Gateway to the Classics: Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Island Story by  H. E. Marshall

James II. of England and VII. of Scotland—The Fiery Cross

W HEN Charles II. died, he left no sons who might succeed him, so his brother James, Duke of York, came to the throne. James was a Roman Catholic. During the reign of Charles II., an Act had been passed forbidding Roman Catholics to hold any public office. Yet in spite of this law, James was made King.

James promised that he would not hurt the Protestant churches. He allowed a bishop of the Church of England to crown him, but part of the coronation service was missed—that part at which the King used to receive a Bible and be told to read and believe it.

The new King's cruel character soon began to show itself. By his orders and in the name of religion, Claverhouse continued to murder and torture the Scots in most terrible ways because they refused again to accept the teaching of the English Church. More wicked still, in England, a man called Chief-Justice Jeffreys, by his cruelties made for himself a name which has never been forgotten. He was a monster; an ogre more fierce and terrible than in any fairy tale.

But James was not allowed to take possession of the kingdom without a struggle. In Holland, numbers of Protestants who had been driven out of Britain in the reign of Charles II. were gathered together. They felt that now was the time to return and fight, for they knew that many of their fellow countrymen must hate a Catholic King.

One of these exiled Protestants, a brave Scotchman called the Earl of Argyle, agreed to raise an army in Scotland, and an English noble, called the Duke of Monmouth, agreed to raise one in England. Monmouth thought that he had a better right to the throne than James, and with the help of Argyle he hoped to be able to drive James from the throne and become King himself. The English people knew and loved Monmouth, and indeed during the life of Charles, there had been a plot to set him upon the throne.

When everything was arranged, the Earl of Argyle sailed from Holland with his little band of followers, and landed in Scotland. He was one of the most powerful of the Scottish nobles. Although, when he had fled from the country in the reign of Charles, the King had taken his land and money from him, he knew that he could trust to his clan to rise and follow him as soon as he returned.

In those days there were no telegraphs and no postmen. There were even few roads among the wild Highlands of Scotland and few people could read. So when a chief had need of his men he gathered them by means of a sign which all could understand. This sign was the Fiery Cross.

A rough cross was made from the wood of a yew-tree. The ends of this cross were set alight and afterwards the flames were put out by being dipped in the blood of a goat. The chief with his own hands then solemnly gave the cross to a swift runner. This man took it and ran as swiftly as he could to the next village. When the men of this village saw the Fiery Cross, they said, "Our chief has need of us," and they at once prepared for battle, while the Fiery Cross was put into the hands of another swift runner, who carried it over hill and glen to the next village.

On and on it went through all the countryside, the men in each village and farmhouse understanding what was needed of them and, without a word, gathering to their chief.

So it was that the Clan Campbell gathered round their chieftain Mac Callum More, as they loved to call Argyle.

But although the Earl's men were loyal to him, those who had come from Holland with him to serve as his captains would not agree and would not obey. Their foolish jealousy of their leader was so great that his army became disheartened and was scattered almost before there had been any real fighting.

The Earl was once more forced to flee. Dressed as a peasant and followed by only one faithful friend he tried to escape. But as they were crossing a little river they were seized by some of the King's soldiers. The Earl to save himself sprang into the water, but the soldiers followed him. He was armed only with pistols, and in his spring into the water the powder had been wet and they would not fire. He was struck to the ground and taken prisoner.

When Argyle saw that it was useless to struggle any more he called out, "I am the Earl of Argyle." He knew what a great name his was, and he hoped that even the King's soldiers would tremble before it and let him go.

But his name could not save him, and he was led a prisoner to Edinburgh. There the judges tried in vain to make him tell who were with him in the rebellion. He would not tell and he was condemned to death. Bravely and calmly he met his fate. One of the last things he did was to write to his wife.

"Dear Heart,—Forgive me all my faults; and now comfort thyself in Him in whom only true comfort is to be found. The Lord be with thee, bless and comfort thee, my dearest.— Adieu."

On his grave were carved some lines which he himself wrote the day before he died.

Although Argyle had refused to give the names of the other leaders of the rebellion, many were seized and beheaded. To one of them James said, "You had better be frank with me. You know it is in my power to pardon you."

"It may be in your power, sire," replied the man, "but it is not in your nature." The man was right; James never forgave.

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