Of Kings and Clovers
The Medieval History of Britain and Ireland as told from Each Point of View
In 2008, researchers from Kings College at Cambridge stumbled upon a military battlefield in the city of Colchester England. It has been written about in ancient texts but it had never been found. Archaeological findings have caused many of the classic history books of Britain to be rewritten. I take historical methodology and combine it with the latest findings from archaeology sites. Forget much of what you have been taught about England, as new findings and deeper Historical Research show how these new puzzle pieces fit together more and more securely and shape the story of Medieval England.
You will see in this book how the myths from the past became part of Hollywood's crusade to make fantasy from fact. In an epic confrontation between truth and myth, I take apart the movie's industry to attempt to strip truth out of our past. In some cases, my research uncovers surprising truths and astonishing facts.
This is one of my most personal and deepest of all chapters because it shows just how malleable history can be. Things change, perceptions are worthy of truth seekers. Enjoy learning things here that you have never been taught before and walk with me through the pathways of discovery.
‘’To study history is to submit to chaos and nevertheless retain faith in order and meaning. It is a serious serious task, and possibly a tragic one.’’
‘’General historical knowledge requires nobility of character, a profound understanding of human existence – not detachment and objectivity’’.
Rome's Vietnam War
Julius Caesar called it Hibernia because it was so cold.
The first Roman writer to refer to Ireland is Julius Caesar, in his account of his campaigns in Gaul, which was probably published around 50 BC. Caesar considered Ireland to be two-thirds the size of Britain, from which it was separated by a strait of equal width to that between Britain and Gaul. Pliny the Elder merely tells us that it was the same breadth as Britain, but two hundred miles shorter, adding that the shortest route by sea to Ireland was thirty miles. In the period between these two authors, Strabo wrote a vast work of geography on more ethnographical lines concerning the ‘inhabited world’. He placed Ireland north of Britain, on the limits of the known world, and claimed that it was ‘barely habitable on account of the cold’. (See fig.1) He generously considered the inhabitants more savage than the Britons, since they are man-eaters as well as heavy-eaters, and since they count it an honourable thing when their fathers die to devour them, and openly to have intercourse not only with other women, but with their mothers and sisters as well; but I say this only with the understanding that I have no trustworthy witnesses for it.
OF KINGS AND CLOVERS
The Story of Medieval Ireland and Britain, as told from each point of view
In the year 43 AD, immediately after the death of Christ, 30,000 of Rome's greatest fighting machine set out to conquer Britain. The scattered clans of England should never have had a chance, but indeed they did, forcing Rome to come to grips with the fact that the British might be ruled, but they certainly were not going to be ruled OVER.
The name Britain is connected with the idea of Freedom. And yet the British were the oppressed subjects of Rome. For 400 years the Romans had dominion over the island. At first glance, Britannia would not seem an obvious place of desire? So, what tempted the Romans to even come to such a foreboding place on the edge of forever?
One clue might be in the sheer amount of copper being traded within Europe. It came from Wales and dates back to the early Bronze Ahe. Parys Mountain (Welsh: Mynydd Parys) – is located south of the town of Amlwch in north east Anglesey, Wales. It is the site of a large copper mine that was an incredible source of metals to Feudal Europe. Much of these metals would be repurposed for centuries and used a thousand years later by William the Norman , conquerer of England. For Rome, the idea of getting more metals into the Empire was an attractive proposition. Britain, on the edge of the world, beckoned an invasion.
As winter came to an end in the year 43 AD, the island stood on the brink of its own defining moment. On the French waters, just off of the coast of Normandy, over 800 Romans ships awaited word to set sail and conquer England. It must have been an awe-inspiring sight. Imagine - 800 Roman Tiremes, each with 50 men or more, identical in appearance and precision in movement, all awaiting their orders. In this same place, almost 1000 years later, William the Conquerer would emulate the same invasion. And almost 2000 years later, English forces and her allies would reverse the invasions and land at the same beaches that history had come to know so very well.
40,000 of Rome's finest soldiers were under the command of the Emperor Claudius, an odd, disfigured emperor who was vastly under-rated. His hold on power had been rather weak and he came up with the idea to invade Britannia to stave off an impending crisis. He was a deeply troubled man who acted a bit out of desperation. By conquering another place was a way to have secure position and Claudius realized this was something he very badly needed.
He set his sights on Britain because he wanted to out-do Julius Caesar, who was unable to invade Britain. The greatest Roman ruler the world had ever known left little more than a small garrison in the city of Kent. Caesar claimed that, in the course of his conquest of Gaul, the Britons had supported the campaigns of the mainland Gauls against him, with fugitives from among the Gallic Belgae fleeing to Belgic settlements in Britain,and the Veneti of Armorica, who controlled seaborne trade to the island, calling in aid from their British allies to fight for them against Caesar in 56 BC.
Strabo says that the Venetic rebellion in 56 BC had been intended to prevent Caesar from travelling to Britain and disrupting their commercial activity, suggesting that the possibility of a British expedition had already been considered by then. Moreover, the country was ripe for conquest. It was rich with natural resources, metals, silver, lead, and grain and timber. But most of all, it was rich with humans, who could be enslaved and represented their own economic source.
Britain also was very fragmented. Although three million people speaking a derivative of Welsh lived there, it was horribly divided. The countryside was dotted with tiny hamlets and villages, many of which were at war with one another. There was no sense of British identity, all of which would last as long as the clan leader would live. Almost none of them worked together and some saw the Romans as potential allies. Would they ever be wrong!
The invasion of England was requiring skills the Romans had not yet perfected. An invasion by sea had never been done to this size and scale. Long lines of communication needed to be arranged ahead of time. To the average Roman soldier, the seriousness at which the entire invasion was being arranged began to cast doubt and worry among them. Great planning was involved in setting up this invasion.
Without a written language, cultures do a poor job at their own Public Relations. The Romans considered the British to be barbarians and savages. Rumors of how many British there were and how volatile they could be aroused the superstitions of more and more of the Roman soldiers. There was serious discussion of an insurrection that would stop the invasion in its tracks.
Britian was terrifying to the classical world. It was off the edge of the world, a barren place that seemed to be fiction. Now the soldiers were going into the unknown which was off the edge of known world. Claudius asked one man, Narcissus, to give a rousing speech. ''...If I - a mere slave, could go forward to fight the British, then the mighty Roman Army could as well! '' The words worked.
The Romans landed to an unopposed landscape. A messenger had passed a note to the ruling Kelts that a mutiny was about to happen in the Roman ranks. The Kelts thought the threat of invasion had passed and pulled back from the coast. The result was that they came ashore with no obstruction. Search parties spread out over the next few days expecting to find a large British Army. But much to their surprise, they did not find any armed warriors. The leadership had no way of knowing what this absence of opposition would mean, but they went forward, marching en masse through the British countryside.
At one point, an army of Catuvellani assembled by Togodumnus and Caratacus saw the massive army and decided that they needed to engage a guerrilla war. The invaders had been spotted. But at the Medway River in southeast England, the Roman writer Tacitus tells what happened next.
''.....And the commander of the Roman garrison sent lightly armed Batavians to disrupt the chariots of the enemy. They unhitched the horses and killed others, all without being suspected. It would make the victory that much easier. ''
The Romans were set to attack.
For two full days, the British fought with great energy. Some of the Keltic tribes had good quality shields and helmets for fighting one-another, but completely outclassed by the Romans.
There was no contest against the weapons of the Romans. They were defended from head-to-toe. A Roman Gladiatorial sword would destroy the wooden shields of the Kelts. The Romans annihilated the Kelts and shattered the disorganized armies of the Catuvellauni, was the closest thing the British ever had in terms of the King and his death must have been devastating.
Those who survived raced back to Colchester, the last stronghold of the Kelts. But just four months after the invasion, Colchester was surrounded and about to fall. It was then that the Roman general pulled a brilliant public relations move. He called upon Claudius to make a grand arrival and strengthen his position with Senate.
Claudius arrived in grand fashion - on an elephant! Under his direction, the took the Roman army to the ends of the earth and brilliantly played his propaganda and acclaimed by this troops as 'Emperator' which is something close to a living god.
The Romans swept with ease all the way to Wales where something strange happened. The Silurians gave Rome all they could stand and then-some. For months and months the Silurians were the source of Roman soldier casualties. The war was beginning to cost the Roman treasury a lot of money and was growing unpopular. More and more Roman families were dealing with the loss of life in a land far away. And other soldiers who had been furloughed came back with harrowing stories of the British that only perpetuated the feeling that this island was hardly worth the effort.
And all of this background sets the stage for what Britain would look like over the next 1200 years. The story is amazing!
This chapter is unlike any of the others in my book, for it is a very personal and first-hand look at how I happen to learn, retain, and form an opinion on history based on facts, exact quotes, edicts and documents and artwork. If one reads a good history book, you should be inspired to want to learn more and more. In addition, the more facts you have at your disposal, the greater the ability you have to form an educated opinion.
But here is how I define history: History is the great truth between so many myths. It is the quarrels of popes and kings, kings and queens, inventive technology, wars and pestilence in every age, and hardly any lessons learned that we can truly draw from.
I still feel a poetic appeal to the past and it is I who attempts to put these moments in historical context. I find myself romantically walking in the days of the past, where the reflective stained glass paints colors on our faces and the air around us. I find myself asking how mankind can be so quickly dissolving when our potential was to do great things. But each of these records, from cathedrals of astonishing scale and beauty, to paintings that add so much to our appreciation of the past, all represent our extraordinary and awe-inspiring monuments of the past.
For me, History is a commitment to the sheer self-indulgence of knowledge. When obtaining facts, we feel a great degree of obligation to try and include them. Having this urge ‘to find out, and to find out ‘Why?’ are the drivers of any historian. And more then ever, we have the crafts to clearly learn, and unfortunately, to manipulate the past. Historical evidence is fragmentary at best and individual writings can clash with one another.
On a bed in France archaeologists came upon a fantastic find. Incredibly, they found surgical tools used to remove cataracts. The tools were remarkably similar, with a needle being a hollow tube and the cataracts were sucked through the hollow tube – which worked with precision. This was a Roman adaptation of an astonishley delicate tool made by the Egyptians.
The ancient engineers knew that heating and cooling metals changed the molecular composition of the tool. The needle had to be perfect in order to work. And perfect it was. Images drawn on the walls of Egyptian temples clearly show these tools being used in order to restore people’s sight.
And yet, as soon as the Roman Empire had dissolved, the technology went dormant. The medieval mind did try to cure blindness due to cataracts, but now they were now doing it with large knives, and more often than not, the patients went blind.
And this is where Historians find themselves today. Has all that is good in our past been laid to rest, dormant and unable to survive? What happens when the very best we have to offer is buried amongst the rubble of war? For every advance made in humanity, we seem to have multiple drawbacks. And although I haven’t been able to place my finger on it, I am not sure that until we get a
higher conscience about ourselves, that we will rise above our differences and find our similarities.
he tool in this picture was made to such
perfection that very little has changed in 3000 years
THE COUNT of MEULAN holds of the king in NORTON 2½ hides and the fifth part of half a hide. [There is] land for 7 ploughs. Now in demesne are 2 [ploughs], and 1 hide of land. There 23 villans, with a priest and 9 bordars and 1 slave, have 6 ploughs. There is a mill rendering 10s, and 25 acres of meadow. It was worth 6l; now 8l. Aghmund held it freely. COUNT ALAN holds of the king 4 parts of half a hide in WAKEFIELD and Ralph the steward [holds] of him. There is land for 2 ploughs. In demesne is 1 [plough]; and 3 villans, with 1 bordar, have another plough. There is 1 acre of meadow. [There is] woodland 5½ furlongs in length and 3 furlongs in breadth. It was worth 5s; now 10s. EARL AUBREY held of the king 2 hides in HALSE, and 2 hides in SYRESHAM, and 1 hide in BRACKLEY, with a church and a mill rendering 10s. In these 5 hides there is land for 12½ ploughs. In demesne...
And yet, as soon as the Roman Empire had dissolved, the technology went dormant. The medieval mind did try to cure blindness due to cataracts, but now they were now doing it with large knives, and more often than not, the patients went blind.
And this is where Historians find themselves today. Has all that is good in our past been laid to rest, dormant and unable to survive? What happens when the very best we have to offer is buried amongst the rubble of war? For every advance made in humanity, we seem to have multiple drawbacks. And although I haven’t been able to place my finger on it, I am not sure that until we get a higher conscience about ourselves, that we will rise above our differences and find our similarities.
How do Historians refine their craft and utilize primary source information to bring out accuracy and enliven the story? Most of my work comes from memory, but it didn’t begin that way and it is something that has been refined over time. Initially, the art of historical research was as invigorating as actually telling the story itself. Combing through primary documents in the Radcliffe Camera (The library at Oxford University) and reading he words actually written by the characters of history is a piece of great detective work.
For those of us who have often wondered what it would be like to have dinner with William the Conqueror, Julius Caesar, Michelangelo, or Ben Franklin, the truth is that you can have them over. Their primary source writings become their imaginary voices, whispering secrets of history in your ears and giving you insights that perhaps differ from what those who write about history many years later have to say.
Another way to make history come alive is to examine pieces of it chronologically, using as many sources as we can to recreate the past. I have taken a slice of European history, roughly a hundred year period between the late 1200s and the late 1300s and given a 360-degree view, as much from the first-hand accounts as I can. The tools of the historian include the records kept at hospitals, the writings of the king’s magistrates, ecclesiastical records, personal letters and financial agreements. They come from contemporary historians, the journalists of the day, and they show how the events were perceived in different parts of the European world.
History occurs Chronologically but it’s good to set the table at the onset. Aside from that, a good presence of history should read like a dynamic mystery. The true craftsman of history will paint a picture of the persons inside the story. You should feel as if these people are alive and telling their story to you in the present day!
This century includes some amazing events. The war for Scottish independence and the rise of the real William Wallace are detailed in a way that lets you see inside the minds of the main protagonists. The second event concentrates on the black death of Europe and its eventual and rapid spread amongst the English countryside.
We will examine a true Medieval City, London, and we will go back to the records of the city where arrangements to pay street-cleaning crews were put into place. All five senses will be employed – (although you may wish it wasn’t!) From life in the Medieval City, we will look at an event that completely shook the Medieval World, the Peasants Revolt. Few of us are aware of it today and it barely gets a nod in even the more in-depth high-school textbooks. But it was an event that shaped England and forever shook the cultural foundation and social strata well into the English Renaissance. Yet, few know this beyond the name itself, and there is a reason for that. The English wanted to sweep this rebellion under the rug as quickly and quietly as possible.
Few centuries in human history have had so many things happen that have changed the landscape of a region as the thirteenth and fourteenth century in England and France. It is these Middle Ages where we collectively had one foot entrenched into the classical world and the other stepping into the modern one. It is one of the three or four ‘’transition’’ centuries for all of humankind. And its effects were felt far beyond Europe. In fact, the silk-route and all of the merchants along the way, were affected. Trade, Commerce, Language, Medicine, Technology, Astronomy, Modern Mathematics, the Classics, were among many aspects of Medieval life that were spread throughout the world.
I chose this era because it is where I most often find myself wandering. I cannot explain it really, for the Medieval World was a brutal one. It was neither kind nor gentle. And it is often an era where the very worst of mankind battled what few shreds of humanity that were left within it.
We tend to think of this era as one of nobility and kings and queens and clergy. This is because the literacy rate amongst the peasants was not usually high enough for them to leave their own personal accounts of life. But they are there, and you have to know where to look for them.
For this task, I consulted several very helpful sources of Primary writings. The first one was the ‘’Records to the Parliament of Scotland’’ which has carefully scanned tens of thousands of documents pertaining to things that go all the way back to the days of the Kelts and all the way up to the year Scotland and England unified in 1707.
This website can be found at ‘’ http://www.rps.ac.uk/ ‘’ Another website is the English National Archives. If you were to only use these two sources, you could write millions of papers about everything. But these two sources are a great place to start. You can find this informationat http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-subject/parliament.htm’’
History is a wonderfully elastic thing that changes with time. It is forever bending, forever yielding, but it never can break – unless there is a shortage of primary documentation. When that happens, it is usually a sobering thought to us all. Things are not always what we have been taught after all. We don’t like thinking that all this time we bought someone else’s lies or interpretation where there is clearly an axe to grind. Now, you have the unique chance to write your own history, using primary source information, actual letters, drawings and carvings. These are the people of the past yearning to speak to us. It is all right there, but it takes a lesson in learning how to read with one’s ears.
The Story Begins
It’s mid-winter, 1230AD. A horrific scene is played out in a busy and bustling market square. An infant child is held up to the crowds, and seconds later, she is dead. It was an exceedingly cruel murder. King Alexander II, King of the Scots has ordered the murder a small female child. A local chronicler of the time wrote that the infant was ‘ripped from her mother’s arms and dashed against the rocks and unmercifully put to death.’’
The moment of this brutal and senseless murder begins in process, the creation of a new cultural identity and a search for justice. Out of this time period rises William Wallace, whose resistance to the King of England, hammered the consciousness of the newly unified Scots into their own kingdom.
Far from the movies historical inaccuracies, Scotland will forge ahead. But it won’t happen in reality the way it happened in the movies. In fact, the real story is far more fascinating than the fiction!
Despite the general feeling that the Scots were largely without culture, Alexander II considered himself an equal to the King of England. He was not about to bow to the British King. The early Canmores had recognized English superiority and were given lands to maintain the truce. This was not to be the case with Alexander. The Brits had acted as overlords for the Scots, making them subservient to their English overlords. They were brutal and ruthless to the Scots and often imprisoned them without trial and on trumped up charges. Alexander was brash and arrogant, and he set out on a mission to prove it. In order to do so, he would have to settle a bitter conflict with the King of England.
King John II, one of the most reviled monarchs in British history, was not about to relent. The provinces of Cumberland, Westmoreland and Northumbria were all in dispute, and both King John and Alexander were in a fierce competition to exact tribute and exert its rule. Northumbria was especially important given both its geography (close to Scotland) and its prize farmland.
To settle the argument, Alexander’s father had given both money and two of his own daughters to the King John of England. But John reneged on the deal, and Alexander wanted revenge. He set about a plan to take back what he felt was rightfully his. It was a matter of honor that was taken seriously in the Middle Ages. To a Scotsman, this was as unpardonable a sin as blasphemy upon the Holy Spirit. As often is the case in the Middle Ages , the King of England had many detractors, and the land owners and Barons were about to turn on him too. Their anger toward the King was that he had bled them dry in order to fund his war in France, and now they demanded retribution. King John was facing an ominous future.
In protest, they drew up a list of over sixty demands – known today as the Magna Carta. One of the things that we historians love to do is to go to Primary source documents and learn from the mouths of those who lived then, to those who live now. The Magna Carta was an enormous influence on worlds to come. And, here, at the very bottom of the list – in clause 59 – they even made a provision for Alexander to give back his lands as well.
‘’….With regard to the return of the sisters and hostages of Alexander, king of Scotland, his liberties and his rights, we will treat him in the same way as our other barons of England, unless it appears from the charters that we hold from his father William, formerly king of Scotland, that he should be treated otherwise. This matter shall be resolved by the judgement of his equals in our court.’’ Clause 59, Magna Carta
There was even a penalty that would occur if John failed to comply. It was known as a ‘distraint’ and it had been in use since the 5th century but never applied to a monarch. It essentially allowed for thirty Barons to remove the King at once if he failed to abide by this matter. Of course, what the Barons had failed to realize is just how would this be accomplished given the huge standing army John possessed. King John, impetuous and arrogant, was in no position to enforce his will. Thus, having no option but to accept the Baron’s demands, he put his seal to it.
But, no sooner had John signed it, he would renege on this as well. England fell into a Civil War. It was Alexander’s moment in time. Alexander was already a proven warrior. He took over Nordham Castle, the city of Carlisle and burned Newcastle to the ground. Despite his youth, he had already led his father’s army, crushing Gaelic rebels in the north of Scotland when he was fourteen.
Now with King John on the defensive, the Barons decided to switch allegiance and form a pact with the Scots. The advisors to King John were angry, for it was an easy thing to have avoided. Instead, as soon as the barons were back on their lands, John completely disregarded it. John called the Magna Carta ‘pure foolishness’ and angrily denounced it. After all, he was ‘King’ of the Brits.
Alexander mowed through Gaelic rebels and won the respect of his men in doing so. He headed through the highlands of England. In January of 1216, the English land barons of the north, signed a pact with the king. Now, the king they would follow was Alexander, swearing fealty to the king of the Scots.
When we speak of Feudal definitions such as fealty, it is hard for us to place in our modern minds exactly what that means. So, in order to understand it, I need you to use your imagination for a moment. For, this act of taking an oath of fealty was one of the most important in the Middle Ages and was an essential part of feudal life.
Prior to an Oath of Fealty, you would have paid homage to the king. This could be done in a number of different ways. The symbolic act of kneeling and kissing the ring of the king was and placing his hands between that of the overlord. At that point, you would swear an oath of fealty. The word itself is from the Latin and it means ‘faithfulness.’
The king would be the highest member of the hierarchy. His knights would swear an oath of fealty to protect him. These were called vassals. The knights, would then hire mercenaries to also protect the knights, as well as the king, in exchange for a tract of land. Sometimes a wealthy land baron would be called to do both roles, but in any event, the power system of feuda society was much like a pyramid with vassals being loyal to other vassals who were then loyal to still more vassals.
So this was a momentous time. Alexander now had vassals and he tightened his grip in the north. The Barons invite Prince Louis of France to England in 1216. Alexander was going to ask Louis of France to recognize the Kingdom of Scotland, thus removing the subservient nature of the relationship between Britain and Scotland. Meeting little resistance, Alexander accomplished something no other monarch of Scotland has ever achieved – he took his troops all the way to the straits of Dover. Alexander’s plan was working, and working well.
He joined the French and together, they laid siege to Dover castle. Half of Britain was under Alexander’s control. But, then fate dealt a fatal blow. King John passed away. Now the barons switched their allegiance again, this time to the new English king, the nine year old Henry III. King John had been so divisive and his death should have been a good thing. Instead, the new king issued a new Magna Carta and all references to Alexander were removed.
Suddenly, the Pope chastised Alexander and ex-communicated the King. The powers of the church in Edinburgh were now halted and the rebuke stung Alexander. The Pope ordered Alexander to pay homage to the king – the NINE year old king. Imagine Alexander kneeling to one knee and kissing the royal ring on the small finger of the new king. It must have been thoroughly humiliating.
Alexander’s own ambition of ruling the north of England was shattered. He was despondent and depressed. The northern Barons had betrayed Alexander and it was something that would come back to haunt them. Their allegiance to Henry III was a sore spot for Alexander. But what of the Scottish nobles? They seemed to be split along several lines. In November of 1217, Alexander gave his homage and returned the lands he conquered to Henry III.
Now, there were two powerful sections, the factions of Norman Vikings and supported by the ancient Canmore families, who for generations fought for bloodlines and kingdoms. The appearance of the towns that they founded was remarkable for their European look and architecture. The early Canmore family had understood English power and they took a knee to it almost from the beginning.
Alexander had to deal with claims of Norway on the Herbides Islands. The Gaelic warlords would fight alongside Alexander in Cateness, where one of Alexander’s bishops was roasted alive. Alexander responded in a fierce and bloody manner. In the west, he set out to attack the lands of the Norwegian king.
Alexander’s ruthlessness was never more evidenced than in the death of this baby girl. She had drawn the line of heredity through the Queen of Norway, and represented a potential threat to Alexander’s authority. It’s hard for us to understand in today’s day and age exactly why an infant needed to be put to death in this manner. But keep in mind that the matter of arranged marriages was very much in use, and even though she was an infant, she could technically be married off to anyone, and in an era where lineage is passed through the male, it essentially prevented an arranged marriage from challenging his authority. And thus, this baby girl was murdered, coldly and pre-meditated.
Her elimination killed off the last threat to the crown and it was remembered for generations to come. The King let it be known to everyone that he would drive ambitiously to be subject to one King. Alexander had finally created what he wanted – an unchallenged kingdom. Now, the Scots, more than ever, enjoyed something it hadn’t had before, and that was peace.
The King of England, Henry III actually recognized the country and it became one and united, county by county, as one people. Even the many languages quickly began to merge into one. Moreover, according to the Biographical information in the chronicle of ‘’The Acts of Alexander” provisions were made to the monks of Arbroath ‘’an annual gift of L9, S6-Schillings annually. This book is an incredible find and it really puts you into the Middle Ages. In fact, according to the chronicles – the King made gifts to almost all of the monasteries in the isles as a act of ‘’ pious purposes.’’ Now, Scotland was of one faith, one peoples, one written set of laws, and soon, Scotland was to be its own country.
On July 8th, 1249, Alexander suddenly passed away. He had left a new country and Scotland reached a pinnacle of twelfth century Renaissance.
His son, Alexander III took the throne. Soon the English and the Scots were allies. Even intermarriage between the two was soon to occur. Alexander III – in one of the largest ceremonies to date – married Queen Margaret of England on Christmas 1251.
Eyeing the proceedings was a young Prince Edward of England. We know him thanks to the movie Braveheart as Edward-I or ‘Longshanks.’ He was a tall and imposing man with piercing blue eyes who was as cold and calculating as any king England ever had. The idea of equality did not appeal to Edward. He never thought the Scots were worthy of equality and certainly did not consider them to be tame or educated. On top of all this, Edward had a taste for violence. In thought process, he was a military chess player who created his own legacy and sought to craft his image by going on Crusade. With much ceremony and pomp, he left for the Promised Land. He returned a hero. Meanwhile, things had not gone well for Alexander III.
In a series of tragedies that seem almost completely surreal, over a nine year period, his wife had died, his sisters had died, and his three children had died. Alexander III was obviously a shell of who he once was. Psychologically he was all but ruined, but moreover, the Canmore line had come pretty much to an end, leading into a very foreboding feeling in all of Scotland. Had none of these things happened – the history of Scotland might have been very much different.
King Edward was deeply saddened over the loss of his relatives. Upon returning, he sent a warm letter of condolences to Alexander III. Alexander’s reply was reflective of what he thought was a deep understanding and appreciation of their friendship. In the end, it would prove a fatal assumption.
“….You have offered much solace for our grief by saying that although death has borne away your kindred in parts, we are united together, God willing by the tie of indissoluble affection…’’
Alexander III reply to King Edward Longshanks In 1286
Alexander III was thrown from his horse during a storm and broke his neck. He was genuinely well thought of and left a surprising legacy behind him. His tragic life had already seen the deaths of both of his sons and his daughter due to influenza. The situation left the three-year-old Margaret, the Maid of Norway, as Queen of the Scots.
She was the only child of Margaret and King Eric II of Norway. By the Treaty of Salisbury, it was declared that the little toddler would marry King Edward’s then one year old son, Edward of Carnarvon. The compromise meant that the Scots would be free of English Lordship. In keeping with the tradition of understanding the Primary Source documentation, it reads as follows:
"The land of the Scots are to be separate and divided from England according to its rightful boundaries, free in itself and without subjection.” Nearly all of the provisions in the treaty were disregarded. There were fourteen claimants to the thrown but only two stood out as front runners.
John Balliol, one of Scotland’s largest land owners and Robert the Bruce, who had a distant but hereditarily verifiable relationship to the throne. The two of them opted to ask Edward to intervene, which he readily agreed to if they would take an oath of fealty to him.
The problem was circumvented when both agreed that the realm would be handed over to Edward until a rightful heir had been found. After a lengthy hearing, a decision was made in favor of John Balliol on 17 November 1292. This is a good time to discuss he players and develop their historical characters.
Robert the Bruce was far from the figure portrayed in the movie Braveheart. He was a four-time traitor and skillful political figure. His early life was one of great affluence. He was a tournament champion and he so impressed everyone with his military skills that King Edward I began to build a relationship with him. In an age such as this one, when chivalry was at its rapid popularity, Robert was gaining a reputation as Scotland’s finest knight.
His grandfather, Robert Brus the Competitor, was a huge influence on him. He was heir to the lands in both Scotland and parts of England. He had gone on crusade with Edward I and both developed a great respect for one another. The entire Bruce family so generally well thought of and was popular amongst even most competing clans.
In fact, legends were written about Brus the Competitor (as he was known even then) that any extended member of his family was shown great privilege and honor. Without a doubt, the grandfather was a huge influence on the grandson. But the way to the throne of Scotland wasn’t so clear. John Balliol, the Lord of Galway, has his own share of supporters and a bloodline to match. Balliol’s sister married into the Cummins family, combining much of the north of Scotland and the east of Scotland under Balliol’s hand.
The two boys grew up together but they were more rivals than they were friends. Balliol has support from the powerful Cummins family. The decision to bring King Edward I of England in to help decide the matter was complex. Edward had always been a close friend to the King of Scotland, and as mentioned earlier, developed a fondness for Robert the Bruce. Edward probably saw something in Robert that he didn’t see in his own son, Edward III, who was widely known to be a homosexual and would not leave an heir. Edward saw him self as the ‘’Feudal Superior’’ to the throne of Scotland. Suddenly, Edward sees himself as a bit of an imperialist.
In case the Scots have a reason to abandon their ideas, he has amassed a large number of troops on the border. The Bruce family banked on the relationship with Edward I.
Inside History: Edward I was known as the ‘’The Hammer of the Scots” and in his time he gave England more stability than it had previously. But one group of his subjects that were exclusively his were the Jews. He began to make laws that made it harder and harder for them to do business with the citizenry. Since Jews were not ‘’licensed’’ to buy land, they acquired it through a system called ‘’Usury.’’ Essentially, they were money-lenders who grew wealthy by driving interest rates through the roof, thus earning the wrath of the European gentiles. Edward sought to tax them very heavily in order to fund his wars in France.
At first, Edward publicly spoke out against the practice of usury but as he made so much money on the practice that little done. Then he began leveraging laws on the Jews that made them want to get out. Jews had acquired large tracts of land from English who couldn't pat their debts, yet they had no proper ‘license’ to own such land. As the Jews began to run out of money to finance Edward’s wars, they had just one thing left to give, and that was their land. Edward was bound by his own laws regarding the taking over of land that belonged to someone else, and thus he couldn’t confiscate it. Instead, he rewrote the King’s law and issued what would become known as the ‘’Jewish Expulsion Act of 1290’’’ With that, he rounded up close to 300 Jews and sent them to their deaths. He also ordered that those Jews who were still alive wear a yellow-Star of David on their garments. The crusades only stirred the embers of anti-semetism throughout Britain. There were a total of 3,000 Jews living in England at the time and they continued to be harassed, beaten and even killed.
The antagonism towards Jews in England must be tempered by two facts: (1) Prior to Edward’s reign, Jews were welcomed into the England and it proved a friendly place for them. During the middle part of twelfth century, they were even allowed to attend university. (2) Edward was a man of his era. Being Anti-Semitic was a large part of the Middle-Ages. In fact, it could be argued that Edward was exceedingly nice to the Jews when he first became King but that’s a dubious claim given his propensity to kill both Arabs and Jews while on the ninth crusade.
So why does John Balliol even think he has a chance to be King of Scotland? Strictly speaking, he was the first born son to the late Alexander III. Edward was following the legal precedent set forth at this time regarding Primp-Geniture. Still, Balliol was considered a bit of a loose cannon and the Cummins family was fiercely against the rule of England in any manner whatsoever. Still, Balliol was a surprise choice. Robert the Bruce is a powerful man within Scotland, and in 1292, Edward chooses Balliol over Bruce. The weakness of Balliol was a more likely choice if Edward truly wanted vassalage.
The Bruce’s relationship with England were in a precarious position. They had no interest in supporting Balliol and there were factions in England that saw the Bruce as a powerful force. The Scottish land owners did not believe that Balliol would fight for their lands in the same way Robert the Bruce did and they had good reason. Balliol turns his attention on protecting the Comyn’s family lands – much to the dismay of Edward. Needing an ally, he reaches out to Robert the Bruce’s father and asks for assistance. But the fabric of where Scotland was to fit into a European stage was forever changed by Balliol’s commitment to send troops to help Edward. Many of them simply refused to go, and Balliol wasn’t keen on forcing them anyway. Edward despised the arrogance of Balliol by now and he became determined to replace him at once.
To back up this theory, consider this: Edward declared war on France and demanded that Scotland send a large contingency of infantry to aid the English in their war. Scotland and France had always had a good relationship and the idea that they should betray a longtime ally was repulsive to many of the Scots. But because they are bound by an oath of fealty, they had no choice. Shortly after the war begins, Edward then signs a peace treaty, leaving the Scots utterly exposed to an angry French military.
King Edward tried the use of propaganda through his relationship with the Pope. He convinced him that the war was the result of the Scots. The pope excommunicated Robert the Bruce and all of his lieutenants and bishops.
1315 - A year after winning at Bannockburn, a Scottish army of six-thousand veterans launched an invasion of Ireland to face off against the British. These common soldiers were facing an mounted army who dominated the country for one hundred and fifty years and now led by King Edward, brother of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots.
Edward's grand ambition was to rule the kingdom of Ireland while his brother ruled England. It was to be an ambitious plan, with two brothers tightly woven into a ''Gallic Alliance'' and presenting Britain with a whole new set of headaches.
The Bruce Invasion of Ireland is a forgotten war, but the events that happened after Bannockburn changed the course of history. In 1318, Maon, a Scottish soldier has been wounded in battle. But he races to the village of Edinburgh and tells Robert the Bruce that Edward, King of England, has died.
'''I beheld these brothers of unbounded ambition with whom with no obligations were binding, no oaths were sacred, no promises regarded, if it interfered with their goal of freedom.' King Edward's Opinion of The Bruce brothers
The story of these two countries, England and Ireland, is a study of a struggle against Tyranny where Edward had made it his purpose to suppress them at all costs. The opinion he held of the two siblings was in utter contempt. When the Normans conquered England in 1066, it marked a big change throughout Europe. They brought their weapons, and signaled one of the great transitions in all of European history.
Meanwhile, the Bruce’s were seen as working alongside Edward and retaining their relationship with political factions within the kingdom. The Scots under John Balliol and John Cummins attacked the castle at Carlisle where Bruce was holding it. The civil war dissolved when the attack began. Edward looks on the entire episode as a rebellion. And, the Balliol’s were repelled.
Edward decides to show the Scots that he will not take this lawlessness lightly and hence the disaster of Berwick-on-Tweed. A massacre such as this had the same gravity to England that perhaps the 9-11 attacks had on the United States. Balliol has no choice but to surrender his kingship to Edward.
We see a piece of artwork of Balliol’s surrender. He is on his knees before the king and he has his Scottish coat of arms stripped from him and he becomes a pathetic figure in Scotland, He has to plead for his life. In fact, his nickname, ‘’Tomb-de-Bard’ means ‘Empty Court.’ It means he was the King of nothing. The ancient history and legacy of Scotland was trampled on.
This image tells he story we know today. Edward receives John Balliol on his knees taking an oath of fealty and agreeing to be he vassal for Edward. Why did Edward I choose Balliol over a much better known leader in Robert the Bruce? The answer might lie in the fact that Edward-I was a very capable ruler with a great many things on his plate. He was on-again, off-again at war with France. He had been working on expanding the empire. About the last thing Edward wanted was to deal with Scotland. Balliol was weak and controllable as far as Edward was concerned and the choice therefore was one of practicality. Of the two men, he figured Balliol would be the lesser of two headaches.
Edward I was visited by Robert Bruce’s father and asked if he would finally consider them to be rightful heirs. In 1296, a chronicler rights, ‘’Brus the father paid homage tour Lord, King Edward of England and asked for the right to be named the King of Scotland. Edward in his wisdom said in return, ‘’Have we nothing but to win Kingdoms for you?’’ One can imagine the insult to the Bruce when this was spoken.
The reasons why Balliol was chosen over Bruce vary depending on who is asked. In English lore, it is said that King Edward saw Balliol as a weak-minded leader whose ‘’advantage can quickly be neutralized.’ In contrast, Robert the Bruce was an established military hero with a large following and known for his courage and bravery. Edward had played the most excellent of chess moves.
Edward took on the role of judge with the Scots, hearing cases involving the nobility. Some of the land owners learned that the British would gladly take bribes for rulings in their favors and to the Scots this was very threatening. One case in-particular involved Macduff, a wealthy Earl, in which Edward brought Balliol to face him in the large hall.
INSIDE HISTORY: Primary Documentation- Wherever possible, try to gain two opposite sides of the same story. This is where you get to read and judge completely for yourself what has happened, and perhaps what has not happened. And you needn’t be a scholar of Medieval English to appreciate this – make a game out of trying to decipher the words and how they were spelled. They wrote much like they spoke back then. There were few, if any actual dictionaries. So these writers were often left to sound out the letters that make the words, and this gives us an important insight as to how the people of the Middle-Ages SOUNDED to one another. Yet another one of the senses that you can deploy! This is what I call ‘The Investment Payoff’ to you, the reader. Take this excerpt as an example. The story is called‘’The Brus’’ written in 1375 by John Barbour. He is under-appreciated for his contemporary accounts of the era but it is where historians can pick up a lot of the language and in this case, a lot of true heartfelt feelings. We humans haven’t changed as much as we would like to think we have.
"…Thus in the hyllis levyt he Till the mast part off his menye Wes revyn and rent, na schoyn thai had Bot as thai thaim off hydis mad. Tharfor thai went till Aberdeyne Quhar Nele the Bruys come and the queyn And other ladyuis fayr and farand Ilkane for luff off thar husband That for leyle luff and leawté Wald partenerys off thar paynys be…"
Thus in the hills [Bruce and his men] lived, till their clothing was ripped and torn; they had no shoes but those they made from hides. Therefore they went to Aberdeen, where they were joined by Neile the Bruce and the Queen and other fair and fine ladies, who even for the love of their husbands - for true love and loyalty - would be partners with them in their pains.
At the time, this was the largest free-standing building in the world. (I have been there and in-fact I have a brick taken from the structure) When you walk in to the hall, the first thing you feel is the cold and dank environment. The smell is damp and musty. The air is heavy, but you still hear voices speaking out from these stone walls.
The wood-beamed roof is high above the cold cement ground and the only natural light that makes it in is from either the back wall window, which faces to the east, or the far wall window, which faces to the west. The roof is lifted up and then over the walls themselves so there is a way for smoke from lanterns to ventilate. It would prove to be very intimidating for anyone brought there and would become the last place William Wallace would appear before he was found guilty of treason.
France had long desired an alliance with Scotland and now the door was open. An alliance with France was particularly troubling to King Edward. King Phillip of France agreed to a treaty to align with Scotland. Clearly, the power of England was a threat to almost everyone. Consider the words of the treaty itself.
‘’…And they, in the name of the same king, expressed as procurators, and acting for him, promised us expressly that the same king of Scots], in the present war which we are waging against the said king of England [and] his supporters, both the king of Germany and any other of his supporters, should publicly and openly assist us and our successors in England if a war of this kind occurs against them, with all his resources and those of his realm, both by land and sea, and they will provide counsel and help speedily.’’
One aspect of this treaty has been overlooked for years. Scotland wasn’t merely signing a defense treaty. Phillip was actively pursuing a war with England and forced Scotland to attack from the north. No one in Scotland believed that it could take on the finest military on the land, and yet now France has made a promise that if Scotland attacks first, they will attack on the southern part of England. It was a calculated risk taken by the Scots but one that until recently, historians were not even aware of. This treaty tells what the expectations of Scotland are:
''...… the aforesaid king of Scotland will endeavor to enter the land of England with all his forces, to as wide and as deep an extent as possible, making war and a pitched battle besieging and laying waste and assailing the king of England. ’’
It meant that England have a two-front war and this is something that Edward simply could not have. And this is where we enter the legend of William Wallace.
Edward responded by invading Scotland in 1296 and in a savage attack, took the town of Berwick. This hamlet sits right across the border on the Scotland side. It was an important trading area. But the English were determined to send a message to the rest of Scotland and they succeeded only in raising the fury of the country. 10,000 men, women and children were brutally slaughtered in a battle horrific even by Medieval standards. One bishop recalls that the English spared no one, ‘’not even a woman in the very act of labor.’’
England was desperately in debt due to the war in France. He seemed to want to take the Scots soldiers who would be bound to fight for him, and use them like pawns in the war with France. Secondly, Scotland had a thriving economy, and far from the brut savagery that the Scots were portrayed in the movie Braveheart, the countryside was dotted with marketplaces that had goods from as far away as Asia. The economy of Scotland was worth the plunder, and Edward made his intentions very clear.
After Berwick, the terror felt in the rest of the countryside gripped the land. One-by-One, city and hamlet, town and village, fell to the English, and often without a fight. Edward set his sights on the city of Lanark in central Scotland. There was history.
Lanark was given the designation as a ‘’Royal Burgh’’ by King David I in 1170. The city was over a hundred years old and thriving. The designation as a Royal Burgh meant that the town was laid out in a grid pattern with side-streets, called ‘’vennels’’. (from where we get the word vein) There were four gates to the city and they were designed to protect the wealth within. The city had a rich marketplace that attracted merchants and craftsman from all over Europe and even Asia-Minor. It was vibrant and very much a traditional Medieval City. Royal Burgh’s were great for the economy of Scotland and more and more were rising up.
Inside History: Take your time writing a biography of major players in your pursuit. Let the complete character develop slowly, in the same way you would as if you met someone new. A good biography will speak through you, and to the readers. In the end, I want the readers to envision, hear, touch, and feel the person as real as if he/she was next to you at the present moment.
Also in Lanark is the Church where he married Marion Cornelia Bradfute, who was 21 at the time. The Church at Kentigerns is a very important place in English history. Perhaps unlike many of the English, the Scots were known for the fidelity in their marriages. Did love really rule the day in Scotland on an April afternoon at Lanarkshire? The only source we have that describes William and Marion as a wedding couple comes from the Bishop of Lanark. ‘’At noon, Uilliam thus married Marion Bradfute, love in God’s own hands.’’
But sadly, she would live just one month. Sheriff Heselrig had desired Marion for himself and he retaliated in the most cruel of ways. They murdered her in May of 1297. By now, Wallace knew that the murder was committed by Sheriff Hesilrig. Seemingly invincible, Wallace rode into Lanark at night, crashed the front door of Heselrig and announced for everyone to hear ‘’I AM WALLACE’’ and with that, he almost decapitated Heselrig. He escaped on horseback, which was fairly accurate to the movies' depiction. (Although there is no evidence that supports that a horse could make a four story jump into the water as was shown on the big-screen.) Scotland was on edge now, and the powder keg been blown sky-high. This murder was among the first writings mentioning Wallace.
All summer long, his following grew and the legend along with it. Wallace raided the English and harassed supply lines. He wanted the English out of the Scotch castles. Each castle presented challenges. The castles were strongholds of power. The castle at Lachleven has been the site of power since 490AD. It was not an easy feat to get to Lachleven.
It resembles a smaller version of Alcatraz. The English however had thought the lake was a natural deterrent. With just eighteen men, he slaughtered the thirty-two men of the garrison, but left the women and children. Wallace had done what was actually considered impossible, and taken the most heavily fortified castle of the Middle Ages.
Who was this man, William Wallace? Born of minor nobility and patronized to the Stewart family, the Wallace clan would owe and swear their allegiance to James the Steward, later to be known as ‘Stewart.’ In 1270, Uilliam Uallas (Gaeilic) William de Waleys (Norman French) would take incredulous exception to the bloodthirsty murder of so many Scotsman at the hands of Edward. Historians have taken to the DNA bloodlines of Wallace and came to the determination that he was a large man, especially for the era in which he lived. For instance, a claim of 6’5’’ would not have been an unreasonable.
What little we know about Wallace is written nearly four hundred years later by a cleric known as ‘’Blind Harry.’’ Given the era and the lack of written records, much of what blind Harry has to say must be taken with some skepticism.
His name gives us one clue as to where his family was originally from. ‘’Wallace’’ comes from the Gaelic for the word ‘stranger.’ Ultimately the word would become would ‘’Waleys’’ and ultimately, ‘’Wales.’’ Gaelic absorbed Welsh or Welsh absorbed Gaelic, either way the name of Wallace is a very old name. He was not the first-born son of his own family and hence he owned no land he call his own.
Thanks to William the Conqueror, the surnames of many individuals are recorded in his ‘’Domesday Book.’’ In the 1200s, these are called the ‘’Ragman Rolls.’’ Essentially, this record is where we get one of our greatest examples of what Feudal society was all about. The documents are a list of who has accepted vassalage and to whom has received it. It was in these documents that the Oath of Fealties are recorded for prosperity. His own father’s name appears as one of those taking an oath of fealty.
‘’…All of the procurators and counsels renewed their annunciations and made agreement, praised them and also approved them, and have renewed the fealty and homage for all their lands existing within the said kingdom of Scotland by the [consent of the] community of all the prelates and nobles of the said kingdom of Scotland and of all the nobles, subjects and communities of the towns of the whole kingdom of Scotland, [and] by the consent and unanimous will of the said lord king of England; and, touching and kissing God’s holy Bible, have confirmed their fealty in the way written above by a bond of bodily oath. And they made their letters patent, sealed by hanging their seals concerning the making of their fealties and homages, as is again clear below….’’
We wouldn’t even know of William Wallace if it wasn’t for an accident in history. On the night of March 19th, 1286, Alexander had been carousing at a function in Edinburgh castle. Against his advisors direction, Alexander III set off to head back to his home in Kinghall, and to his new bride. In driving rain and wind, he pushed forward even when his men lost him. Along the coastal path on the way to Kinghall, his horse stumbled and Alexander had suffered a fatal injury to his neck. Seldom had libido proven so costly.
With no heir to the throne, powerful rival factions took to a civil war. A king had to be chosen, and so they asked King of England I. They couldn’t have asked a worse man. For them, it was an attempt to guarantee that the Earl’s would be able to keep their lands. Each of the Scottish landowners was made to kneel before Edward in subjugation.
Edward Longshanks did have a legitimate claim to the throne but the idea that England would rule over Scotland was not an easy cultural thing to accept. After-all, everything about English way of living was so different from that of the Scots. And - very few of the Scots even spoke English and had little appreciation for the emerging refinement of English life.
Archaeology backed up tradition in 1998. Found under a parking lot, a wooden palisade that was the fortification to the Wallace estate. Timber and stone would surround the outside of the home and it tells us that he was an upper middle-class environment. They would have spoken French. His upbringing seems to indicate he was raised by monks and may have been heading toward a life on the clergy. It was possible, since he had no lands to inherit.
Also discovered was a seal that indicates that he and his father were archers. It wasn’t for warfare but for hunting. Archers after-all weren’t in use in warfare yet, but they were keen to have around when a major deer-hunt was going on. Since we see no sign of archers in the nobility and above, we can safely position Wallace in the middle-class of men, and definitely above Yeoman and Tanners.
In 1296, after repeated humiliations, the Scots rebelled when the despised John Balliol – a puppet of Edward’s, suddenly decided to he had enough. They picked up an army and raided northern England, which was the pretense Edward needed to invade. The town of Berwick-on-Tweed was a major trading hamlet sits right across the border on the Scotland side. It was messaged to Edward that there had been a number of English merchants killed and their stores ransacked. Edward was determined to destroy the town in a show of brutal force.
But the English were determined to send a message to the rest of Scotland and they succeeded only in raising the fury of the country. The slaughter lasted three days and only stopped when Edward saw one of his men hacking to death a woman. 10,000 men, women and children were brutally slaughtered in a battle horrific even by Medieval standards. One bishop recalls that the English spared no one, ‘’not even a woman in the very act of labor.’’
When Edward was leaving Scotland, it was said that he was immensely satisfied with his total victory at Berwick. He had succeeded in attacking a large number of the nobility, but the contrast of English ways of life and Scots way of life play out. To he Scots, numerous uprisings broke out. To them, it was much more than nobility, it was the very heart of Scotland. Rich or poor, proud or humble, the Scots were much more apt to fight as one than the British were. And out of this comes William Wallace.
Lanark England | Robert Bluestein, 2002 ©
At Lanark, Wallace fell in love with a woman of ‘’renowned beauty’’ at St. Kinnegans Church and married Marion Braidfoot. The love affair was clandestine, in part because the sheriff, William Heselrig, had his eye on her too. Even if he couldn’t have her, perhaps he could marry his fourteen year-old son to her. When Wallace married Marion, it set Hesilrig into a rage.
And when Wallace got into a minor skirmish, Heselrig has Marion taken away and savagely murdered. Hearing of he murder, Wallace sneaks into the estate in the middle of the night. Wallace’s men slipped into town and they all met up to begin a mission of revenge. According to the story, Wallace struck Heselrig with his sword so hard that it went through his skull all the way to the collarbone. (In the movie, it showed Wallace using a spiked-mace)
This beautiful manuscript is written by Hayton of Corycus specifically for Pope Clement V in 1307. He was an Armenian monk who was a contemporary of King Edward and William Wallace. He wrote a book called ‘’The History of the Tartars’’ It was one of the first actual written histories of the Medieval world. He assembled known information from fellow travellers and gave an account of the Mongol Empire. It is not lost on historians that Hayton was actually giving justification for a new crusade, making his work an effective piece of propaganda. Nonetheless, the artwork is breathtaking and tells a fantastic story, all in the primary source.
The Translation of this Text: The Khan wanted to go to Jerusalem. in order to deliver the Holy Land from the Saracens and to remit it to the Christians. The King Hethum I - was very happy with this request, and assembled a great score of men on foot and on horse, because, in that time, the Kingdom of Armenia was in such a good state that it easily had 12,000 soldiers on horse and 60,000 soldiers on foot".
What then do we make of King Edward I? He is one of the most polarizing figures of the Middle-Ages, and he seemed very aware of his place in English history. The movie Braveheart portrays Edward as cold and ruthless. He was definitely cold but he was effective in his rule. He had a fierce temper to go along with his intimidating height and stature. And, he preceded only Hitler in his cruelty to the Jews.
You would clearly get the impression that this man is a type of king who would finish the things he started. There was his war in France and his expansionistic ideas regarding the English empire. Edward wanted to finance the European conflict with the conquering of Scotland, which was in the midst of a financial and architectural renaissance all their own. The money and the opportunity were met with preparation and some good old-fashioned luck.
In personality, Edward was driven and very aware of his role as king. By mastering perception amongst the English people, he engendered great loyalty amongst the land barons, earls and merchant classes. Even the serfs and peasants felt protected by Edward and generally speaking, he kept taxes reasonable.
In addition, he was a pious man with connections deep inside the Vatican. He went on Crusade and was regarded as a brave leader who led from the front. But when making his second journey with his friend King Phillip of France when he failed to get beyond the city of Tunis. What happened next could not been foreseen. There, on the rope of merchant vessel, a small black rat followed the pitch line and saturated the city of Tunis. The Bubonic Plague did not discriminate in social class. King Phillip died and Edward’s troops were reduced to just over 1000 men. The most he could do is take over a small piece of the Holy Land and confiscate some church relics to be brought back as centerpieces for new Church projects.
In physical appearance, Edward was around 6’2’’ and earned the nickname of ‘Long-Shins’ or as it was spoken then as ‘’Longshanks.’’ He wore a beard and moustache as was customary during this era, and his hair was blond when he was younger and as he got older it darkened and then became white with the onset of old-age. He was almost never without his armor, having been raised in one of the early eras of chivalry and aspired to the noble call of the armed knight.
Edward Longshanks-In Reality
Although Margaret was barely a toddler, she was known as the ‘Maid of Norway.’ They arranged a marriage between the three year old and Edward’s son. Now, Scotland would belong to Edward. Because women could not rise to Queen and could own nothing, everything would fall to England through the son of Edward Longshanks. This is something the movie could have added to help viewers understand what Edward’s obsession actually was, but nonetheless, they left it out.
Word Origins: The Ragman Rolls has a unique word origin. It was spelled out in the Norman French as ‘de Ragemannis.’
‘’Rag’’-Comes from the Latin ‘’REX’’ which referred to as ‘’Law.’’ The letter ‘a’ replaced the letter ‘e’ because Gaelic had a bit of a different usage for the letter ‘e’’ and it was often replaced with the letter ‘‘a.’’
‘’Mannis’’ is partly derived from Latin and Medieval French. It refers to ‘’Hands.’’ A Manuscript is defined as a writing performed by hand. Thus, the word means ‘’The King’s Writings.’’ It was given this name to remind the Scots that they are subservient to the King of England.
Then, unexpectedly, in 1290, the infant Margaret died while on the way to England. Rumor had it that she died from the flu. Scotland was without the Canmore’s and the line was ended. The situation kept getting better and better for Edward. Now there were two claimants to the throne.
One was John Balloil and the other was Robert the Bruce the Elder. Both had military war and a civil war was looming. So the Scots decided to convene the leading families, known as ‘Guardians’ to decide the outcome of this dispute – without bloodshed. It couldn’t have fallen into the hands of a more fortunate judge – King Edward I. Relations were still amicable and Edward and he was well regarded – but they had much to learn about Edward’s deep disdain for the Scots.
Braveheart vs Reality - Surprisingly Accurate
Scheming from the outset, Edward called for a parliament in Norham. He would finally agree to terms with the Scottish land barons - or so it seemed.
Norham is across the river and technically is in Britain. But it is just over the river from Scotland, and in England. But some of the Scottish nobility suspected a sell-out. The location was a dubious one and questions were being raised among the barons. They did not want to meet at that location. After-all, why would the future of Scotland have to be decided in England? They were right to be worried.
The Scots decided to stall on the other side of the river. Edward had intended something much more evil. The Scots were betrayed and shocked. The English, after sixty years of peace threatened to attack Scotland. In the movie’s opening scene, this is the ambush that is portrayed, and for the most part it is done so accurately. The movie however fails to explain why the Scots nobles were meeting in a Parliament with Britain and it does little to explain the role of John Balloil. The guardians and nobles were ordered to pay homage to King Edward and become subservient once again. The Golden Age of Scotland was to come to an unbelievable end.
They would not give up their hard-won autonomy. The message was personally delivered by Bishop Wischer of Glasgow. The bishop addressed it head-on.
‘’…The future of Scotland will not be in tribute or homages to anyone, save God.’
King Edward brought forth a line of eleven others who could claim the throne. It was a brilliant move. Edward made the point that all anyone had to do was agree to have Scotland be ruled by the English. In the movie, we see the price that the Scots had to pay for this subservience. Under English law, the night of a marriage to a Scotsman, the new bride could be forced to sleep with the British knights or nobles beforehand. It was a shock to their culture and the Scots found it a disgusting practice – one of many that was an offense to the clans of Scotland.
Once there and surrounded by Edward's well trained military, the claimants had no choice but to take an oath of fealty to Edward. He made no effort to cheer on a winner, after all, every one of them took an oath of fealty which as mentioned before, was treated very seriously. Not a drop of blood had been shed and Edward got what he wanted. Of all the people claiming the throne, (thirteen in total) John Balloil emerged as the leader of the pack. In Balliol the King saw a weak ruler. Edward steadily undermined his authority throughout his rule. The Scots began to see Balliol for what he was – a truly weak and powerless ruler. They gave him the name of ‘’Toom Tabard,’’ meaning ‘Empty Coat’’- which was what they felt of Balliol when he wore the robes of a king and had no lands to rule.
Edward I then asked Balliol to lead troops to France on behalf of the Longshanks. The year was 1294 and Longshanks was on his way to war with the French. The guardians of Scotland quickly sized the situation and decided Balliol was simply no equal to Edward. There was no way the King of Scots was going to do military service to the King of England. At Stirling, they argued about what to do with Balliol. The Bishop’s extreme views prevailed and they reduced Balliol to a figurehead.
Now, the guardians had usurped Balliol’s authority. The twelve guardians of Scotland now went on a mission- to set up a treaty with the French and to unite the remaining kingdoms to take the war to the English. Military support from the French would be greatly helpful. The agreement can be found in the British Museum. It is one of the shortest treaties in world history. It is called the Auld Alliance.
Simply put, each side agreed that if the English attacked the other one, they would declare war. Both French and Scotsman would squeeze Edward from north and south alike, and frankly, given the size of the Scots army, they had no other choice. When word of the alliance got back to Edward, he was furious but hardly surprised. After all, he forced Scotland to be vassals to his rule and repeatedly humiliated them. Some say that he expressed ‘mock anger.’’
On March 30th, 1296, Edward’s army crossed into Scotland. He took 30,000 warriors into Berwick, a bustling and full blown city with close to 17,000 people. The Scots had no chance whatsoever. Edward, in his brooding anger, had turned on Scotland and ordered the murders of 7,500 men and 7,500 women to send a message to the next village. It was an appalling and vile and unnecessary brand of murder. He left just 2000 people alive. The battle happened so quickly, the French simply had no time to invade England. The alliance had fallen through.
At Dunbar, the Scots fell. Much of the nobility was captured and imprisoned. One by one, the cities fell. The Scone of Destiny was stolen and taken by England to Westminster Abbey. Simmering tensions in Scotland would not allow the peace to remain. Balliol, even though he was a figurehead, was seen as responsible for the Auld Alliance. Edward chased him down and Balliol ultimately surrendered. Now, the question is this: What happens when one takes an oath of fealty to a king and betrays it? For Edward, it was a moment of triumph. For Balliol, it was a moment he’d soon never forget.
Balliol was stripped of his coat of arms and imprisoned. Back in Scotland, loyalties are strong and many still considered Balliol the righteous king. Even when allowed to go to France, Balliol was still the last of the bloodline of the Canmore’s and future wars the rebels would identify themselves as King John. (I personally find that a fascinating fact given Balliol’s cowardice.)
The movie highlights the life of William Wallace but says almost nothing of Andrew Moray. Who was Andrew Moray? They were among the wealthiest of land owners in both the north and south of Scotland. He lead an uprising in Scotland against King Edward in an attempt to hold onto his ancestral lands. Perhaps this is why few outside Britain know who he is compared to William Wallace. As a rising star in the Scottish wars of independence in 1297, he increased the lands of John Balloil.
Both he and Wallace were the first Scottish champions of freedom. To the English, according to their high-school textbooks, Wallace was ‘’akin to a barbarian, burning and looting the English countryside.’’ The textbook goes on to add that Wallace ‘’forced men and women to dance naked for him at drunken debauchery-ridden parties, which the British found particularly dreadful.’’
Much of what we know of Wallace is of course written from the Scottish point of view. Americans love courageous heroes but the name William Wallace scarcely gets mentioned in American textbooks until the middle 1960s. The New York City school district printed their HS History books with the first mention of Wallace in any kind of detail.
I have – in my own collection-perhaps 30 HS history textbooks from the early 1900s to the late 1980s from a variety of states and none of them mention Wallace beyond a name, and even then it was quite short on information. So why do we see the name of the heroic figure in Wallace in the middle 1960s?
Perhaps it is because authors at the time desired to make history relative to the world around us. Consider that our own social revolution was going on then and America was reeling over the death of our own ‘Camelot’ in John Kennedy. We needed a hero. But did you ever wonder what the English felt about the Scots rebellion and William Wallace?
Here is a contemporary account by ‘’Blind Harry.’’ He is separated in time by over a hundred years and yet his account is vivid and mostly accurate. He interviewed those still closest to the original moment, usually the family members and distant relatives and he accounts for discrepancies by letting the reader decide.
In his epic, ''The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir'' William Wallace, Harry tells the graphic story of the murder of Marion Bradefute and the escape of William Wallace. One of his primary sources was Father John Blair, Wallace’s personal chaplain and a family historian. These family records were carefully detailed and kept usually in family Bibles, so the account, although many years elapsed, was written close to the time it happened. You can easily tell where the Englishman left his mark in the account, which is why Blind Harry is an erstwhile source.
He tries not to view this event from just one angle. It begins from the English point of view, and then gets carefully integrated with Harry’s, and what you have left is a very ‘’journalistic’’ account of one of the nastiest moments in Medieval History. “William Wallace often came to Lanarck for ‘’sport.’’ He would roam about the city murdering Englishman on sight, most usually in hidden alley ways and such. In the town of Lanark was Sheriff Heselrig, who was known for his cruelty and deceitfulness.
Heselrig increased the number of guards on the lookout for Wallace but even in plain sight, Wallace slipped past them, saluting them in mock show of respect. Marion Bradefute became the surviving heiress to Lamington and Heselrig had her brother murdered because she had previously rejected his advances. When that failed, Heselrig tried to have Marion marry his 14 year old son. On one of his visits to Marion, a soldier in Heselrig's garrison confronted him. The soldier greeted him in a mixture of English and French. "Dieu garde bon Seigneur" (Good day and good morn).
Wallace responded in a mixture of Scottish and Gaelic: "Gud deyn, dauch lard, bach lowch banyoch a de" (good evening lazy lord if you please, God bless you). As this was going on, several other soldiers had gathered round to watch. All of the soldiers around were now taunting him and the band of about 40 Scotsman who were with him.
One grabbed at his blade and said, "What should a Scot do with so fair a knife-as the priest said who last bedded your wife (this sinfully implying that he was not the true father of Marion's baby but that a priest of Saint Nicholas had fathered her child). The crowd continued to get larger until it reached about 200. Heselrig and Thorn were also among the crowd.
Robert Thorn was an Englishman who was a friend of Heselrig who was partly involved in the murdering of Marion. William's anger was rising as the taunts continued but the one about his wife really angered him. He tried to remain calm and cool but lost his temper. The fight was quick and viscous. He quickly drew his sword and lobbed off the head of one English man. The blood gushing forth from the decapitated soldier's neck blinded William temporarily, but in the small street the English could not win just by outnumbering the Scots.
The men with Wallace fought very skillfully. They fought a rearguard action and withdrew through the gates taking refuge in Marion's house. The Scots slaughtered fifty Englishmen in their escape, but the rest of them, led by Heselrig and Thorn, regrouped and went up to the door of Marion's home demanding the "ruffians" surrender immediately. Marion stalled them at the door arguing with the sheriff to give her husband time to escape. Soon after the English realized that the Scots had fled and they broke down the door and put Marion to death right there on the spot. Wallace was angered beyond belief upon hearing the news of what had happened to his wife.
That same night Wallace and his men, who were joined by a few others, prepared to go into the town and take the sheriff's life. Heselrig never thought that they would try an attack that same night so security was at a minimum. Wallace and his men went into the town in small groups of two or three for this way the guards would not pay much attention to them.
Once inside, the band regrouped. They split into two main groups; one group would head for Thorn's house and the other, with Wallace as leader, headed for Sheriff Heselrig's house. Upon reaching the Sheriff's house, he smashed in his door with a single foot and rushed up his stairs.
He found Heselrig in his bedroom where he murdered the sheriff. With one single downward stroke of his blade Wallace lobbed off the sheriff's head, clear to the collarbone proclaiming ‘’I am Wallace!”’ Robert Thorn's house was set on fire and he burned to death. Wallace and his men fought with the British, who were now aware of their presence, and slew many Englishmen. The dead was said to be at about 240. Wallace did, however spare the priests and women but he expelled them from the city with no provisions.
The writing of History and the aftermath of battles are often told without setting a proper context around the actual wars that were fought. War is one of the true constants of human history and has not diminished with the civilization or freedom. One of the truly great historians of our modern era, Will Durant, speculates that of the last 4,421 years of recorded history, only 268 of the them have been without bloodshed. We have come to realize that war is the ultimate form of competition and natural selection in the human species.
Leading up to the climax of the Hundred Years War was a period of instability within Europe that had not been seen before. It was the worst hundred years in almost all of human history. Wars, plagues, pestilence, natural disasters and pogroms were the order of the day. True, the Muslim hoards in the Seventh and Eight centuries and then the Viking Invasions of the Ninth and Tenth Centuries did their part to create instability all by themselves. But nothing changed the course of history like the spread of disease and the intermittent war which made life such a bleak and miserable experience for most of those who lived in this time period.
So, the Historian’s job is to give the reader a ‘’real’’ feel for what life was like in the backdrop of one of the most pivotal military battles of all time. There is much more to the story than a one-day battle that saw one side win and the other side lose. There is much more to the story that was such a piece of history that Shakespeare wrote a masterpiece around it, just a hundred and fifty years after it happened.
What drove common men and trained professional soldiers to trudge hundreds of miles on foot, hungry, cold, and often sick? One cannot understand the nature of war without first understanding what the cultural and environmental landscape of Europe was like at this time. Being somewhat of a Historical-Epidemiology specialist, I take a close look at the illnesses and diseases that were pervasive at this time.
This chapter will hopefully give you the reader a look at what everyday life was like in Europe and what factors led forces to face off in a muddy field on St. Crispin’s Day in 1415 in an epic battle that could have changed the entire course of history – and yet, it didn’t quite have that kind of impact. It’s therefore become one of the most curious moments in history, a mystery that can only be answered with a complete 360-degree view of the facts and how they each had an impact of events as they transpired. Once assembled, these curious details will likely show us that we haven’t changed all that much. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is left for you, the reader, to decide.
Life in France in the early 1400s was very chaotic and difficult. Several epidemics had broken out in Paris and in Lyon, and both were wrought with horrible suffering. The first disease noted was ‘Pertussis,’ otherwise known as Whooping Cough. (Bordatella Pertussis) The disease was transmitted from respiratory droplets usually within people who were in close proximity to one another. Such was the case in the crowded and busy streets of Paris, Lyon and Avignon.
Pertussis has some unusual characteristics that made it difficult to distinguish as one disease. Under a microscope, the pertussis virus is encapsulated and can be covered with a thin slime or uncovered. It grows in the nasal cavities and larynx where it spreads to the lungs. People who suffer from it cough until they cannot stand it any longer. Blood is expelled with phlegm and in the Middle Ages this was often cast on the streets, thus perpetuating the spread.
One interesting fact about Pertussis is that as a virus, it seeks to survive, and cannot survive without a host. When enough people finally die from it, the outbreak is stemmed and thus does not reappear for several decades or more. It nonetheless has been able to bounce pretty rapidly from host-to-host with the great assistance of the people who lived in the Middle Ages. Their reliance on superstition and a general lack of understanding how diseases develop and regenerate only served to make the disease worse.
In 1348-1349, Genovese merchants began getting violently sick. They were showing signs of a pestilence that had been written about and feared, but heretofore unseen. Violent coughs gave way to high-fever, high-fever often rose to levels that caused death, mercifully before the other symptoms would show. There were three distinct kinds of plague that devastated Europe. Bubonic Plague was what came to be known as the ‘’Black Death’’ and it left its mark on the skin of hose afflicted. Huge bulbs of pus in the groin and armpits of the sick. Giovanni Boccaccio, the Renaissance humanist gives a disturbing eyewitness account.
‘’….In men and women alike it first betrayed itself by the emergence of certain tumours in the groin or armpits, some of which grew as large as a common apple, others as an egg...From the two said parts of the body this deadly gavocciolo soon began to propagate and spread itself in all directions indifferently; after which the form of the malady began to change, black spots or livid making their appearance in many cases on the arm or the thigh or elsewhere, now few and large, now minute and numerous. As the gavocciolo had been and still was an infallible token of approaching death, such also were these spots on whomsoever they showed themselves…”
The name, ‘’Black Death’’ owes its origins to the Classical Greek. ‘’Atra’’ in Classical Greek means ‘’Dismal, Dark, Spiritless.’’ The word ‘’Mors’’ is where we derive the word ‘’mortal’’ from and it refers to death in its final state. When it was spoken of in the Middle Ages, it was called ‘’Mors Niagra’’ and ‘’Mors Pestilentialis’’ For Disease of Death.
Two other diseases associated with the Plague also destroyed the social fabric of Europe. Pneumonia and Septis both were offshoots of Bubonic Plague and spread equally as rapidly. In fact, if someone were truly unlucky, they could contract ALL three at once, and the suffering would be almost impossible to comprehend.
When you read how the people of the Middle Ages treated disease it is a shocking sight. Doctors did not know what caused the plague and they did not know how to cure it. People mistakenly believed you could catch it by...
1) Looking at the victim
2) Breathing bad air
3) Drinking from poisoned air
The French blamed the English and the English blamed the French. In Spain, they blamed the Arabs, and everyone blamed the Lepers.
And the cures were almost as dreadful as the disease. Doctors already had some wacky cures for illnesses. They said....
1) Wear a magpies beak around the neck to cure toothache
2) Cut a hole in the skull to let the devil out and to cure madness
3) Throw sweet smelling herbs into the fire to make the air smell less foul
4) Sit in the open sewer so that the stench on your body would chase the disease away
5) Kill all the dogs and cats (Which made the plague infinitely worse)
6) Blood Letting with leeches
7) Strap a chicken's rump to the black open sore
8) Pay a penance by flogging yourself in the town square
It was completely common for doctors to test the urine. This unpleasant job often involved tasting the urine. (When Henry VIII was ill, they ALSO did this with his 'stools.') If there was blood in the urine, there was no hope.