Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


Today is the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. There can be little doubt that this was one of the most significant battle sin not only Scottish history, but in British history. Not only did it ensure Scottish independence in the early fourteenth century it created the conditions for that independence, or national identity, to become a continuing reality. 

The battle, and its memory, indeed its myth, became part of Scottish identity, and that has meant teh survival of a distinct Scots polity. Union with England both in the person on the monarch in 1603 and of the parliaments in 1707 did not involve the loss of national identity, of institutions and structures, of law and religion. I may regret that some aspects of Scottish history and life and not like those here in England - I distictly prefer Anglicanism to Calvinism for example - but they are facts of history. They are in part consequences of Bannockburn.

For England, especially for the northern counties, the defeat was a continuing disaster, with Scottish raids deep into Yorkshire. In 1319 the Scots reached the central part of the county, and may well have wintered in the Morley wapentake, and both sides of the border became areas of conflict and raiding with long term consequences both aggravating and aggravated by the European famine of 1315-17 - these were grim years indeed.
As someone of, so far as I know, entirely English ancestry I can respect the Scots identity and the achievement of King Robert I and his supporters. The Scottish fact adds to the rich history and diversity of the United Kingdom. Both of the ancient kingdoms that became Great Britain in 1707 have had and continue to have much to offer each other in their union. So I can reflect historically on the events of 1314, respect the Scots achievement in the decades following, and remain firmly of the opinion that moderrn "independence" for Scotland would be a disaster. It is understandable, but regrettable, that the SNP administration in Edinburgh has managed to hold the referenduim this year - I think at one point they actually sought to hold it today - and to obscure the proper historical understanding of Bannockburn. Historical sentiment and political sentiment can be dangerous bedfellows.

There is an online account of the battle at Battle of Bannockburn, and the BBC today has an illustrated piece about it which can be viewed at Battle of Bannockburn: What was it all about?.

Their website also has an interesting piece entitled Oldest surviving' Bannockburn manuscript restored which is about a copy of 1478 at St John's College Cambridge of John Barbour's The Brus, originally probably written circa 1375.

Given the extensive loss of life at the battle one way to commemorate it would be to pray for the dead of that day and for all who fought there.

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