Sir Robert Boyd of Dean Castle and his Last Combat with Steward of Darnley
Sir ROBERT BOYD stood manfully by his Sovereign on the field of Bannockburn, and in return for his services there, and during the War of Independence, he received Dean Castle with it fair lands. The existing charter dates back as far as 1316. From that year down to 1775, amid many turmoil's and vicissitudes, the Boyd's continued to occupy their stronghold. It was not until the year. 1775 that the carelessness of a domestic brought its residential career to a close, and sent the flames curling from the window and the loopholes of the massive edifice. But during its long history, Dean Castle was the scene of many a fierce conflict, and the center of many an intrigue. Its lords played no unimportant part in the events of the times, national and local, and its walls looked down on many a fray whose very memory has gone into the silence of lapsed remembrance.
In 1439, it was Sir Robert Boyd who dispensed the hospitality and swayed the influence invariably possessed In these feudal clays by the great territorial lords of the land. Like his progenitors and his descendants, and like the other great barons by whom he was surrounded, he carried matters with a high hand. From beneath the shadow and the shelter of the massive ramparts of the Dean he led his followers to the fray and the fight, sometimes to victory, sometimes to defeat; but what'er betided, he could at all times withdraw to the safety of his towers and his bulwarks, man well his battlements, and bid the encircling host defiance.
One of the most tenacious and persistent of his foes was Sir Alan Stewart, of Darnley. Sir Alan had held the office of High Constable of the Scottish army in France.
Having returned home to his seat in the Eastwood parish Renfrewshire, he prosecuted campaigning against his rival ; and though on a scale vastly inferior to that which had characterized his leadership on the Continent, he was animated by feelings not less vindictive and by perseverance not less notable than those which he had called into play on the bloody fields of France. In Sir Robert Boyd he met a foeman full worthy of his steel, and the borderlands of Ayrshire and of Renfrewshire had good cause to remember the rapine and the plunder which distinguished the long-continued combat. It was war to the knife, against houses and homesteads, against castles and mansion, against farmers and rustics, against all who in any way were allied to, or connected with, either of the great families of Boyd or of Stewart.
The end of the feud, so far as Sir Alan Stewart had to do came to him between Falkland and Linlithgrow. Tidings had been brought to the Dean that the Baron of Darnley was on his way to the Scottish midlands, and with horse and with armour, with troopers, riding in close order and ever alert against insidious attack, rode the lord of Kilmarnock on his mission of vengeance. He overtook Sir Allan at Polmaise Thorn, and falling upon him at unawares, slew him by the way side ; and then, retracing his steps, he hastened back to Ayrshire to set his house in order for the anticipated reprisal. For the Stewarts of Darnley were not the men to let a deed of this kind go unavenged and Sir Robert knew it. The battle he foresaw, must ere long be transferred to Ayrshire, and he prepared to meet it when it came.
When the young Sir Alexander Stewart heard the news, that his sire had been slain, by his old rival, by the Thorn of Polmaise he waited only until the days of the mourning were ended. The body of Sir Alan was borne to its last resting place with every pomp and circumstance ; and, when the ancestral vault had received its tenant, Sir. Alexander bid his men assemble at Darnley House in three days. The intervening time he did not waste in regrets or in recrimination. He did not call the civil power to his aid, but instead, he saw to it that his armoury was complete, that his battle-axes and his swords were sharp, that his horses were fit for the field, and that nothing was awanting to ensure success. The days passed, and when they were gone the retainers of Darnley were ready, and their chief was at their head. He divided his followers into three detachments, each consisting of about seventy men. Two of these he sent on before him with orders to eider upon the lands surrounding the Dean at different points, and he gave them instructions to meet him at Craignaugh Hill on the following night. And having seen them on their way, he himself chose a third route, with the object of making the retaliation as wide-spread as possible, and the vengeance as complete as it could be.
Sir Robert Boyd, with a hundred of his men, were in the Dean Castle awaiting the advent of the Stewarts, and ready at a moment's warning to ride forth to give them stern greeting and welcome to the lands of Kilmarnock. And out over the hills of Dunlop they had their watchmen, well-mounted, or fleet of foot, to bring them tidings. It was weary waiting, but they had not long to wait, for on the very day that witnessed the departure of the Stewarts from Darnley, a messenger arrived to say that they -were coming. The messenger had himself seen but one of the detachments, that led by Sir Alexander, and he reported that their numbers were about seventy, and that they were armed to the battle. There was joy and elation in the breasts of the Boyd's. Their brief inaction within the walls of the Castle was at an end, and now they were bound out over the fields and the mosses, and away to the steeps of Dunlop. Swords, battle-axes, spears, armour, were taken down from the walls, the impatient horses were led from their stalls, and with jocund hearts and eager for the conflict, the Boyd's clattered across the draw-bridge, and out into the open country. Sir Robert remained a moment behind, to take farewell of his wife. She was loath to let him go, and with tears in her eyes, she put her arms around his neck, and looked lovingly and longingly into his face.
"Cheer up, Isabel," he said, "you were not wont to be despondent, and why should you be so now? "
"No, I have never been like this before. And yet there is good cause for despondency," she replied. "But, goodbye. You will hasten back with all the speed you may; for I shall not rest either in mind or in body until. I see you home again within the walls of the Dean."
"Then that will riot be long." The Stewarts are but seventy, strong, dear Isabel, and we an hundred. You are not afraid that we shall not be able to give account of them."
"No, I not afraid of that, if they be only seventy strong. But beware lest they lead you into an ambush."
"I shall, Isabel; and all the more that you are so despondent and fearful. But tell me the cause of your despondency; I have never seen you so before."
"Well may I be despondent. Last night I had such a vision as only can portend some terrible disaster. I was standing methought, at the center gate of the castle, when I saw approach, not a gay cavalcade full of fire and life, such as that 1 have just seen ride away, but a, broken force, battle-rent, returning from defeat. And, alas, my husband, you were not riding, as is your wont, at their head, but lying across the back of your war horse, all wounded, and in your gore. I saw you as plainly as I see you now, and is it any wonder, then, that 1 fear to part from you ? "
"Banish your fears, dear wife ; and bid your dreams asleep, for something tells me that I shall return all safe. Nor must I delay any longer. One farewell kiss, then now, good-bye, Isabel, and possess your soul in peace."
"May God go with you, dearest husband, while I remain behind, to wait and to pray that his angels may guard you in the hour of battle!"
With these words ringing in his ears, Sir Robert Boyd gave his anxious steed both whip and spur; and, galloping off he overtook his retainers, and assumed his natural position at their head. They took their way northwards past Kilmaurs, and, catching a glimpse of Rowallan Castle, they held on past Fenwick and Stewarton, over ground which had witnessed many a hard-fought fight, and which was yet destined to witness memorable scenes in the great struggle of the Montgomeries and the Cuninghames. Night was falling over the uplands of Dunlop ere they had entered the dangerous ground where they knew the Stewarts were to be found, and so they went warily through the gloaming and into the night, keeping sharp outlook the while, lest unawares they should fall into ambuscade. Two lynx-eyed watchers, were in the van, and these peered into every dell and thicket and nook, where, perchance, a watching Stewart might be hidden.
Meantime, Sir Alexander Stewart and his retainers had not been idle. They had raided in different directions, making rapid incursions on the lands of the Boyd's, and, with cattle and sheep and wealth of spoil, they had returned to the trysting place by Craignaugh Hill. Here they lay down for the night, the hill behind them, the broad plain in front of them, the sky overhead. It was a clear, calm night and its earlier hours waned away unenlivened by else than the bleating of the sheep, the lowing of the kine, and the cry of the restless birds of the moorland and the swamp. The wind was cold, but deep among the heather, and under cover of such natural shelter as the undulating ground and the scattered boulders afforded them, the Stewarts slept. They needed no lullaby save that of Nature. They had had a hard and a long day's riding They had skirted many a field and many a fold, they, had driven the peasants on the lands of Dean into hiding, or else they had slain them where they stood, or overtaken them with their long spears as they ran. To maintain as much secrecy as they could, they had refrained from firing the homesteads, that was a luxury reserved for the home-going. The chill breezes only made them sleep the sounder.
As the noon of night drew on, the sentinel who kept watch and ward heard far in the distance the sound of a body of horsemen. It was a familiar sound, and he knew, it well; and, without waiting longer than to verify his assurance, he roused Sir Alexander Stewart, who, wrapped in his plaid, lay asleep on the moor. He, too, listened.
The sound was, there, ever present, a distant, indistinct noise which hardly obtruded itself on the natural stillness of the upland solitudes, but still sufficiently defined to leave no doubt in the mind of the Baron of Darnley what it portended. The horsemen were advancing by the highway towards Renfrewshire, which led right past the spot where the Stewarts, were resting, and a short half-hour's riding was sufficient to bring the opposing troops face to face.
The moon was climbing up the vault when Sir Alexander Stewart roused his men from their sleep. They obeyed his call with alacrity, and in rank and file waited patiently for the foe. A scout was sent out on foot to ascertain the strength of the Boyd's, and until his return silent watchfulness was the order of the night. The scout was not absent more than fifteen minutes. He had, by avoiding, a circuitous detour of the road, succeeded, from the shelter of a copse, where he had lain on the ground below the line of the horsemen observation, in counting the troopers from Dean Castle, as they were outlined in passing against the sky, and was able to bring back the information that they were a hundred strong.
Sir Alexander Stewart rubbed his hands gleefully together, as he gave his orders, He instructed the two detachments whom he had sent off in advance from Darnley, to retire on either flank to a distance of a-bout four hundred yards and there to remain until the sound of the conflict reached their ears. When they heard the clashing of the opposing arms, they were to join in the rush of battle.
" And what if we hear no sounds of -war in the camp? asked the leader of one of the companies.
"By my soul, but you shall hear it," was the, reply,
And hear it they did. For no sooner had the Boyd's come within striking distance than Sit. Alexander Stewart bid them halt. The order was given in sharp, peremptory tones, which meant all they were intended to convey. Boyd was surprised to find himself not a hundred paces distant from the foe whom he sought, and that foe drawn up in array to receive him. His scouts had given him no warning, and, so far as he was concerned, they had disappeared. Notwithstanding all their vigilance, they had walked into a trap, and now, at the rear of the position occupied by the men of Darnley, they were stretched, bound hand. and foot, on the ground.
In the moonlight Sir Robert Boyd could easily make out the number opposed to him in front, and, conceiving that he saw the whole force who had come to dispute his way, he replied insolently to the command of Stewart.
" I did not come here to halt, Sir Alexander. I am here to find you."
" Well, you have found me," was the reply, " and I am ready to receive you."
Boyd gave command to his men to charge, and, with spears at rest, they rode up the incline in front of them to meet with the Stewarts. The latter were little disinclined to the fray; on the contrary, raising their battle cry-a cry that sounded far into the night and reached the ears of their fellows to right and left of them they clashed forward to encounter the troopers from Dean Castle. The distance intervening was hardly more than sufficient to enable the horses to gather way, and but a few moments elapsed ere Boyd's and Stewarts were locked in warrior embrace. The placid moon, witness to many a fell scene, looked coldly down on the fray. Beneath her beams swords flashed and axes gleamed, and the red blood flowed. By her light, Stewart locked in deadly encounter with Boyd, and Boyd with Stewart. She lighted up the spot where, at the head of his men, the Baron of Kilmarnock waved his keen blade, and brought it down with sweep and with fury upon the heads of the foemen. She saw the horsemen reel in their saddles and fall, never more to return the challenge or give back the vengeful blow. She beheld the horses in the shock of the melee, while the cries of the combatants and the groans of the dying made the night air fearful. As she flooded the landscape with her pale radiance, she lit up the path to the contest of the two detachments of Stewarts, who, withdrawn from the spot, awaited but the shock of battle to rush to the fray; and from right and left they came right valiantly to the slaughter. Never men hasted more gladly to bridal than they to the combat.
Boyd heard them approach. He had fallen into ambush. He saw it, he knew it, but there was no going back. Outnumbered by more than two to one, he might yet prevail, and not for a moment was he unnerved by the accession to the strength and valour of the foe. It was no place for an unnerved man; only warriors who knew no impossibilities could hope to cope with the superiority. So Boyd cried louder his battle shout, and more fiercely he fell upon the Stewarts. Before his strongh arm the Stewarts went down as if cleft by a bolt from the heavens; and after him pressed his followers, emulating his prowess and giving back blow for blow. Their numbers were gradually and perceptibly thinning, and, surrounded by the foe, what could they do more than brave men have done in all ages? In the heart of the enemy they placed themselves back to back, they closed up their ranks, and, forming a circle, they grimly set themselves to beat back the Stewarts or else to die where they fought. And ever up, and ever on, the men of Darnley pressed, striving to find one single gap in the circle of steel which kept them at bay, one single gap by which they might drive in a human wedge and throw the Boyd's into confusion. But in vain. The Boyd's stood firm, and there was no break in that stern circle of defense.
Sir Robert Boyd grow impatient, and out from the circle he sprang to try conclusions with Sir Alexander Stewart himself. And Stewart was nothing chary to risk the combat. At it, then, tooth and nail, they went, and there was a moment's pause, while the combatants closed in deadly tussle. But the pause was only for a moment.
Seeing his opportunity, one of the Stewarts drove his dagger into the back of the lord of Kilmarnock. Boyd reeled in his seat, fell, and all was over. His men rallied around him, but not to his aid, for he was beyond the reach of mortal help, and his life's blood dyed the heath.
Their champion, their leader fallen, the men of Kilmarnock broke and fled. The Stewarts, victorious, rested on the scene of the fray, nor did they take their departure until the day was breaking and the rising sun was turning into sickly paleness the silver sheen of the orb of night.
And then, bearing their dead and their wounded with them, they retraced their march into Renfrewshire, satisfied that they had had their revenge. When the were gone, the Boyd's returned, and, taking up the body of their slaughtered chief, rode slowly southward towards Kilmarnock.
When Sir Robert Boyd left Dean Castle his wife retired to the solitude of her chamber to wait patiently, and to pray. The day wore down to night, and as the hours went slowly on in the solitude of the massive walls, her vision recurred with fresh intensity and vividness. She felt as she had never felt before. Clearly, distinctly, she saw before her eyes the scene re-enacted that had attended on the visions of dreamland. She could not shut her eyes to it.
Even when the setting sun shot his beams athwart the horizon and lighted up the landscape with his departing glories, she saw the silent procession, and when night came on, with its solemnities and its silence that might be felt, it was still there. She flung herself on her couch to rest, but rest she could not, so she betook herself to the solace of devotion. Thus engaged, the night passed through its vigils, and at the first streak of the morning she was afoot and alert to the return of her lord.
And return he did, and as she feared he would. Yonder came the procession, not marching in the panoply of its setting out, but straggling, broken, and disjointed. Every feature of the dream was reproduced. On horseback was the Baron, but cold and limp in the coldness of death. By the side of the steed which had often borne him to the fray there walked two of the followers of the fortunes of Dean Castle, and carefully they led the conscious horse up the path towards the keep. Sir Robert passed within the gates for the last time, and as the warder gave him admission the lady swooned away.
They laid her on her couch, and all the day long they watched and tended her. She spoke little, she wept little, but continued as in a trance until night returned. And then she fell asleep-asleep, never to awake. Never again to behold the gracious sun in his strength, or to walk as she was wont to do by the strong walls of the Dean. She had followed her husband to where, beyond these voices, there is peace.