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- In Freedom's Cause - 3/60 -
"I trust not, my son; but I fear that it will be long before we shake off the English yoke. Our nobles are for the most part of Norman blood; very many are barons of England; and so great are the jealousies among them that no general effort against England will be possible. No, if Scotland is ever to be freed, it will be by a mighty rising of the common people, and even then the struggle between the commons of Scotland and the whole force of England aided by the feudal power of all the great Scotch nobles, would be well nigh hopeless."
This conversation sank deeply into Archie's mind; day and night he thought of nothing but the lost freedom of Scotland, and vowed that even the hope of regaining his father's lands should be secondary to that of freeing his country. All sorts of wild dreams did the boy turn over in his mind; he was no longer gay and light hearted, but walked about moody and thoughtful. He redoubled his assiduity in the practice of arms; and sometimes when fighting with Sandy, he would think that he had an English man-at-arms before him, and would strike so hotly and fiercely that Sandy had the greatest difficulty in parrying his blows, and was forced to shout lustily to recall him from the clouds. He no longer played at ball with the village lads; but, taking the elder of them aside, he swore them to secrecy, and then formed them into a band, which he called the Scottish Avengers. With them he would retire into valleys far away from the village, where none would mark what they were doing, and there they practised with club and stake instead of broadsword and pike, defended narrow passes against an imaginary enemy, and, divided into two parties, did battle with each other.
The lads entered into the new diversion with spirit. Among the lower class throughout Scotland the feeling of indignation at the manner in which their nobles had sold their country to England was deep and passionate. They knew the woes which English domination had brought upon Wales and Ireland; and though as yet without a leader, and at present hopeless of a successful rising, every true Scotchman was looking forward to the time when an attempt might be made to throw off the English yoke.
Therefore the lads of Glen Cairn entered heart and soul into the projects of their "young chief," for so they regarded Archie, and strove their best to acquire some of the knowledge of the use of sword and pike which he possessed. The younger lads were not permitted to know what was going on -- none younger than Archie himself being admitted into the band, while some of the elders were youths approaching man's estate. Even to his mother Archie did not breathe a word of what he was doing, for he feared that she might forbid his proceedings. The good lady was often surprised at the cuts and bruises with which he returned home; but he always turned off her questions by muttering something about rough play or a heavy fall, and so for some months the existence of the Scottish Avengers remained unsuspected.
Chapter II Leaving Home
One day when "the Avengers" were engaged in mimic battle in a glen some two miles from the village they were startled with a loud shout of "How now, what is this uproar?" Bows were lowered and hedge stakes dropped; on the hillside stood Red Roy, the henchman of Sir John Kerr, with another of the retainers. They had been crossing the hills, and had been attracted by the sound of shouting. All the lads were aware of the necessity for Archie's avoiding the notice of the Kerrs, and Andrew Macpherson, one of the eldest of the lads, at once stepped forward: "We are playing," he said, "at fighting Picts against Scots."
This was the case, for the English were so hated that Archie had found that none would even in sport take that name, and the sides were accordingly dubbed Scots and Picts, the latter title not being so repugnant, and the companies changing sides each day.
"It looks as if you were fighting in earnest," Roy said grimly, "for the blood is streaming down your face."
"Oh, we don't mind a hard knock now and again," Andrew said carelessly. "I suppose, one of these days, we shall have to go out under Sir John's banner, and the more hard knocks we have now, the less we shall care for them then."
"That is so," Roy said; "and some of you will soon be able to handle arms in earnest. Who are your leaders?" he asked sharply, as his eye fixed on Archie, who had seated himself carelessly upon a rock at some little distance.
"William Orr generally heads one side, and I the other."
"And what does that young Forbes do?" Red Roy asked.
"Well, he generally looks on," Andrew replied in a confidential tone; "he is not much good with the bow, and his lady mother does not like it if he goes home with a crack across the face, and I don't think he likes it himself; he is but a poor creature when it comes to a tussle."
"And it is well for him that he is," Red Roy muttered to himself; "for if he had been likely to turn out a lad of spirit, Sir John would have said the word to me before now; but, seeing what he is, he may as well be left alone for the present. He will never cause trouble." So saying, Red Roy strolled away with his companion, and left the lads to continue their mimic fight.
News travelled slowly to Glen Cairn; indeed, it was only when a travelling chapman or pedlar passed through, or when one of the villagers went over to Lanark or Glasgow, carrying the fowls and other produce of the community to market, that the news came from without.
Baliol was not long before he discovered that his monarchy was but a nominal one. The first quarrel which arose between him and his imperious master was concerning the action of the courts. King Edward directed that there should be an appeal to the courts at Westminster from all judgments in the Scottish courts. Baliol protested that it was specifically agreed by the Treaty of Brigham that no Scotchman was liable to be called upon to plead outside the kingdom; but Edward openly declared, "Notwithstanding any concessions made before Baliol became king, he considered himself at liberty to judge in any case brought before him from Scotland, and would, if necessary, summon the King of Scots himself to appear in his presence." He then compelled Baliol formally to renounce and cancel not only the Treaty of Brigham, but every stipulation of the kind "known to exist, or which might be thereafter discovered." Another appeal followed, and Baliol was cited to appear personally, but refused; he was thereupon declared contumacious by the English parliament, and a resolution was passed that three of the principal towns of Scotland should be "seized," until he gave satisfaction. All this was a manifest usurpation, even allowing Edward's claims to supremacy to be well founded.
At this moment Edward became involved in a quarrel with his own lord superior Phillip, king of France, by whom he was in turned summoned to appear under the pain of contumacy. Edward met this demand by a renunciation of allegiance to Phillip and a declaration of war, and called upon Baliol for aid as his vassal; but Baliol was also a vassal of the French king, and had estates in France liable to seizure. He therefore hesitated. Edward further ordered him to lay an embargo upon all vessels in the ports of Scotland, and required the attendance of many of the Scottish barons in his expedition to France. Finding his orders disobeyed, on the 16th of October Edward issued a writ to the sheriff of Northampton, "to seize all lands, goods, and chattels of John Baliol and other Scots."
The Scotch held a parliament at Scone. All Englishmen holding office were summarily dismissed. A committee of the estates was appointed to act as guardian of the kingdom, and Baliol himself was deprived of all active power; but an instrument was prepared in his name, reciting the injuries that he and his subjects had sustained at the hands of the English king, and renouncing all further allegiance. Following this up, a league was concluded, offensive and defensive, between the French king and Scotland, represented by the prelates, nobles, and community. Edward Baliol, the king's son, was contracted to marry the French king's niece. Phillip bound himself to assist Scotland against any invasion of England, and the Scotch agreed to cross the Border in case Edward invaded France.
In making this alliance the Scots took the only step possible; for they had no choice between fighting England with France as their ally, or fighting France as the subjects of King Edward. The contest which was approaching seemed all but hopeless. The population of England was six times as large as that of Scotland, and Edward could draw from Ireland and Wales great numbers of troops. The English were trained to war by constant fighting in France, Ireland, and Wales; while the Scots had, for a very long period, enjoyed a profound peace, and were for the most part wholly ignorant of warfare.
Edward at once prepared to invade Scotland; in January he seized the lands owned by Comyn in Northumberland and sold them, directing the money to be applied to the raising and maintenance of 1000 men-at-arms and 60,000 foot soldiers, and in February issued a writ for the preparation of a fleet of 100 vessels.
On the 25th of March he crossed the Tweed with 5000 horse and 30,000 foot. The Scotch leaders were, of course, aware of the gathering storm, and, collecting their forces, attempted a diversion by crossing the Border to the west and making a raid into Cumberland. King Edward, however, marched north and besieged Berwick, the richest and most flourishing of the towns of Scotland. With the exception of the castle, it was weakly fortified. The attack was commenced by the fleet, who were, however, repulsed and driven off. A land assault, led by the king in person, was then made; the walls were captured, and the town completely sacked. The inhabitants were butchered without distinction of age, sex, or condition, and even those who fled to the churches were slain within the sanctuary. Contemporary accounts differ as to the numbers who perished on this occasion. Langtoff says 4000; Hemingford, 8000; Knighton, another English writer, says 17,000; and Matthew of Westminster, 60,000. Whichever of these writers is correct, it is certain that almost the whole of the men, women, and children of the largest and most populous Scottish town were butchered by the orders of the English king, who issued direct orders that none should be spared. From this terrible visitation Berwick, which was before called the Alexandria of the West, never recovered. The castle, which was held by Sir William Douglas, surrendered immediately; and Sir William, having sworn fealty to the English king, was permitted to depart.
The English army now marched north. Patrick, Earl of Dunbar,
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