Rozet weel your fiddlesticks

Image result for rosin bow

No better time than Robert Fergusson’s Birthday serves to ponder why the Lowland Scots who live close to England speak a dialect opague to many an English ear, while their Highland bretheren speak the Queen’s English with a tongue precise and fair.

The answer is simple.  The lowland Scots are Saxons, and speak a form of English.  Go back 200 years and the Lowland Scots had more in common with Lancastrians and Northumbrians than they did with wild long haired Highland Scots.

Because they spoke a dialect of English the Lowland Scots never felt the need to learn English.

The Highland Scots were Picts and the Pictish language is long gone.  It was replaced by Gaelic when the Scotii, an Irish Tribe, invaded Scotland.   Celtic Monks from Ireland and Iona helped further spread Gaelic when they converted the Picts to Christianity.

In the 18th Century following the Act of Union with Britain the Highland Scots began to acquire the English.  But it was not the English of Glasgow and Edinburgh they took to.  Instead they learned the language direct from officals arriving from London and the South of England.

And so it is that a poem in lowland Scots can be as obtuse in parts to a highland Scot as it is to an Englishman or an Irishman.  But 90% of the time you can get it.

The Daft Days; by Robert Fergusson

Now mirk December’s dowie face
glowers owre the rigs wi’ sour grimace,
while, through his minimum o’ space,
the bleer-ee’d sun
wi’ blinkin light and stealing pace,
his race doth run.

Frae naked groves nae birdie sings;
to shepherd’s pipe nae hillock rings;
the breeze nae odorous flavour brings
frae Borean cave;
and dwynin’ Nature droops her wings,
wi’ visage grave.

Mankind but scanty pleasure glean
frae snawy hill or barren plain,
whan winter, ‘midst his nippin’ train,
wi’ frozen spear,
sends drift owre a’ his bleak domain,
and guides the weir.

Auld Reekie! thou’rt the canty hole,
a bield for mony cauldrife soul,
wha snugly at thine ingle loll,
baith warm and couth;
while round they gar the bicker roll,
to weet their mouth.

When merry Yule-day comes, I trow,
you’ll scantlins find a hungry mou’;
sma’ are our cares, our stamacks fu’
o’ gusty gear,
and kickshaws, strangers to our view,
sin’ fernyear.

Ye browster wives ! now busk ye braw,
and fling your sorrows far awa’;
then, come and gie’s the tither blaw
o’ reaming ale,
mair precious than the well o’ Spa,
our hearts to heal.

Then, though at odds wi’ a’ the warl’,
amang oursels we’ll never quarrel;
thoogh discord gie a canker’d snarl
to spoil our glee,
as lang’s there’s pith into the barrel,
we’ll drink and gree.

Fiddlers! your pins in temper fix,
and rozet weel your fiddlesticks,
but banish vile Italian tricks
frae out your quorum;
nor fortes wi’ pianos mix –
gie’s Tullochgorum.

For nought can cheer the heart sae weil
as can a canty Highland reel;
it even vivifies the heel
to skip and dance:
Lifeless is he wha canna feel
its influence.

Let mirth abound; let social cheer
invest the dawnin’ o’ the year;
let blythesome innocence appear,
to crown our joy;
nor envy, wi’ sarcastic sneer,
our bliss destroy.

And thou, great god of ‘aqua vitæ’!
wha sway’st the empire o’ this city,
when fou, we’re sometimes capernoity,
be thou prepar’d
to hedge us frae that black banditti,
the City Guard.

Theresa May Prevail

boudica

On the birthday of William Blake here is what is probably, in England anyway, his best known poem.  It is one of the most popular and patriotic English hymns of the Anglican Church.

It is the essence of what it is to be English.  The English Rugby song is “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”.  Queen Boudica, that very embodiment of Britannia, is portrayed riding her Celtic Chariot.

As the British Parliament prepare to vote on the Brexit deal with the EU it is not the Northern Irish that matter, nor the Welsh, nor the Scots.  This is England Theresa May.  This is the time to embody England, to don the mantle of Alfred the Great.  To hell with those pesky Celts, this is an Anglo-Saxon matter.

Jerusalem: by William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time
walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
on England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

English is hard

Just take a look at a list of words like though, through, although, thought, taught, taut, tough, throw, threw, thorough and you begin to get a sense of how difficult a language it is for learners.  Ran across the anonymous poem below and thought it was a clever demonstration of the issues.

 

English Pronunciation Poem

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through.
Well don’t! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard but sounds like bird.
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead,
For goodness sake don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth as in mother
Nor both as in bother, nor broth as in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear, for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose–
Just look them up–and goose and choose
And cork and work and card and ward
And font and front and word and sword
And do and go, then thwart and cart,
Come, come! I’ve hardly made a start.
A dreadful Language? Why man alive!
I learned to talk it when I was five.
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five.

Battle of Crécy

Crecy

For many historians the Battle of Crécy heralds the dominance of the English Longbow on the continental battlefield, a superiority subsequently proven at Poitiers and Agincourt.  Crécy was fought on August 26th, 1346.  It was one of the greatest English victories of the 100 years war.

In truth the big winner at Crécy was the weather.  The English had time to choose their ground, deploying in three divisions on a steep hillside with well protected flanks.

The French arrived after the English and there was a great deal of confusion in their deployment.  The French brought thousands (the exact number is disputed) of Genoese mercenary crossbowmen.  There were three major issues with the Crossbowmen.

  1.  It rained just before the battle.  While the English longbow men could unstring their bows and keep the strings dry it was not possible for the Genoese to do the same.  Bowstrings were made of catgut, which slackens when soaked and loses all power to launch arrows or bolts.  This is exactly what happened the Genoese.
  2. The Genoese Pavises were stuck in the baggage train.  These large metal shields were usually placed in the ground in front of crossbowmen and allowed them to reload without having to take fire.  Without their shields the Genoese were naked on the battlefield, taking 10 to 12 longbow shafts for every bolt they could fire.
  3. The French nobility had low regard for the Genoese mercenaries.  They would tolerate no excuses and attributed the complaints about bowstrings and pavises to cowardice.  They insisted the Genoese go on the assault.

The result was a decimation of the Genoese by the English Longbows.  The Genoese then turned and ran, and were cut down by the French cavalry on their own side.  As a result the French cavalry was in total disarray when the charge was sounded.

The pride of french nobility then pounded up a steep wet slope on horseback straight into a hail of cloth yard shafts.  Downed horses presented obstacles to cavalry in the second and third lines.

When they did manage to ascend the slope they were met by well formed and disciplined lines of English infantry.  Time and again the French charged.  Time and again they were repulsed.

The end result was a highly asymmetrical outcome.  The English losses may have numbered as few as 100.  French and Genoese losses may number as high as 4,000.  The practice of the day was to count only noble losses, of which the French lost in the region of 2,000 men.

One of the direct outcomes of the battle was the fall of Calais to the English, an enclave held for over 200 years until its fall during the reign of “Bloody” Mary Tudor, Queen of England, and a small bit of France, for a while.

And now a poem about the longbow.  One small detail Doyle omits though….the best Yew wood came from Italy.  Reading his wording I think he may have known this and opted to omit it as being unpatriotic.  He says the bow was “made” in England, but specifies that the shaft was “cut” in England.

The Song of the Bow; by Arthur Conan Doyle
What of the bow?
The bow was made in England:
Of true wood, of yew-wood,
The wood of English bows;
So men who are free
Love the old yew-tree
And the land where the yew-tree grows.

What of the cord?
The cord was made in England:
A rough cord, a tough cord,
A cord that bowmen love;
And so we will sing
Of the hempen string
And the land where the cord was wove.

What of the shaft?
The shaft was cut in England:
A long shaft, a strong shaft,
Barbed and trim and true;
So we’ll drink all together
To the grey goose-feather
And the land where the grey goose flew.

What of the mark?
Ah, seek it not in England,
A bold mark, our old mark
Is waiting over-sea.
When the strings harp in chorus,
And the lion flag is o’er us,
It is there that our mark will be.

What of the men?
The men were bred in England:
The bowmen—the yeomen,
The lads of dale and fell.
Here’s to you—and to you!
To the hearts that are true
And the land where the true hearts dwell.

Firearms in Ireland

Medieval Irish Soldiers

Medieval Irish Soldiers

The Battle of Knockdoe in 1504 is one of the earliest recorded uses of firearms in Ireland.  We can’t say that firearms made a difference to the outcome or that they were central to military strategy.  Indeed we must question if anyone knew exactly how to use them.  According to the Book of Howth, one soldier of the Clanrickarde Burkes was beaten to death with a handgun!

The Battle was fought between the Hiberno-Norman “De Burgh” (Burkes) and their allies from the Dalcassian Sept (Kennedy’s, O’Briens, McNamaras) on one side against the Anglo-Norman Fitzgeralds on the other.  Although calling the Fitzgeralds “Anglo” is  a bit of a misnomer.  The Geraldines were Marcher Lords from Wales, not English.

Gerald, Earl of Kildare, was the deputy of the King of England, who also styled himself “Lord of Ireland” since the Norman invasion of the late 12th century.  As such Kildare carried a semblance of authority and the battle was considered to be a “policing” action to keep the King’s peace.

The Burkes were throwing their weight around and the Fitzgeralds had to sort them out to keep them in line.

The Fitzgeralds claimed the field after what was said to be a particularly bloody encounter.  The battle was dominated by Gallowglass, the heavy infantry of Medieval Ireland.  Many were Scottish mercenaries, heavily armoured.  Their primary weapon was the Claidh Mór, now called the Claymore, meaning “big sword”. As seen in the above illustration it is a two-handed broadsword of considerable length.

The poem below is held in folklore to have come from the pocket of a dead soldier.

Battle of Knockdoe (Anonymous)

Loud blares the trumpet, the field is set.
Loud blares the trumpet, the foe men are met.

Steep slopes the hill, at Knockdoe in the West.
There stood in Battle, the South at its best.

Hi Manny O’Kelly, with the Burkes is at War,
and Clanrickard has gathered his friends from afar.

Kildare he advances like the fox that doth stalk,
O’Kelly sweeps down with the speed of a hawk.

Loud sounds the trumpet, the sunset is fair.
Hi Manny triumphant. The Earl of Kildare.

Formigny

Formigny

Every Englishman knows about Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt.   These were the great victories of the English over the French in the 100 years war, where the English longbow made the difference between the sides.  The common Englishman was able to slay mounted French knights and steal the victory on the battlefield.

After the victory of Agincourt Henry V established the high watermark of English rule on the continent.  Edward VI was crowned king of both England and France in 1422 on the death of his father.  Edward was 9 months old.  From that high point it all went downhill.

The battle of Formigny ended the presence of England in Normandy with a resounding defeat.  After a successful and sustained campaign by the French to retake Normandy the complete destruction of the English army at Formigny signalled the end of Normandy as an English possession.  It left Calais as the only English foothold in France, which was held until the reign of Bloody Mary Tudor.

Formigny is interesting from a historical perspective, because it laid out the future pattern of battle up until the invention of the rifled musket in the mid-nineteenth century in the US Civil War.

The English at Formigny, three quarters of whom were archers, established a strong defensive position, protected by ditches and stakes.  The French, who had at last learned the lessons of Crécy and Agincourt, did not get drawn into a cavalry charge.

Instead they mounted only sufficient cavalry skirmishes against the flanks of the English to keep them bunched.  They brought up artillery pieces and began to pound the archers from a safe distance.

The English infantry knew that if they remained in position they would be slaughtered by cannon fire.  They presented an easy target in their defensive square.

If they broke formation to escape the cavalry would run them down and rout them in open country.

So they bravely launched a frontal attack on the French and captured the guns.

Before they could retreat and reform an organised defensive position a new force of Breton cavalry appeared on the English flank.  They were charged and in their loose formation became easy pickings for the French knights.

This choreography of defensive square, infantry marching column and firing line evolved over the following years to become the tactics of Napoleonic era armies.  Archers were gradually replaced by musketeers.  Static defensive positions protected by stakes were replaced by mobile pike squares.

As artillery became lighter and more manoeuvrable the defensive squares had to become more agile.  The pike was replaced by the bayonet, providing a far greater concentration of firepower in the squares.

All of this was ordained at Formigny.  But what English man would remember such a day?

Formigny, sounds a bit like Fontenoy!

Fontenoy; by Thomas Osborne Davis

Thrice, at the huts of Fontenoy, the English column failed,
And twice the lines of Saint Antoine the Dutch in vain assailed;
For town and slope were filled with fort and flanking battery,
And well they swept the English ranks and Dutch auxiliary.
As vainly, through De Barri’s wood, the British soldiers burst,
The French artillery drove them back, diminished, and dispersed.
The bloody Duke of Cumberland beheld with anxious eye,
And ordered up his last reserve, his latest chance to try,
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, how fast his generals ride!
And mustering come his chosen troops, like clouds at eventide.

II.

Six thousand English veterans in stately column tread;
Their cannon blaze in front and flank, Lord Hay is at their head;
Steady they step a-down the slope–steady they climb the hill;
Steady they load–steady they fire, moving right onward still,
Betwixt the wood and Fontenoy, as through a furnace blast,
Through rampart, trench, and palisade, and bullets showering fast;
And on the open plain above they rose and kept their course,
With ready fire and grim resolve, that mocked at hostile force:
Past Fontenoy, past Fontenoy, while thinner grew their ranks–
They break, as broke the Zuyder Zee through Holland’s ocean banks.

III.

More idly than the summer flies, French tirailleurs rush round;
As stubble to the lava tide, French squadrons strew the ground;
Bomb-shell and grape and round-shot tore, still on they marched
and fired–
Fast from each volley grenadier and voltigeur retired.
‘Push on, my household cavalry!’ King Louis madly cried:
To death they rush, but rude their shock–not unavenged they died.
On through the camp the column trod–King Louis turns his rein:
‘Not yet, my liege,’ Saxe interposed, ‘the Irish troops remain.’
And Fontenoy, famed Fontenoy, had been a Waterloo
Were not these exiles ready then, fresh, vehement, and true.

IV.

‘Lord Clare,’ he says, ‘you have your wish; there are your Saxon foes!’
The Marshal almost smiles to see, so furiously he goes!
How fierce the look these exiles wear, who’re wont to be so gay,
The treasured wrongs of fifty years are in their hearts to-day–
The treaty broken, ere the ink wherewith ’twas writ could dry,
Their plundered homes, their ruined shrines, their women’s parting cry,
Their priesthood hunted down like wolves, their country overthrown–
Each looks as if revenge for all were staked on him alone
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, nor ever yet elsewhere,
Rushed on to fight a nobler band than these proud exiles were.

V.

O’Brien’s voice is hoarse with joy, as, halting, he commands
‘Fix bay’nets!–charge!’ Like mountain storm, rush on these fiery bands!
Thin is the English column now, and faint their volleys grow,
Yet, must’ring all the strength they have, they make a gallant show.
They dress their ranks upon the hill to face that battle-wind–
Their bayonets the breakers’ foam; like rocks, the men behind!
One volley crashes from their line, when, through the surging smoke,
With empty guns clutched in their hands, the headlong Irish broke.
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, hark to that fierce huzza!
‘Revenge, remember Limerick! dash down the Sacsanach!’

VI.

Like lions leaping at a fold when mad with hunger’s pang,
Right up against the English line the Irish exiles sprang:
Bright was their steel, ’tis bloody now, their guns are filled with
gore;
Through shattered ranks and severed files the trampled flags they
tore;
The English strove with desperate strength, paused, rallied, staggered,
fled–
The green hill-side is matted close with dying and with dead.
Across the plain, and far away, passed on that hideous wrack,
While cavalier and fantassin dash in upon their track.
On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, like eagles in the sun,
With bloody plumes, the Irish stand–the field is fought and won!