The History of Leith

May 29, 2012

Three triumphs in a day

Near the chapel is St. Mathew’s Well. 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
camg 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 weje 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 was 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 and New Edinburgh

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