The History of Leith

October 18, 2010

Sir Andrew Wood-Leith Sea Dogs Part 3

Sir Andrew was richly rewarded by James for his great services, and in some measure to make up for the losses he had sustained, and, as no castle could be built without the king’s permission, licence was given him to erect such at Largo as a defence against English pirates who, in raiding the shores of Fife, would never fail to make his dwelling a special object of attack. This castle, according to the same old chronicler, he is said to have compelled some English pirates captured at sea to build by way of ransom.

Henry VII., indignant at the disgrace brought upon the English flag by so humiliating a defeat, is said to have offered an annual pension of £1,000 to any English captain who should capture the ships of Wood and take him prisoner. Now, unless history utterly belies the character of Henry VII., such a story is entirely out of keeping with all we know of him, for he was a man of peace and loved money even to miserliness. Be that as it may, one Stephen Bull, when other English captains had declined to attempt so risky an enterprise, equipped
three ships, and determined to bring Wood to London dead or alive. We know little of Bull beyond the fact that he was knighted by Sir Edward Howard in Brittany in 1512, and we know nothing at all of his three ships, except that they were neither king’s ships nor in the king’s service.

But we have not read aright the story of the deeds of the Leith sailor men in days of yore if we have not learned that for merchant ships to be guilty of piratical attacks upon those of other nations, and to be sometimes captured by those they attacked, was a very common incident on the high seas in those lawless times. Indeed common was it that it had been a long-established custom on the North Sea for mariners thus captured, when they were not made to ” walk the plank,” as they at times were, to be ransomed by their friends at the very moderate charge of twenty shillings a mariner and
forty shillings the master or skipper.

With his three ships Bull sailed for the Forth in July 1490, and, entering the Firth, lay to behind the Isle of May. In the belief that peace had been established with England Wood had sailed for Flanders, partly by way of trade and partly as convoy to the merchant fleet.

On a fine sunny morning in August Sir Andrew Wood’s wo ships hove in sight, and all unconscious of the presence of the lurking enemy, steered their way towards the Forth. But no sooner did Wood perceive the English ships with the white flag and red cross of St. George
than he at once gave the signal for immediate action, and fought ” fra the ryssing of the sun till the gaeing doun of the same in the lang simmer’s day, quhile all the men and women that dwelt near the coast syd stood and beheld fche fighting, quhilk was terrible to sie.”

This running fight was kept up for three days, when victory once more declared itself on the side of the seemingly invincible Leith captain, and, after taking the ships to Dundee, Wood and his prizes eventually came to Leith, bringing sorrow as well as joy to the town, for many a member of his crew had fallen in the desperate three days’ encounter. These two naval victories of Sir Andrew Wood by which he is popularly known rest solely on the picturesque narrative of the gossipy Pitscottie, who is not generally relied on unless corroborated by other writers. But we must remember that Pitscottie was near neighbour to the Woods at Largo, and the familiar friend of Sir Andrew’s second and more distinguished son John, who played a notable part in the service of James V. Besides, he was intimate with Sir Robert Barton, the first skipper of the Great Michael, and from him he got all the details of that famous ship.

source-The Story of Leith

Some Text