moment made it seem possible that the line of Bruce might supplant that of Plantagenet, ending disastrously in the death of Edward Bruce at Dundalk, belongs chiefly to his life, and not to that of Robert. But in the spring of 1317 Robert Bruce, who had in the previous year subdued the Hebrides, and taken his old enemy John of Lorne, went to his brother's assistance. His engagement when surprised by the English at Slane in Louth is said by Barbour to have been the greatest of the nineteen victories of the Irish war. The odds were eight to one, and Edward, who marched in the van, had hurried on out of sight of his brothers troops, so that the honour was undivided, and Robert reproached Edward for neglect of good generalship. The Scotch army after this met 'with little resistance in its progress to the south of Ireland. Limerick was taken, but Dublin saved by its inhabitants committing it to the flames. An incident too slight to have been invented marks the humanity of Bruce in the midst of the horrors of war. Hearing a woman cry in the pangs of childbirth, he halted his troops and made provision for her delivery.
For certis, I trow there is na man
That he ne will rew a woman than,
is Barbour's expression of the speech or thought of the gentle heart of the brave warrior. The arrival of Roger Mortimer as deputy infused new vigour into the English, and the Bruces, their success too rapid to be permanent, were forced to retreat to Ulster. Before the disaster of Dundalk Robert returned to Scotland, where the English had taken advantage of his absence to resume the war. The eastern and midland marches had been gallantly defended by Sir James Douglas against the Earl of Arundel and Lord Neville, and Sir John Soul is had protected Galloway from an inroad of Hartcla, warden of the English march. Berwick still remained in the hands of Edward II, a source of danger, as well as a standing memorial of the former subjection of Scotland. To its reduction Bruce on his return at once addressed himself.
In the autumn of 1317, while he was engaged in preparations for the siege, two cardinals, Jocelin and Luke, arrived in England with bulls from Pope John XXII 'to his beloved son the nobleman Robert de Bruce, at present governing the kingdom of Scotland,' commanding him to consent to a truce of two years with England. They had secret instructions to excommunicate him if he disobeyed. The cardinals did not venture across the border, and their messengers were received by Bruce with a pleasant countenance, showing due reverence to the pope and the church, but declining to receive the bulls because not addressed to him as king. They urged in vain the desire of the pope not to prejudice the dispute between England and Scotland, for Bruce had the answer ready: 'Since my father the pope and my mother the church are unwilling to prejudice either party by giving me the title of king, they ought not to prejudice me during the controversy by refusing that title, as I both hold the kingdom, receive the title from all its people, and am addressed under it by other princes.' Another attempt to proclaim the bull by Adam Newton, guardian of the Friars Minor in Berwick, had no better result. Newton saw Bruce at Ald-Camus (Old Cambus), where he was at work day and night in the construction of siege engines, and, having got a safe-conduct for himself and his papers, returned, in hopes of being allowed to deliver them. But Bruce was firm, and would not receive the bulls unless addressed to him as king, and, as he now added, until he had possession of Berwick. Newton had the daring to proclaim the truce, but on his way home he was robbed of his papers and clothes. 'It is rumoured,' he adds to his report, 'that the Lord Robert and his accomplices, who instigated the outrage now have the papers.' Care had been taken that another mission of John XXII sent to proclaim his accession to the papal see should not enter Scotland, so that the prelates and clergy of the Scottish province remained now, as in the former period of the war, free from a divided allegiance, and the church of Scotland was virtually independent.
In March 1318 the town of Berwick, which had stood the siege during the winter, was taken by a surprise contrived by Spalding, one of the citizens, and a few days after the castle capitulated. Entrusting it to the custody of Walter the Steward, Bruce invaded and wasted the north of England. The death of his only remaining brother and his daughter rendered a new settlement of the crown expedient, and a parliament met at Scone in December. By one of its statutes Robert, son of the Steward, and Marjory, the king's daughter, were recognised as next of kin; failing next issue of the king should he succeed while a minor, Randolph, and failing him James, lord Douglas, was to be regent. Substantially this was a re-enactment of the statute of Ayr. An important declaration was added that doubts without sufficient cause had been raised in the past as to the rule of succession, and it was now defined that the crown ought not