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Chapter XXVI. Edinburgh

So vigilant was the watch in the castle of Dunottar that the instant the cry of alarm rose almost simultaneously from the warder above and the soldiers at the gate, the portcullis came thundering down. It was caught, however, by the two upright blocks of wood, and remained suspended three feet above the sill. The armed guards at the gate instantly fell upon Archie and his companions, while others endeavoured in vain to close the gates. Scarcely had the swords clashed when the man who had chained down the drawbridge joined Archie, and the five with their heavy broadswords kept at bay the soldiers who pressed upon them; but for only a minute or two did they have to bear the brunt of the attack unsupported, for William Orr and the five men who had been loitering near the moat dashed across the bridge, and passing under the portcullis joined the little band.

The alarm had now spread through the castle, and the governor himself, followed by many of his men, came rushing down to the spot, shouting furious orders to the warder to raise the drawbridge, being in ignorance that it was firmly fixed at the outer end.

Archie and his followers were now hotly pressed, but soon a thunder of steps was heard on the drawbridge, and the whole of the band, together with some twenty or thirty of the fishermen, passed under the portcullis and joined them. Archie now took the offensive, and bearing down all opposition burst with his men into the courtyard.

The combat was desperate but short. The governor with some of his soldiers fought stoutly, but the suddenness of the surprise and the fury and vigour with which they were attacked shook the courage of many of the soldiers. Some, instead of joining in the fray, at once threw away their arms and tried to conceal themselves, others fought feebly and half heartedly, and the cries of "A Forbes! A Forbes! Scotland! Scotland!" rose louder and louder as the assailants gradually beat down all resistance. In ten minutes from the falling of the portcullis all resistance was virtually over. The governor himself fell by the hand of Archie Forbes, and at his death those who had hitherto resisted threw down their arms and called for quarter. This was given, and the following day the prisoners were marched under a strong guard down to Montrose, there to be confined until orders for their disposal were received from the king. For the next fortnight Archie and his retainers, aided by the whole of the villagers, laboured to dismantle the castle. The battlements were thrown down into the moat, several wide breaches were made in the walls, and large quantities of straw and wood piled up in the keep and turrets. These were then fired, and the Castle of Dunottar was soon reduced to an empty and gaping shell. Then Archie marched south, and remained quietly at home until the term of rest granted him by the king had expired.

Two girls and a son had by this time been born to him, and the months passed quietly and happily away until Bruce summoned him to join, with his retainers, the force with which Randolph had sat down before Edinburgh Castle. Randolph was delighted at this accession of strength. Between him and Douglas a generous rivalry in gallant actions continually went on, and Douglas had scored the last triumph. The castle of Roxburgh had long been a source of trouble to the Scots. Standing on a rocky eminence on the margin of the Teviot, just at its junction with the Tweed and within eight miles of the Border, it had constituted an open door into Scotland, and either through it or through Berwick the tides of invasion had ever flowed. The castle was very strongly fortified, so much so that the garrison, deeming themselves perfectly safe from assault, had grown careless. The commandant was a Burgundian knight, Gillemin de Fienne. Douglas chose Shrove Tuesday for his attack. Being a feast day of the church before the long lenten fast the garrison would be sure to indulge in conviviality and the watch would be less strict than usual. Douglas and his followers, supplied with scaling ladders, crept on all fours towards the walls. The night was still and they could hear the sentries' conversation. They had noticed the objects advancing, but in the darkness mistook them for the cattle of a neighbouring farmer. Silently the ladders were fixed and mounted, and with the dreaded war cry, "A Douglas! A Douglas!" the assailants burst into the castle, slaying the sentries and pouring down upon the startled revellers. Fienne and his men fought gallantly for a time, but at length all surrendered, with the exception of the governor himself and a few of his immediate followers, who retired into a tower, where they defended themselves until the following day; then Fienne being seriously wounded, the little party also surrendered. As Douglas had no personal quarrel with the garrison of Roxburgh such as he bore with those who occupied his ancestral castle, he abstained from any unnecessary cruelties, and allowed the garrison to withdraw to England, where Fienne soon afterwards died of his wounds.

The castle was as usual levelled to the ground, and as the stronghold of Carlaverock soon afterwards surrendered, the districts of Tweeddale and Galloway were now completely cleared of the English, with the exception of the Castle of Jedburgh, which they still held.

Randolph had been created Earl of Moray, and after establishing himself in his new earldom he had returned with his feudal followers and laid siege to Edinburgh, whose castle was considered all but impregnable. It had been in the possession of the English ever since it was captured by Edward I in 1296, and was strongly garrisoned and well provisioned.

Even when joined by Archie Forbes and his retainers Randolph felt that the castle could not be captured by force. The various attempts which he made were signally foiled, and it was by stratagem only that he could hope to carry it. The news of the capture of Roxburgh by Douglas increased his anxiety to succeed. Accompanied by Archie he rode round the foot of the steep rock on which the castle stands, eagerly scanning its irregularities to see if by any possibility it could be scaled.

"I would give a brave reward," he said to Archie, "to any who could show us a way of climbing those rocks, which, methinks, even a goat could scarcely manage to ascend."

"I can tell you of a way," a Scotch soldier who was standing a few paces off when he made the remark, said, saluting the earl. "It needs a sure foot and a stout heart, but I can lead a score of men with such qualifications to the foot of yonder walls;" and he pointed to the castle rising abruptly from the edge of the rocks.

"If you can make good your word, my brave fellow," Randolph said, "you may ask your own reward, and I pledge you my word, that if it be aught in reason it shall be granted. But who are you, and how did it come that you know of a way where none is supposed to exist?"

"My name is William Francus," the soldier said. "I was at one time, before the king took up arms, a soldier in the castle there. I had a sweetheart in the town, and as my turn to go out from the castle came but slowly I used at night to steal away to visit her. I found after a great search that on the face of yonder wall where it looks the steepest, and where in consequence but slight watch is kept, a man with steady foot and head could make shift to climb up and down, and thus, if you please, will I guide a party to the top of the rock."

"It looks impossible," Randolph said, gazing at the precipice; "but as you tell me that you have done it others can do the same. I will myself follow your guidance."

"And I," Archie said.

"What, Sir Archie, think you is the smallest number of men with whom, having once gained footing on the wall, we may fight our way to the gates and let in our friends."

"I should think," Archie replied, "that with thirty men we might manage to do so. The confusion in the garrison will be extreme at so unexpected a surprise, and if we divide in two parties and press forward by different ways they will think rather of holding together and defending themselves than of checking our course, and one or other of the parties should surely be able to make its way to the gates."

"Thirty let it be then," Randolph said. "Do you choose fifteen active and vigilant men from among your retainers; I will pick as many from mine, and as there is no use in delaying let us carry out the enterprise this very night; of course the rest of our men must gather near the gates in readiness to rush in when we throw them open."

As soon as it was dark the little party of adventurers set out on their way. Francus acted as guide, and under his leading they climbed with vast difficulty and no little danger up the face of the precipice until they reached a comparatively easy spot, where they sat down to recover their breath before they prepared for the final effort.

They could hear the sentries above speaking to each other, and they held their breath when one of them, exclaiming suddenly, "I can see you!" threw down a stone from the battlement, which leapt, crashing down the face of the rock close beside them. Great was their relief when a loud laugh from above told them that the sentry had been in jest, and had but tried to startle his comrade; then the two sentries, conversing as they went, moved away to another part of the walls.

The ascent was now continued, and proved even more difficult than that which they had passed. They were forced continually to halt, while those in front helped those following them, or were themselves hoisted up by the men behind. At last, panting and breathless, they stood on the summit of the rock, on a narrow ledge, with the castle wall rising in front of them. They had, with enormous difficulty, brought up a light ladder with them. This was placed against the wall. Francus was the first to mount, and was followed by Sir Andrew Grey, whom Randolph had invited to be of the party, by Archie Forbes, and by the earl. Just as the latter stepped on to the battlements the sentries caught sight of them and shouted:

"Treason! treason! to arms!" An instant stir was heard in the castle. Rapidly the thirty men followed each other up the ladder, and so soon as the last had gained the battlements they divided in three bodies, each headed by one of the leaders. One party descended straight into the castle and there attacked the soldiers who were hurrying to arms, while the others ran along the wall in opposite directions, cutting down the sentries and brushing aside all opposition until together they met at the gate. This was thrown open, and the Scots outside running up at the top of their speed poured into the castle. At first Randolph's party, which had descended into the courtyard, had been hotly pressed, and had with difficulty defended themselves; but the attention of the startled garrison was distracted by the shouts upon the walls, which told that other parties of their assailants had gained footing there. All sorts of contradictory orders were issued. One commanded them to cut down the little party opposed to them, another ordered them to hurry to the walls, a third to seize the gate and see that it was not opened. The confusion reached its height as the Scots poured in through the open gate. The garrison, surprised and confounded as they were at this, to them, almost magical seizure of the castle by their foes, fought bravely until the governor and many of the officers were killed. Some of the men threw down their arms, and others, taking advantage of their knowledge of the castle, made their way to the gate and escaped into the open country.

The news of the capture was immediately sent to the king, by whose orders the castle and walls were razed to the ground, and thus another of the strongholds, by whose possession the English were enabled to domineer over the whole of the surrounding country, was destroyed.

While Douglas and Randolph were thus distinguishing themselves Edward Bruce captured the castle of Rutherglen, and afterwards the town of Dundee; and now, save Stirling Castle, scarcely a hold in all Scotland remained in English hands. Thus was Scotland almost cleared of the invader, not by the efforts of the people at large, but by a series of the most daring and hazardous adventures by the king himself and three or four of his knights, aided only by their personal retainers. For nine years they had continued their career unchecked, capturing castle by castle and town by town, defeating such small bodies of troops as took the field against them, England, under a supine and inactive king, giving itself up to private broils and quarrels, while Scotland was being torn piecemeal from her grasp.

After Edward Bruce had captured Dundee he laid siege to Stirling. As this castle had for many months resisted Edward I backed by the whole power of England, Bruce could make little impression upon it with the limited appliances at his disposal. From February till the 24th of June the investment continued, when the governor, Sir Philip Mowbray, becoming apprehensive that his provisions would not much longer hold out, induced Edward Bruce to agree to raise the siege on condition that if by the 24th of June next, 1314, the castle was not effectually relieved by an English force, it should then be surrendered.

No satisfactory explanation has ever been given of the reasons which induced Edward Bruce to agree to so one sided a bargain. He had already invested the place for four months, there was no possibility of an army being collected in England for its relief for many months to come, and long ere this could arrive the garrison would have been starved into surrender. By giving England a year to relieve the place he virtually challenged that country to put forth all its strength and held out an inducement to it to make that effort, which internal dissension had hitherto prevented. The only feasible explanation is that Edward Bruce was weary of being kept inactive so long a time before the walls of the fortress which he was unable to capture, and that he made the arrangement from sheer impatience and thoughtlessness and without consideration of the storm which he was bringing upon Scotland. Had it been otherwise he would surely have consulted the king before entering upon an agreement of such extreme importance.

Bruce, when he heard of this rash treaty, was highly displeased, but he nevertheless accepted the terms, and both parties began at once their preparations for the crowning struggle of the war. The English saw that now or never must they crush out the movement which, step by step, had wrested from them all the conquests which had been won with such vast effort under Edward I; while Bruce saw that a defeat would entail the loss of all that he had struggled for and won during so many years.

King Edward issued summonses to the whole of the barons of England and Wales to meet him at Berwick by the 11th of June with all their feudal following, while the sheriffs of the various counties and towns were called upon to supply 27,000 foot soldiers. The English of the settlements in Ireland were also summoned, besides O'Connor, Prince of Connaught, and twenty-five other native Irish chiefs, with their following, all of whom were to be under the command of Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster.

The Prince Bishop of Constance was requested to furnish a body of mounted crossbowmen. A royal fleet of twenty-three vessels was appointed to assemble for the purpose of operating on the east coast, while the seaports were commanded to fit out another fleet of thirty vessels. A third fleet was ordered to assemble in the west, which John of Lorne was appointed to command under the title of High Admiral of the Western Fleet of England. From Aquitaine and the French possessions the vassals were called upon to attend with their men-at-arms, and many knights from France, Gascony, and Germany took part in the enterprise.

Thus, at the appointed time over 100,000 men assembled at Berwick, of whom 40,000 were men-at-arms, and the rest archers and pikemen. For the great armament the most ample arrangements were made in the way of warlike stores, provisions, tents, and means of transport, together with the necessary workmen, artificers, and attendants.

This army surpassed both in numbers and equipments any that Edward I had ever led into Scotland, and is considered to have been the most numerous and best equipped that ever before or since has gathered on English ground. Of the whole of the great nobles of England only four were absent -- the Earls of Warrenne, Lancaster, Arundel, and Warwick -- who, however, sent their feudal arrays under the charge of relations.

Among the leaders of this great army were the Earls of Gloucester, Pembroke, Hereford, and Angus, Lord Clifford, Sir John Comyn, Sir Henry Beaumont, Sir John Seagrave, Sir Edmund Morley, Sir Ingram de Umfraville, Sir Marmaduke de Twenge, and Sir Giles de Argentine, one of the most famous of the Continental knights.

While this vast army had been preparing, Bruce had made every effort to meet the storm, and all who were loyal and who were able to carry weapons were summoned to meet at Torwood, near Stirling, previous to the 24th of June. Here Edward Bruce, Sir James Douglas, Randolph, Earl of Moray, Walter the Steward, Angus of Isla, Sir Archibald Forbes, and a few other knights and barons assembled with 30,000 fighting men, besides camp followers and servants. It was a small force indeed to meet the great army which was advancing against it, and in cavalry in particular it was extremely weak. The English army crossed the Border, and marched by Linlithgow and Falkirk toward the Torwood.

Each army had stirring memories to inspire it, for the English in their march crossed over the field of Falkirk, where sixteen years before they had crushed the stubborn squares of Wallace; while from the spot which Bruce selected as his battleground could be seen the Abbey Craig, overlooking the scene of the Scottish victory of Stirling Bridge. On the approach of the English the Scotch fell back from the Torwood to some high ground near Stirling now called the New Park. The lower ground, now rich agricultural land called the Carse, was then wholly swamp. Had it not been so, the position now taken up by Bruce would have laid the road to Stirling open to the English.

The Scotch army was divided into four divisions. The centre was commanded by Randolph. Edward Bruce commanded the second, which formed the right wing. Walter the Steward commanded the left wing, under the guidance of Douglas, while the king himself took command of the fourth division, which formed the reserve, and was stationed in rear of the centre in readiness to move to the assistance of either of the other divisions which might be hard pressed. The camp followers, with the baggage and provisions, were stationed behind the Gillies Hill.

The road by which the English would advance was the old Roman causeway running nearly north and south. The Bannock Burn was fordable from a spot near the Park Mill down to the village of Bannockburn. Above, the banks were too high and steep to be passed; while below, where ran the Bannock through the carse, the swamps prevented passage. The army was therefore drawn up, with its left resting on the sharp angle of the burn above the Park Mill, and extended where the villages of Easterton, Borestine, and Braehead now stand to the spot where the road crosses the river at the village of Bannockburn. In its front, between it and the river, were two bogs, known as Halberts Bog and Milton Bog, while, where unprotected by these bogs, the whole ground was studded with deep pits; in these stakes were inserted, and they were then covered with branches and grass. Randolph's centre was at Borestine, Bruce's reserve a little behind, and the rock in which his flagstaff was placed during the battle is still to be seen. To Randolph, in addition to his command of the centre division, was committed the trust of preventing any body of English from passing along at the edge of the carse, and so making round to the relief of Stirling.

On the morning of Sunday, the 23d of June, immediately after sunrise, the Scotch attended mass, and confessed as men who had devoted themselves to death. The king, having surveyed the field, caused a proclamation to be made that whosoever felt himself unequal to take part in the battle was at liberty to withdraw. Then, knowing from his scouts that the enemy had passed the night at Falkirk, six or seven miles off, he sent out Sir James Douglas and Sir Robert Keith with a party of horsemen to reconnoitre the advance.

The knights had not gone far when they saw the great army advancing, with the sun shining bright on innumerable standards and pennons, and glistening from lance head, spear, and armour. So grand and terrible was the appearance of the army that upon receiving the report of Douglas and Keith the king thought it prudent to conceal its full extent, and caused it to be bruited abroad that the enemy, although numerous, was approaching in a disorderly manner.

The experienced generals of King Edward now determined upon making an attempt to relieve Stirling Castle without fighting a pitched battle upon ground chosen by the enemy. Had this attempt been successful, the great army, instead of being obliged to cross a rapid stream and attack an enemy posted behind morasses, would have been free to operate as it chose, to have advanced against the strongholds which had been captured by the Scots, and to force Bruce to give battle upon ground of their choosing. Lord Clifford was therefore despatched with 800 picked men-at-arms to cross the Bannock beyond the left wing of the Scottish army, to make their way across the carse, and so to reach Stirling. The ground was, indeed, impassable for a large army; but the troops took with them faggots and beams, by which they could make a passage across the deeper parts of the swamp and bridge the little streams which meandered through it.

As there was no prospect of an immediate engagement, Randolph, Douglas, and the king had left their respective divisions, and had taken up their positions at the village of St. Ninians, on high ground behind the army, whence they could have a clear view of the approaching English army. Archie Forbes had accompanied Randolph, to whose division he, with his retainers, was attached. Randolph had with him 500 pikemen, whom he had withdrawn from his division in order to carry out his appointed task of seeing that the English did not pass along the low ground at the edge of the carse behind St. Ninians to the relief of Stirling; but so absorbed were knights and men-at-arms in watching the magnificent array advancing against the Scottish position that they forgot to keep a watch over the low ground. Suddenly one of the men, who had straggled away into the village, ran up with the startling news that a large party of English horse had crossed the corner of the carse, and had already reached the low ground beyond the church.

"A rose has fallen from your chaplet, Randolph," the king said angrily.

Without a moment's loss of time Randolph and Archie Forbes set off with the spearmen at a run, and succeeded in heading the horsemen at the hamlet of Newhouse. The mail clad horsemen, confident in their numbers, their armour, and horses, laid their lances in rest, struck spurs into their steeds, and, led by Sir William Daynecourt, charged down upon the Scotch spearmen. Two hundred of these consisted of Archie Forbes' retainers, all veterans in war, and who had more than once, shoulder to shoulder, repelled the onslaught of the mailed chivalry of England. Animated by the voices of their lord and Randolph, these, with Moray's own pikemen, threw themselves into a solid square, and, surrounded by a hedge of spears, steadily received the furious onslaught of the cavalry. Daynecourt and many of his men were at the first onslaught unhorsed and slain, and those who followed were repulsed. Again and again they charged down upon the pikemen, but the dense array of spears was more than a match for the lances of the cavalry, and as the horses were wounded and fell, or their riders were unhorsed, men rushed out from the square, and with axe and dagger completed the work. Still the English pressed them hard, and Douglas, from the distance, seeing how hotly the pikemen were pressed by the cavalry, begged the king to allow him to go to Randolph's assistance. Bruce, however, would suffer no change in his position, and said that Randolph must stand or fall by himself. Douglas, however, urged that he should be allowed to go forward with the small body of retainers which he had with him. The king consented, and Douglas set off with his men.

When the English saw him approach they recoiled somewhat from the square, and Douglas, being now better able to see what was going on, commanded his followers to halt, saying that Randolph would speedily prove victorious without their help, and were they now to take part in the struggle they would only lessen the credit of those who had already all but won the victory. Seeing the enemy in some confusion from the appearance of the reinforcement, Randolph and Archie now gave the word for their men to charge, and these, rushing on with spear and axe, completed the discomfiture of the enemy, killed many, and forced the rest to take flight. Numbers, however, were taken. Randolph is said to have had but two men killed in the struggle.

G. A. Henty