I read somewhere that you can tell a lot about a person by finding out who her heroes are. I suppose that’s fairly obvious. Take Homer Simpson. It comes as no surprise to find out that his hero is Superman, (“If you are up there and can hear me, I just want to say thank you for listening, Superman”). It occurs to me that it ought to be possible to extend this idea to national heroes. This is probably a tired old idea, used in seminars up and down the country, but most of the things I know, I learnt after leaving school, so as far as I’m concerned this is new and original. Anyone got a problem with that? Alright, let’s try it out. I’ll just stick to countries that I feel linked to, either by blood, language or shared history and ideas, and I’ll start with Scotland, since it’s my home.
The Scots, to coin a phrase, sure know how to pick ’em. Scottish heroes are sometimes unfortunate, very often tragic and always romantic, in the old sense. Arguably the greatest Scots hero of all was William Wallace. More than anyone else he stands, in Scottish hearts, for freedom and liberty. He had that rare and precious ability, shared by a handful of leaders such as Alfred the Great, Nelson, Churchill, and in America, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Lincoln, to lift up a nation, to become its voice and spirit, not through fear and oppression, the hallmark of the tyrant, but by reflecting the will of the people.
Wallace taught the nation that it could win against its mighty neighbour to the south. Although essentially a brilliant guerrilla fighter, he defeated a major English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. He was eventually betrayed to the English, taken down to London and tortured and executed as a traitor, which he certainly was not. Unlike many prominent Scots, he had never sworn allegiance to the English king, Edward 1st. In suffering a martyr’s death Wallace became Scotland’s first national hero, and paved the way for his own personal hero, Robert the Bruce.
The father of Robert de Brus was Anglo-Norman and his mother was the Celtic Countess of Carrick. He was descended from King William the Lion. Through Brus came the Royal House of Steward who produced the current British royal family. Robert the Bruce was not always a dedicated patriot. He was a landowner on both sides of the border, equally at home in the English and the Scottish court. Eventually he was forced to choose which side he was on. He chose the Scots cause and in 1314, at the Battle of Bannockburn he led them to victory over an English army twice their size. Bannockburn was the turning point in Scotland’s struggle for independence. From this time on there was no question but that the Scots were a separate and independent nation.
Formal recognition of Scotland’s rights was still required from the Pope. A representative group of the Scottish nobility wrote to him in a famous letter known as the ‘Declaration of Arbroath’, part of which went as follows:
‘For as long as there shall but one hundred
of us remain alive we will never give consent to subject
ourselves to the domination of the English. For it is not
glory, it is not riches, neither is it 토토사이트 honour, but it is liberty
alone that we fight and contend for, which no
honest man will lose but with his life.’
One of the most romantic, and at the same time tragic figures in Scottish history was Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary had been brought up in France and returned to Scotland on succeeding to the throne in 1560. She was eighteen years old, very attractive, impulsive and inexperienced in the machinations of Scottish court life. Everything went well at first but when she married her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, her life changed and nothing ever went right for her again. She soon became disillusioned with her husband and took a lover, an Italian called Riccio, who was murdered in front of her in her room, by her jealous husband and others. It wasn’t long before her husband was also assassinated. At this point poor Mary seems to have lost the plot completely and married the Earl of Bothwell, the man who was almost certainly involved in the murder of her husband.
It must have been clear to her by now that the only kind of luck she attracted was bad luck. After a few more set-backs she decided to head south to enlist help from her cousin, Elizabeth, Queen of England. This proved to be a fatal mistake. Far from helping her, Elizabeth had her arrested and imprisoned in a gloomy castle far to the north of London and the English court. She remained Elizabeth’s prisoner for the rest of her life, some nineteen years, and was finally executed for ‘treason’ in 1587, which fate she met with great dignity.
Probably the best known of Scotland’s heroes is Bonnie Prince Charlie who raised the standard in Scotland for the Jacobite cause. The name ‘Jacobite’ was a French version of ‘James’, i.e. the ‘Old Pretender’ James. Charles Edward Stuart was actually more Italian than Scottish and was only in Scotland for less than a year. His campaign culminated in the disastrous battle of Culloden in 1746, the last battle ever fought on British soil. Following the defeat of the Scots army, he abandoned his followers and, with the help of the wonderful Flora MacDonald, fled the country, dressed as a washerwoman. His undignified exit has always reminded me of the story of Toad of Toad Hall, who also fled the law, dressed as a washerwoman. I wonder if that’s where Kenneth Graham got the idea. After all he was a Scot.