0 comment Sunday, May 25, 2014 |
"After the aforesaid victory, Robert the Bruce was commonly called King of Scotland by all men, because he had acquired Scotland by force of arms.'' - Chronicle of Lanercost
June 24 is the anniversary of the historical Battle of Bannockburn in Scotland, which was the decisive battle in the first War of Scottish Independence. The Battle of Bannockburn took place in 1314, some 694 years ago.
To provide some perspective, it was 20+ generations ago for most of us; I know this because some of our family's ancestors were there that day, the Douglases and Stewarts, on the Scottish side and some of our English ancestors on the other side. So which side should people like my family sympathize with?
Most Americans, because of our own struggles for independence from the English, and also because a number of Americans claim some Celtic roots, sympathize 100 percent with the Scots in that struggle.
When we consider how long ago that is, how many generations removed from us, it's amazing that the wars of Scottish independence, of which Bannockburn was a part, carry such emotional resonance for so many Americans today, even though we are mostly reacting to a fictional, jazzed-up version of that era: Mel Gibson's Braveheart.
The Hollywood version makes the British, and especially Edward II to be the evil ones; this is very much a trend these days. The English are often depicted as cold-blooded, ruthless, and entirely unsympathetic; they are the 'bad guys', oppressors. The English are now, perhaps alongside Americans for much of the rest of the world, seen as the arch-Whites, the most oppressive of an oppressive race. I think it's rather troubling that so many people accept these stereotypes.
For those who are interested in reading the actual historical accounts of the event, this website claims to have the most complete account.
The Wikipedia entry here also gives a good summary of the events.
However, for an alternative view which critiques Mel Gibson's version of the Scottish wars of independence, see this page.
From all I can discern, his criticisms are valid.
I can just hear some answering that 'that's just nitpicking', or 'it's just a movie; it's called artistic license.'
Yes, but shouldn't truth at least be a serious consideration in making a movie like this? I think the real facts, minus Gibson's little additions and liberties, are every bit as dramatic and stirring as the Hollywood version.
We seem to live in an age which is too relaxed about truth and facts, wherein most people seem to adhere to the postmodern idea that 'there is no truth, only competing narratives.' However, when Hollywood depicts historical figures and events, their 'narrative' becomes a kind of established truth for most people, who get their history from movies and TV programs.
I think truth does matter. By turning history into silly putty, which can be twisted and re-fashioned this way and that according to popular trends or prejudices, we do a great dishonor to our ancestors who lived the events in question. And the story of Robert the Bruce, Bannockburn, and the whole struggle between England and Scotland is part of the actual history of many Americans whose roots go back to England and Scotland during that momentous era.
If we create a false past on which to base our present understanding of the world, we will never see aright; we will be making erroneous judgments based on falsehoods, and we will be led in the wrong direction as a result.
The spirit of both sides who fought at Bannockburn is something which is our heritage; that spirit can serve us well if we reclaim it and rekindle it in ourselves.
And it's important to remember that in a sense, these battles were internecine in nature. The Scots had a definite identity and heritage, but many of the noblemen who were slaughtering each other in the battle were descendants of a common ancestry. Bruce as well as his foe, Edward II, had Norman/Viking ancestry. They all shared a common Christian faith, and were of the same ethnic origins, not many generations before.
In that sense, the wars seem more tragic. And we might take a lesson from that, too.
Note: another good source on Robert the Bruce is the biography of that name by Ronald McNair Scott.

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