The History of Leith

October 29, 2010

Leith’s Sea-Dogs: The fighting Bartons Part 2

James sent a herald to King Henry to demand redress for the slaughter of his favourite officer in time of peace, and compensation for the loss of his ships. Henry haughtily replied that the fate of pirates should be no cause of dispute between princes, an answer that only aggravated the insult to the Scottish flag, for Barton, as Henry well knew, was no more pirate than the Howards themselves. The English king, indeed, freed Barton’s crew, giving them a small sum to defray the cost of
their homeward journey; but this failed to satisfy King James, and the dispute was finally fought out on Flodden Field.
The rocks and shoals of the Northumberland coast sent many a Scottish ship to its doom in those old days of unlighted and uncharted seas. There in the reign of James III., off Bamborough, was wrecked the great trading barge of the good Bishop Kennedy of St. Andrews,
and there, too, was dashed ” in flinders ” one of James IV’s ships, the Treasurer, no doubt named in honour of Sir Robert Barton, the King’s Lord High Treasurer, who had purchased her in Dieppe. In Embleton Bay, just north of the great ruined castle of Dunstanburgh, there lies a rock a foot or two beneath the yellow sand whose interest for Leithers is very great. It is only uncovered at long intervals by the wash of
the waves, and then by the same agency buried again. A few years ago, while exposed to view, its surface showed in ancient rudely carved letters the famous name of ” Andrea Barton.” A rubbing of this inscription has been taken in case it should not again see the light.
Embleton Bay must often have been familiar with the sight of Barton’s flag as he sailed southward from the Forth, it may be on some venture against the Portingals. But who carved the hero’s name on the surface of this now hidden rock, whether he himself to commemorate some victory over the English, or whether some admiring follower as he rode at anchor in the bay, we may never know. The rock evidently has some secret to reveal, what that secret is has remained undiscovered.
That the incident has been forgotten is typical of most of the exploits of our Scottish “Drake,” for although rehearsed with pride round the winter fire in Leith of the brave days of James IV. they have long since passed out of memory. Some of them may again be revealed by as yet unpublished papers in the State archives of Portugal. But the Bartons were an able race, and their fame did not die when James IV.’s most
brilliant sailorman fell in the unequal conflict with the Howards in August 1511. His brothers Robert and John, only just less celebrated than himself, had been associated with him in some of his exploits against the Portuguese. They continued and maintained the family
name ; and the fighting Bartons of Leith were known and held in wholesome respect by all the seafaring folk of Western Europe.
In 1513 the English ambassador complained to James IV. that the Bartons had done Englishmen so much harm, perhaps by way of reprisal for the slaughter of their brother Andrew, that they were greatly excited against them. ” England has sustained three times
as much damage at sea from the Scots as they have from us,” wrote Lord Dacre, Henry’s able but unscrupulous commander on the Border, with the Leith sailormen in his mind. No wonder Henry VIII. wrote in his
wrath to James IV. : ” As to Hob a Barton and Davy Falconer their deeds have shown what they be.” They had. ” Two ships of Leith have taken seven prizes of the Islande Flote (the English Baltic trading fleet)
and taken them to Leith,” wrote Dacre again to Wolsey. ” Unless the Zealand Flote (the English merchant fleet trading with Holland) be better guarded they will be in great danger.” As long as Leith continued to send forth such gallant sea captains English pirates could
no longer plunder Scottish ships and murder Scottish seamen as they had done, and as they were to do again under the nerveless foreign policy of James VI., when Scottish mariners were neither encouraged nor supported, and the great race of Leith sailormen came to
an end.

Source-The Story of Leith

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