This famous poem by Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s National Bard, is known throughout the world. This poem, first penned in 1793 in the Scots tongue remains a clarion call against tyranny in all its forms.
It was stimulated by a visit by Burns to the battlefield at Bannockburn in Stirlingshire, where he imagined the words spoken by Robert the Bruce to his troops, just before the battle.
Much influenced by the French Revolution, Burns wrote this poem as an inspiration to all to stand up for their rights and mirroring those famous words allegedly spoken by William Wallace, freedom.
Also known as ‘Bruce’s Address’, one can only imagine the Bruce sitting high on his horse, reminding his troops of what they were fighting for and whose lives it would affect for generations to come.
Even to this day and in moder society, these words reverberate still.
Scots Wa Hae
Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!
The first verse speaks of the struggles to get to where they were today and the only outcome of death or victory.
Now’s the day, and now’s the hour;
See the front o’ battle lour;
See approach proud Edward’s power—
Chains and slavery!
In the second verse, he reminds his troops, in the face of Edwards approaching army that they have all to fight for and defeat will only result in Chains and Slavery for the Scottish nation.
Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward’s grave!
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!
The third verse calls to trops who could easily affect the battle tide of the battle; the Traitors, Cowards and Slaves to an English yoke, should turn and leave now as he doesnt want them with him.
Wha for Scotland’s king and law
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa’,
Let him follow me!
Verse four talks about the men he wants with him, one who will fight for Scotland’s King and law, and if needs must, to die as a freeman as Bruce himself would do for the cause.
By oppression’s woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!
The penultimate verse describes why the must fight and what it would mean to the people of Scotland. Again Bruce uses the collective ‘we’ to describe his army and his devotion to the cause and the commitment it will take from them all.
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow!
Let us do or die!
In the final paragraph he tells his men that they need to stop those who would enslave their lands and people and that ‘Tyrants’ have to be defeated with Liberty at every blow struck. As such there is only death or success in this battle, with no real middle ground.
Battle of Bannockburn
The battle took place over two days in June 1314, on the 23rd and 24th. This was a major turning point in the battle for Scottish Independence, although not ending the wat, this major defeat against the larger English forces, remains a celebration in Scottish history.
The English army led by Edward II, recognised as a weak and unpopular king, contained around 25,000 men, against the Scottish army’s 8,000 men led by the Bruce. Although these numbers do vary it is generally accepted the English troops were at least twice the number of the Scots. History also suggests that the English loses far outnumbered those of the Scots which included 34 English Barons and knights as well as 1000’s of foot soldiers.
Here is the song, sung by the internationally renowned, Scottish Folk band,the Corries
Bruce, Burns and Wallace, three Legacies of Scotland, its history and culture.
Burns was born January 25, 1759, Alloway in Ayrshire, Scotland and died on July 21, 1796 in Dumfries, Dumfriesshire. He is the National Bard/Poet for Scotland renowned for his verse in both poetry and song. Although still sung to this day, his lyrics were written to known and popular tunes and written in both Scots and English. His words often reflected his sympathies, which lay firmly with the common man applauded their rebellion against orthodox religion and oft stated some sympathy with the French Revolution and its purpose of removing the tyrannical yoke on the common man, as he saw it.
He was known as an individual of forceful character and great intellectual energy but felt stifled by the Calvanism that he felt curtailed Scottish thought in his time. Living through the era of Scottish enlightenment, he had a belief in a sympathetic deity and the best of human kind. His fervour for fairness and the defeat of tyranny is well shown in the poem/song discussed here; Scots Wa Hae.
According to the Glaswegian genealogist Sheila Duffy;
Robert Burns had 12 children by four women – nine by his wife Jean Armour. Seven of his children were illegitimate, including the first four by Jean Armour, legitimised by their parent’s marriage in 1788. Of Jean’s children, six died young and another, William, had no children. The last descendant of their eldest son Robert (1786-1857) was Jean Armour Burns Brown, who died in 1937.
All living descendants of Robert Burns and Jean Armour descend from their granddaughter Sarah Elizabeth Maitland Tombs Burns (1821-1909), daughter of their fourth son James Glencairn Burns (1794-1865). At best Elizabeth Burns is something like a fourth cousin twice removed. As such about 5% of Scots can claim to be descended from our National Bard.
Further, research conducted by genealogist John Burness, of Toronto, Canada, has found that most of Burns’ living descendants are from two illegitimate daughters Elizabeth “Bess” Burns – whose mother was Elizabeth Paton, a servant on the Burns’ family farm at Lochlie – and Elizabeth or Betty Burns, the daughter of Ann Park, the barmaid from Dumfries.
Robert the Bruce
According to worldhistory; Robert I of Scotland, better known as Robert the Bruce, reigned as King of Scotland from 1306 to 1329 CE.
For his role in achieving independence from England, King Robert has long been regarded as a national hero and one of Scotland’s greatest ever monarchs.
Robert succeeded John Balliol (1292-1296) but only after a tumultuous decade of side-switching and military ups and downs against English armies led by Edward I of England (1272-1307) and those of rival Scottish barons.
A grand victory over the English at Bannockburn in 1314 cemented Robert’s claim to be the rightful king of Scotland and his skilful diplomacy brought recognition of Scotland’s full independence both from the Pope and Edward III of England (1327-1377 ). Robert was succeeded by his son David II of Scotland (1329-1371 ).
Although Robert the Bruce’s line died out with his son David II, current research has found a DNA marker linked to Robert’s cousins the Bruce’s of Clackmannan, whose family now head the clan and family of Bruce. This breakthrough means that anyone who tests positive for the marker is descended from the same family as the King, but not directly to the the King himself, whose line doed out with his some David.
According to History; Sir William Wallace (1270-1305) was a Scottish knight and national hero who fought for his country’s independence from England. Wallace famously led the Scots to victory against a larger English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in September 1297.
The English king Edward I of England (r. 1272-1307) was intent on revenge and conquering Scotland, but his victory at Falkirk against Wallace in 1298 could not ultimately subdue the Scots. Wallace was captured in Glasgow and tried for treason in London in 1305.
Inevitably found guilty, Wallace was given the worst possible sentence: to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. William Wallace then became a martyr, the ultimate heroic patriot, and the subject of countless legends, ballads, and poems.
He did not live to see it but Scotland did indeed gain independence under the rule of Robert the Bruce (reigned 1306-1329).
There is no evidence, neither genealogical nor via DNA (as none exists to compare), that he had any children nor infact married, although there is a minute chance that cousins to his line may exist. As such other than a piece written in the late 15th century by ‘Blind Harry’ known as The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace (Wallace), which does suggest he married Marion Braidfute, very little is known of the man himself. As such no documented evidence supportshis marriage nor of any children, to include information being claimed by some to come from the Vatican Archives.
Blind Harry gathered stories and traditions surrounding Wallace and albeit much now deemed hearsay they greatly influenced Burns and some of his works such as Scots Wa Hae.
Interestingly the historically inaccurate movie Brave,mheart has been attributed to the poem by Blind Harry. It is from here many myths were born to include the name of Wallaces father, whom Harry claims was Malcolm, yet Wallace himself called him Alan
The number of factual errors in the Wallace by Blind Harry are staggering. Wallace only actually fought two major battles, he never sacked York or killed the king’s nephew, he never met Edward’s wife (since Edward’s first wife was dead and he had not yet remarried at this point in the poem), he never conquered Edward’s French holdings, and so on.
According to other researchers such as Randall Wallace, Blind Harry clearly plagiarised another narrative poem; John Barbour’s Bruce. He took this publication and harvested it for material, often reassigning deeds done by Robert Bruce to William Wallace.
Harry also seems to have borrowed things from the Alliterative Morte Arthure, particularly Wallace’ penchant for miraculous dreams, and from Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. So according to many, the Wallace is not really even close to being an accurate historical account but hey thats Holywood.
Claims of Descendancy from Famous Scots
As can be seen through the words of our National Bard, Scottish heritage and history is not something to bend to the will or agenda of others. Our history is filled with passion, romance, barbarism and fights against injustice, but it remains Scotland’s history and not to be changed to fit an agenda. This includes changeing genealogy to suit a join the dots exercise..
Although DNA and documented Genealogy are the best we have to locate and log ancestors, false claims associated to them simply muddy the waters for those who have a genuine interest in their past. The difficulty is knowing where to take information from and who the genuine researchers are, and it is obvious that commercial sites carrying the mistakes of others, can never supercede personal hard work and tenacious reserch.
Remembering the amphorism, which although existed at least 300 years prior to William Shakespeare, the use of ‘not all that glitters is gold’ is usually attributed to him and remains as valid today as it was then.
Promptus et Fidelis