The History of Leith

October 14, 2010


After the battle the insurgent lords proclaimed James IV. king at Stirling, and then marched east to the capture of Edinburgh Castle. It was for this purpose they encamped on Leith Links for two days, and at the same time appear to have occupied the King’s Wark on the Shore. The fate of James III. was as yet unknown, but, as report declared that Sir Andrew Wood’s ships had been seen taking on board men wounded in the battle, it was thought the king might have found refuge with their gallant commander aboard the Yellow Carvel. Wood
by this time come to anchor in Leith Roads some two miles off the shore. Sir Andrew was requested to corne before the young King James IV. and his council to tell what he knew of the fate of James III., but this the wary seaman refused to do until two hostages of rank were sent aboard the Yellow Carvel to ensure his safe return. On the arrival of the hostages—Lord Seton and Lord Fleming—aboard his ship the loyal and gallant Wood, seated in his great barge, at once steered for the Shore, the oars glittering in the sunlight as with measured
stroke the boat swept past the Mussel Cape, now crowned by the Martello Tower, and, entering the old harbour, made straight for the landing-stage opposite the King’s Wark. Here Wood boldly confronted the haughty ”onfederate lords. When asked by the young and now
repentant king if his father was aboard his ships, Wood replied that he wished he were, when he would defend and keep him scathless from all the traitors who had cruelly murdered him.
The traitor ” Bell-the-Cat ” and the other rebel lords scowled angrily at these bold words, but, fearful of what might befall their two friends in pledge aboard the ships, could not further resent them. Finding they could make nothing of the undaunted Wood, they dismissed him to
his ships, where his men, impatient and alarmed at his delay, were about to swing the two hostage* from the yardarm in the belief that some treachery had befallen their much-loved commander. Authentic news of the cruel fate that had overtaken James III. soon came to
hand, and then Sir Andrew Wood gave in his allegiance to his successor, and became one of his most trusted friends and counsellors. In the work of constructing royal dockyards at Leith and Newhaven, and in his ambition to make Scotland’s name a power on the sea, James IV. found no more wise and powerful supporter than the brave Sir Andrew Wood. The year after James IV. ascended the throne five English ships entered the Firth of Forth, ravaged the
shores of Fife and the Lothians, and did much damage among trading vessels making for Leith and other ports on the Forth. Now, while there was never really peace between the two countries on the high seas, such an outrage as this James determined should not go unpunished. He ordered Sir Andrew Wood to go in pursuit of the
enemy. With never a thought of the odds against him, that gallant captain at once weighed anchor, and, under a heavy press of sail decorated with the royal arms and those of the brave Sir Andrew himself, as you may see in the pictures of the Yellow Carvel and the Great Michael. his two stately ships stood down the Firth with a favouring breeze behind them.

All was bustle and activity on board, getting the decks cleared for action, which, in those stirring and romantic days, meant rather cumbering them with the guns of the arquebusiers. These had all to be set on their stands to sweep the enemy’s decks and cripple her Sails and rigging in order to render her unmanageable.
Sir Andrew and his officers were harnessed in full armour like; knights ashore, while the men, accoutred in their jacks or steel-padded jackets and steel caps, armed themselves from racks of axes, guns, and boarding pikes, that were framed round the masts and the bulwarks of Poop and quarter-deck. The cross-bowmen were sent to
their stations in the fighting-tops or cages round the masts, from which they could shoot arrows or hurl down heavy missiles on the enemy’s deck.
The Yellow Carvel and her consort, the Flower, came up with the English ships off Dunbar. All undaunted by the unequal contest, Wood at once blew his whistle, to signal for action, and the battle forthwith began. The boarders stood by with the grappling irons, and, when the ships closed in upon one another, they were caught by the irons below and by the hooks for the same purpose projecting from the ends of the yardarms aloft. Their locked hulls then formed one great platform,
over which the fierce and stubborn fight raged for hours with uncertain issue, while the men in the fightingtops threw down missiles on the mass of swaying combatants below as they saw opportunity. At length the skill and courage of the Leith sailormen prevailed, and overcame the superior force of the English. With the fighting-tops of his now crippled ships gay with streamers and banners that even swept the surface of the sea, Wood convoyed the five English prizes in triumph to
the Port, and the name of the great Leith captain, so the story goes became a by word snd a terror to all the skippers and mariners of England.

Source-The Story of Leith

To be continued

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