King Robert

Many who had been shocked by the infamously inaccurate film Braveheart (of Mel Gibson), that ragbag of cliché, myth and libel claimed as authentic, and especially those affronted by its depiction of King Robert I as a treacherous opportunist ever ready to exploit the courage and success of Sir William Wallace without risk to himself, were delighted to learn of the impending publication of Caroline Bingham's ROBERT THE BRUCE. A respected writer with the ability to write complex history that is easy to read ~ surely she would set the record straight!

Tragically, Caroline Bingham died soon after completing the drafts but without seeing the galleys. The publication of her book has, we must assume as a consequence, been damaged by a host of misspellings and inconsistencies. In respect of misspelt names it is often possible to shrug and to reflect that she writes of a time before orthography was standardised, but for students seeking specific references the lack of standard spelling within such a book can ruin much of its value as a reference tool. Smeetham Abbey instead of Sweetheart Abbey (obviously a misreading of the handwriting), Alexander III instead of his father Alexander II, Gomerled for Somerled, the future Robert II described as Robert III ~ there are just too many for the publisher to be excused. Of course, they are all mistakes that will be easy to correct in a new edition.

While the true character of Robert I is not revealed as fully as might have been hoped, the author has succeeded in portraying the character of the times persuasively. Moreover, she has shed light on a few areas that really needed it. Wallace, the hero Gibson portrayed as a peasant boy, has his place in society defined correctly. Here is the author exposing what this magazine consistently describes as the difference between true history and Hollywood hysteria ~

Wallace has been described as a kind of Scottish Joan of Arc, an obscure person gifted with clarity of vision and a sense of mission who, although serving a confused and undeserving king (John Balliol), gave his nation a sense of its destiny and a belief in itself. The effects of his actions appear to justify this interpretation; but in life he had a mission with more modest aims than the mythic version of his career suggests. Wallace was not the democratic revolutionary or freedom fighter of modern mythology. Nor was he a native Celtic hero rebelling against the Norman invader. Wallace, like his Stewart overlords, belonged to a family which had arrived in Scotland as part of the feudalizing policy of King David I, who had died in 1153. The Stewarts were of Breton origin, and held lands in Shropshire before they received grants from David of lands in Scotland. The Wallaces (the name was probably "le Waleys", meaning the Welshman) in all likelihood followed their lord to Scotland from the Welsh Borders. William Wallace was the son of a knight, Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie, and himself became a knight, and as such was firmly embedded in the structure of feudal society. He had no wish to alter that structure, a concept which would have been beyond the imagination of a man of his class and time.

Caroline Bingham has illuminated also a little of the Norman myth, the myth that pretends that the "Norman Conquest" was a conquest by Normans. Writers in this magazine have previously emphasised the substantial rôle played by the Flemish, not only at the famous battle that defeated King Harold, but in the subsequent military and commercial development of England and Scotland. Here the author quotes Graham Ritchie, who has written of those "Norman" families who migrated to Scotland between 1100 and 1250 ~

" ....... it is seldom possible to ascertain their continental home, whether in the Duchy [of Normandy] or in Flanders or in Brittany or elsewhere, and the precise connection which their forebears had with Duke William's Breton, Lotharingian, Flemish, Picard, Artesian, Cennomanian, Angevin, general-French and Norman Conquest."

In general, this is a book that can be recommended to all who were puzzled by the story of Mel Gibson's monstrous extravaganza and who seek to make sense of what the "Independence" freaks of the Scottish National Party made of it. How much it is needed may be assessed objectively by reading the review of it written by a professor of English at one of Scotland's leading universities and published by one of Britain's most respected newspapers. His review began ~

Wallace, as anyone who saw the film Braveheart knows, led a victorious army at Bannockburn in 1314 .......

Wallace had been judicially murdered in London nine years earlier. Bruce led the army at Bannockburn. Of Bruce the professor wrote ~

Although he became King of Scotland as early as 1296 .......

Bruce was crowned King of Scots in 1306. In 1296 his father was still alive, and John Balliol was king. The professor refers to ~

"King Robert the Bruce of Scotland"

But every schoolboy knows, or ought to know, that the hero king was "King Robert I" or "Robert the Bruce, King of Scots". Then he explains ~

....... his throne was under the power of the (sic) Edward I .......

What this means is a mystery, but if the professor refers to Edward's undoubted military power in Scotland, then he must be thinking of John Balliol, King of Scots from 1292 to 1296. Between 1296 and 1306 Scotland had no king. (Edward died 16 months after Bruce took the crown, and Bruce then reigned for a further 22 years.)

So much for professors of English reviewing history!

Caroline Bingham will be sadly missed.

ROBERT THE BRUCE is published by Constable and Company Limited

ISBN 0 09 476440 9

You may order ROBERT THE BRUCE now from Amazon in the United Kingdom!

Princess er, um, Sam

This issue of the magazine includes the first chapter of ROYAL FLUSH, a novel written specifically for electronic publication. The future of the new e-novels is already a subject of contention. Conventional publishers insist that nothing can replace the ease and portability and tactile feel of a paperback book. Electronic publishers, noting the early success of e-magazines and e-newsletters, insist that for the generations now using computer monitors for their studies, and linking to the Internet instead of running over to the local library, reading onscreen will become the norm, especially as the PDF system (for which Acrobat Reader is FREE) is so popular.

To overcome the physical problem of portability, new pocket e-readers are under development. They have longlife rechargeable batteries, active matrix screens, CD disk drives and speakers. CDs will be read aloud for those with sight problems, or who are driving a car while they listen. The onscreen typesize is adjustable for those who do not wish to wear their lenses. One CD will carry several novels, each of which can be unlocked separately with a purchased password, and a PC connection allows books bought by e-mail to be transferred to memory. For those who wish to read at night without disturbing anyone else, the screen offers sufficient light.

For the present, most readers will use their normal computers, either on the desk or as portables. Novels are published as PDF files, and those formatted by DTP artists, and not by clumsy typists, are visually attractive and are very easy to read. As PDF files they download fairly quickly, those that include illustrations taking a little longer, of course, and most fit comfortably on a floppy disk if that is preferred to downloading.

The financial savings in forests, printing, storage and distribution will enable the e-publishers to undercut conventional books very substantially, and authors willing to amend their style to suit the new medium may expect to receive rewards rather greater than those their existing publishers offer. William Dennenberg, the author of ROYAL FLUSH, emphasises the style factor. Readers onscreen, he says, read perhaps one-third more slowly than they do with pages, and he believes that for novels this will require faster narrative and a more economical paragraph structure. He has experimented with this perceived requirement, and those who look at the first chapter will be able perhaps to form a judgement of how successful he has been.

So what is ROYAL FLUSH and do we recommend it? Well, it's a very fast-moving romantic comedy adventure featuring a newly-divorced British princess on the loose in North America. The author's expertise in critical aspects of the story is obvious, and this is particularly true of counter-terrorism, motorcycles, ultralights and hang gliders. But the real appeal to readers of this magazine must be the witty insights of royal life untouched by other authors. It is a story that has all the signs of having been written from the inside; it is full of sophisticated fun and it bubbles with excitement, but it has a foundation with hard edges.

This review should carry a warning ~ this is not a conventional royal romance. Don't expect anything in this novel to be conventional. Nothing is!

ROYAL FLUSH is published by Banneret Books.

ISBN 0 9535213 0 3

You may order ROYAL FLUSH now for e-mail delivery as a PDF file!

And you may read the first chapter here ! ! !



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