John Barbour’s, The Brus: Thoughts

For a while now I’ve been reading John Barbour’s epic, The Brus, and one of the things that most fascinates me about the poem is that it gives us an undeniable window into the mindset of a man who lived during that time; whereas so much of history is told to us through dusty old texts and boring lectures, where one man’s opinion, or the opinions of a small group is often times how we ourselves interpret what it is we are reading, in The Brus, however, we are listening to a man speak, and not just factually state his approximation of events that transpired, but of how he himself would have known and told them; how he did, in fact, tell such stories to the Scottish court and to King Robert II, Bruce’s son. John Barbour was a man who had actually meet those brave Scots who had fought alongside the previous King Robert; he existed around the time that these events had taken place, and had meet and spoken to those now elderly warriors, or their children, about such events; and so again, what fascinates me is when he says a line to the effect of “I heard it once told” or “as I heard tell” that through these anecdotes, and his own personable approach to telling this history, the reader is able to gain an insight into that time through just one man, John Barbour; who links us to the man at Bannockburn, or the man who fought alongside Bruce in Glentrool forest.

Bruce stone at Glentrool
The Bruce stone at Glentrool

And even if you’re not solely interested in Scottish history, the book nonetheless is a great read in that it manages to lend humor and a sense of personality into an historical subject in a way that a history book, or text, simply cannot. It is its firsthand and secondhand accounts that help lend a sense of character to the people and places from the perspective of a man who knew those people, and those places, and during the time in which they existed. For me, it truly is an invaluable source of information of the time of The Scottish Wars of Independence; it’s a Scottish source, and unashamedly so; it champions Scotland and her heroes (Whilst being more than fair to her enemies), and tells their story in what is widely considered to be a more than reasonably true account of such matters; both historic victory, and historic defeat being encountered there in the pages as they happened.

For instance, in Book 2, line 349, The Battle of Methven is recorded, wherein; the bridle of King Bruce’s horse is seized by Sir Philip Mowbray, who then calls out ‘Help! Help! I have the new-made King.’ Christopher Seaton then fly’s to the aid of the King and strikes Mowbray unconscious, thus releasing King Robert, which is followed shortly after by a retreat of the Scots force; and yet despite this mention of dramatic heroism, the account of the battle is still rightly attested to, and that Bruce and his men were defeated, is made clear. It’s a warts and all history that mentions the good times, and the bad; heroism and betrayal; its content easily being corroborated by other sources from that era, both Scottish, and English.

Now, I will say, that within the pages; liberally sprinkled among the numerous accounts of valorous deeds, and acts of ‘great courage’; are the use of words such as chivalry, stoutly, boldly and bravely; and whilst these words make for good story telling, their frequent usage can become noticeable, even a little heavy handed. Yet if an eyewitness was to tell Barbour that Bruce fought valiantly, as is often reiterated dramatically within the pages of the poem, or that a battle went this way or that way; then why would I choose to disbelieve that? Bruce was a fighter, and very much a warrior King; he fought a multitude of battles and wars, and survived them all. No one would doubt his prowess, or even that of his chivalric enemies, and so when lines attest to as much, and are reiterated heavily; mentioning his great chivalry and his overwhelming courage etc. I choose to believe it as a true characteristic of the man’s nature, and given by those who had witnessed him in such moments. For instance, the forces Bruce led where usually dangerously outnumbered, and yet he was often victorious. This alone should go some way to making such favorable descriptions of the King’s prowess and bravery, and that of the men who followed him, at the least believable.

Bruce
“in his youth he was a match for the super athletes of today”
“a privileged and muscular man, with large, broad features”

But regardless of the fast paced action sequences, it’s the lines which give you a rare glimpse into how men shaped by that time viewed each other, and the world around them; of how the nature of war and conflict were viewed through the lens of the prejudices and social norms of that period, which really interest me: Book 3, line 153:

There was a baron, Macnaughton, who paid great heed in his heart to the King’s (Bruce’s)chivalry, and he esteemed him greatly in his heart. He said to the lord of Lorn, ‘Assuredly, you can now see the heaviest trespass-payment taken that you ever saw taken in your lifetime. For yon Knight, by his bold deed and by his superhuman (outrageous manheid) qualties, in a short time has killed three men of great pride (Noblemen or Knights). He has discomfitted all our company so that no man dare go after him, and he turns his horse so often that he seems to have no fear of us.’ Then the lord of Lorn said, ‘You seemed to be pleased, perfay, that he kills our men like that.’ ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘as God is my witness, saving your presence, it’s not like that. But whosoever wins the prize in chivalry, be he friend or foe, men should speak faithfuly of it. And assuredly, in all my life, I never heard tell, in song or verse, of a man who achieved great chivalry so vigerously.’

Now contrast that glowing endorsement of the King, by non-other than an enemy, with how the King himself makes statement after the battle: Book 3, line 187:

‘For being discouraged,’ as he said then, ‘is the worst thing possible. For through great discouragement men often fall into despair, and when a man is in despair, then he is utterly beaten. If the spirit is discouraged, the body is not worth a jot. Therefore,’ he said, ‘above all keep yourselves from despair, and remember that, though we now feel injuries, God may yet relieve us well.’

Bruce and the spider
Bruce contemplating the spiders determined resolve

So whilst others begin to champion his legend, we see a hint of the concern of the here and now that Bruce and his men must surely have found themselves in, and no doubt often dwelt upon; yet unconcerned with whether or not history would remember them as heroic, or how ‘right manfully’ the country thought they conducted themselves; Bruce simply try’s to lift his men’s spirits in those closing moments after the battle, knowing that lives had been at stake, and that the men around him had faced down real danger; regardless of the glory to be won in the hindsight. It’s often difficult to remember that these were real men who had no idea then, that they would eventually be victorious. At that point in time, they were just a handful operating within a violent country, and surrounded daily by literal armies of enemies at every turn in the road. Did he say, verbatim, those exact words written above? Who can say? Did he ever actually utter similar words to his beleaguered army? It’s very possible.

Conclusion

But of course, no one will ever truly know what had really gone through the mind of the Bruce during that time, with the same being true of the men who followed him. Did they fight solely for Scotland, or did they simply hate the English? Did they fight for their lands that had been seized, or did they truly fight for the sake of liberty and the cause of freedom alone? Is it naive to assume some of them did fight for that? I don’t know, it’s all subjective and an exercise in educated guesswork to try and read the minds of people long dead, and from an era with a vastly different morality scale. What I do know however, is that the book itself is pretty entertaining, insightful and interesting in respects to mindset of the 1300’s, and one that I would highly recommend.

John Fordun: Indeed he is said to have said to his Knights one day when worn out by such…hardships and dangers, ‘Were I not moved by Scotland’s freedom still, for rule of the world I would not bear this ill.’

That all the punishment and strife he endured, Bruce wouldn’t have suffered so for the sake of the world, that he continued onward for Scotland, and Scotland only, to who he owed his allegiance, in my humble opinion, should never be doubted.

Bruce and Wallace at Stirling
Wallace and Bruce at Stirling

Cinead MacAlpin.

Bonnie Banks of Loch Lommond

This song was written by a Scottish warrior who was awaiting death in enemy captivity, during the 1745 Rebellion. The “low road” is a reference to the Scottish belief that if a Scotsman died away from his homeland, then the fairies would guide his soul along the “Low road” back to Scotland, whilst those still living, would have to traverse the “High road”, that of the mortals, back along to Scotland. The young warrior awaiting death may have been writing to either his brother, who was allowed to go home along the “High road”; the human road back to Scotland, as a means of further punishing the captive sibling; or to a lover back in Scotland.

When you realize that this might actually be a brother conceding his fate to a sibling or young lover; accepting it, that of death, and with such dignity, poise, and poetic finality; should rouse the goose pimples of a dead man. After all, it is said, that you cannot be a true Scot if this song doesn’t at least send a shiver across your flesh.

Side note: A tactic used by the English during the Jacobite uprising, was to separate Brothers, or fathers and sons, and then let one go free with the knowledge that his sibling, or son, was going to be executed. War is war, and then there is cruelty. My ancestors fought for right. The English fought for domination.

One of my ancestors died at the battle of Killiecrankie, whilst the other, a great, etc., etc. uncle, died at Culloden. He was, as were the majority of his countrymen, armed only with a broadsword and Targe (Buckler-like shield) The English fielded cannon and rifle. It was a loss for Scotland as a nation, certainly, but a victory for the Scots as, and to a man, they charged the barking steel like men possessed. It took cannon balls and bullets to put my blood down (Understand that I actually lost family members to this conflict). And dear god, I sorely hope that one day English guns are again fielded on Scottish soil.

Tha mi ‘Am eagal gu bàs, airidh air bàs

 

Loch Lommond

By yon bonnie banks, and by yon bonnie braes,

Where the sun shines on Loch Lomond.

Where me and my true love spent many days

On the banks of Loch Lomond.

 

T’was there that we parted, in yon shady glen,

On the steep sides, of Ben Lomond.

But the broken heart, knows no second spring,

Resigned we must be, while we’re parting.

 

So, you’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland, afore you.

Where me and my true love, will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks, of Loch Lomond.

 

Ho, ho mo leannan,

Ho, mo leannan bhoidheach

(Repeat x 8)

(Oh, oh my sweetheart,

Oh, my sweetheart beautiful/beautiful sweetheart)

 

You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland, afore ye.

Where me and my true love, will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks, of Loch Lomond.

 

You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland, afore you.

Where me and my true love will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks, of Loch Lomond.

 

You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland, afore you.

Where me and my true love, will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks, of Loch Lomond.

 

You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland, afore you.

Where me and my true love, will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks, of Loch Lomond.

 

You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland, afore you.

Where me and my true love, will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks, of Loch Lomond.

 

On the bonnie, bonnie banks

(Repeat x 9)

 

 

 

 

 

Tam Lin

aliciagailes-tam-lin

Painting by  Alicia Gaile, over at https://aliciagaile.wordpress.com

For me, this 500+ yr old ballad, is perhaps the most breath-taking song ever to come from Scotland. A tale of a fairy named Tam Lin, and a mortal maiden. Consumed with grief at having been impregnated by the ‘Wild shade’ she attempts to rid herself of child by consuming the poison rose, but is stopped by her errant lover, who then confesses his love to her, and implores her to hold him tight, so that he may transform into the beasts of the forest, and that she must hold him tight, and fear him not, lest his love for her consume him before the transformation is complete. She does so, and holds him tight, until she finds a man once again in her arms. This version is a little nicer than the older arrangements, and strays from the source material considerably, yet is by far my favorite rendition. Lyrics alone don’t do the ballad justice, but nonetheless, here they are.

Janet sits in her lonely room
Sewing a silken seam
looking out on Carterhaugh
Among the roses green
And Janet sits in her lonely bower
Sewing a silken thread
Looking out on Carterhaugh
Among the roses red

She’s let the seam fall at her heel
The needle to her toe
And she’s away to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can go
She hadn’t pulled a rose, a rose
A rose, but only one
When then appeared him, young Tam lin
Says, “Lady, pull no more
What makes you pull the rose, the rose?
What makes you break the tree?
What makes you come to Carterhaugh
Without the leave of me?”

“But Carterhaugh is not your own
Roses there are many
I’ll come and go all as I please
And not take leave of any”
So he has took her by the hand
Took her by the sleeve
And he has laid this lady down
Among the roses green
And he has took her by the hand
Took her by the hem
And he has laid this lady down
Among the roses red

There’s four and twenty ladies fair
Sewing at the silk
And Janet goes among them all
Her face as pale as milk
And four and twenty gentlemen
Playing at the chess
And Janet goes among them all
As green as any glass
Then up and spoke her father
He’s spoken meek and mild
“Oh, alas, my daughter
I fear you go with child
And was it to a man of might
Or to a man of peace
Or who among my gentlemen
Shall give the babe it’s name?”

“Oh, father, if I go with child
This much to you, I’ll tell
There’s none among your gentlemen
That I would treat so well
And, father, if I go with child
I must bear the blame
There’s none among your gentlemen
Shall give the babe his name”

She’s let the seam fall at her heel
The needle to her toe
She’s away to Carterhaugh
As fast as she could go
And she is down among the weeds
Down among the thorn
When then appeared Tam lin again
Says, “Lady let alone, pull no more
What makes you pull the poison rose?
What makes you break the tree?
What makes you harm the little babe
That I have got with thee?”

“Oh I will pull the rose, Tam lin
I will break the tree
But I’ll not bear the little babe
That thou has got with me
If he were to a gentleman
And not a wild shade
I’d rock him all the winter’s night
And all the summer’s day”

“Then take me in your arms again
If you my love would win
But hold me tight and fear me not
I’ll be a gentleman
But first I’ll change all in your arms
Into a wild wolf
But hold me tight and fear me not
I am your own true love
And then I’ll change all in your arms
Into a wild bear
But hold me tight and fear me not
I am your husband dear
And then I’ll change all in your arms
Into a lion bold
But hold me tight and fear me not
And you will love your child”

At first he changed all in her arms
Into a wild wolf
She held him tight and feared him not
He was her own true love
And then he changed all in her arms
Into a wild bear
She held him tight and feared him not
He was her husband dear
And then he changed all in her arms
Into a lion bold
She held him tight and feared him not
The father of her child

Last he changed all in her arms
Into a naked man
She’s wrapped him in her cloak so warm
And she has brought him home
She’s brought him home

This lyrical arrangement is based on the version by Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer

Back o’er the border

High over Bannockburn, battle of no return
Bruce ranked his Scottishmen, all in good order
Down on the other side – fifty divisions wide
Edward of England, had crossed o’er the border
Armour from head to fist, glimpsed through the morning mist
Soldiers of Robert Bruce, waiting the order
Down on the lower ground, trumpets and bugles sound
Edward of England had crossed o’er the border

Proud was the English king, loud did his harvest sing
Scatter the Scottishmen all in disorder
‘Death’ answered Robert Bruce, ‘Death ere we sign a truce
Chase the sassenach, back o’er the border.
‘Now’ shouted Bruce the king ‘We’ll either die or win
Into the enemy strike in good order
Freedom for Scotland, and death to King Edward’s band.
Chase the sassenach back o’er the border’.

Face, to face, across the Bannockburn ;
Spears and swords are held in good order.
Lines of steel in waves, begin to move,
Grim and steady, to die for the border.
‘On them! On them!’ hear the Douglas shout.
‘Smash, their ranks, in utter disorder’.
Swords and spears, and shields, together clash.
Screams of death are heard o’er the border.

Slashing, and clashing, the Bannockburn flows with blood.
Horses and soldiers in mangled disorder.
Yelling, and felling, the grass is a gory red.
Out with the sassenach. Out o’er the border.
Freedom and right was the slogan of Robert Bruce.
Chains for the slaves shouted Edward the murderer.
Death to the sassenach, we’ll be free at last.
Chase the sassenach, back o’er the border.
Chase the sassenach, back o’er the border.

Alastair McDonald – Bannockburn (1314)

Drawing Rabbie Burns

Whilst listening to Eddi Reader singing Burns poems (Aye, I’m that much of a patriot) I decided to whip my pencil oot and do a quick sketch of the immortal bard himself.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind’ ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne?

Chorus:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet.
For auld lang syne

img_20160915_1437292_rewind_kindlephoto-138009082

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine:
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit
Sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude willie-waught,
For auld lang syne.

img_20160915_1442440_rewind_kindlephoto-138330223

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

Doodle by dioghaltas (Cinead MacAlpin) (Me)

A wee poem bout Boris

Here’s a wee poem I wrote in response to the delightful one that Boris Johnson wrote about Scotland. Now I don’t have the luxury of having been educated at Eton, but, I would say that my wee rhyme is only slightly less shite than his, if a tad more childish…

Boris Johnson- please allow me to be blunt
Bumbling and racist, you are a wee cunt

Your hair is the color of piss
Watching you strangled, would be such bliss

Of your quips there are many, but among them not even one funny
“cross-eyed texan warmonger’s” aside, your wit flows like shit down a slide, rather than honey

“tank-topped bumboys” and “watermelon smiles”, what a hoot
A serious case, me thinks, of mouth-in-foot

But where does this all stem, I wonder
Was it perhaps, that one time your dad gave his sister the under-the-covers thunder?

Well, whatever the case
The inbreeding has left you a rambling disgrace
And whilst my poem is crude, which may be the case
I swear if I see you, I’ll shout “fuck you” to your face

By dioghaltas

P.S. I’m aware that it’s foot-in-mouth, rather than mouth-in-foot, but this is Boris Johnson were talking about, so it really could be either…that, and I’m also a rebel who doesn’t play by yours, or society’s linguistic rules, man…

A poem by Boris Johnson

Lads and lassies, allow me to introduce to you, a delightful poem by Britain’s new foreign secretary, on we, the Scots…or should that be Scotch.

uyhtgfrd

First of all Boris, I’m six two, so hardly a dwarf, also, I whole heartedly agree with refortifying Hadrian’s wall, seriously, let’s get some fucking gun placements on the bastard, do this shit properly, border patrols, a shoot on sight policy that works both ways, the possibilities truely are endless!

Seriously though, this is when I wish I’d just get it over and done with and join twitter, if only to launch a tirade of abuse at this oaf, this horribly ugly, smug, bumbling bigot, who, despite calling for the genocide of the Scottish population, still retains a place in parliament simply because he is one of the privileged  English, who cling to a place in office that they have neither earned, nor done justice with, who forsake the poorest in our combined countries simply to line their own pockets, to further their own egos and ambitions and agendas, the type of person who is so consumed with their own greed, that they would literally run the country into the ground, and still expect a bonus for it.

Oh, but where was I…and I tell you what, Boris, you fucking fat lipped little English cunt, you have a cheek to talk, when you yourself could hardly be considered “English”, what with being an absolute mongrel. And if you are so concerned with us “polluting your stock”, and by that I assume you mean the English ethnicity, then let’s do a quick run off of your pedigree shall we?

Circassian–Turkish

American

Russian Jewish

French

And you have a cheek to call me and my race “offensivly foreign”

You want to get “offensive”, Boris, well, here goes. You’re a mud-blood, bleach blonde dog, and I really, desperately wish you had the Baw’s not to “flinch from a solution” in regards to my kind, cause I’ll tell you what Boris, there are people in this world that are capable of very bad things…and believe me when I say, that I’m not a good person, and I’ am capable of very bad things, so dear god! please, please, please attempt to exterminate my race, really, lets get this war started. And whilst my lot are reveling in the butchery of your ilk,  I would “hypothetically” happily ********* my way down to your doorstep, then “hypothetically” cut out, and “hypothetically” eat the ****** of **** ****** whilst you “hypothetically” lay ***** ** ***** ** them from severe head ******. And trust me buddy, I can swing my “very real” fist like a fucking sledgehammer.

(I await legal prosecution)

P.S: ^ Just hypothetical

P.P.S: Forgive my outburst, but as you can see, he started it…but on a serious note, this is the very embodiment of the attitude that is so prevalent toward my country by the southern elite, where this type of thing can be said without repercussions or reprimand, that he can, as a politician of this country, say something so extreme, and yet get away with it. Ask yourselves, if we Scots were of a different skin colour, or if this poem was directed at the Indians or Southeast Asians, then how much more sinister and shocking would the connotations of this poem of his truely be?