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Timeline of Scottish History

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Siege and sack of Berwick

Edward was determined, at all sacrifices, to make himself master of this city. It was celebrated for the riches and the power of its merchants; and the extent of its foreign commerce, in the opinion of a contemporary English historian, entitled it to the name of another Alexandria. It was protected only by a strong dike, but its adjacent castle was of great strength, and its garrison had made themselves obnoxious to the king, by plundering some English merchant ships which had unsuspiciously entered the port. The king summoned it to surrender, and offered it terms of accommodation, which, after two days'"consideration, were refused. Edward, upon this, did not immediately proceed to storm, but drew back his army to a field near a nunnery, about a mile from the town, and where, from the nature of the ground, he could more easily, conceal his dispositions for the attack. He then despatched a large division, with orders to assault the town choosing a line of march which concealed them from the citizens; and he commanded his fleet to enter the river at the same moment that the great body of the army, led by himself, were ready to storm. The Scottish garrison fiercely assaulted the ships, burnt three of them, and compelled the rest to retire; but they, in their turn, were driven back by the fury of the land attack. Edward himself, mounted on horseback was the first who leaped the dike; and the soldiers, animated by the example and presence of their king, carried everything before them. All the horrors of a rich and populous city sacked by an inflamed soldiery, and a commander thirsting for vengeance, now succeeded. Seventeen thousand persons, without distinction of age or sex, were put to the sword; and for two days the city ran with blood like a river. The churches, to which the miserable inhabitants had fled for sanctuary, were violated and defiled with blood, spoiled of their sacred ornaments, and turned into stables for the English cavalry.

In the midst of this massacre a fine trait of fidelity occurred. The Flemings at this period carried on a lucrative and extensive trade with Scotland, and their principal factory was established in Berwick. It was a strong building, called the Red-hall, which, by their charter, they were bound to defend to the last extremity against the English. True to their engagements, thirty of these brave merchants held out the place against the whole English army. Night came, and still it was not taken. Irritated by this obstinate courage, the English set it on fire, and buried its faithful defenders in the burning ruins. The massacre of Berwick, which took place on Good Friday, was a terrible example of the vengeance which Edward was ready to inflict upon his enemies. Its plunder enriched his army, and it never recovered its commercial importance and prosperity. Sir William Douglas, who commanded the castle, after a short defence surrendered, and swore fealty to the King of England; and its garrison, after taking an oath not to bear arms against that country, were allowed to march out with military honours.

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