Tuesday, 12 November 2013

An Open Letter to Sir William Wallace

Dear William,
I may call you William, mayn't I? I have known you a long time after all. Please stop turning in your graves. This is a very unhealthy habit for someone who is over seven hundred years old and already divided into four quarters. Let me reassure you that no historically knowledgeable Scot ever took seriously your so-called biography by that Australian. (Australian, William, is a modern word meaning a descendant of criminal outcasts.)
We know that you did not wear a kilt, paint your face, shoot arrows, attack stockades or meet the Queen of England. (In fact William, it was Sitting Bull, a more modern person than you, who did all of these except wear a kilt.) We also know that you were not called Braveheart; that was a turncoat French contemporary of yours.
Your name was not really Wallace either. It was le Walys. You were descended from a travelling companion of the French knight Walter Fitzallan, later known as Stewart, who arrived in Scotland in 1136. Your home at Elderslie was a quite presentable manor house and not a peat-roofed shack. You were well educated and spoke Latin as well as French, though you probably did not quote from Tacitus before battle as the Australian did.
You see, William, the problem is that the truth is rarely politically correct. History needs to be viewed through a strongly coloured glass that makes it allegorically relevant to today's political agenda. Given that you encountered a fair bit of revisionism in your own struggles, I am sure that you understand that history, first written by the winners, is then re-written by the government of the day.
William, you may have noticed that our future is now to be decided by competitive telling of fairy tales. We are going to mark the seven hundredth anniversary of Bannockburn by organising a popular vote. You probably know about Bannockburn, don't you? It was when your successor as Guardian, Robert 'Braveheart' de Brus, the French usurper of the Scottish throne and the earldom of Carrick, defeated another bunch of French-speaking invaders in 1314 near Stirling.
You may find it ridiculous, William, but nowadays it is generally believed in Scotland that Bannockburn was fought between the Scots and the English rather than between rival gangs of Frenchmen. They call your era 'The Scottish Wars of Independence' when what was really going on was a struggle to decide which Frenchman should rule what. Honestly, most folk nowadays don't seem to know that invading Frenchmen took over England in 1066 and Scotland in 1072 and then spent the next four centuries trying hold on to both. French was still the language of the London court and administration for almost a century after Bannockburn..
William, they want us to believe that your enemy was called English Edward, not Édouard de Plantagenet. They want us to believe that his army was led by barons who spoke English nigh on two hundred years before the English language evolved into anything recognisable today. They want us to believe that you and de Brus were both Scottish patriots despite neither of you being from Scottish families. Most ridiculous of all, they want us to believe that these things have even the slightest relevance to how we should govern ourselves today.
William, we are celebrating the septcentennial of this quarrel between Frenchmen by having a plebiscite to decide whether Scotland and England should get a chance to fight each other again properly, this time without French interference.
Apparently Scotland has not chosen a Conservative government for ages but has repeatedly had one imposed on them by the English. This, according to the Scots, is a bad thing. (Conservative, William, is a modern word which means the same as feudal baron.)
As it happens, England does not choose Labour governments either but has repeatedly had one imposed on them by the Scots. This is a bad thing according to the English. (Labour, William, is another modern word for feudal baron. I know, it sometimes confuses me too.) Two of the last three prime ministers (the modern word for kings) of our United Kingdom have been Scots and the third one is called Cameron, which suggests he has a mite more Scottish ancestry than you did, William.
I still don't think it's a good idea for you to be turning in your graves, but if you did feel able able to jot down a few lines (in French will do fine,) setting straight some of this modern pseudo-historical hogwash, the person you should write to is nowadays called First Minister, not Guardian, of Scotland, and he stays in Edinburgh.
Yours,
Philip