Scotland's Story - H. E. Marshall

How a Ploughman Won a Battle

Years passed on, king following king, and still the land was filled with fighting and strife. But out of the confusion and war of these stormy times Scotland grew.

There was war with the Saxons; there was war with the fierce sea kings who came sailing over from Norway and Denmark. Wild heathen men were these, tall and strong, with long fair hair and blue eyes. Fearless, and brave, and cruel, they landed in the islands to the north of Scotland, burning, destroying, conquering, and carrying off both men and women as slaves.

Fiercely the kings of Scotland struggled and fought against these wild invaders. Again and again they were driven out. Again and again they returned. They swept round the island; they wrecked the monastery of St. Columba on the island of Iona. Everywhere they carried fire and sword, leaving death and desolation behind them.

In the reign of a king named Kenneth III., these Danes were defeated in a battle called the battle of Luncarty. The fight had been sharp and cruel, and the Danes fought with such desperate bravery that at last they drove the Scots backward. In confusion they fled from the field. Down a long lane fenced on either side with high walls they fled, hotly pursued by the victorious Danes.

But in one of the fields near, a ploughman and his two sons were quietly at work. When the old man saw how the Scots were fleeing, he seized the yoke from the neck of his oxen, and calling to his sons to do the same he sprang into the lane. Side by side the three men stood barring the way. They were armed only with their wooden ox-yokes, and with them they beat back all those who fled.

'Would ye flee and become the slaves of heathen kings?' cried the old man, whose name was Hay. 'Nay, nay, turn back, turn back, and die rather as free men.'

So stoutly did he speak, such blows did he deal, that the Scots took heart again. They turned, and led by Hay, they once more attacked the on-coming Danes. And the Danes, thinking that a fresh army had come to help the Scots, were seized with fear and fled. Then the Scots, who had been so nearly defeated, now filled with new hope and courage, chased them from the field. Many were killed in the battle, many more fell in the chase, and the victory of the Scots was great. But all the honour was given to the ploughman and his two sons, who had won the day after it seemed lost.

The King then commanded that these three brave men should be dressed in splendid robes, and brought before him. But they did not care for fine clothes, so they refused the robes of silk and satin which were offered to them, and they went before the King wearing their old shabby clothes, covered with dust and mud, in which they had fought.

All the people were eager to see the men who, by such bravery, had saved their King and country from the terrible Danes. So they crowded along the road to see them pass, and with cheering and shouting a great throng of people accompanied them, doing them as much honour as if they had been kings and princes.

Thus, followed and surrounded by a rejoicing crowd, they came to the King's palace. All the courtiers wore their most splendid robes. The King sat upon his throne, his golden crown upon his head. Before him stood Hay and his sons in their old shabby clothes, carrying their wooden ox-yokes upon their shoulders.

'What can I do for you? What can I give to you,' asked the King, 'as a reward for your great services?'

'Give me, sire,' replied Hay, 'as much land as a falcon will fly over without alighting.'

'That is but modest asking,' said the King. 'Let it be done.'

Then the King and all his courtiers went out into the fields near the palace, and watched as a falcon was let loose. As soon as the bird was free it rose high in the air, then spreading its wings it flew away and away.

On and on it flew, on and on till, to those who watched, it seemed but a speck in the distance. Then it disappeared. The horsemen, who followed its flight, rode fast and they too were lost to sight. On and on the falcon flew, till at last it alighted upon a stone.

It had flown six miles without stopping, and all that six miles of land was given to Hay and his sons to be theirs for ever.

The King then made Hay and his sons knights. As you know, knights always had something painted upon their shields in memory of the great deeds which they had done. So King Kenneth commanded that Hay should have a shield of silver, and that upon it three red shields should be painted. That was to show that the ox-yokes of Hay and his sons had been as shields to the King and country. On either side was painted a ploughman carrying an ox-yoke, and over all was a falcon.

I must tell you that some people say that this story too is a fairy tale, but there is still a great family whose name is Hay, and who bear these same arms with the motto, Serva jugum, which is Latin and means 'Keep the yoke.'


Front Matter

The Story of Prince Gathelus
A Fight with the Romans
The March of the Romans
The Story of Saint Columba
French and Scot Allies
The Last of the Picts
A Ploughman Wins a Battle
Macbeth and Three Sisters
The Murder of Banquo
Thane of Fife went to England
Birnam Wood at Dunsinane
Malcolm Canmore
Saint Margaret of Scotland
The Story of Pierce-Eye
Donald Bane and Duncan
Alexander I—The Fierce
Battle of the Standard
William I—the Lion
Alexander II
Alexander III is Crowned
The Taming of the Ravens
A Lady and a Brave Knight
How the King Rode Home
The Maid of Norway
The Siege of Berwick
The Last of Toom Tabard
Adventures of William Wallace
The Black Parliament of Ayr
The Battle of Stirling Bridge
The Battle of Falkirk
The Turning of a Loaf
How the Bruce Struck a Blow
How the King was Crowned
If at First you don't Succeed
The King Tries Again
The Fight at the Ford
The Bruce Escapes
The Taking of Perth
How Two Castles Were Won
Castle of Edinburgh is Taken
How de Bohun Met his Death
The Battle of Bannockburn
How the Scots Carried the War
The Heart of the King
The Story of Black Agnes
Battle of Neville's Cross
French/Scots War with England
The Battle of Otterburn
A Fearful Highland Tournament
The Duke of Rothesay
The Battle of Harlaw
The Scots in France
Beautiful Lady of the Garden
The Poet King
The Black Dinner
Fall of the Black Douglases
The Story of the Boyds
How a Mason Became an Earl
The Battle of Sauchieburn
A Great Sea Fight
The Thistle and Rose
Flodden Field
Fall of the Red Douglases
Story of Johnnie Armstrong
The Goodman of Ballengiech
King of the Commons
Mary Queen of Scots
Darnley and Rizzio
Mary and Bothwell
The Queen Made Prisoner
King's Men and Queen's Men
Death of Two Queens
New Scotland
The King and the Covenant
The Soldier Poet
How the Soldier Poet Died
For the Crown
How the King was Restored
The Church among the Hills
A Forlorn Hope
The Battle of Killiecrankie
Glen of Weeping
Fortune's Gilded Sails
How the Union Jack was Made
For the King over the Water
Story of Smugglers
Prince Charles Came Home
Wanderings of Prince Charles
A Greater Conqueror
God Save the King