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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Feb, 2012 7:46 am    Post subject: Sword in the Wallace Monument         Reply with quote

Question? According to accounts I have read, the sword housed in the Wallace Monument in Stirling, Scotland and purported to be that of William Wallace, was stored in the Dunbarton Castle armory from 1305 to 1888, when it was removed and housed in the newly-constructed Wallace Monument. Is there any documentation indicating it was on display at Dunbarton, or elsewhere for that matter? Another question is, if it was re-furbished three times, finally as late as 1888, then why are the hilt and guards in seemingly poor condition today (looking at some close up photos)?

This sword is not likely to be from the 13th century, of course.

Any thoughts or sources of documentation on this subject will be appreciated.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Kel Rekuta




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Feb, 2012 8:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Wiki article isn't bad. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallace_Sword

One thing missing is that James IV purchased the sword from two Dumbarton merchants who claimed it was discovered during renovations at the castle. He then sent it to be refurbished with suitable furniture for such a "venerable" sword.

Having seen the monstrosity up close, I have no doubt James was hoodwinked, as countless visitors to Dumbarton were until the monument was established in Stirling. Since then, even more.
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Feb, 2012 9:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kel Rekuta wrote:
The Wiki article isn't bad. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallace_Sword

One thing missing is that James IV purchased the sword from two Dumbarton merchants who claimed it was discovered during renovations at the castle. He then sent it to be refurbished with suitable furniture for such a "venerable" sword.



Kel...

Thanks for the comments. I have read everything I could find on the sword and its provenance over the last few years but never ran across the information that it was sold to James IV by merchants. Where did you find this tidbit?

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Kel Rekuta




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PostPosted: Sun 12 Feb, 2012 8:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

At the Wallace Monument. Wink

The exchequer entry that notes James IV sending the sword off to the cutler for improved furniture is a bit longer than that. When I was there in 1993 a plaque with the entry was right there on a display. I do not have an internet link to the information. I guess it was a subtle way for Historic Scotland to present the sword for tourism but to let the knowledgeable visitor read between the lines. The thing is hideous and very obviously not an original blade. There is a huge coarse weld right in the middle of it.

I'd bet Paul MacDonald, an Edinburgh swordsmith, would have a few choice quotes about it. Laughing Out Loud
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James Moore




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PostPosted: Sun 12 Feb, 2012 12:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kel, Every scots swordsmith has choice words about that thing. Mostly unprintable ones, from the ones I know..

Interestingly, though, there are two points about it which have been raised by no less an academic than Dr David Caldwell, the now-retired curator of the Scottish National Museum;

The first of those is that the earliest attributed provenance of that exact sword to Wallace (as opposed to "a" sword used by Wallace) is in fact around 1803, to the poet Wordsworth, who was visiting Dumbarton Castle; and the provenance came from one of the garrison, and no more reliable source than that. It is not impossible that a different sword lies hidden somewhere, forgotten, and mis-attributed in that way.
(Or could it be just a local using an old story on the biggest, ugliest lump of metal in the castle, to string along a dewy-eyed tourist lapping up everything Scottish? plus ša change... )


Secondly, there is a very slim possibility that there is a tiny germ of truth to the whole story, and that the 3-part blade with its ugly weld is in fact comprised of the main part of a late 13/early 14th C sword, broken and welded into a later blade, and re-hilted again in the 16th C.
As far as I know, there's been no metallurgical or isotope analysis tests on the sword, since most of those are still destructive tests, so Dr Caldwell's theory there remains unproven and unverifiable.

---

Incidentally, I've read that the one in Stirling is not the only Wallace Sword. Another, much-less well-known one has been in the care of the Earls of Moray since they gained that title 698 years ago. Unfortunately, despite a far better pedigree for any association, its blatantly a 16th C hilt too.
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Sun 12 Feb, 2012 4:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks to both of you for the replies.

My personal theory, which will soon appear in print elsewhere, is just what James suggests. If Wallace was carrying a sword at all when he was taken - and he may not have been - then if it was carried to Dumbarton for storage in the armory, at some point, perhaps in preparation for one of its trips for repair, the wrong sword may have been pulled out of storage. This would have had to happen pretty early in its history. The reference to a new sword belt and scabbard in 1505 may suggest a sword much smaller than what we see today although we cannot rule out the possibility that these accessories would have been made for the behemoth on display in Stirling.

The lack of much detailed documentation about the sword during its time in Dumbarton is going to make it very hard to reach an informed conclusion about much of anything regarding this sword; except that it is not a 13th c. weapon.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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James Moore




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PostPosted: Sun 12 Feb, 2012 7:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lin Robinson wrote:
Thanks to both of you for the replies.

My personal theory, which will soon appear in print elsewhere, is just what James suggests. If Wallace was carrying a sword at all when he was taken - and he may not have been - then if it was carried to Dumbarton for storage in the armory, at some point, perhaps in preparation for one of its trips for repair, the wrong sword may have been pulled out of storage. This would have had to happen pretty early in its history. The reference to a new sword belt and scabbard in 1505 may suggest a sword much smaller than what we see today although we cannot rule out the possibility that these accessories would have been made for the behemoth on display in Stirling.

The lack of much detailed documentation about the sword during its time in Dumbarton is going to make it very hard to reach an informed conclusion about much of anything regarding this sword; except that it is not a 13th c. weapon.


I, and I expect plenty of people I know would be interested to know what publication that'll end up in, and have a read of it when it becomes available.

Personally, I rather take a very different view of Wallace; I question that any sword attributed to Wallace can claim a rational associated link because I feel it is plausible that in his lifetime, beyond a brief period of ascendancy, he was of relatively minor note, such that those items in his possession were in fact considered entirely insignificant at the time of his death.

I suspect that much of the Wallace story is a politically motivated cult of personality, which really grew up in the late 15th century with the creation of the poetic work of Blind Harry being tailored to what James III and James IV and courtiers would want to hear. (In that respect, its no different from later Shakespearean fiction painting an equally biased picture of the earlier English monarchs for the Tudors' consumption.) I'm rather of the opinion that the "acts and deeds of the illustrious champion" are intrinsically related to the national identity, and have been since its creation, as a form of defiant self-determination. That's a situation which did not simply take place spontaneously, in isolation of a poet's mind, but I think is interwoven with the background events of the 1470's or 80's, around the ebb and flow of the wars of the roses.

I suspect that the composition is directly associated to the resumption or growth of aggression against England, particularly with Edward's forces as they prepared to march against James III, - It becomes used as an element to motivate and stoke the long-running nationalistic sense of identity of the Scots, in terms of looking back at our own position, both weighed up against that of a fragile and politically weak England in the middle of the wars of the roses, and then as the political power shifted, by the end of the conflict, in terms of response to a much stronger, unified force that became a much more credible threat.

In the face of such a threat, I cannot help but wonder if Wallace was used as the central figure for the work solely as a political rallying tool because of his actual position - that of a man whose lineage was long dead. That puts him in contrast to the status of many of the courtiers of the Scots parliament, who could have traced their backgrounds to figures in the wars of independence. That lack of heirs - or certainly that lack of heirs in any form of political power - gives a freedom to embellish Wallace's reputation and standing with little risk of it upsetting the status quo of any courtly political power - Wallace is a dead end, free to be used however required. (Unlike the extinct royal lineage of the de Brus, however, Wallace is not weighed down with the capitulation - the expensive capitulation at that - of David the II to Edward III and the English crown, which would undoubtedly be a source of national shame, not pride.).

And what was required, to put no fine a point on it, was a propaganda tool, creating a myth to bolster the resolve in the threat of English aggression; it says "we beat you then, we'll beat you now!" in some ways. That content has been used, again and again for nationalistic identity by the Scots ever since, its printing in 1508 sees its popular public embrace, immediately before Flodden, and it sees its resurgence in popularity and republishing amidst the sectarian split and open civil warfare of the 18th century, and in many ways, the same surge of nationalistic jingoism in the last decades of this age, through the republishing of the fictional figure not in print, but celluloid. (If I were a betting man, I would put good money on a wager that that film will resurface over the next two years here...)

Returning from propaganda to history, however, I feel that this myth has been created around a man, who may well have been quite a minor figure, compared to the greater powers of the major houses; Morays, De Brus, and the Douglases prior to their disgrace and fall, Militarily, I'm inclined to feel that it is plausible that in reality Wallace was not the great military and tactical leader of 1297 - that accolade should perhaps have gone to Andrew Moray, whose forces had already been successful in earlier stages of the campaign, and it seems took seniority in command of the forces. It could be said that Wallace capitalised on Moray's death at Stirling Bridge, gaining favour and award for military action that was not wholly his doing, and in doing so, gaining a position of seniority that by all rights he not only did not have beforehand, but would be unlikely to have gained otherwise. To reinforce that theory, is the fact that on taking on a military capacity he demonstrated that he was, if not incompetent, certainly underwhelming in his ability. His defeat at Falkirk only a year later certainly saw his ascendancy halted, and his removal from military roles, to a role in political activities instead.

Roll on another two centuries, however, and his shortcomings could be forgotten, and the greatly embellished actions used in far more effective manner as propaganda to motivate and bolster the nation in the face of a new threat from England.

And its in that context that the 15th and 16th century weapons immediately begin to take significance,I feel. These are created artefacts, larger than life, for a larger-than-life created construct, the heroic Wallace, the six foot ten inch giant with the scabbard of a defeated foe, the victor against the English, in whose fable Moray and the Bruce alike take second stage. That is the figure of myth and propaganda, not the real Wallace, of that I am certain.
I have little doubt Wallace owned swords, of Scots, French, and likely English hilted fashions of the late 13th century. And its is most likely that he was captured with a sword - just one kernel of truth that inspired elements of the narrative fiction.
(And who knows, perhaps the part of that welded-together blade in Stirling was that very blade. I strongly doubt it was, however, even if it is ever discovered to be an old blade, fused together with newer components. I would be very sceptical of attempting to place such a provenance on such an object; it strikes me as entirely inappropriate to do so, in such a charged subject.

Regardless of the actual objects, whatever happened to them, I suspect what was likely was that, in exactly the same manner that the heroes of biblical and historic myth were depicted so regularly in 15th and early 16th century art in a romanticised version of the equipment of the day, so the relics of the constructed Wallace legend were produced sometime around 1505. I expect they would've likely been drawn from some dusty back-room store of old arms, old, worn, and their true user long since forgotten, and attributed to him as appropriate, to inspire and motivate.
We all know how difficult it is to date, for example, an XIII with a generic hilt without additional details to narrow down the date. I have no doubts that such ambiguity would have served an equally effective purpose then.



Blimey. rather a mountainous reply. I hope that ramble about the context of what Wallace may well have represented made sense, regarding the weapon(s) and action(s) attributed to him, and the study of them.
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Kel Rekuta




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PostPosted: Sun 12 Feb, 2012 10:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well done, James. I agree with your theory, I hadn't thought of it from that perspective. I have considered James IV a hopeless romantic man of conviction but poor judgement. Perhaps that is unjust. Wink
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Feb, 2012 12:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James...

Very well thought out remarks and I have no argument with any of it. From a distance of over 700 years it is unlikely there will ever be anything found which completely supports your statements but there can be no doubt of the soundness of the logic. My piece does mention, briefly, that Wallace went with Andrew de Moray's army of Gaels over the forces of the pretenders to the throne of Scotland. I actually had much more to say than I could fit into the 2500 word max for the article so, since it focuses on the sword more than the man, I had to leave much out for brevity's sake.

The article, if it is accepted, will appear in The Highlander, some time this year. I have two other articles ahead of it so I do not know when they will get around to publishing it, if they do use it. I will let you know when it comes out.

By the way, Thomas MacDonald, who is a member of this forum, has agreed to allow me the use of some close up photos of the original sword taken by him several years ago.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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