James III.—The Battle of Sauchieburn
Having finished their cruel work, the barons broke up the army, and taking the King, led him prisoner to Edinburgh castle. All the nobles had been eager and willing to destroy the King's favourites, but when it became known that some of their number were in league with Edward of England and with the Duke of Albany, and that they hoped to place the Duke upon the throne, the others were angry. So the nobles were divided into two parties, some for the King, and some for the Duke.
But for a short time these quarrels were forgotten. Peace was made with England, and Albany came to Edinburgh, demanding that the King should be set free. This was done, but soon James found that he was really his brother's prisoner, for the Duke ruled, and forced the King to do as he wished. Then Albany began again to plot with the King of England, but this was discovered, and once more he was forced to flee to France.
The King was now again really free, and he soon did many things which displeased his proud barons, and they became angry with him, and discontented with his rule. All those, too, who had helped to kill the King's favourites felt sure that some day James would punish them, so they rose in rebellion.
When James heard that the lowland lords were gathering to battle, he fled to the North, leaving his son James, whom he dearly loved, safe, as he thought, in Stirling castle. "As you love honour and life," he said to the Governor, "let no man enter into the castle till I come again. Nor let the Prince pass out, nor meet with any man, but guard and keep him well." This the Governor vowed to do.
But the rebel lords came to him and promised him a great sum of money if he would give the Prince up to them.
And the Governor, forgetting his oath to the King, allowed the Prince to be led away to the camp of the rebel lords.
Then the King, having gathered an army of faithful men in the North, marched again to Stirling. But the Governor would not let him come into the castle.
"Then let me see my son," said the King.
"You cannot see him."
"Where is he?" asked the King, still calmly.
"He is with the rebel lords?" replied the Governor.
Then the King was angry. "False traitor, you have deceived me, and if I live I shall be avenged upon you," he cried, and rode away.
Next morning, at Sauchieburn, not far from the famous field on which the battle of Bannockburn was fought, the King's army and the rebels met. On both sides fluttered the royal banner, for in the one army was the King and in the other the Prince. James had never been a great soldier, and now when he looked across at the royal standard and remembered that his dear son was in the army opposite, he had little heart for fighting.
But one of his nobles came to him, bringing a beautiful grey horse. "My liege," he said, "I pray you accept this horse. It is so swift that it will beat any in Scotland, so that whether you advance or retreat you are safe."
Then, taking heart, the King mounted upon the beautiful grey horse, and led his men against the enemy. But when the battle began, when he heard the clash and clang of sword on armour, and all the noise and turmoil of war, fear came upon him again, and turning his horse he fled from the field. Over the plain of Bannockburn, where Bruce had fought and conquered, near to the Bridge that Wallace had won, this poor King fled until he came to a mill beside the Bannock burn. There the miller's wife stood at a spring filling her pitcher with water. When she saw a splendidly armed knight come thundering along on his great war-horse, she was frightened. Letting her pitcher drop, she ran screaming away.
Startled, the King's horse reared and plunged, and the King, who could not ride well, was thrown to the ground, There he lay, stunned with the fall, and sorely bruised. Then the woman, seeing him lie so still, called to her husband, and together they carried the King in to the cottage and laid him upon a bed.
Presently he came to his senses again. Groaning and in much pain, he asked for a priest.
"Who are you?" said the woman.
"This day at morn I was your King," replied James sadly.
Hearing that, the woman, who seems to have been easily excited and frightened, ran out into the road wringing her hands, and calling out, "A priest, a priest for the King."
"I am a priest," said a man who came up at that moment. "Where is the King?"
The miller's wife, glad so soon to have found what she sought, took the man by the hand and led him quickly into the cottage where the King lay.
The priest knelt beside the King. "Are you sore wounded?" he asked bending over him.
"I know not but that I might recover," replied James, "but I desire to confess my sins and to receive pardon for them."
"This shall give you pardon," answered the man, and drawing a dagger, he stabbed the King to the heart again and again. Then rising, he lifted the dead King in his arms and went away, no one knew where. No one knew who he was, or whether he was a priest or no. He was never heard of more.