It was not Adam Newton’s day. He must have wondered, when he heard that he would be the next messenger to Robert the Bruce, what he had done to anger the clerics above him.
The previous messengers, sent by the cardinals Luke and Jocelin, probably in early September 1317, had been pleasantly but firmly sent packing by Bruce and his barons. While Bruce camped near the town of Berwick, preparing to besiege it and take it back from the English, they had arrived with a letter addressed to Robert Bruce governing Scotland. Bruce smilingly told them that there were many men in his realm by the name of Robert Bruce, some of whom were indeed involved in governing the realm. He himself, was Robert Bruce King of Scots, he told them, and would gladly accept a letter addressed to himself as such, so as to be sure he wasn’t opening another man’s mail.
Bruce was a man known for his mercy. Yet he was also quite capable of being firm when the occasion warranted. The English town of Hartlepool, for instance, felt Bruce’s wrath, watching from the safety of their boats at sea as James Douglas sacked their town, rather than allow them to pay for peace, as Bruce allowed so many other English towns. Different reasons are put forth as to why Hartlepool was treated so harshly, but ultimately, what mattered to Adam Newton was the lesson of Hartlepool: Bruce was not a man with whom to tangle. And Adam must certainly have known of his predecessors and Bruce’s gentle warning to them:
“Had you presumed to present letters with such an address to any other sovereign Prince, you might perhaps have been answered in a harsher style. But I reverence you as the messengers of the Holy See.”
It is easy to believe that the unfortunate Adam Newton hoped Bruce would continue to have reverence for messengers of the Holy See. Adam was the guardian of the Friars Minorite at Berwick, held by the English since Edward I’s infamous sacking and murdering of its inhabitants in 1296. He would have been well aware of the background of his mission. Edward II, having failed militarily to deal with Bruce and the Scots, yet unwillingly to accede to Bruce’s very mild terms for peace, called in the big guns: Holy Mother Church.
Pope John XXII issued a bull demanding a two year truce. Lacking facebook or e-mail in 1317, the Pope entrusted the delivery of this message, along with personal, sealed messages, to Edward and Bruce, the respective kings of England and Scotland. Arriving in England, the cardinals Jocelin and Luke, sent two nuncios to do their work. One was the bishop of Corbeil, and the other was a priest named Aumori. In a side story that must have added to Adam Newton’s fears, the two nuncios traveled north with Lewis de Beaumont, the Bishop-elect of Durham, and were, on the course of their journey, attacked by bandits who allowed them to continue to Scotland (after taking their money of course), but took the bishop-elect hostage.
The bishop of Corbeil and Father Aumori made their way to Bruce probably in early September of 1317. He was at the time preparing for his latest siege on Berwick. He listened respectfully as they read the open letters, but refused to open the letter improperly addressed to Robert Bruce governing Scotland.
The cardinals, being told of the nuncios’ failure, corralled Adam Newton into the second attempt.
Father Newton, anticipating a less than warm welcome, left his Very Important Papers at Berwick for safe-keeping before heading off in search of Bruce. It was the middle of December when he found the king of Scots camping in the woods of Old Cambus, some twelve miles from Berwick, in the thick of building siege equipment. Lord Alexander Seton, seneschal of the king, granted Newton safe-conduct, and the man made the 24 mile round trip trek back to Berwick for those papers, and back to Old Cambus to deliver them to Bruce.
I can guarantee that a 24 mile journey in Scotland in December was not a pleasant one. On his return to Old Cambus, Seton informed him he would not be admitted to the king’s presence, but that he must hand over the papers to be taken to Bruce for his inspection.
Bruce’s patience, by this time, had been strained. He repeated, with less tolerance than on the previous attempt, one infers from reports, his stance that he would not accept improperly any communication which withheld his royal title, and that, furthermore, he would take Berwick back for Scotland.
Adam Newton, being either a man of courage and duty, or completely foolhardy, determined to deliver his message, anyway, and publicly announced the Pope’s two-year truce between England and Scotland, to the gathered barons and spectators. Tytler’s History of Scotland tells us the result:
…his proclamation was treated with such open marks of insolence and contempt, that he began to tremble for the safety of his person, and earnestly implored them to permit him to pass forward into Scotland to the presence of those prelates with whom he was commanded to confer, or, at least, to have a safe-conduct back again to Berwick.
Bruce sent Father Newton away, refusing to give him safe conduct papers for his return trip. One can imagine how Father Newton might have felt, traveling through what was essentially enemy territory, with the displeasure of the king at his back.
So it is not surprising, given both Bruce’s displeasure and his merciful nature, that Father Newton was accosted by four bandits, stripped of his documents, and, according to some sources, all his clothing, but left essentially unhurt and allowed to go his way. (And we’ll hope that in December he found himself clothes rather quickly!)
Newton later sent a letter to the two cardinals stating: “It is rumoured that the Lord Robert and his accomplices, who instigated this outrage, are now in possession of the letters intrusted to me.”
No doubt they were.