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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter XIV. Kirkaldy Destroys L'Abest and his Company, He Revenges Himself on D'Oisel


Less knightly and chivalric than Sir William Kirkaldy, the French general did not return an answer to the defiance; and thereupon the sender of it prepared for summary and signal vengeance. During the whole time of this wanton invasion into a peaceful and industrious district, the force under the orders of Kirkaldy were but a u handful,” indifferently armed, and ill-provided ; yet with these he had effectually retarded, and often vanquished and cut off, d’Oisel’s well-appointed troops, fighting them before every village, tower, and cottage—making them literally gain the ground by inches, and at a fearful expense of blood.

Captain James Cullayne, a famous Scottish officer of the queen’s, (whose name will appear prominently at a future period,) was appointed to supply the invaders with provisions; for which purpose he made several voyages with two armed crayers or sloops between Leith and the shores of Fife, where all was ruin and desolation.

From Torrybum and Kinghorn, d’Oisel marched along the coast to Wemyss, as usual giving all to fire and sword, and sending forth companies in succession to plunder the neighbouring estates.

Spurred on by revenge, Kirkaldy was on the alert, as were the Master of Lindesay and the Laird of Craig-hall, with their vassals, Early one morning, the first observed Captain l’Abast, a Swiss in the service of France, march from Kinghorn with his company of one hundred harquebusses, to plunder the estate of Dunikier, which lies to the northward of Kirkaldy. Before the dawn had brightened, the Laird of Grange had his mounted jackmen, armed with their long lances, twohanded swords, and calivers, posted in ambush on the Switzer’s line of march; while Lindesay and Craighall, at the head of a select party of their retainers, were concealed close by to aid in the eneounter.

Kirkaldy’s impatient troopers remained in close cover until the unsuspecting l’Abast and his company had marched fully one mile distant from Kinghornj'Vhen, the French being close to the thickets in which they were concealed, a signal was given, and to the astonishment of l’Ahast, the lances of the dreaded Kirkaldy filed forth at full speed upon his view. To form and to charge were the work of an instant!

“Provoked by the cruelty of the French,” observes Buchanan, “utterly unmindful of their own safety, and wholly intent on the destruction of their enemies using no other weapons than their horsemen’s lances—they (ultimately) bore down all that were in their way.”

The moment he saw Kirkaldy’s horsemen in their shining jacks appear, l’Abast, like a skilful soldier, threw his company into the ruined and deeayed village of Glameshouse, situated among the steep and arid rocks, broomy hills, and sandy scaurs near the picturesque old burgh of Kinghorn, which had then the venerable tower of St Leonard crowning its scattered lines of steep and straggling alleys. L’Abast posted some of his soldiers in the ruins of the village; others occupied the place of Glames, with its court and yards, from thence, in conjunction with those behind the kail-yard walls and leafless hedges, they opened a brisk harquebussade upon the assailants, who were instantly upon them.

Fighting less for honour than life, the French defended themselves with all their national spirit; the horsemen were repulsed, and many saddles were emptied. Young David Kirkaldy, a knight named Robert Hamilton, and others, were unhorsed, and rolled in the dust severely wounded. Infuriated on beholding his brother shot by his side, and his soldiers recoiling on every hand, “Fy!” exclaimed Kirkaldy—"Fy! let us not live after this day! Shall we retreat from a band of dastardly French scybalds? Forward!”

Animated by his gallant bearing, once more the fierce jackmen returned to the charge. Goading on their panting horses, they leaped the ruined barriers, spearing all that were within reach of their long lances; while Craighall and the Master of Lindesay beat down the gates, and, bursting in among them, a furious hand-to-hand combat ensued. Both parties were equally animated by religious and political hatred; but despair endued the French with the courage of lions. Lindesay, whose horse had been shot under him, rushed with his lance upon l’Abast; the point glanced off the polished mail of proof, and the Master fell; but, suddenly recovering, and animated by fresh rage, he bore the Switzer backward by main force. The latter defended himself with his partisan for a thne with the utmost resolution and valour, refusing to take quarter; until Lindesay, in his fury, relinquished the lance for his two-handed sword, and, with one blow on the gilded helmet, cleft l’Abast through steel and bone to the gorget. Fifty of his soldiers lay weltering in their blood around him; while the rest, upon laying down their arms, were by Kirkaldy sent prisoners of war to Dundee. After this the French became more wary in their marauding expeditions.

General d’Oisel, the Count de Martigues, and their comrades, made their head-quarters at the village of Wemyss, and probably occupied the fine old castle of the same name, which is perched upon a rock forty feet high, jutting out among the vast caverns of that romantic shore. A year or two afterwards, Queen Mary had her first interview with Darnley in a room of that stately old fortalice.

It was now the depth of winter : the lochs were frozen, the bleak Lomonds and the deep valleys of Fifeshire were covered with a mantle of snow, the ancient roadways, which run straight over hill and glen, were buried many feet deep; and the steel-clad Frenchmen, unused to so cold a climate, underwent innumerable toils and hardships.

After sacking Wemyss and the old royal burgh of Dysart to their perfect satisfaction, a debate arose among the French officers, as to whether they should march against Kirkaldy of Grange and the Prior of St Andrews, or proceed on their course of devastation towards Cupar, the scene of the broken treaty. In consequence of the rapidity and uncertainty of Kirkaldy’s manoeuvres, and the deep state of the roads, which equally retarded the march of their heavily-armed cavalry and rapid transmission of their cannon, it was decided they should march first to St Andrews, and from thence to Cupar.

They had long been expecting succours from France, and on tidings reaching Wemyss that a strange fleet was visible off the mouth of the Firth, they became so elevated that, forgetting the fate of l’Abast and his company, and that his destroyers still hovered about them, they resolved to march at once for the purpose of reaching the county town, where there was a considerable muster of the adherents to the Congregation.

Moving eastward by the beautiful shores of the Forth, on the 15th of January 1560, they passed successively the now deserted burgh of Methil, and the pretty villages of Leven, Lower Largo, and Buckhaven, (the last hut recently formed by a colony of industrious Netherlander, whom the house of Wemyss had permitted to settle there.) Galled every pace of the way by Kirkaldy’s skirmishing troopers, after a semicircular march of ten miles round the hay of Largo, on reaching the promontory of Kincraigie, a rocky eminence shelving downwards to the Forth, they discerned u eight great ships, of the first rate, at sea; these they concluded to have the long-expected reinforcements on hoard, and, in honour of their arrival, fired seaward a salute with their great culverins from the brow of the hill. Their feu de joie and congratulations were somewhat premature, as the strange harks were the fleet of the English admiral, Winter, hearing gallantly up the Firth of Forth to assist the Scottish lords in besieging Leith, to which Lord Grey of Wilton was marching from the Borders with auxiliaries. On beholding St George’s red cross, and discovering that the ships were those of Elizabeth, the French, overwhelmed with mortification and disappointment, broke into three separate columns, and retreated westward with the utmost expedition, abandoning their bivouac at Kincraigie, and leaving behind their dinners, which, no doubt, would form a very acceptable repast for Kirkaldy’s exulting troopers, within whose sight the English admiral made capture of Captain Cullayne’s two little vessels.

One division of the French retired to Kinghom, another to Burntisland, and a third retreated so far as Dunfermline, which was then enclosed by walls, defended by four ports or gates, and an ancient castle overhanging the wooded vale of Pittencrief. Grange and his squadron briskly followed up this party, and, in the disorderly retreat, amply avenged the destruction of his house by the numbers he slew or captured on every hand. Forming a junction, d’Oisel and the Count de Martigues' continued their retreat towards Stirling; but, ere they reached Tullibody, the relentless Kirkaldy had pushed in advance of them with his six hundred lances, seized the ancient wooden bridge which spanned the rapid and romantic Devon, and, by cutting it through, utterly destroyed their retreat across the mountain-stream, then swollen by the snows of winter. Not daring to enter the dark shelter of the wood of Tullibody, d’Oisel’s soldiers, with no other covering than their armour, bivouacked all night amid the snow, without food, fire, or tents, on the dreary and extensive muir of Fotherick, where many of them were slain by Kirkaldy’s troops, or perished under the accumulated agony of wounds, cold, and exhaustion.

The islands or Inches, which in summer are so beautiful and fertile, were then the haunt of the stormy petrel, and were buried completely under the frozen snow, which covered the whole country, as far as their eyes could see, from Tinto in Clydesdale to Ben Lomond in the country of the clans, and from the hills of Fife to the towers and town of Stirling.

In the morning, the skilful French stripped the roof off the venerable kirk of Tullibody, laid the rafters and planks across the ruined bridge, crossed the water in the face of Kirkaldy, and escaped; but failed in attempting to cross the Forth at Alloa, for the untiring pursuer was close upon their rear.

Revenge and good generalship, as well as their natural inclination, prompted them to make greater devastations in their retreat; and these they carried to such excess, that Catholics and Protestants suffered alike. It is related that a gay chevalier, richly armed, and wearing a gilded morion and scarlet mantle, entered the house of a cottar at Whyteside, demanding all the provisions it contained. The housewife offered him all she could spare, craving that her meal and beef girnels might not he emptied, as they contained the sole subsistence of her children during the winter. The unscrupulous forager advanced at once to ascertain the contents of the store 5 hut as he bent down, the wrathful matron seized him by the legs, and, precipitating him head-foremost into the gimel, resolutely held him there until he was suffocated by the brine.

Death and disaster were the concomitants of their retreat; and, after sustaining immense loss in their hourly skirmishes, the French, harassed and exhausted with fatigue, and palled with excesses, reached the beleaguered ramparts of Leith, minus the best and bravest of their comrades.

In the same month Kirkaldy, with Lord James Stuart, the Master of Lindesay, and a party of horse, re-entered Fife, and, riding to Wester Wemyss, surprised the laird of the castle, and took him prisoner Field, Meffen, Balnmto, and Balgonie, four other of the lesser barons who were unfavourable to the cause, were also captured and sent to St Andrews. In an encounter which took place near the lakes of Lundie in Angus, Kirkaldy received a severe wound, which probably incapacitated him from taking an active share in the famous siege of Leith. A bullet passed through his corslet, doublet, and shirt, and, entering the left breast, "stuck in one of his ribs,” by which the Congregation lost his services for a time.

The queen-regent—a princess of prudence and intrepidity, of gentleness and humanity, when not led astray by bigotry and devotion to the interests of France—now overcome by the cares of state and a deadly illness, retired into the castle of Edinburgh, while the siege of her French mercenaries in Leith was pushed with the utmost vigour.

The operations were now confined to that seaport: d’Esse, the general, with d’Oisel, de Martigues, Jacques de la Brosse, and other officers, with their French and Sc'ottish soldiers, were closely blockaded. The Scots of the Congregation—consisting of eleven peers, one hundred and twenty lesser barons, with twelve thousand soldiers—and the English army, six thousand strong, under Lord Gray, had invested the place on every side. The numbers of these forces are variously stated by different authors; but their batteries were formidable, and mounted with heavy ordnance. The defence was obstinate, and protracted for nearly six months. Trained to war, and inured to arms and discipline, these men were the veterans of Francis I. and Henry II., and their martial obstinacy gave infinite trouble to the less skilful besiegers.

During the leaguer, Mary of Guise died of a lingering illness, after having an affecting interview with the leaders of the Congregation, to whom she lamented the fatal result of those counsels she had so rashly followed; and, with all the candour of which her generous mind was capable, confessed the errors of her administration, begged them forgiveness with touching humility, and expired. She died unregretted; but all men spoke gently of her memory, save the unforgiving Knox. Soon afterwards, the French soldiers, who had defended themselves so successfully against the combined force of Scotland and England, were withdrawn by a treaty of peace, which was concluded at Edinburgh on the 5th July 1560, between the plenipotentiaries of Elizabeth and those of the King of France.

In common with many of the wise and well disposed among his countrymen, Sir William Kirkaldy was well convinced of the inutility and danger of the French league and alliance to Scotland. Though no man could then have foreseen that the time would come when Scotland, deprived of all her national institutions and dignity, would silently sink to the rank of a mere province, by the intrigues of a few base and time-serving peers, he was perfectly aware of the advantage to be derived from a league, offensive and defensive, with England,—a measure which the barbarous policy of the ferocious Edward I. and his grasping successors had rendered so intensely obnoxious to the Scottish people, and which, until the era of the Reformation, had been overlooked by both nations to a great extent.

Kirkaldy’s efforts contributed greatly to the formation of that dubious friendship which subsisted between the able ministers of the cold and hollow-hearted Elizabeth, and the stern and intolerant Scottish Reformers, but without which it is doubtful whether the Reformation would have been so easily effected.

As a recompense for the losses sustained by his family in these unhappy wars, on the new faith being fully established, he obtained a gift of the ancient castle of Wester Kinghorn, which stands on an eminence above Burntisland. It was the same place which d’Oisel had seized, and was built in 1382 by the Duries of that Ilk, whose coat armorial was in those days visible above the gateway.


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