Taggart, James Hand
The historicity of Barbour's 'Bruce'.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This dissertation systematically evaluates the historicity of the epic poem The Bruce, written towards the end of the fourteenth century and attributed to Archdeacon John Barbour of Aberdeen. For the purposes of analysis, the poem has been divided into 119 discrete episodes, which cover 95 percent of the text. Ninety-one of these appear in other historical sources. A rigorous evaluative methodology establishes a satisfactory level of historicity of these 91 episodes, significantly higher than has been allowed by many critics of the poem. The 28 episodes that do not appear in other sources are assessed by a parallel methodology. The analyses of these two types of episode provide an original rationale for judiciously using The Bruce as a sole source.
Using the battle of Bannockburn as a case study, the value of The Bruce as a source is clearly demonstrated. By implication, it may also be regarded as an indispensable source for the 1306-1329 period as a whole. However, a textual analysis of the poem indicates that at least four, and perhaps as many as six, hands were at work in the writing of The Bruce. It is suggested that John Barbour may have been the lead author and editor.
The dissertation concludes that The Bruce was written as a historically accurate (insofar as the term was understood in the fourteenth century) account of the part Robert I and his lieutenants played in the War of Independence. It is nationalistic in tone. Its core ideologies are chivalry and freedom of the Scots from English domination. It uses literary devices to make the content accessible, persuasive and memorable. Thus, it may also be regarded as a fundamentally important contribution to Scottish literature.
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