Cocklaws Tower, 'a small insignificant Border tower, which reared its little armed battlements in proud perching majesty, about the time of the regency of the deceitful Albany, was, as is pretty well known, the scene of a siege, memorable for the object with which it was undertaken, and not less so for the ludicrous circumstances with which it was attended.'
Occasionally John Greenlaw of Cocklaws made an attack upon the castles of the great barons; 'but he did this merely to gain a character, and to keep up his self-deception of being a great Border warrior. It was seldom that much attention was paid to his skirmishes; it was sufficient that the attack was made by Greenlaw; and if any fears were entertained that he might terrify the women, it was only necessary to send out a few men, who very seldom had much trouble in making the little warrior retire, which he generally did with the nimblest celerity, giving out as his apology, that if the baron did not choose to head his men, he could not expect a fair battle from Cocklaws'.
In May 1403, Henry was content on hearing ‘Hotspur’ had invaded Scotland. It appeared ‘Hotspur’ intended to subject Scotland as far as the Scottish sea (Firth of Forth) to his will.
A messenger came running up to the tower in breathless haste, and said, that the whole English army was marching to besiege Cocklaws. Doubts were soon put an end to by the appearance of the army before the tower. The whole English troops seemed to have collected at that spot. The number seemed equal to the taking of all Scotland. What did they mean by directing the strength of an elephant in crushing a gnat? The matter seemed incomprehensible to the lady, and even Cocklaws himself could not conceal that he thought there was some chance of his being obliged to succumb. While hesitating what step to take, a messenger delivered to him a message from the regent Albany, to hold out until succours were sent him, which would be soon.
'The Duke of Albany write to Cocklaws to oppose his cockle-shell of a castle to the army of England! The thing appeared so utterly absurd, that, were it not verified by the absolute presence of Hotspur and Douglas, with their army sitting before the tower like a swarm of locusts, about to attack a single stalk of barley'.
The English proceeded to make preparation for attacking the little march tower. The hero of Homildon Hill sent his herald to blow his horn, almost sufficient to blow the cockle-shell to pieces, and demand the master of Cocklaws to surrender his tower to the arms of Henry of Lancaster, King of England.
The engines having been erected, the army approached, and the twang of the cloth shafts leaving the cords, and the booming of the engines upon the wall, announced the beginning of the attack. Cocklaws was upon the tower, in the midst of his men, exhibiting the courage of a terrier, in attacking a bull. He let fly his arrows at the English, and made a noise in crying and bellowing to his adherents.
The noise increased; and there appeared, both without and within, all the haste and confusion of a regular siege. However, the battering of the engines produced no effect on the walls, and the arrows and missiles killed none of the besieged. In a little time, the battering ceased—the army, deserting the attack, fell back—and the siege seemed for a time, at least, to be abandoned.
The next day the attack was renewed with the same display of power. The farce of the previous day was repeated. A battering was kept up for a time—a number of arrows discharged, and then a recession, the very same as the day before.
In the evening, the herald’s trumpet sounded a parley; and a request was made that Cocklaws would allow Hotapur and Douglas to visit him in the tower, with a view to adjust terms of peace. The request was admitted; and the proud governor waited the arrival of his humbled enemies.
The parties arrived, and, along with them, the Duke of Albany, Regent of Scotland. Cocklaws received them with the condescension and kindness that was due to brave men whom he had beaten.
The object of this sham siege was, to make Henry of England believe, that his Generals, Hotspur and Douglas, have seriously attacked Scotland, while they, being all friends, have a very different object in view.
This farce was acted, with a view to blind Henry, King of England, and to operate as a cover for the rebellion which soon broke out in the north of England, and which ended in the famous battle of Hartlefield, where Percy was slain. It has generally been supposed that Cocklaws should have been knighted, but, Albany, when the subject was mentioned to him, expressed his displeasure at being put in mind of a circumstance which was, in the end, unfavourable to Scotland.
Extracts from Wilson's Border Tales: The Siege of Cocklaws
Held by the Hays, passed to the Galdstones by 1560.
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Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017