Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Sir William Wallace, by Blind Harry (Henry) the Minstrel, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

by Blind Harry (Henry) the Minstrel

I found the fascinating stories of Sir William Wallace and The Bruce to be both a technical challenge. I was not prepared for the differences in between Chaucer’s Midlands Middle English and Lowland Scots (tho I read Robert Burns without difficulty). Reading aloud helped somewhat, but I was so distracted, I forgot what I was reading. Without the modern interpretation I was lost.

Interesting to note, in the modern novels of Nigel Tranter and Randall Wallace (Braveheart), the apocryphal stories have all but blurred and the heroes Wallace/Bruce have become divine twins. We have the usual Celtic motifs: heroic battles, larger than lifesuperhero, kings, druids/priests, soothsayers (women), treachery, revenge, freedom!

A traditional romance written in heroic couplets ca. 1460—a century and a half after the death of William Wallace—Blind Harry’s 9 “buiks” opens with A Love Adventure where an amorous outlaw Wallace, disguised variously as a monk or a woman, evades the archvillan English—Butler laid a trap for him on the 3rd night but despite bribes, the maid told Wallace of the plot. 

Wallace, a commoner, is nearly caught slaying the son of Selby, the English Governor. His father and brother are slain; he seeks refuge with his uncle but runs afoul over fish with some Englishmen, whom he slays. He is captured and thrown into prison; near death, he is cast out: his old nanny retrieves and nurses him with her daughter’s breast-milk. 

He rises to rout Lord Percy at Loudoun Hill, ambushes Fenwick, and avenges his father’s murder. Men flock to his fugitive band in order to fight the English, including the brigand traitor Fawdon. In the Forest of Gask, as Wallace is tracked by bloodhounds, Fawdon feints fatigue. Wallace, suspecting treason, smites him, throwing the dogs off his scent He escapes his enemies, swimming the Forth, finds refuge on Torwood, and sends a woman back to spy, and is joined by his uncle.

In Lanark, he meets Marion Braidfute, marries her and has a daughter. Grim scene where the English cut off the horses’ tails (emasculation?) More skirmishes and Marion is put to death aiding her husband’s escape. Wallace seeks revenge. Edward Longshanks, alarmed at the uprisings, journeys to Scotland and is defeated in the fictitious Battle of Biggar and sues for peace and a one-year truce. But two months later, 18 Scottish nobles are killed at the Burns of Ayr. 

Wallace is named Warden; he has a vision of his future, and avenges the deaths of the slain noblemen. In Glasgow he routs Percy and Beck; with The Campbell’s help, he slays Macfaydon, another of Edward’s men. Malcolm of Lennox takes Stirling for Wallace; English strongholds Perth and Dunotar also fall. 

At Dundee, he hears of Edward’s arrival with Cressingham. At the Battle of Stirling Bridge, the English are routed, Wallace’s most extraordinary victory: outnumbered 5:1, he drove the English Horse into the Forth. Most of Wallace’s noblemen are named in this section including Andrew Moray.

Wallace convenes a Parliament at Perth, but Cospatrick refuses to join, so he routs him along with The Bruce and other Norman nobles who’ve sworn allegiance to Longshanks. Wallace invades England, Edward sends the queen and 50 ladies and priests to sue for peace, but Wallace declines, revealing English atrocities; she weeps (and declares her love for him?) It sounds like he also raids London? 

Edward sues for peace; three years later Wallace goes to France, captures Longueville’s pirate fleet, and fights in French wars. Edward invades Scotland (again), Wallace returns to reclaim Lochleven and Dundee. Edward fans fire between Comyn & the Stewart; at the Battle of Falkirk, Stewart is killed, Wallace is wounded by The Bruce, who is fighting for the English. He laments this and the death of John Graham. He resigns as Guardian and returns to France but once again is called back to free Scotland. Bruce finally becomes king, Wallace is betrayed by a servant and is executed in London, a martyr for Scottish freedom.

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