Saturday, August 9, 2008

We two Kings of Albion are?

How should we react when one of our national icons acts in a way we now consider ethically wrong?

Can we or should we hold them to our standards?

Firstly how does the destruction of Buchan fit into the War of Independence, and the period in general?

Bust of Robert I courtesy of Keith Kaase

The war started with a Scottish cross-border raid, which although a military failure, it cannot have been pleasant for those on the “receiving end”. This was followed by Edward I’s sacking of Berwick, which is remembered for its savagery, but may not have differed much from the fate of most medieval towns that were taken by storm. (It was normal practice to offer terms to a town that surrendered, but if it was taken by storm there would be no quarter or restraint). The sack of Berwick essentially “set the tone” for the rest of the war. As the fortunes ebbed and flowed, both side committed acts of savagery, without ever achieving the upper-hand, for long. Finally in 1304 with both sides exhausted most of the Scottish nobles came to terms with Edward, and his vision of over-lordship appeared to be realised. The general levels of violence between this time and the Bruce coup, probably declined, excepting the brutal execution of William Wallace.
Following the Coup Edward I ordered his commanders, in Scotland, to “raise the dragon banner”, which was basically the general warfare equivalent of taking a town by storm. There would be no quarter and all those aiding Robert who fell into English hands would suffer the same fate as Wallace, and some of the “Bruce” ladies were hung in cages from the walls of English castles.
As the “Bruce bandwagon” got rolling Edward’s policy began to have the opposite effect from that desired, and belatedly he tried to moderate it:

“As he understands that some have interpreted his recent ordinances for settling Scotland as too harsh and rigorous, which was not his intention”*

But too much Scottish blood had been shed and in Wallace, Scotland had a martyr to complement the hero king. For the king’s enemies time had run out.

Edward is commemorated by a plaque hanging in the U.S. House of Representatives, to acknowledge his contributions to the parliamentary system, the same man who persecuted Jews, and made them wear a yellow badge. (Have a familiar ring?)
For Scots he is remembered as a tyrant, but lets be fair the majority of the inhabitants of Scotland may have agreed with Edward’s Jewish policy, if they had not been too busy fighting for their lives, because prejudice was rife in medieval Europe.

So we have two kings who are considered “great” in their respective countries, but clearly they also had a “dark side”. (Or at least to the modern eye)

Now ga we to the king agayne

One thing that is noticeable is that the sources closest to the events do not appear to have any problems with Robert’s actions.

From Barbour’s

“And gert his men bryn all Bouchane
Fra end till end and sparyt nane,”

To Bower’s

“….Advancing thence consumed Buchan with fire”.

These were churchmen who were writing in praise of the heroes of Scotland’s war of independence, and would not have included something which detracted from the hero king. So a “spot of ethnic cleansing” was obviously considered “business as usual” for a medieval king.

But I think I have written enough for one post so I will explore this idea further in the next post, but I will leave you with a quote to ponder.

Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.

  • G.W.S. Barrow : Robert Bruce and the community of the realm of Scotland 1988

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The herschip of Buchan

As said earlier we do not have any hard evidence regarding the movements of the Bruce brothers as they set out in pursuit of the enemy. Bower mentions a pursuit as far as Fyvie, but has the King leading it.
Entries in the “The New Statistical Account of Scotland” (1845), for New and Old Deer give the following information, which presumably comes from local folklore, relating to place names.

New Deer
“About a mile to the west of the village is an extensive piece of moor called Bruce Hill. This is said to have derived its name from Edward, brother to Robert the Bruce. Here he is reported to have encamped after the battle of Inverury, and from this to have gone in pursuit of the Cummins to a place near Old Deer, called Aikey Brae. In memory of this victory, the market of Aikey fair is said to have been established on the spot where the battle was fought.”

Bruce's Hill
For and accurate location of Bruce Hill follow the attached link
Old Deer

“There are visible proofs still remaining that this parish was formerly the scene of warfare, occasioned by family feuds, civil strife, or the invasion of the country by foreigners. On the top of the hill of Bruxie, and at the Den of Howie, near Fetterangus, there are traces of fortifications and encampments; and near the foot of Arkey-brae, there is a cluster of tumuli, pointing out the graves of warriors who fell in a bloody contest reported to have taken place between Edward, the brother of King Robert the Bruce, and Cumming the Earl of Buchan, with their followers and clansmen.”

Aikey Brae Stone Circle

For and accurate location of Aikey Brae follow the attached link

Whether there was a battle at Aikey Brea or not all the medieval sources are agreed that Robert ordered the destruction of Buchan.

Barbour gives us this account.

Now ga we to the king agayne
That off his victory wes rycht fayn,
And gert his men bryn all Bouchane
Fra end till end and sparyt nane,
And heryit thaim on sic maner
That eftre weile fifty yer
Men menyt the herschip of Bouchane,
The king than till his pes has tane
The north cuntreys that humbly
Obeysyt till his senyoury
Sua that benorth the Month war nane
Then thai his men war everilkan,
His lordship wox ay mar and mar.


Now let us go to the king again,
Who was well pleased at his victory,
And had his men burn all Buchan
From end to end, sparing none.
He harried them in such a way
That a good fifty years afterwards
People bemoaned the devastation of Buchan
The king then took to his peace
the north country which obeyed his lordship humbly
so that north of the Mounth there were none
who were not his subjects one and all.
His lordship spread always more and more

Barbour’s The Brus – Lines 295 – 307
From the Canongate 1997 Edition: Edited by A.A.M. Duncan

Bower’s account seems to “soften” Barbour’s, “sparyt nane”.

….. Advancing thence consumed Buchan with fire
He struck down some of the people and made peace with others,
He scattered his enemies and so came away from there victorious.

And gert his men bryn all Bouchane Fra end till end and sparyt nane
So how do we handle the fact that our national hero instigated, and would continue to instigate events, which would, in modern times, get him a trial in the Hauge?
  • Note: The above pictures are supplied by the following individuals on a “creative commons” license, courtesy of the Geograph site. Thanks to Les Harvey for “Bruce Hill”,
    Chris Lodge for “Aikey Brae Stone circle”, and Martyn Gorman for his picture of “Slains Castle”, which I took the liberty of modifying, and the finished picture therefore carries the same “Creative Commons Licence”