Robert the Bruce—The Taking of Perth
All this time King Edward had not himself come to Scotland. He had only sent his generals and soldiers, but now that things seemed to be going badly with them, he resolved, old and feeble though he was, to come himself.
He was so ill that he could not walk nor ride, but had to be carried in a litter. His spirit, however, was keen and fierce as ever, and he longed to conquer Scotland before he died. But that was not to be, and at a place called Burgh-on-Sands, within sight of the Scottish Border, he died. When he felt that he was dying, when he knew that his dearest wish could never be fulfilled, that he would never conquer Scotland, never be received as Scotland's King, he called his son Edward to him.
The Prince came, and knelt beside his dying father to receive his last commands. "My son," said the great King, I die, but to you I leave my unfinished task. Swear to me before my lords and barons that you will never give up this war until Scotland is conquered. Let my bones be carried with the army, and never lay them to rest until you have subdued the Scots."
The Prince of Wales swore by the saints and by all that he held holy, to do as his father wished. But he did not keep his promise.
When his father was dead, the Prince sent his body back to Westminster, where it was buried. He himself marched a little way into Scotland, then growing tired of the hardships and discomforts of camp life, he turned and went back to England, without having fought a single battle.
But although Edward ii. and his army marched away from Scotland, there were many English left there, and all the castles and strong towns were theirs. These, King Hobbe, as Edward used scornfully to call Bruce, had to conquer one by one, before he could call his kingdom his own.
For a time, however, little could be done, for Bruce became very ill, and without their great leader the soldiers had no heart to fight.
Edward Bruce, the King's brave brother, did his best to comfort the soldiers, but it was a sorrowful band that he led into the mountains, carrying their King in a litter.
Bruce had gone through such terrible hardships, he had suffered so much from cold, hunger, and weariness, that it was little wonder that even he, strong though he was, had broken down. No medicine seemed to do him any good, but one day, hearing that his soldiers had been put to flight by the English, he rose from his bed, and in spite of all that his friends could say to him, he mounted upon his horse, determined to lead his men to avenge their defeat. He was so weak and ill that a soldier rode on either side of him to support him. But his men were filled with gladness to see him amongst them once more, and they fought with such new courage that they once more won a victory. From that day King Robert became quite well again.
Fighting still went on, but many of the Scottish nobles, who had before fought for Edward, now joined Bruce. Among these was his own nephew, Thomas Randolph. During a battle, Randolph was taken prisoner by Lord James Douglas and brought before the King. "Nephew," said Bruce, "you have for a time forgotten your obedience to your King. Now you must return to it.
"I have done nothing of which I need be ashamed," replied Randolph proudly. "You blame me. It is you who are to blame. You have chosen to defy the King of England, yet you will not meet him like a true knight in the open field."
"That may come," replied Bruce calmly, "and before long perhaps. Meanwhile," he added sternly, "since you are so rude of speech, it is fitting that your proud words should meet their just punishment. You shall therefore go to prison until you learn to know better my right and your duty."
Randolph went quietly to prison, but he was not kept long there, for he soon made up his mind to join his brave uncle and to fight for Scotland. Robert then made his nephew Earl of Moray, and he became one of his greatest friends and generals, second only to James Douglas.
Perth, at this time one of the strongest places in Scotland, was in the hands of the English. It was surrounded by a moat. The walls of Perth were high and thick, and there were stone turrets upon them at short intervals. For six weeks King Robert besieged this town, but it was so strong that, do what he would, he could not take it.
One night, however, the King crept unseen close up to the walls. He carefully examined the moat, and discovered that there was one place at which it would be possible to cross it. Then he went back to his camp, and next morning the English within Perth rejoiced to see the Scottish King and his army march away.
A week passed. There was no sign of the enemy, and the English, feeling quite safe, kept no watch.
But one dark night, the King and his army came quietly marching back again. Robert led his men to the shallow part of the moat. He was the first to jump into the water and show the way across it. He wore all his heavy armour, and in one hand he carried a ladder, in the other a spear. With this he carefully felt his way, but at one part the water was so deep that it reached his throat. At last, however, he landed safely on the other side. Quickly, one after the other, his soldiers followed him over the moat. They reached the wall, and setting their ladders against it clambered up. Then with a wild war cry they leaped over into the town.
A French knight happened to be in the Scottish army. When this knight saw the King so full of bravery and courage, when he saw that he was among the first to place the ladder against the wall, among the first to leap into the town, he was filled with admiration. "What shall we say to our French knights," he cried, "who sit at home feasting and idle, when so gallant a prince puts his life in danger for a wretched village!" and dashing through the moat, he too joined the fight.
The English were so completely taken by surprise that the battle was soon over. Every Scotsman who was found within the walls fighting for the English, was put to death, but the English soldiers were spared. Then Bruce broke down the wall and ruined the towers, for as he had not enough soldiers to defend the towns and castles which he won from the English, he thought it was better to destroy them, lest they should again fall into the hands of the enemy.