‘Black Agnes; A Romance of the Siege of Dunbar’ (1890)

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   The examples of valorous dames are innumerable, but one from the History of Scotland is sufficient. During the struggles between Edward Baliol and David Bruce, the young son of Robert Bruce, the Castle of Dunbar was held for the latter by the famous Countess of March, daughter of Thomas Randolph, Earl of Murray, commonly called “Black Agnes,” on account of her jet black hair and eyes. Montague, Earl of Salisbury, came to besiege her stronghold, and kept a huge stone-throwing machine continually at work. The inmates made a valiant resistance, and “Black Agnes” and her maidens, to show their contempt for the enemy, appeared on the battlements, and with clean towels wiped the places where the stones fell. A still more powerful machine of war called “the Sow” was next placed close to the wall. Concealed inside of it were soldiers, who with pickaxes were speedily undermining the fortress. On seeing “the Sow” approach, the countess ordered an immense piece of rock to be hurled on it, which broke in the roof. As the engine was being dragged to the walls, she cried derisively:- 

“Beware Montague! 

For farrow shall thy sow!” 

– and when the soldiers rushed away, pursued by a shower of stones and arrows from her followers, the dauntless lady shouted, “Behold the litter of English pigs!” The earl, along with another knight, rode one day towards the castle, and although the latter was clad in three coats of mail over a leather jacket, he was shot by an arrow from the battlements. As he was falling, the other exclaimed, “That is one of my lady’s love tokens; Black Agnes’s shafts pierce to the heart.” The valiant dame, however, once nearly took him prisoner. She sent a messenger to Salisbury feigning a desire to give up the castle, and, accepting the proposals in good faith, he proceeded to the gates, accompanied by a squire of Northumberland, John Copeland. The latter, pressing forward, entered, and the portcullis at once was dropped, leaving the wished-for captive outside. The siege lasted for nineteen weeks, when the countess was relieved by Alexander Ramsay, and the foe retired. her determined conduct has been celebrated in many a ballad, for – 

She kept a stir in tower and trench, 

That brawling, boisterous Scottish wench, 

Came I early, came I late, 

I found Agnes at the gate. 


– Newcastle Chronicle, Saturday 18th January, 1890, p.9.

Aberdeen Weekly News, Saturday May 3rd, 1890, p.2.

Aberdeen Weekly News, Saturday 10th May, 1890, p.2.

Aberdeen Weekly News, Saturday 17th May, 1890, p.2.

Aberdeen Weekly News, Saturday 24th May, 1890, p.2.