Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Flower of Scotland

Scotland has no official anthem, but Flower of Scotland is the unofficial anthem, vying with Scotland the Brave, Scots What Hae, and a few other pieces for that honor. The song was written by Roy Williamson of the folk group The Corries, and composed by Peter Dodds McCormick, originally for Northumbrian pipes.

The song celebrates the great victory of Robert the Bruce, king of the Scots, over Edward II of England, at Bannockburn, on June 23 and 24, 1314.

Although a relative newcomer to the music scene, the song quickly gained popularity with its growing inclusion at sporting events, ever since being sung by Scotland's rugby team on its Lions tour of South Africa in 1974. It became the pre-game anthem in 1990, and in 1997 was picked up by the Scottish Football Association as its pre-game anthem, also.

In addition to the Corries, it has been performed and recorded by Alestrom, Celtic Punk, and The Real McKenzies. It is currently (June 6-12, 2010) on the playlist at Nan Hawthorne's Radio de Danann.


O flower of Scotland

When will we see your like again

That fought and died for

Your wee bit hill and glen

And stood against him

Proud Edward's army

And sent him homeward

Tae think again



The hills are bare now

And autumn leaves lie thick and still

O'er land that is lost now

Which those so dearly held

And stood against him

Proud Edward's army

And sent him homeward

Tae think again



Those days are passed now

And in the past they must remain

But we can still rise now

And be the nation again

That stood against him

Proud Edward's army

And sent him homeward

Tae think again



To fully appreciate the impact of this moment in Scottish history requires a little backstory. Scotland had long been its own, independent nation, but with the death of King Alexander III in March 1386, and the subsequent death of his only heir, Margaret, Edward I of England (Edward Plantagenet, Longshanks, and Hammer of the Scots, to give him his many names) stepped into the kingless gap to seize a nation. Through the years of the Guardians (including William Wallace of Braveheart fame) and the brief reign of John Balliol, Scotland fought against Edward, experiencing such dark moments as the particularly brutal town-wide slaughter at Berwick-on-Tweed in 1296.

Through these years, Robert the Bruce, grandson of The Competitor, another Robert Bruce, who had vied for the throne of Scotland, rose to power. Of course, power is a relative term. He was crowned in March of 1306 with few supporters at his side. "We are king and queen of the May," his new queen Elizabeth remarked, for they were indeed monarchs with no power, no authority, few supporters, and for some years, not even a home, while Edward I pounded Scotland into submission, capturing Elizabeth and Bruce's daughter Marjory, and driving Bruce and his few men to hiding, at times, in caves, and entirely dependent on the goodwill and hospitality of his subjects.

From this inauspicious start, from a country torn and fighting amongst itself and subjected by the armies of a more powerful nation, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce slowly gained strength through guerrilla tactics and clever use of the landscape against their enemies. Finally, in 1314, Bruce's hot-headed younger brother, Edward, forced Bruce into a position of fighting a pitched battle, something he had avoided, as he did not have the numbers to match England's forces.

Still, Bruce rose to the occasion. With Longshanks dead some years now, Edward II, his son, gathered a force rumored to be the largest army the world had ever seen. Sources report it stretched for 20 miles, with 2,000 cavalry, many thousands of foot soldiers, and a veritable caravan of supply wagons snaking over the hills toward Scotland to destroy the country once and for all.

Against this, Bruce had as few as 5,000 men, according to some sources. Others place the number at more than twice that, but what is not in doubt is that the Scots were severely outnumbered. Despite this, Bruce arrived early, chose his ground well, and prepared it for even greater effect, with caltrops and murder pits to stop England's war horses. He drilled his men to work together in schiltrons, prickly rings of hundreds of spears all pointed outward, that could fell even a charging knight.

And against all odds, after years of struggle, Bruce did far more than merely claim victory those two days at Bannockburn. Against a force anywhere from 2 to 5 times the size of his own, he forced a complete rout of Edward II's troops, setting Scotland back in position to reclaim the independence it had always had.

It was a truly remarkable story of perseverance, courage, and ingenuity in the face of overwhelming odds, and well worth celebrating in song.

Listen all week, June 6-12, 2010, to this and more songs celebrating Scotland, at Radio de Danann.

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