Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Under Many Flags
Chapter I. Soldiers of Fortune in France

Let us catch a few glimpses of the activity of adventurous Scots in the French wars of the fifteenth century. Nobles, knights, and men-at-arms seem alike to have been possessed with an errant spirit, which they could not control; or else they were seduced by the purple vineyards and smiling fields of the South, which offered so charming a contrast to their bleak and barren northern landscapes. Further, it was on French soil that they could revenge themselves best upon the Anglo-Norman invaders, who had harried their poor country so pitilessly with fire and sword, and were at this time engaged in a long and desperate struggle to maintain their hold upon some of the finest provinces of France.

In 1407, we read, the Earl of Mar led a body of troops, sent by the Duke of Burgundy, to the help of William of Bavaria, Count of Holland and Hainault, who thirsted to punish his refractory city of Liege for revolting against its bishop. Halting at Paris, Mar dazzled the curious Parisians, as fond then as now of shows and spectacles, by his chivalric courtesy. “He set out,” says Wyntoun, “with a noble company, well equipped and elegant, knights and squires, very great lords, sixty and more, men of counsel and valour, of his court and his suite. At Paris he held a royal levee, at the sign of Le Plat d'titain. All the time he was there, which exceeded twelve weeks, gates and grilles were open, that everybody might see him; that everybody might freely enter, to eat and drink and dance and sing; and all people praised him highly for his wit and valour and liberality." He and his followers took part in the battle of Liege, on September 23, 1408, and behaved with a prowess to which justice is done by a contemporary poet, who does not fail to enumerate the splendid knights whom Mar commanded. Among these, according to Wyntoun, were “Schere James Scremgeoure of Dundee,” “Schire Elis of Kynnymond,” “Lord of the Nachtane Schire William,” and “of Bothvile Schire Johne.” These good knights are dust — their swords are rust — but one cannot help feeling a touch of sympathetic interest when one finds their names inscribed not only on the pages of Wyntoun, but on those of an obscure foreign record.

Lord Mar did not remain long in France. On the 29th of the following December he obtained a safe-conduct from the King of England to return to Scotland with his company of thirty knights and squires — just one-half the suite whom he had taken with him. As Scotland had then no navy, Scots who made for France had to travel through England, unless some foreign power provided the necessary transport. It is surprising that the English Government so freely accorded permission to its gallant enemies to carry their thews and muscles, and their stout hearts, to the help of France.

In 1419, King Charles VI. sent the Comte de Vendome on an embassy to the Regent of Scotland, demanding assistance in the name of the ancient alliance between the two kingdoms. The Regent immediately convoked the Three Estates, and it was resolved that a large force should immediately be dispatched under the command of John Stuart Earl of Buchan, Archibald Douglas Earl of Wigton (son of the great Earl of Douglas), and Sir John Stuart of Darnley, being the three leaders specially designated by the King of France. The ships to carry the Scottish auxiliaries were furnished by France, and the King of Castile, with the Infanta of Aragon — both in alliance with Scotland — promised to equip at need a fleet of forty ships. Henry V., who was then engaged in his victorious campaigns, was alarmed at this formidable diversion in favour of France, and sent immediate instructions to his brother, John Duke of Bedford, in whose hands he had placed the reins of government during his absence at the wars, to equip a fleet without delay to intercept the French vessels. Either his order was neglected, or it arrived too late, and an army of seven thousand Scots, robust and experienced troops, crossed the Channel unmolested, and disembarked at La Rochelle. Marching towards the valley of the Loire, they encamped at Chatillon, whence they raided incessantly upon the English frontiers. Bloody encounters, captured towns and castles, piles of plunder — nothing was wanting to the glory of these Scottish warriors, not even envy; for, failing to expel the enemy from the kingdom, they were denounced to the King by the voice of jealousy as “wine-bags and mutton-eaters ” (sacs a vin et mangeurs de montons). Charles listened patiently to the slanderers, and made no reply to them until after the victory at Baugy, when he sarcastically inquired, “What think you now of these Scottish mutton-eaters and wine-swillers?” And there was no reply.

Baugy is one of those battle-fields where the English leopard “lay low.” The Scots, with some few French, under the command of the Earl of Buchan, approached the town of Baugy (or Bauge) on one side of the rushing Couanar, while an English army, under the Duke of Clarence, was encamped on the other. The two sides were connected by a narrow bridge. Buchan had sent Sir John Stuart of Darnley forward to reconnoitre; and he, coming suddenly and unexpectedly on the English, fell back in time to warn his friends of their approach. Meanwhile, the passage of the bridge was stoutly disputed by Stewart of Ralston and Sir Hugh Kennedy, whose partisans withstood with unshaken front the impetuous charge of Clarence and his chivalry. The Duke, conspicuous by the circle of gold on his helm, and the richness of his armour, was charged by John Kirkmichael (who broke his spear against him), then wounded in the face by Sir William of Swinton, and finally borne to the ground and killed by a blow from the Earl of Buchan’s mace. The flower of his knights and men-at-arms perished with him. The main body of the English, in their rage at this disaster and their anxiety to avenge it, pressed into the narrow defile of the bridge in such numbers as to lose all cohesion, and, struggling onward in dense disorder, were cut up or taken prisoners by the victorious Scots. Thus the English defeat was complete, and they left from one thousand six hundred to two thousand dead upon the field. It is pretended that the Scots lost only twelve men and the French only two, but this is incredible; nor are the mediaeval chroniclers at any time to be trusted in the matter of figures, which they employ with the most astonishing licence.

King Charles rewarded the Earl of Buchan for this brilliant service with the baton of Constable of France, while Sir John Stuart of Darnley received a fief in Berry.

This same Sir John received another gift of lands in March 1423, and in the royal letter conveying it I find the most flattering testimony adduced to “the great zeal and diligence with which he and all of his company had, for the space of three years or thereabouts, laboured for the weal of ourselves, our kingdom, and our lordships, sustaining very great pain, hardships, and peril, and danger of person”; and special reference is made to the aforesaid battle of Baugy, where he had shown himself “a valiant and courageous chevalier, and had served us largely, freely, and of his good-will.” He is promised “an income in our said kingdom of the yearly value of two thousand livres tournois,” to assist him in maintaining his state honourably, and that “he may be the more inclined to remain in our service, for which he has left his wife and children, and abandoned his rents, revenues, and possessions, whereon he had lived liberally and nobly.” More fortunate than some of his companions-in-arms, Sir John actually received the money.

At the time that Charles VI. was thus freely rewarding his faithful auxiliaries, he had not long to live; but he was preceded to the grave by two great antagonists. Having seized upon Meaux, and finding his supplies were running short, he sent out foraging detachments to sweep clean the country-side; but provisions still failing, he ordered the soldiers to disregard the immunity of St. Fiacreson of an ancient Scottish king — which no one, according to the faith of the time, had ever done with impunity. All that he found in the way of cattle and grain he carried off. Almost immediately, says the continuator of Fordun, he was seized with a malady which the common people call le mal de Saint Fiacre, and became hypochondriacal. Finding himself seriously ill, he asked his physicians the cause of this affection, and was informed that it proceeded from his violation of the immunity of the Scottish Saint Fiacre. Whereupon the King exclaimed gloomily, “I can go nowhere without finding before my beard those Scotchmen, living or dead.”

Sir John Stuart of Darnley was taken prisoner by the English at the battle of Crevant. He was severely wounded in the fight, and lost an eye. He was afterwards exchanged, and returned to France again to combat under the French standard.

A brilliant soldier of fortune appeared in France in the latter end of 1422, in the person of Archibald, second Earl of Douglas, who disembarked at Rochelle with an army of ten thousand knights, men-at-arms, and archers (between four and five thousand, according to one of the French historians). He joined the French Court at Chatillon-sur-Indre, and accompanied it to Bourges, where the King declared the Earl lieutenant-general of his armies, and conferred on him the Duchy of Touraine, to enjoy for himself and his male heirs in perpetuity, reserving, however, the rights of the Crown. He added the town and chateau of Chinon with all their dependencies. The Earl did homage accordingly. The French Chambre des Comptes refused at first to ratify the King’s letters patent, protesting that it was its duty to prevent any alienation of the Crown domains.

Nor did the citizens of Tours and the peasants of Touraine take kindly at first to their transference to a Scottish lord. When, however, they were assured that they would suffer neither in person nor in property, they accepted the inevitable, and did their best to propitiate their new master; sending him a present of twelve casks of wine, six loads of hay, fifty sheep, four fat oxen, and one hundred pounds of wax tapers, and mounting on horseback to meet and escort him when he came to take possession of his own (May 7). The streets of Tours were hung with tapestry and strewn with flowers, as the new Duke rode on his way, with a gallant attendance of knights and nobles, men-at-arms and archers—all in their bravest—with much waving of pennons and blare of trumpets, to the cathedral, at the great door of which he was received by the archbishop and all the canons in full robes. The dean presented him with a sceptre, an aumasse, and a breviary. Having gone through the usual formalities, the Duke was received as a canon and installed in the choir, in the presence of Louis de Bourbon Count of Vendome, great chamberlain of France, John de Bourbon, his brother, Prince of Carency; and many other great lords.

With this glimpse of old world ceremonies I must be content.

The Scottish Duke of Touraine enjoyed his honours for a few weeks only. He was killed in the sanguinary battle of Verneuil in 1424, in which his countrymen suffered so severely. For having sent a message to the Duke of Bedford that they would neither give nor take quarter, they so kindled the fury of the English that the latter fell upon them with a force which would not be denied, and slew them in their thousands. A contemporary writer says it was a frightful sight to see the heaps of corpses piled up on the battle-field, especially where the English had closed with the Scots, for not one of them had been taken into mercy. The Earl of Buchan was among the slain in this bloody battle, which was long remembered in the annals of mediaeval warfare.

Sir John Stuart of Darnley remained in the French service, and for his gallant deeds of arms received numerous liberal gifts from Charles VII. If the Scottish adventurers who lent their swords to France were loyal, it must be owned that the French kings were generous. Perhaps the brilliant Stuart valued as much as his lands and moneys the permission he received to quarter his arms with those of France.

Late in 1427, or early in the succeeding year, he was sent, accompanied by the Archbishop of Rheims and the Chancellor of Bayeux, to negotiate the marriage of the Dauphin with the Princess Margaret, the eldest daughter of James. I. The negotiation was successful, though, owing to the tender years of the high contracting parties, the marriage did not take place until 1436. The old alliance between France and Scotland being thus renewed and strengthened, King Charles gratefully conferred on his Scottish army the county of Saintonge, with the castle and castle-demesne of Rochefort-sur-Charente, to possess in perpetuity, under reserve of the rights of the Crown.

The great turning-point in the Hundred Years’ War between England and France was the siege of Orleans. Both sides recognized its importance, for its capture would have given England command of all the country south of the Loire. The forces mustered for the attack were therefore chosen from the best English soldiery, and placed under the command of some of our ablest captains. On the other hand, the besiegers were encouraged by the knowledge that King Charles and his council would leave nothing unattempted for their relief. The fighting men of Auvergne were summoned from its mountains to a rendezvous at Blois, to co-operate under the Comte de Clermont with the Orleanese in a general assault upon the English army on the right bank of the Loire. In the early days of 1429, two hundred lances led by the Admiral of France and Lafayette, its second marshal, rode into the beleaguered city, the approaches of which were not fully guarded, to arrange with Dunois, the governor, the details of the projected enterprise. Thither did his love of adventure turn Sir John Stuart, who had been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with his brother William, and four hundred gallant Scots. The end of the Carnival of 1429 was close at hand, and it became known that an important convoy of salted provisions had been dispatched from Paris for the use of the English army during Lent. The cutting off of this convoy would greatly cripple the besiegers, and the French captain resolved upon this operation before they made any more serious movement.

They drew together at Yeuville, on February II, five hundred lances from Orleans, under La Hire, Xaintrailles, and Lafayette; and upwards of four thousand men-at-arms and archers from Blois, under Clermont, Dunois, and Sir John Stuart. On the I2th, the united force nearly five thousand strong, moved forward by way of Etampes, and after two hours’ marching came in sight of the English enemy, protected by one thousand five hundred men-at-arms and bowmen (those terrible English bowmen) under Sir John Fastolfe.

It was with anticipation of victory, and with the benedictions that men and women bestow on victors, that the city of Orleans had watched the departure of La Hire and his comrades. For two days the townsfolk waited in anxious suspense the issue of the fight that would probably decide their fortunes. Yet there seemed small cause for anxiety. Their countrymen had the advantage of numbers, in the proportion of two to one; the advantage of attacking the enemy when and where they would; the advantage of fighting unencumbered with baggage; and the advantage of having on their side the swords of Scottish veterans. They knew that the English would be taken by surprise, and that they were not only inferior in numbers, but embarrassed by the train of waggons which it was their duty to escort, and by the crowd of merchants desirous under their safe-conduct of carrying their wares for sale or barter into the English camp. But they also knew that the yeomanry of England were not easily beaten, and that the division now approaching was led by Sir John Fastolfe, the ablest champion of the age.

It was late in the night of February 12 that the Orleanese were roused from their slumbers by the tramp of horses and the tread of men, who carried the news of their defeat. First came the horsemen of Auvergne riding hard, and, though with arms uninjured and equipment intact, crowned with shame and discomfiture. Next galloped into the city the vans laden with the dead and wounded, and after them straggled the scattered remains of the French army, with only a handful of the Scots. The chivalry of France had once more been pitted against the yeomanry of England, and had once more lost.

This was the method of the battle. Of the two French divisions, that under La Hire and Sir John Stuart was first upon the ground, so that it could see at one and the same time the English convoy slowly advancing from Angerville, and the troops of Dunois and the Comte de Clermont moving, at a league’s distance, upon the village of Rouvrai-Saint-Denis. In acknowledgment of the superior rank of the Count, a prince of the blood, La Hire sent to him for instructions, and received orders to halt, but not to allow his horsemen to dismount. Thus the French threw away their advantage of taking the English by surprise, and gave Fastolfe time to prepare for his defence. With his loaded waggons he formed a rough circular entrenchment, and within it drew up his sturdy Englishmen, between a double row of those pointed stakes which they always carried with them to oppose the attacks of cavalry, digging them deep into the soil, with their sharp tops turned towards the enemy.

“While La Hire and his soldiers,” says Quicherat, “observed with fixed attention these preparations, the Auvergnats, having drawn bridle at Rouvrai, leisurely sacked the cellars of that village, and when messengers were sent to quicken their movements, the Comte de Clermont replied that the Orleanese must have patience. At length La Hire lost his temper; and, his cheeks burning with shame at the ridiculous attitude to which he had been condemned, he threw his troops upon the English baggage-train, where Fastolfe had stationed the waggons, merchants, and hucksters. He supposed that the English would break out of their temporary encampment and hasten to their relief, but Fastolfe was too skilled a commander to expose his small force in the open, and was content to pour in deadly volleys of arrows upon the enemy while engaged in their work of pillage. For a time La Hire made no advance against the English lines, afraid of impaling his horses upon the chevaux-de-frise of pointed stakes ; but Sir John Stuart and his brother, wearying of inaction, flung themselves from their horses, and followed by the Scots and Gascons, who imitated their example, rushed headlong forward. The struggling crowd was soon thrown into disorder by the cloth-yard shafts which fell in repeated showers. At this crisis Fastolfe let loose his men-at-arms; and, as the Comte de Clermont, indignant at the disobedience of his orders, retreated hastily upon Orleans, they soon slew or wounded every foeman whom they found upon the field. All the courage and steadfastness of Sir John and his countrymen could not turn back the tide of battle, and they fell, fighting bravely to the last.”

The Parisians, as epigrammatic in the fifteenth as in the nineteenth century, satirically termed the rout of Rouvrai la Jonrnee des Harengs, because the French cannon, instead of sweeping away the English ranks, shattered the barrels which contained the herrings and salt fish intended for the Lenten supply of the besiegers of Orleans.

The two Stuarts were buried in the cathedral of Orleans, in the chapel of Our White Lady, behind the choir, where also was interred Elizabeth, Sir John’s wife. She and her husband had founded a daily high mass to be chanted in the chapel by a canon and the children of the choir, and this trust was fulfilled down to the time of the Revolution. As Constable of the Scottish army, Sir John was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir Alan, who arrived in France after the battle of Verncuil. The faithful service of the Stuarts brought them more honour than wealth; and in spite of grants made by Charles VII.—which could not be realized, owing to the disturbed state of the country—Sir John’s sons were compelled to apply for protection from their creditors.

A Sir Hugh Kennedy may here be introduced as an excellent type of a certain class of valiant Scottish adventurers. According to Pitcairn, he was a son of the laird of Balgany, and destined in his early years for the monastic condition; but he had the soldier’s temper and the adventurer’s restlessness, and, casting his frock aside, crossed with the laird of Blaquham into France, and offered his sword to Charles VII. “Brother Hugh,” as he was nicknamed, rapidly rose in the King’s favour, distinguishing himself by his prowess at the battle of Baugy, at the battle of the Herrings, and in the deliverance of Orleans. Afterwards he accompanied Charles to the Holy Land, and clothed himself in the odour of sanctity. On his return he received intelligence of the death of his brother, the laird of Balgany. Thereupon he took leave of his royal friend and patron, who paid him for his services in gold and silver, and granted to him, as he had granted to Stuart of Darnley, permission to quarter with his arms the fleurs-de-lis of France.

On his arrival in Scotland, he purchased the lands of Arstensar (valued at ten livres yearly), and several other estates, with the French King’s gifts; whence he acquired the significant nickname of Come with the Penny. He waxed fat, acquired an extensive property, and became progenitor of several great houses. But his title to be remembered by posterity lies in the fact that he fought under the sacred banner of Jeanne d’Arc, the virgin-champion of France. Otherwise, there is reason to fear that he was a good deal of a freebooter, and that “the pence” he carried back with him to Scotland were not all obtained from so pure a source as the liberal hand of a grateful king.

It is pleasant to recollect that many gallant Scots fought by the side of the noble Maid of Orleans. At that grand pageant in the cathedral of Rheims, the coronation of Charles VII. (July 17, 1429), a distinguished company of Scottish “seigneurs, chefs et capitans de guerre,” gathered round the Maid and the King. There were Patrick Ogilvy Earl of Angus, Christian Chambers, Gilbert Hay, John Lockhart, Peter Graham, all of them knights; John Watt, John Lawes, Peter Law, Peter Arnot, Robert Houston, Michael Nor-ville, Walter “Fautier,” and another Gilbert Hay — possibly son of the former — who were probably men-at-arms.

Here is a grim story, which reveals the seamy side of war.

A Scottish adventurer, of the name of Michael Hamilton, relates that, in the Holy Week of the year 1429, he and several of his comrades were lodged in a village named Vallet, near the town of Clisson, where they were menaced by the Bretons, who swarmed about the neighbouring country-side. A spy, who had been sent to ascertain the position of the Scots, fell into their hands; he was made to disclose his errand, and was then hung; after which they took to flight, but not without leaving some of their company in the hands of the peasants. Among these unfortunates was Hamilton himself, whom the weight of his armour had embarrassed ; he was carried off to Clisson, and hung by the spy’s son, who burned to avenge the death of his father. At the moment of his capture he had invoked the life of St Catherine, and made a vow to thank her in her chapel of Fierbois—where Jeanne d’Arc had discovered her sword — if she preserved him from death. A lucky vow! For, on the following night, while he was still dangling from the gibbet, the cure of Clisson heard a voice which bade him make haste and cut down the Scotchman. At first he paid little attention ; but the order being repeated, he sent one of his parishioners to see if the unfortunate man were dead or not. After turning and re-turning the suspended body, his messenger, to make sure, took the boot off the right foot of Hamilton, and pierced his little toe in such wise that the blood flowed; Hamilton, feeling himself wounded, drew back his leg, and stirred.

Panic-stricken, the messenger took to his heels, and never stopped until he reached the house of the cure, to whom he related all that had passed. Perceiving in this strange affair an intervention from on high, the cure repeated the facts to his people; and he and his fellow-clerg}, assuming their sacerdotal habits, went in procession to the gibbet, and cut down Hamilton. This was done in the presence of the man who had acted as his executioner; and he, in a storm of wrath at the escape of his victim—though he was himself to blame for having hung him so clumsily that death had not supervened!—gave him with his sword a slash on the ear. The crowd, however, interfered ; Hamilton was set upon horseback, and conveyed to a house to be taken care of; but the wonderful story reaching the ears of the Abbess of la Re-grippiere, she sent for its hero to her convent, and undertook his charge. Hamilton was reciting the narrative of his adventures, when a voice reminded him that he had a vow to fulfil. In a fortnight, when he was in a condition to move, he proceeded toward Fierbois, where, we will hope that, like an honest Scotchman, he discharged his obligation to St. Catherine.

In the year rendered memorable by the battle of Verneuil, one Robert Pittillock, of Dundee, with a company of adventurers, made his appearance in the French wars. He did such excellent service to Charles VII., principally in the south of France, and was held in such esteem, that he received and long bore the sham title of “Little King of Gascony." In the letters of naturalization which were given to him by Charles, he is designated “squire of the royal stable” (ecuyer de I'ecurie da Roi) ; a circumstance which lends probability to the statement of Hector Boece, that he began in the lowest grade of the Scots Guard, and by his courage and fidelity raised himself to the command. It is interesting to remember that in this position he had under his orders a Scotchman named Poquelin, whose descendants afterwards settled at Paris, and gave to France one of its greatest literary glories in the person of Jean Poquelin, better known by his assumed name of Moliere.

It is said — I don’t know on what authority — that after Pittillock’s death, a statue was erected to his honour in the hall of the King’s palace.

To enumerate all the gallant Scotchmen who distinguished themselves on the battle-fields of France would be a task beyond my purpose, Some of these won wealth and rank, besides fame; founded families, and took their places in the ranks of the French aristocracy; thus offering a constant incentive to the Scottish youth to transport their intrepid and courageous spirits to a country which welcomed them so cordially. During the fifteenth century there was a constant immigration into France of these adventurers—younger sons, probably, most of them, with a good deal more of pedigree than purse.

Now I pass on to speak of that famous fighting company, the Scots Guards, with whom the genius of Sir Walter Scott, in the stirring pages of Quentin Dunvard, has made most of us familiar.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus