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Chapter XXV The Capture of a Stronghold
 While Bruce had by his energy and courage been wresting Scotland, step by step, from the English, no serious effort had been made by the latter to check his progress. Small bodies of troops had from time to time been sent from the north; but the king had made no great efforts, like those of his father, to reduce the country to obedience by the exercise of the whole strength of England. Edward II differed widely from his father in disposition. At times he was roused to fits of spasmodic energy, but for the most part he was sunk in sloth and supineness. He angered and irritated his barons by his fondness for unworthy favourites, and was engaged in constant broils with them.  
So called governors of Scotland were frequently appointed and as often superseded, but no effectual aid was given them to enable them to check the ever spreading insurrection. But Perth was now threatened by Bruce; and the danger of this, the strongest and most important northern fortress, roused Edward from his lethargy. A fleet was fitted out for the Tay. Troops, under the Earl of Ulster, were engaged to be transported by an English fleet of forty ships, supplied by the seaports, and intended to cooperate with John of Lorne in the west. Edward himself, with a powerful army, accompanied by the Lords Gloucester, Warrenne, Percy, Clifford, and others, advanced into Scotland as far as Renfrew. Bruce could oppose no effectual resistance in the field to so large a force, but he used the tactics which Wallace had adopted with such success. The country through which the English were advancing was wasted. Flocks and herds were driven off, and all stores of grain burned and destroyed. His adherents, each with their own retainers, hung upon the skirts of the English army, cutting off small parties, driving back bodies going out in search of provisions or forage, making sudden night attacks, and keeping the English in a state of constant watchfulness and alarm, but always retiring on the approach of any strong force, and avoiding every effort of the English to bring on an engagement.
The invaders were soon pressed by want of provisions, and horses died from lack of forage. The great army was therefore obliged to fall back to Berwick without having struck a single effective blow. After this Edward remained inactive at Berwick for eight months, save that he once again crossed the Border and advanced as far as Roxburgh, but only to retreat without having accomplished anything. The Earls of Gloucester and Warrenne reduced the forest of Selkirk and the district, and restored the English power there; while the king's favourite, Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, went by sea to Perth and tried to reduce the surrounding country, but the Scotch, as usual, retired before him, and he, too, after a time, returned to Berwick. The efforts of the defenders to starve out the invading armies of England were greatly aided by the fact that at this time a great famine raged both in England and Scotland, and the people of both countries were reduced to a condition of want and suffering. Not only did the harvest fail, but disease swept away vast numbers of cattle and sheep, and in many places the people were forced to subsist upon the flesh of horses, dogs, and other animals.
During the years which had elapsed since the battle of Methven, Bruce had never been enabled to collect a force in any way worthy of the name of an army. His enterprises had been a succession of daring feats performed by small bodies of men. Even now, when the nobles dared no longer openly oppose him, they remained sullenly aloof, and the captures of the English strongholds were performed either by the king or his brother Edward, with their retainers from Annandale and Carrick; by Douglas with the men of Douglasdale; or by some simple knights like Archie Forbes, the Frazers, Boyle, and a few others, each leading their own retainers in the field. The great mass of the people still held aloof, and neither town nor country sent their contingents to his aid. This was not to be wondered at, so fearfully had all suffered from the wholesale vengeance of Edward after the battle of Falkirk.
Great successes had certainly attended Bruce, but these had been rendered possible only by the absence of any great effort on the part of England, and all believed that sooner or later Edward would arouse himself, and with the whole strength of England, Ireland, and Wales again crush out the movement, and carry fire and sword through Scotland. Still the national spirit was rising.
Archie Forbes divided his time pretty equally between the field and home, never taking with him, when he joined the king, more than a third of the entire strength of his retainers; thus all had time to attend to their farms and the wants of their families, and cheerfully yielded obedience to the call to arms when the time came.
One day while the king was stopping for a few days' rest at Aberfilly, a horseman rode in.
"I have great news, sire," he said. "Linlithgow has been captured from the English."
"That were good news indeed," the king said; "but it can scarce be possible, seeing that we have no men-at-arms in the neighbourhood."
"It has been done by no men-at-arms, my liege," the messenger said; "but as Forfar was taken by Phillip the Forester and his mates, so has Linlithgow been captured by a farmer and his comrades, one William Bunnock."
It was indeed true. The castle of Linlithgow, forming as it did a link between the two strongholds of Edinburgh and Stirling, was a place of great importance and was strongly garrisoned by the English. Naturally the whole country round suffered severely from the oppressions of the garrison, who supplied themselves by force with such provisions and stores as were needful for them. Payment was of course made to some extent, as the country otherwise would speedily have been deserted and the land left untilled; but there was almost necessarily much oppression and high handedness. Bunnock, hearing of the numerous castles which had been captured by the king and his friends with mere handfuls of followers, determined at last upon an attempt to expel the garrison of Linlithgow. He went about among his friends and neighbours, and found many ready to join his enterprise. These one night placed themselves in ambush among some bushes hard by the castle gate. Bunnock himself concealed eight chosen men with arms in a wagon of hay. The horses were driven by a stout peasant with a short hatchet under his belt, while Bunnock walked carelessly beside the wagon. As he was in the habit of supplying the garrison with corn and forage, the gate was readily opened on his approach. As soon as the wagon was exactly between the gate posts Bunnock gave the signal and struck down the warder at the gate; the driver with his hatchet cut the traces, the men leapt up from their concealment in the hay, and the main body lying in ambush close by rushed up, and, taken wholly by surprise, unarmed and unprepared, the garrison was speedily overpowered and the castle taken.
It was in the spring of 1311 that this important capture took place. Bruce, as usual, had the castle levelled to the ground. Bunnock was rewarded by a grant of land which still bears his name, softened into Binney. Again the English made preparations for a renewed invasion, but the barons were too much occupied by their private broils and their quarrels with the king to assemble at his order, and nothing came of it. Bruce's position at home was so established that he resolved upon a counter invasion, and accordingly, having assembled a larger force than had hitherto gathered under his banner, crossed the Border near the Solway, burnt and plundered the district round Gilsland, ravaged Tynedale, and after eight days' havock returned with much booty to Scotland. In the following month he again entered England, carried fire and sword through the country as far as Corbridge, swept Tynedale, ravaged Durham, and after levying contributions for fifteen days returned with much booty to Scotland.
Although the English made much outcry at this invasion, the English author of the Chronicle of Lanercost, whose monastery was occupied by the king during the raid, distinctly states that he slew none save in actual conflict; and again, that though "all the goods of the country were carried away, they did not burn houses or slay men." Thus, though Bruce's wife and daughter were still prisoners in England, though his brothers had been executed in cold blood, he conducted his warfare in England in a manner which contrasts strongly indeed with the conduct of the English in Scotland.
After this Bruce marched north again and laid siege to Perth. For six weeks he invested the town, but without making any impression. Then he retired his forces as if abandoning the attempt. At night, however, he returned, ladders were placed in the ditches against the walls, and with his knights he led his followers on to the assault. The garrison were carousing in honour of their successful defence and the defeat of the enemy, and taken wholly by surprise were unable to oppose a vigorous resistance, and all were killed or captured. Some accounts say that the English soldiers were made prisoners, and the renegade Scots fighting with them were put to the sword; while others affirm that all who were taken prisoners were spared.
Another incursion into England followed the fall of Perth. Hexham, Corbridge, and Durham were destroyed. Douglas penetrated as far as Hartlepool and an immense spoil was carried off, until the people of the bishopric purchased a truce for the sum of 2000 pounds, and those of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmoreland bought off the invaders at a like price.
Carlisle was assaulted by Douglas, but unsuccessfully. He also attempted to surprise Berwick by a night attack, and had placed his scaling ladders against the wall, when the garrison was alarmed by the barking of a dog, and the assailants were repulsed. The Scots recrossed the frontier laden with an enormous booty.
The king himself now entered Galloway and reduced the four remaining strongholds held by the English there—the castles of Butele, Dalswinton, Lochmaben, and Tibbers. He then proceeded to Dumfries, which he forced to surrender, and entered it as the victorious King of Scotland, just seven years after the time when he had commenced the war by expelling the English justiciary.
Archie Forbes did not accompany the king in this campaign. He had indeed been summoned, but just before the army started on its raid into England Bruce was lamenting, in Archie's hearing, that the continued possession of the strong castle of Dunottar on the east coast still afforded the English an opportunity for creating diversions in the north, by landing troops there.
"If you will permit me, sire," Archie said, "I will undertake its capture with my retainers. It is doubtless too strong to be captured by open assault with such a strength, but as Douglas has thrice taken Castle Douglas by stratagem, 'tis hard if I cannot find some way for capturing Dunottar."
"Be it so, Sir Archie," the king said. "If you succeed you will have done good service indeed; and as I know that though ever ready to buckle on your armour when I need you, you would yet rather live quiet at Aberfilly with your fair wife, I promise you that if you capture Dunottar, for a year and a day you and your retainers shall have rest, except if the English cross the Border in such force that the arm of every Scotchman able to wield a sword is needed in its defence."
Having chosen a hundred of his most active and experienced men Archie set out for the north. Crossing the Forth above Stirling, he marched through Perth and across the Carse of Gowrie through Forfar on to Montrose. Here he left his band, and taking with him only William Orr, both being attired in peasants' dress, followed the coast till he reached Dunottar.
The castle, which was of great strength, stood in a little bay with a fishing village nestled beside it. "'Tis a strong place, William, and............
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