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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Wallace Fights the Battle of the High Street

ALL the chief writers regarding the history of Glasgow, as a matter of course, give an account of the Battle of the High Street; in which the patriot Wallace fought and defeated the Southerns at the Bell o’ the Brae. Such accounts are derived, of necessity, with more or less accuracy, from the narrative given by Blind Harry in his national heroic poem of Wallace. MacGregor (History of Glasgow) furnishes two accounts, one from Brown’s History of Glasgow, and the other from Carrick’s Life of Sir William Wallace.

Both of these versions are in prose, whereas, of course, the original is in verse. Blind Harry’s account is manifestly taken from tradition, and although it is probably right in the main, it is certainly mixed up with some apocryphal details. However, Wallace certainly captured the Bishop’s Castle, or palace, in Glasgow in 1297, and King Edward I., with reference to Bishop Beck’s flight, sneeringly wrote: "Anthony is on his travels." Blind Harry places the Battle of the High Street on the morning after the Burning of the Barns of Ayr.

The account which follows is from Blind Harry’s original, here rendered into modern English:

"When Wallace men were all together met,
‘Good friends,’ he said, ‘you know an ayre was set,
That Olydesdale men to Glasgow should repair
To Bishop Beck and the Lord Percy there.
Then let us now in all haste thither go,
Lest our friends there be done to death also.’
Then meat was brought, with which they broke their fast,
Before from Ayr to Glasgow on they pass’d.
Horses they chose, from those Southrons had there,
Of such there were both plenty and to spare.
This company, three hundred men in all,
Most eagerly obey’d their leader’s call;
And pass’d o’er Glasgow bridge, that was of tree,
Before the Southrons could their coming see:
But Percy thereof soon was made aware;
And to oppose them quickly did prepare.
He deem’d the leader must brave Wallace be,
As no one else would dare such deed but he.
The Bishop Beck, and Lord Percy so wight,
Led out a thousand men in armour bright.
Wallace saw well what number there did ride,
And in two parties did his men divide;
Marshall’d them well, without, at the town end,
And for his uncle Auchinleck did send.
‘Uncle,’ he said, ‘ere we these men assail,
Whither will ye bear up the bishop’s tail;
Or, right before him will ye gallop on,
And thus receive the bishop’s benison?’
Quoth Auchinleck ;—‘Unbishop'd yet are ye,
So you may take his blessing first for me
For certainly, you earn’d it well this night ;—
His tail I will bear up with all my might.’
Wallace then said :—‘ Since I must face that throng,
Peril there is, if you bide from us long;
For yon are men who will no parley make,
From time we meet ;—make haste then for God’s sake!
I would not Southrons should our parting know;
Behind them come, in through the north-east row.
Good men of war are all Northumberland,’
So said, and parting took his uncle’s hand
Who bravely said: ‘We shall do best we may,
I would like ill to bide too long away;
A powerful band will soon between us be,
Almighty God, watch over thee, and me!’
Adam Wallace with Auchinleck did ride
With seven score men round by the Drygate side:
Right, fast they went, and soon were out of sight,
Leaving the rest to face the foe’s full might.
Wallace with them did up the plain street go,
So few they were, that it surprised the foe.
The warcry rose upon the Percy side,
Who forward rode with confidence and pride.
A sore greeting was at that meeting seen,
As fire from flint the conflict them between.
The hardy Scots right stoutly there abade,
And in the English ranks great gaps they made;
Pierced through mail’d armour with sharp points of steel,
Till dead to earth full many foes did reel.
Great clouds of dust, like dense smoke round them rose,
Or, misty vapour, shrouding friends and foes;
To help himself each Scot had utmost need,
As circling foes charged them with headlohg speed.
Yet each true Scot did strive to do his best,
As if the fate of all on each did rest.
The Percy’s men in war had full great skill,
And fiercely fought their foemen’s blood to spill.
Then Auchinleck appear’d upon the scene,
And fiercer wax’d the combat them between.
The English now in turn were rent in twain,
And many fell, no more to rise again.
The Scots got room, and many down did bear,
Each fighting like a noble hero there:
And on the English laid their blows so fast,
That they began to give way at the last.
Wallace press’d forward in the fearful throng,
With his good sword, so heavy, sharp, and long;
At the Lord Percy such a stroke he drew,
That helm and head at once were shorn in two.
Four hundred men, when Lord Percy was dead,
Out of harm’s way the Bishop Beck they led;
And as they thought it was no time to bide
By Friars Kirk, fled to a wood beside,
Yet in that place, forsooth, they tarried not,
But on to Bothwell with all speed they got.
Wallace pursued with worthy men and wight,
Though worn with war and travel all that night
Yet they slew many in the chase that day;
But Bishop Beck and some more got away.
The Scots began at ten of night at Ayr,
By nine next morning they at Glasgow were;
By one past noon they were at Bothwell gate,
So quickly pass’d events both dire and great.
The Scots then turn’d, and to Dundaff they made,
And there for needed rest awhile abade.
Wallace told Graham of all was done at Ayr,
\Vho made lament lie was not with him there."

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