The Bruce and Bohun
The Brus, Book 12, Lines 40-86
The section describing the encounter between Sir Henry de Bohun and King Robert took place on 23 June 1314. It is one of those iconic moments in history and was once a favourite incident recounted in the text books of Scottish schools. Bohun, in full armour, had noticed King Robert out in front of his troops, the king riding on a smaller horse in light armour. The little crown on his helmet clearly identified him. Thinking that he could strike the critical blow by killing the Scottish king, Bohun charged towards him with lance lowered. But King Robert swerved at the crucial moment, stood in his stirrups, and brought his battle axe down through the head of Bohun, killing him instantly. The language of the verse is Older Scots which in the 14th century had much in common with Northern English, both being variants of Northumbrian Anglo-Saxon. Scots, though, had already begun to diverge and develop into a distinctly Scottish tongue and Barbour’s Brus represents its acceptance at the Scottish royal court as a language of literature and high status. The verse in the original language is given below and an English translation is provided in the PDF file.
And quhen the king sua apertly
Saw him cum forouth all his feris
In hy till him the hors he steris.
And quhen Schyr Henry saw the king
Cum on foroutyn abaysing
Till him he raid in full gret hy,
He thocht that he suld weill lychtly
Wyn him and haf him at his will
Sen he him horsyt saw sa ill.
Sprent thai samyn intill a ling,
Schyr Hanry myssit the noble king
And he that in his sterapys stud
With the ax that wes hard and gud
With sua gret mayne raucht him a dynt
That nother hat na helm mycht stynt
The hevy dusche that he him gave
That ner the heid till the harnys clave.
The hand-ax schaft fruschit in twa,
And he doune to the erd gan ga
And flatlynys for him faillit mycht.
That wes perfornyst douchtely,
And quhen the kingis men sa stoutly
Saw him rycht at the first meting
Foroutyn dout or abaysing
Have slayne a knycht sua at a strak
Sic hardyment tharat gan thai tak
That thai come on rycht hardely.
Quhen Inglismen saw thaim sa stoutly
Cum on thai had gret abaysing
And specially for that the king
Sa smartly that gud knycht has slayne
That thai withdrew thaim everilkane
And durst nocht ane abid to fycht
Sa dred thai for the kingis mycht.
And quhen the kingis men thaim saw
Sua in hale bataill thaim withdraw
A gret schout till thaim gan thai mak
And thai in hy tuk all the bak,
And thai that folowit thaim has slane
Sum off thaim that thai haf ourtane
Bot thai war few forsuth to say
Thar hors fete had ner all away.
Bot how-sa quhoyne deyt thar
Rebutyt foulily thai war
And raid thar gait with weill mar schame
Be full fer than thai come fra hame.