Page:Robert the Bruce and the struggle for Scottish independence - 1909.djvu/257

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1314 A.D.]

The Battle of Bannockburn.


The King of Scots rode up and down his lines mounted on a palfrey—

"ane gay palfray
Litill and joly."

He carried a battle-axe in his hand; on his head he wore a basnet covered with cuir bouilli, or "corbuyle"[1] as soldiers called it, surmounted by the royal crown. In the best manner of chivalry Sir Henry de Bohun, the Earl of Hereford's nephew, rode out alone from the English ranks, to challenge a Scottish champion to single combat. He was mounted on a powerful destrier and armed at all points; a shudder must have run through the Scottish battalions when the King himself spurred forward on his hackney to take up the challenge. The encounter was as brief as it was decisive. De Bohun, lance in rest, charged the King, whose pony nimbly avoided the shock. Bruce, rising in his stirrups, smote the English knight on the helmet as he passed, with such violence that the axe clove his head from the crown to the chin. The axe shaft broke, and the force of the blow carried Bruce forward, so that he fell from his saddle flat on the ground.

What tremendous issues depended at that moment on the nerve and skill of a single mortal! The whole future history of Great Britain, involving the existence of dynasties and the welfare of millions, was staked on the fibre of one arm and the coolness of one head. For the effect of such an episode on

  1. Corbuyle, leather greatly thickened and hardened: jacked leather.—Jamieson's Dictionary.