Robert Burns: SCOTS WHA HAE

`There is a tradition,' says Burns, in a letter to Thomson, `that the old air "Hey tuttie taitie,' was Robert Bruce's march at the battle of Bannockburn. This thought, in my solitary wanderings, has warmed me to a pitch of enthusiasm on the theme of liberty and independence which I have thrown into a kind of Scottish ode, fitted to the air, that one might suppose to be the gallant Scot's address to his heroic followers on that eventful morning.'

In August 1787, Burns visited Bannockburn field near Stirling, the historic spot where in 1314 Robert the Bruce's tiny forces routed the vast army of the invading English king, Edward II. Sometimes subtitled `Robert Bruce's March to Bannockburn', the song has long been synonymous with Caledonian liberty and independence. Burns's empathy with the radical principles of the French Republique of 1793 (`liberte, egalite et fraternite') was nowhere more strongly reflected than here in this battle-hymn which, to the old tune `Hey Tuttie Taittie', was sent to Thomson in 1794. It was finally published in the SCSA in 1799.

Burns visited the field of Bannockburn, near Stirling, on 26th August 1787. `I said a fervent prayer for Old Caledonia over the hole in a blue whinstone, where Robert de Bruce fixed his royal standard...'

Audaciously, Burns had made Bruce sing a song of freedom still being fought for in contemporary Scotland: on 1 February 1793, the French Republic had declared war on Britain and the British government increased its attempts to suppress the Friends of the People, a radical movement organised by the young lawyer, Thomas Muir of Huntershill, whose trial was fixed for 30 August, the date assigned to Burns' letter to Thomson. Had Burns declared his radical sympathies he might well have been treated like Muir, who was sentenced to fourteen years' transportation for seditiously inciting the Scottish people to oppose the government. Significantly Burns agreed to the Morning Chronicle (8 May 1794) publishing his song but insisted `let them insert it as a thing they have met with by accident, and unknown to me.'

   Scots, wha hae wi Wallace bled,
   Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
   Welcome to your gory bed
      Or to victorie!
   Now's the day, and now's the hour:
   See the front o' battle lour,                         look menacingly
   See approach proud Edward's power ---
      Chains and slaverie!

   Wha will be a traitor knave?
   Wha can fill a coward's grave?
   Wha sae base as be a slave? ---
      Let him turn and flee!
   Wha for Scotland's King and Law
   Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
   Freeman stand, or Freeman fa',
      Let him follow me!

   By Oppression's woes and pains,
   By your sons in servile chains,
   We will drain your dearest veins,
      But they shall be free!
   Lay the proud usurpers low!
   Tyrants fall in every foe!
   Liberty's in every blow!
      Let us do, or die!