God’s Faith and Church Militant

Ye shall not enter into this our Pilgrimage of Grace for the common wealth but only for the love ye bear to God’s faith and church militant and the maintenance thereof, the preservation of the king’s person, his issue, and the purifying of the nobility and to expulse all villein blood and evil counsellors against the common wealth of the same. And that ye shall not enter into our said pilgrimage for no peculiar private profit to no private person but by counsel of the common wealth nor slay nor murder for no envy but in your hearts to put away all fear for the common wealth. And to take before you the cross of Christ and your heart’s faith to the restitution of the church and to the suppression of heretics’ opinions by the holy content of this book.

Oath of the Honourable Men, 1536.

A Pure and Dignified Society

Illustration of the Old Market at Lynchburg, by James Wells Champney, from Edward King’s The Great South, Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Co., 1875.

Something of the old Scotch and English manners are still perceptible among the people in this part of Virginia; and there are bits of dialect and phrase which show how little the communities have been affected during the last century by the influences which have so transformed the populations of other sections of America. While England has gone on from change to change, and has even been capable of complete revolution in certain matters, Virginia has altered but little. Until now immigration has had no inducements to come and unlock the treasure-house of the grand mountains of the South-west, and so the people have lived under pretty much the same laws and customs that prevailed in England two centuries ago. Yet the absence of the rushing, turbulent current of immigration has had its compensating advantages in allowing the growth of families in which the hereditary love of culture and refinement, and the strictest attention to those graces and courtesies which always distinguish a pure and dignified society, are preeminently conspicuous.

Edward King, The Great South; A Record of Journeys in Louisiana, Texas, the Indian Territory, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Co., 1875.

Gu Bràth, Am Byth

Bruti posteritas cum Scotis associata
Anglica regna premet, Marte, labore, nece.
Flumina manabunt hostili tincta cruore
Perfida gens omni lite subacta ruet,
Quem Britonum fundet Albanis juncta juventus:
Sanguine Saxonico tincta rubebit humus:
Regnabunt Britones Scotorum gentis amici
Antiquum nomen insula tota feret;
Ut profert aquila veteri de turre locuta,
Cum Scotis Britones regna paterna regent.
Regnabunt pariter in prosperitate quieta
Hostibus expulsis, judicis usque diem.

John of Fordun, Chronica Gentis Scotorum, lib. III., cap. xxii., quoting a poem of Gildas.

[The posterity of Brutus in league with the Scots shall harrass England with war, toil, and death; the rivers shall flow discoloured with blood, and the perfidious nation shall sink subdued by every contest. The British and Albanian youth united shall overwhelm them, and the soil be crimsoned with Saxon blood. The Britons shall reign in friendship with the Scots; the whole island shall bear its ancient name, as the eagle which spoke from the old tower declares; the Britons and Scots shall rule over the kingdoms of their ancestors, and reign alike in profound peace, after the expulsion of their enemies, until the day of judgment.]

A Strange Reflux

This contemptuous loathing lasted till the year 1745, and was then for a moment succeeded by intense fear and rage. England, thoroughly alarmed, put forth her whole strength. The Highlands were subjugated rapidly, completely, and for ever. During a short time the English nation, still heated by the recent conflict, breathed nothing but vengeance. The slaughter on the field of battle and on the scaffold was not sufficient to slake the public thirst for blood. The sight of the tartan inflamed the populace of London with hatred, which showed itself by unmanly outrages to defenceless captives. A political and social revolution took place through the whole Celtic region. The power of the chiefs was destroyed: the people were disarmed: the use of the old national garb was interdicted: the old predatory habits were effectually broken; and scarcely had this change been accomplished when a strange reflux of public feeling began. Pity succeeded to aversion. The nation execrated the cruelties which had been committed on the Highlanders, and forgot that for those cruelties it was itself answerable. Those very Londoners, who, while the memory of the march to Derby was still fresh, had thronged to hoot and pelt the rebel prisoners, now fastened on the prince who had put down the rebellion the nickname of Butcher. Those barbarous institutions and usages, which, while they were in full force, no Saxon had thought worthy of serious examination, or had mentioned except with contempt, had no sooner ceased to exist than they became objects of curiosity, of interest, even of admiration. Scarcely had the chiefs been turned into mere landlords, when it became the fashion to draw invidious comparisons between the rapacity of the landlord and the indulgence of the chief. Men seemed to have forgotten that the ancient Gaelic polity had been found to be incompatible with the authority of law, had obstructed the progress of civilisation, had more than once brought on the empire the curse of civil war. As they had formerly seen only the odious side of that polity, they could now see only the pleasing side. The old tie, they said, had been parental: the new tie was purely commercial. What could be more lamentable than that the head of a tribe should eject, for a paltry arrear of rent, tenants who were his own flesh and blood, tenants whose forefathers had often with their bodies covered his forefathers on the field of battle? As long as there were Gaelic marauders, they had been regarded by the Saxon population as hateful vermin who ought to be exterminated without mercy. As soon as the extermination had been accomplished, as soon as cattle were as safe in the Perthshire passes as in Smithfield market, the freebooter was exalted into a hero of romance. As long as the Gaelic dress was worn, the Saxons had pronounced it hideous, ridiculous, nay, grossly indecent. Soon after it had been prohibited, they discovered that it was the most graceful drapery in Europe. The Gaelic monuments, the Gaelic usages, the Gaelic superstitions, the Gaelic verses, disdainfully neglected during many ages, began to attract the attention of the learned from the moment at which the peculiarities of the Gaelic race began to disappear. So strong was
this impulse that, where the Highlands were concerned, men of sense gave ready credence to stories without evidence, and men of taste gave rapturous applause to compositions without merit. Epic poems, which any skilful and dispassionate critic would at a glance have perceived to be almost entirely modern, and which, if they had been published as modern, would have instantly found their proper place in company with Blackmore’s Alfred and Wilkie’s Epigoniad, were pronounced to be fifteen hundred years old, and were gravely classed with the Iliad. Writers of a very different order from the impostor who fabricated these forgeries saw how striking an effect might be produced by skilful pictures of the old Highland life. Whatever was repulsive was softened down: whatever was graceful and noble was brought prominently forward. Some of these works were executed with such admirable art that, like the historical plays of Shakspeare, they superseded history. The visions of the poet were realities to his readers. The places which he described became holy ground, and were visited by thousands of pilgrims. Soon the vulgar imagination was so completely occupied by plaids, targets, and claymores, that, by most Englishmen, Scotchman and Highlander were regarded as synonymous words. Few people seemed to be aware that, at no remote period, a Macdonald or a Macgregor in his tartan was to a citizen of Edinburgh or Glasgow what an Indian hunter in his war paint is to an inhabitant of Philadelphia or Boston. Artists and actors represented Bruce and Douglas in striped petticoats. They might as well have represented Washington brandishing a tomahawk, and girt with a string of scalps. At length this fashion reached a point beyond which it was not easy to proceed. The last British King who held a court in Holyrood thought that he could not give a more striking proof of his respect for the usages which had prevailed in Scotland before the Union, than by disguising himself in what, before the Union, was considered by nine Scotchmen out of ten as the dress of a thief.

Thus it has chanced that the old Gaelic institutions and manners have never been exhibited in the simple light of truth. Up to the middle of the last century, they were seen through one false medium: they have since been seen through another.

Thus it has chanced that the old Gaelic institutions and manners have never been exhibited in the simple light of truth. Up to the middle of the last century, they were seen through one false medium: they have since been seen through another. Once they loomed dimly through an obscuring and distorting haze of prejudice; and no sooner had that fog dispersed than they appeared bright with all the richest tints of poetry. The time when a perfectly fair picture could have been painted has now passed away. The original has long disappeared: no authentic effigy exists: and all that is possible is to produce an imperfect likeness by the help of two portraits, of which one is a coarse caricature and the other a masterpiece of flattery.

— Lord Macaulay, History of England, Vol. III, chap. xiii.

To Gette and to Espy

Map of Scotland from John Hardyng’s Chronicle, MS Eng 1054, Houghton Library, Harvard.
John Hardyng’s map of Scotland, c. 1450, Lansdowne MS 204, British Library.

O soverayne lord, be it to youre plesance
This book to take of my symplicité
Thus newly made for rememorance,
Whiche no man hath in worlde bot oonly ye.
Whiche I compiled unto youre rialté
And to the quenes hertes consolacioun
To know the state of youre domynacioun.

And for the prynce to have playne conyshance
Of this regioun, in what nobilité
It hath been kept alway of greet pushance,
With baronage and lordes of dignyté
The whiche alway God graunte that ye and he
May so kepe forth undir youre governance
To Goddes plesire withouten variance.

Thus to yow thre rials in unyté
This book with hert and lowly obeishance
I present now with al benygnyté
To been everemore within youre governance
For soveraynté and youre inherytance
Of Scotland hool, whiche shuld your reule obaye
As sovereyn lorde, fro whiche thay prowdly straye.

Wythin thre yere thaire grete rebellioun
Ye myght oppresse and uttirly restrayne
And have it alle in youre possessioun
And to obeye youre myght make thaym ful fayne
As Kynge Edward the first with hungir and payne
Thaym conquerde hool to hys subjeccioun
To byde forevere undir his hool proteccioun.

Who hath an hurte and wille it nought diskure
And to his leche can nought his sore compleyne
In wo evermore withouten any cure
Alle helples forth he muste comporte his peyne.
And who his own erande forgatte to seyne
As alle thise wise men say alway and wote
Men calle a fool or elles an idyote.

Wherfore to yow, as prince moste excellent
I me compleyne, as resoun techeth me
That youre fadir gafe me in commaundement
In Scotlonde ryde for his regalyté
To seke his ryght thare of hys sovereynté
And evydence to gette and to espy
Appurtenant unto hys monarchy.

— Chronicle of John Hardyng, Prologue.

Prophetic Raven Banner

BL Add. MS 33241, f.37v.

Now they had a banner of wonderfully strange nature, which though I believe that it may be incredible to the reader, yet since it is true, I will introduce the matter into my true history. For while it was woven of the plainest and whitest silk, and the representation of no figure was inserted into it, in time of war a raven was always seen as if embroidered on it, in the hour of its owners’ victory opening its beak, flapping its wings, and restive on its feet, but very subdued and drooping with its whole body when they were defeated. Looking out for this, Thorkell, who had fought the first battle, said: “Let us fight manfully, comrades, for no danger threatens us: for to this the restive raven of the prophetic banner bears witness.” When the Danes heard this, they were rendered bolder, and clad with suits of mail, encountered the enemy in the place called Aesceneduno, a word which we Latinists can explain as ‘mons fraxinorum’.

Encomium Emmæ Reginæ.

The Old Foundations of Life

Malvine, Dying in the Arms of Fingal, by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson.
Malvine, Dying in the Arms of Fingal, by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson.

Gaelic-speaking Ireland, because its art has been made, not only by the artist choosing his material from wherever he has a mind to, but by adding a little to something which it has taken generations to invent, has always had a popular literature. We cannot say how much that literature has done for the vigour of the race, for we cannot count the hands its praise of kings and high-hearted queens made hot upon the sword-hilt, or the amorous eyes it made lustful for strength and beauty. We remember indeed that when the farming people and the labourers of the towns made their last attempt to cast out England by force of arms they named themselves after the companions of Finn. Even when Gaelic has gone, and the poetry with it, something of the habit remains in ways of speech and thought and ‘come-all-ye’s’ and political sayings; nor is it only among the poor that the old thought has been for strength or weakness. Surely these old stories, whether of Finn or Cuchulain, helped to sing the old Irish and the old Norman-Irish aristocracy to their end. They heard their hereditary poets and story-tellers, and they took to horse and died fighting against Elizabeth or against Cromwell; and when an English-speaking aristocracy had their place, it listened to no poetry indeed, but it felt about it in the popular mind an exacting and ancient tribunal, and began a play that had for spectators men and women that loved the high wasteful virtues. I do not think that their own mixed blood or the habit of their time need take all, or nearly all, credit or discredit for the impulse that made our modern gentlemen fight duels over pocket-handkerchiefs, and set out to play ball against the gates of Jerusalem for a wager, and scatter money before the public eye; and at last, after an epoch of such eloquence the world has hardly seen its like, lose their public spirit and their high heart and grow querulous and selfish as men do who have played life out not heartily but with noise and tumult. Had they understood the people and the game a little better, they might have created an aristocracy in an age that has lost the meaning of the word. When we read of the Fianna, or of Cuchulain, or of some great hero, we remember that the fine life is always a part played finely before fine spectators. There also we notice the hot cup and the cold cup of intoxication; and when the fine spectators have ended, surely the fine players grow weary, and aristocratic life is ended. When O’Connell covered with a dark glove the hand that had killed a man in the duelling field, he played his part; and when Alexander stayed his army marching to the conquest of the world that he might contemplate the beauty of a plane-tree, he played his part. When Osgar complained, as he lay dying, of the keening of the women and the old fighting men, he too played his part: ‘No man ever knew any heart in me,’ he said, ‘but a heart of twisted horn, and it covered with iron; but the howling of the dogs beside me,’ he said, ‘and the keening of the old fighting men and the crying of the women one after another, those are the things that are vexing me’.

If we would create a great community–and what other game is so worth the labour?–we must recreate the old foundations of life, not as they existed in that splendid misunderstanding of the eighteenth century, but as they must always exist when the finest minds and Ned the beggar and Sean the fool think about the same thing, although they may not think the same thought about it.

— W. B. Yeats’s Preface to Lady Gregory’s Gods and Fighting Men, 1904.