Dunlop, Eileen and Antony Kamm (eds.). The Scottish Collection of Verse to 1800 (1985).

July 10, 2007

Generic Book

“Wha for Scotland’s King and law
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa’?
Let him follow me!”

This is a great little collection of Scottish poetry. It limits itself to stuff written before 1800 which includes Burns but excludes Scott and is fairly well selected. It includes obscure Gaelic ballads as well as some of the most popular verse by Burns. What really sets it apart though is its organization. Instead of the poems being organized by poet or by chronology, they are instead organized topically thus there are sections on Food and Drink, The Sea, Sports and Games, etc. It helps to give a new perspective to the poems as one could, while reading, compare and contrast the representations of the topics. Unfortunately there was no law subdivision, oh well.

As it is a compilation, I’ll hit the law that I found in particular poems. Generally, the section on Kings and Queens is probably as a whole the most topical for law as it deals a great deal with issues of soveriegnty.

“Scots Wha Hae” by Robert Burns – The lines (quoted above and purported to be Robert the Bruce’s speech to his troops before Bannockburn) demonstrates the implicit linkage between the King and the Law that was at work in the middle ages. The two were so joined that if Scotland’s King was not ruling then Scotland wasn’t free (despite liberties that may be given under English rule). Of course we still see vestiges of this today with the Scottish Nationalism movement.

“Remonstrance to the King” by William Dunbar – This was written by Dunbar to protest the matter of his pension. Initially, it lists many of the types of people that would be at the kings court and includes “doctouris in jure.” The list though and the full account give a glimpse into life at the court of James IV.

“An Exhoartation to His Grace the King” by Sir David Lindsey. This is a popular type of work for the time in which the author attempts to tell the King what makes a great ruler. It starts with lines that state that God “of his preordinance,/Haith grantit thee to have governance.” This illustrates the idea that the Kings rule was granted by God and was used to back up the argument that his soveriegnty was unchallengable except by God who will not “excuse thyne ignorance” in governing. Since this is the case the King is told to “keip the observance” of the “lawis” of God. He is later told that in court the King should use both “Justice and Temperance,” and to “Do equale justice boith to gret and small.”

“The Queen’s Marie” (unattributed) – We find a bit of criminal law in this as one of the Queen’s ladies murders her own child. The Queen summarily sentences her to death. When one person embodies all three branches of government then there is no appeal.

“Lines on the Execution of King Charles I” by James Graham. This reflection expresses sorrow over the execution of Charles I. It is legally related because it was one of the first times that a King had his soveriegnty taken from him by the people in a court. It occurred in a trial wherein Charles I challenged the jurisdiction of the court on the grounds that his powers flowed from God and not the people.

“Battle of Otterbourne” (unattributed) – There is a smigden of the law of war here when Lord Percy refuses to surrender to anyone but the head of the Scottish Army; upon being presented with the fact that the leader is dead he hands over his sword with no complaint to the next in command. Despite the fact that the Scottish leader died the troops did not take vengeance on Lord Percy (which would have been a recognized law of war in the day).

“On Thanksgiving for a National Victory” by Robert Burns – In this poem Burns declares that it is wrong to “murder” in war and then give thanks. Burns obviously wasn’t familiar with the idea that not all killings are murder, and the killing of the opposing army in war is one that isn’t murder.

“My Last Will” by Robert Fergusson – Fergusson writes out his last will in verse and signs it. Its the way to go if you don’t have much to leave.

Eileen Dunlop
Antony Kamm

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