Gateway to the Classics: Scotland's Story by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Scotland's Story by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

David II.—The Story of Black Agnes

When Robert Bruce died in 1329 a.d. , his son was at once crowned under the title of David ii. David was only a little boy, so of course could not himself rule, and Randolph, Earl of Moray, was made Regent. For three years Randolph ruled. He was very just, but very strict, and even cruel, so he made many enemies. One day he died suddenly. Some people thought that he had been poisoned, but that has never been proved.

Another Regent was chosen, but he turned out to be neither a good soldier nor a good ruler, and so once more troubles began. There were, as you know, many great lords who had lands both in England and in Scotland. During the wars, many of these lords who had fought for Edward lost their Scottish lands. This made them very angry. Now that there was only a child upon the throne, they rebelled, hoping to win their lands again. They found a leader in Edward Baliol, the son of John Baliol, who had been King before Robert the Bruce.

Edward Baliol said that he had a better right to the throne than David, and, in spite of the treaty of Northampton, he was helped and supported by Edward of England, who hoped once more to become Scotland's over-lord.

Once again Scotland was torn in two by civil wars, some taking the part of Baliol, some that of David. A battle called the battle of Dupplin Moor was fought, a few miles from Perth. In this battle the loyalist Scots, that is, those who were fighting for the King, were utterly defeated.

A base Scottish baron showed Edward Baliol where to cross the river, on the other side of which the King's army lay. Silently, at midnight, Baliol led his soldiers over, and broke into the Scottish camp while the soldiers were all asleep. The Scots were soon awake, and sprang to arms. Randolph, Earl of Moray, the son of the famous Earl, gathered his men together quickly. They fought so bravely, that in spite of the surprise the battle might have ended in victory instead of defeat, if only the Regent had known how to command his men. But he drew up his soldiers in such close lines that they fell over each other, and crushed each other to death, without ever getting near the enemy. Thus, far more of the Scots were killed by their friends than by their foes. So dense was the crowd, so awful the slaughter, that in one part of the field the dead lay in heaps of a spear length in depth. The Regent and most of the bravest and the best of the Scottish nobles were among the slain. After this battle Edward Baliol hurried to Scone, and there he was crowned. So there were two Kings in Scotland—David Bruce and Edward Baliol. But King David and his young wife, who you remember was Edward of England's sister, fled away to France.

One of the first things Edward Baliol did after he was crowned, was to own himself, as his father had done, vassal of the King of England. But Baliol's triumph was not for long. There were many Scotsmen who were still true to their King. They chose another Regent to rule in David's name, and one dark night they suddenly attacked Edward Baliol. They slew many of his barons, and Edward himself barely escaped with his life. He had to flee so fast that he had not even time to dress, but throwing himself on a bare-backed horse he galloped away through the darkness. So in less than three months after the crown had been placed upon his head, he was chased from his kingdom, penniless, and almost naked.

He fled back to England, to his master Edward, and Edward gathering a great army, marched against the Scots, and in a battle called Halidon Hill, the Scots were once more defeated.

Edward then overran the country, plundering and conquering, till no one dared call David King any more, except the little children in their games when they played at being kings and queens.

But Scotland would by no means yield to England, and fighting still went on. Among those who fought most bravely for their country was the Countess of March. She was called Black Agnes because she was so dark. Her husband, the Earl of March, was away fighting for the King, when the English besieged his castle of Dunbar. Dunbar was a very important castle, and Black Agnes made up her mind that nothing would make her yield it.

In those days cannon had not yet come into use. Instead of cannon, armies carried about with them great engines, with which they threw enormous stones at the walls of the castles which they wished to take.

The English brought their strongest engines against Dunbar, but Black Agnes laughed at their big stones. She used to stand on the walls with her ladies and her maids, and when a stone hit the walls, she would bid them wipe the spot with a clean white cloth, as if to say, that she liked to keep her castle clean and tidy, and all the harm the English could do was to make a little dust.

She was always on the walls, or at the gate, and in the most dangerous places, taunting the English, and encouraging her own men by her brave words.

"She kept a stir in the tower and trench,

That brawling, boisterous Scottish wench;

Came I early, came I late,

I found Black Agnes at the gate."

Angry as they were, the English could not but admire black Agnes for her courage, and they accepted her gibes and jeers with a rugged chivalry. "There goes one of my lady's tiring-pins," said the English leader one day as a knight fell dead beside him, pierced by a Scottish arrow. Black Agnes's love-shafts go straight to the heart."

For five months Black Agnes kept the castle. By the end of that time the men and women within the walls were near starving. Dunbar is by the sea, but the English watched so carefully that no help could be brought to the brave little garrison either by land or by sea. One night, however, a bold Scotsman managed to slip between the English ships which lay close about the castle. In his little vessel were forty men, and plenty of food for the brave defenders.

After this the English lost all hope of taking the castle, so they went away, angry and ashamed at having been beaten by a woman. But the Scottish people were proud of Black Agnes, and the minstrels made poems about her, and sang of her valiant deeds.


When a stone hit the walls, Black Agnes would bid her maids wipe the spot with a clean white cloth.

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