You know, when you give me a day off, I get into trouble. Remember what we were saying about how cool history can be?
I've just reclaimed a copy of Steeleye Span's wonderful album Back in Line (mine having been a copy on cassette that has not weathered the years, alas), and I'm listening to it while reading The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad and letting my brain try to regenerate so I can do it all over again soon. (It being the whole novel-writing process)
We begin our story in the midst of the Scottish Civil War. Blah blah blah Scottish Civil War blah blah blah. (Consider the stage set.)
The second song on the album is "Isabel." Which is about the captivity of "The Caged Countess"--Isabel of Buchan, who was born a MacDuff (Yes, one of those MacDuffs) (...and I don't recall if the Earl of Buchan was a Stewart yet, or if that came later--oh, wait, Wikipedia has an entry. According to them, her husband was the first Stewart Earl of Buchan)--and who notoriously stole her husband's horses to make it to Scone to crown Robert the Bruce King of Scotland about a month after he stabbed another leading claimant, *"Red" John Comyn, under truce at Dumfries.
In a church.
And then sent men back to finish him off when he found out he hadn't done the job right.
Yep, that's the hero of Scotland.
In a further irony, by the way, John Comyn was descended of Duncan I of Scotland.
Yes, that Duncan.
Are you with me so far?
Carrying onwards (I almost said "carrying on"), rumor has it that Isabel was Robbie's mistress, but anyway, we've got enough prurience here without the smut. (And the smut is in the song, anyway.) Anyway, Robert and his wife Elizabeth de Burgh were crowned in March of 1306 (and let's not even get into the irony of getting your mistress to crown your queen).
Edward I of England sort of naturally found this to be, oh, an act of treason.
By mid-June, Edward I of England's troops had taken Isabel, Elizabeth, Robbie's sister Mary and assorted others captive and sent the Bruce's daughter by his first wife to a nunnery. (She was later to die in a fall from a horse while heavily pregnant. Obviously the nunnery didn't take. (The baby lived.) (And will be back to trouble us momentarily.) )
And here's where the chronology of the song gets a little confused, because the Bruce didn't get his family back for another seven or eight years, when he kicked Edward II's rear end about back to London. (Yes, that Edward II. Different Isabel. Don't get confused by Mel Gibson's inability to render accurate history, though I admit the thickets of Isabels get absolutely bewildering somewhere around Chaucer and persist for a good long while. Just breathe. It's all good.)
Bruce then ransomed the women home. During the interim, Mary and Isabel were kept on display in wooden cages on castle walls. Thus the "Caged Countess."
So anyway, my point is, Isabel would have had a heck of a time watching the battle of Bannockburn. Although, you know, I don't actually know she wasn't there. I suppose it's possible that Edward would have hauled her ass out there to watch Robbie get his head handed to him. Except it didn't quite work out that way.
Okay, anyway, the women are back in Scotland, Robert is King, and Elizabeth eventually produced four children, John, Matilda, Margaret, and David. Of whom only David claimed the throne.
And David died childless, leaving his nephew Robert (remember Robert? He's the one delivered by Caesarean section from the belly of his dying mother at the end of the fifth paragraph above) King.
From Robert (Now Robert II of Scotland) are descended all the Stewarts.
Yes, including the ones that bitched up England so incredibly spectacularly three hundred years later. (Blah blah blah English Civil War [all three of them] blah blah blah.)
If my vague memories of what my rumourmongering geneologist grandmother told me can be trusted, Isabel and Robert are both, in some distant, left side of the blanket, consanguineous sort of way, ancestors of mine. (I'm a Buchanan back there behind the shrubbery, and I think we might be also be somehow vaguely related to America's Worst President (Blah blah blah American Civil War blah blah blah.), but she's dead, so I can't ask her.)
Anyway, all this to explain that it's a little weird hearing a song about the extramarital affairs of one's thirty-five-generations removed ancestors.
Moral of the story: Never, ever, ever give Robert the Bruce or any of his relatives or descendants a government job. The best you can hope for is a civil war. Or five.
*(yeah, yeah, et fix wrong Comyn.)