Page:Robert the Bruce and the struggle for Scottish independence - 1909.djvu/32

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Introduction.

of troops on both sides in the field, by means of the graphic descriptions supplied by war-correspondents.

Now there were no war-correspondents in the campaigns of Robert the Bruce. On two occasions, indeed, the armies of England invading Scotland were accompanied by scribes specially commissioned to record the course of events. One of these, the anonymous author of the Siege of Caerlaverock, fulfilled his task with admirable minuteness, and, as the victory lay with his own side, with what may be assumed to be tolerable fidelity. Even he, however, lies open to the suspicion which attaches to all metrical composers, for nobody expects a poet to sacrifice the elegance of a stanza or the neatness of a rhyme to the inexorable limits of hard facts.

On the other occasion the result was not so satisfactory. Baston, a Carmelite friar, rode with the mighty host with which Edward II. intended finally to crush the Scottish nation in 1314. But, unluckily for his patrons, honest Baston was made prisoner at Bannockburn, and paid for his ransom by submitting his long poem, of which he had probably composed the greater part before the battle, to such alterations as made it a celebration of the Scottish triumph.

There were, it is true, many contemporary chroniclers busily at work; but not only were they all, with the exception of the French priest Froissart, writing from an English point of view, but, except Sir Thomas de la More, they were monks, compiling their histories in the seclusion of some cloister, often far from the seat of war, and always unversed in military operations. The dominant motive in such