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

Robert II.—The Story of the Battle of Otterburn

The Scottish nobles now resolved again to invade England. They made all their preparations secretly, keeping them from the King as they would from an enemy, for they knew that he desired peace. But the Scottish nobles knew too, that the English King was in trouble, that he was quarrelling with his own family and with his people, and that it was therefore a good time to avenge themselves upon England.

So, secretly, and in spite of the King, they gathered to arms and crossed the Border.

The Scottish army was divided into two bodies, one of which, led by Earl Douglas, marched into Northumberland. There, after having done much damage, they met the English under the Earl of Northumberland's two sons, Henry and Percy. Henry, the elder, was so gallant and eager a knight that he was called Hotspur. He and his brother were among the bravest of the English knights, just as Douglas was among the Scottish.

Near Newcastle, Douglas and Hotspur met, and in the fight which took place, Douglas captured and carried off Hotspur's pennon.

"I will carry this with me to Scotland," cried Douglas, waving it aloft. "I will place it upon the topmost tower of my castle that it may be seen from far."

"By heaven, Earl Douglas," cried Hotspur, full of anger, "you shall not even bear it out of Northumberland. You shall never have that pennon to brag about."

"You must come then this night and take it," replied Douglas scornfully. "I shall fix it before my tent. Come and take it if you dare."

It was now late in the evening, so each army went back to camp to rest and have supper. The Scots had plenty of food, and having had a good meal, they lay down to sleep. But a strict watch was kept, for they expected Hotspur to make good his proud boast and to come to take his pennon.

But the night passed. Hotspur did not come, and next morning the Scots began to march homeward.

They might have gone safely home, without more fighting, but Douglas decided to remain for two or three days near the castle of Otterburn. "For," said he, "I conquered Hotspur's pennon in fair fight, and I will give him a chance of winning it back again. He will find it well defended if he comes."

In those days knights looked upon war almost as a game, and Douglas was anxious to play fair and to keep the rules.

In the meantime, Hotspur was greatly ashamed that he had not kept his word and won his pennon again from Douglas. The knights who were with him tried in vain to comfort him. "Many such losses happen in war," they said.

"If Douglas did take your pennon, he had to fight hard for it."

"We are not strong enough now to attack so great a host. Let us wait until more men come to help us. It is better to lose a pennon than two or three hundred knights."

Very unwillingly Hotspur yielded to this advice. But when some English knights came galloping into the camp with the news that the Scots were near Otterburn, and that they were not more than three thousand strong, Hotspur sprang up. "To horse, to horse," he shouted; "by the faith that I owe to my God, and to my lord and father, I will yet recover my pennon this very night."

It was a warm, calm August evening, and the moon shone brightly as Hotspur and his men galloped impatiently along.

The Scots had had supper, many of them had already fallen asleep, when the whole camp was aroused with the cry of "Percy! Percy!"

Hotspur had come for his pennon.

Quickly the Scottish knights armed themselves, the soldiers fell into fighting order, and soon the cry of "Douglas!" answered that of "Percy!"

Although it was night, it was not very dark, for the harvest moon shone brightly and calmly on the raging battle. Lance met lance, sword rang on sword, great deeds of valour were done, and many a brave man fell on either side.

"Douglas! Douglas!" shouted the Earl, pressing with his banner where the fighting was most fierce.

"Percy! Percy!" came the answering cry.

The two banners met. Round them the battle raged most furiously. Cowardice was unknown. With splendid courage, Scottish and English knights fought gaily and courteously, as if in play. Never had there been such a chivalrous, knightly battle fought. Yet it was no play, but deadly earnest.


"But, thanks be to God, there are few of my ancestors who have died in their beds."

At last, pierced by three lances, Douglas, fighting desperately, was borne to the ground. His standard bearer was killed, and his banner, trampled and bloodstained, lay beside him. Only his chaplain still fought fiercely, guarding his master's body, as the English swept past little knowing how great a general lay dying upon the field.

"How fares it, cousin?" asked a knight as he knelt beside him.

"But so and so," answered Douglas. "But thanks be to God, there are few of my ancestors who have died in their beds. Now, I bid you avenge my death, for I have but little hope of living. Raise my banner. Shout "Douglas," and do not tell friend or foe that I am not with you. For, should my enemies know that I am dead, they would greatly rejoice, and should my followers know, they would lose heart. There is an old saying in our house, that one day a dead man shall win a battle. Please God, this night it will come true."

So speaking, upon the battle-field the Douglas died.

Then the knight drew his dead body out of the press of battle, raised the fallen banner and shouted, "Douglas! Douglas!"

The Earl's men, who had been scattered, hearing again the sound of their master's battle-cry, gathered once more round his banner, and so well did they fight, that at last the English were scattered and beaten.

Many prisoners were taken, among them, both Hotspur and his brother. So Hotspur, as well as his pennon, was carried to Scotland. But Douglas could never place the captured pennon on his castle walls, for he lay quiet and still in the fair Abbey of Melrose, and over his grave was hung the torn and bloodstained banner which had won the battle.

After this a nine years' truce was made, and in 1390 a.d. King Robert died. He had grown so ill and feeble, that for some time the power had really been in the hands of his second son, who was called Robert, Earl of Fife.

As Regent, Robert Stewart had been a good ruler, and had fought valiantly against the Kings of England. But as King, he had been idle and weak. He had allowed the great lords to carry on war with England, although he himself wished for peace, and knew that peace would have been best for the country. For when the King of England gave up trying to make himself over-lord of Scotland, the great reason for fighting had gone. But, during the wild years of war, the great barons had grown to love war, and they were glad of the smallest excuse for fighting. Only a stern, strong King could have repressed them, and forced them to keep peace. Robert ii. was neither strong nor stern, and so the barons carried on war in spite of his wishes.

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