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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter XXVI. The Signal Gun, The English Troops


The death of Lennox, by causing the sudden elevation of John earl of Mar to the regency, was productive of still greater evils to Kirkaldy, and the desperate cause he so nobly battled for. So many of the nobles being present at Stirling on the day subsequent to the regent’s death, they unanimously chose Mar, in place of Morton, hy a majority of votes—his merit in rescuing them from Kirkaldy’s troopers contributing not a little to his successful elevation. He was a man of much greater talent than Lennox, and in greater favour with those evil genii of Scotland—the ministry of Elizabeth. Amid the fierce dissensions which rent his native country, he had long been distinguished by a high character for moderation, disinterestedness, and honour, which, in the rapacious and profligate times succeeding the Reformation, were no common qualities. Though Kirkaldy’s position was strong, his military resources far from exhausted, and his soldiers brave and as fearless as himself, the Regent Mar was doomed in the end to prove almost too strong for him.

Resolving to prosecute the war with vigour, he took nine pieces of heavy ordnance from the castle of Stirling, and sent them by water to Edinburgh, which he invested at the head of four thousand of his vassals and adherents, for the purpose of hemming Kirkaldy’s little garrison within the walls of the fortress, and the troops of the lords within those of the city. On the 8th of October, his pioneers began to form trenches at the West Port and Canongate; a battery was raised at a suburb of the town called the Pleasance; and after a failure to heat down the Netherbow Port, the nine pieces of cannon opened a fire against a platform of guns erected hy Kirkaldy on the stone bartizan of a mansion belonging to Adam Fullarton, a citizen.1 During these operations, Captains Cais and Briscole, two English officers, were sent hy Elizabeth’s ministers to advise Kirkaldy to surrender, and presented him and Lethington with the following declaration:—

“Whereas you desire to know the Queen’s Majesty’s pleasure what she will do for the appeasing of these controversies, and therewith offered yourselves to he at her commandment, touching the common tranquillity of the whole isle, and the amity of both nations; her pleasure in this behalf is, that ye should leave off the maintenance of this civil discord, and give your obedience to the king, whom she will maintain to the uttermost of her power. And, in doing this, she will deal with the regent and king’s party to receive you into favour for security of life and livings.

“Also, she says that the Queen of Scots, for that she hath practised with the pope and other princes, and also with her own subjects in England, great and dangerous treasons against the state of her own country, and also to the destruction of her own person, that she shall never hear authority nor have liberty while she lives.

"If ye refuse these gentle offers, now offered unto ye, she will presently aid the king’s party with men, ammunition, and all necessary things to he had against you. Whereupon, her Majesty requires your answer with speed,” &c.

Aware of his own talent and skill, and having the utmost confidence in them—undismayed by the threats of the vicious Elizabeth, and possessing that romantic turn for enterprise and brilliant adventure, which ever marked him as the best knight of the last days of chivalry—he rejected with scom the letters of the envoys, and briefly dismissed them, resolving to trust to fate and the fortune of war.

Perils were thickening fast around him; hut Lady Grange still remained by his side, though apprehension for what was soon to ensue caused her young daughter, Lady Fernihirst, to retire from the city to her husband’s castle on the borders, for which she set out, attended by a lady and fifteen lances. Near Edinburgh they met the Laird of Carmichael, with ten men-at-arms on horseback. This knight saw, from the colours, that the advancing party belonged to the queen’s garrison.

“Ey!” he exclaimed, regardless of the ladies’ presence and the rules of gallantry—"fy on the traitors! forward!” Each hand fired their petronels, lowered their lances to the rest, and rushed at full gallop to the encounter. Many were unhorsed in the shock, and rolled on the hard roadway, hut sprang up again to maintain the combat on foot. None were slain, but several were taken—among them Melville of Carnbee, Meldrum of Seggie, and Robertson of Ernoch, three young cavaliers, who fought bravely until Lady Janet and her attendant escaped by the speed of their horses.

The operations of Mar’s soldiers continued; additional trenches were formed at the West Port, and Craig-end-gate to the north, for the closer investment of the city; and fresh troops were daily joining the standard of the earl, whose cannon on the morning of the 17th commenced to batter on two points the outer wall of Edinburgh, built in 1513 after Flodden Field. The operations of the artillery were necessarily slow, from the rudeness of their appurtenances. The shot came—

“Not in the quick successive rattle
That breathes the voice of modern battle,
But slow and far between.”

The cannoneers of those days had to manage huge and unwieldy ordnance, bearing the uncouth names of basilisks, serpents, carthouns, &c., which threw vast bullets of lead, iron, and stone. These were not hurled simultaneously upon a point, like the ponderous salvoes of more modem warfare, but laboriously maintained a desultory cannonade; which, instead of breaching in masses, generally knocked pieces successively from the massive walls of the time. Mortars were also used; but they threw destructive showers of stone in lieu of the formidable bomb.

On the 18th of October, after a discharge of one hundred and eighty cannon-balls, the southern wall of the city exhibited a wide breach of fifty feet broad; but within it appeared strong rampiers and trenches, well manned by the resolute adherents of Mary. A sudden failure of ammunition prevented Mar leading his soldiers to the assault. Kirkaldy’s cannoneers plied their light Moyennes briskly from the spires of St Giles and Kirk of Field— and, firing due southward, aimed so well that their balls went through the pavilion of the regent, slew twelve, and wounded a number of his soldiers; upon which, with the indecision which so often marks the warfare of those days, and which can only be accounted for by the want of proper discipline and means, he raised the blockade, and suddenly retired to Leith, where he established his headquarters.

Appalled by the fourteen days’ cannonading they had endured, many of the citizens abandoned their goods and means of living, and followed him to Leith, for peace and safety to their families. While the loyalists worked day and night to repair the defences of the city, letters were (by the advice of Morton) despatched to Elizabeth, craving her assistance to crush for ever these enemies to the young king her cousin.

At this time a victorious encounter in the north, where Huntly’s brother, Sir Adam Gordon of Auchindown, lieutenant for the queen, reduced the whole of Aberdeenshire to her obedience, contributed to raise the spirit of Kirkaldy’s soldiers to exultation, and to depress that of the enemy in an equal degree. To military talents of the first order, Auchindown united the ferocity of a Highland cateran with the courtesy and gallantry of a knight of romance. Of the former, his ravages in Angus, and of the latter, his generosity after the battle of Brechin, are striking and conflicting examples. This desultory and destructive civil war was now rapidly assuming that ferocious character which disgraced it, and which the Machiavelian policy of such men as Morton contrived to impart to it.

Deadly conflicts took place between the clans of Forbes and Gordon, the result of a feud since the battle of Corrichie, where the former were accused by the latter of having acted treacherously toward them; and, fired by a spirit of revenge, both families took advantage of the civil discord to prosecute the quarrel. Sir Adam of Auchindown defeated the Forbeses in a combat at Tully-angus, and slew black Arthur of Logie, Lord Forbes’s brother. He then sent one of his captains, named Kerr, with a band, to summon the castle of Towie, the stronghold of Alexander Forbes of Brux, a gentleman in the interest of Mar. Drawing up his soldiers before the well-secured gates of the Highland tower, he called upon the inmates to a surrender in the name of Queen Mary.” The Laird of Brux was absent with his chief, but his lady appeared on the battlements, and not only refused to yield, but vented several scurrilous and sarcastic reflections upon Kerr, which exasperated him so much that he ordered the soldiers to fire the castle. The resinous pines hewn from the neighbouring woods, and dry heather tom from the adjacent hills, afforded instant material of destruction, and a vast pile rose on all sides, heaped against the walls of the tower. Kerr ordered the match to be applied. The gates were already secured, and the small windows of the lofty pile, being thickly grated with iron, afforded little or no chance of escape from the suffocating fire, which enveloped the whole edifice; and the unhappy Lady of Brux, (then within a few days of her delivery,) with all her children and servants, thirty-seven persons in all, perished amid the red flames and crashing roofs of the falling castle. One being alone—an aged woman, whom terror had endowed with supernatural strength—bursting from the smouldering flames and crumbling walls, escaped the feathered arrows and levelled lances of the Gordons, and escaped, to raise a cry for vengeance throughout the land of her tribe.

Exasperated to the utmost pitch of Highland fury by this cruel deed and their defeat at Tullyangus, the Forbeses applied to the Kegent Mar, who sent them two hundred of his best-disciplined men under the Master of Forbes, to curb the alarming success of the Gordons. At the same time, the Laird of Grange despatched his brother, Sir James Kirkaldy, with a strong band of chosen harquebussiers, to assist the lieutenant of the queen. These embarked at the craigs of Granton, and went by sea to Aberdeen.

The Master of Forbes, having under his banner his father’s clan, Lady Crawford’s band of archers, the Laird of Drum and his men, two hundred of the regent’s foot, led by Captains Chisholm and Wedderbum, and three hundred horse, all his own vassals, marched to Aberdeen, intent on revenge. Auchindown watched their advance like a skilful soldier; and, having observed a hollow gorge through which he knew the whole of this war-array would have to defile, placed a hundred of Kirkaldy’s harquebussiers in an ambush overlooking it; while the rest of his vassals remained drawn up in order of battle beyond it, at a place called The Crahstone, from a peculiar fragment of rock which long remained in the front wall of an old house on the southern road from Aberdeen, and only twelve hundred yards distant from the cross of the city. The short winter evening was darkening fast upon the windings of the Dee and Don, when, eager to avenge the fall of their kindred at Towie and Tullyangus, the Forbeses poured through the gloomy gorge. Successively the Lowland pikemen in their steel harness, the heavily-armed troopers in their iron panoply, the clansmen in their dark-green tartan, with sword and targe and bended bow, and with the azure banner of Forbes displayed, entered the narrow path,—when lo! the rocks around them bristled with glancing steel, and a deadly volley from a hundred harquebusses a croc, flashing through the gloom of a December gloaming, was poured at once upon the column. Panic-struck, horse, foot, and archers recoiled upon each other in confusion and dismay, which a flight of whistling arrows from the Gordons increased; and Auchindown, with all his clan, rushing with claymores to the charge, completed their discomfiture. A desperate conflict ensued—but short as it was bloody. The Forbeses were defeated—the brave young Master, with two hundred of his surname, taken prisoners; but not until Captain Chisholm, fifteen gentlemen, and three hundred clansmen, were slam upon the field, which was decided under the gloomy wing of a dark night. John master of Forbes, and the other prisoners, were taken to Strathbogie, where they were all dismissed on swearing not to hear arms against their exiled sovereign.

Auchindown afterwards entered Angus, and laid siege to the castle of Douglas of Glenbervie; hut previous to this, having no immediate occasion for the services of Sir James Kirkaldy, that knight, by desire of his brother, sailed from Aberdeen for France, to crave the assistance of Charles IX., who was a passionate admirer of Mary’s beauty, and a sincere sympathiser with her misfortunes. During his absence, Sir William Kirkaldy received a new cause of hostility to Morton : this was the seduction of his sister-in-law, Lady Helen, (the daughter of Pitcaple,) by the gay and profligate earl, who carried on an intrigue with her so openly that it became a source of ribald jest among the cavaliers and soldiers of both factions. Between the families of Grange and Morton a terrible debt of vengeance was becoming due; and, considering the times, the country, and the mind of Kirkaldy, we may easily imagine how he must have longed to have had that hated noble within reach of his sword.

Meanwhile the war was continued with increased vigour—on the Borders by Fernihirst, and around Edinburgh by the regent, who destroyed all the numerous mills, garrisoned Craigmillar, Merchiston, Bedhall, and other baronial piles; trenched the roads and blew up the bridges, to cut off all supplies, which the loyalists could only obtain by sallies from their garrisons of Niddry, Blackness, and the tower of Livingstone: and thus, amid war, devastation, and misery, closed the year 1571.


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