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Chapter XII The Battle of Methven
 Bruce had, during the previous week, sent messages saying to several of his friends in Annandale and Carrick that he might at any time be among them, and at Dumfries he found many of them prepared to see him. The English justiciaries for the southern district of the conquered kingdom were holding an assize, and at this most of the nobles and principal men of that part were present. Among these were, of course, many of Bruce's vassals; among them also was John Comyn of Badenoch, who held large estates in Galloway, in virtue of which he was now present.  
As soon as the news that Bruce had arrived in the town spread, his adherents and vassals there speedily gathered round him, and as, accompanied by several of them, he went through the town he met Comyn in the precincts of the Grey Friars. Concerning this memorable meeting there has been great dispute among historians. Some have charged Bruce with inviting Comyn to meet him, with the deliberate intention of slaying him; others have represented the meeting as accidental, and the slaying of Comyn as the result of an outburst of passion on the part of Bruce; but no one who weighs the facts, and considers the circumstances in which Comyn was placed, can feel the least question that the latter is the true hypothesis.
Bruce, whose whole course shows him to have been a man who acted with prudence and foresight, would have been nothing short of mad had he, just at the time when it was necessary to secure the goodwill of the whole of the Scotch nobles, chosen that moment to slay Comyn, with whom were connected, by blood or friendship, the larger half of the Scotch nobles. Still less, had he decided upon so suicidal a course, would he have selected a sanctuary as the scene of the deed. To slay his rival in such a place would be to excite against himself the horror and aversion of the whole people, and to enlist against him the immense authority and influence of the church. Therefore, unless we should conclude that Bruce—whose early career showed him to be a cool and calculating man, and whose future course was marked throughout with wisdom of the highest character—was suffering from an absolute aberration of intellect, we must accept the account by those who represent the meeting as accidental, and the slaying as the result of an outburst of passion provoked by Comyn's treachery, as the correct one.
When Bruce saw Comyn approaching he bade his followers stop where they were and advanced towards Comyn, who was astonished at his presence.
"I would speak with you aside, John Comyn," Bruce said; and the two withdrew into the church apart from the observation of others.
Then Bruce broke into a torrent of invective against Comyn for his gross act of treachery in betraying him by sending to Edward a copy of their agreement.
"You sought," he said, "to send me to the scaffold, and so clear the way for yourself to the throne of Scotland."
Comyn, finding that dissimulation was useless, replied as hotly. Those without could hear the voices of the angry men rise higher and higher; then there was a silence, and Bruce hurried out alone.
"What has happened?" Archie Forbes exclaimed.
"I fear that I have slain Comyn," Bruce replied in an agitated voice.
"Then I will make sure," Kirkpatrick, one of his retainers, said; and accompanied by Lindsay and another of his companions he ran in and completed the deed.
Scarcely was this done than Sir Robert Comyn, uncle of the earl, ran up, and seeing what had taken place, furiously attacked Bruce and his party. A fierce fray took place, and Robert Comyn and several of his friends were slain.
"The die is cast now," Bruce said when the fray was over; "but I would give my right hand had I not slain Comyn in my passion; however, it is too late to hesitate now. Gather together, my friends, all your retainers, and let us hurry at once to attack the justiciaries."
In a few minutes Kirkpatrick brought together those who had accompanied him and his companions to the town, and they at once moved against the courthouse. The news of Bruce's arrival and of the fray with the Comyns had already reached the justiciaries, and with their retainers and friends they had made hasty preparations for defence; but seeing that Bruce's followers outnumbered them, and that a defence might cost them their lives, they held parley and agreed to surrender upon Bruce promising to allow them to depart at once for England. Half an hour later the English had left Dumfries.
Bruce called a council of his companions.
"My friends," he said, "we have been hurried into a terrible strife, and deeply do I regret that by my own mad passion at the treachery of Comyn I have begun it by an evil deed; but when I tell you of the way in which that traitor sought to bring me to an English block, you will somewhat absolve me for the deed, and will grant that, unhappy and unfortunate as it was, my passion was in some degree justified."
He then informed them of the bond into which he and Comyn had entered, and of its betrayal by Comyn to Edward.
"Thus it is," he said, "that the deed has taken place, and it is too late to mend it. We have before us a desperate enterprise, and yet I hope that we may succeed in it. At any rate, this time there can be no drawing back, and we must conquer or die. It was certain in any case that Comyn and his party would oppose me, but now their hostility will go to all lengths, while Edward will never forgive the attack upon his justiciaries. Still we shall have some breathing time. The king will not hear for ten days of events here, and it will take him two months at least before he can assemble an army on the Border, and Comyn's friends will probably do nought till the English approach. However, let us hurry to Lochmaben Castle; there we shall be safe from any sudden attack by Comyn's friends in Galloway. First let us draw out papers setting forth the cause of my enmity to Comyn, and of the quarrel which led to his death, and telling all Scotchmen that I have now cut myself loose for ever from England, and that I have come to free Scotland and to win the crown which belongs to me by right, or to die in the attempt."
Many of these documents being drawn out, messengers were despatched with them to Bruce's friends throughout the country, and he and his followers rode to Lochmaben.
Archie Forbes went north to his own estate, and at once gave notice to his retainers to prepare to take the field, and to march to Glasgow, which Bruce had named as the rendezvous for all well disposed towards him. From time to time messages came from Bruce, telling him that he was receiving many promises of support; the whole of the vassals of Annandale and Carrick had assembled at Lochmaben, where many small landowners with their retainers also joined him. As soon as his force had grown to a point when he need fear no interruption on his march toward Glasgow, Bruce left Lochmaben. On his way he was joined by the first influential nobleman who had espoused his cause; this was Sir James Douglas, whose father, Sir William, had died in an English prison. At the time of his capture his estates had been bestowed by Edward upon Lord Clifford, and the young Douglas, then but a lad, had sought refuge in France. After a while he had returned, and was living with Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, who had been one of Wallace's most active supporters.
The young Douglas, on receiving the news that Bruce was marching north, at once mounted, rode off, and joined him. He was joyfully received by Bruce, as not only would his own influence be great among his father's vassals of Douglasdale, but his adhesion would induce many others to join. Receiving news of Bruce's march, Archie moved to Glasgow with his retainers. The English garrison and adherents in Glasgow fled at his approach. Upon arriving there Bruce solemnly proclaimed the independence of Scotland, and sent out notices to all the nobles and gentry, calling upon them to join him.
Fortunately the Bishop of St. Andrews, and Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, another of Wallace's friends, at once declared strongly for him, as did the Bishop of Moray and the Abbot of Scone. The adhesion of these prelates was of immense importance to Bruce, as to some extent the fact of their joining him showed that the church felt no overwhelming indignation at the act of sacrilege which he had committed, and enabled the minor clergy to advocate his cause with their flocks.
Many of the great nobles hostile to the Comyn faction also joined him; among these were the Earls of Athole, Lennox, Errol, and Menteith; Christopher Seaton, Sir Simon Fraser, David Inchmartin, Hugh de la Haye, Walter de Somerville, Robert Boyd, Robert Fleming, David Barclay, Alexander Fraser, Sir Thomas Randolph, and Sir Neil Campbell. Bruce's four brothers, Edward, Nigel, Thomas, and Alexander, were, of course, with him. Bruce now moved from Glasgow to Scone, and was there crowned King of Scotland on the 27th of March, 1306, six weeks after his arrival at Dumfries. Since the days of Malcolm Canmore the ceremony of placing the crown on the head of the monarch had been performed by the representative of the family of Macduff, the earls of Fife; the present earl was in the service of the English; but his sister Isobel, wife of Comyn, Earl of Buchan, rode into Scone with a train of followers upon the day after the coronation, and demanded to perform the office which was the privilege of the family. To this Bruce gladly assented, seeing that many Scotchmen would hold the coronation to be irregular from its not having been performed by the hereditary functionary, and that as Isabel was the wife of Comyn of Buchan, her open adhesion to him might influence some of that faction. Accordingly on the following day the ceremony was again performed, Isobel of Buchan placing the crown on Bruce's head, an act of patriotism for which the unfortunate lady was afterwards to pay dearly. Thus, although the great majority of the Scotch nobles still held aloof, Bruce was now at the head of a considerable force, and he at once proceeded to overrun the country. The numerous English who had come across the Border, under the belief that Scotland was finally conquered, or to take possession of lands granted them by Edward, were all compelled either to take refuge in the fortified towns and castles held by English garrisons, or to return hastily to England.
When the news of the proceedings at Dumfries and the general rising in the south of Scotland reached Edward he was at the city of Winchester. He had been lately making a sort of triumphant passage through the country, and the unexpected news that Scotland which he had believed crushed beyond all possibility of further resistance was again in arms, is said for a time to have driven him almost out of his mind with rage.
Not a moment was lost. Aylmer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, was at once commissioned to proceed to Scotland, to "put down rebellion and punish the rebels," the whole military array of the northern counties was placed under his orders, and Clifford and Percy were associated with him in the commission. Edward also applied to the pope to aid him in punishing the sacrilegious rebels who had violated the sanctuary of Dumfries. As Clement V was a native of Guienne, and kept his court at Bordeaux within Edward's dominions, his request was, of course, promptly complied with, and a bull issued, instructing the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Carlisle to excommunicate Bruce and his friends, and to place them a............
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