To obtain a clear view of the constitutional struggle between the kings and the baronage, we have deferred to its close an account of the great contest which raged throughout the whole period in the north.
With the Convocation of Perth the conquest and settlement of Scotland seemed complete. Edward I., in fact, was preparing for a joint Parliament of the two nations at Carlisle, when the conquered country' suddenly sprang again to arms under Robert Bruce, the grandson of one of the original claimants of the crown. The Norman house of Bruce formed a part of the Yorkshire baronage, but it had acquired through intermarriages the Earldom of Carrick and the Lordship of Annandale. Both the claimant and his son had been pretty steadily on the English side in the contest with Balliol and Wallace, and Robert had himself been trained in the English court, and stood high in the King's favour. But the withdrawal of Balliol gave a new force to his claims upon the crown, and the discovery of an intrigue which he had set on foot with the Bishop of St. Andrews so roused Edward's jealousy that Bruce fled for his life across the border. In the church of the Grey Friars at Dumfries he met Comyn, the Lord of Badenoch, to whose treachery he attributed the disclosure of his plans, and after the interchange of a few hot words struck him with his dagger to the ground.
[Authorities. - Mainly the contemporary English Chroniclers and state documents for the reigns of the three Edwards. John Barbour's " Brace," the great legendary storehouse for his hero's adventures, is historically worth-leas. Mr. Burton's is throughout the best modern account of the time].
It was an outrage that admitted of no forgiveness, and Bruce for very safety was forced to assume the crown six weeks after in the Abbey of Scone. The news roused Scotland again to arms, and summoned Edward to a fresh contest with his unconquerable foe. But the murder of Comyn had changed the King's mood to a terrible pitilessness; he threatened death against all concerned in the outrage, and exposed the Countess of Buchan, who had set the crown on Bruce's head, in a cage or open chamber built for the purpose in one of the towers of Berwick. At the solemn feast which celebrated his son's knighthood Edward vowed on the swan, which formed the chief dish at the banquet, to devote the rest of his days to exact vengeance from the murderer himself. But even at the moment of the vow, Bruce was already flying for his life to the western islands. "Henceforth," he had said to his wife at their coronation, " thou art queen of Scotland and I king." "I fear," replied Mary Bruce, "we are only playing at royalty, like children in their games." The play was soon turned into bitter earnest. A small English force under Aymer de Valence sufficed to rout the disorderly levies which gathered round the new monarch, and the flight of Bruce left his followers at Edward's mercy.
Noble after noble was hurried to the block. The Earl of Athole pleaded kindred with royalty; " His only privilege," burst forth the King, "shall be that of being hanged on a higher gallows than the rest." Knights and priests were strung up side by side by the English justiciars; while the wife and daughter of Robert Bruce were flung into prison. Bruce himself had offered to capitulate to Prince Edward, but the offer only roused the old King to fury. "Who is so bold," he cried, "as to treat with our traitors without our knowledge?" and rising from his sick-bed he led his army northwards to complete the conquest. But the hand of death was upon him, and in the very sight of Scotland the old man breathed his last at Burgh-upon-Sands.
The death of Edward arrested only for a moment the advance of his army to the north. The Earl of Pembroke led it across the border, and found himself master of the country without a blow. Bruce's career became that of a desperate adventurer, for even the Highland chiefs in whose fastnesses he found shelter were bitterly hostile to one who claimed to be King of their foes in the Lowlands. It was this adversity that transformed the murderer of Comyn into the noble leader of a nation's cause. Strong and of commanding presence, brave and genial in temper, Bruce bore the hardships of his career with a courage and hopefulness which never failed. In the legends which clustered round his name we see him listening in Highland glens to the bay of the bloodhounds on his track, or holding single-handed a pass against a crowd of savage clansmen. Sometimes the little band which clung to him were forced to support themselves by hunting or fishing, sometimes to break up for safety as their enemies tracked them to the lair. Bruce himself had more than once to fling off his shirt of mail and scramble barefoot for very life up the crags. Little by little, however, the dark sky cleared. The English pressure relaxed, as the struggle between Edward and his barons grew fiercer.
James Douglas, the darling of Scotch story, was the first of the Lowland barons to rally again to the Bruce, and his daring gave heart to the King's cause. Once he surprised his own house, which had been given to an Englishman, ate the dinner which had been prepared for its new owner, slew his captives, and tossed their bodies on to a pile of wood gathered at the castle gate. Then he staved in the wine-vats that the wine might mingle with their blood, and set house and woodpile on fire. A terrible ferocity mingled with heroism in the work of freedom, but the revival of the country went steadily on. Bruce's " harrying of Buchan " after the defeat of its Earl, who had joined the English army, at last fairly turned the tide of success. Edinburgh, Roxburgh, Perth, and most of the Scotch fortresses fell one by one into King Robert's hands. The clergy met in council and owned him as their lawful lord. Gradually the Scotch barons who still held to the English cause were coerced into submission, and Bruce found himself strong enough to invest Stirling, the last and the most Important of the Scotch fortresses which held out for Edward.