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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter VI. Arrival of Leon Strozzio


What part the young knight of Grange acted in these affairs does not appear ; hut Norman Leslie and his uncle Parkhill were the great master spirits of mischief among their companions.

In signing a truce, both parties, as before stated, were acting with great duplicity; each merely sought to amuse and gain time, for the purpose of effectually crushing the other. The regent had applied to the ancient ally of the nation, France, for aid, and hoped soon to have the castle in his power, in spite of the Scottish nobles and their intrigues. On the other side, Leslie, the Kirkaldys, and their comrades, were supported by the English king, who was again making great preparations to accomplish his ambitious project of uniting the hostile countries by marriage; and as he very unpolitely intended to second his negotiations by a powerful army, the insurgents hoped that its advance would soon place them in a way to laugh to scorn the pardon of the regent and absolution of the pope.

But these hopes were doomed to he blighted.

In the next year, the profuse, rapacious, and tyrannical Henry of England closed a reign and a life which had been eminent only for political irregularity and domestic oppression—for cruelty and barbarity—to which the English submitted with amazing passiveness. Prior to the intelligence of his death reaching the English faction in Scotland, the absolution of Paul III. arrived from Rome, for the Master of Rothes, Kirkaldy, and their friends. Upon this, the regent required the surrender of the castle; but, on discovering that the bull contained the dubious clause—that his holiness remitted a crime which could not he pardoned, they broke off all further negotiation, being too acute to be deceived by this specimen of Italian logic; and, once more displaying their banner, they mustered their adherents and boldly refused to capitulate.

Meanwhile the governments of England and France were making active preparations—the former to succour, and the latter to besiege the castle. The French were ready first, unluckily for the insurgent Reformers.

To increase the troubles of the regent, a body of English had crossed the Solway on a hostile inroad, and stormed a few castles of minor importance. Marching southward, he encamped an army on the banks of the river Meggat, to observe their motions: he retook the castle of Langholm by storm, driving out a small English garrison: he invaded England by the western border, returned with considerable spoil, and was about to undertake the reduction of the other fortlets he had left in his rear, when intelligence was brought to his camp that the French fleet was visible from the bleak promontory of St Abb. It consisted of one-and-twenty vessels of war, sent at the regent’s request, by order of Henry II. of France, to besiege the castle of St Andrews. On beholding them standing towards the mouth of the Firth, with the silver lilies of France displayed, the regent immediately marched with his forces to the capital, for the purpose of conferring with the commander of these new allies.

It was on the 29th day of June that sixteen of those vessels, led by Leon Strozzio, a famous Florentine noble, (exiled in consequence of his implacable hatred to the house of Medici, and who had risen, solely by his merit as a soldier of fortune, to the rank of prior of Capua, knight of Rhodes, captain-general of the galleys, and admiral of the French fleet,) sailed into the tempestuous hay of St Andrews, and, to the no small dismay of the banned and excommunicated insurgents, cast anchor near the fortress, taking up a position so skilfully that, at full tide, the outworks of the castle would he completely swept by the cannon of the galleys.

Knowing well the discipline and experience the soldiers of Strozzio had gained in the German and Italian wars, and aware of his double character of priest and knight, their prospects were equally hopeless of conquest or mercy; yet, with the most indomitable bravery, though repeatedly summoned to surrender, they replied that they would defend the castle against the united powers of Scotland, England, and France. Strozzio landed his soldiers, who formed a junction with those of the regent. Crook Mow and Deaf Meg were added to the French train of artillery; the castle was invested on all sides by sea and land, and the trenches were pushed with great vigour.

Leon Strozzio, with more of military bluntness than Italian politeness, had the freedom to inform the regent that he thought him a very inexperienced soldier, for not haying taken possession of the church steeples; and that he deemed the garrison equally unskilful, in not having subsequently demolished them.

"With God’s will,” he concluded, "your excellency, shall see that, to-morrow, in six hours, I will make a passage through the castle, and compel those that are in it to obey you.” By means of ropes and windlasses he drew his cannon through the streets, without any means that were visible to the besieged, whose missiles might have slain many of his pioneers and soldiers.

"Look to your defence, my masters!” cried the Italian engineer who served the insurgents, and saw this new manoeuvre with surprise. a Now ye have to fight with subtle warriors, who can work their cannon without men!”

Strozzio mounted several pieces of ordnanee on the old tower of St Salvador’s College, upon the massive walls of the Abbey Church, and other commanding positions, from which a heavy cannonade was commenced against the fortress. Its rash garrison evinced no disposition to surrender, hut fired the cardinal’s ordnance so briskly on the besiegers, saith Knox, "that Sancta Barbara—the gunners’ goddess—helped them nothing; for they lost many of their rowers and men chained in the galleys, and some soldiers, both by sea and land. And further, a galley that approached nearer than the rest, was so beaten with the cannon and other ordnance, that she was stricken under water and almost drowned; and so she had been, had not the rest given her succour in time, and drawn her to the west sands, without shot of the castle, and afterwards to Dundee, where she remained.”

The heavy cannon of the captain-general soon accomplished what Thrawn Mow and all her marrows had failed to achieve. He opposed some bombardes, or battering-mortars, to the gates, but without much effect: those capacious ordnance shot forth red-hot balls and stones, but not shells, which were an invention of the Earl of Mansfield, forty years after.

By sea and land the siege was pressed with great fury. From the ramparts of the Abbey Church, from the college, and other places in the adjoining streets, the French and Scottish cannoneers maintained a perpetual cannonade upon the castle. Those soldiers who manned the steeples and St Salvador’s tower occupied such an elevation that, by depressing their cannon, they shot down into the inner quadrangle of the castle, the pavement of which could be seen dabbled with the blood of the garrison; and, to aggravate the increasing distress of the latter, the pestilence found its way among them— many died, and all were dismayed. Walter Melville, one of their bravest leaders, fell deadly sick; while watching, warding, and scanty fare, were rapidly wearing out the rest; and John Knox dinned continually in their ears, that their present perils were the just reward of their former corrupt lives and licentiousness, and reliance on England rather than Heaven.

"For the first twenty days of this siege,” said he, "ye prospered bravely; but when ye triumphed at your victory I lamented, and ever said that ye saw not what I saw. When ye boasted of the thickness of your walls, I said they would be but as egg-shells; when ye vaunted, England will rescue us, I said, ye shall not see it; but ye shall be delivered into your enemies’ hands, and carried afar off into a strange country.” This gloomy prophesying was but cold comfort for those whom his precepts and exhortations had urged -to rebellion, to outlawry, and to bloodshed; but their affairs were fast approaching a crisis.

On the morning of the 30th July, a new and most formidable battery of thirteen pieces of heavy ordnance opened a cannonade upon the curtain wall, between the fore-tower and eastern spur or blockhouse; by ten in the forenoon, an enormous mass of the strongly-jointed masonry rent, yielded, and descended thundering into the fosse, which was filled with its debris. Buchanan says, that u mighty was the noise of its downfall.” This vast breach was immediately declared by the French chevaliers practicable for an escalade; but there broke forth a furious tempest of wind and rain, drenching the soldiers, extinguishing their matches, and driving them all under cover in such haste that even the besiegers left their brigades of culverins in the streets behind them.

Dismayed by the aspect of the yawning breach, the most resolute of the besieged now despaired: the issue of an encounter between a little band of weary, sick, and jaded men, with the fresh, well-disciplined, and exulting soldiers of Leon Strozzio, could have but one termination—the defeat and destruction of the former. During the fury of the sudden storm, while the German Ocean hurled its waves of foam against the rocks, while the rain lashed and the wind howled through their breached and shattered ramparts, Norman Leslie, the Kirkaldys, and other leaders, held a council of war to deliberate on their proceedings. It was loudly insisted by some that they should make a sortie in their armour, and commit their fate to God, to the fortune of war, and their own good swords; hut, dreading ultimately to encounter the just and long-delayed vengeance of the regent, as soon as the tempest lulled they held forth in sign of parley a white banner, displayed on the point of a lance, and consented to surrender, yielding themselves prisoners to Leon Strozzio, who engaged in the name of his master, Henry of France, for the security of their lives.

It was further stipulated that they should he transported to France, or any other land they chose, Scotland excepted: hut Monsignore, the valiant prior of Capua, did not find it either necessary or convenient to remember the exact terms of capitulation ; and the survivors of the siege, consisting of one hundred and twenty knights and men-at-arms, were immediately made close prisoners on hoard the French fleet. Henry II. had given particular orders to Strozzio to bring them all prisoners to France; and the Scottish regent cared not what became of them. They were wroth at the passiveness of their Protestant countrymen, who, they said, had allowed them to he , betrayed into the hands of papists and aliens.

"But,” exclaimed the old Laird of Grange, as they embarked, "I am assured God will revenge it upon them ere long!”

The soldiers of Strozzio pillaged the beautiful castle, where they found, besides a vast quantity of viands, all the treasure and household stuff of the rich and luxurious cardinal, together with the blackmail levied and accumulated by his unruly successors. According to Pitscottie, the spoil was worth “a hundred thousand pundis.”

The regent’s son was released, and the grand archi-episcopal residence of the Scottish primates—that monument of Beatoun’s vanity and Catholic power—was demolished by an order of council, and in obedience to the canon-law, which poured forth its sounding anathemas even against the very walls wherein the “ sacred blood” of a cardinal was shed.

Its very foundations were torn from the rocks whereon they had stood for ages,—it was so utterly levelled that the only vestiges of it now remaining, are supposed to be some fragments of ruin perched on the bluff and sea-weeded cliffs which overhang that bleak and stormy bay.

Two cannon-balls, which were supposed to have been discharged from the cannon of Strozzio, were some years ago found among these ruins, and are now preserved in a museum at St Andrews.


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