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