Page:Robert the Bruce and the struggle for Scottish independence - 1909.djvu/284

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Robert the Bruce.

[1314 A.D.-

is the record of a pathetic incident. It is the inquest on the body of an unhappy countryman who, having climbed the church tower of Houghton-le-Spring in order to have a better view of the Scots passing over the plain below, fell down from under the bells and was killed. To the verdict of accidental death was added a rider, which must have been very consolatory to the parishioners who had lost all their possessions, to the effect that, although the floor of the tower had undoubtedly been polluted by the blood of the deceased, the jury did not consider that there was any reason to interrupt the ordinary services in the church.[1]

All these ransoms and indemnities had made the King of Scots strong in the sinews of war, and he prepared to extend the area of operations. The O'Neills of Ulster had been making overtures to him, complaining of the exactions of their English rulers, and offering the crown of Ireland to Edward, Earl of Carrick. In consequence of this an expedition was resolved on, which seems to one looking back on those distant days the sole blunder committed by Robert the Bruce from the day he finally took up the cause of Scottish independence. There was fighting and rapine enough in Britain, God knows, to satisfy a nature far more ferocious than that of the King of Scots, without seeking more in other lands. Yet, before committing himself to what proved such a disastrous enterprise, Robert must have weighed the advantage of dividing the English forces against the prudence of dividing his own.

  1. Raine, 249.