Thursday, June 24, 2010

"One of the Three Most Accomplished Knights in Christendom" and the Winning of Scottish Independence at Bannockburn [UPDATED]

Today is the 696th anniversary of one of the greatest battles ever fought on British soil, and certainly the most significant battle in Scottish history.

On 24 June 1314, Robert Bruce, King of Scots, led a vastly outnumbered army to an overwhelming victory against the might of the English forces under King Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn, near Stirling Castle in central Scotland.

Bannockburn turned out to be the decisive victory in the First Scottish War of Independence, and was a precursor to the restatement of Scotland's historic independence from England, which was formally declared by the Community of the Realm of Scotland 6 years later at Arbroath.

Despite the completeness of the Scottish victory at Bannockburn and, later, papal recognition of the Scottish claims in the Declaration of Arbroath, full English recognition of Scottish independence was not achieved until more than ten years after Bannockburn, just prior to the death of King Robert. In the meantime, throughout that decade following Bannockburn, Robert completely dominated the English militarily: conducting frequent raids across the border deep into the heartlands of Yorkshire and Lancashire; exacting tribute from English communities (who bought off the Scots to avoid being laid waste in Robert's efforts to force English recognition of Scotland's independence); invading and nearly subduing Ireland in an abortive attempt to place Robert's brother, Edward Bruce, on the Irish throne; capturing the Isle of Man; and raiding a Welsh sea-port.

Robert Bruce kills Sir Henry de Bohun in single combat at Bannockburn. Source.

Robert Bruce statue at Bannockburn. Source.

Another view of the Bruce statue at Bannockburn. Source.

Without doubt, Bruce was Scotland's greatest king, and he achieved, during his lifetime, world renown as one of the greatest warriors of the age.

Source; © The Heraldry Society Scotland 2004 The Heraldry Society of Scotland

Ronald McNair Scott, in his biography Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, cites to Liber Pluscardiensis in declaring that "in his prime Robert Bruce was ranked with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry and Sir Giles D'Argentan as one of the three most accomplished knights in Christendom ..." Scott later refers to the Bruce as "the victor in a hundred tournaments".

Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory.
Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front of battle lower;
See approach proud Edward's power—
Chains and slavery.

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee.
Wha for Scotland's King and law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa',
Let him on wi' me.

By oppression's woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free.
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow
Let us do—or die."

You can read about plans for commemorating the battle's 700th anniversary in 2014 here.

Also, here's an interesting story about the controversial decision of the Scottish National Trust to avoid offending English sensibilities and in an effort to tamp down over-exhuberant Scottish patriotism by portraying the Battle of Bannockburn as a melee between two medieval kings jockeying for supremacy and land to add to their holdings, as opposed to a battle between the Scots and the English.

The problem with the National Trust's proposed interpretation is that, in the context of the emerging Scottish nationalism of the late 13th and early 14th centuries, as represented by William Wallace's struggle against English oppression and culminating in the Community of the Realm's declaring its independence at Arbroath, it is complete ahistorical bollocks.

Here is just an excerpt from the Declaration of Arbroath, which provides some context regarding the prevaling nationalistic sentiments in Scotland during the Wars of Independence:
... But from these countless evils we have been set free, by the help of Him Who though He afflicts yet heals and restores, by our most tireless Prince, King and Lord, the Lord Robert.

He, that his people and his heritage might be delivered out of the hands of our enemies, met toil and fatigue, hunger and peril, like another Macabaeus or Joshua and bore them cheerfully.

Him, too, divine providence, his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our Prince and King.

To him, as to the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by law and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand.

Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.

It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom
- for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself...
(emphasis added)

In short, the National Trust is full of shite.

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At 7/07/2010 4:15 PM, Blogger N. Trandem said...

Of course, there is the little fact of him getting himself (and most of the Scottish Bishops) excommunicated, and his people placed under interdict...

At 7/07/2010 6:30 PM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

Well, nobody's perfect.


But, in all seriousness, Bruce spent the rest of his life doing penance for the murder of Comyn, both through personal acts of piety and through his physical suffering from the ailment that remained with him until he died, which he believed was a judgment upon him for what he had done at Dumfries.

Most importantly, in the end, the Church lifted the excommunications and the interdiction, and the independence of the Scottish realm received papal recognition.

Even then, Bruce's greatest regret was that he was never able to do additional penance by going on Crusade, so his final penitential act was to entrust his heart to the Black Douglas to take with him to the Holy Lands.


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