Bannockburn anniversary: Scottish freedom ... and not a hint of Mel Gibson

700 years ago tomorrow, Robert the Bruce routed Edward II at Bannockburn

To many Scottish nationalists, the Battle of Bannockburn is the defining moment in their nation’s history, the point at which they secured independence for centuries by defeating a vastly superior force of invading English.

Now the battle can be relived in two very different ways. One of the two oldest copies of The Brus – an epic mediaeval poem famous for its vivid depiction of the two-day bloodbath – has been painstakingly restored in time for the battle’s 700th anniversary tomorrow.

And, for those not versed in old Scots, next weekend will see a “brutally realistic” re-enactment of the battle  – choreographed by a team that worked on the films Gladiator and Thor II – at a “Bannockburn Live” event near Stirling.

Forget Mel Gibson, William Wallace and Braveheart, here you will be able to speak to actors playing the rival kings, Robert the Bruce and Edward II, listen to Scottish folk music and learn, from Strathclyde University’s Bannockburn Genealogy Research Project, whether you are related to anyone in the battle fought on 23 and 24 June 1314.

Robert the Bruce used a revolutionary pike formation called a schiltron to overcome Edward II’s army, with thousands of English crushed to death in the retreat, or drowned in the River Forth. So many bodies piled up in the river that it was possible to walk across without getting wet, according to The Brus: “That apon drownyt hors and men, Men mycht pas dry out-our it then.”

The oldest surviving copy of The Brus Hulton archive The oldest surviving copy of The Brus Hulton archive The 1,400-line poem – written by John Barbour, the Archdeacon of Aberdeen, about 60 years after the battle – is considered one of the most important sources for historians studying the Scottish Wars of Independence and remains one of the finest works written in early Scots.

No manuscript in Barbour’s own hand survives, but the restored copy, kept at St John’s College, Cambridge University, is one of two versions transcribed in the 15th century. Made from high-quality “rag paper”, it was badly damaged when it was “poorly rebound” in the 18th century. The repair operation required specialists to gently “dry clean” its pages.

Mark Nicholls, librarian at St John’s, said: “The restoration gives us the chance to display this important work just as people are looking at the significance of the battle. It’s an extraordinary tale and conveys quite how bloody and brutally gory this medieval battle was.”

However,  the Scottish public may not be quite as excited as some might expect, with the number of tickets for the heavily promoted Bannockburn Live event cut from 40,000 to 15,000. The organisers, Visit Scotland, insisted the event would be “an outstanding success”.

Dr Fiona Watson, of Dundee University, said many “wrongly assume the battle won Scottish independence”, but this was “quite untrue” as the war went on for another 15 years. “The battle is so iconic because of how Robert the Bruce associated it with independence, freedom and liberty. His eve-of-battle speech was an early articulation of Scotland as a rich, independent nation.”

She doubts its political significance today. “People who will be voting [for independence] in September are doing so for economic and political reasons, not for Robert the Bruce. Bannockburn is wisely not mentioned by Scottish politicians today ... the men who faced down Edward II faced chains and slavery, and nowadays we are safely voting at the ballot box.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: New Business Sales Executive / Business Development

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing, UK based I...

Recruitment Genius: Tennant Liaison Officer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An experienced TLO is required to manage, deli...

Guru Careers: Tax Manager / Accountant

£35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Operative

£6 - £15 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a well e...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen