew Macpherson and William Orr.
"I have an enterprise on hand," he said, "which will need all your care, and may call for your bravery. Sir William Wallace purposes to enter Stirling in disguise, to attend a meeting of nobles to be held at the residence of Sir Robert Cunninghame. I am to accompany him thither. I intend that the band shall watch over his safety, and this without his having knowledge of it, so that if nought comes of it he may not chide me for being over careful of his person. You will both, with sixteen of the band, accompany me. You will choose two of your most trusty men to carry out the important matter of securing our retreat. They will procure a boat capable of carrying us all, and will take their place in the bend of the links of Forth nearest to the castle, and will hoist, when the time comes, a garment on an oar, so that we may make straight for the boat. The ground is low and swampy, and if we get a fair start even mounted men would scarce overtake us across it. I think, William, that the last recruit who joined was from Stirling?"
"He was, Sir Archie. His parents reside there. They are vendors of wood, as I have heard him say."
"It could not be better," Archie replied; "and seeing that they have allowed their son to join us, they must surely be patriots. My purpose is, that on the morning of the interview you shall appear before the gates with a cart laden with firewood, and this you shall take to the house of Campbell's father. There you will unload the firewood, and store the arms hidden beneath it, placing them so that they may be readily caught up in case of necessity. In twos and threes, carrying eggs, fowls, firewood, and other articles, as for sale, the rest of the band will come into the town, joining themselves with parties of country people, so that the arrival of so many lads unaccompanied will not attract notice. James Campbell will go with you, and will show you the way to his father's house. He will remain near the gate, and as the others enter will guide them there, so that they will know where to run for their arms should there be need. You must start tomorrow, so as to enter Stirling on the next day and arrange with his father for the keeping of the arms. His mother had best leave the town that evening. Should nought occur she can return unsuspected; but should a tumult arise, and the arms have to be used, his father must leave the town with us. He shall be handsomely rewarded, and provision made for him in the future. When you see me enter with Sir William, bid Jock Farrell follow me at a little distance; he will keep me always in sight, and if he see me lift my hand above my head he will run with all speed to give you the news. On his arrival, you, Andrew, with the half you command, will hurry up to my assistance; while you, William, with the others, will fall suddenly upon the guard at the gate, and will at all hazards prevent them from closing it, and so cutting off our retreat, until we arrive. Seize, if you can, the moment when a cart is passing in or out, and slay the horse in the shafts, so that as he falls the cart will prevent the gate from being closed, and so keep the way open, even should you not be able to resist the English until we come up. Have all the band outside Stirling on the night before, so that you will be able to make every arrangement and obtain a cart in readiness for taking in the wood and arms in the morning. Let all bring their bows and arrows, in addition to pike and sword, for the missiles may aid us to keep the soldiers at bay. Now, Andrew, repeat all my instructions, so that I may be sure that you thoroughly understand my wishes, for any small error in the plan might ruin the whole adventure."
On the morning of the day fixed for the meeting Sir William Wallace, accompanied by Archie, entered the gates of Stirling. Both were attired as young farmers, and they attracted no special attention from the guards. For a time they strolled about the streets. They saw the gentlemen who had been invited by Sir Robert Cunninghame arrive one by one. Others, too, known as being specially attached to the English party, rode in, for the governor had invited those who assembled at Cunninghame's to meet him afterwards in the castle in order that he might hear the result of their deliberations; and he had asked several others attached to the English party to be present.
When most of the gentlemen invited had entered Sir Robert Cunninghame's Wallace boldly followed them; and Archie sat down on a doorstep nearly opposite. Presently he saw two figures which he recognized riding up the street, followed, as the others had been by four armed retainers. They were Sir John Kerr and his son. Archie rose at once, and turned down at a side street before they came up, as a recognition of him would be fatal to all their plans. When they had passed up the street to the castle he returned and resumed his seat, feeling more uneasy than before, for the Kerrs had seen Wallace in the affray at Lanark, and a chance meeting now would betray him. An hour and a half passed, and then Archie saw the Kerrs riding down the street from the castle. Again he withdrew from sight, this time down an archway, whence he could still see the door on the opposite side. Hitherto he had been wishing to see it open and for Wallace to appear; and now he dreaded this above all things. His worst fears were realized, for just as the horsemen reached the spot the door opened, and Wallace stepped out. His figure was too remarkable to avoid notice; and no sooner did Sir John Kerr's eye fall upon him than he exclaimed, "The traitor Wallace! Seize him, men; there is a high reward offered for him; and King Edward will give honour and wealth to all who capture him."
As Sir John spoke Archie darted across the street and placed himself by Wallace's side, holding his hand high above his head as he did so; and at the instant he saw Jock Farrell, who had been lounging at a corner a few yards away, dart off down the street at the top of his speed.
Sir John and his retainers drew their swords and spurred forward; but the horses recoiled from the flashing swords of Wallace and his companion.
"Dismount," Sir John shouted, setting the example; "cut them both down; one is as bad as the other. Ten pounds to the man who slays the young Forbes."
Wallace cut down two of the retainers as they advanced against them, and Archie badly wounded a third. Then they began to retreat down the street; but by this time the sound of the fray had called together many soldiers who were wandering in the streets; and these, informed by Sir John's shouts of "Down with Wallace! Slay! Slay!" that the dreaded Scotch leader was before them, also drew and joined in the fight. As they came running up from both sides, Wallace and Archie could retreat no further, but with their backs against the wall kept their foes at bay in a semicircle by the sweep of their swords.
The fight continued by two or three minutes, when a sudden shout was heard, and William Orr, with eight young fellows, fell upon the English soldiers with their pikes. The latter, astonished at this sudden onslaught, and several of their number being killed before they had time to turn and defend themselves, fell back for a moment, and Wallace and Archie joined their allies, and began to retreat, forming a line of pikes across the narrow street. Wallace, Archie, William Orr, and three of the stoutest of the band were sufficient for the line, and the other five shot between them. So hard and fast flew their arrows that several of the English soldiers were slain, and the others drew back from the assault.
Andrew Macpherson's sudden attack at the gate overpowered the guard, and for a while he held possession of it, and following Archie's instructions, slew a horse drawing a cart laden with flour in the act of entering. Then the guard rallied, and, joined by other soldiers who had run up, made a fierce attack upon him; but his line of pikes drawn up across the gate defied their efforts to break through. Wallace and his party were within fifty yards of the gate when reinforcements from the castle arrived. Sir John Kerr, furious at the prospect of his enemies again escaping him, headed them in their furious rush. Wallace stepped forward beyond the line and met him. With a great sweep of his mighty sword he beat down Sir John's guard, and the blade descending clove helmet and skull, and the knight fell dead in his tracks.
"That is one for you, Archie," Wallace said, as he cut down a man-at-arms.
In vain did the English try to break through the line of pikes. When they arrived within twenty yards of the gate, Wallace gave the order, and the party turning burst through the English who were attacking its defenders and united with them.
"Fall back!" Wallace shouted, "and form without the gates. Your leader and I will cover the retreat."
Passing between the cart and the posts of the gates, the whole party fell back. Once through, Wallace and Archie made a stand, and even the bravest of the English did not venture to pass the narrow portals, where but one could issue at a time.
The band formed in good order and retreated at a rapid step. When they reached a distance of about 300 yards, Wallace and Archie, deeming that sufficient start had been gained, sprang away, and running at the top of their speed soon rejoined them.
"Now, Archie, what next?" Sir William asked; "since it is you who have conjured up this army, doubtless your plans are laid as to what shall next be done. They will have horsemen in pursuit as soon as they remove the cart."
"I have a boat in readiness on the river bank, Sir William. Once across and we shall be safe. They will hardly overtake us ere we get there, seeing how swampy is the ground below."
At a slinging trot the party ran forward, and soon gained the lower ground. They were halfway across when they saw a large body of horsemen following in pursuit.
"A little to the right, Sir William," Archie said; "you see that coat flying from an oar; there is the boat."
As Archie had expected, the swampy ground impeded the speed of the horsemen. In vain the riders spurred and shouted, the horses, fetlock deep, could make but slow advance, and before they reached the bank the fugitives had gained the boat and were already halfway across the stream. Then the English had the mortification of seeing them land and march away quietly on the other side.
The Battle of Stirling Bridge
Upon rejoining his force Sir William Wallace called the few knights and gentlemen who were with him together, and said to them:
"Methinks, gentlemen, that the woes of this contest should not fall upon one side only. Every one of you here are outlawed, and if you are taken by the English will be executed or thrown in prison for life, and your lands and all belonging to you forfeited. It is time that those who fight upon the other side should learn that they too run some risk. Besides leading his vassals in the field against us, Sir John Kerr twice in arms has attacked me, and done his best to slay me or deliver me over to the English. He fell yesterday by my hand at Stirling, and I hereby declare forfeit the land which he held in the county of Lanark, part of which he wrongfully took from Sir William Forbes, and his own fief adjoining. Other broad lands he owns in Ayrshire, but these I will not now touch; but the lands in Lanark, both his own fief and that of the Forbeses, I, as Warden of Scotland, hereby declare forfeit and confiscated, and bestow them upon my good friend, Sir Archie Forbes. Sir John Grahame, do you proceed tomorrow with five hundred men and take possession of the hold of the Kerrs. Sir Allan Kerr is still at Stirling, and will not be there to defend it. Like enough the vassals will make no resistance, but will gladly accept the change of masters. The Kerrs have the reputation of being hard lords, and their vassals cannot like being forced to fight against the cause of their country. The hired men-at-arms may resist, but you will know how to make short work of these. I ask you to go rather than Sir Archibald Forbes, because I would not that it were said that he took the Kerr's hold on his private quarrel. When you have captured it he shall take a hundred picked men as a garrison. The place is strong.
"Your new possessions, Archie, will, as you know, be held on doubtful tenure. If we conquer, and Scotland is freed, I doubt in no way that the king, whoever he may be, will confirm my grant. If the English win, your land is lost, be it an acre or a county. And now let me be the first to congratulate you on having won by your sword and your patriotism the lands of your father, and on having repaid upon your family's enemies the measure which they meted to you. But you will still have to beware of the Kerrs. They are a powerful family, being connected by marriage with the Comyns of Badenoch, and other noble houses. Their lands in Ayr are as extensive as those in Lanark, even with your father's lands added to their own. However, if Scotland win the day the good work that you have done should well outweigh all the influence which they might bring to bear against you.
"And now, Archie, I can, for a time, release you. Ere long Edward's army will be pouring across the Border, and then I shall need every good Scotchman's sword. Till then you had best retire to your new estates, and spend the time in preparing your vassals to follow you in the field, and in putting one or other of your castles in the best state of defence you may. Methinks that the Kerr's hold may more easily be made to withstand a lengthened siege than Glen Cairn, seeing that the latter is commanded by the hill beside it. Kerr's castle, too, is much larger and more strongly fortified. I need no thanks," he continued, as Archie was about to express his warm gratitude; "it is the Warden of Scotland who rewards your services to the country; but Sir William Wallace will not forget how you have twice stood beside him against overwhelming odds, and how yesterday, in Stirling, it was your watchful care and thoughtful precaution which alone saved his life."
Archie's friends all congratulated him warmly, and the next morning, with his own band, he started for Glen Cairn. Here the news that he was once more their lawful chief caused the greatest delight. It was evening when he reached the village, and soon great bonfires blazed in the street, and as the news spread burned up from many an outlying farm. Before night all the vassals of the estate came in, and Glen Cairn and the village was a scene of great enthusiasm.
Much as Archie regretted that he could not establish himself in the hold of his father, he felt that Wallace's suggestion was the right one. Glen Cairn was a mere shell, and could in no case be made capable of a prolonged resistance by a powerful force. Whereas, the castle of the Kerrs was very strong. It was a disappointment to his retainers when they heard that he could not at once return among them; but they saw the force of his reasons, and he promised that if Scotland was freed and peace restored, he would again make Glen Cairn habitable, and pass some of his time there.
"In the meantime," he said, "I shall be but eight miles from you, and the estate will be all one. But now I hope that for the next three months every man among you will aid me—some by personal labour, some by sending horses and carts—in the work of strengthening to the utmost my new castle of Aberfilly, which I wish to make so strong that it will long resist an attack. Should Scotland be permanently conquered, which may God forfend, it could not, of course, be held; but should we have temporary reverses we might well hold out until our party again gather head."
Every man on the estate promised his aid to an extent far beyond that which Archie, as their feudal superior, had a right to demand from them. They had had a hard time under the Kerrs, who had raised all rents, and greatly increased their feudal services. They were sure of good treatment should the Forbeses make good their position as their lords, and were ready to make any sacrifices to aid them to do so.
Next morning a messenger arrived from Sir John Grahame, saying that he had, during the night, stormed Aberfilly, and that with scarce an exception all the vassals of the Kerrs—when upon his arrival on the previous day they had learned of his purpose in coming, and of the disposition which Wallace had made of the estate—had accepted the change with delight, and had joined him in the assault upon the castle, which was defended only by thirty men-at-arms. These had all been killed, and Sir John invited Archie to ride over at once and take possession. This he did, and found that the vassals of the estate were all gathered at the castle to welcome him. He was introduced to them by Sir John Grahame, and they received Archie with shouts of enthusiasm, and all swore obedience to him as their feudal lord. Archie promised them to be a kind and lenient chief, to abate any unfair burdens which had been laid upon them, and to respect all their rights.
"But," he said, "just at first I must ask for sacrifices from you. This castle is strong, but it must be made much stronger, and must be capable of standing a continued siege in case temporary reverses should enable the English to endeavour to retake it for their friend, Sir Allan Kerr. My vassals at Glen Cairn have promised an aid far beyond that which I can command, and I trust that you also will extend your time of feudal service, and promise you a relaxation in future years equivalent to the time you may now give."
The demand was readily assented to, for the tenants of Aberfilly were no less delighted than those of Glen Cairn to escape from the rule of the Kerrs. Archie, accompanied by Sir John Grahame, now made an inspection of the walls of his new hold. It stood just where the counties of Linlithgow and Edinburgh join that of Lanark. It was built on an island on a tributary of the Clyde. The stream was but a small one, and the island had been artificially made, so that the stream formed a moat on either side of it, the castle occupying a knoll of ground which rose somewhat abruptly from the surrounding country. The moat was but twelve feet wide, and Archie and Sir John decided that this should be widened to fifty feet and deepened to ten, and that a dam should be built just below the castle to keep back the stream and fill the moat. The walls should everywhere be raised ten feet, several strong additional flanking towers added, and a work built beyond the moat to guard the head of the drawbridge. With such additions Aberfilly would be able to stand a long siege by any force which might assail it.
Timber, stones, and rough labour there were in abundance, and Wallace had insisted upon Archie's taking from the treasures which had been captured from the enemy, a sum of money which would be ample to hire skilled masons from Lanark, and to pay for the cement, iron, and other necessaries which would be beyond the resources of the estate. These matters in train, Archie rode to Lanark and fetched his proud and rejoicing mother from Sir Robert Gordon's to Aberfilly. She was accompanied by Sandy Graham and Elspie: the former Archie appointed majordomo, and to be in command of the garrison whenever he should be absent.
The vassals were as good as their word. For three months the work of digging, quarrying, cutting, and squaring timber and building went on without intermission. There were upon the estates fully three hundred ablebodied men, and the work progressed rapidly. When, therefore, Archie received a message from Wallace to join him near Stirling, he felt that he could leave Aberfilly without any fear of a successful attack being made upon it in his absence.
There was need, indeed, for all the Scotch, capable of bearing arms, to gather round Wallace. Under the Earl of Surrey, the high treasurer Cressingham, and other leaders, an army of 50,000 foot and 1000 horse were advancing from Berwick, while 8000 foot and 300 horse under Earl Percy advanced from Carlisle. Wallace was besieging the castle of Dundee when he heard of their approach, and leaving the people of Dundee to carry on the siege under the command of Sir Alexander Scrymgeour, he himself marched to defend the only bridge by which Edward could cross the Forth, near Stirling.
Thus far Surrey had experienced no resistance, and at the head of so large and well appointed a force he might well feel sure of success. A large proportion of his army consisted of veterans inured to service in wars at home, in Wales, and with the French, while the mail clad knights and men-at-arms looked with absolute contempt upon the gathering which was opposed to them. This consisted solely of popular levies of men who had left their homes and taken up arms for the freedom of their country. They were rudely armed and hastily trained. Of all the feudal nobles of Scotland who should have led them, but one, Sir Andrew Moray, was present. Their commander was still little more than a youth, who, great as was his individual valour and prowess, had had no experience in the art of war on a large scale; while the English were led by a general whose fame was known throughout Europe.
The Scots took up their station upon the high ground north of the Forth, protected from observation by the precipitous hill immediately behind Cambuskenneth Abbey and known as the Abbey Craig. In a bend of the river, opposite the Abbey Craig, stood the bridge by which the English army were preparing to cross. Archie stood beside Wallace on the top of the craig, looking at the English array.
"It is a fair sight," he said; "the great camp, with its pavilions, its banners, and pennons, lying there in the valley, with the old castle rising on the lofty rock behind them. It is a pity that such a sight should bode evil to Scotland."
"Yes," Wallace said; "I would that the camp lay where it is, but that the pennons and banners were those of Scotland's nobles, and that the royal lions floated over Surrey's tent. Truly that were a sight which would glad a Scot's heart. When shall we see ought like it? However, Archie," he went on in a lighter tone, "methinks that that will be a rare camp to plunder."
Archie laughed. "One must kill the lion before one talks of dividing his skin," he said; "and truly it seems well nigh impossible that such a following as yours, true Scots and brave men though they be, yet altogether undisciplined and new to war, should be able to bear the brunt of such a battle."
"You are thinking of Dunbar," Wallace said; "and did we fight in such a field our chances would be poor; but with that broad river in front and but a narrow bridge for access, methinks that we can render an account of them."
"God grant it be so!" Archie replied; "but I shall be right glad when the day is over."
Three days before the battle the Steward of Scotland, the Earl of Lennox, and others of the Scotch magnates entered Surrey's camp and begged that he would not attack until they tried to induce the people to lay down their arms. They returned, however, on the third day saying that they would not listen to them, but that the next day they would, themselves, join his army with their men-at-arms. On leaving the camp that evening the Scotch nobles, riding homeward, had a broil with some English soldiers, of whom one was wounded by the Earl of Lennox. News being brought to Surrey, he resolved to wait no longer, but gave orders that the assault should take place on the following morning. At daybreak of the 11th of September, 1297, one of the outposts woke Wallace with the news that the English were crossing the bridge. The troops were at once got under arms, and were eager to rush down to commence the battle, but Wallace restrained them. Five thousand Welsh foot soldiers crossed the bridge, then there was a pause, and none were seen following them. "Were we to charge down now, Sir William," Archie said, "surely we might destroy that body before aid could come to them."
"We could do, Archie, as you say," Wallace replied, "but such a success would be of little worth, nay, would harm rather than benefit us, for Surrey, learning that we are not altogether to be despised, as he now believes, would be more prudent in future and would keep his army in the flat country, where we could do nought against it. No, to win much one must risk much, and we must wait until half Surrey's army is across before we venture down against them."
Presently the Welsh were seen to retire again. Their movement had been premature. Surrey was still asleep, and nothing could be done until he awoke; when he did so the army armed leisurely, after which Surrey bestowed the honour of knighthood upon many young aspirants. The number of the Scots under Wallace is not certainly known; the majority of the estimates place it below twenty thousand, and as the English historian, who best describes the battle, speaks of it as the defeat of the many by the few, it can certainly be assumed that it did not exceed this number.
Only on the ground of his utter contempt for the enemy can the conduct of the Earl of Surrey, in attempting to engage in such a position, be understood. The bridge was wide enough for but two, or at most three, horsemen to cross abreast, and when those who had crossed were attacked assistance could reach them but slowly from the rear.
The English knights and men-at-arms, with the Royal Standard and the banner of the Earl of Surrey, crossed first. The men-at-arms were followed by the infantry, who, as they passed, formed up on the tongue of land formed by the winding of the river.
When half the English army had passed Wallace gave the order to advance. First Sir Andrew Moray, with two thousand men, descended the hills farther to the right, and on seeing these the English cavalry charged at once against them. The instant they did so Wallace, with his main army, poured down from the craig impetuously and swept away the English near the head of the bridge, taking possession of the end, and by showers of arrows and darts preventing any more from crossing. By this maneuver the whole of the English infantry who had crossed were cut off from their friends and inclosed in the narrow promontory.
The English men-at-arms had succeeded in overthrowing the Scots, against whom they had charged, and had pursued them some distance; but upon drawing rein and turning to rejoin the army, they found the aspect of affairs changed indeed. The troops left at the head of the bridge were overthrown and destroyed. The royal banner and that of Surrey were down, and the bridge in the possession of the enemy. The men-at-arms charged back and strove in vain to recover the head of the bridge. The Scots fought stubbornly; those in front made a hedge of pikes, while those behind hurled darts and poured showers of arrows into the English ranks. The greater proportion of the men-at-arms were killed. One valiant knight alone, Sir Marmaduke de Twenge, with his nephew and a squire, cut their way through the Scots, and crossed the bridge. Many were drowned in attempting to swim the river, one only succeeding in so gaining the opposite side.
The men-at-arms defeated, Wallace and the chosen band under him, who had been engaged with them, joined those who were attacking the English and Welsh, now cooped up in the promontory. Flushed with the success already gained the Scots were irresistible, and almost every man who had crossed was either killed or drowned in attempting to swim the river. No sooner had he seen that the success in this quarter was secure than Wallace led a large number of his followers across the bridge. Here the English, who still outnumbered his army, and who had now all the advantage of position which had previously been on the side of the Scots, might have defended the bridge, or in good order have given him battle on the other side. The sight, however, of the terrible disaster which had befallen nearly half their number before their eyes, without their being able to render them the slightest assistance, had completely demoralized them, and as soon as the Scotch were seen to be crossing the bridge they fled in terror. A hot pursuit was kept up by the fleet footed and lightly armed Scots, and great numbers of fugitives were slain.
More than 20,000 English perished in the battle or flight, and the remainder crossed the Border a mere herd of broken fugitives.
The Earl of Surrey, before riding off the field, committed the charge of the Castle of Stirling to Sir Marmaduke de Twenge, promising him that he would return to his relief within ten weeks at the utmost. All the tents, wagons, horses, provisions, and stores of the English fell into the hands of their enemies, and every Scotch soldier obtained rich booty.
Cressingham was among the number killed. It was said by one English historian, and his account has been copied by many others, that Cressingham's body was flayed and his skin divided among the Scots; but there appears no good foundation for the story, although probably Cressingham, who had rendered himself peculiarly obnoxious and hateful to the Scots, was hewn in pieces. But even were it proved that the ill story is a true one, it need excite no surprise, seeing the wholesale slaying, plundering, and burning which had been carried on by the English, and that the Scottish prisoners falling into their hands were often mutilated and tortured before being executed and quartered. The English historians were fond of crying out that the Scotch were a cruel and barbarous people whenever they retaliated for the treatment which they suffered; but so far from this being the case, it is probable that the Scotch, before the first invasion of Edward, were a more enlightened and, for their numbers, a more well-to-do people than the English. They had for many years enjoyed peace and tranquillity, and under the long and prosperous reign of Alexander had made great advances, while England had been harassed by continuous wars and troubles at home and abroad. Its warlike barons, when not engaged under its monarchs in wars in Wales, Ireland, and France, occupied themselves in quarrels with each other, or in struggles against the royal supremacy; and although the higher nobles, with their mailclad followers, could show an amount of chivalrous pomp unknown in Scotland, yet the condition of the middle classes and of the agricultural population was higher in Scotland than in England.
Archie, as one of the principal leaders of the victorious army, received a share of the treasure captured in the camp sufficient to repay the money which he had had for the strengthening of the Castle of Aberfilly, and on the day following the battle he received permission from Sir William to return at once, with the 250 retainers which he had brought into the field, to complete the rebuilding of the castle. In another three months this was completed, and stores of arms and munition of all kinds collected.
Immediately after the defeat at Stirling Bridge, King Edward summoned the Scottish nobles to join Brian Fitzallan, whom he appointed governor of Scotland, with their whole forces, for the purpose of putting down the rebellion. Among those addressed as his allies were the Earls Comyn of Badenoch, Comyn of Buchan, Patrick of Dunbar, Umfraville of Angus, Alexander of Menteith, Malise of Strathearn, Malcolm of Lennox, and William of Sutherland, together with James the Steward, Nicholas de la Haye, Ingelram de Umfraville, Richard Fraser, and Alexander de Lindsay of Crawford. From this enumeration it is clear that Wallace had still many enemies to contend with at home as well as the force of England. Patrick of Dunbar, assisted by Robert Bruce and Bishop Anthony Beck, took the field, but was defeated. Wallace captured all the castles of the earl save Dunbar itself, and forced him to fly to England; then the Scotch army poured across the Border and retaliated upon the northern counties for the deeds which the English had been performing in Scotland for the last eight years. The country was ravaged to the very walls of Durham and Carlisle, and only those districts which bought off the invaders were spared. The title which had been bestowed upon Wallace by a comparatively small number was now ratified by the commonalty of the whole of Scotland; and associated with him was the young Sir Andrew Moray of Bothwell, whose father had been the only Scotch noble who had fought at Stirling, and it is notable that in some of the documents of the time Wallace gives precedence to Andrew Moray.
They proceeded to effect a military organization of the country, dividing it up into districts, each with commanders and lieutenants. Order was established and negotiations entered into for the mutual safeguard of traders with the Hanse towns.
The nobles who ventured to oppose the authority of Wallace and his colleague were punished in some cases by the confiscation of lands, which were bestowed upon Sir Alexander Scrymgeour and other loyal gentlemen, and these grants were recognized by Bruce when he became king. In these deeds of grant Wallace and Moray, although acting as governors of Scotland, state that they do so in the name of Baliol as king, although a helpless captive in England. For a short time Scotland enjoyed peace, save that Earl Percy responded to the raids made by the Scots across the Border, by carrying fire and sword through Annandale; and the English writers who complain of the conduct of the Scots, have no word of reprobation for the proclamation issued to the soldiers on crossing the Border, that they were free to plunder where they chose, nor as to the men and women slain, nor the villages and churches committed to the flames.
The Battle of Falkirk
While Wallace was endeavouring to restore order in Scotland, Edward was straining every nerve to renew his invasion. He himself was upon the Continent, but he made various concessions to his barons and great towns to induce them to aid him heartily, and issued writs calling upon the whole nobility remaining at home, as they valued his honour and that of England, to meet at York on January 20th, "and proceed under the Earl of Surrey to repress and chastise the audacity of the Scots." At the same time he despatched special letters to those of the Scottish nobles who were not already in England, commanding them to attend at the rendezvous.
The call upon the Scotch nobles was not generally responded to. They had lost much of their power over their vassals, many of whom had fought under Wallace in spite of the abstention of their lords. It was clear, too, that if they joined the English, and another defeat of the latter took place, their countrymen might no longer condone their treachery, but their titles and estates might be confiscated. Consequently but few of them presented themselves at York. There, however, the English nobles gathered in force. The Earls of Surrey, Gloucester, and Arundel; the Earl Mareschal and the great Constable were there; Guido, son of the Earl of Warwick, represented his father. Percy was there, John de Wathe, John de Seagrave, and very many other barons, the great array consisting of 2000 horsemen heavily armed, 1200 light horsemen, and 100,000 foot soldiers.
Sir Aymer de Vallance, Earl of Pembroke, and Sir John Sieward, son of the Earl of March, landed with an army in Fife, and proceeded to burn and waste. They were met by a Scotch force under Wallace in the forest of Black Ironside, and were totally defeated.
Surrey's army crossed the Border, raised the siege of Roxburgh, and advanced as far as Kelso. Wallace did not venture to oppose so enormous a force, but wasted the country on every side so that they could draw no provisions from it, and Surrey was forced to fall back to Berwick; this town was being besieged by a Scottish force, which retired at his approach. Here the English army halted upon receipt of orders from Edward to wait his coming. He had hastily patched up a peace with France, and, having landed at Sandwich, summoned the parliament, and on the 27th of May issued writs to as many as 154 of his great barons to meet him at Roxburgh on the 24th of June. Here 3000 cavalry, men and horses clothed in complete armour; 4000 lighter cavalry, the riders being armed in steel but the horses being uncovered; 500 splendidly mounted knights and men-at-arms from Gascony; and at least 80,000 infantry assembled together, with abundance of materials and munition of war of all kinds. This huge army marched from Roxburgh, keeping near the coast, receiving provisions from a fleet which sailed along beside them. But in spite of this precaution it was grievously straitened, and was delayed for a month near Edinburgh, as Wallace so wasted the country that the army were almost famished, and by no efforts were they able to bring on a battle with the Scots, whose rapid marches and intimate acquaintance with the country baffled all the efforts of the English leaders to force on an action.
Edward was about to retreat, being unable any longer to subsist his army, when the two Scottish Earls of Dunbar and Angus sent news to the king that Wallace with his army was in Falkirk forest, about six miles away, and had arranged to attack the camp on the following morning. The English at once advanced and that evening encamped at Linlithgow, and the next morning moved on against the Scots.
Late in the evening Archie's scouts brought in the news to Wallace that the English army was within three miles, and a consultation was at once held between the leaders. Most of them were in favour of a retreat; but Comyn of Badenoch, who had lately joined Wallace, and had been from his rank appointed to the command of the cavalry, with some of his associates, urged strongly the necessity for fighting, saying that the men would be utterly dispirited at such continual retreats, and that with such immensely superior cavalry the English would follow them up and destroy them. To these arguments Wallace, Sir John Grahame, and Sir John Stewart, yielded their own opinions, and prepared to fight. They took up their position so that their front was protected by a morass, and a fence of stakes and ropes was also fixed across so as to impede the advance or retreat of the English cavalry. The Scotch army consisted almost entirely of infantry. These were about a third the number of those of the English, while Comyn's cavalry were a thousand strong.
The infantry were formed in three great squares or circles, the front rank kneeling and the spears all pointing outwards. In the space between these squares were placed the archers, under Sir John Stewart.
The English army was drawn up in three divisions, the first commanded by the Earl Marechal, the Earl of Lincoln and Hereford; the second by Beck, the warlike Bishop of Durham, and Sir Ralph Basset; the third by the king himself. The first two divisions consisted almost entirely of knights and men-at-arms; the third, of archers and slingers.
Wallace's plan of battle was that the Scottish squares should first receive the brunt of the onslaught of the enemy, and that while the English were endeavouring to break these the Scotch cavalry, which were drawn up some distance in the rear, should fall upon them when in a confused mass, and drive them against the fence or into the morass.
The first division of the English on arriving at the bog made a circuit to the west. The second division, seeing the obstacle which the first had encountered, moved round to the east, and both fell upon the Scottish squares. The instant they were seen rounding the ends of the morass, the traitor Comyn, with the whole of the cavalry, turned rein and fled from the field, leaving the infantry alone to support the whole brunt of the attack of the English. So impetuous was the charge of the latter that Sir John Stewart and his archers were unable to gain the shelter of the squares, and he was, with almost all his men, slain by the English men-at-arms. Thus the spearmen were left entirely to their own resources.
Encouraged by Wallace, Grahame, Archie Forbes, and their other leaders, the Scottish squares stood firmly, and the English cavalry in vain strove to break the hedge of spears. Again and again the bravest of the chivalry of England tried to hew a way through. The Scots stood firm and undismayed, and had the battle lain between them and the English cavalry, the day would have been theirs. But presently the king, with his enormous body of infantry, arrived on the ground, and the English archers and slingers poured clouds of missiles into the ranks of the Scots; while the English spearmen, picking up the great stones with which the ground was strewn, hurled them at the front ranks of their foes. Against this storm of missiles the Scottish squares could do nothing. Such armour as they had was useless against the English clothyard arrows, and thousands fell as they stood.
Again and again they closed up the gaps in their ranks, but at last they could no longer withstand the hail of arrows and stones, to which they could offer no return. Some of them wavered. The gaps in the squares were no longer filled up, and the English cavalry, who had been waiting for their opportunity, charged into the midst of them. No longer was there any thought of resistance. The Scots fled in all directions. Numbers were drowned by trying to swim the river Carron, which ran close by. Multitudes were cut down by the host of English cavalry.
Sir Archie Forbes was in the same square with Wallace, with a few other mounted men. They dashed forward against the English as they broke through the ranks of the spearmen, but the force opposed them was overwhelming.
"It is of no use, Archie; we must retire. Better that than throw away our lives uselessly. All is lost now."
Wallace shouted to the spearmen, who gallantly rallied round him, and, keeping together in spite of the efforts of the English cavalry, succeeded in withdrawing from the field. The other squares were entirely broken and dispersed, and scarce a man of them escaped.
Accounts vary as to the amount of the slaughter, some English writers placing it as double that of the army which Wallace could possibly have brought into the field, seeing that the whole of the great nobles stood aloof, and that Grahame, Stewart, and Macduff of Fife were the only three men of noble family with him. All these were slain, together with some 25,000 infantry.
Wallace with about 5000 men succeeded in crossing a ford of the Carron, and the English spread themselves over the country. The districts of Fife, Clackmannan, Lanark, Ayr, and all the surrounding country were wasted and burnt, and every man found put to the sword. The Scotch themselves in retreating destroyed Stirling and Perth, and the English found the town of St. Andrew's deserted, and burnt it to the ground.
No sooner had Wallace retreated than he divided his force into small bands, which proceeded in separate directions, driving off the cattle and destroying all stores of grain, so that in a fortnight after the battle of Falkirk the English army were again brought to a stand by shortness of provisions, and were compelled to fall back again with all speed to the mouth of the Forth, there to obtain provisions from their ships. As they did so Wallace reunited his bands, and pressed hard upon them. At Linlithgow he fell upon their rear and inflicted heavy loss, and so hotly did he press them that the great army was obliged to retreat rapidly across the Border, and made no halt until it reached the fortress of Carlisle.
That it was compulsion alone which forced Edward to make his speedy retreat we may be sure from the fact that after the victory of Dunbar he was contented with nothing less than a clean sweep of Scotland to its northern coast, and that he repeated the same process when, in the year following the battle of Falkirk, he again returned with a mighty army. Thus decisive as was the battle of Falkirk it was entirely abortive in results.
When the English had crossed the Border, Wallace assembled the few gentlemen who were still with him, and announced his intention of resigning the guardianship of Scotland, and of leaving the country. The announcement was received with exclamations of surprise and regret.
"Surely, Sir William," Archie exclaimed, "you cannot mean it. You are our only leader; in you we have unbounded confidence, and in none else. Had it not been for the treachery of Comyn the field of Falkirk would have been ours, for had the horse charged when the English were in confusion round our squares they had assuredly been defeated. Moreover, your efforts have retrieved that disastrous field, and have driven the English across the Border."
"My dear Archie," Wallace said, "it is because I am the only leader in whom you have confidence that I must needs go. I had vainly hoped that when the Scottish nobles saw what great things the commonalty were able to do, and how far, alone and unaided, they had cleared Scotland of her tyrants, they would have joined us with their vassals; but you see it is not so. The successes that I have gained have but excited their envy against me. Of them all only Grahame, Stewart, and Macduff stood by my side, while all the great earls and barons either held aloof or were, like Bruce, in the ranks of Edward's army, or like Comyn and his friends, joined me solely to betray me. I am convinced now that it is only a united Scotland can resist the power of England, and it is certain that so long as I remain here Scotland never can be united. Of Bruce I have no longer any hope; but if I retire Comyn may take the lead, and many at least of the Scottish nobles will follow him. Had we but horsemen and archers to support our spearmen, I would not fear the issue; but it is the nobles alone who can place mounted men-at-arms in the field. Of bowmen we must always be deficient, seeing that our people take not naturally to this arm as do the English; but with spearmen to break the first shock of English chivalry, and with horsemen to charge them when in confusion, we may yet succeed, but horsemen we shall never get so long as the nobles hold aloof. It is useless to try and change my decision, my friends. Sore grief though it will be to me to sheathe my sword and to stand aloof when Scotland struggles for freedom, I am convinced that only by my doing so has Scotland a chance of ultimate success in the struggle. Do not make it harder for me by your pleadings. I have thought long over this, and my mind is made up. My heart is well nigh broken by the death of my dear friend and brother in arms, Sir John Grahame, and I feel able to struggle no longer against the jealousy and hostility of the Scottish nobles."
Wallace's hearers were all in tears at his decision, but they felt that there was truth in his words, that the Scottish nobles were far more influenced by feelings of personal jealousy and pique than by patriotism, and that so long as Wallace remained the guardian of Scotland they would to a man side with the English. The next day Wallace assembled all his followers, and in a few words announced his determination, and the reasons which had driven him to take it. He urged them to let no feelings of resentment at the treatment he had experienced, or any wrath at the lukewarmness and treachery which had hitherto marked the Scottish nobles, overcome their feeling of patriotism, but to follow these leaders should they raise the banner of Scotland, as bravely and devotedly as they had followed him.
Then he bade them farewell, and mounting his horse rode to the seacoast and passed over to France.
Although he had retired from Scotland, Wallace did not cease from war against the English; but being warmly received by the French king fought against them both by sea and land, and won much renown among the French.
After returning to England, Edward, finding that the Scottish leaders still professed to recognize Baliol as king, sent him to the pope at Rome, having first confiscated all his great possessions in England and bestowed them upon his own nephew, John of Brittany; and during the rest of his life Baliol lived in obscurity in Rome. A portion of the Scotch nobles assembled and chose John Comyn of Badenoch and John de Soulis as guardians of the kingdom. In the autumn of the following year Edward again assembled a great army and moved north, but it was late; and in the face of the approaching winter, and the difficulty of forage, many of the barons refused to advance. Edward himself marched across the Border; but seeing that the Scots had assembled in force, and that at such a season of the year he could not hope to carry his designs fully into execution, he retired without striking a blow. Thereupon the castle of Stirling, which was invested by the Scots, seeing no hope of relief, surrendered, and Sir William Oliphant was appointed governor.
The next spring Edward again advanced with an army even greater than that with which he had before entered Scotland. With him were Alexander of Baliol, son of the late king, who was devoted to the English; Dunbar, Fraser, Ross, and other Scottish nobles. The vast army first laid siege to the little castle of Carlaverock, which, although defended by but sixty men, resisted for some time the assaults of the whole army, but was at last captured. The Scots fell back as Edward advanced, renewing Wallace's tactics of wasting the country, and Edward could get no further than Dumfries. Here, finding the enormous difficulties which beset him, he made a pretence of yielding with a good grace to the entreaties of the pope and the King of France that he would spare Scotland; he retired to England and disbanded his army, having accomplished nothing in the campaign save the capture of Carlaverock.
The following summer he again advanced with the army, this time supported by a fleet of seventy ships. The Scots resorted to their usual strategy, and, when winter came, the invaders had penetrated no further than the Forth. Edward remained at Linlithgow for a time, and then returned to England. Sir Simon Fraser, who had been one of the leaders of the English army at Carlaverock, now imitated Comyn's example, and, deserting the English cause, joined his countrymen.
The greater part of the English army recrossed the Border, and the Scots captured many of the garrisons left in the towns. Sir John Seagrave next invaded Scotland with from 20,000 to 30,000 men, mostly cavalry. They reached the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, when Comyn and Fraser advanced against them with 8000 men, chiefly infantry. The English army were advancing in three divisions, in order better to obtain provisions and forage. After a rapid night march the Scotch came upon one of them, commanded by Seagrave in person; and conceiving himself sufficiently strong to defeat the Scots unaided by any of the other divisions, Sir John Seagrave immediately gave battle.
As at Falkirk, the English cavalry were unable to break through the Scottish pikes. Great numbers were killed or taken prisoners, Seagrave himself being severely wounded and captured, with twenty distinguished knights, thirty esquires, and many soldiers. Scarcely was the battle over when the second English division, even stronger than the first, arrived on the field. Encumbered by their prisoners, the Scots were at a disadvantage; and fearing to be attacked by these in the rear while engaged in front, they slaughtered the greater portion of the prisoners, and arming the camp followers, prepared to resist the English onslaught. This failed as the first had done; the cavalry were defeated with great loss by the spearmen, and many prisoners taken—among them Sir Ralph Manton.
The third English division now appeared; and the Scots, worn out by their long march and the two severe conflicts they had endured, were about to fly from the field when their leaders exhorted them to one more effort. The second batch of prisoners were slaughtered, and the pikemen again formed line to resist the English charge. Again were the cavalry defeated, Sir Robert Neville, their leader, slain, with many others, and the whole dispersed and scattered. Sir Robert Manton, who was the king's treasurer, had had a quarrel with Fraser, when the latter was in Edward's service, regarding his pay; and Fraser is said by some historians to have now revenged himself by slaying his prisoner. Other accounts, however, represent Manton as having escaped.
The slaughter of the prisoners appears, although cruel, to have been unavoidable; as the Scots, having before them a well appointed force fully equal to their own in number, could not have risked engaging, with so large a body of prisoners in their rear. None of the knights or other leaders were slain, these being subsequently exchanged or ransomed, as we afterwards find them fighting in the English ranks.
Seeing by this defeat that a vast effort was necessary to conquer Scotland, King Edward advanced in the spring of 1303 with an army of such numbers that the historians of the time content themselves with saying that "it was great beyond measure." It consisted of English, Welsh, Irish, Gascons, and Savoyards. One division, under the Prince of Wales, advanced by the west coast; that of the king, by the east; and the two united at the Forth. Without meeting any serious resistance the great host marched north through Perth and Dundee to Brechin, where the castle, under the charge of Sir Thomas Maille, resisted for twenty days; and it was only after the death of the governor that it surrendered.
The English then marched north through Aberdeen, Banff, and Moray into Caithness, carrying utter destruction everywhere; towns and hamlets, villages and farmhouses were alike destroyed; crops were burned, forests and orchards cut down. Thus was the whole of Scotland wasted; and even the rich abbeys of Abberbredok and Dunfermline, the richest and most famous in Scotland, were destroyed, and the whole levelled to the ground. The very fields were as far as possible injured—the intention of Edward being, as Fordun says, to blot out the people, and to reduce the land to a condition of irrecoverable devastation, and thus to stamp out for ever any further resistance in Scotland.
During the three years which had elapsed since the departure of Wallace, Archie had for the most part remained quietly in his castle, occupying himself with the comfort and wellbeing of his vassals. He had, each time the English entered Scotland, taken the field with a portion of his retainers, in obedience to the summons of Comyn. The latter was little disposed to hold valid the grants made by Wallace, especially in the case of Archie Forbes, the Kerrs being connections of his house; but the feeling of the people in general was too strongly in favour of the companion of Wallace for him to venture to set it aside, especially as the castle could not be captured without a long continued siege. Archie and many of the nobles hostile to the claims of Comyn obeyed his orders, he being the sole possible leader, at present, of Scotland. Edward, however, had left them no alternative, since he had, in order to induce the English nobles to follow him, formally divided among them the lands of the whole of the Scotch nobles, save those actually fighting in his ranks.
Archie was now nearly three-and-twenty, and his frame had fully borne out the promise of his youth. He was over the average height, but appeared shorter from the extreme breadth of his shoulders; his arms were long and sinewy, and his personal strength immense.
From the time of his first taking possession of Aberfilly he had kept a party of men steadily engaged in excavating a passage from the castle towards a wood a mile distant. The ground was soft and offered but few obstacles, but the tunnel throughout its whole length had to be supported by massive timbers. Wood, however, was abundant, and the passage had by this time been completed. Whenever, from the length of the tunnel, the workmen began to suffer from want of air, ventilation was obtained by running a small shaft up to the surface; in this was placed a square wooden tube of six inches in diameter, round which the earth was again filled in—a few rapidly growing plants and bushes being planted round the orifice to prevent its being noticed by any passerby.
Robert The Bruce
At the last great invasion by Edward, Archie did not take the field, seeing that Comyn, in despair of opposing so vast a host, did not call out the levies. Upon the approach of the English army under the Prince of Wales he called the whole of his tenants into the castle. Great stores of provisions had already been collected. The women and children were sent away up into the hills, where provisions had also been garnered, and the old men and boys accompanied them. As the Prince of Wales passed north, bands from his army spreading over the country destroyed every house in the district. Archie was summoned to surrender, but refused to do so; and the prince, being on his way to join his father on the Forth, after himself surveying the hold, and judging it far too strong to be carried without a prolonged siege, marched forward, promising on his return to destroy it. Soon afterwards Archie received a message that Wallace had returned. He at once took with him fifty men, and leaving the castle in charge of Sandy Graham, with the rest of his vassals, two hundred and fifty in number, he rejoined his former leader. Many others gathered round Wallace's standard; and throughout Edward's march to the north and his return to the Forth Wallace hung upon his flanks, cutting off and slaying great numbers of the marauders, and striking blows at detached bands wherever these were in numbers not too formidable to be coped with.
Stirling was now the only great castle which remained in the hands of the Scotch, and King Edward prepared to lay siege to this. Save for the band of Wallace there was no longer any open resistance in the field. A few holds like those of Archie Forbes still remained in the hands of their owners, their insignificance, or the time which would be wasted in subduing them, having protected them from siege. None of the nobles now remained in arms.
Bruce had for a short time taken the field; but had, as usual, hastened to make his peace with Edward. Comyn and all his adherents surrendered upon promise of their lives and freedom, and that they should retain their estates, subject to a pecuniary fine. All the nobles of Scotland were included in this capitulation, save a few who were condemned to suffer temporary banishment. Sir William Wallace alone was by name specially exempted from the surrender.
Stirling Castle was invested on the 20th of April, 1304, and for seventy days held out against all the efforts of Edward's army. Warlike engines of all kinds had been brought from England for the siege. The religious houses of St. Andrews, Brechin, and other churches were stripped of lead for the engines. The sheriffs of London, Lincoln, York, and the governor of the Tower were ordered to collect and forward all the mangonels, quarrels, and bows and arrows they could gather; and for seventy days missiles of all kinds, immense stones, leaden balls, and javelins were rained upon the castle; and Greek fire—a new and terrible mode of destruction—was also used in the siege. But it was only when their provisions and other resources were exhausted that the garrison capitulated; and it was found that the survivors of the garrison which had defended Stirling Castle for upwards of three months against the whole force of England numbered, including its governor, Sir William Oliphant, and twenty-four knights and gentlemen, but a hundred and twenty soldiers, two monks, and thirteen females.
During the siege Wallace had kept the field, but Archie had, at his request, returned to his castle, which being but a day's march from Stirling, might at any moment be besieged. Several times, indeed, parties appeared before it, but Edward's hands were too full, and he could spare none of the necessary engines to undertake such a siege; and when Stirling at length fell he and his army were in too great haste to return to England to undertake another prolonged siege, especially as Aberfilly, standing in a retired position, and commanding none of the principal roads, was a hold of no political importance.
A short time afterwards, to Archie's immense grief, Sir William Wallace was betrayed into the hands of the English. Several Scotchmen took part in this base act, the principal being Sir John Menteith. Late historians, in their ardour to whitewash those who have for ages been held up to infamy, have endeavoured to show that Sir John Menteith was not concerned in the matter; but the evidence is overwhelming the other way. Scotch opinion at the time, and for generations afterwards, universally imputed the crime to him. Fordun, who wrote in the reign of Robert Bruce, Bowyer, and Langtoft, all Scotch historians, say that it was he who betrayed Wallace, and their account is confirmed by contemporary English writings. The Chronicle of Lanercost, the Arundel MSS., written about the year 1320, and the Scala Chronica, all distinctly say that Wallace was seized by Sir John Menteith; and finally, Sir Francis Palgrave has discovered in the memoranda of the business of the privy council that forty marks were bestowed upon the young man who spied out Wallace, sixty marks were divided among some others who assisted in his capture, and that to Sir John Menteith was given land of the annual value of one hundred pounds—a very large amount in those days.
The manner in which Wallace was seized is uncertain; but he was at once handed by Sir John Menteith to Sir John Seagrave, and carried by him to London. He was taken on horseback to Westminster, the mayor, sheriffs, and aldermen, with a great number of horse and foot, accompanying him. There the mockery of a trial was held, and he was in one day tried, condemned, and executed. He defended himself nobly, urging truly that, as a native born Scotsman, he had never sworn fealty or allegiance to England, and that he was perfectly justified in fighting for the freedom of his country.
Every cruelty attended his execution. He was drawn through the streets at the tails of horses; he was hung for some time by a halter, but was taken down while yet alive; he was mutilated and disembowelled, his head then cut off, his body divided in four, his head impaled over London Bridge, and his quarters distributed to four principal towns in Scotland. Such barbarities were common at executions in the days of the Norman kings, who have been described by modern writers as chivalrous monarchs.
A nobler character than Wallace is not to be found in history. Alone, a poor and landless knight, by his personal valour and energy he aroused the spirit of his countrymen, and in spite of the opposition of the whole of the nobles of his country banded the people in resistance against England, and for a time wrested all Scotland from the hands of Edward. His bitter enemies the English were unable to adduce any proofs that the epithets of ferocious and bloodthirsty, with which they were so fond of endowing him, had even a shadow of foundation, and we may rather believe the Scotch accounts that his gentleness and nobility of soul were equal to his valour. Of his moderation and wisdom when acting as governor of Scotland there can be no doubt, while the brilliant strategy which first won the battle of Stirling, and would have gained that of Falkirk had not the treachery and cowardice of the cavalry ruined his plans, show that under other circumstances he would have taken rank as one of the greatest commanders of his own or any age.