Showing posts with label Robert the Bruce. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Robert the Bruce. Show all posts

Monday, December 16, 2013

Remember Bruce at Bannockburn? What For?

June 24th 2014 will mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn which was just one of many battles between competing Anglo-Norman dynasties for the Scottish crown.

 The de Brus family had ties both north and south of the border. The abbey of Guisborough in Northumberland was a Bruce foundation. Bruce "the competitor" was involved a great deal with the English court and held extensive lands in England. he acted as a justiciar for Edward in the north of England. His son also was involved in the English court and was keeper of Carlisle castle for a while. The young Robert Bruce was brought up at Edward's court and had extensive knowledge of it and was also a favorite of Edward.  He, along with most Scottish nobles, changed sides on more than one occasion depending upon how the wind blew.

Scotland and Scots have been central to the great humanising and democratising strands of British history but their stories are rarely told.

Beside St Andrew's House stands the Old Calton Cemetery and in it, is an obelisk. It's a memorial to Thomas Muir, and colleagues, transported to Australia for campaigning for universal suffrage, who then escaped and participated in the French Revolution of “Liberty Equality and Fraternity”. Inscribed on it are his words:
"I have devoted myself to the cause of The People. It is a good cause - it shall ultimately prevail - it shall finally triumph."

If we need a founding myth, that's where to start, with and for the people, facing the future. Not remembering medieval noblemen squabbling over the right to rule the peasants. Bruce at Bannockburn never fought for the people - he fought to place a crown upon his head.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Remembering our history

The SNP would allow American bases on Scottish soil after independence – as long as they were non-nuclear. And just who would be doing an inventory check in a military escalation and crisis?

Salmond said the SNP’s support for entry into Nato was “to send a signal to our friends and partners that we wanted to assume responsibility as a responsible friend and partner.” Whats that about who sups with the Devil sups should have a long spoon? Salmond wants him in our back-yard.

On his visit to the United States Salmond spoke at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, a New York-based group set up in memory of Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (see here and here for this despicable man's history), and said: “Both the Declaration of Arbroath, with its search for a Scottish legitimacy, and the Declaration of Independence, with its affirmation of popular sovereignty, were sealed in the force of arms and struggle."

All nationalism is based on mythical history and nations have to create their ideologies from whatever scraps come to hand. Scotland is no exception and is perhaps luckier than most with its many tales of romance. The 6th April marks the anniversary of the signing of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath.


"Yet if he should give up what he has begun, seeking 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 right and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself." - Declaration of Arbroath or properly titled "Letter of Barons of Scotland to Pope John XXII".

Stirring patriotic stuff. That it had ever existed was soon entirely forgotten and it was only rediscovered when a version of it was published by Sir George Mackenzie in 1680. It then becomes influential, but not really as an expression of nationalism but as support for those who wished to curtail royal power. It was only later that the Declaration of Arbroath came to be seen in purely nationalistic terms.

Scotland in 1320 was a very different country to the Scotland we know today therefore we should not ahistorically give to a medieval mind-set the sensibilities of a later, modern age. So we should what did the signatories of the document actually mean by "we" and "freedom"? The "we" who attached their seals to the document were all noblemen. And it was their freedom that it concerned. The authors of the Arbroath declaration most likely used the word "people" to mean "people like us". There you have it. The “people” of Scotland were the nobles, the majority of whom at that time were still fairly much culturally Anglo-Norman, despite inter-marriage within the indigenous Scoto-Gaelic ruling families and their further integration in terms of land holding and property ownership. As for the common-folk of Scotland; they had no say in the matter. Or in anything for that matter. The idea that the peasant in the fields or labourer in the towns had any type of say is laughable. The Declaration signatories certainly had no concept of popular sovereignty.

Those medieval signatories to the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath were merely feudal barons asserting their claim to rule and lord it over their own tenants and serfs, not leading any "liberation struggle". In fact, John de Menteith, who turned William Wallace over to Edward of England put his seal to the Declaration of Arbroath.

The claims that the Declaration challenged the traditional belief in the Divine Right of Kings and promoting in its place the notion that the nation itself was foremost and the monarch merely its steward, is argued solely to justify Bruce usurping the rightful king John Balliol, who it should be remembered Wallace acted as Guardian for. The section of the Declaration reading “if this prince [Bruce] shall leave these principles he hath so nobly pursued, and consent that we or our kingdom be subjected to the king or people of England, we will immediately endeavour to expel him, as our enemy and as the subverter both of his own and our rights, and we will make another king, who will defend our liberties” should be read as a cautionary warning and a veiled threat to Robert the Bruce himself for he had switched his allegence several times in previous years.

In a propaganda war, the Scots were at a disadvantage . The Pope in Rome had excommunicated Bruce who had decided to hell being just an English lord, I’d rather be a Scottish king and to achieve that goal murdered his chief rival in a church. He sent three letters to the Pope. The first was a letter from himself, the second from the Scots clergy, and the third from the nobles of Scotland that became known as the Declaration of Arbroath.

The lesser-known earlier 1310 Declaration of the Clergy (the clergy being usually the younger sons of the nobles) proclaimed the Kingship of Robert. It begins by stating that John Balliol was made King of Scots by Edward Longshanks of England, but goes on to criticise Balliol’s status, because an English King does not have any authority to determine who will be the King of Scots. Such authority rests with the Scots themselves and alone, ignoring the fact that the Scottish nobles had given up that right in negotiations with Edward over twenty years beforehand.

The Declaration stated: “The people, therefore, and commons of the foresaid Kingdom of Scotland, ...agreed upon the said Lord Robert, the King who now is, in whom the rights of his father and grandfather to the foresaid kingdom, in the judgement of the people, still exist and flourish entire; and with the concurrence and consent of the said people he was chosen to be King, that he might reform the deformities of the kingdom, correct what required correction, and direct what needed direction; and having been by their authority set over the kingdom, he was solemnly made King of Scots... And if any one on the contrary claim right to the foresaid kingdom in virtue of letters of time past, sealed and containing the consent of the people and the commons, know ye that all this took place in fact by force and violence which could not at the time be resisted.”
Like a lot of such grandiose statements we've seen down through the ages, the Clergy's declaration was nothing more than misleading propaganda, which sought to disguise the facts of history.

A more modern myth connects the Declaration of Arbroath with the American Declaration of Independence because both enshrined in their declarations the principle that sovereignty rests with the people. Firstly, as noted already it was not a "declaration" in the sense of the American Declaration of Independence or the French Declaration of the Rights of Man but a plea to the Pope. The Act of Abjuration (1581), where the Dutch deposed their Spanish ruler for having violated the social contract with his subjects could be just as easily cited as the influence on the American Declaration of Independence. Or even the English Declaration of Rights, which deposed King James II and brought to power William and Mary of Orange can be said to have had an influence on the Founding Fathers.
Nor should we over-look that although the Declaration of Arbroath says that the King of Scotland can be deposed if he abuses his power one hundred and five years earlier than the Declaration of Arbroath, at Runnymede, King John was forced to sign Magna Carta, giving his English subjects rights including the right to establish a monarchs rule. Nor should it be forgotten that between 1320 and 1603, Scotland had 11 monarchs. 3 of those (James I, James III, and Mary) were removed through assassination, civil war or deposition. In the same period, England had 18 monarchs. Of which no fewer than 7 (Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III, and Jane) were removed through civil war or deposition. So who, exactly, had the richer tradition of overthrowing monarchical power?

If heroes are required then instead of Wallace or Bruce, the Scottish workers should look to the likes of Wat Tyler and John Ball, commoners, who in the 1381 Peasants' Revolt took London and beheaded the Archbishop of Canterbury. The true history of the exploited is about the resistnce of the Levellers and Diggers and the Chartists not the winners and losers of aristocratic family feuds for the throne of Scotland.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bruce - the invader

He was probably brought up in a mixture of the Anglo-French culture of northern England and south-eastern Scotland, and the Gaelic culture of Carrick and the Irish Sea, French being his paternal-tongue and Gaelic his maternal-tongue. In 1292 his mother died, elevating Robert the Bruce to the Earldom of Carrick

Bruce, like all his family, had a complete belief in his right to the throne. However his actions of supporting alternately the English and Scottish armies had led to a great deal of distrust towards Bruce among the “Community of the Realm of Scotland”. His ambition was further thwarted by John Comyn, known simply as the Red Comyn and another lord of Norman origin. English records still in existence today state that the Comyn murder was planned in an attempt to gain the throne of Scotland. For this reason King Edward of England wrote to the Pope and asked for his excommunication of Robert Bruce. Barely seven weeks after Comyn was killed in Dumfries, Bruce was crowned King of Scots

Bruce's struggle for the Scottish crown wasn't an enterprise born of patriotism. Bruce's motives appear to be slightly more self-serving than that. The ascension of his family to royalty seemed more central to his long-term plans than Scottish liberation from English rule.

The facts speak for themselves. Both Bruce and his father supported Edward I's invasion of Scotland in 1296, hoping to gain the crown after Balliol's fall. They were understandably disappointed when Edward proceeded to install himself as king. In 1297, Bruce, encouraged by Bishop Wishart, raised the standard of revolt at Irvine (the reason why he was absent at the Battle of Stirling Bridge). However, the rising failed and Bruce, rather than join Wallace after the Scots victory at Stirling Bridge, kept a low profile until he could determine what the English reaction would be. Bruce was also absent at the Battle of Falkirk, in which Wallace's army was devastated, but seems to have made an effort to help by burning the town of Ayr in order to deny it to the English as they returned south.

In 1298, after the Scots defeat at Falkirk, Bruce and John Comyn replaced Wallace as Guardians of Scotland. They soon quarrelled however, Comyn being a supporter of Balliol's claim to the throne, and Bruce was 'replaced' a year later. He continued to fight on until it seemed Balliol was about to return, then, once again, he submitted to the English king, hoping for recognition of his claim to the throne. So Bruce wasn't adverse to switching sides in pursuit of his goal, and this wasn't irregular practice amongst noblemen in pursuit of power at the time. The rhetoric of the Declaration of Arbroath, 22 years later – "For as long as a hundred of us remain alive, we shall never on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English" – was never Bruce's rhetoric, for he had appealed to English lordship on more than one occasion.

In the early 14th century, Ireland was divided between Irish dynasties and Anglo-Irish lords who ruled parts of Ireland. The Dark Age Kings of Alba had been intensely proud of their Gaelic-Irish origin and Bruce wrote as king asking them to free "our nation" (meaning both Scots and Irish) from English rule. Edward Bruce may also have had a reasonable claim to the Irish high kingship. He was supported by Ireland's most powerful king, Domnall Ua Neill, a kinsman of Robert and Edward through their maternal grandfather. Robert appealed to the native Irish to rise against Edward II's rule, and some have seen this as a cynical manipulation of Gaelic sentimentalism. Bruce popularised an ideological vision of a "Pan-Gaelic Greater Scotia" with his lineage ruling over both Ireland and Scotland. This propaganda campaign was aided by two factors. The first was his marriage alliance from 1302 with the de Burgh family of the Earldom of Ulster in Ireland; second, Bruce himself on his mother's side of Carrick, was descended from Gaelic royalty in Scotland as well as Ireland. Bruce's Irish ancestors included Eva of Leinster (d.1188), whose ancestors included Brian Boru of Munster and the kings of Leinster. Thus, lineally and geopolitically, Bruce attempted to support his anticipated notion of a pan-Gaelic alliance between Scottish-Irish Gaelic populations, under his kingship. This is revealed by a letter he sent to the Irish chiefs, where he calls the Scots and Irish collectively nostra nacio (our nation), stressing the common language, customs and heritage of the two peoples:

"Whereas we and you and our people and your people, free since ancient times, share the same national ancestry and are urged to come together more eagerly and joyfully in friendship by a common language and by common custom, we have sent you our beloved kinsman, the bearers of this letter, to negotiate with you in our name about permanently strengthening and maintaining inviolate the special friendship between us and you, so that with God's will our nation (nostra nacio) may be able to recover her ancient liberty."

The diplomacy worked to a certain extent, at least in Ulster, where the Scots had some support. The Irish chief, Donal O'Neil, for instance, later justified his support for the Scots to Pope John XXII by saying "the Kings of Lesser Scotia all trace their blood to our Greater Scotia and retain to some degree our language and customs."

However, the Scots failed to win over the non-Ulster chiefs, or to make any other significant gains in the south of the island, where people couldn't see the difference between English and Scottish occupation. The Irish Annals of the period described the defeat of the Bruces by the English as one of the greatest things ever done for the Irish nation due to the fact it brought an end to the famine and pillaging brought on the Irish by both the Scots and the English. Edward Bruce's bid for the high kingship ended when he was slain in 1318 at the Battle of Faughart .

The whole expedition does show, however, just how ambitious the Bruce family were. The attack on English-ruled Ireland could be perceived as ploy to split English forces and, hence, better defend Scotland, but Edward Bruce did have a serious ambition to rule Ireland as the King. Would the Bruces have stopped at Ireland and Scotland? Or would Wales have been their next target, in a sort of United Celtic Kingdom?

Friday, March 21, 2008

We're all Jock Tamson's Bairns

John McCain , the Republican hopeful for the presidency , eager to glean votes whereever they can be found insisted the senator's family was descended from the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce .

"John McCain's family is of Scottish-Irish descent and related to the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce, on his mother's side".

And also "in direct descent" from Emperor Charlemagne.

Asked by the Guardian to investigate McCain's family history, genealogists and medieval historians described the link to Robert the Bruce as "wonderful fiction" and "baloney".

"What wonderful fiction," Dr Katie Stevenson, a lecturer in medieval studies at the University of St Andrews said. "Mary Louise Earle's claims to descent from Robert the Bruce are likely to be fantasy. Earle is not a Scottish name. I think it is incredibly unlikely that name would be related to Robert the Bruce. Charlemagne and Robert the Bruce were not connected - that's ludicrous."

Robert I was believed to have had up to a dozen children - several illegitimately. Basic calculations suggested there could be as many as 200 million people distantly related to him.

"In that sense McCain probably is descended from Bruce. So am I. So are you. So is everyone." Dr Bruce Durie, academic manager, genealogical studies at the University of Strathclyde said .

But you never know .

Dr Durie added that despite his romantic reputation, Robert the Bruce was "an absolute scoundrel".
"... he was a self-serving, vainglorious opportunist ..." he said.

A bit like McCain himself .

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