Monday, August 21

Wallace and Bruce

One of the very first books printed in Scotland, was a verse biography of the great national hero, William Wallace, composed sometime late in the fifteenth century (c. 1471-79) by the epic balladeer, Blind Harry. Written more than a century and a half after Wallace’s death, Harry’s account was supposedly based on an eye-witness account written in Latin by Wallace’s chaplain and former schoolmate, John Blair. Alas, there are no longer any surviving manuscripts of Blair’s hagiography--indeed, there is only one surviving manuscript of Blind Harry’s. Nevertheless, these are the primary sources for all the Wallace lore to this day.

The Wallace was probably written as a corrective to the fourteenth-century vernacular verse biography of the other most renowned Scottish national hero, Robert the Bruce. Harry refers to The Bruceand its author, John Barbour, a long-serving archdeacon of Aberdeen, a number of times in his own poem. Harry, while respectful of Bruce’s legacy, argues that Wallace merits a favorable comparison with Bruce. While he qualifies this with the acknowledgment that Bruce was the legitimate “heir” to the throne of the kingdom, Wallace was actually the greater hero because he was braver and more patriotic; he was unimpeachable in his virtue; and of course, he rescued Scotland from the English time after time and even challenged the enemy on their own ground.

The poem is a paragon of the Scotch-English verse style, from that century of transition between Chaucer and Shakespeare:

All worthi men that has gud witt to waille,
Bewar that yhe with mys deyme nocht my taille.
Perchance ye say that Bruce he was none sik.
He was als gud quhat deid was to assaill
As of his handis and bauldar in battaill,
Bot Bruce was knawin weyll ayr of this kynrik;
For he had rycht we call no man him lik.
Bot Wallace thris this kynrik conquest haile,
In Ingland fer socht battaill on that rik.


Sira Birac said...

Where in heaven's name do you come up with this fascinating stuff? I love it!

Lawrence Underwood said...

I love this bit of verse. I can hear the burr of the highlands behind it. Your abilities to coalate and post this information is amazing and inspiring.


Dr. Knox said...

Thank you for this. Your breadth and depth really do inspire. I too can hear the ruggedly beautiful burr of my grandfather as I read these words. It makes one long for the days when the faithful Scots "warrior-poets" stood contra-mundum.

MH said...

Homer, Blind Harry, Milton writing Paradise Lost while blind...I'm beginning to see a pattern.

Anyways, I'm going to be tucking away all these bits of history for my European History class. Thanks!

Laura Kathryn said...

Dr. Grant,
I am trying to find an article or recording of you speaking about The DaVinci Code. I came across it in my browsings awhile back and can no longer find it. I would like to share it with a few people.
Thank you -Kathryn Green

kalepa ta kala said...

Dr. Grant,
I've been searching for some quality information on Scottish art, specifically depicting Wallace. It's for my new Art History class. Do you mind if I exploit your knowledge? I miss you and your teachings, an arena where my "worldview screen" did not have to work so hard! Thank you for whatever advice you may have...

kalepa ta kala.

gileskirk said...

Multi: That file can be had by contacting our webmaster at

Kala: The Scottish National Gallery and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery both have some really wonderful paintings that can be purchased in good digital formats. In addition, there are some great images available for free on the web. Just do a Yahoo or Google search and then click on images.

Bless you both as you continue to serve the Lord.

Amber Benton said...

Dr. Grant,

Can you point me towards more info on purchasing artworks in digital formats? Are you then allowed to print them?