Thursday, July 29, 2010
As a small token to a great man, I wrote this poem in honor of John Graham of Claverhouse in the voice of one of Dundee’s men. The title comes from the name the Highlanders gave him in Gaelic, Ian Dhu Nan Cath meaning Black John of the Battles. (As usual in Scotland, he was not called black because of evil ways, but because he had black hair and a dark complexion)
Oh lads, come listen to my tale,
For I must tell it ye,
Of a hero of our hills and glens;
A brave gallant man was he.
The Highlanders called him Ian Dhu,
The English called him “Bloody Claver’se”.
But we always called him Bonnie Dundee
For he did his country and people favors.
How can a man be thought a butcher
When all he ever did was fight for his land?
Fighting and dying for Scotland’s cause;
Trying to deliver her from a tyrant’s hand,
Our Ian Dhu fought just as bravely
As all our great heroes before.
He won the heart of all his men
And became the man that we adore.
Oh, brave Dundee, you were the pride of the band
And taught us which cause was right
Just like your ancestor, the great Montrose
Who paid for his deeds on the gallows height.
The Grahams were ever a gallant clan
Ever ready to raise a sword
In defense of the country that they held dear;
We’d follow Dundee at a single word.
Like your ancestors before you
You never failed to be there
When Alba called out your name,
To fight you would always dare.
But for your country, you paid a price
It came as death, no less.
At the battle of Killiecrankie
You fought so the enemy would their wrongs confess.
And Dundee, you never died in vain,
For you fought through thick and thin.
Even through the darkest, bloodiest battles
That you knew you’d never win.
For what is it that makes a hero?
Is it all in bravery true?
Or is it also in perseverance
To win the good he knew.
Dundee, you’ve been written as a scoundrel,
A villain convicted of cold murder;
But we know the truth of your tale,
How you loved Scotland and would never hurt her.
For you did what you knew was right
For your country and your king.
Who could condemn ye for all of that?
We’ll write a new song to sing!
So though some know ye as Ian Dhu,
And some your character just do not see.
To us you will always and forever remain
Our John Graham: Bonnie Dundee.
Have a good weekend and I will be back in August to introduce my official Wallace Month.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Killiecrankie is known as one of the best Scottish victories in the history of the country. And it certainly was. It was not a draw; it left no question as to who won; it was a down right victory for the Jacobites.
The Pass of Killiecrankie itself was an amazing place for a battle. Look at some pictures of it. The place itself is beautiful, but also a perfect place for a traditional Highland Charge. John Graham’s Highland forces took advantage of that, and used it to the full.
Bonnie Dundee, John Graham, who used to be Lord of Claverhouse but was now Viscount of Dundee, was now an outlaw with a price of twenty thousand pounds on his head. He knew that something had to be done with the Covenanter rising, and gathered all the men he could for a last battle to end it once and for all. He was able to gather about 2,500 Highlanders, eager to support the Jacobite cause in the name of King James II who had been forced to flee to Ireland. There were also Irish supporters under Colonel Alexander Cannon who were eager to support “Royal Jamie” but came over to Scotland as untrained warriors and no money to speak of. As the men were gathering to Dundee’s banner, he set up his headquarters in Blair Castle.
General Mackay, the Covenanter leader, was sent to deal with Dundee’s new army. In late July, he moved to Dunkeld with six regiments of foot, four troops of hourse, four troops of dragoons and a baggage train of 1,200 horses. It was about four thousand troops in all. Mackay had planned on seizing Blair Castle. When he reached the Pass of Killiecrankie around noon on the 27th of July, his scouts told him it was clear and headed toward the north end where he regrouped his forces above Urrard House.
Dundee, when he heard about Mackay’s approach, gathered his Highlanders, Irishmen and the few horses he had to Craig Eillaich above the north end of the Pass. Mackay was able to see them on the skyline and knew they meant trouble, so he formed up his troops to face uphill on a shelf of land with his infantry on the wings and what artillery he had in the center and cavalry behind. Dundee’s Highlanders were in three divisions with his cavalry in the center, ready to take on Mackay’s artillery.
It was just about eight o’clock p.m. as the sun was setting that Dundee ordered the charge. The Highlanders fired their muskets once then charged down the hill with their broadswords drawn and glittering in the last of the day’s sunlight in their ferocious Highland charge. Mackay’s troops fired their first volley at them, but were unable to fix their bayonets in time before the Highlanders fell upon them, overwhelming them with the sheer power of their charge.
The battle only lasted a few minutes. After the Highland charge, Mackay’s troops broke ranks and ran for their lives. There’s a story that one of the young men, Donald MacBean made a huge leap over two rocks to make his escape. There is still a place at Killiecrankie now called “Soldier’s Leap” in memory of the event, weather or not that was the exact place it happened. MacKay’s troops suffered great losses that day.
But no one suffered as much as the Jacobites. Their brave leader, John Graham, Bonnie Dundee, died on the field that evening. Accounts say that as he was charging into battle on his horse, shouting encouragement to his men, his arm raised, a stray musket ball struck him in the side underneath his breastplate and he fell from his horse. It was said that, as he lay dying, he asked a solider “How goes the day?” to which the soldier replied, “Well for King James, but I am sorry for your lordship.” Dundee then said, “If it goes well for him, it matters less for me.” The Highlanders were at a loss to find their brave leader who they called Ian Dhu nan Cath, Black John of the Battles, had been killed on the field. They carried him off on their shoulders and a piper played the lament known as Lochaber no More.
Dundee went down in history as a great man. Some may not share that opinion, but for what it’s worth, I personally think he was a great hero.
Here is a song about the Battle of Killiecrankie sung by the Corries.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
The Battle of Harlaw, fought on the 24th of July in 1411, was mainly nothing more than a big clan war, but it has gone down in the history of Scotland in song and story like most things and is remembered as pretty much a bloodbath and a non-victory for either side. It’s one of the many battles that is counted a draw.
The Lord of the Isles had a fiefdom of Clan Donald for longer than a century, since the Norsemen had lost control of the Western Isles in 1266. He was well into mainland politics. The MacDonalds had fought with Bruce in the Wars of Independence and their Chief, Angus Og had been one of Bruce’s lieutenants at Bannockburn. The Lord of the Isles was based in Dunyvaig Castle, but had control over all the Western Isles and could muster an army of Ten thousand men at his pleasure.
At Christmas time in 1411 Donald, the Lord of the Isles, had a clan gathering at his castle, Ardtornish on the Sound of Mull. It was said that he selected six thousand men and sent the rest back home, then sent his army to the mainland and marched up the Great Glen to Inverness. He burned Inverness and was joined by followers from other clans including the MacIntoshes, the MacLeans, the MacLeods, the Camerons and men from Clan Chattan. His troops, now ten thousand strong, headed to Aberdeen where he promised them lots of plunder for their troubles.
Alexander, the Earl of Mar, was not daunted with Lord Donald’s men and gathered what he could along with the Provost of Aberdeen who was only able to muster a few burgesses. Mar however, could count on the allegiance of of some north-eastern lairds as well as some seasoned knights.
On the eve of battle, the Highlanders on a plateau north-east of Inverurie while Mar’s forces, who were less than Donald’s but better armed, gathered at the slope of the hill. At dawn, the armies began to prepare for battle. There were not many tactics involved; it was mainly a test of valor and courage. Not loosing any time preparing or waiting for tactical ideas, the two armies charged each other. The Highlanders bravely faced the Lowlanders better weaponry of spears and armor, but they kept charging and regrouping.
The Lowlanders held their ground at first, but the Highlanders were relentless and by the afternoon, the battle had turned into ferocious hand to hand combat. By nightfall, the two armies had done all the fighting they could. There was no real victory on either side. They withdrew and Donald moved back to Inverness, leaving about a thousand clansmen, including the chiefs “Red Hector” MacLean and the MacIntosh, dead on the field of Harlaw. The Earl of Mar also had heavy losses. Six hundred men including the Provost of Aberdeen. The city of Aberdeen had been saved, though the battle just deepened the division of Lowland and Highland.
Today the battle is marked by a monument that was erected by the city fathers of Aberdeen in 1914 and is still remembered as the Battle of Red Harlaw.
There is a song called the Battle of Harlaw sung by the Corries. Go have a listen!
I’ll be back next week to talk about the battle of Killiecrankie
Thursday, July 22, 2010
So, we come to the Battle of Falkirk. The second and last major battle that William Wallace fought. It was, unfortunately, not a Scots victory like the earlier Battle of Stirling Bridge (which we will be talking about in September) but it did have a large impact on Scotland’s history, though not for the better, I regret to say.
Wallace had just finished a successful raid into England after his victory at Stirling and was on his way back north to Scotland, getting word that Edward Longshanks was sending an army northward to crush the Scottish resistance for good. Wallace, acting fast, began administrating the “scorched-earth policy”. This was when an army would go through, burning crops and running off livestock so that the opposing army would not have anything to eat on their way through the land. His idea almost worked, the English were starving. It is said that they could only find one skinny cow through all the Lowlands. Earl Surrey, one of the English commanders, blandly stated that it was “the dearest beef he had ever tasted”. The English ordered supplies, but their ships were delayed and the only ones that got through were carrying wine, so Longshanks’ army was full of drunkards and his recruited--or more press-ganged--Welshmen threatened to desert. However, before anyone could take drastic action, two traitorous Scotch earls, Angus and Dunbar, came to Edward’s camp and told him that Wallace’s army was camped only eighteen miles away at Falkirk. Edward Longshanks was delighted to hear this news and marched their immediately.
And, let’s not forget my favorite wee story surrounding the Battle of Falkirk! On the eve of battle, Longshanks ordered his men to sleep lightly, ready for combat at the drop of a pin in case the Scots decided to make a night attack. So the knights, including Longshanks himself, slept in the armor, right beside their chargers. In the night, Edward’s horse was reported to have stepped on him, cracking some of his ribs. Edward screamed and his men, thinking there was an attack, leapt up, ready to fight. Edward finally had to pull himself into his saddle, broken ribs and all to show them he was still alive. This story always gives me a laugh.
There is also a Wallace stone at the small town of Riggend which is reported to have sharpened Wallace’s trusty claymore before the battle of Falkirk. It is only one of many Wallace stones scattered over the face of Scotland. Another is where Wallace stood to watch the English approach where a monument now stands.
And on to the actual battle itself. Wallace decided that the best tactics to use against English cavalry were the schiltroms, later used by Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn They were circles of spearmen designed to stand firm to the last and were known to withstand any charge against them. It was said they were originally of Welsh design and were used actually, quite frequently in the medieval period. The English were first sighted by Wallace as he was standing on a ridge above Falkirk, looking out to what would be the field of battle the next day. He gathered his men and got them into formation the next morning and waited for the English to approach.
Wallace had four schiltroms containing bout two thousand men each, they were accompanied by skilled archers from Selkirk under John Steward. He was also able to form a small cavalry under John Comyn. The cavalry however, was to be the major downfall of the battle.
When the English formed up on the other side of the field, they were left with the marshy ground whereas the Scots, who got to choose their position first were situated on and in front of a hill, having the high ground.
It is chronicled that before the battle began and the English were just about ready to charge, Wallace shouted out to his men, “I have brought you to the ring. Now dance the best you can!” Then the English proceeded with this rather confused first attack. It seemed that the Welsh, who were still mad at the English, refused to charge against the rather frightening looking schiltroms, so the cavalry was sent out first. The first knights however, they and their horses bogged down in heavy armor, got stuck in the marshy ground between them and the Scots. After dragging themselves out of that, they found drier ground to the left and proceeded with their charge against the Scottish schiltroms.
The spearmen held miraculously. The Scots would have undoubtedly been able to win the day if it had not been for the English archers. No one could touch the Scottish spearmen with hand held weaponry, but the archers did major damage to their ranks. soon their were not enough to hold position and they were forced to break. Wallace called on his cavalry, but for whatever reason, they refused. There has been huge debate as to what actually went on there, but I think that John Comyn, among the other Scottish earls in the cavalry, betrayed Wallace and left him to be defeated by the English. The English cavalry, seeing that the Scots were wavering, charged forward and began their mass slaughter. Wallace eventually had to call the retreat or be killed along with with all the others.
One of the highest casualties in this battle came in the form of Wallace’s second in command and good friend, Sir John Graham. It is said that William Wallace shed tears over the body of his fallen comrade when he found him lying on the battlefield of Falkirk. There is a commemorative tomb for John Graham at Falkirk Old and St. Modans Church and the dedication which reads:
“Here lies Sir John Graham, baith wight and wise
Ane of the chiefs who reschewit Scotland thrice
Ane better knight not to the world was lent
Nor was gude Grame of truth hardiment.”
There is also supposition as to what Robert the Bruce was doing at the time of the Battle of Falkirk. Some people even consider the fact that he was in the battle, though on the English side. This was the case in Blind Harry’s epic The Wallace where we see him and Wallace meeting on the field of battle and Wallace gives him a tongue lashing which causes him to change him mind for good and join the Scots. This was also featured in the movie Braveheart, but it is not known weather or not there is any truth behind the story. Some historians shun the fact that he fought in the battle at all and others say that if he did, it was more likely he would have been on the Scots’ side. It is hard to say though in reality, because Bruce changed his allegiance many times before he was crowned in 1306.
So Wallace lost the battle and was once again forced out into the woods with his small group of followers. He resigned his position as Guardian of Scotland, thinking he had failed his country by his loss in the battle, and set out for France to find help.
I’ll be telling a lot more about Wallace next month, so if you want to know more, check back then. I’ll be back later this week with another battle post.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
And here is our last birthday of the month. Today we are saying happy birthday to John Graham, Bonnie Dundee, who is our somewhat “special guest” this month, because we also celebrate his greatest victory, and the real beginning of his legend as one of Scotland’s greatest Jacobite heroes. Not everyone would share that opinion though, for whenever you have a war, especially a religious/political one, there is controversy, but I do not look at what men stand for, I look at the man, and, reading about Dundee, I see a man who loves his country, a man who fights with honor, and a man who is loyal to his king. This is what made John Graham of Claverhouse, later Viscount of Dundee, a great man and a national hero in later years. So, please read a bit about Dundee today in celebration of his birthday! If I might suggest to you a very good book, I would like to recommend Rosemary Sutcliff't Bonnie Dundee. This is a simply beautiful story about a young man who joins Dundee’s cavilers and finds the real man behind the legends, disproving many of the horrible stories circulating about him from people calling him “Bloody Clavers”. If you can find a copy of this book, I recommend it in the highest.
Here is also a song, written by Sir Walter Scott and sing the The Corries titled, what else, but Bonnie Dundee!
I’ll be back tomorrow with a post about the Battle of Falkirk in which William Wallace fought.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
All right, so for the next couple weeks, I am going to be up in the mountains where I will not get an internet connection, but my mom is going to be posting the things I would have if I had been able to. So if the formatting on the next few posts is a bit odd, it's because I have emailed them to her to copy and past from her computer. Hopefully everything will work out okay and I will be back in August to write for my Wallace Month.
Enjoy the coming posts, they are all very exciting and I enjoyed writing them a lot!
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Today we celebrate another birthday from Scotland's history. This time, it's Robert the Bruce, he of Bannockburn fame! In 1272 he was born on this day into the Bruce family. His father was loyal to King Edward Longshanks and Bruce, throughout the years Wallace was fighting against England, was shifting between being loyal to England and being loyal to Scotland. However, after Wallace's death in 1305, Bruce took up his sword, took up the crown and fought for Scotland as it's Hero King and won Scotland's freedom on the fields of Bannockburn.
So celebrate Bruce's birthday! between him and Wallace, an enduring legacy has been made for Scotland, not only back in the days they still roamed the hills and glens, but now as well. Bruce is a National Hero and he deserves at least a wee happy birthday from all of us today! Even if you just read about his exploits or start reading a novel featuring him, take some time to recognize the man for who he really was.
I'll try to be back this week, but I will not make any promises because I am on vacation! ;-), but next week, I will have some more Battle reports posted for our Battle Season.
Monday, July 5, 2010
The first birthday celebration this month is for John Paul Jones! He was a Scottish seaman who moved to America during the time of the American Revolution and practically created the American Navy. He is known, even to this day as the Father of the American Navy, and is viewed and almost an insignia for the Navy today. His actual birthday is on the sixth, tomorrow, but I am going to be on the road tomorrow and will probably not get a chance to write this post, so I decided to write it today. So everyone wish Jones a very happy birthday!
Some quotes by John Paul Jones:
"I have not yet begun to fight!" (spoken to the English Captain when asked to surrender at the famous battle between the English Serapis and Jones' Bonhomme Richard)
"I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way."
If you want to read a book about John Paul Jones, I would recommend Evan Thomas's biography, John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy. I read this book last summer and I thought it was fantastic. It gives you a good idea about who the real man was and a bit of the legend as well.
I will probably not get another chance to write this week, but I will surely be back next week once more, so keep checking back!
Sunday, July 4, 2010
As it is Independence Day in America, I thought that I might put a small post on today about the similarities of the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Arbroath. It really is uncanny how much alike they are. I suggest to you, that, if you have the time, to read them side by side to further appreciate the similarities. I've posted links to each of the texts so you can do that if so desired! I have posted things before on how much I thought the Wars for Independence in Scotland and the American Revolution coincide to the very point of the brave men who led each of the armies. I just think it's amazing that two documents, five hundred years apart, are really so much alike.
This is a short post for the day, but if you want to know more about this subject, I would like to recommend a book to you. I am actually currently reading it, so I have not finished it, but I really like it and think it is a fantastic work. It's called Warriors and Wordsmiths of Freedom: The Birth and Growth of Democracy by Linda MacDonald-Lewis. (You can find it on Amazon, or get it from Luath Press.) It's not very long, but it's a very good read, so I suggest it highly.
I'll be back tomorrow with another post so until then, enjoy this wee history lesson!
Thursday, July 1, 2010
And now we move onto the second month of our Summer Battle Season. However, apart from the battles, July also has several other things. American Independence Day for example. I'll be back Sunday to talk about that with a special post on the similarities of the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Arbroath. And there are also three special birthdays to celebrate this month, one next week, so be sure to check back often so you can say happy birthday to some very special people!
This month has two big battles: The Battle of Falkirk (1297) and the Battle of Killiecrankie. Because there are several events this month that have to do with John Graham of Claverhouse (Bonnie Dundee) I have decided that the last couple weeks in July are going to be pretty much dedicated to him. And then, the Battle of Falkirk will tie in nice to August which I have declared my official William Wallace Month, so if you want to know a lot about William Wallace, stick around for August!
With all that said and done, here's another battle song just for fun and I will be back next week with more posts!