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

Regent Albany—The Story of the Battle of Harlaw

The old King was dead, and his young son was a prisoner in England, so the Duke of Albany had his wish. If he was not King he was at least Regent. He did not try to make the English King release his nephew the Prince. He was glad that he should be prisoner, for now there was no one to interfere with him or to question his power. So he made and kept peace with England. This was a good thing for Scotland, although Albany did it for his own selfish ends. But he also wanted to make friends with the barons so that they might continue to let him rule. He allowed them therefore to oppress the people and to fight with each other, and he also divided among them many lands which belonged to the King. All this was bad for Scotland. In order to rule, the Regent dared not enforce the laws, so the whole land was filled with bloodshed and sorrow.

Among the wild barons, was a fierce chieftain called Donald, Lord of the Isles. He was ruler over the Islands of the west and had much land on the mainland itself, and he thought himself as great as any King. But not content with his many possessions, he claimed, as a right, the earldom of Ross. This earldom Albany gave to his son Murdoch.

Full of dreadful wrath, the island Prince gathered an army, and swearing that he would burn the city of Aberdeen and make all Scotland a desert to the shores of Tay, he marched with his wild soldiers through the land. Where they found quiet farms and peaceful homes they left only blackened ruins. Making themselves rich with plunder, they swept on, a trail of fire and smoke telling the story of their passage.

But the men of Aberdeen rose, and headed by their brave provost, they marched to meet the Highland host. They joined the Earl of Mar, who with an army of knights and gentlemen, was coming to fight Donald. At Harlaw, about five miles from Aberdeen, a great battle took place.

The Highlanders wore little armour and were wild and undisciplined, but they far outnumbered the Lowlanders and they fought with a fierce and savage courage. Round the steel-clad knights of the south they swarmed, yelling madly, fighting with long, two-handed swords, short, sharp dirks, and mighty battle-axes. They sprang upon the horses behind their riders, and clung there like wild cats, driving their dirks again and again into the backs of the knights, through the joints of their armour. Or with the hooks upon their battle-axes they pulled the knights out of their saddles, dealing them deadly blows as they lay upon the ground.

"They fell fu' close on ilka side,

Sic straiks ye never saw;

For ilka sword gaed clash for clash,

At the battle of Harlaw.

"The Hielandmen wi' their lang swords,

They laid on us fu' sair;

And they drave back our merry men,

Three acres breadth and mair."

But the Lowland men fought calmly through the yelling horror that surrounded them, and although many were slain, the Highlanders were at last driven back.

On the red field of Harlaw hundreds of the noblest men of Lowland Scotland lay dead, along with hundreds of Highlanders and Islanders.

"Of fifty thousand Hielandmen

Scarce fifty there went hame,

And out of a' the Lowlandmen,

But fifty marched wi' Graeme!

"Gin ony body spier at ye

For them we took awa',

Ye may tell them plain, and very plain,

They're sleeping at Harlaw."

The Highlanders had the worst of the battle. They did not take Aberdeen, as they had threatened, but went back to their islands subdued if not conquered.

For thirteen years Albany continued to rule. He was a very old man, over eighty, when he died. Including the time he had ruled during his brother's life, he had governed Scotland for thirty-four years. Little good can be said of him, he was not even brave, as nearly all the Stewarts have been.

It was during the years in which Albany ruled, that the first Protestant martyr was killed in Scotland. A martyr is a person who dies for his religion. Up to this time all the world had belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, of which the Pope, as we call the Bishop of Rome, was the head. But now a few men began to doubt if all that the Pope commanded them to believe was right. These men came to be called Protestants, because they openly protested or bore witness to what they believed. But the Pope, and all those who thought as he did, were very angry with the Protestants. They ill-treated them, and often put them to death.

The first martyr was called John Resby. He suffered a very cruel death, being burned alive at Perth in 1407 a.d. His books and all that he had written were burned with him, so that people might forget what he had taught. But this was not a good way to make people forget, and in after years many died as he did, rather than pretend to believe what they did not believe.

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