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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter XXIX. The Signal Gun - The English Troops


Chivalric as the gallant knight of Grange was in the cause of his beautiful queen, his was no mere animal courage, or the fevered transport of a moment of rage; hut the military ardour, the confident skill, and indomitable valour of a heart trained and inured by thirty years of incessant war and toil, which had prepared him to encounter that stern hour which he had long foreseen to be approaching. Cowardice, defection, treachery, and misfortune, had left him utterly without the hope of succour or escape. He had lost all but his honour, and it was the bright beacon which led him on, and taught him, if he could not be victorious, to die in his armour, like the good knight he had ever proved himself. Rash even to a fault, it is strange that at last the principal error of his life was trusting to the English queen, of whose cold-blooded treachery and innate cruelty he had seen a thousand terrible instances.

Four-and-twenty hours before the expiry of the truce which preceded the treaty of Perth, he issued a proclamation from the castle wall, warning all loyal subjects of the queen to depart forthwith from the city 5 and now he spent every moment in strengthening his batteries, and increasing his stores and munition of war.

“Faint and few, but fearless still,” his garrison, consisting only of one hundred and fifty private soldiers, exclusive of volunteers and officers, were yet stanch to him; and, in token of defiance to all the powers of Scotland and of England, the desperate hand, on the expiry of the last hour of the truce, amid the greatest acclamation displayed the standard of Queen Mary from the highest tower of the castle of Edinburgh.

At six o’clock on the morning of the 1st January 1573, he discharged a warning gun from the lofty ramparts. The boom of that heavy culverin pealed over the sleeping city, to herald that once more the strife was to begin, and it made the hearts of forty thousand citizens throb with apprehension. Immediately upon this, the old trenches formed by John of Mar were lined by the blockading forces of the Regent Morton. Kirkaldy, on beholding their lines of spears and helmets, ordered his batteries to open from all points on the hostile city. The most of his cannon were levelled against the Fish-market, which had been newly built; and there the falling bullets scattered the baskets of fish, beating their contents so high into the air, that some of the lofty houses received them in their fall. A number of poor and needy persons, regardless of the danger, employed themselves in gathering all they could; but a single cannon-ball lit among them, killed five, and wounded twenty.

Two bulwarks of turf and fascines, which, prior to the expiry of the truce, had been erected by Kirkaldy’s successor in the provostry, the old and fierce Lord Lindesay of the Byres, sheltered the passengers in one part of the great central street of the city, though the cannon of the eastern curtain swept the length of it for nearly a mile. One of these barriers lay before the northern doorway of St Giles’ church, and, favoured by it, the citizens could attend prayers in safety; while the members of the Estates were also enabled to reach the Parliament House without the danger of being decapitated or cut in two by the bullets, as they boomed down the narrow Craimes.

The exact number of Kirkaldy’s cannon is not known. By an inventory (note K) taken a short time afterwards, the fortress appears to have contained upwards of forty pieces of ordnance, including the famous Mons Meg; but a number of his cannon were destroyed by the fall of the ramparts during the siege.

Captains Hume and Crauford of Jordanhill, with their companies of pikemen and harquebussiers, occupied the trenches, traverses, and bulwarks, to block up the fortress, and defend the citizens from any sudden sortie. Morton ordered another work of turf and stones to be thrown across the broad and lofty main street, near the Tolbooth, and two others further up, at the steep part of the narrow way ascending to the Castlehill and the archway of the Spur. All these were built of sufficient height and thickness to shelter passengers from the incessant fire of the batteries. The band of Captain Mitchell (a famous Ealgetty of those days) occupied the great cross kirk of St Cuthbert, to the westward of the castle rock, to prevent the besieged from procuring water from St Margaret’s fountain, when their wells became dry by the water oozing from the base of the rocks, which it does at the present day when the batteries are discharged. A narrow postern in the western walls gave access to this ancient fountain, which Mitchell’s soldiers destroyed on the third day after their arrival. On the first day of the cannonade, twelve soldiers were killed by bullets in the trenches.

Under Kirkaldy’s standard there yet served Alexander lord Home; Maitland of Lethington; his brother John, prior of Coldingham; the Laird of Drylaw; Logan of Restalrig; the constable, Sir John Wishart, knight of Pitarrow; Sir Robert and Sir Andrew Melville, of the house of Raitli: but the presence of Lady Kirkaldy of Grange; Jane Stuart, countess of Argyle, and half-sister of Mary; the Lady of Lethington, (in other days the beautiful Mary Fleming); and other noble ladies and their attendants, increased the cares of the governor and his comrades.

Two days after the escape of his brother from Dalkeith, Kirkaldy resolved to make a sally into the city. It was now the gloomy month of February, and he chose a dark and stormy night, when a tempestuous wind was sweeping round the rugged cliffs of the ancient castle. Rushing forth in complete armour at the head of a chosen band, he attacked the trenches of the regent, scoured them sword in hand, and drove the trench-guards down the Lawnmarket in disorder. After this, ere he returned, to avenge himself on the citizens for having deserted him, he ordered several thatched houses to he fired—some in the steep and narrow Castle Wynd, and others further westward in the ancient barony of the Portsburgh. The thick dry thatch blazed like tinder in the stormy wind, which blew keenly from the westward and fanned the rising flames; a fearful conflagration—one which threatened the entire destruction of the capital—ensued. From the barrier of the West Port the fire raged eastward, through all the dense alleys and wynds in succession, along the spacious and picturesque market-place, past the lower Bow Port and the gloomy houses of the knights of St John, until it reached the chapel of St Magdalene and Forrester’s Wynd in the then fashionable Cowgate. The wretched citizens used every means to quench the conflagration, and save their perishing property ; but the cannoneers of Kirkaldy, guided by the light of twenty blazing streets, poured the bullets of their sakers, falcons, and culverins on the scene of conflagration, three hundred feet below. The utmost exertions of the people were thus rendered completely abortive; many were slain, and in the hearts of the rest, a hatred was kindled against the aggressor which even his ultimate fate did not appease.

Though Morton wanted but this solitary fortress to have all Scotland under his severe dominion, he was very unwilling to attempt its reduction by force, which might fan anew the flames of that civil discord the treaty of Perth had now nearly extinguished ; but for the complete establishment of his power and authority, and also for the accomplishment of his dearly prized vengeance on the Kirkaldys, it was necessary to possess it at all risks. He applied to Elizabeth for assistance, being, from his avarice or prodigality, quite destitute of a battering-train, and every thing requisite for carrying on a siege. The English queen readily promised him aid, rejoiced at being able to humble Kirkaldy, and hurl his banner from the towers where it had waved so long and honourably.

On the 2d of March, Kirkaldy and the secretary wrote to Henry Killigrew, charging Morton with treason, and innumerable malpractices and misdemeanours; they also indignantly remonstrated with Elizabeth, for her intention of sending troops to crush them. The only answer to this was preparations at Berwick for a campaign on Scottish ground.

On the 8th of March, Morton was joined by a hundred English pioneers. On the 11th they broke ground in Castlehill Street, and threw up a sconce or battery, on which they worked for four consecutive days, exposed to a constant fire poured on them by the besieged from the lofty eastern curtain. They endured considerable loss until the night of the 15th, when Kirkaldy made a sally at the head of a small party, and, again scouring the trenches with sword and pike, routed the pioneers, and destroyed the fruits of their labour. For three days his cannon continued pouring death and destruction on the city—sweeping the cross wynds and raking the length of the High Street—beating down roofs and gables, and overthrowing those heavy projections of timber, and ponderous stalks of dark old chimneys, which have always formed the most striking features of the ancient city. On the 18th he compelled the blockading troops to agree to a thirteen days’ truce.

During this cessation of hostilities, Lord Ruthven met Sir William Drury, the high marshal of Berwick, at the old parish kirk of Lamberton, in the Merse—now a mass of ivy-covered ruin. There they held a convention, in consequence of which, on the expiry of the truce, Drury marched into Scotland with the English standard displayed, and brought to the assistance of Morton fifteen hundred harquebussiers, one hundred and forty pikemen, and a numerous troop of gentlemen volunteers; while the train of cannon and baggage came round by sea to Leith, where a fleet of English ships cruised, to cut off all succour from the Continent.

With Drury came the old bands of Berwick, the scarred veterans of the English wars—men inured to toil, and the stern duty and discipline of garrisoning a frontier town in the midst of a country subject to the raids and forays ^f the fierce mosstroopers of the Scottish Border. All old and thorough soldiers, they were skilful in the use of the pike and harquebuss, and accustomed to the weight of their armour. In the ££ Annales of Scotland untill the year of our Redemption 1586, by Francis Botvile, commonly called Thin,” we have a complete muster-roll of the commanders in this expedition.

The harquebussiers were led by Sir Francis Russell, knight, chamberlain of Berwick, and third son of the Earl of Bedford; Errington, the provost-mareschal: the captains were Bead, Yaxley, Wood, Prickwell, Pikeman, Gam, Jolin Cais, Carew, and Barton: Captain Steerly commanded the pioneers : Sir George Carey, Sir Henry Lee, knights, with Thomas Cecil, son of Lord Burleigh, Knowles, Sutton, Kclway, Daer, Tilny, and William Killigrew—all young English cavaliers of noble family— “and other gentlemen of good estimation,” rode into Scotland beneath St George’s cross, eager to win their spurs at the siege of the maiden castle.

Morton and the nobles of his faction increased their forces; and, forming them into five divisions, made a junction with the English auxiliaries, and blockaded the castle on every side, in terms of the eight following conditions, agreed to at Lamberton—

Neither the regent of Scotland nor the English general, without the other’s concurrence, were to make any composition with the besieged.

That if the castle fell hy storm, the plate, erown-jewels, and furniture of the royal household, the national reeords, and all public property in the hands of Sir William Kirkaldy, should he delivered to the Begent Morton, within three days after the eapture. The rest to become the spoil of the English, who might freely pillage.

The persons within the castle should he reserved for trial by law; hut in that matter, the regent would proceed by Elizabeth's advice.

He was also to pay the English forces, and assist them with a competent body of horse and foot.

He should also give pensions to the widows and near relations of English soldiers slain in his service and if any of the English train of ordnance were destroyed during the siege, guns of the same metal and calibre should he given to make up the loss.

That, immediately after the reduction of the fortress, the English should march hack to their own country.

And that for their safe return—the chances of war excepted—James master of Kuthven, Hugh master of Semple, John Cunningham son of the earl of Glencairn, and Douglas laird of Kilspindie, should he sent to the frontier town of Berwick, there to remain as hostages.

Immediately on the arrival of these auxiliaries, Morton issued a proclamation, wherein he affected to show u the care that the Queen of England had taken for the peace of the realm in times past, and the liberal succours she had now granted for the expugnation of the castle, treasonably detained and fortified hy the Laird of Grange. He required all good subjects to carry themselves as became them towards the English general and his company,” threatening that he who injured them by word or deed would be deemed a traitor, and ally of Kirkaldy and other disturbers of the peace; and the records of justiciary show that several prosecutions were raised against the friends of Kirkaldy, during the period he maintained that cause which nearly all the rest of Scotland had abandoned, (note L.)

Undaunted as he was, Kirkaldy could not have contemplated without misgivings the forlorn situation of his little band, now closely environed on all sides. The humiliating prospect of yielding to Morton, the seducer of his sister-in-law, the usurper of his feudal rights, the sworn foe of himself and all his race, was an alternative to be thought of only in sorrow and despair, to which his unflinching spirit was yet a stranger. His wife, his brother, his friend Maitland, his uncles the Melvilles, and all his brave companions, would then be at the mercy of Elizabeth’s duplicity and Morton’s cruelty—it was a sad and terrible prospect.

On the 25th of April the following paper was delivered to him by an English trumpeter:—

“Summons to the castle of Edinburgh.

“Sir William Kirkaldy, some time of Grange, knight, —Forasmuch as the queen’s majesty, my sovereign lady, upon the earnest request of her dear cousin the King of the Scots, your sovereign lord, made to her highness by his regent, nobilitie, and estates of Scotland, after all good means used to have reduced you to a dutiful obedience of his authority by treaty, which hitherto you have not duly hearkened unto, to the only hinderance of the universal peace of this realm, by withholding his highness’s castle, meaning—as it seemeth—to reserve the same as a receptacle for foreign forces, to the manifest danger of this realm, and of my sovereign’s, and necessary to remove so perilous a danger to both realms :

“For which consideration her majesty hath sent her aid and succours, men, ordnance, and munition, for the recovery of the said castle to the said king’s use and behoof; and therefore, according to her majesty’s command and commission, THIS shall be in due manner to warn, require, and summon you, that you surrender and deliver the said castle, with the whole artillery, jewels, household stuff, and such other implements within the same to me, for the use and behoof of the king your sovereign, and his regent in his name, immediately after this my letter of summons, or knowledge of the same shall come to you.

“Which if you obey, as of duty you ought, then shall I, in her majesty’s name, travail with the regent, council, and nobles here, for the safety of your lives, etc.; otherwise, if you continue in your former obstinacy, abiding our cannon, then no farther look for grace or favour, but you and the rest within that castle to be pursued to the uttermost, and holden as enemies to her majesty, your own sovereign and country.

“Given at Edinburgh, by me, Sir William Drury, knight, general of her Majesty’s forces now in Scotland, this 25th day of April in the year of Christ 1573.”

This periphrastic document, in which Elizabeth’s name preceded that of the young king, from its whole tenor, was only calculated to rouse Kirkaldy’s native wrath and pride. He read it, and briefly dismissing the bearer with a bold refusal to surrender, ordered a searlet banner, significant of death and defiance, to be displayed on the great tower of king David.

Some weeks before the siege, Drury had eome to Edinburgh on feigned business, and was imprudently permitted by Kirkaldy to enter the castle, when he had an opportunity of inspecting its strength, and observing its strongest and most assailable points. This reconnois-sance, together with the report of the engineers Fleming and Johnson, will sufficiently account for the very skilful manner in which this veteran knight erected his batteries. Morton’s train, consisting of six pieees of artillery, was brought by water from Stirling to Leith, and joined with those ordnance brought by Drury.

These consisted of one cannon-royal or carthoun, (a 48-pounder,) fourteen gross culverins, (18-pounders,) nine of which had been taken from the Scots at the battle of Flodden; two sakers, (8-pounders,) and two bombardes, or short thick cannon, for throwing enormous balls of more than a hundredweight, and loaded by means of a crane. All the cannon of those days were levelled, raised, or depressed by means of a wedge, called the aim-frontlet, hollowed to receive the muzzle under which it was placed. By the 15th of May five batteries, each mounting five pieces of cannon, were ready for service. In addition to these were five field-pieces or falcons, as a movable battery.

The first, or King’s Mount, commanded by the Regent Morton, was erected on the ground now occupied by Heriot’s Hospital, a high eminence to the southward of the city, near the thatched hamlet of Lauriston. The other four formed a curved line of circumvallation round the fortress, placed at equal distances—the last being at Bearford’s Park, to the northward of the rock.

The second battery was commanded by Sir William Drury ; the third by Sir George Carey; the fourth by Sir Henry Lee, (of Ditchley); the fifth by Sir Thomas Sutton, master-general of the English ordnance.

During the trenching operations, Kirkaldy’s cannon poured a continual fire on all sides, and did great execution among the besiegers, notwithstanding the vigour with which they pushed the approaches to get under cover.

On the first day of their arrival, Duberri, an English lieutenant, was shot in the trenches.

An attempt was made to undermine the strong Spur or blockhouse, but turned out a complete failure.


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