JAMES III.—HOW A MASON BECAME AN EARL
James hi. was neither a soldier nor a statesman. He
hated war, and he hated pomp and ceremony and great
crowds of courtiers and servants. He would have been
better pleased had he been a simple gentleman who could
live quietly, spending his time in reading and study. But
in those days reading and study were not thought fit
occupations even for simple gentlemen. War was the
only fit occupation for gentlemen and knights, and so the
King did not make friends with the great and warlike
nobles, but with humble men whose tastes were like his
His chief friends were Cochrane, an architect, or as the
proud nobles called him scornfully, a mason ; Rogers, a
musician ; Leonard, a smith ; Hommel, a tailor ; and Tor-
phichen, a fencing master. But his greatest friend amongst
them was Cochrane, the mason
It made the proud nobles very angry to see that the
King preferred the company of such people to theirs.
And they began to think that one of his younger brothers
would have made a much better King.
These brothers were called the Duke of Albany and
the Earl of Mar. They were both tall, handsome men,
splendid soldiers and knights, and quite unlike the King
in every way.
Although they were so different, the King loved his
HOW A MASON BECAME AN EARL 265
brothers. But Cochrane the mason and his friends did
not like Albany and Mar, so they began to whisper evil
things to the King against them. They pretended that
Albany and Mar were in league with witches and wizards,
and that they would cause the King‘s death. The King
was very superstitious, as many people were in those days
when witches and wizards were still believed in. He was
timid too, and soon grew so afraid of his brothers that he
ordered them to be seized and put in prison. Albany,
however, managed to escape to France, and from there
he went to England. Mar was taken, and died soon after
in prison, killed, it is said, by the King‘s orders.
Then, Cochrane, the King‘s favourite, became greater
and greater. He received the dead Earl‘s money and
lands, and henceforward called himself the Earl of Mar.
The King allowed him to issue coins, which, instead of
being entirely of silver, were mixed with copper. The
people were very angry at this, and they refused to sell
their goods for ‘ Cochrane‘s plaks,’ as they called them.
They insisted that this money should be called in again.
But Cochrane would not listen. ‘ By heaven,’ he cried,
‘ the day I am hanged it shall be called in, and not before.’
The King would do nothing without his favourite’s
advice. If a man wished to ask anything of the King, he
was obliged to flatter and to make friends with Cochrane.
To be ruled by a mason was very bitter to the great
barons, so gradually James lost the love of many of the
greatest men of the kingdom, and they began to plot
together to rid themselves of Cochrane and the others
who were the King‘s favourites.
At this time the King of England prepared to make
war once more against Scotland. He meant to help the
Duke of Albany, and to set him upon the throne instead
of James. He thought this would please the Scots, but,
however angry they were with their own King, they had
no mind to allow the King of England to interfere. So,
when James called his soldiers together they came eagerly.
It was a very great army which gathered on the
Borough-muir near Edinburgh, and marched southwards.
Besides foot soldiers and horsemen, the King brought
some of the great cannon from Edinburgh castle, and
over these, he made Cochrane captain.
Cochrane came to battle in very great state. He rode
upon a splendid horse, a golden helmet was carried before
him, and in front of it marched four trumpeters, blowing
upon golden horns. Behind him rode three hundred men
clad in white. His tent was made of silk, and even the
cords were twined with silk and gold.
All this show made the nobles more bitterly angry
than ever with Cochrane. Very early one morning, as
they were encamped at Lauder, they met together in the
church there, to discuss how they might rid themselves of
this upstart, as they called him.
They were all agreed that Cochrane must die. But
how was it to be done ? That was the question. He was
powerful, he was brave, he was loved by the King, he was
constantly surrounded by soldiers and servants. How
was it to be done ?
In this doubt and difficulty, one of the lords, seeing
that although the nobles were discontented enough, they
lacked courage and decision, told a story. ‘ Once upon a
time,’ he said, ‘ all the mice met together, to consult how
they should defend themselves against their great enemy
the cat. The cat was so big, and they were so small, that
they could not kill him. And he prowled about so quietly
on his soft paws, that he was often close upon them
before they had time to run away. At last, after much
talking, they decided to hang a bell round his neck, so
HOW A MASON BECAME AN EARL 257
that they should always be able to hear when their enemy
was coming. But the plan failed, for no mouse could be
found bold enough to hang the bell round the cat’s neck.’
As soon as this lord had done speaking, Archibald,
Earl of Angus, started forward. ‘ There is no need of
delay,’ he cried, ‘ I will bell the cat.’ From this speech
he was known ever after as ‘ Archibald-bell-the-cat.’
At this moment, there came a loud knocking at the
church door, which was barred and guarded.
‘ Who knocks thus loudly ? ’ demanded the knight who
kept the door.
‘ ‘Tis I, the Earl of Mar,’ came the answer.
‘ Haha ! ‘ cried Angus, ‘ the victim has been before
hand with us. He saves us the trouble of seeking him.
Unbar the door.’
The heavy bolts were slowly pushed back, the door
swung open, and Cochrane entered. He was, as usual,
splendidly dressed. He wore a hunting costume of black
velvet. Round his neck hung a heavy chain of gold, at
his belt a golden horn set with jewels. He came forward
with a haughty, careless smile.
Angus met him. ‘ A halter would better become
you,’ he cried, pulling the gold chain roughly from his
‘You have been a hunter of mischief long enough,’
said another knight, snatching at his horn.
Cochrane was not easily made afraid, but he was
astonished at this rough usage. ‘ My lords,’ he said, ‘ is
this jest or earnest ? ‘
‘ It is good earnest,’ they replied, ‘ as you shall soon
see. You and your fellows have taken too much advan
tage of our King this long while. Now that is at an end,
and you shall receive the reward of your misdeeds.’
The fierce, stern nobles crowded round Cochrane, and
258 SCOTLAND’S STORY
he was quickly bound hand and foot. Then a party of
soldiers hurried to the King’s tent. There they found all
the other favourites. They seized every one of them,
except a boy called Ramsay. He clung to the King, and
James held him tight in his arms, and prayed so earnestly
for his life, that the nobles spared him. But all the others
were led out to Lauder bridge, and hanged there in a row,
with Cochrane in the middle.
Even at the last moment, Cochrane could not forget
his grandeur and finery. He begged to be hanged with a
silken cord from his tent, and not with a hempen rope
like a common thief.
‘ Thou art but a false thief and traitor,’ the lords replied,
‘ and deserve no better ’ ; and instead of hanging him with
a silken cord, they hanged him with one of horsehair,
which was thought to be more disgraceful even than
hemp. As soon as he was hanged, they made a proclama
tion, calling in all Cochrane’s plaks. Thus his words
So died the King’s favourites, most of them for no
greater fault than that they were low born.
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