By Rosanne E. Lortz
Whenever I study history, I have an innate bias in favor of the underdog. When the Britons face the invading Angles and Saxons, I root for King Arthur’s warriors at Badon Hill. When the Anglo-Saxons bear the iron yoke of the Normans, I rally with Robin Hood’s men in Sherwood Forest. And when the Scots thwart Edward I’s ambition to rule the entire island, I look to William Wallace as the hero of the hour.
|Wyeth's William Wallace|
Later, when I was curious enough to sift fact from fiction, I discovered that both of these retellings were about as accurate as a perjurer’s deposition. But, even with all the embellishments discarded, I had no doubts where my loyalty lay. I was still committed to William Wallace, and taking Edward I’s side was unthinkable.
This certainty was sorely shaken when I encountered the Flores Historiarum, a Latin chronicle written by several English hands during the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. It was begun at St. Alban’s Abbey, continued at Westminster Abbey, and today there are approximately twenty manuscripts extant.
The Flores Historiarum presents a much less romanticized view of William Wallace; it presents an English opinion of the Scottish hero:
About the time of the festival of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a certain Scot, by name William Wallace, an outcast from pity, a robber, a sacrilegious man, an incendiary and a homicide, a man more cruel than the cruelty of Herod, and more insane than the fury of Nero…a man who burnt alive boys in schools and churches, in great numbers; who, when he had collected an army of Scots in the battle of Falkirk against the King of England, and had seen that he could not resist the powerful army of the king, said to the Scots, "Behold I have brought you into a ring, now carol and dance as well as you can," and so fled himself from the battle, leaving his people to be slain by the sword.
He, I say, this man of Belial, after his innumerable wickednesses, was at last taken prisoner by the king's servants and brought to London, as the king ordained that he should be formally tried, and was on the eve of St. Bartholomew [23rd August, 1305] condemned by the nobles of the kingdom of England to a most cruel but amply deserved death. First of all, he was led through the streets of London, dragged at the tail of a horse, and dragged to a very high gallows, made on purpose for him, where he was hanged with a halter, then taken down half dead, after which his body was vivisected in a most cruel and torturous manner, and after he had expired, his body was divided into four quarters, and his head fixed on a stake and set on London Bridge. But his four quarters thus divided, were sent to the four quarters of Scotland. Behold the end of a merciless man whom his mercilessness brought to this end.For the William Wallace of this story, the punishment fits the crime. For the William Wallace of this story, the reader has no tears.
The portrayal of William Wallace in the Flores Historiarum is certainly as yellow as a jaundiced eye can make it. Some could argue that it is as far removed from truth as the whitewashed hagiographies of several centuries later. But whether it is accurate or not, for me, this passage has always illustrated an important lesson: there are two sides to every story.
As a historical novelist concerned about my craft, I can’t always follow my innate biases. I can’t just root for the underdog, or the man with the most glamorous legends. If two voices deserve to be heard, I must let them both speak.
|Wallace Monument near Stirling Bridge|
Rosanne E. Lortz is the author of I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince, a historical adventure/romance set during the Hundred Years' War, and Road from the West: Book I of the Chronicles of Tancred, the beginning of a trilogy which takes place during the First Crusade.
You can learn more about Rosanne's books at her Official Author Website where she also blogs about writing, mothering, and things historical.