Attitudes Towards Chivalry in Barbour’s Bruce and Hary’s Wallace
By Callum Watson
PhD Dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 2015
Abstract: The main purpose of this thesis is to expound the notion that the fourteenth-century poet John Barbour used a loose framework of standard chivalric ideals and tropes to explain and in some cases legitimise the actions of his heroes and that Blind Hary adopted a similar approach when composing The Wallace around a century later.
It will explore the idea that both writers did this in order to present their heroes in a way that their audiences would recognise and also to influence the behaviour of these audiences, insofar as the audience of these works in their immediate historical context can be reconstructed. This thesis will not attempt to deal with whether or not they were successful in affecting change in the behaviour of the audiences, as this would require a significant broadening of the scope of this study and it is doubtful whether this may even be possible to assess even in a much wider study.
However, in addressing the major themes of both poems with regards to chivalry, this thesis will draw on the historical contexts in which each source was written in order to better explain why these authors adopted the attitudes they did and why the notions they espouse might have been apposite at the time of writing.
In particular, it will consider the way each author explores themes of prudence, friendship and loyalty as expressed through oath-making for what these themes tell us about Barbour and Hary’s engagement with chivalry. These themes will then be drawn together in a final chapter on what constitutes ‘acceptable’ behaviour for each of these writers.
Top Image: Robert the Bruce addressing his troops before the Battle of Bannockburn – illustration by Edmund Leighton (1852–1922)