Scots Wha Hae (Bruce Before Bannockburn)
DESCRIPTION: "Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled, Scots, wham Bruce has aften led, Welcome to your gory bed Or to victory!" As the English army of Edward approaches, the Scots are encouraged to "do or dee" to retain their freedom
AUTHOR: Robert Burns
EARLIEST DATE: 1800 (Currie)
KEYWORDS: battle Scotland war freedom political
1286 - Death of Alexander III of Scotland
1290 - Death of his granddaughter Margaret "Maid of Norway"
1292 - Edward I of England declares John Balliol king of Scotland
1296 - Edward deposes John Balliol
1297 - William Wallace, the Guardian of Scotland, defeats the English at Stirling Bridge
1298 - Edward defeats Wallace at Falkirk. Wallace forced into hiding
1305 - Capture and execution of Wallace (August 23)
1306 - Robert Bruce declares himself king of Scotland
1307 - Death of Edward I
1314 - Battle of Bannockburn. Robert Bruce defeats Edward II of England and regains Scottish independence
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Huntington-Gam, p. 268, "Bruce's Address to his Army" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 299, "Scots Wha Ha'e Wi' Wallace Bled" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: James Kinsley, editor, Burns: Complete Poems and Songs (shorter edition, Oxford, 1969) #425, pp. 561-562, "Robert Bruce's March to Bannockburn" (1 text, from 1793)
Michael Brander, _Scottish and Border Battles and Ballads_, 1975 (page references to the 1993 Barnes & Noble edition), pp. 34-35, "Bruce's Address to his Army" (1 text, 1 tune)
NLScotland, RB.m.169(138), "Scots, wha hae wi Wallace bled," J. Pitts (London), 1820-1845; also L.C.Fol.70(47a), "Scots wha hae," unknown (London)
cf. "The Day of Waterloo" (tune)
The Day of Waterloo (Ord, p. 303)
Henry Shall Be Mayor a Campaign Song ("Rouse, ye freinds [sic.] of Clay") (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 58)
The South ("Sons of Secessia glorious land! Sons of The South -- noble band") (Lawrence, p. 387)
General Beauregard ("General G. T. Beauregard") (WolfAmericanSongSheets, p. 189)
NOTES [493 words]: Titled, in Currie's publication, "Bruce to his Troops on the eve of the Battle of Bannock-burn."
The "Wallace" of the first line is of course William Wallace, the hero of "Gude Wallace" [Child 157], who had fought for Scottish independence after the British King Edward I had deposed John Balliol, the "Toom Tabard" (Magnusson, pp. 132-134, who however points out that many of the contemporary stories about Wallace are nonsense). Wallace's power was broken after the Battle of Falkirk (Magnusson, pp. 141-145), and Edward I eventually captured him and executed him with extreme torture (Magnusson, pp. 153-157).
Then, far too late, Robert Bruce asserted his claim to the throne -- with John Balliol considered to have abdicated, and his heirs thus disbarred, Bruce was the most logical successor. He finally made his claim in 1306. Edward I stormed north, but died in July 1307, never having caught up with the Bruce (Magnusson, p. 174). It was not until seven years late that his son Edward II took a large force north to try to regain Scotland.
By the time of Bannockburn, the Scots had been struggling against the English for twenty years, with relatively slight success overall. It was not the accession of Robert Bruce that turned the tide, but rather the death of Edward I. (Ashley, p. 3, speculates in fact that Robert Bruce started his rebellion in 1306 because Edward I clearly couldn't last much longer and his son was not in his league.) Edward I's successor, Edward II, was much weaker. When Edward II finally was induced to fight the Scots, he did little more than throw his troops at Bruce's army, leading to a catastrophic and unnecessary defeat.
Although Bannockburn was more Edward's loss than Bruce's victory, it became the defining event in the Scottish story, and hence the inspiration for this poem of Burns's (though there is no reason to think Bruce ever said anything like this, with the single exception noted below).
According to Brander, p. 30, the line, "Now's the time and now's the hour" actually goes back to the battle. As Robert Bruce was trying to decide whether to fight, a Scottish deserter from the English camp came in and gave him that advice. Bruce fought -- and of course won Scottish independence. Obviously this has the strong feeling of folklore -- but certainly it inspired Burns.
To be sure, Burns was writing about more than just Scottish history. Norman Buchan, in the article "Folk and Protest" printed in Cowan, declares, "This was not written about Bruce and Bannockburn at all; it was written precisely and specifically about much more dangerous events, 'struggles,' in Burns'[s] words, 'not quite so ancient.' He was referring... to the trials of the Friends of the People, of Thomas Muir, Palmer, Gerraed, Skirving and Margarot."
The tune of this piece is called "Hey Tuttie Taitie" by Burns, and Brander, p. 33, says that it was "traditionally supposed to have been the tune of Bruce's battle march." - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- Ashley: Maurice Ashley, The House of Stuart, J. M. Dent, 1980
- Brander: Michael Brander, Scottish and Border Battles and Ballads, Barnes & Noble, 1993
- Cowan: Edward J. Cowan, editor, The People's Past: Scottish Folk, Scottish History 1980 (I use the 1993 Polygon paperback edition)
- Magnusson: Magnus Magnusson, Scotland: The Story of a Nation, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000
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