Life on the farm in West Berwickshire improved for the Hardies but Maggie never forgot the kindness shown by the Earl of Lauderdale and wished that one day she would have the chance to repay it.
But as conditions improved for Thomas and Maggie, Lauderdale and other Scottish nobles joined the forces of Charles II at Worcester in 1651 against the army of Oliver Cromwell. This was to prove the final battle in the English Civil War and ended in crushing defeat for Charles’ forces.
News of the defeat filtered back to Thirlstane Castle and Tollishill. The king had escaped to the continent but the Earl of Lauderdale had been imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Languished in his dungeon
For nine long years he languished in his dungeon while Maggie frequently brought up the subject of trying to help him only to be silenced by her more timorous husband. Meanwhile work on the estate continued and while others ignored rent days, the hardies faithfully locked away the money to be paid on the landlord’s return.
Maggie watched this sum grow annually until one day she said to Thomas, “We hae the siller locked away but it is nae use to us for it isnae oors, yet it may be o’ some use tae him. He micht at least fare better in jail; and if we maybe put a handfu’ o’ coins into the hands of his keepers he may even escape abroad.”
But Thomas still remained unconvinced and argued that there was no way they could get the money to the Earl.
“Let’s take it to him oorsels then” suggested Maggie. Thomas protested, explaining it would prove a long and dangerous journey. This time Maggie won the day and it was agreed they should set off.
It was a puzzled husband who watched his wife take a quantity of pease and barley meal from her larder and mix it with water and start to knead a sticky mixture. Into it she pressed the coins destined for her long absent laird. Nobody would guess that such a simple bannock would hold such a rich filling.
Within days the Hardies were heading south not as husband and wife but as two simple shepherds for Maggie deemed it safer to dress up as a young man.
At the end of the third week they had reached Stevenage a few miles short of their destination and as they searched for somewhere to spend the night they were approached by a gentleman of military bearing who said, “Ye seemed to have travelled far strangers.” “Frae Haughs on the bonny border o’ the north country” replied Thomas. “And whence go ye?”
But instead of answering Thomas wanted to know why he was so interested in them.
“I am General George Monk” was the reply. Here indeed was a distinguished soldier thought Thomas. Monk was first a dashing royalist officer later he was captured at the Battle of Nantwich in 1644, and after two years languishing in the Tower he saw the error of his ways and joined Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth helping to defeat a Scottish army at Dunbar in 1650.
Maggie still masquerading as a shepherd came straight to the point. “We are tenant of the Lord o’ Lauderdale whom you keep in captivity.” Monk remained silent while Maggie pleaded for the laird’s release.
Monk replied, “Ye have pleaded fairly and honestly,” and promised to re-examine the sentence and if possible let Lauderdale be exiled abroad. Satisfied with Monk’s promise and with Maggie discarding her disguise they continued to London.
A bonny song
Arriving on tower Hill they were confronted by the guards who demanded to know what they wanted. Maggie explained she only wanted cheer up her laird by singing him a bonny song. She was led through the prison yard where an amused guard pointed to a barred window and invited to sing.
The lilting ballad soon brought Lauderdale to the window and the astonished laird immediately recognised her and pleaded with his guards for her to be allowed to visit him.
His surroundings were starkly different from Thirlstane Castle but his delight in seeing her was genuine.
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Maggie’s words came tumbling out. Her need to pay the rent that was owed for all those years, her memory of his kindness and finally the story of her meeting with General Monk.
She handed him the bannock and bade him open it. With difficult Lauderdale broke it across his knee revealing the coins nestling in the dough.
Maggie told him to wait a month to see if Monk was as good as his promise, if so then the money would help in his sojourn abroad. Failing that the money could be used for bribing the guards.
“Never shall you rue the baking o’ this bannock if auld times come back again,” was the promise that Lauderdale made. Within a week the authorities allowed him to leave prison and travel abroad.
Death of Oliver Cromwell
Cromwell died in 1658 and eventually the country was ready for the return of Charles Ii, aided by Monk, his fickle allegiance now once more with the monarchy, the King was restored to the throne in 1660.
Lauderdale was now free to return to his estate in the Scottish Borders and was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland a position of unrivalled power and influence. However, on his arrival home his first stop was not the castle but to the humble cottage of the Hardies.
He greeted the couple warmly and placing a silver girdle round the slim waist of Maggie declared, “Wear this for now it is my turn to be grateful. And for your husband’s lifetime and your own and those of the generations following you shall all sit rent free on the lands ye now farm. For truly every bannock in the land has its equal except the bannock of Tollishill.”