Friday, June 22, 2007

The Freedom Season

June 23 is the anniversary of the Battle Bannockburn. While (hopefully all) Americans understand the significance of the 4th of July, probably very few are familiar with June 23 and its great battle. In 1314, at Bannockburn, an outnumbered army of Scots led by King Robert Bruce routed the English. After years of guerilla warfare, King Robert and his troops gained a decisive victory in their battle for independence from English control.

After the death of King Alexander III in 1286, Scotland was left with no firm hand to rule the country. Alexander’s heir was his three year old grand daughter, Margaret, who lived in Norway. In 1290, little Queen Margaret made the journey to Scotland to take her throne. She died upon reaching Orkney. Scotland was to endure years of conflict to determine who would succeed her.

Several families traced their lineage back to King David I. Each was convinced of the superiority of its claim. On the surface this looks like just a family squabble, a medieval version of Dallas with a nation instead of an oil company as the prize. So it might have been had it not been for the conniving of England’s King Edward I. Edward wanted the Scots to acknowledge him as their overlord. Edward was accustomed to getting what he wanted.

Edward played the various Scottish factions against each other. It came down to John Comyn and Robert Bruce. Comyn appeared to be willing to bow to Edward I in order to gain his help in securing Scotland’s throne. Bruce, though somewhat of a waffler in his younger days, had decided that he would not be a puppet king.

Bruce and Comyn met at the Greyfriars Church in Dumfries on February 10, 1306. There is no way of knowing what passed between them at that final meeting. Did they argue over Comyn’s treacherous alliance with Edward? Did each plan to seize the opportunity to rid himself of his arch rival? The only certainty is that Comyn did not survive their encounter that day.

Did Bruce kill Comyn in an outraged fit of patriotism? Or did he become a patriot that day to save his own skin? Whatever the motivation, Robert Bruce had himself crowned king shortly after the murder of John Comyn. He spent the next eight years working to gain the trust, respect and loyalty of the people of Scotland. Despite having been excommunicated, he won the support of the people from all levels of society. The people of Scotland were willing to support his cause and endure the censure of the pope. In June of 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn, the army of Robert Bruce, by God’s grace King of Scots struck the blow that would give Scotland its independence.

So why should we care? That was nearly eight hundred years ago. Does it matter to 21st century Americans or even to 21st century Scots? I think it should.

I think that Robert Bruce figured out something very important about the building and maintaining of an independent nation. It can’t be done by the nobility alone. Nor can it be achieved solely by the ‘small folk’. Every socio-economic level must be willing to not only acknowledge the other’s right to exist, but must be willing to work for everyone’s good. The Scots’ determination to create a government to suit the needs of the people should be an inspiration to us. We owe a debt to their persistence and willingness to die in the cause of freedom. Read their own words.

“Yet if he [King Robert] should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us
or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert
ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own
rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our
King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any
conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor
riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom -- for that alone,
which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

Declaration of Arbroath, April 1320

In the Scottish Wars of Independence, we also see the seeds of the Reformation. The Scots rallied to the king of their choosing whether the pope liked it or not. The Scots asked the pope for his blessing of their king and country in the Declaration of Arbroath. There is no indication, though, in its words that they would have given up their king had the pope not heeded them.

The American Revolution built upon all of this. The brilliance of the men who wrote the Constitution of the United States is astounding. They created a system that can work for all the people no matter what their place in society. They created a government that all citizens can take part in. No one religion is to be deferred to at the expense of the rights of others.

In 1789, France began its road to “liberte, eqalite, fraternite” with the storming of the Bastille prison. Though the French Revolution was a bloody mess and did not produce the kind of stability that the American Revolution did, it still is an event to remember. It’s ideals of liberty and equality should resonate with us all.

I propose that we institute a ‘Freedom Season”. Just as we have a ‘Christmas Season’. Let us open our season on June 23 by remembering the Battle of Bannockburn and the struggle for Scottish independence. Let us end at Bastille Day on July 14 by remembering French freedom fighters. In between should be the high point of our season. Celebrate the 4th of July, our American Independence and the Constitution it produced.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that
they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among
these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these
rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from
the consent of the governed.”

Declaration of Independence July 4th, 1776

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