Melvyn's newsletter - The Battle of Bannockburn - 03/02/2011

Illustration depicting the charge of Sir Henry de Bohun against the Scottish King Robert the Bruce during the Battle of Bannockburn.

Hello,

After the programme had finished, Matthew Strickland pulled out a £20 note. This, printed by the Clydesdale Bank, is Robert the Bruce triumphant even now in 2011. On one side we have a head and shoulders, helmeted, chainmail around his neck, granite-faced, every inch the medieval warrior. On the back there is Robert the Bruce on a massive warhorse (although all the reports talk about him being on a pony, like the other Scots, which is one of the reasons why, as Fiona Watson put it, the Scots ''unfortunately'' could not catch Edward II as he raced away from the battlefield). In the background is Stirling Castle, looking every inch an impregnable fortress, and in one corner we have Bruce in armour again with his great seal. Bannockburn is branded into the currency of Scotland.

It seems that after that battle the English army reformed itself. Edward III decided that his archers must be much better trained. In order to break the Scottish formations known as schiltrons he mounted some of his archers, and when he went into Scotland in the 1330s (after the death of Robert the Bruce) there were two tremendous victories for the English. Perhaps it's here that the English bowmen began to gather their reputation, which grew as the century grew.

Edward II comes over as a sad man. His father, the austere Edward Longshanks, whose reputation in every area of life was Gothically high, seems to have been a demanding father who had little time for his son. Edward liked boating and other leisure pursuits. Not what a warrior father wanted. He also seemed to have had a need for a close friend. The most prominent was Piers Gaveston, although whether they were actual lovers is unproved. After Gaveston came back to London (having been banned) and was captured and executed by Thomas of Lancaster, Edward found another ''favourite''. But he never forgave Thomas of Lancaster and ten years later found an opportunity to have him executed in the same way as he had executed Gaveston.

Off then after the programme to the publishers to look through the illustrations for this book that I've written about the impact of the King James Bible over the last 400 years. It's a curious range of illustrations because the book ranges over so many subjects. The first is page one of the Tyndale New Testament. The last one is Barack Obama, swearing his oath on Abraham Lincoln's bible which is perfect for my purposes. Part of what I write about is to do with the central part the King James Bible played in the liberation of the slaves. To the slaves themselves it provided a common language and a common culture - spirituals, gospels - and, most importantly of all, a liberation theology which led straight through to Martin Luther King with Obama as its apotheosis; and, of course, Lincoln was deeply involved in the war which settled (technically and legally) the matter in America.

And then into the office and off to the House of Lords to take part in a big debate on funding for the arts. There were so many people who applied to be in this time-limited (three-hour) debate that the minuteage allotted to each of us shrank by the day and ended up as five minutes. It's quite hard to get a ten-minute speech down to five minutes when you have only an hour to set about it. I remember reading that Lloyd George had said that if you wanted him to speak for an hour he could start right away; if you wanted him to speak for five minutes he would need a week to write the speech.

Anyway, the debate got done. There were many terrific, sprinted speeches. Joan Bakewell (Baroness Bakewell as now is) made her maiden speech and, in the tradition of the House and in an expression of real enthusiasm, every subsequent speaker praised it highly, as it deserved to be.

Then onward into the London evening to discuss a television programme and meet the score of colleagues with whom I worked on the arts awards show to have a meal and a drink and make an evening of it.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

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