Monday, August 8, 2011

The Thistle and the Rose

COMPOSITION OF ‘MARMION.’

In 1791 Scott accompanied an uncle into Northumberland, and made his first acquaintance with the scene of Flodden.  Writing to his friend William Clerk (Lockhart’s Life, ii. 182), he says, ‘Never was an affair more completely bungled than that day’s work was.  Suppose one army posted upon the face of a hill, and secured by high grounds projecting on each flank, with the river Till in front, a deep and still river, winding through a very extensive valley called Milfield Plain, and the only passage over it by a narrow bridge, which the Scots artillery, from the hill, could in a moment have demolished.  Add that the English must have hazarded a battle while their troops, which were tumultuously levied, remained together; and that the Scots, behind whom the country was open to Scotland, had nothing to do but to wait for the attack as they were posted.  Yet did two-thirds of the army, actuated by the perfervidum ingenium Scotorum, rush down and give an opportunity to Stanley to occupy the ground they had quitted, by coming over the shoulder of the hill, while the other third, under Lord Home, kept their ground, and having seen their King and about 10,000 of their countrymen cut to pieces, retired into Scotland without loss.’  Fifteen years after this was written Scott began the composition of ‘Marmion,’ and it is interesting to note that, so early in life as the date of this letter indicates, he was so keenly alive to the great blunder in military tactics made by James IV and his advisers, and so manifestly stirred to eloquent expression of his feeling.

Today’s remembrance (August 8th ) is the marriage of James IV of Scotland to Margaret Tudor, Henry VII of England’s daughter.  The year was 1503.  This wedding, uniting the thistle and the rose, brought perpetual peace to the kingdoms of England and Scotland, as had been agreed under the Treaty of Everlasting Peace in 1502.  Ten years later, perpetuity ended, with Scotland caught between its alliance with France, and its treaty with England.

James declared war on England after Henry VIII sailed to France for battle.  The war ended quickly for James, at Flodden Field (1513).  The Battle of Flodden Field did provide fodder for Walter Scott to produce  his poem “Marmion”.  The text above is from the preface to Marmion.

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