Greetings from iainthepict. This blog of mine is meant to be like a 'Book of Days' or a kind of 'Scottish Year Book' if you will. The idea was to present an event for each day of the year. Somewhere in here, you can find out what happened, affecting Scotland and the Scots, on any given day of the year. Your comments and observations are very welcome.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.

Monday, 24 June 2013

The anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn

Robert the Bruce's speech, prior to the second day of the Battle of Bannockburn, 24th of June, 1314

Sometime around midnight, edging into the 24th of June, 1314, Robert the Bruce, in a stirring speech, rallied his closest followers. Round his camp fire, he regaled them with a dramatic monologue, sharing his intimate thoughts about the coming second day's battle and the justification for its fighting, condensing the momentous events that had led them to their present circumstance into a famous rallying cry. To a man and prior to retiring for what would be to more than a few, their last night on earth, they were inspired by their magnificent leader. The results of that motivation were to be seen the following day, when the Scottish army roundly defeated that of England, despite the enemy's superiority in knights and chivalry. It was a shock result that sent reverberations
throughout the civilised world and caused it to sit up and once again take notice of the “small country at the edge of the empire” as the Romans once had it.

Unbeknownst to The Bruce at the time, a young squire had sat at the fringes of the gathering around the fires, albeit back in the shadows, lest he be seen. That young man had no right of station, which would have entitled him to listen to the Bruce's motivational speech, nevertheless, he overheard it sufficiently well to have been able to record it, most of it, for posterity.  Drawn by the sound of his King's voice, the squire took up his clandestine position, but not for any purpose untoward, rather it was as if he'd been magnetised, mesmerised at least, by the compelling authority, power and passion in the voice of Robert de Brus, for ten years King of the Norman-Scots, for better or worse and by might if not right.

At the time, the young man was unable to write down the words he had heard, but sat on his haunches, mouth agape, eyes aglow and absorbed, it was as if every word entered his mind through his open mouth and imprinted itself on his consciousness. Weeks later, in the aftermath of battle and despite the sense-numbing carnage of war or perhaps, conversely, because his senses had been heightened by the emotional effects of relief and disbelief at and in the fact of his survival, he was able to put ink to paper and reproduce the famous panegyric.

The young squire was Tam Colville, a natural son of Sir Thomas Colville, Lord of Oxnam. No doubt as a result of heroic efforts on the battlefield of Bannockburn, the details of which we can only assume for he neglected to provide us with a version of those events, Tam was knighted, at Cambuskenneth, by the man who had gained yet more right to be called King of Scots.

Here then is the extant fragment of the latter part of the panegyric of Robert de Brus, King of Scots, as faithfully recorded by Sir Thomas Colville of Gosford, at Cambuskenneth and sometime during the month of July, 1314. It has been translated from the medieval Scottish vernacular by Ian Colville, a proud descendant of Sir Thomas of Gosford.

Note also, however, that at some stage prior to 1356, probably while he was at Dunkeld, Sir Thomas' record somehow found its way into the hands of John Barbour, Archdeacon of Aberdeen from 1356, who it seems incorporated a major part of it into his epic, narrative poem 'The Brus', which he introduced by the words: “My Lords, who'd listen for to hear, romance begins now here.”

“ doubt this truth, this awful fact, disposed
'fore God this night, with head and heart exposed
to doubts and cares in woebegone array,
would be to say we have no choice this day,
(think you that's true?); I fear you would not stay,
and choosing lose instead, decide to stray
from this our path, our fate, our purpose'd right;
o men of steel be true and ply your might
to win what's yours of gift and grant, to hold,
defend and keep, let feudal rule be tholed;
it matters that we're here, this watershed,
we're bolder now by far since Wallace fled
this earth; afraid? not he! (I think you know)
nor we the brave... are we afeard here now?
(uncertain looks, I see) they're echoed here;
behind these eyes mine own there lurks, not fear,
but doubt perchance (is't true think you?); this night
my friends, ye all must bolster nerve pre-fight;
the morn's a dies natalis, day of birth,
yet I retain a fearful glance (such mirth!);
o can it be that fear of failure looms,
our nation torn and dying from its wounds?
fear not my lads this battle drawing near;
above all else, the only thing to fear
will be to lose and suffer for the shame,
and not for dying mind, for that, no blame;
for not aspiring high, for triumph's lack,
for stripes, for blows upon our victim's back,
and murder, famine, pain, and bitter gall
in vacant eyes of villein Scots in thrall;
without those folks we'd surely not survive;
for them too, why we fight, so Scots will thrive
(what's that my friends?) you think I rant or worse,
have lost my senses now to speak out thus?
for all ye fight for gain of land and fee,
rewarded all shall be who fights with me,
and rightly so, by Norman Seigneurie,
but stop, think on, ye ken that it must be
your duty lies with me dressed in your mail,
for who will tend this land for whom if fail
we do where wood-rimmed park is fed by Burn,
our limbs agley, our blood to feed the worm;
we must achieve the win this day forsooth,
this day, this fateful day, this day of truth,
the Feast of John the Baptist, Saint of Rome,
let this be Scotland's day, let's send them home,
despite the odds against us one to ten
(you hear the din, their camp's not far off, men!)
they're down one knight; de Bohun's foolhardy act
stemmed from his pride and scorn, but still the fact
remains, he challenged me upon the field,
a portent in the reason why he failed,
when mounted on a Destrier for the bout
and geared with righteous splendour lacking doubt
(ye murmur 'mongst yourselves?) I'll tell you why;
a gesture from our God, the Lord on high,
despite the sentence passed from Avignon,
declared unchurched by captive Pope, since gone,
whose reign expired; while conclave ballots votes
it gives respite, a cry of hope from throats
renewed, that I, who struck Red Comyn down
am not forsaken, no by God! (ye frown?)
when yesterday upon the field I struck
and down he fell, the blow that did its work
was guided by that hand; the reaper's thief
renews our hope, restores our faith, belief
in that we're right to stand and fight, destroy,
disdain the odds that Edward's men enjoy
(let's send him homeward; what say you... we can?)
as well ye know, this King is scarce a man
for strife; he thinks this war already won;
we're dealing not with father, but the son
who must avoid the shame, curtail dismay,
get Stirling Castle back by deadline day;
unlike his sire, his prime ancestral light,
a man you'd underrate through oversight
or fault, and peril be the consequence
of that (a fine reward ye say?) nonsense!
It's not the older Edward Rex that shines,
who led his armies north too many times,
who coaxed the fires from hell, unwelcome guest
who tore the heart from hero's beating chest,
who drove a last crusade, caused this land strife
and died campaigning, how he lived his life;
contented not with Aquitaine and Wales,
with Ireland vanquished now beyond the pale,
he sought dominion here to add to fame;
as Hammer of the Scots he played a game,
direct in line from Odin, doubtless Thor,
as Normands heir, he always wanted more,
and now the Hammer's son, a mallet just,
who covets what he doesn't want but must,
his goal to vie, compete, with father's ire,
he lacks, it's plain, the spirit of his sire;
and yet beset by hazard here, one throw
is all we have, once cast, the dice will show
we trust full sure in strength, we do but seek
their doom and pray for one mistake; thou meek
and English King, esteem us false and rue
the day you challenged Scots of iron brood
(I see ye nod at that, my Good Sir James)
we fight, but not for glory's sake nor fame,
nor welfare of a nation not yet born;
the battle looms for life, for if we're shorn,
revenge endured shall cause good men to wail;
we've come too far from Methven Wood to fail
and fate awaits; think now of honour's heights
against the wagered sums of English knights
who'll flounder ’neath the trees; a countless sum
will die upon our spears, we'll not succumb
to yoke of southern foe, we'll make him burn
his bannocks men, like Alfred whom we'd scorn,
and strive, advance, with but one hundred men
of us alive; if that's the outcome when
the day is done, declare your rights, your oath,
remember that, when next we're in Arbroath,
and set your heart and strength to win the day,
await your foes that come in horse array
and ride for greed, their arms so boldly brought;
we'll wreak our doughty will, be vengeance wrought
with one accord, and stubborn versus cruel,
we'll stoutly meet the first and still the fools,
the hindmost, make them tremble; have a care
to carry honour men this day and bear
your arms with pride to gain the end, I pray,
o Scotland fight with valour, not dismay;
ye might have lived in thraldom never earned,
but freedom's not for giving up when yearned
for now's the time and now's the hour to fight;
Almighty God, we seek your guiding light.”


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Thank you for posting this. Can you please tell me where I can find the original text?

    1. I mean, what is the source you translated it from?

  5. Well Travislaughlinj, what can I say; you've forced me to confess; I made it up; it's all my own work - a work of fiction. You may have heard of the genre of historical fiction; this is historical poetry - in the form of a monologue.

  6. Oh my God! I was reading it, thinking to myself "this is incredible!" I couldn't believe I had never seen something so expressive from the Middle Ages before.

    I was intending to work it into a performance monologue once I verified where it came from. I still think I will, if you'd allow me. The Bannockburn dialogue in Barbour's poem doesn't give enough to work with (although maybe there are other parts of the poem that are richer - I haven't read it all).
    I heard the tone of Henry V speech in this and I was thinking to myself that Shakespeare was inspired by this! Anyway, you blend it all together beautifully.

    I have a few questions about some lines. I'd appreciate it very much if I could ask you about them in an email.

    If not, I understand. Thank you so much for this work. I've read it many times now. I love it.

    1. Hi, and thanks for your comments :-) Chuffed :-) You can email me at iainthepict at outlook dot com