« PreviousContinue »
THE BARNS OF AYR.
THE Marquis of Bute's lecture on the “Burning of the Barns of Ayr" places the history of this event in the clearest possible light before the reader, divested alike of the fierce prejudices manifested against Scotland by early English chroniclers, and of the equally misleading credulity swarming over the pages of native rhymers of the “Blind Harry” order. That a representative member of the Royal Stuart family so personally popular as the present Marquis of Bute, connected moreover with Ayrshire by descent no less than possessions, should address the people of the county on an event so interesting as the “Burning of the Barns” by Wallace and his ancestor, Bruce, will be generally accepted as an occurrence not more interesting than it was appropriate. The list of royal and noble authors has in recents days got so much enlarged that Walpole's once famous “Catalogue” of the order is now useful for little beyond purposes purely antiquarian. Since his day there falls to be added, in English literature alone, names no less important than Her Majesty, the Prince Consort, andto mention only a few others-living representatives of the houses of Argyll, Keppel, Lennox, Mandeville, Wellesley, and Stuart. To Scotch audiences the young Marquis of Bute has addressed at least two lectures—one to his neighbours at Rothesay in the winter of 1875 on the “Daily Life of King Robert I. at Cardross," and a second at Ayr in the February of 1878, concerning that event in the War of Independence known as “The Burning of the Barns of Ayr." The brochure differs a little from the lecture as delivered. It contains some matter which the Marquis had not before him at the time, and a good deal also which he had written but omitted, in order, as he modestly explains, not to be even more burdensome to a patient audience than the extreme dryness and intricacy of the inquiry demanded. Second, the original lecture has been altogether pulled to pieces, and arranged anew under the six following heads :
(1) The Capitulation of Irvine, July, 1297, with a sketch of the events leading to it, being the epoch to which Lord Hailes believed that the burning was to be assigned; (2) a sketch of the English invasion of 1293, which the Marquis believes to be the time when any event possible to be identified with the “Burning of the Barns” really took place; (3) a discussion as to who the burners were; (4) a notice of King Edward's residence at Ayr and retirement from Scotland after the burning; (5) the account of the burning in Blind Harry;(6) the executions connected by Blind Harry with the burning. Disappointed with his campaign in Flanders, chafing under the limitations imposed upon him by his Parliament at Westminster, and incensed beyond endurance by the renewed hostile attitude of the Scottish patriots, King Edward would appear to have crossed into Scotland by way of Berwick, during the summer of 1298, in a mood boding but slight mercy to those concerned in resisting his usurped authority. His army was great beyond all precedent -magnificent, it has been said, and overwhelming. Burton, following contemporary authorities, writes of 7,000 mounted men-at-arms as being in the muster, 3,000 of them in coats of mail; and this host, overwhelming as it was in numbers, was joined by 500 other horsemen from Gascony. After this, footmen might be reckoned of little moment, but the number has been put down at 80,000, among them being many auxiliaries from Wales and Ireland. The disastrous defeat at Falkirk followed on the 22nd. Wallace contrived to convey a small body of his troops off the field, and made an attempt to hold Stirling. Finding this useless, they destroyed what food could not be used, and marched, it has been said, nobody knows whither, the commander and his followers alike disappearing from the history of the war. In July of the preceding year (1297), Wallace, according to the noble lecturer, would appear to have entirely dissented from the conduct of those who swore allegiance at the capitulation of Irvine. The patriot and his friends left the army and retreated into the forest of Selkirk, as a great part of the centre of Scotland south of Forth was then called. On July 17, eight days later than the last documents of Irvine, it was proposed at Roxburgh "that an attack should be made upon William Wallace, who lay there
then, and does still, with a large company, in the forest of Selkirk, like one who holds himself against your Majesty's peace.” Citing Hemingford as an authority, Lord Hailes steps in at this point, with his explanation of the “burning,” expressing it as his belief that the story took its rise from the pillaging of the English quarters, about the time of the treaty. Silent altogether as to the burning of barns either at Ayr or Irvine, Hemingford's statement may yet be accepted as evidence of a kind, that the English invaders treated the native population with hardly a degree less severity than the Canaanites experienced at the hands of the remorseless Jew:-"When our people (the English) returned to Irvine, it was told them that many of the Scotch and Galloway men had plundered their baggage, after the manner of enemies, and killed more than fifty men, women, and children. So they followed them, and slew about a thousand of them, and came back with the prey doubled.” Erroneous as the Marquis thinks it by about a year, a brief paraphrase of Blind Harry's account of the burning may be given as embodying the popular belief as early at least as the fifteenth century. On the suggestion, he writes, of Aymer de Valence, and in spite of the protests of Henry Percy, a Court of Assize was proclaimed to be held at Ayr on June 18, 1297, under the auspices of a judge named Arnwlf. To this Court the leading persons of Ayrshire were summoned, with the secret intention of putting them to death; and it was to meet in four great barns which at the time stood in Ayr, and which had been built for the King when his lodging was there—not till 1298). One of the beams was furnished with abundance of running nooses; the entrance was strongly guarded by armed men, and none were allowed to enter but as they were summoned. Sir Reginald Crawford was called first to do homage. Passing in he was immediately lifted off his feet, a noose slipped over his head, and hoisted up to the beam, where he died. In like manner died Sir Brice Blair, Sir Neill Montgomery, with various Crawfords, Kennedys, Campbells, Berkeleys, Boyds, and Stuarts. The minstrel reports the barns as being burnt the same night, Wallace and his party looking on from a safe point, known ever after as Burn-weill-hill. In explanation of various discrepancies in Blind Harry, and between him and Barbour, the Marquis ventures with considerable caution to submit an hypothesis, that between the burning of Lanark and the attack on the bishop's palace at Glasgow, Blind Harry found that Wallace had made an attack on an English judge at an “Aire," which he took to be the town of that name (instead of a Justice Aire), especially as he also knew that Wallace was famous, among other things, for having burnt the English quarters in that town. So he mixes up three things—the executions in the barns, the attack on the judge, and the burning-working the whole into a fancy narrative, with probably a good spice of plagiarism out of Barbour. The lecturer describes himself as conscious that, applied to the myth which finds its wildest development in the “Wallace,” his treatment may be styled a destructive criticism. He would, however, rather claim for the lecture a constructive tendency. His aim has been to place, or rather perhaps suggest, a way of placing upon a sound historical basis an event in national and local history, the obscurity of which has made it the victim alternately of credulity and scepticisim. The authorities quoted throughout are, as far as possible, contemporary.
Some of them, it is mentioned, have not yet been published, and of those that have been, many are translated by the Marquis for the first time. A map, illustrative of the marching and countermarching of King Edward in Scotland, accompanies an inquiry full of interest in itself, and not without importance as bearing on the development of popular beliefs.
RAMBLES IN GALLOWAY.
VALUABLE for what is suggested more than for what is completed, Mr. Harper's “Rambles in Galloway” were thought seriously defective as a guide to the pedestrian. Even better writing and fuller historical knowledge would not have atoned for the want of any table of distances or any map of the district
traversed. It is no doubt open for travellers to ramble at their own will, gossiping when they please and as they please about the traditional associations or physical aspects of the hills and dales traversed; but it is different when, as in the present case, the writer is desirous of making his district more widely known, and of impressing on travellers the important, but by no means exaggerated truth that he might fare worse by going further from home in search of scenes of soft lowland beauty, or the stern and wild in mountain landscape. In such circumstances the Rambler takes the place of a Guide where a map is essential. The volume itself presents a most attractive appearance, so far as printing and illustrations are concerned. The matter, if not so fresh or full occasionally as one would like, is on the whole presented in a quiet, business like fashion-altogether free from the vice of exaggeration so apt to beset local chroniclers. Its merits, indeed, in this respect tend rather to cross the reader's temper by presenting what is attractive and useful, but compelling him at the same time to search elsewhere for distances and routes. The “Rambles” are arranged under thirtythree distinct chapters, treating of so many different journeys or localities, but little help is furnished to the reader whether the country traversed from point to point was six miles or sixty. Castle-Douglas to Auchencairn, eight miles, forms one chapter or route; Castle-Douglas over Cairnsmore to Newton-Stewart, about thirty miles, forms another. A brief index, of proper names at least, would also have been useful. The want of minuteness in the itinerary is the more to be regretted, as Mr. Harper's own pages show that Galloway, or the two southwestern counties of Kirkcudbright and Wigtown, even since opened up by railways, still possesses special attractions for the pedestrian, whether his taste runs in the way of historical or traditionary lore. It is not easy in dealing with works of this kind to cease wondering at the prolific genius and rare powers of Scott. Not a county or bit of coast-line in Scotland but has been touched by the Enchanter's rod. From Kirkwall to Caerlaverock, from Colonsay to the Bass, not an old castle, church, or mansion but has had a new interest added to it by his writings. Galloway presents no exception to this rule, nor could it well