I continue making my way through The Scottish Chiefs.
It continues to be a tough row to hoe. Occasionally barely readable, sometimes ridiculous, and once in a long while actually exciting. The story continues to pit the saintly and honorable true Scotsmen against those venal and greedy curs who would sell dear Scotland out. It has also become clear to me that much of William Wallace’s tragic troubles spring from the machinations of one particular woman – a woman whose unrequited longings leave her preferring to destroy Scotland rather than allow Wallace the affections of another. (Not that he would bite at that, being so pure and saintly as he is).
Porter (a woman herself, I might remind you) refers to all women as the “dangerous sex.” Nevertheless, there are a few good and pious souls to offset our antagonist. It is an interesting view to try to make sense of, some two-hundred years on. The author clearly sees that a woman’s virtues are in her intellect and independence, as well as moral character. They also seem to suffer (at least the good ones) from anemic constitutions, being terribly prone to the vapors at nearly any emotional strain. Yet, it is also clear that the author sees these virtues as being fundamentally opposed to the nature of women. Unlike men, who can find their manly virtues flowing effortlessly through them, women must always be on guard against their baser desires conquering them.
Last night, I came across another bizarre scene, as seen through modern eyes. William Wallace is ambushed at night by a bunch of traitorous rogues. They come upon him sleeping in a barn, snuggling with a teenage boy. Here, read for yourself:
The moon shone full into the hovel and shed a broad light upon their victims. The innocent face of Edwin rested on the bosom of his friend, and the arm of Wallace lay on the spread straw with which he had covered the tender body of his companion. So fair a picture of mortal friendship was never before beheld, but the hearts were blind which looked on it, and Monteith gave the signal.
Is it just me, or do you find that a bit… odd?
In the midst of all this sexual tension, the Lords of Scotland hear tell of an incursion by King Edward’s army and, not being Wallace, panic and freeze. Fortunately, the much persecuted Wallace once again rides off to save the day.
What follows is a pitched battle, during which the exhortations of Wallace wins the day. It seemed to take the story a step too far – making up an entirely fictitious battle for Wallace to prove his saintly manhood by, once again*, winning against all odds. There were some geographical references in the text, so I did some searching wondering if any of it had some scant basis in fact.
Turns out, this was perhaps the most accurate portrayal of the historical battle so far in the book.
The clash being described was the Battle of Roslin (February 24th, 1303). It really happened, was accurately placed by the book in both place and time, and played out very much as described in the book. Far from being some obscure encounter, it may have been the largest battle of the First Scottish War of Independence. While most present day accounts do not place William Wallace at the battle (and certainly not as the Scots’ commander), there are accounts that suggest he was in fact present for that fight. It is not impossible, given what is known about his post-Falkirk activities.
The battle occurred when an English army moved north into Scotland to plunder and otherwise retaliate against the rebellious Scots. They had thus far met with little opposition and did not expect the Scottish armies to be capable of challenging them. When they moved into the vicinity of Roslin, the invading army of some 30,000 had been divided into three “battles,” and were split into three separate camps.
Scottish cavalry, roughly 8,000 strong, were under the command of Wallace’s replacement as Guardian of Scotland and claimant to the Scottish throne John Comyn as well as Scottish knight Simon Fraser. Having performed a night-march, they fell upon the first of the three English camps with complete surprise, routing or capturing the entire English army. Replenishing their horses, supplies, and weapons from the English camp, they move to engage the second Battle. By this time, the English had been warned of the Scottish attack and had formed up for battle. The result was considerably less of a route, but the Scots were again victorious, and again fell to plundering the English camp.
At this point, the third English Battle had been organized and arrived upon the field, ready to fight. Even facing but a third of the English army, the Scots likely were outnumbered. Besides that, they had just fought two battles, at least one of which was a fairly close fight. It is recorded that this desperate battle was about to go against the Scots, but a few great speeches from their leaders (Comyn and Fraser, for real, Wallace in the the novel) turned the tide and gave the third victory to the Scots.
Details of the battle and tactics do not seem to have been preserved beyond the description, above. Losses were not recorded, save for some of the nobility who were captured and killed. While a great morale boost for the Scots at the time, the victory had little strategic value. The loss motivated King Edward to do better the next time and his invasion of 1304 gained nearly complete control of Scotland.
I’ve yet to come across even maps of the battle, much less a scenario created as a wargame. With the right engine and the right design, it could be worth putting together. I’m imagining something similar to the treatment of Jackson’s flank attack at Chancellorsville, which has been done.
Sadly, all I seem to have is The Scottish Chiefs.
*In the book, Wallace even manages to emerge victorious at Falkirk. While during the battle proper he is defeated by a vastly larger foe (who include the Bruces in their ranks) as well as treachery from his own side, he salvages the situation afterward. In the night, he leads the remnants of his armies against the British camps, and routes the entire English army from Scotland. Even Mel didn’t take it that far.