The battle of Stirling was fought on the eleventh of September; and on the twenty-fifth of that month the English government, alarmed at the success of Wallace, sent letters to the principal Scottish nobility, praising them for their fidelity to the king; informing them that they were aware the Earl of Surrey was on his way to England, (a delicate way of noticing the flight of Warrene from Stirling and directing them to join Brian Fitz-Alan, the governor of Scotland, with all their horse and foot, in order to put down the rebellion of the Scots. The only nobles with whom the English government did not communicate, were the Earls of Caithness, Ross, Mar, Athole, Fife, and Carrick. Fife, however, was a minor; the others, we may presume, had by this time joined the party of Wallace.
The great majority of the nobles being still against him, this intrepid leader found it difficult to procure new levies, and was constrained to adopt severe measures against all who were refractory. Gibbets were erected in each barony and county town; and some burgesses of Aberdeen, who had disobeyed the summons, were hanged.After this example he soon found himself at the head of a numerous army; and having taken with him, as his partner in command, Sir Andrew Moray of Bothwell, then a young soldier of great promise, and afterwards regent of the kingdom, he marched towards the north of England, and threatened Northumberland. Such was the terror inspired by the approach of the Scots, that the whole population of this county, with their wives and children, their cattle and household goods, deserted their dwellings, and took refuge in Newcastle. The Scots, to whom plunder was a principal object, delayed their advance; and the Northumbrians, imagining the danger to be over, returned home; but Wallace, informed of this by his scouts, made a rapid march across the border, and dreadfully ravaged the two counties of Cumberland and Northumberland, carrying off an immense booty, and having the head-quarters of his army in the forest of Rothebury. "At this time," says Hemingford, "the praise of God was unheard in any church and monastery through the whole country, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to the gates of Carlisle; for the monks, canons regular, and other priests, who were ministers of the Lord, fled, with the whole people, from the face of the enemy; nor was there any to oppose them, except that now and then a few English, who belonged to the castle of Alnwick, and other strengths, ventured from their safe-holds, and slew some stragglers. But these were slight successes; and the Scots roved over the country from the Feast of St Luke to St Martin's day,* inflicting upon it all the miseries of unrestrained rapine and bloodshed."
After this, Wallace assembled his whole army, and proceeded in his destructive march to Carlisle. He did not deem it prudent, however, to attack this city, which was strongly garrisoned; and contented himself with laying waste Cumberland and Annandale, from Inglewood forest to Derwentwater and Cockermouth. It was next determined to invade the county of Durham, which would have been easily accomplished, as three thousand foot and a hundred armed horse were all that could be mustered for its defence. But the winter now set in with great severity. The frost was so intense, and the scarcity of provisions so grievous, that multitudes of the Scots perished by cold or famine, and Wallace commanded a retreat. On returning to Hexham, where there was a rich monastery, which had already been plundered and deserted on the advance, a striking scene occurred. Three monks were seen in the solitary monastery. Thinking that the tide of war had passed over, they had crept back, to repair the ravages it had left, when suddenly they saw the army returning, and fled in terror into a little chapel. In a moment the Scottish soldiers with their long lances were upon them, calling, on peril of their lives, to showthem the treasures of their monastery. "Alas," said one of the monks, "it is but a short time sine" you yourselves have seized our whole property, and you know best where it now is." At this moment Wallaee himself came into the chapel, and, commanding his soldiers to be silent, requested one of the canons to celebrate mass. The monk obeyed, and Wallace, all armed as he was, and surrounded by his soldiers, reverently attended; when it came to the elevation of the host, he stepped out of the chapel to cast off his helmet and lay aside his arms, but in this short absence the fury and avarice of his soldiers broke out. They pressed on the priest, snatched the chalice from the altar, tore away its ornaments and the sacred vestments, and even stole the missal in which the service had been begun. When their master returned, he found the priest in horror and dismay, and gave orders that the sacrilegious wretches who had committed the outrage, should be sought for and put to death.