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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

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.