MALCOLM IICESSION OF LOTHIAN TO SCOTSBATTLES OF MURTLACH AND BARRYKINGDOM OF SCOTIA.The first day of Scotland was over, and its second had not yet opened. The visit of Kenneth III. to the tomb of Palladius is a glimpse behind the scenes. It shows that the memory of Columba, Scotlands mightiest name and greatest benefactor, had begun to fade, and that his lamp was growing dim. That lamp was to grow yet dimmer before the new day should shine out. The interval that parted the first from the second and brighter day was filled up with social disorders and political oppressions, under which the nation appeared to be hastening to dissolution. In the career of nations as in that of individuals, it is some only that reach the goal. The most part sink down on the road, and unable to resume the march, remain as wrecks on the highway of the world. Scotland again and again seemed on the eve of being overtaken by this disastrous and dishonourable fate. But ever as the die of its destiny appeared about to be irretrievably cast, the Dane presented himself, and the sight of his war galleys, from which savage faces and cruel eyes looked forth, woke up anew in the breasts of the emasculated Scots their sense of nationality, and gave them once more to feel how exhilarating is the air of the battlefield when the fight is for country and homestead. Thus they were kept from sinking down outright, and carried through the evil yearsand they had not yet seen the worsttill the time should come when they would resume their course on the old lines, but with a breadth and enlargement which they had not known in the first ages of their nation.
We have just seen Kenneth III. laid in his grave with the reputation of a great prince, not unworthily won by his efforts on the battlefield to save his country from the grasp of the Danes, and his less warlike but not less patriotic endeavors to maintain the authority of the laws. It was within five years of the close of the tenth century. Calamity is again seen gathering over the country. Hardly are there gloomier pages in its annals than those in which the early chroniclers record the history of the ten years that succeeded the death of Kenneth III. The succession to the crown was fiercely contested. These contests parted the nation into factions, and brought on civil war. The rapacious nobles took advantage of the confusion and license of the times to oppress the people. Robberies and murders were common. The peaceful pursuits of industry and agriculture were interrupted. The neglect of tillage brought on famine. After famine came pestilence. The miserable inhabitants had no way to flee from the host of evils that pursued them. If they entered the city they were slain by the plague, and if they retired to the country they became the prey of the robber. It was not for the good of the Scots that the Danes should be long absent.
According to the new law of succession as now altered, Malcolm, the son of Kenneth III., was the rightful heir, and ought to have ascended the throne. The funeral obsequies of his parent called him to Iona, and before he could return, Constantin, the son of Cullen, who would have inherited the crown under the old law of tanistry, made himself to be crowned at Scone. He collected a large force, and endeavoured to support his usurpation by arms, but perished on the battlefield after a troubled reign of a year and a half. The throne was next claimed by Kenneth, the son of King Duff. He too perished on the field of war, but not till eight years of calamities had passed over the country. Grim1 fallen, the son of Kenneth at last ascended his fathers throne (A.D. 1005) under the title of Malcolm II. Fordun gives us a brief but vivid sketch of the character and personal endowments of Malcolm. "The people," says he, "were much better pleased with the actions of Malcolm than of Grim; for there was scarcely a man in the kingdom who could equal Malcolm in the exercises of the field, either in his wars or his amusements. Our Historical Annals 2 represent him as skilful in the management of the sword and the lance; and of his bearing to a miracle, hunger, thirst, cold, and the longest watching . . . his great strength and the beauty of his person become the universal theme of applause and praise, till at last the public voice pointed him out as the most worthy of the kingdom."
Malcolm began his reign, as did almost every Scottish king of those days, with an attempt to annex the territory betwixt the Forth and the Tweed to his Kingdom of Alban. He burst into Northumbria at the head of a great army and besieged Durham. The campaign, however, ended in disaster. Malcolms soldiers were nearly all slain, and the English celebrated their victory after a ghastly fashion. They topped the walls of Durham with a grisly row of Scottish heads.
The Scottish king renewed this attempt in the year 1018 with better success. Entering Northumbria, he met the English army at Carham on the Tweed, and a great battle followed. The English were routed, and the slaughter was immense, for Simeon of Durham tells us that well-nigh the whole population between the Tweed and the river Tees had been drafted into the army, and were left dead on the field. This terrible calamity, Simeon also informs us, did not happen without prognostication. For thirty successive nights before this great slaughter a comet blazed in the heavens and lighted up the skies of Northumbria with awful terror. The effect of the victory was the cession of the territory lying south of the Forth to the Scots: the Tweed was henceforth the boundary of their kingdom, and a long-cherished object of the Scottish kings had been at last attained.
Sheathing the sword of war, Malcolm unsheathed that of justice. He sent commissioners into all the provinces to see that the laws were enforced against offenders of whatever degree. Soon things began to change. The husbandman resumed his labours, for now he might hope to reap what he had sowed. The tides of commerce, such as they were, began to flow in their old channels. The trader could carry his goods to market without fear of the robber. Life, under so wise and firm a king, began to wear its old aspect.
But more drastic remedies were heeded to restore the tone of the nation. Moral disorders and political antipathies had to a most lamentable extent unloosed its loins and dissolved its vigour. It needed that some great object should combine its strength in a common action. Such occasion arose. The Scots were again summoned to the battlefield to decide not what family or what clan should rule Scotland, but whether there should be a Scotland at all. The nation was at this moment seriously threatened with effacement. The Scots had seen this calamity overtake their neighbours. The ancient race had perished from the soil of south Britain. It had been conquered first by the Angles, next by the Saxons, and it was being overrun at this hour by the Danes. A new people was tilling its fields and occupying the cities of England. The Caledonians all the while had maintained himself on his native soil, and had given place neither to Roman nor to Dane. But horde after horde from the teeming sea coast of northern Europe were being precipitated upon the little nation. The Scots must gather their energies into a combined effort if they would preserve for the world, as one of its most vitalising forces, their peculiar idiosyncrasy of spirit and fervour of genius. This was now made plain to them. Never before had so numerous an armament been seen on their coast as the fleet of Norse warriors which now entered the mouth of the Spey. It was clear that their purpose this time was not the loading of their ships with spoil, but the subjugation of the country and their permanent settlement in the land. Had they been able to compass their design it is curious to reflect what consequences would have grown from it. The lamp of evangelical Christianity in Scotland would have been extinguished. The divine seeds of the faith, and the consciousness of Scottish nationality, which lay quiescent in the soil during the four hundred dark years that followed, and which burst out afresh in the sixteenth century, would have been trampled utterly out, and would have had no resurrection. Bannockburn would not have been: the Scottish Reformation would not have been: the Solemn League and Covenant, which those who have most deeply studied the history of Europe will be the first to grant saved the liberties of Christendom, would not have been, and the action of the Scottish mind on England and on her vast colonies would not have been. It is impressive to mark that all these consequences hung largely upon the loosing or winning of a battle on the shores of the Moray Firth.
The Scottish king had no warning of the coming of the Vikings, and their landing was unopposed. It was some days before a Scottish soldier appeared, and the invaders meanwhile did their pleasure on the defenceless country. They spread themselves over the rich province of Moray, slaughtering in city and hamlet, and making room with their merciless swords for their own wives and children who were to follow them across the ocean. When intelligence reached Malcolm of the atrocities that were reddening the plains of Moray, he hastily collected a considerable force, and marched to repeal the invaders. The first sight of the Danish host struck the Scots with consternation, their ships were so many and their army was so numerous. But that feeling was soon changed into one of exasperation. The frightful devastation around them kindled a desire for vengeance, and they could with difficulty be restrained till the necessary arrangements were made for joining battle. They rushed upon the Danes with a blind fury which cost them dear. They were driven back, and Malcolm was carried out of the field badly wounded. This was no auspicious commencement of a struggle on which so much depended for the Scots.
Was the Dane to conquer and leave Scotland as a heritage to his children? This must have been the question that suggested itself to the mind of Malcolm as he led his dispirited troops southward in presence of the victorious Danes. The kingdom of the Norsemen was spreading like an eclipse over the Scottish land. Each new swarm from across the sea penetrated farther into the bowels of the country, and threatened ultimate extinction to that line of rulers who had received their anointing on the "Stone of Destiny." Orkney and Shetland were already theirs. The Hebrides owned their sway. They had added Caithness and Sutherland and Ross to their kingdom. The retreat of Malcolm with his army looked as if Moray next was given up to them. The Danes believed that it had been so, and that the conquest of all Scotland would speedily follow. The had driven out the garrisons and inhabitants of Forres and Elgin. They treated the peasantry in every respect as a conquered people. They compelled them to cut down the corn for their use, and do whatever work they wished to have done. They fortified themselves in the castles on the seaboard like men who had no intention of removing; and sending to their friends at home, they invited them to come and plant themselves in the pleasant land.
The bloody day of Murtlach brought a change in the outlook, although it did not entirely dispel the danger that hung over the country. King Malcolm, who had retreated into Mar, worked day and night to save the monarchy. His efforts were rewarded with a more numerous and better disciplined host than the former. The men of Angus and Mearns, the warlike citizens of Aberdeen and other towns, the yeomen of Fife, rallied to the standard of their king at this great crisis, burning to do battle against the invader of their homes. Malcolm, putting himself at the head of this new army, again marched against the Danes. The two hosts joined battle at Murtlach. The action was contested on both sides with obstinate and desperate valour. The ranks thinned fast. The sword hewed terrible gaps in them. The corpses lay thick on the field: citizen and yeoman, Dane and Scot, were heaped up together. The living still continued to strive as fiercely as ever around their comrades, locked in the sleep of death, all heedless now of the ebb and flow of the strife. At length there came a turn in the battle, but it was against the Scots. They had sustained terrible losses, not in men only, but in generals. First Kenneth, thane of the Isles, fell mortally wounded. Next Grim, thane of Strathearn, was stretched dead on the field; and finally Dunbar, thane of Lothian, was struck down. The fall of these three chieftains filled the Scots with dismay, and they fell back.
They were not beaten: they had but retreated to rally on stronger ground. At some distance in their rear was a narrow pass, where Malcolm had lain entrenched while occupied in sending the tocsin through the southern countries to rally his fighting men. The Scots halted in this stronghold, and waited with a determined front the arrival of the Danes. The latter, believing that the Scots were discomfited and in flight, came on with an impetuosity which lost them the victory which they thought was already secure. They were slain as they came up by the Scots, who waited for them behind their defences. At this stage of the combat their leader fell, and his death disheartened the Danes. The Scots were in the same proportion inspirited. Malcolm saw that the critical moment had arrived. Rallying his warriors, he attacked the Danes with great fury, and the battle was won. The Danish host retreated into Moray, and took up their winter quarters, the sea and their ships in their rear. The loss of the Scots on the battlefield had been so great that they did not venture to pursue the enemy.
Not yet was Scotland rid of the terror of the Dane. This fierce and warlike foe had determined that the Scot should wear his yoke, and Denmark was then a powerful country. Sweden and Norway were under the Danish Crown, and this struggle of the little Scottish nation for very existence had to be maintained against the combined strength of three kingdoms. The Danes in addition to their continental territories were now masters of England. In 1017 Cnute the Dane became king of the whole of southern Britain, and the Danes wished to round off their possessions in the British Isles by the annexation of Scotland. This must have seemed to them a task of easy accomplishment after what they had already achieved. In truth the Danes already embraced the little country in their arms. For not only were the islands around its shores the property of the Danes: on the mainland their kingdom came up to almost the feet of the Grampians on the north, leaving only the southern half of the country to be subdued. This ought not to be long in doing. It seemed impossible for the Scots, weakened as they were by the loss of their northern provinces, and of many of their bravest warriors, long to hold their ground. The struggle was an unequal one: so did it appear to the Danes, whose ambition was excited by the rapid growth of their power, and the recent triumph of their arms on both sides of the German Sea. It would have gone as they reckoned but for the personal valour; intrepidity, and patriotism of King Malcolm, who neither despaired himself nor would permit the nation to despair, but kept it alive, bravely battling till he had brought it through this great struggle on which depended far higher issues than perhaps the monarch foresaw.
The Danes had lost the battle of Murtlach, and tidings of their defeat were on their way to Sueno. Sueno was the representative of the Danish power in England, and governor of the realm in his fathers room. He received the tidings very coolly. The loss of one battle could be repaired by fighting another. The ill success of the day of Murtlach would cause only a little delay in the conquest of Scotland, and eventuality already assured, and which nothing but their dogged pertinacity prevented even the Scots seeing to be so. Without leaving his place Sueno issued his orders for a more powerful army, drawn partly from the mother country of Denmark and partly from England, to sail for the coast of Scotland. At the head of this great host he put Camus, the most famous Danish captain of the age. The armament destined to close the reign of the race of Fergus, and carry the "Stone of Destiny" to Westminister before its time, appeared at the mouth of the Firth of Forth. A thrill of battle, not of fear, ran through the Scottish counties, and brought to the shore thousands of defenders. Nowhere could the invaders find landing place without having first to fight a bloody battle on the sea. The fleet sailed away to Red Head, behind the precipices of which opens the spacious bay of Lunan, and here they found roomy anchorage and quiet landing. They began their operations by seizing the castles on the coast, for so was their usual strategy, seeing it kept open the way back to their own country, if necessity should arise, by a double line of defence, one of forts and one of ships. They marched to Brechin, leaving their track over the rich country but too easily traceable. They besieged the castle of Brechin which nature as well as art had fortified, but finding that its capture would too long delay them, they laid the town and church in ashes and departed. Their next encampment appears to have been at Kirkbodo, on the ridge of the Sidlaws, where they had the Romans as predecessors, and where they looked down on the valley of Glamis on the north, and on the long slope that extends on the south the south to the shores of the Tay.
Malcolm meanwhile was not inattentive to the movements of the invading host. He was no more willing to put his sceptre into the hand of Harold of Denmark than Bruce, in an after age, was to put his into the hand of Edward of England. Again the summons to arms went forth, and there flocked to the standard of the king an army of as fierce fighters as the Danes, and who were likely to be none the less brave from knowing that they fought in a better cause. They thought of the day of Murtlach, and of their brothers who were sleeping beneath the gory sod of that terrible field. The battle bequeathed to them by the men who had died there they would maintain with an equal valour. They would sooner lie in the same bloody bed than live as hewers of wood and drawers of water to the Danes.
The Scottish king took up his position at Barry, on the northern shore of the Tay. Camus, having information by his scouts of the approach of Malcolm, led down his men from the heights of Kirkbodo to Panbridge, where he could fight with the sea and his ships in sight. Camus had headed the army that conquered England. Those who served under him in this Scottish expedition were veterans. There could await him nothing less than victory in the battle to which he was advancing, and the defeat of the Scots would fall with double force and effect, inasmuch as the blow would be struck, not at the extremities of the kingdom, not in the northern regions, but in the south, in the heart of the country. This must have been strongly felt on both sides, and if it gave hope to Camus it kindled in the Scots, whom Camus saw already vanquished, a courage as fierce as it was fearless.
The two armies were drawn up in order of battle. They stood a day confronting each other. The issue of the fight either way must be momentous, and neither side seemed in haste to begin it. On the second day the battle was joined. No eye witness gives us the particulars of that eventful field. Tradition alone has preserved the fact of its awful carnage. It speaks of the brook that adjoined the battlefield rolling sea-ward a torrent of blood. Victory was hard to win. Hour after hour the clash of swords and the groans of dying men resounded along the heights of Barry and Panbridge. At length the fortune of the day began to incline to the Scots. The Danish leader, seeing that he had lost the battle, withdrew his forces, and retreated toward the Sidlaws. He was pursued, and, before he had got two miles from the field, overtaken, his followers cut to pieces, and himself felled to the earth by some strong arm which sent the good sword it wielded at a single stroke right through his skull. The spot where Camus fell was named in memory of the event, Camuston, and a tall stone or obelisk in the woods of Panbridge with the rust of nine centuries upon it marks his grave. 3The rest of the Danish army, under cover of the darkness which had not set in, made their way through the downs and sand hillocks that here line the shore to their ships in the Tay. So ended this memorable day. When it opened the Scottish nationality trembled in the balance: when it closed the Scottish monarchy and nation had received new and stronger guarantees, although at the cost of one of the bloodiest of those many bloody battles which marked the course of that long strife, which gave union and solidity and hardness to the Scottish people, and furnished watchwords to kindle their patriotism in after years when new dangers should present themselves.
These two battles sealed the fate of the Danish project to subjugate Scotland. They showed that it was not to be. Every time the Danish spear touched the Scottish soil it sent a new thrill of life through the Scottish nation, and summoned into existence a new and more powerful phalanx of warriors to defend the country. The Dane at last desisted, for he saw that these repeated attempts were bringing him no nearer to what he sought, but on the contrary were teaching the Scots to beat him, and fatten, alas! the Scottish soil with Danish corpses.
From this time the "Kingdom of Alban" disappeared from the page of history, and the "kingdom of Scotia" comes in its room. This is significant of the advance made by the country under Malcolm II. The blood shed on his battlefields had not been spilt in vain; on the contrary it had borne good fruit in bringing to the birth the kingdom of Scotland. It was now a century and a half since the Scots and Picts were united under Kenneth MacAlpin. The greater part of that time had been passed in struggles with the Danish and Norwegian power. We now see the final outcome. The two nationalities have been thoroughly amalgamated; the stronger of the two races has come to the front. The supreme effort of the Dane, who had all at once attacked the country from three sidesfrom England on the south, from Orkney on the north, and from beyond the sea on the easthas been rolled back. The voice of events has unequivocally proclaimed that the future of his country belongs to the Scots. And in meet accordance therewith the Kingdom of Scotland now comes upon the stage. The first historic mention it is in the chronicle of Marianus Scotus. Scotus, a native of Ireland, was born in the reign of this Malcolm, and he records his death as the "King of Scotia" on the 25th November 1034.4 Prior to this the kings of Alban had sometimes been styled "Kings of the Scots," but never "Kings of Scotia." Ireland was the proper "Scotia" of the early centuries, and the transference of the territorial designation from the one side of the Irish channel to the other is the more emphatic from the fact that the first intimation of that transference comes from an Irishman. By the opening of the eleventh century there had come to be a general consent that the country into which the Scots had migrated, and made good on so many battlefields, their title to possess and govern, would be the Scotland of the future.
Malcolm II. was the last of the male descendants of Kenneth MacAlpin. He had no son, nor was there any male relative in the collateral line to succeed him on the throne. Nevertheless the ancient race of Scotlands kings does not become extinct. The royal line of Fergus, the founder of the Scottish dynasty, and of Kenneth MacAlpin, the first king of the united nation of Scots and Picts, runs on in the female branch. Although Malcolm II, had no son he left two daughters, one of whom was married to Crinan, lay Abbot of Dunkeld. Her son, Duncan as we shall see, succeeded to the throne on the death of his grandfather.
Having ended his wars, Malcolm, it is said, devoted the remainder of his life and reign to effacing the ravages of the sword. He rebuilt the churches burned down by the enemy, and indemnified the clergy by liberal benefactions for the losses they had sustained.5 The religious houses were the first to suffer in an invasion. They contained, it was believed, much treasure which might be harried at little risk, seeing its owners were not men of the sword. The dismantled castles were restored, and the plough was set agoing in districts which, trodden by armies and ravaged by plunderers, had become almost a desert. Malcolm is also said to have rewarded with an ample gift of land those nobles who had so bravely helped him in his campaigns. We meet with no such magnanimous and patriotic king as Malcolm II. till we come to Robert the Bruce. The former fought the battle of his countrys independence in circumstances almost as desperate as those in which the latter waged his great struggle.
After all these great services Malcolm II. was entitled, one would think, to end his days in honour and die on the bed of peace. Yet no! if we may believe the Scottish chroniclers. Some of them speak of plots springing up around the brave old king, now eighty years of age, thirty of which he had passed on the throne. If so it were, the conspirators belonged probably to the old factions of Kenneth and Grim, who had opposed his succession to the throne. Malcolm is said to have been massacred in the castle of Glammis. The murders fled on horseback and mysteriously disappeared. In their haste they road unawares into the loch of Forfar, the surface of which was at the time frozen over and covered with snow. The ice giving way beneath them, they sank and were drowned. When the thaw came their bodies were discovered, and being taken out were hung in chains on the shore of the lake. Why was it that in the case of so many of the kings of early Scotland the cypress was entwined with the laurel? Whoever mounted the "Stone of Destiny" seemed fated to descend from it by a death of violence. It was pleasant for the Scottish monarch to be assured that when their reign was over they should come into the sepulchres of their fathers, and sleep at Icolmkill, but not so pleasant to reflect that probably the dagger of an assassin would open to them the doors of the royal vaults.
1. This king is often called Grim by the Scottish historians. The best original authorities style him Kenneth, the son of Duff. The chronicles of the Picts and Scots tell us that he was slain by Malcolm, the son of Kenneth, at Moeghavard or Monzievaird.Chron. Picts and Scots, pp. 175, 289.
2. This phrase is instructive, and ought not to escape our observation. The original is Annales Historioe. Fordun professes to have earlier records before him, and to found his narrative of Scottish events on the information contained in these writings. There is no improbability in this. On the contrary, it is highly probable that it was as Fordun here in effect says. In the early centuries, Scotland, it is admitted on all hands, abounded in expert writers. These were not mere copyists, but compilers, there is reason to think, of registers and chronicles. Fordun professes to have such before him, and why should he not be believed? These writings are not now extant, but a great variety of causes were operative in Scotland in succeeding times, more than sufficient to account for their disappearance. The fashion at this day is to hold that the early writers of Scottish history had no authentic records, and wrote largely of their own fancy. The native chronicles are thrown overboard, and the sagas put in their room. It seems to be assumed that the early Scottish chroniclers are all fable and the sagas all truth. This is absurd. Who is to assure us that the compilers of the sagas wrote only truth? May not they too have indulged in flights of fancy? Were they likely to be better informed than writers in the country itself? Worse informed, we should say. The prevalent and popular mood professes to be critical. We would say it is sceptical. It has converted the early history of Scotland into a book of genealogies. It is minute, laborious, without light and shade; without life, and therefore without truth; without purpose, or progress, or lessona genealogical tree; a catacomb of dried mummies, mostly kings and bishops; not a history.
3. Buchanan mentions an obelisk erected on the ground in memory of this battle. The monument is called Camuss Cross. The figures upon it are much defaced, but so far as they can be made out they go only a little way as an illustration of the action that here took place. They seem to be emblems of devotion rather than of victory. Uncontested tradition, however, assures us that this cross was erected on occasion of Camuss death. We extract an interesting account of this stone from he Commissary Mauls MS. History of Scotland, as given in Gordons Itinerarium Septentrionale.
"About eight miles from Brechin, at Karboddo, a place belongs to the Earl of Crawford, are to be seen the vestiges of a Danish camp, fortified with a rampart and ditch, and vulgarly called Norway Dikes; near which is the village of Panbridge, where anciently was a church dedicated to St. Brigid, because on that saints day which preceded the battle, Camus, general of the Danes, pitched his camp there. Not far from hence is the village of Barry, where a mighty battle was fought betwixt the Danes and Scots, with great slaughter on both sides, near the mouth of a small rivulet called Lough-tay. There many little artificial mounts, or tumuli, are still to be seen, within which were buried the bodies of those slain in the fight; and because the soil thereabouts is sandy, the wind blowing away the sand frequently discovers bones of a size much exceeding those of our age. Near this is Camus-Town, a village belonging to the barons of Panmure, and noted for the death of Camus, slain there, it being a mile from the field of battle. There to this day is to be seen an obelisk. . . .Nine years after I wrote that treatise, a plough turning up the ground discovered a sepulchre, believed to be that of Camus, enclosed with four great stones. Here a huge skeleton was dug up, supposed to have been the body of Camus; it appeared to have received its death by a wound on the back part of the head, seeing a considerable part of the skill was cut away, and probably by the stroke of a sword."Gordons Itinerarium Septentrional, pp. 154, 155.
4. "1034 Moelcoluim Rex Scotiae obiit 7 Kal. Decembri."Marianus Scot.
5. "Ipse etiam multas oblatioones tam ecclesiis quam clero ea die distribuit."Chron. Picts and Scots, p. 131.