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

Robert III.—The Story of a Fearful Highland Tournament

The eldest son of King Robert ii. was called John. But that name was thought to be unlucky. The people remembered John Baliol and his unhappy reign, they had also heard that King John of England, and King John of France, had been unfortunate, so they changed John Stewart's name to Robert, and he was crowned as Robert iii. But changing his name made no difference either to his fortunes or to his nature.

Robert iii. was not a strong man, and he was lame, having been kicked by a horse when he was a boy. He was kind and gentle, and quite unfit to rule the fierce lords and barons. So, even after he came to the throne, he allowed his brother, who was also called Robert, to continue to rule as he had done at the end of their father's life.

King Robert had a son called David, to whom he gave the title of Duke of Rothesay. To Robert his brother, he gave the title of Duke of Albany. These were the first dukes ever made in Scotland.

Rothesay was young, gay, and handsome. He was wild, and wicked too, and often caused much sorrow to his father, who loved him dearly.

Albany was silent, dark, and cunning. He hated Rothesay, because he knew that one day he would be King, and he himself wanted to be King.

When Robert iii. came to the throne, there was peace with England. But not having England to fight against, the great lords fought all the more fiercely among themselves. They fought, too, with the Highland chieftains, who lived in the wild and mountainous parts of Scotland. These Highlanders were so fierce, that the English called them the Wild Scots. They were formed into various clans and families, and fought often among themselves, as well as with the Lowland lords.

Had the King been a strong man, he might have tamed the wild nobles. But he left everything to his brother Robert, the Duke of Albany. And Albany tried to make friends with the nobles by leaving their wicked deeds unpunished, for he hoped that some day they would help to put him upon the throne. So the whole land was full of fighting, quarrelling, and oppression. Those who were strong, took from those who were weak. There was neither justice nor mercy to be found anywhere, and Albany, although he was a strong and clever man, allowed these things to be.

Among the wildest of the Highland clans were two called Clan Kay and Clan Chattan. There was a deadly hatred between them. They were always fighting, and they filled the whole country round with war and bloodshed. At last they decided to settle their quarrels by a great tournament, thirty of the best men from one clan fighting against thirty of the other.

The place chosen for this battle was a beautiful plain close to the walls of Perth. Wooden galleries were built all round for the people who came to watch, and the King and all his court consented to be present. This was no ordinary tournament, such as knights often took part in, for the knights fought in full armour and often with blunted weapons. These Highlanders, when they entered the lists, wore no armour, and carried not only bows and arrows, but swords, battle-axes, and short, keen daggers. They were all fierce, strong men, and they meant to fight to the death.

But at the last moment, when the trumpets sounded for this fearful tournament to begin, one of the Clan Chattan men lost heart. Throwing down his weapons he fled from the lists. Full of fear he leaped the barriers, plunged into the river, and, swimming across it, disappeared into the wood beyond.

The King, who did not love bloodshed, was not ill pleased at the thought that the fight could not take place. For the numbers were now uneven, and no man of the Clan Kay would retire lest he should be thought cowardly. But from the bystanders, a little crooked-legged man, who was a blacksmith in Perth, stepped forward.

"I will take the coward's place," he cried, "if you pay me half a French crown." The offer was at once accepted, for there was no time to send to the Clan Chattan country for another man, and rather than not fight at all, they were glad to have the little crooked-legged blacksmith.

So the trumpets sounded and the bagpipes screamed, and with mighty yells the two clans closed upon each other. A terrible fight it was. The great battle-axes swung and fell, sword and dagger flashed, and the fair meadow was red with blood.

In the middle of the fight the crooked-legged blacksmith, having killed a man, stood still. "How now," said the Clan Chattan chief, "are you afraid?"

"Not I," replied the smith, "but I have done enough for half-a-crown."

"On and fight," cried the chief, "I will not grudge wages to him who does not grudge his work."

So the smith fell to again, and fought as fiercely as any. Both sides fought, filled with bitter hatred of each other, till at last only one man of Clan Kay was left alive. Of Clan Chattan there were ten, and the little crooked-legged blacksmith, all sorely wounded.

Then the King flung down his baton, and cried out that Clan Chattan had won the day.

This was a very terrible way of settling a quarrel, but probably some of the great Lowland nobles encouraged the clans to fight, in the hope that if some of the fiercest of the Highlanders were killed, the others would be more easily kept in order. And indeed, for a long time after this slaughter, the Highlands remained more peaceful.

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