JOHN BALIOI—THE SIEGE OF BERWICK
John Baliol was made king in 1292 a.d., two years after
the death of the Maid of Norway. The crown of Scotland
had indeed been placed upon his head, but in order to
win that crown he had been obliged to own himself to be
the King of England‘s subject. Perhaps he thought that
to do homage to Edward was only a form, and that once
he was safe upon the throne he would be able to defy the
King of England. But Edward very soon showed him
that he was mistaken. Edward was a great king, and to
his own subjects at least, a just one. But he loved power.
He believed, perhaps, that he had really the right to be
Scotland’s overlord, and he meant to insist on that right,
not in name only, but in deed.
Whenever King Baliol tried to act as any free king
would, Edward would send for him and scold him, and
ask him how he dared act without leave from his overlord.
If Baliol punished a rebellious noble, the noble would go
to Edward and complain. Then Edward would take the
side of the noble and be angry with Baliol, not perhaps
because he cared whether the noble had been justly or
unjustly punished, but because he wanted to make Baliol
feel that he was under the King of England, and must do
what he was told.
No man, however unworthy of the name of king,
THE SIEGE OF BERWICK 105
could long suffer sueh tyranny, and soon Baliol, weak
though he was, rebelled.
Edward was at war with France, and as he wanted
more soldiers he sent to Baliol, ordering him to come with
some of his best men to fight for England against France.
But the Scottish people were tired of the insolence
and tyranny of the English King. They had never agreed
to Baliol’s bargain, so now they refused to send a single
man to fight against the French. Instead, they drove all
the English from the Scottish court, and agreed to help
the French to fight them.
Edward was very angry at this, and gathering an
army, he marched into Scotland. The Scots too gathered
an army. Their Parliament declared, in the name of their
King, that they no longer considered Edward as overlord,
and, in case Baliol should be weak enough to yield again,
they shut him up in a strong castle, and went to war
But, unfortunately, all the Scottish people were not
united. As many of the great lords owned lands in both
countries, they owed obedience both to the King of Scot
land and to the King of England. In times of peace that
did not matter much, but in times of war it caused great
difficulties, for as you know, they only held their lands on
condition of fighting for their overlord in battle. So, as
their two overlords were fighting against each other,
many of them, as was natural, sided with the stronger,
which was Edward.
Besides this, many of the Scottish lords were angry
because Baliol was kept a prisoner, so they would not join
in fighting Edward.
Among those who fought for Edward was Robert
Bruce, the husband of Lady Marjorie. Bruce joined
Edward, because he was an English as well as a Scottish
106 SCOTLAND’S STORY
lord, because he hated Baliol, and because he hoped Baliol
would be driven from the throne, and that then Edward
would help him to become King.
Edward marched north as far as Newcastle-upon-
Tyne. From there he sent a message to the King of
Scotland, ordering him to come to him. But, after
waiting a few days, and finding that Baliol did not come,
he marched on again, and crossing the Tweed, laid siege
to the town of Berwick. Berwick was at this time the
most important seaport in Scotland.
To lay siege to a town means to surround it on all
sides, so that the people in the town cannot come out,
and so that no one can go in carrying help and food.
Sometimes, if a siege lasts a long time, the people within
a town suffer terribly from hunger.
As the English lay before Berwick, the Scots taunted
King Edward, and made a song about him.
‘ What turns the King Edward
With his long shanks,
For to win Berwick
And our unthanks ?
Go pike it him,
And when he have it won,
Go dike it him.’
This was considered very scornful and very funny, and,
although it is difficult now to understand why, it is said
to have made King Edward very angry. Perhaps he did
not like being called ‘ Long Shanks.’ He got that name
because he was tall, and had long, thin legs.
The siege of Berwick did not last long, for although
the town was protected by the sea on one side, on land
there was only a low mud wall to keep the enemy back.
Edward attacked it both by land and sea. The Scots set
the English ships on fire, and drove them back. But on
THE SIEGE OF BERWICK 107
land, the English army broke down the walls, and entered
The King himself, mounted upon his great horse
Bayard, was the first to leap over the wall. After him
swarmed his soldiers, eager to kill.
There was terrible bloodshed and slaughter. Such
was the fury of the English, that none were saved, and
the streets ran red with blood.
In the town was a place called the Red House. It
belonged to Flemish merchants, who had come to live in
Berwick, and who had helped to make the town rich and
prosperous. It was a very strong place, and when the
rest of the town had been taken, the merchants of the
Red House still held out and fought bravely. These
gallant men, although they were not Scotsmen, had made
up their minds to die for the land in which they had
found a home.
When the English saw that they could not take the
Red House, they set it on fire. Still, these brave Flemish
merchants would not yield to the English King, and they
died, every man of them, amid the roaring flames, and
were buried beneath the ruins of their Red House.
Then King Edward, lest the Scots should take their
town again, dug a ditch, and built a wall round it to make
it strong. King although he was, he wheeled a barrow
and used a spade himself, so eager was he to encourage
the men, and help on the work. The remains of these
fortifications can be seen to this day. Fortification comes
from a Latin word which means ‘ strong,’ so, to fortify
means to make strong.
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