Edward II. of Caernarvon—The Story of King Robert the Bruce and Bohun
WHEN Edward, the first Prince of Wales, was young, he had a French friend called Piers Gaveston. Piers was tall and handsome and gay, but he was wicked. He led the prince into all kinds of mischief until at last King Edward I. put his son in prison for a time, and banished Piers from the kingdom.
When Edward lay dying he begged his son never to bring Piers back again. The Prince of Wales promised, but, as soon as his father was dead, he broke his word and sent for Piers. Edward II. made Piers Earl of Cornwall, and married him to a great lady. Then leaving him to rule England the King crossed to France to marry the beautiful Princess Isabella.
The English barons were very angry at again having a foreigner to rule. They hated Piers, and Piers laughed at and insulted them. He called them all sorts of names, such as "the Jew," "the actor," "the black dog," and "the hog."
Piers made Edward II. do many wicked things. The King filled the court with bad and foolish people like himself, sending away the wise men who had helped Edward I. to rule.
At last the hatred of the barons grew so fierce that they forced Edward to send Piers away, and when after a time Edward brought him back, they seized him and put him to death.
Edward was very angry with the barons for killing Piers, and he was sad too, for he had really loved his friend. He was too weak a king, however, to punish the barons, so he was obliged to pretend that he forgave them. But he did not become a better king, even after his favourite was dead.
Meanwhile the Scots were fighting against the English, and driving them out of Scotland. A king, called Robert the Bruce, was now upon the throne, and under him the Scots fought so bravely that soon the English had lost all the Scottish towns which they had, except Stirling. The castle of Stirling was strong, and the English soldiers within it brave. But the Scots were brave too, and determined, for they were fighting for their freedom and their country. At last the governor, feeling that he could hold out no longer, promised to yield the castle on 24th June 1314 A.D., if before then no help came to him.
When Edward II. heard that Stirling was in danger, he at last roused himself. He gathered a great army of English, Irish, Welsh, and French, barons and men of high degree, with their servants and followers—a hundred thousand men in all. Such a splendid army as now marched over the border had never before been seen in Scotland.
As they passed through the country to Stirling, fear filled the hearts of the women and children. They thought of their husbands, and fathers and brothers who were gathered at Stirling to meet this great army, and wept for them as lost.
The whole of Robert the Bruce's army numbered less than forty thousand men, and they were neither so well drilled nor so well armed as the English. But King Robert was a great soldier and a wise general. He knew that he could only hope to defeat the English by using his brain as well as his sword and battle-axe. Therefore he chose the position of his army with great care. In front there lay marshes, through which the English would have to ride in order to reach the Scots, who were drawn up upon the dry plain beyond. Where the ground was firm, Bruce made his men dig pits about three feet deep. These pits were filled with twigs and branches of gorse, and the turf was then laid over them again, so that from a distance it seemed like a firm and level plain.
On one side of King Robert's position rose the steep castle hill, and on the other flowed the little stream called the Bannock. Only from the front could the English attack, and the front was guarded by pits and marshes.
Not till the 23rd of June, the very day before the governor had promised to give up the castle, did King Edward appear and camp opposite the Scottish army.
When King Robert heard that the English were near he drew up his army in battle array ready to fight, although he did not expect to do so that day.
Randolph, Earl of Moray, the nephew of King Robert, was given charge of a small body of horsemen, and told that he must stop any of the English who might try to get into Stirling. For it might have been very bad for the Scots had the English been able to take a strong position there.
The Scottish leaders stood watching the advance of the English, when King Robert's eye caught the gleam of armour away to the east. Turning to his young nephew he said, "Ah, Randolph, a rose has fallen from your crown." By this he meant that Randolph had missed a chance of making himself famous. For a party of English horsemen were quietly stealing towards Stirling, and Randolph, who had been told to prevent this, had not noticed.
Too ashamed to reply Randolph called to his men and dashed upon the English. They turned and charged Randolph so fiercely that Douglas, another of the Scottish leaders, begged to be allowed to go to his help.
"No," replied King Robert, "let Randolph win back the honour which he has lost, or die. I cannot risk the whole battle because of a careless boy. Leave him."
So Douglas waited and watched. It seemed to him as if the little company of Scotsmen were being swallowed up by the English horsemen.
Then Douglas could bear it no longer. "My Lord King, I pray you, let me go," he said. "Randolph and his men are sore pressed. I cannot stand idly by and see him die." And scarcely waiting for permission Douglas rode off.
But, as he came near to Randolph, he saw that the English were giving way. "Halt," he called to his men. "Randolph has no need of our help. We will not take the honour from him." And without striking a blow, he and his men turned and rode back to the King.
Soon the English horsemen were seen flying from the field, and Randolph, joyful and victorious, returned to his place. He had recovered the rose which had fallen from his crown.
Meanwhile the rest of the English army was steadily advancing. King Robert the Bruce, mounted upon a little brown pony and wearing a gold crown upon his helmet, rode up and down in front of his army, watching everything, commanding and encouraging. His armour was light, and for a weapon he carried only a battle-axe.
Seeing King Robert so lightly armed, an English knight, called Sir Henry de Bohun, thought he would earn a great name for himself and win the battle at one blow. So setting spurs to his horse he rushed upon the King at full speed.
As the full-armed knight came thundering along on his great war-horse, King Robert, sitting firmly on his little pony, waited calmly. When Bohun reached him, when the sharp point of the spear almost touched his armour, Bruce suddenly made his pony spring to one side. The knight flashed past him. Quick as lightning Bruce turned, rose in his stirrups, and lifting his battle-axe high in the air, brought it crashing down upon the helmet of Bohun. Head and helmet were split, and without a groan Bohun fell dead to the ground, while his riderless horse galloped wildly away.
Cheer upon cheer rose from the Scottish ranks and the nobles crowded round their King, glad yet vexed with him. "My lord, my lord, is it well thus to risk your life?" they said. "Had you been killed, our cause were lost."
But the King paid no heed to them. "I have broken my good axe," was all he said, "I have broken my good axe."