The History of Leith

October 20, 2011

The famous three battles

The parish of Roslin possesses many relics and traditions of the famous three battles which were fought there in one day—the 24th of February, 1302 :—” Three triumphs in a day,Three hosts subdued in one, Three armies scattered like the spray Beneath one common sun!”
On the 26th of January, 1302, the cruel and treacherous Edward I. of England concluded a treaty of truce—not peace—with Scotland, while, on the other hand, he prepared to renew the war against her. To this end he marched in an army of 20,000—some say 30,000—men, chiefly cavalry, under Sir John de Segrave, with orders less to fight than to waste and devastate the already wasted country.
To obtain provisions with more ease, Segrave marched his force in three columns, each a mile or two apart, and the 24th of February saw them on the north bank of the Esk, at three places, still indicated by crossed swords on the county map ; the first at Roslin; the second at Loanhead, on high ground, still named, from the battle, ” Killrig,” north of the village ; and the third at Park Burn,near Gilmerton Grange.
Meanwhile, Sir John Comyn, Guardian of the Kingdom, and Sir Simon Eraser of Oliver Castle (the friend and comrade of Wallace), Heritable Sheriff of Tweeddale, after mustering a force of only 8,000 men—but men carefully selected and well armed—marched from Biggar in the night, and in the dull grey light of the February morning,in the wooded glen near Roslin Castle, came suddenly on the first column, under Segrave. Animated by a just thirst for vengeance, the Scots made a furious attack, and Segrave was rapidly routed, wounded, and taken prisoner, together with his brother, his son, sixteen knights, and thirty esquires, called sergeants by the rhyming English chronicler Langtoft.
The contest was barely over when the second column, alarmed by the fugitives, advanced from its camp at Loanhead, ” and weary though the Scots were with their forced night march, flushed with their first success, and full of the most rancorous hate of their invaders, they rushed to the charge, and though the conflict was fiercer, were victorious. A vast quantity of pillage fell into their hands, together with Sir Ralph the Cofferer, a paymaster of the English army.”
The second victory had barely been achieved, when the third division, under Sir Robert Neville, with all its arms and armour glittering in the morning sun, came in sight, advancing from the neighbourhood of Gilmerton, at a time when many of the Scots had laid aside a portion of their arms and helmets, and were preparing some to eat, and others to sleep. Fraser and Comyn at first thought of retiring, but that was impracticable, as Neville Was so close upon them. They flew from rank to rank, says Tytler, ” and having equipped the camp followers in the arms of their slain enemies, they made a furious charge*’on the English, and routed them with great slaughter.” Before the second and third encounters took place, old historians state that the Scots had recourse
to the cruel practice of slaying their prisoners, which was likely enough in keeping with the spirit with which the wanton English war wa= conducted in those days. Sir Ralph the Cofferer begged Fraser to spare his life, offering a large ransom for it.
” Your coat of mail is no priestly habit,” replied Sir Simon. ” Where is thine alb—where thy hood ? Often have you robbed us all and done us grievous wrong, and now is our time to sum up the account,and exact strict payment.”
With these words he hewed off the gauntleted hands of the degraded priest, and then by one stroke severed his head from his body. Old English writers always attribute the glory of the day to Wallace; but he was not present. The pursuit lasted sixteen miles, even as far as Biggar, and 12,000 of the enemy perished, says Sir James Balfour. English historians have attempted to conceal the triple defeat of their countrymen, on this occasion. They state that Sir Robert Neville’s division stayed behind to hear mass, and repelled the third Scottish attack, adding that none who heard
mass that morning were slain. But, unfortunately for this statement, Neville himself was among the dead ; and Langtoft, in his very minute account of the battle, admits that the English were utterly routed.

source-Old annd New Edinburgh

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