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

David II.—The Battle of Neville's Cross

Slowly but surely, and with much fighting, the Scots began to win their country again. Robert the High Steward, or Robert Stewart as he came to be called from the name of his office, was now Regent. He at length decided that the King, who had been living in France for nine years, might safely return.

David was by this time eighteen years old, and as soon as he came back Robert Stewart gave up his office of Regent. But the King was too young and too ignorant to be able to rule well, and he was jealous of Robert Stewart. So there was no love between the King and the man who had fought for and ruled his kingdom while he had been away.

The war with England still went on. In those days there was no regular army as there is now. In time of war each man left his work, put on his armour, took his weapons, and went to fight for his master. The war now had lasted so long that the fields had neither been ploughed nor sown; the country was wasted and barren; there was no corn with which to make bread, and the people starved. After famine came a horrible disease called the Black Death, from which hundreds and hundreds died, and the whole land was filled with misery and mourning.

The Scots, having driven the English out of Scotland, now often marched into England to fight there. They plundered the rich fields and brought back food for the starving people. Sometimes these fights were little more than skirmishes, or border raids as they were called; sometimes they were great battles. One of these battles was called Neville's Cross.

King Edward of England was fighting with France as well as with Scotland. The French and the Scots were friends, so while Edward was in France the French King persuaded the Scots to invade England. He hoped that this would help the French, for Edward would be obliged, he thought, to send home some of his soldiers to protect England. The Scots too thought that it would be a good time to invade England, for the King and all his best fighting men and greatest generals were far away. "None but cowardly clerks and mean mechanics stand between us and a march to London," they said. But they were mistaken, for there were still many brave fighters left in England, and an army of thirty thousand marched to meet the Scots.

David was brave, but he was not a great soldier as his father had been, nor would he listen to the advice of his generals. So when the two armies met at Neville's Cross the Scots were defeated.

For three hours the battle raged with terrible slaughter. The nobles at last formed a ring round their young King, and fell one by one, fighting to protect him. Twice he was wounded, but still he fought bravely, till at last an English knight succeeded in disarming him, and he was taken prisoner.

Many Scottish nobles lay dead upon the field; many more, like their King, were taken prisoner. In triumph they were led through London. The King, clad in beautiful robes and mounted upon a splendid black horse, was followed by the mayor and his counsellors and by a great procession of people all dressed in their holiday clothes. Everywhere they passed, the streets were gaily decorated and filled with gaping crowds come to see the sight. Then David and his nobles were led back to the Tower of London and there kept fast prisoner.

After the battle of Neville's Cross, Edward Baliol once more came back to Scotland and pretended to be King. But the Scots would neither submit to the rule of Edward Baliol nor of Edward of England, and they again chose Robert the High Steward as Regent.

Then Baliol, seeing himself powerless, knelt to King Edward, placing his crown at his feet, and giving him a handful of Scottish soil, as a token that he yielded to the English King all right over Scotland. This ceremony was a mere empty show, for Baliol could not give away what he did not possess. Edward, however, in return for this homage, granted Baliol a large sum of money, and Baliol, who was already an old man, went away quietly and was heard of no more.

Edward now set David free, on condition that he should own the King of England as his over-lord. But the Scottish people would not agree to be subject to Edward, so David had to return again to prison.

Edward then gathered a great army and marched once more into Scotland, carrying before him among his other banners and pennons the Scottish royal standard. He pretended no longer that he was fighting for Baliol. Henceforward he fought for himself. But wherever he went he found a deserted country. He reached Edinburgh without fighting any great battle, but having wrecked every town and village on his way. So fearful was the havoc he made that this raid was known for long after as the Burned Candlemas.

By the time Edward reached Edinburgh his army was starving, even bread was scarce. At last, seeing nothing but famine before him, he gave the order to march back to England. This was the fifth time that Edward iii. had invaded Scotland. Every time he had said that he would conquer the country. Every time he had failed.

At last a truce was made. The Scots agreed to pay a large sum of money to Edward, and their King was set free. It was such a large sum that it could not all be paid at once, and Scotland, already made poor by so many wars, was made poorer still. But the people were so anxious to have their King again that they paid the money willingly.

When at last the King returned, there was great rejoicing. Wherever he went the people crowded around him cheering. But the King, instead of being pleased with this show of love, was angry. One day on his way to Parliament, when the people were pressing round him as usual, David seized a mace from one of his servants. With this he gave the man nearest to him a blow on the head and threatened to knock down any other who came nigh him. After that the national joy at the return of their King was not so great.

It was soon seen that David did not care for his people at all. He was selfish, and fond of pleasure and greedy of money. When he died no one was sorry. He had reigned forty-two years, nine of which he had spent as an exile in France, eleven as a prisoner in England.

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