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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter XI. Grange Returns to Scotland, His Marriage Breaks a Spear with Ralph Evers


Sir William Kirkaldy’s achievements in the campaigns in Picardy appear to have obtained for him unusual consideration and honour. His bravery and devoir militaire were highly extolled by the veteran constable, by Louis de Bourbon, Claude of Lorraine, the Duke d’Aumale, Anthony duke de Vendome, and all the generals and colonels commanding the Bandes Frangaise in the wars in Picardy.

"I heard Henry II.,” Melville states, "point unto him and say—'yonder is one of the most valiant men of our age.’”

That gay and martial prince treated him always with kindness and distinction, which are the more remarkable when the Protestant tenets Kirkaldy professed are remembered; and as the Scottish knight excelled in drawing the bow, the use of the lance, and all knightly exercises, he and the king were always comrades in the pastimes of the court; and Melville (who is always very circumstantial in relating the honours paid to his countrymen) mentions, that the proud old Montmorencie, the great constable of France, treated the exiled Kirkaldy with such deference, that he never addressed him with his head covered. This venerable soldier was afterwards slain at the battle of St Denis, in the eightieth year of his age, by Sir Robert Stewart, a Scottish soldier of fortune, who fought in the wars of the Huguenots.

In the year of St Quentin, Kirkaldy’s career of success and of service in France drew to a close ; but the exact period of his quitting the French army is unknown. Two years afterwards, he lost his friend and patron, Henry, who was unfortunately slain in a tournament, when running a course with Count Montgomery de Lorges, then captain of his Scottish Guard. In tilting, the visor of the King’s helmet flew up—the lance of his adversary entered his eye, and he died soon after of the wound. From that hour tournaments were abolished by law in France.

Soon after the defeat at St Quentin, the espousals of the young queen of Scotland and the dauphin were solemnly celebrated, and a union between the two countries achieved—at least so far as depended upon a treaty of marriage.

Mary was then in her sixteenth year.

Her bridal was hastened in consequence of the captivity among the Spaniards of the Constable de Montmorencie, who had always been averse to the match, as one which cast too much lustre on his rivals, the princes of the house of Lorraine.

About the time of her daughter’s marriage, Mary of Guise, the queen-dowager of Scotland, who had succeeded Chatelherault in the regency, anxious, perhaps, to please the Reformers at the expense of her principles, recalled from exile William Kirkaldy of Grange, and other surviving conspirators against Cardinal Beatoun.

Sir James Kirkaldy had returned to Scotland seven years before his son, the exact date of whose arrival in Scotland is not known ; but, soon after the close of the campaigns in Picardy, possessed by a longing to revisit his native country, and to free it from the military tyranny of the French faction—perhaps agitated by the gentler memories of the fair Margaret, mentioned in Chapter III.—he left Paris, and travelled to London, bearer of a letter from Sir Nicholas Wotton, the English ambassador at the the court of France, to the Lord Paget, privy-seal of England, and Sir William Petrie, secretary of state.

Dreading, perhaps, the influence of Beatoun’s family and faction, and disliking the iron rule which Mary of Guise and the Catholic administration, aided by the French bands of General d’Oisel, maintained over the Protestants, he appears, from Wotton’s letter, to have been anxious to procure military aid from Elizabeth’s government in support of the new religion. Wotton’s communication is dated from the French capital, so early as 1st March 1557, and is written wholly in cipher 5 but Mr Tytler (from whose late work it is quoted) renders it as follows:—

"My duty remembered to your honours. I have heretofore certified to the queen’s majesty what good-will this bearer Kirkaldy seemed to bear to her majesty, and to the realm of England, how little he is contented with the present state of Scotland, and how desirous he is to see it freed from the joke of Frenchmen, and restored to its former liberty, and also what offers he hath divers tunes made to serve the queen’s majesty.

Forasmuch as he returneth now to Scotland, and thereby I hath occasion to pass through England, I advised him to ! do that which I perceived he was before of himself disposed to do—to visit you by the way......

Marry this he earnestly requireth, that in case the queen’s highness shall think him fit to do her majesty service, that yet, nevertheless, his matters may pass only through your hands, for he feareth greatly that, all the council being privy to it, it were not easy to be kept secret— thereby he should stand in danger of his life.

u Marry what service he shall be able to do now, he intending to continue in Scotland, your wisdoms can better consider than I. For because I trust he will declare at length unto you of the return of his father and Balneaves into Scotland, and for what purpose it is thought they are revoked.”

Kirkaldy’s offers of serving Elizabeth were, of course, mere words of polite courtesy to her ambassador : he could have no other object in view than serving his country through her influence ; hut, being aware of the risk and penalty of intercommuning with the English, and remembering the charge on which his grandfather, Sir John Melville, lost his head, he appears to have been; anxious that his correspondence should not be made known to Elizabeth’s privy council generally. The immediate result of his interview with her minister does not appear; hut it is probable that, soon after arriving in London, he set out for Scotland. Ten years had now elapsed since, from the French galleys, he had seen its hills fade in the distance; and the stripling youth who had left his native country as a prisoner of war, with the doom of sacrilege and heresy hanging over him, now returned to it a strong and gallant warrior, well skilled and renowned in arms; but little could he have foreseen the important place he was to find in the annals of her wars.

All his good wishes towards England did not prevent him drawing his sword against that country. Soon after his return home, his lance was displayed in the wild Border wars, and from that time forward his name appears prominently in the military events of those years of broil and bloodshed.

Sir James Kirkaldy died about the year 1556, as appears from his son’s Retour to him—a document cited by Crawford in his u Lives of the Scottish Officers of State,” (note B.) It is very probable that he died in the old Place of Halyards, the favourite residence of the family, and was buried in the Eglise de Marios.

Sir William Kirkaldy, soon after his return to Scotland, married Margaret Learmonth, the lady mentioned in preceding chapters, but of whom very few authentic notices arc to be met. With her he obtained, on the 5th October 1564, a crown charter of the lands called Nether Friarton, near St Andrews. In the MS. charter in the Register House at Edinburgh, she is merely styled Margaret Learmonth, ejus sponsce, and it does not appear to what family she belonged; hut there is very good reason to believe that she was a daughter of Sir James Learmonth of Dairsie, provost of St Andrews, a stanch upholder of the Reformation.

At the time of his marriage, Kirkaldy must have been under thirty years of age.

Soon after this important era in-his life, an incident occurred which peculiarly evinces his chivalric nature, and which, while it is quite characteristic of the times, is perhaps the last knightly passage of arms on record in Britain. Old Hollinshed, Lindsay of Pitscottie, and other quaint chroniclers, have, with their usual minuteness, handed down to us a full description of this encounter.

In the war at that time waged on the Borders between Scotland and England, John Kirkaldy, a young knight, cousin of the Laird of Grange, had been taken prisoner in a casual conflict, and was earned to Berwick, which was then in possession of the English, and where Lord Evers was governor and commander of Elizabeth’s troops, the old bands of Berwick. While captive, John Kirkaldy was subjected to severe and unworthy treatment, of which he complained bitterly to his comrades, on his return to the Scottish garrison at Eyemouth; which, however, did not take place until his family paid a heavy ransom.

Indignant at the ungenerous treatment of his kinsman, Kirkaldy of Grange sent a cartel of defiance to the Lord Evers, challenging him to single combat on horse or foot, with equal weapons; but Evers ungallantly refused, alleging that they were not of equal rank—he being a peer of the realm in England, and Grange merely a baron or laird in Scotland. Shortly afterwards, his brother, Sir Ralph Evers—a name renowned in Border war—hearing that so distinguished a knight was on the frontiers of England, took up his brother’s quarrel, and returned Kirkaldy’s gage of battle, offering to fight him in single combat, on horseback, in complete armour, and with sharp spears, before all the troops of Scotland and England then upon the Borders.

Pleased at the message, Kirkaldy, full of the ardour of a true knight, and, notwithstanding his recent marriage, fond of military glory—“that precarious splendour which plays round the brows of a warrior”—accepted the challenge, and pledged himself to meet the English champion when and wherever he might appoint.

Well horsed, and armed cap-a-pie, with lance, sword, and shield, on the appointed day they met on the side of Halidon Hill, an eminence celebrated in Border history. It stands two miles distant from Berwick, and rises to the height of five hundred feet; the slope to the south is gradual though irregular, and through one of its many ravines the brawling Whitadder flows into the Tweed. To the eastward the hill slopes down rapidly, but between its base and the sea lies a rich stripe of level and fertile land, known as the Magdalene Fields; and there, probably, the lists were enclosed.

Sir Ralph Evers was accompanied by his brother, the governor of Berwick, and the whole English garrison of that city; Kirkaldy’s retinue consisted of the Scottish troops from Eyemouth, several knights of distinction, and the general of the regent’s French auxiliaries, Monsieur d’Oisel. Aware of the danger of drawing so near each other the soldiers of two hostile nations,—

“Deeming it were no easy task
To keep the truce which here was set;
Where martial spirits, all on fire,
Breathed only blood and mortal ire;
By mutual inroads, mutual blows,
By habit and by nation foes;”—

the marshals of the field proclaimed that, under pain of treason, no man should approach the champions nearer than an arrow-flight.

Each knight had twelve gentlemen of name in immediate attendance upon him; and each his lance borne by a squire. Two lords were marshals of the lists, and each was attended by a herald and trumpeter. When, according to custom, the armour and equipment of the combatants were examined, the judges of the field made some objection to the strength of Kirkaldy’s coat-of-mail,  especially the cuirass, which, they averred, was better calculated for defence than that of Sir Ealph Evers, whose I suit was composed of the gay but slight plate harness of Elizabeth’s time, when taste and show were considered more than defence, and, consequently, the light tilting armour had become extravagantly ornamental. Kirkaldy’s cuirass was of fidl plate, having a small sheet of tempered steel screwed on above it, preparatory to tilting with sharp spears; but the brave English knight waved the objection with valiant impatience, and they took their i places opposite each other in the level lists, with closed visors and lances in the rest, as the shoulder-sling, which upheld the truncheon of that ancient weapon, was named.

When all matters had heen perfectly adjusted, the judges gave the signal—the heralds cried aloud—the trumpets sounded a charge; when each knight “Stoop’d his head and couch’d his spear, And spurr’d his steed to full career.”

They met with a furious shock—both spears were shattered to splinters in the encounter; "but the Laird of Grange,” saith Pitscottie, "ran his adversary the Inglisman throw his shoulder-blade, and off his horse woundit deidlie, in perill of his lyff: quhidder he deid or lived I cannot tell, but Grange wan the victorie.”

The brave Evers was not slain, but declared, by the marshals of the field, to be vanquished in his brother’s quarrel.

Soon after the enterprising and beautiful queen-dowager, Mary of Guise, had assumed the regency, true to the interests of her native France, she endeavoured to promote discord and hostility between Scotland and England—no difficult matter in those days. Deeply versed in the science of politics, and all the secrets of governing, this illustrious princess possessed all the virtues and the masculine courage of her house, together with those great personal attractions for which the ladies of the line of Bourbon were ever celebrated.

She made several aggressions on England with her French troops, but was unable to march her Scottish army across the Border. Finding her artifices, threats, and entreaties all equally unavailing, she was obliged to disband her forces, and retire (as her husband had done before Solway) in anger and disgust; and from that moment there yawned a wide gulf between her and the proud noblesse of Scotland. But as yet the quarrel had not assumed the more dangerous character of a religious one.

Mary’s leading object, in her administration, was to curb the power of the house of Chatelherault. The Earls of Argyle and Huntly, James prior of St Andrews, (afterwards the Regent Murray,) and—for reasons which cannot now he traced—Sir William Kirkaldy, joined her faction, which proposed to recall into Scotland the Lady Margaret Douglas and her husband, the exiled Earl of Lennox, who had been banished, after the demise of James V., for certain political intrigues inconsistent with the honour and safety of the nation; hut whose restoration to rank and fortune might effectually have counterbalanced the great influence attained by the ducal family of Hamilton.

Unforeseen causes interrupted the execution of this singular scheme, concerning which Kirkaldy travelled to the Borders, and had a secret interview with Lord Wharton, when he proposed a truce to the frontier warfare, still waged between the two countries, as the first and best preliminary to a more lasting treaty of peace.

“The Scots,” replied Wharton, “only pretend an anxiety for a truce when it suits themselves, and break it when they please; hut if we should entertain the idea, whom do you propose to send to confer with us upon it?”

"The Lord Seaton,” replied Kirkaldy, "the Captain Sieur de la Brosse, the Laird of Craigmillar, and the young Laird of Lethington. Scotland will agree to an abstinence for twenty days; but we must have license for an especial person to pass through England to communicate with the French king.”

“What arc the news?” asked Wharton evasively.

“On Sunday last, the 7th November,” replied Kirkaldy with military minuteness, “there arrived at Leith a ship with letters and money from the French king. I have seen a letter from him to Monsieur the General d’Oisel, in which it was stated that he would soon have all he desired in men and money; and that four ensigns, twelve hundred foot, and two hundred horse, had already been despatched, to come into Scotland by the western seas, and we look for them daily.”

It may surprise some readers that Kirkaldy should ask leave for the “especial person” to pass to France; but in those days the voyage between that country and Scotland was made along the coast of England; and even ' Queen Mary, who, when returning, requested from Elizabeth a safe conduct against her piratical shipmen, was refused it.

A letter from Lord Wharton to the English privy council, contains a minute account of his interview with Sir William Kirkaldy. “It is not unimportant,” observes the recent historian of Scotland, “on account of the light it throws on the character of the Lord James, afterwards Regent Moray, that here we find him, Kirkaldy of Grange, Glencaim, and the Bishop of Caithness, acting with the queen-dowager against Huntly, Chatel-herault, and Argyle. We find them receiving money from the French king, and stipulating for the presence of a French army in Scotland. Kirkaldy is represented as a mirror of chivalry: consistency was certainly not his forte. In the letter of Wotton he is determined on putting down French influence in Scotland; here we find him, nine months after, inviting a French army into the country; and subsequently, in 1559, he returned to his first opinion.”

It must be acknowledged that the measures of Kirkaldy and Murray are, in those instances, marked by an apparent inconsistency; but it is difficult, and often impossible, to discover the real motives which influenced the turbulent, jealous, and martial politicians of that plotting and factious age.

Kirkaldy (though the political character of his friend Lord James will not bear much scrutiny) must have been influenced by reasons which cannot now be fully understood; but, from the whole tenor of his life, we may suppose that the ultimate good of Scotland was uppermost in his mind, when he formed this temporary coalition with the faction of Mary of Guise; for soon after, in pursuance of those liberal principles of religious toleration in which he had been educated by his father the treasurer, and that strict preceptress "and godlie matron” his mother, he again drew his sword in the cause of the Reformation, and attached himself to the Lords of the Congregation, under whose banner he had many brilliant encounters with his former comrades, the French soldiers of the queen-regent.


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