- Blind Harry
Blind Harry (c. 1440 – 1492), also known as Harry (also spelt "Hary") or Henry the Minstrel, is renowned as the earliest surviving lengthy source for the events of the life of
William Wallace, the Scottish freedom-fighter. He wrote "The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace" around 1477, 172 years after the death of Wallace in 1305. His poem of Wallace's defeat of the English at Dunnottar Castleis thought to be the earliest work of verse to address that site (J. Reid, "Picturesque Stonehaven", 1899).
Blind Harry's words were made more accessible by a translation written by
William Hamilton of Gilbertfield(ca. 1665-1751) published in 1722. In this form they met the notice of poets such as Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Robert Southey, John Keats, Joanna Baillie, and William Wordsworth. It was also a prime source for Randall Wallacein his writing of the screenplay Braveheart, upon which the Award Winning Hollywoodfilm was based. Most recently, in 1998, Elspeth Kingpublished Hamilton's text amended for modern readers, as "Blind Harry's Wallace".
Little is known about Blind Harry's life, but a few snippets of information are available. One source is the
Lord High Treasurer's Accounts of 1473-1492, which recorded payments to him for performances at the court of James IV. He is mentioned by William Dunbaron line 69 of his "Lament for the Makeris" early in the 16th century. Historian John Major also wrote about Harry in 1518. These sources differed on whether or not he was blind from birth, but Harry almost certainly seems to have had a military background.
Harry's depiction of Wallace has been criticised by Major and others as being fictionalized. Some parts of it are at variance with contemporary sources; the work describes Wallace leading an army to the outskirts of London; adopting the disguises of a monk, an old woman, and a potter while a fugitive; and travelling to
Franceto enlist support for the Scottish cause, there defeating two French champions as well as a lion. "Are there any more dogs you would have slain?" Wallace asks the French king.
The minstrel claimed it was based on a book by Fr. John Blair, Wallace's boyhood friend and personal
chaplain, but this may have been a literary device; the chief sources seem to have been traditional. Most historians nowadays regard it as effectively a historical novel, written at a time of strong anti-English sentiment in Scotland. At twelve volumes, the work is also doubted to be solely his work. Elspeth King maintained that despite any inaccuracies, Harry's patriotic and nationalistic portrayal was to ensure Wallace's continuing reputation as a hero. Burns acknowledged his debt to Harry, incorporating the following lines from Harry's "Wallace" in his own poem Robert Bruce's Address to his Army at Bannockburn (Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled):
A false usurper sinks in every foewhich Burns described as a "a
And liberty returns with every blow
coupletworthy of Homer".
Harry is often considered inferior to Barbour as a poet, and has little of his moral elevation, but he surpasses him in graphic power, vividness of description, and variety of incident. He occasionally shows the influence of
Chaucer, and is said to have known Latin and French. Mel Gibson's film Braveheartdraws heavily on this source.Anderson, Lin. "Braveheart: From Hollywood to Holyrood." Luath Press Ltd. (2005): 27.]
*A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature
*"Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain" (London: The Reader’s Digest Association, 1973), 520.
*"Blind Harry's Wallace" translated by William Hamilton, introduction by Elspeth King (Edinburgh: Luath Press, 1998). ISBN 0-946487-33-2.
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