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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter XIX. The Battle of Langside


While Kirkaldy was voyaging to Orkney, his friend Murray, the newly-elected governor, was busy establishing order and tranquillity throughout the lowlands. His authority as regent of the realm was generally acknowledged, and the infant king had been crowned at Stirling; the abdication of his mother, extorted by the stern Lindesay, and signed under terror of immediate death, being considered lawful and valid by the confederates.

Kirkaldy’s signature appears to the articles subscribed at the meeting of the fifteenth General Assembly of the Reformed Church of Scotland, which met in July 1567; and also to that formidable "Bond of Association,” for maintenance of the young king’s authority, which was signed by the Regent Murray and two hundred and six of the nobles, barons, and commissioners of burghs.

On Murray being confirmed in the regency, he was particularly prayed by the Lairds of Grange, Tullybar-dine, and Lethington, to bear himself with gentleness and reverence towards Mary, “as her majesty was of a clear wit and princely inclination,” and the time might come when they would all wish her to reign over them.

To Kirkaldy that time was nearer than he could have expected.

It is well known to every reader of history, that, after ten months of severe and insulting captivity, Mary, by the assistance of George Douglas, the young brother of the Baron of Lochleven, effected an escape from that detested fortress, and, on reaching the shore of its beautiful lake, found a hand of faithful friends to attend her. That night she reached the old castle of Niddry, a tall embattled pile in West Lothian, now hastening rapidly to decay.

She wept with joy on finding herself at liberty, and often exclaimed, in girlish ecstasy, "I am once more a queen!”

Next day she was at Hamilton, where the gallant Earls of Argyle, Eglinton, Cassilis, Bothes, (all names invested with a thousand stirring memories,) and many lords and barons flocked to her standard. The resignation extorted in favour of an infant was justly declared null and void by those assembled peers, who drew up a solemn bond of association and defence, to protect with their lives and fortunes, against all men, the person and honour of Mary, and to restore to her the crown. It was signed on the 8th May 1568, by eight earls, eighteen lords, nine bishops, twelve abbots, and one hundred of the lesser barons. The princely house of Chatelherault, the gallant Seaton, the Lord Livingstone, and other loyal warriors, unfurled their pennons, and Mary almost immediately found herself at the head of six thousand men.

Murray, who was holding a justice court at Glasgow, was struck with astonishment by the tidings of his sister’s escape, and this formidable association. He instantly displayed the standard of the young king his nephew, and the whole of the confederates flocked to it with their retainers; the vassals of Lennox, the patrimony of the king, the citizens of Glasgow, and a band of harquebussiers from Edinburgh, came to his muster-place, while Lord Home brought six hundred spearmen, the flower of the Border.

Arming his vassals, Kirkaldy joined the regent on the Green of Glasgow. With the memory of the (forged) letter yet rankling in his mind, and Mary’s imagined duplicity, which he supposed had rendered worse than useless all his diplomacy at Carberry, it cannot be a matter of wonder that he once more drew his sword against her adherents, who were in the habit of plainly charging him with betraying her into captivity—a taunt which stung him deeply.

From the small number in arms on both sides, the war appears to have been an unpopular one among the peasantry. The regent, whose forces, with all his influence, mustered only four thousand, after encamping at Barrowfield, in the eastern suburbs of Glasgow, in expectation that the queen’s troops would give him battle, received intelligence from Lord Boyd, (who sent him a letter at midnight,) stating that Mary’s bands were in full march for the castle of Dunbarton.

Immediately upon this, Murray, with his usual sagacity and prudence, broke off certain negotiations with which he had been amusing his sister to gain time, and, crossing the Clyde at the head of his troops, marched with all speed, and took up a strong position on the rising grounds above the village of Langside.

Kirkaldy had made an acute reconnoissance of the locality previous to occupying it, and, by his orders and instructions, the little liost was formed in array of battle, so as completely to intercept the queen’s advance to Dunbarton, which could only he reached through Murray’s ranks of pikemen.

Lord Fleming was still governor for Mary of this unreduced fortress, which was of such importance to her as a landing-place for foreign aid, that he once boasted to Charles IX., that he held the fetters of Scotland in his hand, "and, if they would lend him a little assistance, he would easily put them on, and bring the whole kingdom under Mary’s sway.”

The soldiers of the queen, though equally brave and more numerous than those of the regent, had not among them a single leader either of skill or renown. With those of her brother the reverse was the case, Under his standard were ranked the stern veterans of the wars of the Reformation, and Sir William Kirkaldy, so famed as a tactician of the day, and renowned for honour acquired in the fields of Picardy and Flanders. Poor Mary particularly dreaded him, and it was a source of deep grief to her that he rode in the ranks of her rebels. He commanded the cavalry, and had under his immediate orders Alexander Hume of Manderstone, and two hundred Border troopers, lightly armed with morion, jack, and spear. With these he was appointed to- oversee the whole field, and provide for any sudden contingency; to ride from flank to flank, and keep all tlie different bands in the posts assigned them; and to his skill, courage, and decision, the victory achieved that day by the army of King James was mainly owing.

On the 13th of May, Mary’s forces approached the judiciously posted ranks of the enemy—her son.

The scene of this conflict, so important in her unhappy career, is a small hamlet of Renfrewshire, two miles south of Glasgow, and seven south-east of Paisley. It was decided in the northern extremity of the parish of Cathcart, where the ground, after rising to a considerable elevation on the south and east, descends suddenly towards the north and west. The country around is finely diversified by undulating hills; and a great elliptical trench on the eminence where the fight was decided, is now called Queen Mary’s Camp by the peasantry, who have thus fondly changed the name of an ancient rampart of the Roman invaders.

In rear of Mary’s army, and above bosky woodlands, then clad in summer’s richest foliage, rose the battlements of the grim old tower of Cathcart. It occupies a lofty situation, two of its sides being washed by the Cart, down to which the hill of the castle descends almost perpendicularly. On a part of this eminence, a thorn—the usual significant emblem of Mary’s progresses through Scotland—marks the spot from whence she viewed the engagement. The original tree, planted by some devoted adherent in memory of the day, has long since decayed; but another has sprung from its root to show the place from which Mary of Scotland beheld the extinction of all her hopes, and was driven to exile, captivity, and death.

The regent marched on foot at the head of his infantry —so did all the nobles, doubtless from etiquette. Under the Earl of Morton, the Lords Semphill, Home, and Lindesay led the pride of the Border spearmen and men of Renfrew, who formed the right wing; while the vassals of John earl of Mar, with those of the Earls of Glencairn and Menteith, and the stout burghers of Glasgow, formed the left. Kirkaldy, whose military eye saw all the capabilities of the ground, made each of his troopers take up behind him an Edinburgh harquebussier. He led them through the Clyde, and, galloping to the top of Langside hill, placed these two hundred foot behind the garden walls and green hedges of the village, from whence they were to open a fire on the flank of Mary’s advanced column when it approached.

Led by Gillespy earl of Argyle, the queen’s troops advanced with confidence. They had ten pieces of brass ordnance, while Murray had only six. Argyle was seized with a sudden fit of epilepsy, which retarded their motions for a time; but on recovering, he mounted his horse, and drew up the army in three brigades or columns, each two thousand strong, on an eminence opposite the regent’s position. Lord Arbroath commanded the vanguard, which was composed of two thousand followers of the house of Hamilton. Above their close array of helmets the ducal banner of Chatelherault was borne by the sheriff of Linlithgow.

Argyle in person led the main body. Gilbert earl of Cassilis, the right wing. Lord Claude Hamilton (abbot of Paisley) the left.

As the vanguard approached, the harquebussiers from their ambush opened a close and enfilading fire, which greatly incommoded the spearmen of Arbroath.

The musquet of that period was a clumsy weapon, levelled on a rest, to which it was secured hy a hook screwed to the barrel. In consequence of its unwieldy nature, the process of loading was necessarily slow: the balls and loose powder were carried by the soldier in separate pouches, and, from the time requisite for adjusting the match, their platoons could not be very brisk or regular. Petronels with square butts, discharged from the breast, dragons, (so called from having the muzzle mounted with the head of that fabulous monster, and whence dragoons,) match and wheel-lock calivers, &c., had become very general throughout Europe; but still the favourite weapon of the Scots was their national spear, eighteen feet six inches long ; and their defensive armour, as then regulated by the acts of parliament, consisted of white burnished mail for every baron and landed man, "licht or heavy as they pleased, and weaponed effeirand to their honour.” Gentlemen and yeomen were arrayed in jacks of plate, with steel bonnets, gorgets, halkrikes, splints, Leith battle-axes, Glasgow bucklers, hand-culverins, and two-handed swords, with snapsachs or wallets.

Anxious that the contest should be decided, Murray beheld the rapid advance of Mary’s troops with the utmost exultation. He was environed by dangers—the dread of his adherents was obvious: some had forsaken him openly, while others were carrying on secret negotiations with his sister.

That day was to decide his triumph or destruction!

Tradition asserts that Mary held a council near the castle of Cathcart, on an eminence still called the Court Knowe; and there it was probably, that all efforts at an accommodation between Kirkaldy on the one hand, and the French ambassador on the other, utterly failed.

The contest then commenced by tbe adverse fire of sixteen field-culverins, which continued an incessant cannonade for half an hour, with little or no effect; but the closer strife was begun by Argyle ordering the heights to be carried at the point of the sword. Instantly the Lord Arbroath, though galled by the harquebussiers on his left flank, led forward the cavaliers of the house of Hamilton, who rushed with fury on the first column of the regent.

“God and the queen!” was their enthusiastic slogan, as they charged shoulder to shoulder, and joined in close battle.

"God and the king! a Darnley! a Darnley!” were the war-cries of the regent’s van, which, led by Morton, received the shock upon levelled spears, but gave way, until a shower of well-shot arrows from the king’s archers threw the Hamiltons into confusion, upon which they re-formed. Again the bold vassals of Chatelherault rushed gallantly on, and again they flung themselves on the charged lances of the first column.

"Here it was,” relates Buchanan, “that the two brigades held out a thick stand of pikes like a breast-work before them, and fought desperately for half an hour, without giving ground on either side; insomuch, that they whose long spears were broken, hurled pistols, daggers, stones, pieces of lances, and whatsoever they could come by, in the faces of the enemy.” When the weapons first crossed, the loud and clear voice of Kirkaldy was heard above the din, exclaiming—

“Keep your spears shouldered—lower them last, and beat up the points of the enemy!”1 but the adverse bands were instantly locked together by the lance-heads entering and fastening in the joints of the armour; and, thus wedged together, the spearmen swayed and struggled with increasing hatred and ferocity.

Led by John Maxwell, Lord Herries of Tereagles, a brave and dauntless noble of great worth and magnanimity, the queen’s cavalry now made a furious charge on Murray’s horsemen, and completely routed them; but, re-forming under Kirkaldy, they again rushed forward, cut to pieces the cannoneers of the queen, and carried off their ten culverins. By some confused manoeuvring, of which no distinct account can be given, both armies gradually drew towards the west, and continued the strife on new ground. Every detail of this encounter is very imperfect; but it seems that Kirkaldy fully frustrated a bold attempt of Argyle to turn Murray’s flank.

While fiercely and doubtfully the conflict was maintained with axe and spear and two-handed sword, the queen’s vanguard were exposed to a most destructive fire from the harquebussiers posted behind the orchard walls, kailyards, and hedges of Langside. Nearly the whole troops on both sides were now engaged pell-mell— foot to foot, and blade to blade, in a close and furious melee, which, with a throbbing brow and trembling heart, the terrified Mary beheld at something less than a mile’s distance.

Lord Home and his brother-in-law, Sir Walter Kerr of Cessford, fought side by side on foot, and together hewed their way through the solid mass of Arbroath’s pikemen. After receiving several wounds, a large stone struck Home full in the face when his visor was up: stunned, he fell prone beneath the feet of the combatants; but Cessford, by main strength, dragged him through the press to a place of safety. At that moment Kirkaldy perceived the regent’s right wing, which was composed of the royal vassals of the barony of Renfrew, giving way before the impetuosity of the queen’s left, under young Claude Hamilton. Spurring his caparisoned horse, he galloped up to them, exclaiming—

"The queen’s men are already retreating—fight on, and I will bring ye succour!”

Animated by his presence they re-formed, while he galloped to the regent and obtained leave to aid them with a body of soldiers under Lindesay, Lochleven, and Sir James Balfour, a knight of dubious honour, and author of the famous “Practiques.” Thus reinforced, he led them to the charge, and bore back Lord Claude Hamilton’s division in disorder, notwithstanding all the efforts of Colin M'Kenzie baron of Kintail, and Lord Livingston, with their vassals. Lord Somerville,' who fought under Mary’s standard, charged repeatedly at the head of three hundred horse, his own retainers; but at last was wounded, unhorsed, and narrowly escaped captivity or death.

The flank fire of the harquebussiers had now thrown Arbroath’s column into complete confusion: Kirkaldy saw the crisis was come. He led on Murray’s second line of choice troops, who rushed to the charge with levelled lances, and decided the fate of the day and the fortunes of the hapless Mary. Panic-struck, the undisciplined van recoiled on the main body, and two hundred of the clan Macfarlane, led by their chief, and armed with broadsword and targe, raised the wild yell of "Lochsloy/” as they bore down on Mary’s wavering hands, spreading terror before and leaving death behind them. A general rout ensued—a rout which was total and irretrievable. The victors pursued with animosity; hut there were not many slain, as the regent commanded them to spare their brothers—their fellow-countrymen.

"Grange was never cruel,” says Melville; "so there were hut few slain or taken; the only slaughter was at the first rencontre by the shot of the soldiers placed by him at the lone-head, behind some dykes.”

This battle was fought on the eleventh day after Mary’s escape from prison. The number of slain was trifling, as the close conflict lasted only three quarters of an hour. Forty-seven cavaliers of the surname of Hamilton, and ten of other families, lay dead on the field, in their armour. Three hundred of their soldiers fell with them; an immense number were wounded, and four hundred were made prisoners. Among these were the Lords Ross and Seaton, the Masters of Eglinton and Cassilis, Sir Mathew Campbell of Loudon, high sheriff of Ayr, Sir James Hamilton of Crawfordjohn, Sir James Hamilton of Avondale, the Lairds of Innerwick, Garren,

Nethergarren, Kincavil and Bothwellhaugh, all gentlemen of the surname of Hamilton, with Baillie of Littlegil, Heriot of Crabroun, Scott of Balwearie, and the Laird of Lawhope. Lord Seaton afterwards escaped, and fled to Flanders, where he was reduced to such misery and poverty, that for two years he drove a waggon for subsistence. The Macfarlanes captured three standards.

On the side of the victors it is very remarkable that there were but few wounded, and only one man slain. The Lords Ochiltree and Home, with Car of Fadonside, were among the former; and the latter was John Ballon of Preston in the Merse, a vassal of Morton’s.

The sudden and irrecoverable defeat of Mary’s army was solely imputed to the great military skill of Kirkaldy on the one part, and the utter want of it in her general on the other, and to the Lord Herries, whose horsemen did not at first sufficiently support the charge of her vanguard on Murray’s first column. The regent and Kirkaldy passed the rest of the day in making up lists of prisoners, dismissing the inferior, but retaining those of superior rank—among them, Bothwellhaugh, he whose wrongs and vengeance were so soon to make all Scotland ring. Next day the army marched into the vale of Clydesdale, and, seizing the castles of Draffen and Hamilton, earned terror among the vassals of Chatel-herault.

We return for the last time to Mary.

Haunted by the terrors of that captivity from which she had so lately escaped, the queen, who from the braes of Cathcart had witnessed the destruction of all her hopes, in the defeat of her brave but unskilful army, became overwhelmed with anguish and despair. She possessed a high spirit, and her previous humiliations had never subdued it; but now it sank altogether on beholding her mailed hands give way before the impetuous advance of her son’s adherents—her vanguard thrown into disorder by the musqueteers of Kirkaldy — her banner borne hack, her cannon taken — her knights and horsemen flying from a field strewn with dead and wounded. Accompanied by the Master of Maxwell, she began her flight, bathed in tears, and a prey to the utmost consternation and sorrow. With the threats of the furious Lindesay, the venomous virulence of Knox, the ingratitude and selfishness of Murray, the religious and political rancour of her subjects, all placed appallingly before her, so lively were her fears, that it is said she despatched her ladies in different directions to distract the instant pursuit which she apprehended. Often she outrode her escort, and once narrowly escaped being hewn to pieces by two ruffians who were mowing in a field, and assailed her with their scythes.

On, on swept the fair fugitive through the solitary wilds of Glenkens, till, reaching the vale of the Tarff, she crossed the Dee by an ancient bridge which her escort immediately destroyed, and hurled into the rushing stream. Worn and exhausted with fatigue, terror, and despair, when evening closed, the poor queen reached the magnificent abbey of old Dundrennon, where she spent her last night in Scotland. Save one brief halt in the vale of the Tarff for a cup of milk at a peasant’s hut, Mary had never drawn her bridle until she reached this fine old pile, which is situated (sixty miles from the field of Langside) amid an amphitheatre of verdant hills, and perched on the hank of a rocky mountain stream, above which its moss-grown walls, its ivied aisles, and grassy tombs, now impart so peculiar a charm to the scenery. There Mary came to the fatal resolution of seeking refuge in the south.

Trusting fondly in letters from Elizabeth, addressed to her after her escape from Lochleven, inviting her in the most affectionate and sisterly manner to place herself under her protection and friendship, as a solemn pledge of which she sent her a ring;—despite the entreaties of brave and loyal Herries, who, on his knees, prayed her to pause ere she trusted to the honour or generosity of England,—Mary fell into the snare of the spoiler.

Embarking in the boat of a fisherman at Kirkcudbright on the 16th May, she crossed the Solway, and, landing at Workington in England, claimed the protection of her cousin Elizabeth.

The poor fly was now in the web of the spider.

Adversity was soon to claim a sympathy, and death to lend a glory to a life of misfortune, and of these no detracting pen can now deprive her; nearly three hundred years have elapsed since the closing scene at Fotheringay, and yet her name stirs a chord in every generous heart!


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