G. A. Henty
Both Sides the Border: A Tale of Hotspur and Glendower
The four opening years of the fifteenth century were among the most stirring in the history of England. Owen Glendower carried fire and slaughter among the Welsh marches, captured most of the strong places held by the English, and foiled three invasions, led by the king himself. The northern borders were invaded by Douglas; who, after devastating a large portion of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Durham, was defeated and taken prisoner at the battle of Homildon, by the Earl of Northumberland, and his son Hotspur. Then followed the strange and unnatural coalition between the Percys, Douglas of Scotland, Glendower of Wales, and Sir Edmund Mortimer–a coalition that would assuredly have overthrown the king, erected the young Earl of March as a puppet monarch under the tutelage of the Percys, and secured the independence of Wales, had the royal forces arrived one day later at Shrewsbury, and so allowed the confederate armies to unite.
King Henry's victory there, entailing the death of Hotspur and the capture of Douglas, put an end to this formidable insurrection; for, although the Earl of Northumberland twice subsequently raised the banner of revolt, these risings were easily crushed; while Glendower's power waned, and order, never again to be broken, was at length restored in Wales. The continual state of unrest and chronic warfare, between the inhabitants of both sides of the border, was full of adventures as stirring and romantic as that in which the hero of the story took part.
G. A. Henty.
Chapter 1: A Border Hold
A lad was standing on the little lookout turret, on the top of a border fortalice. The place was evidently built solely with an eye to defence, comfort being an altogether secondary consideration. It was a square building, of rough stone, the walls broken only by narrow loopholes; and the door, which was ten feet above the ground, was reached by broad wooden steps, which could be hauled up in case of necessity; and were, in fact, raised every night.
The building was some forty feet square. The upper floor was divided into several chambers, which were the sleeping places of its lord and master, his family, and the women of the household. The floor below, onto which the door from without opened, was undivided save by two rows of stone pillars that supported the beams of the floor above. In one corner the floor, some fifteen feet square, was raised somewhat above the general level. This was set aside for the use of the master and the family. The rest of the apartment was used as the living and sleeping room of the followers, and hinds, of the fortalice.
The basement–which, although on a level with the ground outside, could be approached only by a trapdoor and ladder from the room above–was the storeroom, and contained sacks of barley and oatmeal, sides of bacon, firewood, sacks of beans, and trusses of hay for the use of the horses and cattle, should the place have to stand a short siege. In the centre was a well.
The roof of the house was flat, and paved with square blocks of stone; a parapet three feet high surrounded it. In the centre was the lookout tower, rising twelve feet above it; and over the door another turret, projecting some eighteen inches beyond the wall of the house, slits being cut in the stone floor through which missiles could be dropped, or boiling lead poured, upon any trying to assault the entrance. Outside was a courtyard, extending round the house. It was some ten yards across, and surrounded by a wall twelve feet high, with a square turret at each corner.
Everything was roughly constructed, although massive and solid. With the exception of the door, and the steps leading to it, no wood had been used in the construction. The very beams were of rough stone, the floors were of the same material. It was clearly the object of the builders to erect a fortress that could defy fire, and could only be destroyed at the cost of enormous labour.
This was indeed a prime necessity, for the hold stood in the wild country between the upper waters of the Coquet and the Reed river. Harbottle and Longpikes rose but a few miles away, and the whole country was broken up by deep ravines and valleys, fells and crags. From the edge of the moorland, a hundred yards from the outer wall, the ground dropped sharply down into the valley, where the two villages of Yardhope lay on a little burn running into the Coquet.
In other directions the moor extended for a distance of nearly a mile. On this two or three score of cattle, and a dozen shaggy little horses, were engaged in an effort to keep life together, upon the rough herbage that grew among the heather and blocks of stones, scattered everywhere.
Presently the lad caught sight of the flash of the sun, which had but just risen behind him, on a spearhead at the western edge of the moor. He ran down at once, from his post, to the principal room.
"They are coming, Mother," he exclaimed. "I have just seen the sun glint on a spearhead."
"I trust that they are all there," she said, and then turned to two women by the fire, and bade them put on more wood and get the pots boiling.
"Go up again, Oswald; and, as soon as you can make out your father's figure, bring me down news. I have not closed an eye for the last two nights, for 'tis a more dangerous enterprise than usual on which they have gone."
"Father always comes home all right, Mother," the boy said confidently, "and they have a strong band this time. They were to have been joined by Thomas Gray and his following, and Forster of Currick, and John Liddel, and Percy Hope of Bilderton. They must have full sixty spears. The Bairds are like to pay heavily for their last raid hither."
Dame Forster did not reply, and Oswald ran up again to the lookout. By this time the party for whom he was watching had reached the moor. It consisted of twelve or fourteen horsemen, all clad in dark armour, carrying very long spears and mounted on small, but wiry, horses. They were driving before them a knot of some forty or fifty cattle, and three of them led horses carrying heavy burdens. Oswald's quick eye noticed that four of the horsemen were not carrying their spears.
"They are three short of their number," he said to himself, "and those four must all be sorely wounded. Well, it might have been worse."
Oswald had been brought up to regard forays and attacks as ordinary incidents of life. Watch and ward were always kept in the little fortalice, especially when the nights were dark and misty, for there was never any saying when a party of Scottish borderers might make an attack; for the truces, so often concluded between the border wardens, had but slight effect on the prickers, as the small chieftains on both sides were called, who maintained a constant state of warfare against each other.
The Scotch forays were more frequent than those from the English side of the border; not because the people were more warlike, but because they were poorer, and depended more entirely upon plunder for their subsistence. There was but little difference of race between the peoples on the opposite side of the border. Both were largely of mixed Danish and Anglo-Saxon blood; for, when William the Conqueror carried fire and sword through Northumbria, great numbers of the inhabitants moved north, and settled in the district beyond the reach of the Norman arms.
On the English side of the border the population were, in time, leavened by Norman blood; as the estates were granted by William to his barons. These often married the heiresses of the dispossessed families, while their followers found wives among the native population.
The frequent wars with the Scots, in which every man capable of bearing arms in the Northern Counties had to take part; and the incessant border warfare, maintained a most martial spirit among the population, who considered retaliation for injuries received to be a natural and lawful act. This was, to some extent, heightened by the fact that the terms of many of the truces specifically permitted those who had suffered losses on either side to pursue their plunderers across the border. These raids were not accompanied by bloodshed, except when resistance was made; for between the people, descended as they were from a common stock, there was no active animosity, and at ordinary times there was free and friendly intercourse between them.
There were, however, many exceptions to the rule that unresisting persons were not injured. Between many families on opposite sides of the border there existed blood feuds, arising from the fact that members of one or the other had been killed in forays; and in these cases bitter and bloody reprisals were made, on either side. The very border line was ill defined, and people on one side frequently settled on the other, as is shown by the fact that several of the treaties contained provisions that those who had so moved might change their nationality, and be accounted as Scotch or Englishmen, as the case might be.
Between the Forsters and the Bairds such a feud had existed for three generations. It had begun in a raid by the latter. The Forster of that time had repulsed the attack, and had with his own hand killed one of the Bairds. Six months later he was surprised and killed on his own hearthstone, at a time when his son and most of his retainers were away on a raid. From that time the animosity between the two families had been unceasing, and several lives had been lost on both sides. The Bairds with a large party had, three months before, carried fire and sword through the district bordering on the main road, as far as Elsdon on the east, and Alwinton on the north. News of their coming had, however, preceded them. The villagers of Yardhope had just time to take refuge at Forster's hold, and had repulsed the determined attacks made upon it; until Sir Robert Umfraville brought a strong party to their assistance, and drove the Bairds back towards the frontier.
The present raid, from which the party was returning, had been organized partly to recoup those who took part in it for the loss of their cattle on that occasion, and partly to take vengeance upon the Bairds. As was the custom on both sides of the border, these expeditions were generally composed of members of half a dozen families, with their followers; the one who was, at once, most energetic and best acquainted with the intricacies of the country, and the paths across fells and moors, being chosen as leader.
Presently, Oswald Forster saw one of the party wave his hand; and at his order four or five of the horsemen rode out, and began to drive the scattered cattle and horses towards the house. Oswald at once ran down.
"Father is all right, Mother. He has just given orders to the men, and they are driving all the animals in, so I suppose that the Bairds must be in pursuit. I had better tell the men to get on their armour."
Without waiting for an answer, he told six men, who were eating their breakfast at the farther end of the room, to make an end of their meal, and get on their steel caps and breast and back pieces, and take their places in the turret over the gate into the yard. In a few minutes the animals began to pour in, first those of the homestead, then the captured herd, weary and exhausted with their long and hurried journey; then came the master, with his followers.
Mary Forster and her son stood at the top of the steps, ready to greet him. The gate into the yard was on the opposite side to that of the doorway of the fortalice, in order that assailants who had carried it should have to pass round under the fire of the archers in the turrets, before they could attack the building itself.
She gave a little cry as her husband came up. His left arm was in a sling, his helmet was cleft through, and a bandage showed beneath it.
"Do not be afraid, wife," he said cheerily. "We have had hotter work than we expected; but, so far as I am concerned, there is no great harm done. I am sorry to say that we have lost Long Hal, and Rob Finch, and Smedley. Two or three others are sorely wounded, and I fancy few have got off altogether scatheless.
"All went well, until we stopped to wait for daybreak, three miles from Allan Baird's place. Some shepherd must have got sight of us as we halted, for we found him and his men up and ready. They had not had time, however, to drive in the cattle; and seeing that we should like enough have the Bairds swarming down upon us, before we could take Allan's place, we contented ourselves with gathering the cattle and driving them off. There were about two hundred of them.
"We went fast, but in two hours we saw the Bairds coming in pursuit; and as it was clear that they would overtake us, hampered as we were with the cattle, we stood and made defence. There was not much difference in numbers, for the Bairds had not had time to gather in all their strength. The fight was a stiff one. On our side Percy Hope was killed, and John Liddel so sorely wounded that there is no hope of his life. We had sixteen men killed outright, and few of us but are more or less scarred. On their side Allan Baird was killed; and John was smitten down, but how sorely wounded I cannot say for certain, for they put him on a horse, and took him away at once. They left twenty behind them on the ground dead; and the rest, finding that we were better men than they, rode off again.
"William Baird himself had not come up. His hold was too far for the news to have reached him, as we knew well enough; but doubtless he came up, with his following, a few hours after we had beaten his kinsmen. But we have ridden too fast for him to overtake us. We struck off north as soon as we crossed the border, travelled all night by paths by which they will find it difficult to follow or track us, especially as we broke up into four parties, and each chose their own way.
"I have driven all our cattle in, in case they should make straight here, after losing our track. Of course, there were many who fought against us who know us all well; but even were it other than the Bairds we had despoiled, they would hardly follow us so far across the border to fetch their cattle.
"As for the Bairds, the most notorious of the Scottish raiders, for them to claim the right of following would be beyond all bearing. Why, I don't believe there was a head of cattle among the whole herd that had not been born, and bred, on this side of the border. It is we who have been fetching back stolen goods."
By this time, he and his men had entered the house, and those who had gone through the fray scatheless were, assisted by the women, removing the armour from their wounded comrades. Those who had been forced to relinquish their spears were first attended to.
There was no thought of sending for a leech. Every man and woman within fifty miles of the border was accustomed to the treatment of wounds, and in every hold was a store of bandages, styptics, and unguents ready for instant use. Most of the men were very sorely wounded; and had they been of less hardy frame, and less inured to hardships, could not have supported the long ride. John Forster, before taking off his own armour, saw that their wounds were first attended to by his wife and her women.
"I think they will all do," he said, "and that they will live to strike another blow at the Bairds, yet.
"Now, Oswald, unbuckle my harness. Your mother will bandage up my arm and head, and Elspeth shall bring up a full tankard from below, for each of us. A draught of beer will do as much good as all the salves and medicaments.
"Do you take the first drink, Jock Samlen, and then go up to the watchtower. I see the men have been posted in the wall turrets. One of them shall relieve you, shortly."
As soon as the wounds were dressed, bowls of porridge were served round; then one of the men who had remained at home was posted at the lookout; and, after the cattle had been seen to, all who had been on the road stretched themselves on some rushes at one end of the room, and were, in a few minutes, sound asleep.
"I wonder whether we shall ever have peace in the land, Oswald," his mother said with a sigh; as, having seen that the women had all in readiness for the preparation of the midday meal, she sat down on a low stool, by his side.
"I don't see how we ever can have, Mother, until either we conquer Scotland, or the Scotch shall be our masters. It is not our fault. They are ever raiding and plundering, and heed not the orders of Douglas, or the other Lords of the Marches."
"We are almost as bad as they are, Oswald."