The Lady of the Lake/Notes to Canto 5

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4497381The Lady of the Lake — Notes to Canto FifthWalter Scott


Note I.

Nor then claim'd sovereignty his due,
While Albany, with feeble hand,
Held borrow'd truncheon of command.—St. VI. p. 198.

There is scarcely a more disorderly period in Scottish history than that which succeeded the battle of Flodden, and occupied the minority of James V. Feuds of ancient standing broke out like old wounds, and every quarrel among the independent nobility, which occurred daily, and almost hourly, gave rise to fresh bloodshed. "There arose," says Pitscottie, "great trouble and deadly feuds in many parts of Scotland, both in the north and west parts. The Master of Forbes, in the north, slew the Laird of Meldrum under tryst, (i.e. at an agreed and secured meeting:) Likewise, the Laird of Drummclzier slew the Lord Fleming at the hawking; and, likewise, there was slaughter among many other great lords," p. 121. Nor was the matter much mended under government of the Earl of Angus; for though he caused the king to ride through all Scotland, "under pretence and colour of justice, to punish thief and traitor, none were found greater than were in their own company. And none at that time durst strive with a Douglas, nor yet with a Douglas's man, for if they did, they got the worse. Therefore, none durst plainzie of no extortion, theft, reiff, nor slaughter done to them by the Douglasses, or their men; in that cause they were not heard, so long as the Douglasses had the court in guiding."—Ibid. p. 133.

Note II.

The Gael, of plain and river heir,
Shall, with strong hand, redeem his share.—St. VII. p. 200.

The ancient Highlanders verified in their practice the lines of Gray:—

An iron race the mountain cliffs maintain,
Foes to the gentler genius of the plain;
For where unwearied sinews must be found,
With side-long plough to quell the flinty ground;
To turn the torrent's swift-descending flood;
To tame the savage, rushing from the wood;
What wonder if, to patient valour train'd,
They guard with spirit what by strength they gain'd;
And while their rocky ramparts round they see
The rough abode of want and liberty,
(As lawless force from confidence will grow,)
Insult the plenty of the vales below?
Fragment on the Alliance of Education and Government.

So far, indeed, was a Creagh, or foray, from being held disgraceful, that a young chief was always expected to shew his talents for command so soon as he assumed it, by leading his clan on a successful enterprise of this nature, either against a neighbouring sept, for which constant feuds usually furnished an apology, or against the Sassenach, Saxons, or Lowlanders, for which no apology was necessary. The Gael, great traditional historians, never forgot that the Lowlands had, at some remote period, been the property of their Celtic forefathers, which furnished an ample vindication of all the ravages that they could make on the unfortunate districts which lay within their reach. Sir James Grant of Grant is in possession of a letter of apology from Cameron of Lochiel, whose men had committed some depredation upon a farm called Moines, occupied by one of the Grants. Lochiel assures Grant, that, however the mistake had happened, his instructions were precise, that the party should foray the province of Moray, (a Lowland district,) where, as he coolly observes, "all men take their prey."

Note III.

————————I only meant
To shew the reed on which you leant,
Deeming this path you might pursue
Without a pass from Roderick Dhu.—St. XI. p. 206.

This incident, like some other passages in the poem, illustrative of the character of the ancient Gael, is not imaginary, but borrowed from fact. The Highlanders, with the inconsistency of most nations in the same state, were alternately capable of great exertions of generosity, and of cruel revenge and perfidy. The following story I can only quote from tradition, but with such an assurance from those by whom it was communicated, as permits me little doubt of its authenticity. Early in the last century, John Gunn, a noted Catheran, or Highland robber, infested Inverness-shire, and levied black mail up to the walls of the provincial capital. A garrison was then maintained in the castle of that town, and their pay (country banks being unknown) was usually transmitted in specie, under the guard of a small escort. It chanced that the officer who commanded this little party was unexpectedly obliged to halt, about thirty miles from Inverness, at a miserable inn. About night-fall, a stranger, in the Highland dress, and of very prepossessing appearance, entered the same house. Separate accommodation being impossible, the Englishman offered the newly-arrived guest a part of his supper, which was accepted with reluctance. By the conversation, he found his new acquaintance knew well all the passes of the country, which induced him eagerly to request his company on the ensuing morning. He neither disguised his business and charge, nor his apprehensions of that celebrated freebooter, John Gunn. The Highlander hesitated a moment, and then frankly consented to be his guide. Forth they set in the morning; and in travelling through a solitary and dreary glen, the discourse again turned on John Gunn. "Would you like to see him?" said the guide; and, without waiting an answer to this alarming question, he whistled, and the English officer, with his small party, were surrounded by a body of Highlanders, whose numbers put resistance out of question, and who were all well armed. "Stranger," resumed the guide, "I am that very John Gunn by whom you feared to be intercepted, and not without cause; for I came to the inn last night with the express purpose of learning your route, that I and my followers might ease you of your charge by the road. But I am incapable of betraying the trust you reposed in me, and having convinced you that you were in my power, I can only dismiss you unplundered and uninjured." He then gave the officer directions for his journey, and disappeared with his party, as suddenly as they had presented themselves.

Note IV.

——On Bochastle the mouldering lines,
Where Rome, the empress of the world,
Of yore her eagle wings unfurled.—St. XII. p. 207.

The torrent which discharges itself from Lord Vennachar, the lowest and eastmost of the three lakes which form the scenery adjoining to the Trosachs, sweeps through a flat and extensive moor, called Bochastle. Upon a small eminence, called the Dun of Bochastle, and indeed on the plain itself, are some entrenchments which have been thought Roman. There is adjacent to Callender, a sweet villa, the residence of Captain Fairfoul, entitled the Roman Camp.

Note V.

See here, all vantageless I stand,
Armed, like thyself, with single brand.—St. XII. p. 208.

The duellists of former times did not always stand upon those punctilios respecting equality of arms, which are now judged essential to fair combat. It is true, that in formal combats in the lists, the parties were, by the judges of the field, put as nearly as possible in the same circumstances. But in private duel it was often otherwise. In that desperate combat which was fought between Quelus, a minion of Henry III. of France, and Antraguet, with two seconds on each side, from which only two persons escaped alive, Quelus complained that his antagonist had over him the advantage of a poniard which he used in parrying, while bis left hand, which he was forced to employ for the same purpose, was cruelly mangled. When he charged Antraguct with this odds, "Thou hast done wrong," answered he, "to forget thy dagger at home. We are here to fight, and not to settle punctilios of arms." In a similar duel, however, a younger brother of the house of Aubayne, in Angoulesme, behaved more generously on the like occasion, and at once threw away his dagger when his enemy challenged it as an undue advantage. But at this time hardly any thing can be conceived more horridly brutal and savage, than the mode in which private quarrels were conducted in France. Those who were most jealous of the point of honour, and acquired the title of Raffinés, did not scruple to take every advantage of strength, numbers, surprise, and arms, to accomplish their revenge. The Sieur de Brantome, to whose discourse on duels I am obliged for these particulars, gives the following account of the death and principles of his friend, the Baron de Vitaux:—

"J'ay oui conter à un Tireur d'armes, qui apprit à Millaud a en tirer, lequel s'appelloit le Seigneur Jacques Ferron, de la ville d'Ast, qui avoit esté à moy, il fut despuis tué à Saincte-Basille en Gascogne, lors que Monsieur du Mayne l'assiégea, lui servant d'Ingénieur; et de malheur, je l'avois addressé audit Baron quelques trois mois auparavant, pour l'exercer à tirer, bien qu'il en'sçeust prou; mais il n'en fit conte: et le laissant, Millaud s'en servit, et le rendit fort adroit. Ce Seigneur Jacques donc me raconta, qu'il s'estoit monté sur un noyer, assez loing, pour en voir le combat, et qu'il ne vist jamais hoinme y aller plus bravement, ny plus résolument, ny de grace plus asscurée ny déterminée. Il commença de marcher de cinquante pas vers son ennemy, relevant souvent ses moustaches en haut d'une main; et estant à vingt pas de son ennemy, (non plustost) il mit la main à l'espée qu'il tenoit en la main, non qu'il l'eust tirée encore; mais en marchant, il fit voller le fourreau en l'air, en le secouans, ce qui est le beau de cela, et qui monstroit bien une grace de combat bien assicurée et froide, et nullement téméraire, comme il y en a qui tirent leurs espées de cinq cents pas de l'ennemy, voire de mille, comme j'en ay veu aucuns. Ainsi mourut ce brave Baron, le parangon de France, qu'on nommoit tel, à bien venge: ses querelles, par grandes et déterminées résolutions. Il n'estoit pas seulement estimé en France, mais en Italie, Espaigne, Allemaigne, en Boulogne et Angleterre: et desiroient fort les Estrangers, venant en France, le voir; car je l'ay veu, tant sa renommée volloit. Il estoit fort petit de corps, mais fort grand de courage. Ses ennemis disoient qu'il ne tuoit pas bien ses gens, que par advantages et supercheries. Certes, je tiens de grands capitaines, et mesme d'Italiens, qui sont estez d'autres fois les premiers vengeurs du monde, in ogni modo, disoient-ils, qui ont tenu cette maxime, qu'une supercherie ne se devoit payer que par semblable monnoye, et n'y alloit point la de déshonneur."—Oeuvres de Brantome. Paris, 1787-8. Tome VIII. p. 90-92. It may be necessary to inform the reader, that this paragon of France was the most foul assassin of his time, and had committed many desperate murders, chiefly by the assistance of his hired banditti; from which it may be conceived how little the point of honour of the period deserved its name. I have chosen to give my heroes, who are indeed of an earlier period, a stronger tincture of the spirit of chivalry.

Note VI.

Ill fared it then with Roderick Dhu,
That on the field his targe he threw.—St. XV. p. 211.

A round target of light wood, covered with strong leather, and studded with brass or iron, was a necessary part of a Highlander's equipment. In charging regular troops they'received the thrust of the bayonet in this buckler, twisted it aside, and used the broad-sword against the encumbered soldier. In the civil war of 1745, most of the front-rank of the clans were thus armed; and Captain Grose informs us, that, in 1747, the privates of the 42d regiment, then in Flanders, were for the most part permitted to carry targets.—Military Antiquities, vol. I. p. 164. A person thus armed had a considerable advantage in private fray. Among verses between Swift and Sheridan, lately published by Dr Barrett, there is an account of such an encounter, in which the circumstances, and consequently the relative superiority of the combatants, are precisely the reverse of those in the text:

A Highlander once fought a Frenchman at Margate,
The weapons, a rapier, a back-sword, and target;
Brisk mousieur advanced as fast as he could,
But all his fine pushes were caught in the wood,
And Sawny, with back-sword, did slash him and nick him,
While t'other, enraged that he could not once prick him,
Cried, "Sirrah, you rascal, you son of a whore,
Me will fight you, be gar! if you'll come from your door."

Note VII.

For, train'd abroad his arms to wield,
Fitz-James's blade was sword and shield.—St. XV. p. 212.

The use of defensive armour, and particularly of the buckler or target, was general in Queen Elizabeth's time, although that of the single rapier seems to have been occasionally practised much earlier.[1] Rowland Yorke, however, who betrayed the fort of Zutphen to the Spaniards, for which good service he was afterwards poisoned by them, is said to have been the first who brought the rapier-fight into general use. Fuller, speaking of the Swash-bucklers, or bullies of Queen Elizabeth's time, says, "West Smithfield was formerly called Ruffians' Hall, where such men usually met, casually or otherwise, to try masteries with sword and buckler. More were frightened than hurt, more hurt than killed therewith, it being accounted unmanly to strike beneath the knee. But since that desperate traitor Rowland Yorke first introduced thrusting with rapiers, sword and buckler are disused." In The Two Angry Women of Abingdon, a comedy, printed in 1599, we have a pathetic complaint:—"Sword and buckler fight begins to grow out of use. I am sorry for it: I shall never see good manhood again. If it be once gone, this poking fight of rapier and dagger will come up; then a tall man, and a good sword and buckler man, will be spitted like a cat or rabbit." But the rapier had upon the continent long superseded, in private duel, the use of sword and shield. The masters of the noble science of defence were chiefly Italians. They made great mystery of their art and mode of instruction, never suffered any person to be present but the scholar who was to be taught, and even examined closets, beds, and other places of possible concealment. Their lessons often gave the most treacherous advantages; for the challenger, having the right to chuse his weapons, frequently selected some strange, unusual, and inconvenient kind of arms, the use of which he practised under these instructors, and thus killed at his ease his antagonist, to whom it was presented for the first time on the field of battle. See Brantome's Discourse on Duels, and the work on the same subject, "si gentement ecrit," by the venerable Dr Paris de Puteo. The Highlanders continued to use broadsword and target until disarmed after the affair of 1745-6.

Note VIII.

Like mountain-cat, that guards her young,
Full at Fitz-James's throat he sprung.—St. XVI. p. 213.

I have not ventured to render this duel so savagely desperate as that of the celebrated Sir Ewan of Lochiel, chief of the clan Cameron, called, from his sable complexion, Ewan Dim. He was the last man in Scotland who maintained the royal cause during the great civil war, and his constant incursions rendered him a very unpleasant neighbour to the republican garrison at Inverlochy, now Fort William, The governor of the fort detached a party of three hundred men to lay waste Lochiel's possessions, and cut down his trees; but, in a sudden and desperate attack, made upon them by the chieftain, with very inferior numbers, they were almost all cut to pieces. The skirmish is detailed in a curious memoir of Sir Ewan's life, printed in the Appendix of Pennant's Scottish Tour.

"In this engagement, Lochiel himself had several wonderful escapes. In the retreat of the English, one of the strongest and bravest of the officers retired behind a bush, when he observed Lochiel pursuing, and seeing him unaccompanied with any, he leaped out, and thought him his prey. They met one another with equal fury. The combat was long and doubtful: the English gentleman had by far the advantage in strength and size; but Lochiel exceeding him in nimbleness and agility, in the end tript the sword out of his hand: they closed, and wrestled, till both fell to the ground, in each other's arms. The English officer got above Lochiel, and pressed him hard, but stretching forth his neck, by attempting to disengage himself, Lochiel, who by this time had his hands at liberty, with his left hand seized him by the collar, and jumping at his extended throat, he bit it with his teeth quite through, and kept such a hold of his grasp, that he brought away his mouthful: this, he said, was the sweetest bite he ever had in his lifetime."—Vol. I. p. 375.

Note IX.

Ye towers! within whose circuit dread,
A Douglas by his sovereign bled;
And thou, O sad and fatal mound!
That oft hast heard the death-axe sound!—St. XX. p. 220.

Stirling was often polluted with noble blood. It is thus apostrophized by J. Jonston:

————————Discordia tristis
Heu quoties procerum sanguine tinxit humum!
Hoc uno infelix, at felix cetera, nusquam
Lætior aut cœli frons geniusve soli.

The fate of William, eighth Earl of Douglas, whom James II. stabbed in Stirling Castle with his own hand, and while under his royal safe-conduct, is familiar to all who read Scottish history. Murdack, Duke of Albany, Duncan, Earl of Lennox, his father-in-law, and his two sons, Walter and Alexander Stewart, were executed at Stirling, in 1425. They were beheaded upon an eminence without the castle walls, but making part of the same hill, from whence they could behold their strong castle of Doune, and their extensive possessions. This "heading-hill," as it was sometimes termed, bears commonly the less terrible name of Hurly-hacket, from its having been the scene of a courtly amusement alluded to by Sir David Lindsay, who says of the pastimes in which the young king was engaged,

"Some harled him to the Hurly-hacket;"

which consisted in sliding, in some sort of chair it may be supposed, from top to bottom of a smooth bank. The boys of Edinburgh, about twenty years ago, used to play at the hurly-hacket on the Calton-hill, using for their seat a horse's scull.

Note X.

The burghers hold their sports to-day.—St. XX. p. 221.

Every burgh of Scotland, of the least note, but more especially the considerable towns, had their solemn play, or festival, when feats of archery were exhibited, and prizes distributed to those who excelled in wrestling, hurling the bar, and the other gymnastic exercises of the period. Stirling, a usual place of royal residence, was not likely to be deficient in pomp upon such occasions, especially since James V. was very partial to them. His ready participation in these popular amusements was one cause of his acquiring the title of King of the Commons, or Rex Plebeiorum, as Lesly has latinized it. The usual prize to the best shooter was a silver arrow. Such a one is preserved at Selkirk and at Peebles. At Dumfries, a silver gun was substituted, and the contention transferred to fire-arms. The ceremony, as there performed, is the subject of an excellent Scottish poem, by Mr John Mayne, entitled the Siller Gun, 1808, which surpasses the efforts of Ferguson, and comes near those of Burns.

Of James's attachment to archery, Pitscottie, the faithful, though rude recorder of the manners of that period, has given us evidence:

"In this year there came an ambassador out of England, named Lord William Howard, with a bishop with him, with many other gentlemen, to the number of threescore horse, which were all able men and waled (picked) men for all kinds of games and pastimes, shooting, louping, running, wrestling, and casting of the stone, but they were well 'sayed (essayed or tried) ere they past out of Scotland, and that by their own provocation; but ever they tint: till at last, the queen of Scotland, the king's mother, favoured the English-men, because she was the king of England's sister; and therefore she took an enterprise of archery upon the English-mens hands, contrary her son the king, and any six in Scotland that he would wale, either gentlemen or yeomen, that the English-men should shoot against them, either at pricks, revers, or buts, as the Scots pleased.

"The king hearing this of his mother, was content, and gart her pawn a hundred crowns, and a tun of wine upon the English-mens hands; and he incontinent laid down as much for the Scottish-men. The field and ground was chosen in St Andrew's, and three landed men and three yeomen chosen to shoot against the English-men, to wit, David Wemyss of that ilk, David Arnott of that ilk, and Mr John Wedderburn, vicar of Dundee; the yeomen, John Thomson, in Leith, Steven Taburner, with a piper, called Alexander Bailie; they shot very near, and warred (worsted) the English-men of the enterprise, and wan the hundred crowns and the tun of wine, which made the king very merry, that his men wan the victory."—P. 147.

Note XI.

————————Robin Hood.—St. XXII. p. 224.

The exhibition of this renowned outlaw and his band was a favourite frolic at such festivals as we are describing. This sport, in which kings did not disdain to be actors, was prohibited in Scotland upon the Reformation, by a statute of the 6th parliament of Queen Mary, c. 61, A. D. 1555, which ordered, under heavy penalties, that "na manner of person be chosen Robert Hude, nor little John, Abbot of Unreason, Queen of May, nor otherwise." But, in 1561, "the rascal multitude," says John Knox, "were stirred up to make a Robin Hude, whilk enormity was of mony years left and damned by statute and act of parliament; yet would they not be forbidden." Accordingly they raised a very serious tumult, and at length made prisoners the magistrates, who endeavoured to suppress it, and would not release them till they extorted a formal promise that no one should be punished for his share of the disturbance. It would seem, from the complaints of the General Assembly of the kirk, that these prophane festivities were continued down to 1592.[2] Bold Robin was, to say the least, equally successful in maintaining his ground against the reformed clergy of England; for the simple and evangelical Latimer complains of coming to a country church, where the people refused to hear him, because it was Robin Hood's day; and his mitre and rochet were fain to give way to the village pastime. Much curious information on this subject may be found in the Preliminary Dissertation to the late Mr Ritson's edition of the songs respecting this memorable outlaw. The game of Robin Hood was usually acted in May; and he was associated with the morrice-dancers, on whom so much illustration has been bestowed by the commentators on Shakespeare. A very lively picture of these festivities, containing a great deal of curious information on the subject of the private life and amusements of our ancestors, was thrown by the late ingenious Mr Strutt, into his romance entitled Queen-hoo Hall; published after his death, in 1808.

Note XII.

Indifferent as to archer wight,
The Monarch gave the arrow bright.—St. XXII. p. 225.

The Douglas of the poem is an imaginary person, a supposed uncle of the Earl of Angus. But the king's behaviour during an unexpected interview with the Laird of Kilspindie, one of the banished Douglasses, under circumstances similar to those in the text, is imitated from a real story told by Hume of Godscroft. I would have availed myself more fully of the simple and affecting circumstances of the old history, had they not been already woven into a pathetic ballad by my friend Mr Finlay.[3]

"His (the king's) implacability (towards the family of Douglas) did also appear in his carriage towards Archibald of Kilspindy, whom he, when he was a child, loved singularly well for his ability of body, and was wont to call him his Gray-Steill.[4] Archibald being banished into England, could not well comport with the humour of that nation, which he thought to be too proud, and that they had too high a conceit of themselves, joined with a contempt and despising of all others. Wherefore, being wearied of that life, and remembering the king's favour of old towards him, he determined to try the king's mercifulness and clemency. So he comes into Scotland, and taking occasion of the king's hunting in the park at Stirling, he casts himself to be in his way, as he was coming home to the castle. So soon as the king saw him afar off, ere he came near, he guessed it was he, and said to one of his courtiers, yonder is my Gray Steill, Archibald of Kilspindy, if he be alive. The other answered, that it could not be he, and that he durst not come into the king's presence. The king approaching, he fell upon his knees and craved pardon, and promised from thence forward to abstain from meddling in public affairs, and to lead a quiet and private life. The king went by, without giving him any answer, and trotted a good round pace up the hill. Kilspindy followed, and, though he wore on him a secret, or shirt of mail, for his particular enemies, was as soon at the castle-gate as the king. There he sat him down upon a stone without, and entreated some of the king's servants for a cup of drink, being weary and thirsty; but they, fearing the king's displeasure, durst give him none. When the king was set at his dinner, he asked what he had done, what he had said, and whither he had gone? It was told him that he had desired a cup of drink, and had gotten none. The king reproved them very sharply for their discourtesy, and told them, that if he had not taken an oath that no Douglas should ever serve him, he would have received him into his service, for he had seen him some time a man of great ability. Then he sent him word to go to Leith, and expect his further pleasure. Then some kinsman of David Falconer, the canonier, that was slain at Tantallon, began to quarrel with Archibald about the matter, wherewith the king shewed himself not well pleased when he heard of it. Then he commanded him to go to France for a certain space, till he heard further from him. And so he did, and died shortly after. This gave occasion to the king of England (Henry VIII.) to blame his nephew, alleging the old saying, That a king's face should give grace. For this Archibald, (whatsoever were Angus's or Sir George's fault) had not been principal actor of any thing, nor no counsellor or stirrer up, but only a follower of his friends, and that noways cruelly disposed."—Hume of Godscroft, II. 107.

Note XIII.

Prize of the wrestling match, the king
To Douglas gave a golden ring.—St. XXIII. p. 225.

The usual prize of a wrestling was a ram and a ring, but the animal would have embarrassed my story. Thus in the Cokes Tale of Gamelyn, ascribed to Chaucer:

There happed to be there beside
Tryid a wrastiling,
And therefore there was y-setten
A ram and als a ring.

Again the litil geste of Robin Hood:

———By a bridge was a wrastling,
And there taryed was he,
And there was all the best yemen
Of all the west countrey.
A full fayre game there was set up,
A white bull up y-pight,
A great courser with sadle and brydle,
With gold burnished full bryght;
A payre of gloves, a red gold ringe,
A pipe of wyne good fay;
What man bereth him best I wis,
The prise shall bear away.
Ritson's Robin Hood, vol. I.

  1. See Douce's Illustrations of Shakespeare, vol. II. p. 61.
  2. Book of the Universal Kirk, p. 414.
  3. See Scottish Historical and Romantic Ballads. Glasgow, 1808, vol 11. p 117.
  4. A champion of popular romance. See Ellis's Romances, vol. III.