Image reproduced with kind permission of Jill Calder. From Robert the Bruce: an illustrated history by James Robertson & Jill Calder published by Birlinn, 2014.
Guest Blog Poem by Martin Stepek
ah remember 1314
it was nothin like they bastart
just blood and screams of agony
for minute after minute
a cowered in the river
ma leg half severt
by some massive english sword
least ah thought it wiz english
could have been wan ae oor side
it was such chaos an carnage
an that turncoat bastart Bruce
aye he milked wan side efter the ither
sookin up tae the english when it suited him fine
then when he saw an opportunity tae stick it tae his enemies
up here he puts his patriotic crown on
pretends that aw his past didny exist
and cried himsel the father of scots
the saviour ae the nation
an the mugs bought it
ah wiz jist caught up in the bastarts grabbin evry local guy
they could find
ah tried tae hide in the hay
but they pitchforked it so much
ah’d huv endit up wi a hundred holes in me
and so there ah wiz
in the battle tae end battles
in the war o so-called independence
the war tae end aw wars
aye right Roberto
you watched as hunners ae yer peasant pawns
were slashed tae bits or cut doon by arras
that fell fae the sky
like a swarm a locusts
aw you played yer cameo role well
the knackered knight ridin tae escape
barely able tae keep oan his horse
though he was probably just another bastart
greedy for land an power
but what a saw was a shattert soul
fresh fae daein nuthin whilst we bled
caught up wi him
and ye took oot yer big shinin weapon
a couldny see whether it wiz a sword or an axe
an you took him fae behind
an clattert the massive metal brute
doon on his unknowin head
and near split the manny in two
this wisny battle
it wisny a duel
it was cold heartit
ah jist wantit hame
tae ma bairns
and my wee bit land
wan ae the lucky wans me
wan leggit willy they ca’ me noo
still a git by wi ma crutch an ma daughter’s soft help
but ye kin stuff yer scotland up her hairy arse Bruce
this wiz niver fur us
this wiz only fur yer own chests full a money
your parcel a lands
there’s a parcel a rogues in this nation
cryin themsels heroes
aw the time jist riflin through our coffers
bleedin the poor
conspirin against each other
you and yer damned bishops
your great victories
your deal wi the Pope
and the gentler Edward in England
father of the nation
butcher of bannockburn mair like
butcher of yer people, yer rivals, anywan that stood in yer way
hist’ry’ll paint some rosy glow nae doubt
it always does to those who win the game
but as ah watched ma blood trail doon the Bannock burn
an thought ah’d never see my wee sad eyed daughter again
ah raged and raged inside
at the evil men who took us tae this madness
men like you Bruce
aye an Edward tae
an Wallace and Comyn afore
nae sense a good or bad
just greedy maniacs
an when ye die
as even kings must
ah hope tae god there’s a hell in which you’ll rust
Before the union, there was greater division between highlands and lowlands in Scotland – or between Jacobites and covenanters – than there was between Scotland and England. The histories and myths of a unified Scottish nation were created and promoted by the likes of Walter Scott precisely to ensure that Scotland remained in the union as an independent partner, not a subordinate. A coherent Scottish identity was forged not against the union, but through it. This is Gordon Brown’s argument.
and how wondrous it is to be in a Union with that sceptred isle, this England that stood alone against Nazi Germany in 1940, the England that was always peaceful, united, merry and always broadminded and internationalist and took its liberal traditions to 25% of world’s land area and called it Empire, singing Rule Britannia, that song of international brotherhood and equality, as it went along wearing its Red Coat and pointing a land pattern bayonet against the separatists of the world.
All nations have internal divisions. There is nothing unusual about that. Scotland’s internal divisions changed over time and to characterise them as simply Highland v. Lowland is ridiculously reductive. It depends entirely on the period you are talking about. Also, the claim that Scotland’s internal divisions were greater than between Scotland and England is meaningless. How could you measure that?
Walter Scott certainly laboured to create a mythology of continuing Scottish identity within the Union which was congenial to him, but if his aim was to avoid Scotland becoming subordinate he clearly failed.
Brown is British. He would say that. Part of the Westminster bubble. But the identity of Scotland was well established by 1292 and took Edward I by surprise.
I enjoyed that. Thanks
Such is life. We remain duped/doped with patriotism, as much as, in the words of the song, religion, sex and TV.
Aww! I liked the story of Henry de Bohun and Bruce. You’ve gone and spoiled it now.
well there’s several versions, which one will you believe, we’ll probably never know.
In the words of the auld sang, “It’s the same the whole world over, it’s the rich who get the pleasure the poor who feel the pain.”
I’m sorry but this is a pretty disgusting ahistorical rant. Bruce was wealthy and powerful in his own right and could have lived a very comfortable life in Scotland as one of Edward’s henchmen but chose a far more dangerous path in which he made huge sacrifices personally and took huge risks he absolutely did not need to take to recover Scotland’s sovereignty.
The situation was complex, prior to 1292. Many Scottish nobles held lands in England. This was as a result of Anglo-Scottish diplomacy stretching back two centuries to the time of Malcolm Canmore whose daughter Matilda married Henry I. The royal families were related. A united Britain could have emerged peacefully if it wasn’t for Edward I’s unexpected greed and cruelty. Edward I visited King Alexander regularly in Scotland and was a trusted friend. No-one could have easily predicted his opportunism after 1292 when Alexander died without an adult male heir. The Bruce family had a strong claim to the kingship Edward eventually awarded to John Balliol. The claim was held by Bruce snr., not Bruce jnr., the subject of this rant, and our great national hero. Both claims descended through females. The Balliol claim was from the elder sister, but in the third generation. The Bruce claim was through the younger sister, but in the second generation. For most people’s money that was 50:50. The Bruce and Balliol clans were rivals, but Edward adjudicated in favour of the Balliols. When the Balliols eventually turned against Edward, the Bruce clan equivocated; whether to support Edward (who had adjudicated against them) or to support their rivals, the Balliols, who had declared themselves enemies to the Bruces. Rock and a hard place. Plus to begin with the nature of Edward’s regime was not readily apparent. When his brutality and authoritarianism became clearer, Bruce jnr. (our future king) was attracted to the popular revolt started by Wallace and Andrew Murray, Bruce snr., the claimant, having now died. King John had meanwhile fled to France, where he was holed up in Bailleul, (hence ‘Balliol’). Scotland was leaderless but Wallace was declared Guardian and the occupied country was run by a consortium of ‘rebel’ nobles supporting him. Wallace however fought to defend King John’s cause, but Bruce jnr. rallied to it because it was also Scotland’s cause. Bruce jnr. was willing to take up the fight, but the Balliols would not support him. So we were in an idiotic position of a King appointed by Edward holed up in France, whilst Edward’s administration occupied Scotland, and Bruce jnr., young and vigorous, was willing to give it a go, but the Balliols and their allies refused to co-operate with him.
When Wallace was captured and executed in 1305 Bruce jnr. decided to try to recover Scotland’s sovereignty, but faced a divided political elite, though the common army that had rallied to Wallace also rallied to Bruce.
As a peacetime king after 1314 Bruce did much to rectify the problems that had led to Scotland becoming a satellite of an ambitious English king. He made all nobles give up any lands they held in England because they could not show fealty to two masters. He built many bridges and developed Scotland’s economic infrastructure.
To reduce this state of flux and complexity to such simplistic terms shows a highly nihilistic view of Scotland’s sovereignty. Bruce lived in a time when the careful Anglo-Scottish diplomacy of two centuries was unravelling by the actions of a king who was hated on both sides of the Tweed for his greed, ambition, and brutality.
Its incredible to think the that robert the bruce would still recognise our feudal nightmare 700 years in the future!
It is an “ahistorical rant”. It is a dramatic monologue. It is meant to be inaccurate and one-sided. The voice is not the author’s but the voice of a fictional peasant from the time.
It works very well too!
I thought it was more like a BT campaigner doing his first attempt at revisionist history
Ron, that’s exactly what it is. Sorry.
It’s history. Enjoy it and be proud or fascinated by it. Or dismiss it and talk it down, as if it matters either way today. Whichever, we all have a country and a past and we all have some story or other from our history that we enjoy hearing. Whatever your feelings about Bannockburn, I’m sure we are all thankful that our political process are so infinitely more democratic and peaceful today.
I wish! But cynicism isn’t an opinion it’s a disease. I object to the crass and ill-informed nihilism of this poem. If it wasn’t for Bruce there simply wouldn’t be a Scotland. Nobody else was going to recover Scotland’s sovereignty after Wallace was executed. To attack Bruce is to attack Scotland’s right to exist. It’s as fundamental as that.
“To attack Bruce is to attack Scotland’s right to exist. It’s as fundamental as that.”
What a load of bollocks!
Mind your language. And read some history books.
I love existentialism. If Bruce had lost, we would all probably be sitting around more or less contentedly English. We would no more be bemoaning that fact than the people of Wessex regret the loss of their Saxon identity. All struggles are about power and most of those who are victims have nothing to do with the struggle itself. Is it too much to ask that we might pause for a bit and think about the lot of the poor bloody footsoldiers?
Hear Hear Andy. A few nights ago, possible on question time i heard someone explain the Iraq situation as ‘the armed forces had made things worse’ i would say that it was the people in power that had made things worse. Power held too high up, bring the power right back down the food chain. We can see it in our rural location, power is exercised by fear mongering, in order to derail reform or halt the movement to independence.
A pupil at a well known Scottish public school turned up in class with an extremely short hair cut. The master’s response? “We are Officer material yet YOU are sporting a squaddie’s haircut!”
700 years and certain attitudes have never changed.
Thank you, Martin Stepek. I enjoyed your verse.
That war is hell for ordinary folk caught up in it is hardly news. We would probably be in a situation rather closer to Wales if Bruce’s army had lost at Bannockburn. The idea of Wales was never extinguished despite conquest by the Plantagenets. I think Kathleen Jamie has dealt with the matter more perceptively:
HERE LIES OUR LAND
Here lies our land: every airt
Beneath swift clouds, glad glints of sun,
Belonging to none but itself.
We are mere transients, who sing
Its westlin’ winds and fernie braes,
Northern lights and siller tides,
Small folk playing our part.
‘Come all ye’, the country says,
You win me, who take me most to heart.
Yes. For the good reason that Edward I was a tyrant. That was what prompted Wallace to take up a rebellion against him, after he had slaughtered all the inhabitants of Berwick, every man, woman, and child of them. I’m sorry Andy, but you are well out of line publishing this cynical ignorant rant.
The foot-soldiers were fighting for their freedom. Edward’s regime was an oppression. The peasants suffered the worst of all. The common army rallied to Wallace of its own accord. After Wallace was executed and Bruce took up the charge they rallied to him. Nobody forced them out. You might find this hard to believe in your urbane modern life but there are times when fighting and dying is preferable to living under a brutal occupation. We all die. It’s what we live for and fight for that counts.
Has such a time arrived again when fighting and dying is preferable to living under the brutal occupation of Westminster and the Tory elite?
Robbie, you ask, “Why does it always sound as if Reiner Luyken is having a conversation with somebody who isn’t actually in the room,” I’ve often wondered that myself and the only answer that makes sense is because he is talking to himself!
I once asked the Norwegian consul if he thought the biggest mistake in Scottish history was winning the ‘Battle’ of Largs.
Why does it always sound as if Reiner Luyken is having a conversation with somebody who isn’t actually in the room, he sounds strangely disconnected.
Do we really need to look back at History to tell us how to run the country after all was it not the bankrupt aristocracy that joined us with England in the first place. At least when Scotland gets independence we won’t have to pay the so called lords the attendance fee and those in Scotland will be just like the rest of us. That is of course when the nation takes back the ownership of the land.
I’m not sure how any of this helps, apart from as a reminder that human affairs have a tendency messy and bloody.
All nations are artificial constructs, born out of myth, greed, mess and blood, but they are, for the time being, how we organise ourselves.
Pondering the rights and wrongs and ifs and buts of history doesn’t change where we are now. Nor does propagandistic poetry.
What matters is being better in the future, if we can.
Perhaps I am the Norwegian consul Ron is talking about?
er, no, it was not you and I thought in any case you originally came from Bavaria.
Reiner started off this thread by referring to Gordon Brown’s latest opus in defence of the union. Brown’s book is reviewed by Alexander Linklater in Sunday’s edition of the Observer New Review. Reiner’s post has been lifted word for word from Linklater’s review. Reiner, you should have used quotation marks and referenced the review.
I don’t know if Reiner has actually read Gordon Brown’s book –or simply the review of it, but he’s certainly not alone in citing historical “facts” to justify his current opinions. Martin’s poetry does this –admittedly in a different way. It’s an entertaining poem which questions some of the presuppositions about national identity but makes a whole host of others in doing so.
Unfortunately, we can’t know if a 14th century Scottish peasant ever really thought in this way even if he might have shared some of the sentiments of the poem. And we will never know if his wife shared his viewpoint –or was just taking longer to make up her mind!
I think we should all use history a bit less to justify our own views and a bit more to criticise them.
At last, a bit of sense!
At least The Bruce valued his fighting men and made sure they had sufficient land to exist on.
Since 1700 , rural population has been seen as a nuisance to be disposed of at the earliest opportunity by the lairds.
Lots of interesting comments… and assumptions, some about a political purpose to the writing of the poem, and therefore about the author’s purpose. So, without drawing any conclusions from the following here are some facts. I wrote the poem. I was the National Convenor of the Scottish Green Party ie. the recognised leadership position in the party 2003-2004.
Lots of interesting comments… and assumptions, some about a Scottish political purpose to the writing of the poem, and about the author’s political motive.
Here are some facts. I wrote the poem. I was the National Convenor of Council in the Scottish Green Party (ie. the recognised leadership position in the party) 2003-2004. I was also National Convenor of Operations twice in the late 2000s. I was part of the small Green team which briefly held coalition talks on a possible SNP-Green Scottish government with Alex Salmond after the 2007 Holyrood election. I intend to vote Yes in the forthcoming referendum. I wrote the poem in around 2009 ie. before there was any realistic chance that there might ever be a referendum.
What many on this thread have done therefore is to take a 2009 piece of writing and misinterpret it in the light of a 2014 politically intense situation. This reflects on those who hold the opinions more than on the poem itself. This is not just a view, as it is backed by a lot of evidence. People have written above that this is essentially a piece of propaganda written by an anti-independence person for the anti-independence / Better Together cause when in FACT it was written by a pro-independence person prior to a referendum being politically possible.
As to the poem itself it was deliberately written in a fictional voice so as to allow views I don’t hold about one situation – Bannockburn, Bruce’s and others’ motivations, etc – (because I couldn’t know these things) in order for me to express views I DO hold about situations in 2009, mostly about the Blair rule in Britain, US and British adventurism in Iraq, Afghanistan etc, and the motives behind such actions then. In the background no doubt was also my deep understanding of Stalinism, propaganda from the Soviet Union, and post-communist Polish patriotism as my own father and his family were sent to the GULAG from Poland and my grandmother died of starvation as a result of this.
I chose Bannockburn deliberately to question MY OWN pro-Scottish biases including about Bannockburn and independence etc because it was the most self-challenging thing to write about.
It is ultimately then a poem written to explore two things: my own conditioning as a Scot in terms of my view of history and politics on the one hand; and my distaste at what appeared to me to be the manipulation of opinion and truth by our then current (2009) national and global leaders.
I make no view about its quality as a poem but as someone very interested in politics and the human mind – amongst other things I am a qualified mindfulness teacher, helping people with conditions such as depression, stress, anxiety etc – I do find a certain pleasant yet worrying irony that some people on this board interpreted an anti-propaganda poem as a propagandist poem. This may say something about my poor qualities as a writer but my guess is it says something important about the people who thus interpreted it.
On this note I will bow out of the discussion and not reply to other comments as my guess is that it will just go round and round in circles. The Buddha once put it beautifully… to continue to discuss things which cannot be agreed upon, or for which there is no clear truth always leads to “a wilderness of opinions”.
Thanks to everyone – and I do mean everyone, whether your views were positive or negative about the poem or me – for your thoughts and responses to my poem.
The poem chimed with my own view that Robert de Brus was just one feudal overlord looking to exploit the poor at the expense of another. The poor and the ordinary would not notice much difference whoever they served and, although I enjoy the ‘heroics’ of the Brus story, I am not as convinced that he is the national patriot we all dress him up to be. My Yes vote is based on the hope of a better system of governance than the pseudo-feudal one we have just now. Thanks Martin though – at least it is thought provoking!
A great read…all of it, tho some less temperate than useful. History, opinion, winners, losers…all a blur…and not much we can do about it bar read, talk, share and think. But best now surely to look forward to what we can do: where in the view of many, in which I’m counted, a yes vote is a necessary but clearly far from sufficient step along the way…as Lesley R and Iain M et al have made abundantly clear. History, whoever wrote or made it, is fascinating and to be learned from. The future matters now and needs good folk to think and show up.