Walter Scott.

The tales of a grandfather : being the history of Scotland from the earliest period to the close of the rebellion, 1745-46 (Volume 1) online

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was imprisoned in the castle of Edinburgh, but Mar's fate was
instantly decided ; the King caused him to be murdered by
stifling him in a bath, or, as other historians say, by causing
him to be bled to death. James committed this horrid crime in
order to avoid dangers which were in a great measure imagin-
ary ; but we shall find that the death of his brother Mar
rather endangered than added to his safety.

Albany was in danger of the same fate, but some of his
friends in France or Scotland had formed a plan of rescuing
him. A small sloop came into the roadstead of Leith, loaded
with wine of Gascony, and two small barrels were sent up as
a present to the imprisoned prince. The guard having suffered
the casks to be carried to Albany's chamber, the duke, exam-
ining them in private, found that one of them contained a roll
of wax, enclosing a letter, exhorting him to make his escape,
and promising that the little vessel which brought the wine
should be ready to receive him if he could gain the waterside.
The letter conjured him to be speedy, as there was a purpose
to behead him on the day following. A coil of ropes was ajsp



enclosed in the same cask, in order to enable him to effect his
descent from the castle wall, and the precipice upon which it
is built There was a faithful attendant, his chamberlain,
imprisoned with him in the same apartment, who promised to
assist his master in this perilous undertaking. The first point
was to secure the captain of the guard ; for which purpose
Albany invited that officer to sup with him, in order, as the
Duke pretended, to taste the good wine which had been presented
to him in the two casks. The captain accordingly, having
placed his watches where he thought there was danger, came
to the Duke's chamber, attended by three of his soldiers, and
partook of a collation. After supper, the Duke engaged him in
playing at tables and dice, until the captain, seated beside a
hot fire, and plied with wine by the chamberlain, began to
grow drowsy, as did his attendants, on whom the liquor had
not been spared. Then the Duke of Albany, a strong man
and desperate, leapt from the table and stabbed the captain
with a whinger or dagger, so that he died on the spot. The
like he did to two of the captain's men, and the chamberlain
despatched the other, and threw their bodies on the fire. This
was the more easily accomplished that the soldiers were intoxi-
cated and stupefied. They then took the keys from the captain's
pocket, and, getting out upon the walls, chose a retired corner,
out of the watchman's sight, to make their perilous descent.
The chamberlain tried to go down the rope first, but it was too
short, so that he fell and broke his thigh-bone. He then called
to his master to make the rope longer. Albany returned to his
apartment, and took the sheets from the bed, with which he
lengthened the rope, so that he descended the precipice in safety.
He then got his chamberlain on his back, and conveyed him
to a place of security, where he might remain concealed
till his hurt was cured, and went himself to the sea-
side, when, upon the appointed signal, a boat came ashore and
took him off to the vessel, in which he sailed for France.

During the night, the guards, who knew that their officer
was in the Duke's apartment with three men, could not but
suppose that all was safe ; but when daylight showed them
the rope hanging from the walls, they became alarmed,
and hastened to the Duke's lodgings. Here they found the
body of one man stretched near the door, and the corpses of
the captain and other two lying upon the fire. The King was

1479-82 REIGN OF JAMES III. 195

much surprised at so strange an escape, and would give no
credit to it till he had examined the place with his own eyes.

The death of Mar, and the flight of Albany, increased the
insolence of King James's unworthy favourites. Robert
Cochran, the mason, rose into great power, and as every
man's petition to the King came through his hands, and
he expected and received bribes to give his countenance, he
amassed so much wealth, that he was able in his turn to bribe
the King to confer on him the earldom of Mar, with the lands
and revenues of the deceased prince. All men were filled with
indignation to see the inheritance of the murdered earl, the
son of the King of Scotland, conferred upon a mean upstart,
like this Cochran. This unworthy favourite was guilty of
another piece of mal-ad ministration, by mixing the silver coin
of the kingdom with brass and lead, and thereby decreasing
its real value, while orders were given by proclamation to take
it at the same rate as if it were composed of pure silver. The
people refused to sell their corn and other commodities for this
debased coin, which introduced great distress, confusion, and
scarcity. Some one told Cochran, that this money should be
called in, and good coin issued in its stead ; but he was so con-
fident of the currency of the Cochran-placks, as the people
called them, that he said, " The day I am hanged they may
be called in ; not sooner." This speech, which he made in
jest, proved true in reality.

In the year 1482 the disputes with England had come to
a great height, and Edward IV. made preparations to invade
Scotland, principally in the hope of recovering the town of
Berwick. He invited the Duke of Albany from France to
join him in this undertaking, promising to place him on the
Scottish throne instead of his brother. This was held out in
order to take advantage of the unpopularity of King James,
and the general disposition which manifested itself in Scotland
in favour of Albany.

But, however discontented with their sovereign, the Scot-
tish nation showed themselves in no way disposed to receive
another king from the hands of the English. The Parliament
assembled, and unanimously determined 011 war against Edward
the Robber, for so they termed the King of England. To
support this violent language, James ordered the whole array
of the kingdom, that is, all the men who were bound to dis-


charge military service, to assemble at the Borough-moor of
Edinburgh, from whence they inarched to Lauder, and en-
camped between the river Leader and the town, to the amount
of fifty thousand men. But the great barons, who had there
assembled with their followers, were less disposed to advance
against the English than to correct the abuses of King
James's administration.

Many of the nobility and barons held a secret council in the
church of Lauder, where they enlarged upon the evils which
Scotland sustained through the insolence and corruption of
Cochran and his associates. While they were thus declaiming,
Lord Gray requested their attention to a fable. " The mice,"
he said, " being much annoyed by the persecution of the cat,
resolved that a bell should be hung about puss's neck, to give
notice when she was coming. But though the measure was
agreed to in full council, it could not be carried into effect,
because no mouse had courage enough to undertake to tie the
bell to the neck of the formidable enemy." This was as much
as to intimate his opinion, that though the discontented nobles
might make bold resolutions against the King's ministers, yet
it would be difficult to find any one courageous enough to act
upon them.

Archibald, Earl of Angus, a man of gigantic strength and
intrepid courage, and head of that second family of Douglas
whom I before mentioned, started up when Gray had done
speaking. "I am he," he said, "who will bell the cat;" from
which expression he was distinguished by the name of Bell-
the-Cat to his dying day.

While thus engaged, a loud authoritative knocking was
heard at the door of the church. This announced the arrival
of Cochran, attended by a guard of three hundred men, attached
to his own person, and all gaily dressed in his livery of white,
with black facings, and armed with partisans. His own
personal appearance corresponded with this magnificent attend-
ance. He was attired in a riding suit of black velvet, and had
round his neck a fine chain of gold, whilst a bugle-horn, tipped
and mounted with gold, hung down by his side. His helmet
was borne before him, richly inlaid with the same precious
metal ; even his tent and tent-cords were of silk, instead of
ordinary materials. In this gallant guise, having learned there
was some council holding among the nobility, he came to see


what they were doing, and it was with this purpose that he
knocked furiously at the door of the church. Sir Robert
Douglas of Lochleven, who had the charge of watching the
door, demanded who was there. When Cochran answered,
" The Earl of Mar," the nobles greatly rejoiced at hearing he
was come, to deliver himself, as it were, into their hands.

As Cochran entered the church, Angus, to make good his
promise to bell the cat, met him, and /udely pulled the gold
chain from his neck, saying, " A halter would better become
him." Sir Eobert Douglas, at the same time, snatched away
his bugle-horn, saying, "Thou hast been a hunter of mischief
too long."

"Is this jest or earnest, my lords?" said Cochran, more
astonished than alarmed at this rude reception.

"It is sad earnest," said they, "and that thou and thy
accomplices shall feel ; for you have abused the King's favour
towards you, and now you shall have your reward according to
your deserts."

It does not appear that Cochran or his guards offered any
resistance. A part of the nobility went next to the King's
pavilion, and, while some engaged him in conversation, others
seized upon Leonard, Hommel, Torphichen, and the rest, with
Preston, one of the only two gentlemen amongst King James's
minions, and hastily condemned them to instant death, as having
misled the King, and misgoverned the kingdom. The only
person who escaped was John Ramsay of Balmain, a youth of
honourable birth, who clasped the King round the waist when
he saw the others seized upon. Him the nobles spared, in
respect of his youth, for he was not above sixteen years, and
of the King's earnest intercession in his behalf. There was a
loud acclamation among the troops, who contended with each
other in offering their tent-ropes, and the halters of their
horses, to be the means of executing these obnoxious ministers.
Cochran, who was a man of audacity, and had first attracted
the King's attention by his behaviour in a duel, did not lose
his courage, though he displayed it in an absurd manner. He
had the vanity to request that his hands might not be tied
with a hempen rope, but with a silk cord, which he offered to
furnish from the ropes of Ms pavilion ; but this was only teach-
ing his enemies how to give his feelings additional pain. They
told him he was but a false thief, and should die with all


manner of shame ; and they were at pains to procure a hair-
tether or halter, as still more ignominious than a rope of hemp.
With this they hanged Cochran over the centre of the bridge
of Lauder (now demolished), in the middle of his companions,
who were suspended on each side of him. When the execution
was finished, the lords returned to Edinburgh, where they
resolved that the King should remain in the castle, under a
gentle and respectful degree of restraint

In the meantime the English obtained possession of Ber-
wick, which important place was never again recovered by the
Scots, though they continued to assert their claim to that
bulwark of the eastern Marches. The English seemed dis-
posed to prosecute their advantages ; but the Scottish army
having moved to Haddiugton to fight them, a peace was con-
cluded, partly by the mediation of the Duke of Albany, who
having seen the vanity of any hopes which the English had
given him, and, laying aside his views upon the crown, appeared
desirous to become the means of restoring peace to the

The Duke of Albany, and the celebrated Richard, Duke of
Gloucester (afterwards Richard the Third), are said to have
negotiated the terms of peace, as well between the King and
his nobility as between France and England. They had a
meeting at Edinburgh with the council of Scottish lords who
had managed the affairs of the kingdom since the King's im-
prisonment. The council would pay no respect to the Duke
of Gloucester, who, as an Englishman, they justly thought,
had no right to interfere in the affairs of Scotland ; but to the
Duke of Albany they showed much reverence, requesting to
know what he required at their hands.

" First of all," he said, " I desire that the King, my brother,
be set at liberty."

" My lord," said Archibald-Bell-the-Cat, who was chancellor,
" that shall be presently done, and the rather that you desire
it. As to the person who is with you (meaning the Duke of
Gloucester), we know him not ; neither will we grant anything
at his asking. But we know you to be the King's brother,
and nearest heir to his Grace after his infant son. Therefore,
we put the King's person at your disposal, trusting that he will
act by your advice in future, and govern the kingdom, so as not
to excite the discontent of the people, or render it necessary

1482-4 REIGN OF JAMES III. 199

for us, who are the nobles of Scotland, to act contrary to his

James, being thus set at liberty, became, to appearance, so
perfectly reconciled with his brother, the Duke of Albany, that
the two royal brothers used the same chamber, the same table,
and the same bed. While the King attended to the buildings
and amusements in which he took pleasure, Albany adminis-
tered the affairs of the kingdom, and, for some time, with
applause. But the ambition of his temper began again to
show itself; the nation became suspicious of his intimate con-
nection with the English, and just apprehensions were enter-
tained that the Duke aimed still at obtaining the crown by
assistance of Richard III., now King of England. The Duke
was, therefore, once more obliged to fly into England, where
he remained for some time, assisting the English against his
countrymen. He was present at that skirmish in 1484 where
the old Earl of Douglas was made prisoner, and only escaped
by the speed of his horse. Albany soon after retired into
France, where he formed a marriage with a daughter of the
Earl of Boulogne, by whom he had a son, John, afterwards
Regent of Scotland in the days of James V. Albany himself
was wounded severely by the splinter of a lance at one of the
tournaments, or tilting-matches, which I have described to you,
and died in consequence. The fickleness with which he changed
from one side to another disappointed the high ideas which
had been formed of his character in youth.

Freed from his brother's superintendence, the King gradu-
ally sunk back into those practices which had formerly cost
him so dear. To prevent a renewal of the force put on his
person, he made a rule that none should appear armed in the
royal presence except the King's Guard, who were placed under
the command of that same John Ramsay of Balmain, the only
one of his former favourites who had been spared by Bell-the-
Cat, and the other nobles, at the insurrection of Lauder bridge.
This gave high offence in a country where to be without arms
was accounted both unsafe and dishonourable.

The King's love of money also grew, as is often the case,
more excessive as he advanced in years. He would hardly
grant anything, whether as matter of favour or of right, with-
out receiving some gift or gratuity. By this means he accu-
mulated a quantity of treasure, which, considering the poverty


of bis kingdom, is absolutely marvellous. His " black chest,"
as his strong-box was popularly called, was brimful of gold and
silver coins, besides quantities of plate and jewels. But while
he hoarded these treasures, he was augmenting the discontent
of both the nobility and people ; and amid the universal sense
of the King's weakness, and hatred of his avarice, a general
rebellion was at length excited against him.

The King, among other magnificent establishments, had
built a great hall, and a royal chapel, within the castle of
Stirling, both of them specimens of finely ornamented
Gothic architecture. He had also established a double
choir of musicians and singing men in the chapel, designing that
one complete band should attend him wherever he went, to per-
form Divine service before his person, while the other, as complete
in every respect, should remain in daily attendance in the royal

As this establishment necessarily incurred considerable ex-
pense, James proposed to annex to the royal chapel the revenues
of the priory of Coldinghame, in Berwickshire. This rich
priory had its lands amongst the possessions of the Homes and
the Hepburns, who had established it as a kind of right that
the prior should be of one or other of these two families, in
order to insure their being favourably treated in such
bargains as either of them might have to make with the
Church. When, therefore, these powerful clans understood
that, instead of a Home or a Hepburn being named prior, the
King intended to bestow the revenues of Coldinghame to main-
tain his royal chapel at Stirling, they became extremely indig-
nant, and began to hold a secret correspondence, and form
alliances, with all the discontented men in Scotland, and
especially with Angus, and such other lords as, having been
engaged in the affair of Lauder bridge, naturally entertained
apprehensions that the King would, one day or other, find
means of avenging himself for the slaughter of his favourites,
and the restraint which had been imposed on his own person.

By the time that the King heard of this league against him,

it had reached so great a head that everything seemed to be

prepared for war, since the whole lords of the south of

Scotland, who could collect their forces with a rapidity

unknown elsewhere, were all in the field, and ready to act

James, naturally timid, was induced to fly to the North. He


fortified the castle of Stirling, commanded by Shaw of Fintrie,
to whom he committed the custody of the prince his son, and
heir-apparent, charging the governor neither to let any one
enter the castle, nor permit any one to leave it, as he loved his
honour and his life. Especially he commanded him to let no
one have access to his son. His treasures James deposited in
Edinburgh Castle; and having thus placed in safety, as he
thought, the two things he loved best in the world, he hastened
to the north country, where he was joined by the great lords
and gentlemen on that side of the Forth ; so that it seemed as
if the south and the north parts of Scotland were about to
fight against each other.

The King, in passing through Fife, visited James, the last
Earl of Douglas, who had been compelled, as I have before
told you, to become a monk in the abbey of Lindores. He
offered him full reconciliation and forgiveness, if he would once
more come out into the world, place himself at the head of his
vassals, and, by the terror of his former authority, withdraw
from the banners of the rebel peers such of the southland men
as might still remember the fame of Douglas. But the views
of the old Earl were turned towards another world, and he
replied to the King " Ah, sir, your Grace has kept me and
your black casket so long under lock and key, that the time in
which we might have done you good service is past and gone."
In saying this, he alluded to the King's hoard of treasure,
which, if he had spent in time, might have attached many to
his person, as he, Douglas, when younger, could have raised
men in his behalf; but now the period of getting aid from
either source was passed away.

Meanwhile Angus, Home, Bothwell, and others of the
insurgent nobility, determined, if possible, to get into their
hands the person of the prince, resolving that, notwithstanding
his being a child, they would avail themselves of his authority
to oppose that of his father. Accordingly, they bribed, with a
large sum of money, Shaw, the governor of Stirling Castle, to
deliver the prince (afterwards James IV.) into their keeping.
When they had thus obtained possession of Prince James's
person, they collected their army, and published proclamations
in his name, intimating that King James III. was bringing
Englishmen into the country to assist in overturning its
liberties, that he had sold the frontiers of Scotland to the


Earl of Northumberland, and to the governor of Berwick, and
declaring that they were united to dethrone a king whose
intentions were so unkingly, and to place his son in his stead.
These allegations were false ; but the King was so unpopular
that they were listened to and believed.

James, in the meantime, arrived before Stirling at the head
of a considerable army, and passing to the gate of the castle,
demanded entrance. But the governor refused to admit him.
The King then eagerly asked for his son ; to which the treach-
erous governor replied, that the lords had taken the Prince
from him against his will. Then the poor King saw that he
was deceived, and said in wrath, " False villain, thou hast
betrayed me ; but if I live, thou shalt be rewarded according
to thy deserts !" If the King had not been thus treacherously
deprived of the power of retiring into Stirling Castle, he might,
by means of that fortress, have avoided a battle until more
forces had come up to his assistance ; and, in that case, might
have overpowered the rebel lords, as his father did the
Douglases before Abercorn. Yet having with him an army
of nearly thirty thousand men, he moved boldly towards the
insurgents. The Lord David Lindsay of the Byres, in parti-
cular, encouraged the King to advance. He had joined him
with a thousand horse and three thousand footmen from the
counties of Fife and Kinross ; and now riding up to the King
on a fiery gray horse, he lighted down, and entreated the King's
acceptance of that noble animal, which, whether he had occasion
to advance or retreat, would beat every other horse in Scotland,
provided the King could keep his saddle.

The King upon this took courage, and advanced against the
rebels, confident in his great superiority of numbers. The
field of battle was not above a mile or two distant from that
where Bruce had defeated the English on the glorious day of
Baunockburn ; but the fate of his descendant and successor
was widely different.

The King's army was divided into three great bodies. Ten
thousand Highlanders, under Huntly and Athole, led the van ;
ten thousand more, from the westland counties, were led by
the Lords of Erckine, Graham, and Menteith. The King was
to command the rear, in which the burghers sent by the
different towns were stationed. The Earl of Crawford and
Lord David Lindsay, with the men of Fife and Angus, had


the right wing ; Lord Ruthven commanded the left, with the
people of Strathearn and Stormont.

The King, thus moving forward in order of battle, called
for the horse which Lord David Lindsay had given him, that
he might ride forward and observe the motions of the enemy.
He saw them from an eminence advancing in three divisions,
having about six thousand men in each. The Homes and
Hepburns had the first division, with the men of the East
Borders and of East Lothian. The next was composed of the
Western Borderers, or men of Liddesdale and Annandale, with
many from Galloway. The third division consisted of the
rebel lords and their choicest followers, bringing with them the
young Prince James, and displaying the broad banner of Scot-

When the King beheld his own ensign unfurled against him,
and knew that his son was in the hostile ranks, his heart,
never very courageous, began altogether to fail him; for he
remembered the prophecy, that he was to fall by his nearest of
kin, and also what the astrologer had told him of the Scottish
lion which was to be strangled by his own whelps. These idle
fears so preyed on James's mind, that his alarm became visible
to those around him, who conjured him to retire to a place of
safety. But at that moment the battle began.

The Homes and Hepburns attacked the King's vanguard,
but were repulsed by the Highlanders with volleys of arrows.
On this the Borderers of Liddesdale and Annandale, who bore
spears longer than those used in the other parts of Scotland,
charged with the wild and furious cries, which they called their

Online LibraryWalter ScottThe tales of a grandfather : being the history of Scotland from the earliest period to the close of the rebellion, 1745-46 (Volume 1) → online text (page 21 of 59)