Site icon Random Scottish History

I. Isobel, Countess of Buchan, pp.6-36.

[Heroines of Scotland Contents]

“Mothers henceforth shall proudly tell 

How caged and prison’d Isobel 

Did serve her country’s weal,” 

                                                                     – Pratt’s Buchan

T was in the spring of 1297 when Wallace came into the field as champion of Scottish rights. Nine eventful years elapsed; and in the spring of 1306 Robert Bruce was crowned at Scone. Those nine years brought much glory and much woe to Scotland, in eradically stamping the national character with the noblest traits that can distinguish a people. 

   All through the wars of Wallace, the Bruces had supported, now actively, now passively, the English side, notwithstanding what they saw their country suffer. Their claim to the Scottish crown, their hatred of the Baliol ascendancy, and the circumstance of their being English as well as Scottish barons, moulded their policy. They beguiled themselves with false hopes that King Edward would ultimately raise them to vassal sovereignty. The elder Bruce, on the death of Alexander III., had asserted his title to the throne against the Maid of Norway by force of arms, and for about two years kept the flame of internecine war burning in Scotland; but at length he, finding the strife unavailing, agreed to own the Maid. When she died he renewed his claim to the throne, and, being unsuccessful, his proud spirit could not brook the homage to John Baliol, which was incumbent by feudal law. “I am Baliol’s sovereign, not Baliol, mine,” said Bruce; “and, rather than yield such a homage, I resign my lands in Annandale to my son, the Earl of Carrick.” The lands were so resigned; but Robert of Carrick was equally haughty and inflexible, and, to avoid the feudal ceremony in his own person, he in turn made another transfer – giving over all his Scottish possessions to his eldest son, Robert (born in 1274), and the future King), who, without any scruple, yielded fealty to Baliol. 

   the elder Bruce, the Competitor, died at his Castle of Lochmaben in 1295. His son attended King Edward in the Scottish campaign of 1296, expecting to be awarded the Crown, which, indeed, had been promised him by the English monarch on the outbreak of the war with Baliol. But Edward’s word was soon broken. After the Battle of Dunbar, Bruce reminded him of his pledge. “What?” exclaimed the victor, “have I nothing to do but to conquer kingdoms for you?” In the Berwick Parliament of the same year, young Bruce (the Competitor’s grandson) made formal submission to Edward. But although Baliol was deposed and exiled, his kindred were still numerous and powerful in Scotland, headed by the house of Comyn. John Baliol’s sister, Majory, had married John, the “Black Comyn,” Lord of Badenoch, of which union came a son, John, the “Red Comyn.” The ambitious views of the Comyn family were wholly inimical to those of the Bruces; hence the latter gave no countenance to the struggle led by Wallace, who acted throughout in the name of John Baliol. In 1299, after Wallace laid down the Guardianship of Scotland, the Red Comyn and Sir John de Soulis were appointed Governors, and professed to rule in the national interest; but the Brucian party appeared so powerful that mediation was opened, with the result that young Robert Bruce and William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews and Primate of Scotland, a prelate warmly devoted to him, were conjoined with Comyn and Soulis in the Governorship. This coalition, however, being utterly hollow, soon broke through. Thereupon Bruce hastened to make his peace with Edward, and by affectation of firm adhesion to the English side regained the confidence of the King. The resistance of the Scots was soon overcome; Comyn and his friends submitted; and the sway of the usurper was fully restored. Bruce’s father died in 1304, and that year Edward designed to nominate the young Earl of Carrick as one of three Commissioners for regulating the future government of Scotland; but this honour fell far short of Bruce’s secret aim, which was the throne itself. 

   The death of Wallace, in 1305, probably decided Bruce to the final abandonment of the English cause. He held out the right hand of reconciliation to the Red Comyn, and the two rivals came to an amicable understanding. Comyn professed himself as much opposed as Bruce to the English supremacy; but what was to be said of their conflicting pretensions to the Crown? Bruce offered a compromise. “Support my title to the Crown,” he said, “and I will give you my lands; or, give me your lands, and I will support your claim.” Comyn closed at once with the first alternative; and a bond to that effect was written out and sealed in duplicate, each party retaining a copy. 

   What followed is a well-known story. Bruce speedily discovered that Comyn, to whom treachery was habitual, sent his duplicate of the agreement to King Edward, in hopes of ingratiating himself. The King was struck. He showed the document to Bruce, who was then at Court. Bruce calmly and firmly pronounced it a forgery, and craved a little time to make his assertion good. Time was granted, which he improved by a rapid flight to Scotland along with a few friends. On the Border the party encountered a mysterious horseman hurrying into England, who, being recognised as a retainer of Comyn, was stopped and questioned. His answers being evasive, he was cut down, and upon him were found despatches from his master to King Edward, counselling that Bruce should be laid under arrest. The baseness of Comyn being thus confirmed, Bruce pressed on to Dumfries, where, as he knew, the two Justiciars appointed by Edward for the province of Galloway were about to hold a Court, at which both Comyn and his betrayed rival, as freeholders within the province, were obligated to attend. Dumfries was reached on the 4th February, 1305-6, and Bruce, finding that Comyn was already there, sent a message requesting an interview with him, who, believing his treason unknown to his dupe, readily assented. they met in the church of the Greyfriars’ Monastery, and the conference suddenly terminated with Comyn receiving a stab from Bruce’s dagger before the high altar. The wounded baron and his uncle, Sir Robert Comyn, who ran to his assistance, were both despatched by the hands of two of Bruce’s followers, Lindsay and Kirkpatrick. The bloody deed done, the party expelled the Justiciars from the town, and then rode on to the Castle of Lochmaben, the seat of the Lordship of Annandale. there they set themselves to concert measures for their leader’s public assumption of the Crown. 

   During February and the greater part of March the patriots strained every nerve in preparing for the inevitable contest which they had challenged. Meagre was their success in gathering strength, still they would not draw back from the path of duty. The confederacy formed in Bruce’s support was but weak in numbers, including only the following men of mark:- The Bishops of St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Moray – the Abbot of Scone; the Earls of Lennox, Menteith, and Athole; Bruce’s four brothers, Edward, Nigel, Thomas, and Alexander; his nephew, Thomas Randolph; and his brother-in-law, Christopher Seton; Gilbert de la Hay of Errol, and his brother Hugh, and several others. “With these,” says Fordun, the historian, “Bruce had the courage to raise his head, not only against the King of England and his allies, but against the whole accumulated forces of Scotland, with the exception of an extremely small number who adhered to him, and who seemed like a drop of water when compared to the ocean.” But great events often spring from slight causes. Some time in March the patriot Scots took the field, passing from Lochmaben to Glasgow, and on the way they were joined by Sir James, the Black Douglas. From Glasgow they advanced towards Perth, and bent their course to Scone, where, despite the English garrison of the Fair City, they determined to proceed with Bruce’s coronation, on the spot where so many Scottish monarchs had solemnly received “the round and top of sovereignty.” 

   The ceremonial took place on Friday, the 27th March, 1306; but it was unavoidably shorn of much of the august splendour that should otherwise have graced it. The palladium and regalia of the monarchy were gone – King Edward having carried away the “Fatal Stone,” with the crown and sceptre, ten years before. Makeshifts had now, therefore, to be adopted, and they served the end. The Abbot of Scone lent his chair of state for the enthronement; the Bishop of Glasgow gave his best robes, and a golden circlet was removed from the head of one of the saintly images in the Abbey Church of Scone to serve as a crown. It would seem that the coronation was not held within the Abbey, but in the open air, under the rays of the spring sun. At all events, we know that Alexander III. was crowned in the Cimiterium or churchyard, which lay east of the church, and on the north side of the Abbey, betwixt it and the Moot Hill, or Mount of Belief, on which ancient Parliaments were held. In the churchyard stood a cross, and beside it was set the regal chair bearing the “Fatal Stone,” on which the sovereign was seated. Doubtless, the old form was observed, as far as could be, in the case of Bruce. Since the days of Malcolm Canmore, the high privilege of installing the Scottish kings in the chair of state at their coronation had been possessed by the Earls of Fife, as descended from the famous Thane, Macduff. But this time-honoured usage was intermitted at the installation of John Baliol in 1292, for the reason given in a warrant by King Edward – that “Duncan, son and heir of the late Duncan, Earl of Fife, was under age, and could not perform a certain function in the new creation of the King of Scotland, that of placing him in his royal seat at Scone, incumbent upon him according to the usage of the kingdom of Scotland; and therefore Edward assigned to John de St. John to place, in the name of the said heir, John de Baliol, King of Scotland, to whom he had judicially restored that kingdom, in his royal seat at Scone, according to the aforesaid usage.” Now, in 1306, the same Duncan, Earl of Fife, though come of age, was not present at Scone, as he was in England serving King Edward. Therefore the installation was performed by some other. The golden coronet was set on Bruce’s head by the Bishop of St. Andrews. A part of the ceremonial was to put the national banner in the King’s hand; but on this occasion the only national banner that could be procured was the one bearing the armorial device of John Baliol; nevertheless, it had of necessity to serve the purpose, although the incident seemed ominous. When Bruce stood up, anointed and crowned, his port was right regal — 

“Looks he like a king; behold his eye, 

As bright as is the eagle’s, lightens forth, 

Controlling majesty.” 

   He was in his thirty-second year. His stature was tall – exceeding six feet; and his form, cast in a manly mould, indicated great strength and power of endurance; short hair curled about his temples; his eyes were bright and piercing, and his marked features expressed firmness, conjoined with benignity of soul. His adherents and their followers, with the crowd of common spectators, gave hearty homage to their monarch, and the air resounded with shouts of congratulation. The solemnity was not disturbed by the enemy; the garrison of the Fair City being too weak to venture beyond their embattled ports. 

   The patriots abode at Scone over Sunday. But on that day a singular event occurred, confirming, so far as accustomed form went, Bruce’s sovereignty. The Countess Isobel, wife of John, Earl of Buchan, and sister of Duncan, the young Earl of Fife, unexpectedly arrived at Scone with a great train, and put in an important and pressing claim. She was of the line of Macduff – those Earls who had been invested in perpetuity with the right of installation of the Scottish kings; and, although her brother was with King Edward, and her husband was attached to the same cause, and was, moreover, of the Comyn race, a kinsman of the Red traitor who died at Dumfries, and whose slaughter Buchan panted to avenge; yet was she of another mind, zealous for the national independence and the triumph of Robert Bruce. Careless of the consequences, she had secretly fled from her husband, bringing off with her all his war-horses and many of his retainers; and she now insisted that, as representing her brother and the house of Macduff, she should instal Bruce of new. There was much in the ancient custom which was calculated to impress the minds of the people in his favour, and accordingly he complied. On that Sunday, the 29th March – the better day the better deed – the Cimiterium of the Abbey was the scene of a regal spectacle such as had never been witnessed before at the coronation of a Scottish king. The Countess, amid the nobles and knights and their followers, installed Bruce in his chair of state according to the time-honoured ceremonial, and with a fervent expression of hope that he would maintain his rights and achieve freedom of his realm; and once more the crown was placed on his head by the Bishop of St. Andrews. It was rumoured that the Countess cherished a tender attachment to King Robert, although they were each in the bods of matrimony. “She was mad for the beauty of the fool who was crowned,” says the English chronicler, Matthew of Westminster. But what could he know of her motives? Rather let us say – what we believe – that she was inspired by patriotic feeling, and not by unlawful love and ambition, and that she bore the part of a true-hearted Scotswomen. 

   The King and his party now quitted Scone. It was contemptuously said of him by the enemy (what was long afterwards said, and with equal prescience, of Gustavus Adolphus, the “Lion of the North,” when he began the Thirty Years’ War) that “he was but a winter king, who would melt away in the summer;” and surely his first steps were inauspicious. England was beginning to arm for another invasion. the tidings of Comyn’s death and Bruce’s coronation filled Edward with rage. Mortal disease was on the old oppressor: he had lost the use of his limbs, and could only move from place to place in a litter or a chariot; yet, as “in our ashes live their wonted fires,” so his implacable spirit blazed up fiercely at the mouth of the sepulchre, and he resolved that he would himself march against Bruce, and trample out the rebellion. He ordered vast military preparations. Aylmer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, was selected as Governor of Scotland, probably because his sister Johanna was the widow of the Red Comyn. The English forces were summoned to muster at Carlisle fifteen days from Midsummer. The King was to lead the main body. But Pembroke, along with Henry de Percy, Robert de Clifford, Philip de Mowbray, and Ingelram de Umphraville, hurried into Scotland with a body of troops, and quartered in Perth. 

   Leafy June was come, the darling of the year, bringing blue skies, bright sunshine, fragrant flowers, and the melody of the woods – bringing also back to an enslaved and wasted country all the horrors of war. The long days and the short nights facilitated every variety of military operations. Bruce, during the interval since his coronation, had been collecting soldiers, which, indeed, he found no easy task, as he had to contend with the adverse prepossessions created by the former policy of his family. But many of the veterans of Wallace’s bands had joined his standard, and at the head of a small army he approached Perth and boldy offered battle – his forces, according to Barbour, being 1500 fewer than those of Pembroke. To attempt a regular siege or an assault of the city was not Bruce’s plan: he sought rather to wile the Southrons from their defences; and, therefore, on the 19th of June he marshalled his troops on the level country near the walls; but the cautious enemy merely manned their battlements, awaiting attack – they would not stir forth. the day was considerably spent, when Bruce sent a herald to the garrison, bearing a challenge to Pembroke to come out and fight. The herald was admitted and delivered his challenge, which the Earl, on the spur of the moment, was disposed to accept; but he was checked by his more crafty companion-in-arms, Sir Ingelram de Umphraville, who drew him aside. 

   “Beware of rash steps,” said the knight. “The soldiers of Bruce, though not very numerous, are tried men, well posted and arranged; their leader is brave and skilful, and he has valiant knights with him. I fear me much we might not be able to beat them from their ground. Be counselled, my Lord of Pembroke. Meet this rebel-king with subterfuge. Plead the lateness of the hour; pledge your word to fight him to-morrow. Well content, he will withdraw his troops some short distance for the night. Our scouts will follow, and spy his harbourage and order of encampment. If their report seem promising, we may sally out and fall upon the unwary foe in the dark.” 

   This advice prevailed with Pembroke. He returned to the herald, and, pointing to the declining sun, said –  

   “See you not that the day is far gone? Tell Robert Bruce that I shall meet him on the morrow, and fight him on his own ground.” 

   The herald conveyed the message to Bruce, who immediately led off his men from the vicinity of the town, and marching westward for some miles, reached Methven Wood, intending to bivouac there till morning, and thinking of no danger, as he believed Pembroke’s word was unimpeachable. This was exactly what the astute Dr Umphraville had anticipated, and, whilst the Scots were lulled in false security, the garrison of Perth marched out in full strength to fall upon them in the twilight. 

   A lovely summer day was calmly closing. The sunset’s effulgence burnished all the earth, and suffused with glory the few thin clouds that streaked the azure welkin. The sun, resting on the shadowy Grampians, shed a golden haze over the hills and a mellow radiance athwart the open country, kindling into dazzling brilliancy the streams that wandered through green plains, flower-bespangled, and through brown moors flushed with the yellow tassels of the broom. Methven Wood was aglow with the setting orb behind it – the broken splendour glancing down the leafy vistas and between the tree-bolls, and creating alternations of light and shade which would have enraptured the eye of a poet or a painter. Now came a gentle breeze, breathing freshness and fragrance, and awakening the leaves into a soft rustle, which harmonised with the parting song of the choristers in every bush and on every bough – a sweet, clear symphony, ever and anon disturbed, however, by the jarring outburst of the rooks high among the branches that sought the sky. But the voices of Nature – all the sounds of the woods – seemed hushed by the martial clangour and tumult when Bruce’s soldiers approached. One division of the troops – about a third of the whole number – was sent out to forage, and the main body was appointed to bivouac for the night under the sylvan shade. 

   The men gladly disencumbered themselves of their armour, in which they had passed the day under a broiling sun: helms and shields, mail-coats and sheafs of arrows, were piled on the grass, spears and furled banners were disposed against the trees, and the horses were unsaddled and turned loose to crop the turf. Soon the smoke of camp-fires curled upwards through the foliage. The soldiers cooked their frugal supper. The leaders, seated apart on the great hillocky root of an aged monarch of the forest, reviewed the fortunes of the day and calculated the chances of the morrow. The sun had gone down, but the heavens, chequered by the interlacing boughs, were resplendent with the gorgeousness of purple and crimson and gold. The dews bathed the thirsty herbage, and the air became odorous with the sweet-briar. The birds had sung their farewell hymns, and only stray notes thrilled on the ear; but the rooks were in commotion, – flitting restlessly overhead, and inconstantly clamorous because of the invasion of their solitude. The soldiers enjoyed their repast: and then flowing cups went round in hearty pledges to their King and commanders, to freedom and their country. Jests excited merriment: songs were sung. Each man’s mood found free expression. Veterans who had fought their way through all the campaigns of Wallace became garrulous with their experiences. There were recollections of home and better years, – of familiar scenes desolated by the wars, and familiar faces now covered by the sod: manly regret for dead comrades, broken hopes, and forsaken hearthstones, – for households scattered, and never more to know re-union under the dear old rooftree: there were vows of vengeance for wrongs which vengeance to the full would never rectify, and vows to the saints for success in the impending conflict. Songs, jests, tales, and reminiscences sad or wrath-inspiring, – the loud laugh, and the fierce oath, scarce fiercer than some of the laughter, – died away as gloaming gathered, and the bivouac in the wood was yielding to silence and repose. 

   Far from the enemy’s reach – six long miles intervening – the fear of danger entered no man’s mind, and sentinels were deemed a needless precaution – so none were set. The soldiers were disposing themselves to rest – and the foraging party had not returned – when, in the midst of the confidence of security, a startling alarm was given that the Southrons were approaching! It as the eagle eye of the King, as he strolled, solitary and meditative, on the verge of the wood, that first descried the coming peril. He ran in among the men, exclaiming in trumpet tones – “To arms! to arms! Pembroke is upon us!” There was terrible confusion. The surprise was complete, yet no one blanched with fear, or flinched from duty. Most of the Scots had horns – it was a custom in their armies – and they began to blow them – the strength of sound increasing, mingled with the rattle of arms, until the air was rent with the hollow multitudinous roar, as though the wood had suddenly filled with wild beasts maddening for prey. Bruce and his knights, now mounted on their war-horses, flew hither and thither, hastening the formation of the ranks, and directing the soldiers to put on white tunics over their armour, that they might be distinguished in the duskiness of the twilight. The advance of the Southrons was now plainly visible to all – a strong force, cavalry and footmen, led by Pembroke and his knights, pressing on to burst, like a whelming wave, upon the Scots, ere they had time to fall into order of battle. But Bruce succeeded in hurrying his men into some array within the verge of the wood, and, displaying his banner, he commanded silence, and addressed them in well-chosen words:- “Now you may see the value of Southron honour,” he said. “Pembroke, despite his plighted word, has planned to attack us at unawares. But be not dismayed by his numbers. Multitudes do not ensure victory; and God will prosper the just cause. Fight bravely, soldiers of freedom, ever remembering that he who dies for his country earns high reward in heaven.” He was answered with a shout, and the conflict began. 

   The English charged in their divisions, and were stoutly received. The cavalry recoiled before the bristling line of the long spears, many steeds and their riders biting the dust. Again and again they dashed forward, and the struggle deepened on all hands. The clashing of swords and axes on the shields, head-pieces, and mail-coats, seemed like the sound of the hammers and anvils of Vulcan and his cyclops in full operation. Foremost fought the Bruce and his captains, like Paladins of romance, hewing down right and left with indomitable valour. Ever as the King perceived his men give way to the outnumbering power of the enemy, he cried to his standard-bearer to advance, that the soldiers might make renewed efforts to support their flag. Victory yet hung doubtful. The Scots fought like lions. By a surge of the contest, Bruce found himself within reach of the earl of Pembroke, and then spurring irresistibly towards him, struck him at one blow from his saddle. The Earl was stretched prone on the bloody turf, but was speedily surrounded by his men and mounted anew. King Robert was driven back, and his horse transfixed with lances. Another was ready for him, but it soon fell. Scarce had he bestrode a fresh steed when it also was laid low, and the enemy thronged about him and made him prisoner. None recognised him, however, save a Scot, named John de Haliburton, in the English service, who proved himself more a patriot than a mercenary, by suffering the King to break from his captors, in the furious mélee, and escape. A fourth time Bruce mounted on horseback, by the aid of Sir Simon Fraser, and once more mingled in the strife; but its issue was now decided. The Scots were overborne and in disorder – beaten at all points. The King, whose rash bravery had already carried him too far, was loth to confess defeat; but he strove vainly against the tide. As he still refused to turn the rein, a crowd of the enemy assailed him, and his bridle was seized by Sir Philip de Mowbray, who exclaimed in triumph – “I have taken the new-made King!” He had not; or if he had it was but for an instant. Sir Christopher Seton galloped to the spot, cut Mowbray down, and brought off Bruce, who, convinced at last that the battle was lost, exerted himself to draw off the remains of his force into the depth of the wood. He succeeded in this movement, for the Southrons, having suffered severely, gave no pursuit. They contented themselves with their dear-bought victory; and they had captured several valiant Scots – Randolph, the King’s nephew; Sir Alexander Fraser; Sir John de Somerville, Sir David de Barclay, Sir Hugh de Hay, and Sir David de Inchmartin. Bruce’s chaplain was also one of the prisoners. 

   the Scottish troops, reduced to about 500 men, made good their retreat through Methven Wood, and bent their course towards the Grampians, intending to seek refuge in Athole. The Earl of Pembroke returned to Perth, and sent a glowing account of his success to King Edward. When the joyful news reached the royal invalid, his worst passions assumed the mastery. He wrote commanding Pembroke to put all the Methven prisoners to death. But the Governor’s feelings revolted from the perpetration of such insensate barbarity. He allowed several of the knights to ransom themselves, and only gave up the chaplain and some others to execution. As for Randolph, he saved himself otherwise than by ransom. He was but young: he pled the seductive counsels of his uncle, and, professing sincere repentance of his folly, procured pardon. Soon afterwards more prisoners of importance were seized by Pembroke’s soldiers, who traversed the country hunting down the patriots. The Abbot of Scone and the Bishop of St. Andrews were both arrested in armour, and sent in chains to England. The Bishop of Glasgow, also wearing armour, was taken in Cupar Castle, and carried fettered across the Border. 

   King Robert and his band entered the country of Athole, but endured there much privation. Want and misery became their portion, and their numbers daily decreased by desertion. The English pursuers were on their track. A price was set on Bruce’s head; and no man dared to help him. The fugitives sought the wildest and most desert fastnesses, wandering barefooted and in rags, famished and faint. So much was this the case that Peter Langloft, an English metrical chronicler, compared the life led by Bruce to that of a frenzied man, called Dan Waryn, who ran to the woods and ate grass like a beast. Compelled by stark need, the party forsook the inhospitable hills of Athole, and drew towards Aberdeen. There Bruce was met by his brother, Nigel, who brought along with him a female train, comprising Elizabeth, the Queen, daughter of Richard, Earl of Ulster, and King Robert’s second spouse; Christina and Mary, the King’s sisters – Christina being the widow of Gratney, Earl of Mar, and wife of Sir Christopher Seton; Marjory, the King’s daughter by his first marriage with Isabella, daughter of Donald, Earl of Mar, the father of Gratney above-named, and several other ladies among whom, it is believed, was the Countess of Buchan, whose husband was so exceedingly wroth at what he deemed her treason that he threatened to take her life whenever he should lay hands on her. This female train, deprived of all shelter, and against whom King Edward was unmanly enough to issue a formal proscription, followed Bruce’s fortunes. The Forlorn company entered the country of Breadalbane, where they subsisted chiefly by hunting and fishing. In the procuring of sustenance by these means the Black Douglas excelled all his compeers. Such is the testimony borne by Barbour:- 

– “Worthy James of Douglas 

Ay travailing and busy was, 

For to purchase the ladies meat; 

And it on mony wise would get. 

.     .     .     .     . 

But of all that ever they were, 

There was not ane among them there, 

That to the ladies’ profit was 

More than James of Douglas.” 

   The patriots, on coming down by the head of Loch Tay, were beset in a rugged pass by the Lord of Lorn, who defeated them with considerable loss. In this distress the ladies were escorted northwards to the Castle of Kildrummie, which was garrisoned under Nigel Bruce. There for a short season they abode in security, but the advance of an English force to lay siege to the Castle, caused them to flee for safety to the “Girth of Tain,” or Sanctuary of St. Duthac, at Tain, in the shire of Ross. This Scottish saint was born near Tain, and died in Armagh about the year 1065, and his remains were transported from their Irish grave nearly two centuries later, and deposited in the chapel dedicated to him at Tain, and which had acquired the right of girth or sanctuary. But St. Duthac’s girth proved no sanctuary to Queen Elizabeth and her sister fugitives. the Earl of Ross, a wretched minion of the Southron usurper, broke into the chapel, dragged them forth, and delivered them over to the enemy. Edward, of course, was scarcely so debased as to embrue his hands in the blood of helpless women, but the Scottish knights and esquires who had formed their guard of honour at Tain, were butchered out of hand. The Queen, the Princess Marjory, and Christina Bruce, Lady Seton, were straightway carried to England, where they were confined, but treated with some show of respect for their rank. Mary Bruce, however, for some reason unexplained, fared far worse, being placed in a strong cage constructed in one of the towers of Roxburgh Castle. The ladies languished in captivity for eight long years, their liberation being ultimately effected by exchange for noble English prisoners taken at Bannockburn. 

   The other female captive of rank was Isobel of Buchan. She was conveyed to Berwick, and condemned to a similar mode of imprisonment to that of Mary Bruce. “That impious conspiratress, the Countess of Buchan,” says Matthew of Westminster, “was taken prisoner, respecting whom the King was consulted, when he said, ‘Because she has not struck with the sword, she shall not die by the sword, but, on account of the unlawful coronation which she performed, let her be closely confined in an abode of stone and iron, made in the shape of a cross, and let her be hung up out of doors in the open air at Berwick, that both in her life and after her death she may be a spectacle and eternal reproach to travellers.’ ” King Edward’s ordinance on the subject was couched in the following terms:- 

   “BE IT COMMANDED, that the Chamberlain of Scotland, or his Deputy at Berwick-upon-Tweed, shall cause a cage to be constructed in one of the towers of the Castle of Berwick, and in the place which he shall find most convenient for the purpose. This cage shall be strongly latticed and cross-barred with wood, and secured with iron; and in it he shall confine the Countess of Buchan, taking special care that she be therein so well and safely guarded that in no sort she may issue therefrom. He shall appoint one or more women of Berwick, who shall be English, and liable to no suspicion, who shall minister to the said Countess in eating and drinking, and in all things else convenient, in her said lodging-place. He shall cause her to be so carefully and strictly guarded in the said cage that she may not be permitted to converse with any person whomsoever of the Scots nation, or with anyone else, saving with the women who attend upon her, and the guard who may have the custody of her person. The cage shall be so constructed that the Countess may have therein the convenience of a decent chamber; yet all things shall be so well and surely ordered that no peril may arise respecting the secure custody of the said Countess; and the person into whose custody she may be committed shall be responsible, body for body, and he shall be allowed his reasonable charges.” 

   These are specific directions for the degrading confinement of a nobly-born Scotswoman, whose only crime was her fearless patriotism; but it will be observed that the shape of the cage is not mentioned, nor that it was to “be hung up out of doors in the open air.” Already in the open air the right arm of Wallace was exposed, on the point of a spear, on Berwick Bridge, where it remained until some friendly hand took it down, under cloud of night, and buried it within the walls at a spot near the church. 

   The Castle of Kildrummie was besieged, and the garrison, after a gallant defence, were reduced to severe straits, and surrendered. Nigel Bruce became a prisoner. He was taken to Berwick, and executed as a traitor. The old Earl of Athole, who had been at Methven, was intercepted in making his escape from Scotland by sea, and died the death. Sir Christopher Seton and Sir Simon Fraser were both betrayed, and laid down their lives on English scaffolds. Moreover, King Edward contrived to get his clutches over the crown which was used at Bruce’s coronation. 

   In the end of February, 1306-7, Edward was lying at Carlisle with the main body of his army. Thither came the Papal Legate, Cardinal St. Sabinus, who, with bell, book, and candle, excommunicated Robert Bruce, and all his abettors, for the murder of the Red Comyn. Edward laid great store by this master-stroke, flattering himself that the terrors of excommunication would detach the Scottish people from the cause of Bruce. but the cunning tyrant was never more deceived in all his life. The excommunication fell powerless in Scotland. 

   Bruce and many of his friends had made their way to the sea-side, and sailed for the Isle of Rachrin, on the Irish coast, expecting probably to obtain aid from the Earl of Ulster. they spent the winter in the island, concocting future operations. They were encouraged by the cordial aid afforded them by Christina, the Lady of the Isles; and with early spring they landed on the “Carrick shore,” and speedily stormed the Castle of Turnberry. Here another noble Scottish lady evinced her sympathy with the national cause. Her name has escaped the historian’s pen; but it is said she was a kinswoman of Bruce; and she sent him money and provisions, and a band of forty armed men. Neither she nor Christina of the Isles were deterred by what had befallen Isobel of Buchan. The Scots pursued their enterprise, and Fortune smiled on their efforts. They won castles, and routed squadrons in the field. Their successes stirred King Edward into activity. His illness, which seems to have been a dysentery, had confined him for months at Carlisle, and he was gradually growing weaker. News of his death flew abroad. To counteract the false report, he forced himself from his couch, appeared on horseback, offered up his horse-litter in Carlisle Cathedral in professed gratitude for his recovery, and resumed the march which had been so long delayed. But he advanced no farther than six miles in four days. He reached the hamlet of Burgh-on-Sands, within sight of Scotland, on the 6th of July, 1307, and there he was finally prostrated. Yet he employed his fleeting moments in denouncing vengeance upon Bruce and the Scots. He made his son swear “by all the saints, that as soon as he should be dead he would have his body boiled in a large cauldron until the flesh should be separated from the bones; that he should have the flesh buried and the bones preserved; and that every time the Scots should rebel against him, he should summon his people, and carry against them the bones of his father; for he believed most firmly that as long as his bones should be carried against the Scots, these Scots would never be victorious.” The Southron vampire having imposed this insane oath, was assisted by his attendants to rise on his couch that he might partake of a repast, but he suddenly sank back and breathed his last. 

   Under the weak and facile Edward II., who wholly neglected his father’s dying injunctions, the English army slowly entered Scotland, and penetrated as far as the borders of Ayrshire without encountering an enemy. Edward had little taste for the field of Mars, and so he caused a retreat to be sounded, and led his forces homewards. The retreat inspired Bruce and his adherents with high hopes, and they continued their struggle with varying results, until a new English army forced them to draw off to the North. Their greatest enemy in that quarter then was the Earl of Buchan, the husband of the caged Countess. He was wedded to the Southron cause, being animated by inextinguishable hatred of Bruce, who at this season of difficulty and danger laboured under a serious illness, brought on by the privations which he had endured. Vengeance in full measure seemed now within Comyn’s grasp. He rashly attacked an outpost of the Scots, whereupon the King, though carried in a litter, led his men against the foe, and a battle was fought at Inverury on 22nd May, 1308, when the Scots gained a signal victory, which utterly crushed the Comyn power. Bruce then marched into the Earl’s own territory of Buchan and wasted it with fire and sword, reducing it to a blackened desert, so that, as Barbour tells, the “Herschip of Buchan” was fresh in all men’s remembrance for the next fifty years. 

   We now return to the Countess Isobel. Whilst the struggle for Scottish independence was progressing, she dwelt immured in her Berwick cage for the space of four years, and perchance suffered to hear nothing of the events in the North. Did her husband, when he fled for safety in England, visit her in her affliction? History sayeth not. On the expiry of four years, the English Government, apparently ashamed of the barbarous treatment to which she was subjected, granted her a milder and more becoming form of durance in the Monastery of Mount Carmel at Berwick. She abode under the monastic roof for other three years, and then was transferred to the custody of an English magnate, Henry de Beaumont. Presumably, if she lived, she was released along with the Royal Scottish ladies after the battle of Bannockburn, but her transference to Beaumont’s charge is the last recorded incident in her romantic story – though she will ever be remembered for her patriotism, and the sufferings which it entailed. 

   With regard to Mary Bruce, the King’s sister, who was caged in Roxburgh Castle, we may reasonably suppose that she, too, after a time, was removed to some more fitting place of imprisonment; but history is silent on that point.   in conclusion, we may add that the only other case known to us in which an important prisoner was kept enclosed in a cage was that of the Ottoman Sultan, Bajazet I., when he was captured in battle by Tamerlane. or Timour the Tartar, in the year 1401. Bajazet, who had boasted that he would subject Timour to the like indignity, was confined in a grated iron cage, which, when his conqueror travelled, was carried, slung between a couple of horses. the captive endured this imprisonment for only nine months, when death gave him release. Some accounts say that he died of apoplexy; others that he beat out his brains against the bars of his cage.

Exit mobile version