Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The Scots defeat the English near Melrose

After the recapture of Berwick, the earls of Northumberland and Nottingham enter Scotland with a large army. The Scots discover that an English detachment, of three hundred men at arms and three hundred archers, has advanced to Melrose and decide to attack it.

Book II, ch. 9. ... The Scots were much vexed on hearing of the recapture of Berwick castle, but they were reconciled by the news of sir Thomas Musgrave and the other English knights being quartered at Melrose. They determined to march instantly, to dislodge their enemies, and make up from them for the loss of Berwick. They armed themselves, saddled their horses, and left Hadingtoun, advancing to the right of Melrose, for they were well acquainted with the country, and arrived a little before midnight. But then it began to rain very heavily, and with such a violent wind in their faces that there was none so stout but was overpowered by the storm, so that they could scarcely guide their horses: the pages suffered so much from the cold, and their comfortless situation, that they could not carry the spears, but let them fall to the ground: they also separated from their companions, and lost their way.

The advanced guard had halted, by orders of the constable, at the entrance of a large wood, through which it was necessary for them to pass; for some knights and squires who had been long used to arms said, they were advancing foolishly, and that it was not proper to continue their course in such weather, and at so late an hour, as they ran a risk of losing more than they could gain. They therefore concealed themselves and their horses under oaks and other large trees until it was day. It was a long time before they could make any fire from their flints and wet wood: however, they did succeed, and several large fires were made; for the cold and rain lasted until sun-rise, but it continued to drizzle until the hour of six.

Between six and nine o'clock, the day began to get somewhat warmer, the sun to shine, and the larks to sing. The leaders then assembled to consider what was best to be done, for they had failed in their intentions of arriving at Melrose during the night. They resolved to breakfast in the open fields on what they had, to refresh themselves and their horses, and send out parties to forage. This was executed, and the greater part of the foragers spread themselves over the country and adjacent villages. They brought hay and corn for the horses, and provision for their masters.

It happened that the English quartered in the abbey of Melrose had that morning sent out their foragers, so that the two parties met, and the English had not the advantage: several of their party were slain and wounded, and their forage seized. When sir Thomas Musgrave and the English knights heard of it, they knew the Scots were not far distant: they ordered their trumpets to sound, and their horses to be saddled, whilst they armed themselves, for they were determined to take the field. They left the abbey in good order, and n handsome array.

The Scots knights had received information from their foragers of their enemies being near: they therefore made all haste to refresh their horses, to arm and draw themselves up in order of battle, alongside and under cover of the wood. They were full seven hundred lances, and two thousand others, whom I call lusty varlets, armed with hunting spears, dirks, and pointed staves. The lord Archibald Douglas and his cousin the earl of Douglas said, "We cannot fail to have some business since the English are abroad: let us therefore be on our guard, for we will fight with them if the parties be nearly equal." They sent tow of their men at arms to observe the order of the English, whilst they remained snug in their ambush.

Chapter 10. Sir Thomas Musgrave and the knights of Northumberland, being desirous of meeting the Scots on equal terms, set out from Melrose, and took the road to Morlaine: they left the Tweed on their left hand, and, by an ascending road, made for a mountain called St. Giles.

Two Scots scouts were posted there, who, having well considered the English, immediately set off to their own troops, and related their observations on the English; in what order they were marching, and that they had only seen three banners and ten pennons. the Scots were highly pleased with this intelligence, and said with a hearty good will, "In the name of God and St. Giles, let us march towards them, for they must be our prisoners." They then shouted their war-cry, which I think was, "Douglas, St. Giles!" They had not advanced half a league before both armies came in sight, and each knew a combat was unavoidable. Upon this the earl of Douglas knighted his son, and sir James Douglas displayed his banner. He also knighted the lord Robert and lord David, sons of the king of Scotland, who in like manner displayed their banners. There were made on the spot about thirty knights in the Scottish army, and one from Sweden, called sir George de Besmede, who bore on a shield argent a mill-iron gules with an indented bordure gules.

On the other hand, sir Thomas Musgrave made his son Thomas a knight, with others of his household. The lord Stafford and lord Gascoyne made some likewise. They drew out their archers, posting them on their wings; and, this day, the English cry was, "Our Lady of Arlestone!"

The engagement then commenced with vigour, and the archers by their shooting confounded the men at arms; but the Scots were in such numbers, the archers could not be everywhere . There were between the knights and squires many a tilt and gallant deed performed, by which several were unhorsed. Sir Archibald Douglas was a good knight, and much feared by his enemies: when near to the English, he dismounted, and wielded before him an immense sword, whose blade was two ells long, which scarcely another could have lifted from the ground, but he found no difficulty in handling it, and gave such terrible strokes, that all on whom they fell were struck to the ground; and there were none so hardy among the English able to withstand his blows.

The battle was sharp and well fought as long as it lasted; but that was not any length of time, for the Scots were three to one, and men of tried valour. I do not say but the English defended themselves valiantly: I the end, however, they were defeated, and sir Thomas Musgrave and his son, with several other knights and squires, made prisoners. The Scots took seven score good prisoners; and the pursuit lasted as far as the river Tweed, where numbers were slain.

The Scots, after this victory, resolved to march straight for Edinburgh, as they learnt from their prisoners that the earls of Northumberland and Nottingham were in the neighbourhood on the other side of the Tweed, on their road to Roxburgh, and that they were in sufficient numbers to engage with all the force the Scots could bring against them: on which account, they thought they might as well abandon their expedition, in order to save themselves and guard their prisoners. They had wisely determined to retreat without making any halt; for, had they returned that evening to their former quarters, they would have run a risk of being conquered...

This great success which they had obtained was a great novelty for Scotland. The knights and squires treated their prisoners handsomely, ransomed them courteously, and did with them the best they could.

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