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

William I., The Lion

Malcolm had no children, so he was succeeded by his brother William. William was by no means meek and gentle like his brother, The Maiden, and he was called The Lion. He was very sorry that Malcolm had given up Northumberland to the King of England, and he tried to get it back again. But Henry was not a man to let go anything of which he had once gained possession, so William tried in vain. But he could not forget that the Kings of Scotland had once ruled Northumberland, and when he had been on the throne about nine years he resolved to fight for it.

He gathered a great army and marched into England. He took several towns and castles in Northumberland. Then at Alnwick he rested, waiting for the coming of the English army.

One morning a thick mist covered all the country. Through the mist a company of English soldiers came marching from the south. They had lost their way and knew not where they were. Fearing lest they should be surprised by the Scots, some of them wished to turn back. But one bold knight named Bernard de Baliol cried out, "You may go back, but I will go on, even if I go alone, and thus preserve mine honour." So, heartened by his brave words, the soldiers pushed on as best they might.

Suddenly the mist lightened and the English saw the walls of a castle not far off. Upon a plain, near the castle, about sixty knights were holding a tournament.

A tournament was a kind of mock battle, and in those days was one of the chief amusements of lords and knights. It generally took place on a large plain, round which people stood and sat looking on. In the place of honour sat fair ladies and great lords watching the knights. The weapons used in a tournament were, as a rule, blunted, but in spite of this those who took part in it were often wounded, and sometimes killed.

The knights wore in their helmets the colours of their ladies, and it was thought that a knight could not honour his lady more highly than by being a victor in a tournament. So every true knight longed to be victor, and to win the prize of bay leaves or flowers, which was placed on his head by the fairest lady there.

These knights who were holding the tournament in the mist were King William and his lords. They were thus playing at war while waiting for the real enemy to appear. At first, when they saw the English they thought that it was a party of their own soldiers. But soon they found out their mistake.

To turn and flee to the castle of Alnwick was the only safe thing to do. But that, bold King William would not do. "Now we shall see who among us are true knights," he cried, and setting spurs to his horse he charged the enemy.

But sixty men could do little against six hundred. All that brave and desperate men could do, they did. But it was in vain. Many were slain, many more were wounded. King William fought more bravely than any, but at last his horse was killed. He fell to the ground and was taken prisoner by the English.

The English were so pleased at having taken such an important prisoner that they did not wait to fight any more. They turned southward at once, carrying with them the King of Scots.

The English did not treat King William kindly. They set him upon a horse and tied his legs together under it, just as if he had been a common thief or murderer. In this manner he was brought before King Henry.

King Henry did not treat his prisoner kindly either. He put heavy chains upon his hands and feet, and threw him into a dark dungeon. Then, thinking that he was not safe enough in England, Henry sailed over to France, where he shut William up in a castle.

There, William the Lion was kept, until he should promise to acknowledge Henry as over-lord. But William, chained though he was, was still the Lion, and he would not agree. So Henry sent messengers to the Scottish Parliament, and they, in order to free their King, agreed that the King of Scotland should acknowledge the King of England as over-lord.

William was then freed from prison, and allowed to go back to his own land.

For fifteen years this wicked bargain lasted. And the King of Scotland did homage to the King of England. Then Henry ii. died, and his son Richard of the Lion Heart, set William the Lion free from his promise.

Richard wanted to go to join the wars of the Cross, or Crusades as they were called. They were so called because the people who took part in them were fighting for the land where Christ died upon the Cross. This land, which is called Palestine, or the Holy Land, was in the hands of the Saracens. These Saracens did not believe in Christ, and they were cruel to the Christians who travelled to Palestine to visit the Holy Sepulchre. So Christian people of all lands banded together to fight these Saracens and drive them out of the Holy Land.

Richard of the Lion Heart was eager to join one of these Crusades, but he needed money to carry himself and his soldiers over the sea to Palestine. William gave Richard money, and in return Richard gave Scotland her freedom once more. He wrote a letter, or charter, saying that Scotland was a free country, as it had ever been, and that the King of Scotland was no longer the vassal of the King of England, and need not do homage to him. This was in 1189 a.d.

This action of King Richard's did a great deal towards wiping out the bitter feeling of hate between the English and Scots, and for some years there was not only peace but even friendship between the two lands.

William the Lion lived to be a very old man, and died in 1214 a.d. , having reigned fifty years all but a few days.

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