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Chapter IV. – The Castle of Dunbar and its Mistress.

[Black Agnes Contents]

   The Castle of Dunbar is now a ruin, and from the few weather-beaten walls which the lapse of ages, the inroads of the waves, and the artillery of successive besiegers have suffered to remain, little idea can be formed of its former renown and ancient magnificence, though even yet broken and disjointed fragments which hang over the entrance to the modern harbour afford most conclusive evidence as to the great extent and massive strength of this fortress of byegone days. Very different was the condition of the Castle on that dark All Saints morning when Adam Home was welcomed within its gates. Even then the sea-girt stronghold had a history and a past. The first castle on this site had been burned by Kenneth, King of the Scots, in 856, and in the reign of Malcolm Canmore it was granted to a noble refugee – Patrick, or Cospatrick, Earl of Northumbria – and it was his son who first received the title of Earl of Dunbar and March. Now, Patrick, the ninth Earl, reigned in the old home of his ancestors, and during his absence fighting the battles of his King and country his wife, Agnes, daughter of Regent Randolf, Earl Moray, and niece of Bruce, was bravely defending her husband’s rights against a besieging English army under the command of Montague, Earl of Salisbury/ 

   Standing on high rocks, which rise sheer up as it were from the sea, this stronghold, before the days of gunpowder, was all but impregnable, unless its defenders were undermined by treachery or weakened by famine or disease. Like the famous rocky strongholds of Edinburgh, Stirling, and Dumbarton, it was well nigh impossible successfully to assail this Castle, either by an ordinary assault or by means of the rude battering ram or other military engines of the Middle Ages. So far as force was concerned it was all but, if not altogether, a virgin fortress, yielding only when malign influences were at work within the walls. The Castle, as we have said, was built on rocks overlooking the sea, and on the land side it was defended in the usual fashion by moat, portcullis, and massive gateway. The walls were of red sandstone, enormously thick – in some places eleven feet – and still further strengthened by a coating of cement, which rendered them as tough and solid as the rock from which they sprung. On an isolated part of the rock stood a strong circular bastion, connected with the western part of the Castle by a high, thick wall, through which ran a narrow passage leading to the centre of the outwork. The only sea inlet to the Castle was opposite this connecting wall, and a staircase from the water’s edge led up to a door in the wall, giving access to the inner passage, from which either the main building of the Castle or the bastion could be reached. Such then was the Castle of Dunbar, and, as we shall see in the course of this narrative, its young and beautiful mistress, and present defender, was not less remarkable. Black Agnes, as she was called from her swarthy complexion, daughter of one of the bravest of the brave – Randolph, the friend and brother soldier of Bruce – was herself noted as a gentle and loving, yet genuinely fearless, Scottish heroine. As the successful defender of her Lord’s Castle, she was long a favourite theme for popular legends, old world romances, and the ballads of patriotic minstrels, and even we in this prosaic age cannot but thrill with admiration when we read the story of this Scottish Countess, who, we are told, had every virtue of woman except fear. 

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