The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

22 (ii) Happy Treaty of Irvine Day

WALLACE, SIR WILLIAM, the most popular national hero of Scotland, is believed to have been the second son of Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie and Auchinbothie, in Renfrewshire. The date of his birth is not certainly ascertained, but is usually given as 1270.

"Not certainly ascertained" is uncharacteristically clumsy for the Ninth edition (why not simply "uncertain"?), and a poor start for author A. F. H. whose humble entry in the Index's List of Contributors reads : A. F. HUTCHISON, M.A., Rector, High School, Stirling.

The only authority for the events of his early life is the metrical history of Blind Harry. That authority cannot be implicitly relied on, though we need not conclude that the minstrel invented the stories he relates.

I don't intend to harp on the good Reverend's writing style, which might bring to mind pots, kettles, and degrees of swarthiness, but the repetition of "authority" is another clunker. I am already imagining that A.F.H. might have been a beloved school master of volume 24's editor. I am furthermore caused to doubt whether Blind Harry really was a minstrel and not a mere strolling instrumental musician.

Blind Harry's verses were supposedly based on the Latin testimony of Wallace's personal friend, John Blair.

As Blair's account has perished, we cannot tell how far the minstrel has faithfully followed his authority, but some comparatively recent discoveries have confirmed the truth of portions of the narrative which had previously been doubted. At best, however, his authority must be regarded with suspicion, except when it is confirmed by other and more trustworthy evidence.

That's two more "authorities", and from here onwards I will restrict my observations to content rather than style.

Only for a period of less than two years in his life - from the beginning of the insurrection in 1297 to the battle of Falkirk - does Wallace come before us in the clearest historical light. With the exception of one or two glimpses of him that we obtain from authentic historical documents, the recorded events of his later as of his earlier life rest on no more certain a[*******]y than that of Blind Harry.

The absence of reliable biographical information is little different in Wallace's case than in that of a great many other figures in history. Little more is known of the 'real' Wallace than can be proven of Robin Hood or King Arthur. True history, of course, is not saying that this or that happened, but that this or that piece of evidence exists, from which inferences are carefully drawn. Blind Harry's account is romantic, and may as well be believed as the truth, or ignored.

On account of an incident that happened at Dundee [where Wallace was studying] - his slaughter of a young Englishman named Selby, for an insult offered to him - he is said to have been outlawed, and so driven into rebellion against the English. Betaking himself to the wilds of his country, he gradually gathered round him a body of desperate men whom he led in various attacks upon the English.

The essential fact derived from Wallace's early career, is that he was an outlaw who attacked the English in Scotland. It may be that you find Mel Gibson's humble peasant enraged by Droit de Signeur somehow nobler than Blind Harry's hot-tempered, brawling student, but my own sympathies and credulity are more with the latter.

Anyhow, Wallace's successes attracted "patriotic nobles" to his cause.

His insurrection now became more open and pronounced, and his enterprises of greater importance. [...] The success of these exploits induced the English king to take measures for staying the insurrection. A large army, under the command of Sir Henry Percy and Sir Robert Clifford, was sent against the insurgents, and came up with them at Irvine. Dissension broke out among the Scottish leaders, and all Wallace's titled friends left him and made submission to Edward, except the ever faithful Sir Edward Moray. The Treaty of Irvine, by which these Scottish nobles agreed to acknowledge Edward as their sovereign lord, is printed in Rymer's Foedera. It is dated 9th July 1297, and is the first public document in which the name of Sir William Wallace occurs.

We'll leave our hero at this serendipitous juncture for today, without further questioning how Mr Gibson's blue-faced barbarian fits in with all these knights and lords. More presently.

[This article can be found at - taken from the 11th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. The article (from my uncertain ascertation), appears to be identical to the 9th Edition, with a full inventory of "accounts" and no other omissions or additions.]

No comments: