Page:Robert the Bruce and the struggle for Scottish independence - 1909.djvu/35

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5
Introduction.

served with great distinction in the Scottish wars under all three Edwards, and was taken prisoner by the Earl of Moray in the skirmish on the day before the battle of Bannockburn. In 1355, Sir Thomas Gray, the younger, was himself taken prisoner, and, while confined in Edinburgh Castle, set himself to compose his Scalacronica in Norman French. He knew the ground well on which the various sieges and battles had taken place; he was thoroughly versed in all chivalrous and knightly lore, and in the art of war as it stood before the introduction of gunpowder. He had become personally acquainted with many of the actors in the scenes he described; and, of those which had taken place before he reached manhood, he had received accounts from the lips of his father, than whom there could be no more capable authority.

Turning now to the Scottish side of the account, the most important work dealing with this period is the well-known poem entitled The Brus, by John Barbour, Archdeacon of Aberdeen. This writer was born a few years after the battle of Bannockburn, and therefore, though not able to describe as a contemporary the early history of his hero, must have conversed with many persons who took part in the events described. It is consequently of the utmost importance to ascertain what degree of reliance may be placed on his veracity.

Unhappily, Barbour's poem, which is of the deepest interest to the philologer as the very earliest extant specimen of Scottish vernacular literature, has been almost irretrievably discredited as a chroni-