Robert II.—How the French and the Scots Made War on England
David ii. died in 1370 a.d. , and as he had no children he was succeeded by Robert the High Steward. Robert was the son of Lady Marjorie, the daughter of Robert the Bruce. Thus Robert was, through his mother, the grandson of Robert the Bruce, and he was the first of a long line of Kings called the Stewarts. You remember that Walter, the first High Steward, was descended from Fleance, the son of Banquo, who fled to Wales when Macbeth tried to kill him. Now, as the Weird Sister had foretold, his children sat upon the throne for many years.
Robert ii. had already proved himself to be a good soldier and a wise Regent. But now he was fifty-five years old. He was worn with wars and weary with ruling. He was no longer able to fight as he had done, no longer strong enough to curb the power of the great barons, who through the long years of war, had grown ever prouder and fiercer.
Nor was Robert allowed to take the throne without opposition. Douglas, the head of one of the proudest and greatest of the noble families claimed it too. But Robert did not wish to quarrel with this great lord, so he proposed that his daughter should marry the eldest son of the Douglas. This satisfied the Douglas, and Robert was then crowned at Scone with great pomp and ceremony.
Although there was peace between England and Scotland, Edward would not call Robert King, but spoke of him as "our enemy of Scotland"; and Robert returned the insult by calling Edward "that reiver Edward, calling himself King of England." In spite of the peace, there was very often war on the Borders between the great Scottish lords and the northern English chiefs. The Scots and the French were fast friends, and leagued themselves together against the common enemy. And presently some French knights came to Scotland and offered to fight against England.
The countries were at peace, but in spite of that the Scottish lords told the French knights that they should see some fighting, and without telling King Robert anything about it, they marched across the Border and laid waste Northumberland, returning with much spoil.
Soon after, the French knights went home and told their King of all that they had seen and done in Scotland. Then the French King determined, that when the truce between the two countries was over, he would send a great army to Scotland to fight against the English. For the French were always anxious that there should be war between Scotland and England, as then the English King had fewer soldiers to send to fight against the French.
So the following summer an army of Frenchmen sailed from France and landed in Scotland. The Scottish nobles, especially Earl Douglas and Earl Moray, received them very kindly. But when it became known in Scotland that so large a body of Frenchmen had arrived, the people were not pleased.
"What has brought them?" they asked.
"Who sent for them?"
"Can we not carry on our own wars with England without aid from France?"
"We do not understand their language, and they cannot speak ours."
"Let them be told to go back again. We can fight our own quarrels, and do not require their help."
The Scottish people spoke like this because they were afraid that the French, instead of helping them, might in the end try to conquer them, as the English had done.
But if the Scots were not glad to see the French, the French were just as sorry that they had come. They were accustomed to handsome houses, splendid castles, soft beds, and every luxury. Scotland had been made so poor by constant wars with England, their houses had so often been burned and destroyed, that they had none of these things to offer their guests. So the French nobles began to laugh, and to say to their leader, Sir John de Vienne, "What could have brought us here? We have never known before what poverty and hard living were. Now we will find out the truth of what our fathers and mothers used to tell us when they said, 'If you live long enough you shall have in your time hard beds and poor lodgings.' Let us be quick and get on to England for there is nothing to be gained here."
But Sir John replied, "My fair sirs, it becomes us to wait patiently since we have got into such difficulties. Take in good humour whatever you can get. You cannot always live in Paris or in some great city. In this world those who wish to live with honour must endure good and evil."
King Robert had been in the Highlands when the Frenchmen arrived. Now he came to Edinburgh, and the Frenchmen were again disappointed when they saw him. Instead of the gallant leader they had expected, here was an old and worn man with red bleared eyes.
But Robert did not go with the army to England; he sent his sons in his place.
The French and the Scots had marched some way into England, taking castles and doing much damage by the way, before they met the English army. At last they heard that the enemy were near.
At this the French were greatly delighted, and hoped for a battle at once. But the Scots had learned to be very careful how they attacked the English in open country, so instead of advancing they went back.
This made the French leader very angry. "Why will you not fight?" he said. "You told us before we came that if you had a thousand good men of France you would be strong enough to conquer the English. I will warrant you have now a thousand if not more, and five hundred crossbows to boot. And I must tell you, the knights who are with me are valiant men who will not fly."
And Douglas answered, "By my faith, my lord, we are sure that you and your men are brave. But all England is on the march to Scotland. We will take you to a place where you may see all their host. If after that you still advise a battle, we will not refuse it."
"By heaven, then," said Sir John, "I will have a battle."
Douglas and the Scottish leaders then took Sir John to a high hill, from which he could see the whole of the English host.
Thousands of foot soldiers, thousands of archers, horsemen, knights, and nobles, were there. In silence the Frenchman looked upon the mighty company as it lay before him.
Then turning to Douglas, "You were right," he said, "in not wishing to fight. But what is to be done? The English are in such numbers that they will overrun and destroy your whole country."
"Let them," said the Scots. "They will find only a deserted land. Meanwhile we will march into England. It is a rich country, and we will gather great spoil."
And so it happened. The Scots allowed the English army to pass them, and to march into Scotland. There they did all the damage that they could, which was not much, for as Douglas had said, they found only a deserted land, all the people having fled away to safe places in the hills and forests, taking their cattle and goods with them. It was in this way that the Scots had learned to fight the English. And as soon as they had gone, the Scots came out of their hiding-places, rebuilt their wooden houses which the English had burned, and were not much worse off than they had been before.
In the meantime the Scots army overran all the north of England, ravaging and plundering to their hearts' content, and finding none to oppose them, for all the English soldiers had marched into Scotland, leaving no one to protect their homes.
Then when the two armies had each wasted the other's country as much as possible, they turned home again, the Scots laden with spoil, the English poorer than when they came.
Soon after this the French knights went back to France, many of them little pleased with their visit to Scotland.