Friday, June 05, 2009

RL Mackie M.A., The Story of King Robert the Bruce (1914)

For some reason, Scotland doesn't like sharing much of her history with us in Ulster. You'll not find an Ulster chapter in the vast majority of Scottish books, or in tv programmes, websites or radio broadcasts. The story of King Robert the Bruce on Rathlin Island is a perfect example of this. The earliest, and most detailed account of his life (1274 - 1329) was the 20 book epic "The Brus" written by John Barbour, first published in 1377. Barbour's main patron was Bruce's grandson, King Robert II. Barbour gives a fairly detailed account of the Rathlin exile - so why the denial in Scotland? It's all very strange.

Earlier this year, I found a novel by RL Mackie M.A. entitled The Story of King Robert the Bruce (London 1914), which includes the retelling below of Bruce on Rathlin, clocely based on Barbour's account:

…the question was, whither they were to flee. France or Norway would have been a natural choice, but both were far off and the time of the equinoctial gales was near. Less than a score of miles off, half-way across the North Channel, lay the little island of Rathlin, and to Rathlin the King resolved to go and wait for a happier hour. So after he had stayed only three days in Dunaverty, he ordered his men to prepare for a second voyage.

Sorrowfully they set sail, and were soon battling with the stormy current that runs through the North Channel. We can imagine what the King’s thoughts were like as he looked back to Scotland through the grey welter of the waves. He had staked everything for a kingdom, the lives of his friends, of his wife and daughter, even his own honour, and the game was lost. But though the despair gnawed at his heart, his face gave no sign of it as he sat at the tiller shouting commands and abrupt words of praise.

Meantime there was consternation in the island of Rathlin as the inhabitants saw a fleet of strange ships draw to the land and disgorge company after company of armed men. In haste they collected their cattle and fled in the direction of a castle, but the fleet-footed mountaineers soon ran them down and brought the chief men to the King. He explained that he had no desire to hurt them, all he demanded was that they should become his vassals and supply him every day with food for his three hundred men. If that were done he would not meddle with their persons or their goods. The trembling islanders agreed, and kneeling on the sand swore that they would regard him as their liege lord.

King Robert was now safe for a little, but he did not know how narrow an escape he had had, or how badly things were faring with his friends in Scotland. A few days after he had left Cantire Sir John de Botetourte assailed Dunaverty; in the beginning of September the Prince of Wales had attacked Kildrummie; while on the very day on which the battle of Dalry was fought, de Valence announced to Edward that he had pacified all the land beyond the mountains. Nor did he know his pursuers were hot on his track; though his place of refuge had not yet been discovered, Edward knew that he must be lurking among the islands between Scotland and Ireland, and before the end of winter had despathed fleet after fleet in search of him.

Chapter V – The Return to Scotland

How slowly those days must have passed in that desolate island. Often in the grey winter afternoons the exiles would pace the beach and gaze in the direction of Scotland, often the chiefs would sit long into the night resolving plan after fruitless plan, often despair would seize even the King’s heart. Truly they were in evil plight, defeated, exiled, excommunicated, dependent even for food and shelter on the charity of the poor fishermen of Rathlin. But a the days began to lengthen they grew tired of their inactivity and longed for any venture, however desperate.

Among the most impatient was Sir James of Douglas. “Why should we reamin here?” he asked his friend, Sir Robert Boyd, “herding in wretched huts, making the poor folk of this country still more poor, when within a few miles lies the Island of Arran with its castle garrisoned by English soldiers? They arefar from any other stronghold; what is to prevent us working them harm?”

To this Sir Robert Boyd answered, “If you take this adventure on you, Sir knight, be sure that I shall accompany you, for I know the usland and the Castle of Brodick well. I can guide you to a place near the castle where we shall lie unseen till we discover what mischief we can work on the garrison.”

The plan was laid before the King, who gave his consent to it, and in a short time Douglas and a small body of men had manned a galley and pushed off from the shore. Slowly they crept past the Mull of Cantire till the white peaks of Arran came in sight, and at last, when night had almost fallen, they reached the island…

…it was very quiet there, no twig ever crackled under the tread of a stranger’s foot; only in the branches the birds were beginning to sing, for February was almost at an end. Here they abode, forgotten, it seemed, by friend and foe, till on the tenth day the sound of a horn made each man spring to his weapon and crouch low in the brushwood.

“I should know that sound,” said Douglas to Sir Robert Boyd. Again the horn rang out.

“It is the King!” he exclaimed…

from RL Mackie M.A., The Story of King Robert the Bruce (London 1914) p 58 – 62