Mercy Unrelenting


Shawn turned at the sound of the voice.

The project manager stood in the doorway with a clipboard. “They’re beauties,” he said.

“You shoot?” Shawn rose to his feet, reaching for the clipboard.

The man offered his hand. “Sir William de Clare, archer general of Calontir...I do medieval archery when I’m not building additions and remodeling.”

“You pretty good?” Shawn asked.

“The best.” The man grinned. “That’s not vanity. It’s the competition scores say so.”

“Isn’t that damned lucky for both of us?” Shawn smiled, thinking of Niall. He would say it wasn’t luck—especially not damned luck—but the holiest of help, dropping everything into place. “Do you have room in your schedule to make me even better than you?”

~~ The Battle is O'er, Book Five of The Blue Bells Chronicles, updated: due out March 23.

There is a running question between Shawn and Niall, throughout the Chronicles, as to whether 'dumb luck' and 'coincidence' are in fact (as the saying goes) really when God decides to remain anonymous.

maria goretti, saints, medieval history, robert the bruce, earl of ross
That Maria Goretti popped up on my radar yesterday, announcing that today, July 6, is her feast day, seems a funny random coincidence that ties into other funny random coincidences of late.  I almost breezed by it, because, although I saw the wonderful play about her, Mercy Unrelenting, by Jeremy Stanbary, in September/October of 2013, on the surface, she really has nothing at all to do with my blog.

However, as I walked Liadan around the block today (in the unrelenting heat) I thought that her story actually does tie into the Blue Bells Chronicles and its themes, and the themes of this blog on several levels.

Maria Goretti was killed on July 6, 1902, three months short of her twelfth birthday, by Alessandro Serenelli.  A hired hand on Maria's family farm, the 20-year-old first tried to seduce her.  When she refused, he tried to rape her.  When she fought back, he stabbed her fourteen times.  She was rushed to a hospital, where she suffered overnight from the multiple injuries, and died the next day.

This would be another awful tragedy, like many others through history, but for The Rest of the Story.  Before dying, this 11-year-old girl was very clear in forgiving Alessandro.  He was tried and sentenced to 30 years in prison.  (21 being the age of majority then and there, he was not given a life sentence.)

Alessandro descended into something very like madness and became almost animalistic in prison.  In the meantime, villagers who prayed at the graveside of Maria Goretti began to report miracle answers to their prayers.  In the play, Alessandro becomes further detested, even by other prisoners, as the man who killed a saint.

Six years into his sentence, Alessandro had a vision, or a dream.  Maria herself appeared to him.  At that point, he became a different man, and a model prisoner.  He was released 27 years into his sentence and retired to a Capuchin monastery to become their gardener.  He begged forgiveness of Maria's mother, and was at her side on June 24, 1950, when Maria was canonized as one of the youngest saints in history.

What does any of this have to do with Robert the Bruce?

A surprising amount. 

The dates. Let's start with the purely interesting detail that Bannockburn, notably followed by one act of mercy after another, occurred on June 24--the same date on which Maria Goretti would be canonized six hundred some years later.  It is meaningless, but I still find it interesting, that Edward I, the man responsible for the Wars of Independence and the need for so much mercy, died on July 7, the day after what would become her feast day.

The saints.  Saints were a central tenet of King Robert's life, and in the life of the medieval church.  Bruce looked to them for saintly help.  No doubt, he also looked to them as models on how to live his life.  St. Fillan and St. Columba were particularly important to him.  Saints were so important to the cycle of medieval life in general, that dates were often stated as The Feast of...

Mercy.  Here is where Maria Goretti's life really ties into this blog, Robert the Bruce, and the Chronicles

robert the bruce, wars of independence, scottish history
Mercy is a central Christian value.  And Robert was known for his mercy.  I might even say...his unrelenting mercy.  In a time when the clans feuded among themselves, when death and disagreement were typically met with more death, the Brus took the radical step of extending mercy to those who had harmed him.  We see a list, after Bannockburn, of those Scots who fought against him that day--but whom he welcomed back into his peace, whose lands he restored, on little more than the promise that they would henceforth be loyal subjects.

He believed that the killing and ongoing feuds must stop if the country was to be strong.  Most (if not all) of these men proved to be worthy of their promises and did become loyal subjects.  However, one very notable man among this list--a man for whom mercy must have come much less easily to the Brus--was the Earl of Ross.  There were political and financial reasons why Scots fought with the English against their own countrymen, at Bannockburn.  But Ross--now that was personal, and his actions led to great harm not for soldiers and warriors, but for the women--and child--closest to Bruce's heart.

At Bruce's lowest point in 1306, he was in name King of Scots and in truth a fugitive living on the run with a small band of followers, including his wife, daughter, Isabelle MacDuff who had crowned him just months prior in March, and two of his sisters, Mary and Christina.  On June 19, 1306, even this small band was badly decimated at the battle of Methven.  Not long after this--the date is unknown, but patching together various accounts suggests late June--there were further losses at the battle of Dalrigh in the Glendochart area.

It is easy to see why, in July of 1306, he sent the women, under the protection of his brother Nigel, to Kildrummy Castle for their safety.  In September, 1306, Kildrummy was attacked by Bruce's enemies.  The women escaped, fleeing north under the protection now of the Earl of Atholl, trying to reach Orkney.  Instead, they were captured at the sanctuary of St. Duthac by the Earl of Ross, who first violated the sacred notion of a sanctuary--one that was taken quite seriously in that day and age--and then turned them over to the English.

Kildrummy castle, scottish history, earl of ross, elizabeth de burgh
Kildrummy Castle

The upshot of all this:

Bruce's friend, the Earl of Atholl:  hanged, and his head displayed on London Bridge.

Bruce's brother-in-law and friend, Christopher Seton: executed

Bruce's brother Nigel: hanged, drawn, and quartered.  A very vicious, ugly way to go.  What did it do to Bruce to know this is what happened to his brother?  [Nigel was captured at Kildrummy, not with the women; I nonetheless include him here.]

Bruce's sisters: Christina was locked in a nunnery for years.  Mary was forced to live in a cage hanging from the outer walls of Roxburgh castle for several years.

Bruce's wife:  Elizabeth was held by the English for eight years at various locations around England in what are called 'severe conditions' and largely in solitary confinement.

Bruce's daughter:  Marjorie was held in solitary confinement at Watton Priory.  Edward I had a cage built, too, for this child of 9--but relented.  What a great guy.  What a softy.  Instead, Marjorie spent eight years, from the ages of probably 9 to 17, separated from all those she had known, largely if not entirely in solitary confinement.  [She was released only in the prisoner exchange that followed Bannockburn in 1314.  Shortly after, she married Walter Stewart.  On March 2, 1316, while heavily pregnant, she fell or was thrown from her horse.  She died at the age of 19.]

How does a man feel about the man who delivered so many of those he loved to these fates?  To torture, death, humiliation, years of solitary confinement?  His daughter destined to spend nearly half her life largely alone, thanks to the Earl of Ross?  Christina, Mary, Elizabeth, Isabelle, and most certainly Marjorie--were not enemy soldiers.  He didn't have to turn them over.

Yet--Bruce forgave.  He spoke of mercy.  He pressed his countrymen to practice mercy that they might stand united rather than fight among themselves and fall to the English.  And when he was called on to do the same, he did.  Unrelenting mercy.

Ross's name later appears on the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320, Scotland's greatest document and one on which many say our own Declaration of Independence is at least somewhat based. 

In The Blue Bells Chronicles, Shawn and Carol are called on to practice unrelenting mercy.  And the other side of the mercy coin is redemption.  I see ties, too, between Alessandro Serenelli and Clarence--who will continue to become a bigger part of Shawn's life in The Battle is O'er.

More on that tomorrow.  In conclusion on the mercy side of things, I'll finish by saying, Bruce's unrelenting mercy changed the course of Scottish history--as it changed life for the Goretti family, for Alessandro Serenelli, for the monastery he joined, for all who knew these people, even for many who eventually heard the story--as it changes our personal lives and the lives of others when we practice it.

~ ~ ~
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