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Chapter 10 Sir Robert Gary’s Ride to Edinburgh

THE history of these islands is strewn with tales of swift and fateful rides, but as a rule the distances were short. In old days it was nobody’s business to get in a hurry from Land’s End to John o 5 Groats, and long journeys, even the marches of the Edwards into Scotland, were leisurely affairs. But though roads were infamous, horses were as good then as now, and if a man were called upon for an extended journey against time he could make a record on horseback that was scarcely surpassed till the days of steam. Queen Mary, after the Battle of Langside, rode the 92 miles through the western moorlands to the shores of the Solway without, as she said, drawing rein, though I presume there were changes of mount. That, indeed, is the essence of the business, for no horse ever foaled can keep its pace beyond a certain limit. The present writer once, in his youth, rode 75 miles in the Northern Transvaal at a stretch on one horse; but, after the Boer fashion, he off-saddled every two hours for twenty minutes a thing impossible in a really hustled journey.

This story tells of the ride of Sir Robert Gary from London to Edinburgh with the news of the death of Elizabeth. The distance by any road was little less than 400 miles, but he probably took short cuts after he crossed the Border. He did the course in something under sixty hours a most remarkable achievement. When William HI. died at 8 a.m. on March 8, 1702, the news, though sent off at once, did not reach Edinburgh till 10 p.m. on llth March 85 hours. Gary’s record was not indeed approached till the days of post-chaises and flying mails. In 1832 the Reform Bill passed the Lords at 6.35 a.m. on Saturday, 14th April, Sixty-five minutes later Mr. Young of The Sun newspaper left the Strand in a post-chaise and four, with copies of the paper containing a report of the debate and the division, and on Sunday, at 7.30 p.m., he arrived at the house of his agent in Glasgow. The distance was 403 miles, and it was covered in 35 hours 50 minutes.”

‘Five years later, when the completion of Telford’s new Carlisle–Glasgow road had reduced the distance to 397 miles, the mail which “brought to Glasgow news of the death of William IV. left the General Post Office at 8 p.m. on 20th June and reached Glasgow at 2 p.m. on 22nd June & total of 42 hours. But till 1832 Gary’s record would seem to have held the field. Now for the story. Sir Robert Gary, who afterwards became Earl of Monmouth, was the youngest of the ten sons of Henry Lord Hunsdon, who was a cousin of Queen Elizabeth. He had a varied and adventurous youth. As a very young man he visited Scotland with Walsingham, and thus formed his first acquaintance with King James. The Scottish king would have taken him into his service; but there were difficulties with Elizabeth, and young Gary consequently went to the Low Countries with the Earl of Essex. When Mary of Scots was beheaded he was chosen to carry Elizabeth’s explanations to James in Scotland, and the following year he was again at Dumfries with the Scottish king, who was busy suppressing refractory Maxwells. In 1589, being very hard up, he wagered 2,000 with another courtier that he would walk the 300 miles to Berwick in twelve days. He won his bet, and thereafter, he tells us, was enabled to live for some time at Court like a gentleman. He must have been no mean pedestrian, and that in an age when the gentry rode too habitually to walk well.

After that he crossed the Channel again with Essex, ancTcommanded a regiment with some distinction, so that he was knighted on the field by his general. When the French war was ended he found himself without employment and considerably in debt. He was lucky enough, however, to be appointed successor to old Lord Scroop, the Warden of the West Marches. The Scottish border was at that time divided into three Wardenships the East Marches, from the sea to the Great Cheviot; the Middle Marches, from Cheviot to the Liddel; and the West Marches, extending to the Solway shore.

He was now in his early thirties, and for some years he led a stirring life, keeping order among the Armstrongs, Elliots, and Grahams in the “ Debateable Land.” Sir Robert was not the most elevated of characters; he was a true courtier, steering the frail barque of his fortunes with caution and skill in the difficult waters of the queen’s favour. Once he was sent on a very confidential mission to James at Edinburgh, and seeing that the King of Scots must sooner or later come to the English throne, he laboured to stand well with him. Presently he became Deputy-Warden for his father in the East Marches, and was given the Captainship of Norham Castle on Tweed. There he had perpetual troubles with Sir Robert Ker of Cessford, the ancestor of the Dukes of Roxburghe, and on the whole got the better of that stalwart Borderer. There seems to have been little ill-will in the Marches in those days. Both sides laboured to outwit the other, but they bore no grudge for failure, and one month would be harrying each other’s lands and the nest hobnobbing at huntings and festivals. By and by Sir Robert Ker became his hostage and guest, and the two grew fast friends.

When Lord Hunsdon died Sir Robert was made Warden in his father’s place, and with the help of the Fosters, Ridleys, Musgraves, Fenwicks, and Widdringtons, exercised a strong, if cautious, rule throughout the bounds of Cheviot. He led an expedition against the Armstrongs, who sheltered themselves in the Bog of Tarras, and by a swift march got in on their rear and made a large haul of prisoners. Sir Walter Scott., in his early journeyings in Liddesdale, found that the people there had still a tradition of what they called “Mc Gary’s raid.” It was the most creditable period of his life, and he seems to have enjoyed it, for there was that in the man which delighted in alarums and excursions.

But once a courtier always a courtier. Throughout these stirring years Gary was perpetually haunted by anxiety as to how he stood in the Queen’s favour, and when he could spare the time would go South to show himself at Court. At the end of the year 1602 he was in London and found Elizabeth very ill. “She took me by the hand and wrung it hard, and said, ‘Young Robin, I am not well,’ and then discoursed with me of her indisposition and that her heart had been sad and heavy for ten or twelve days; and rp. her discourse she fetched not so few as forty or fifty great sighs. I was grieved at first to see her in this plight, for of all my life before I never knew her fetch a sigh but when the Queen of Scots was beheaded.”

The great Queen was now seventy years of age. All spring and summer she had been very well and ha............

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