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A History Book for Scots: Selections from the Scotichronicon
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Writing on a small island in the Firth of Forth in the 1440s, Walter Bower set out to tell the whole story of the Scottish nation in a single huge book, the Scotichronicon – ‘a history book for Scots’. It begins with the mythical voyage of Scota, the Pharaoh’s daughter, from Egypt with the Stone of Destiny. The land that her sons discovered in the Western Ocean was named after her: Scotland. It goes on to describe the turbulent events that followed, among them the wars of the Scots and the Picts (begun by a quarrel over a dog); the poisoning of King Fergus by his wife; Macbeth’s usurpation and uneasy reign; the good deeds of Margaret, queen and saint; Bruce’s murder of the Red Comyn; the founding of Scotland’s first university at St Andrews; the ‘Burnt Candlemas’; and the endless troubles between Scotland and England.
Weaving in and out of the events of Bower’s factual history, like a wonderful pageant, are other subjects that fascinated him: harrowing visions of hell and purgatory, extraordinary miracles; the exploits of knights and beggars, merchants and monks; the ravages of flood and fire; the terrors of the plague; and the answers to such puzzling questions as what makes a good king, and why Englishmen have tails. In 1998 Donald Watt and his team of scholars completed the first modern edition and translation of Scotichronicon in nine volumes. It has been described as ‘a massive achievement for Scottish cultural history’ (Sally Mapstone) and ‘an open invitation to join a voyage of discovery’ (Books in Scotland). This selection from the whole of Scotichronicon puts Bower’s epic of Scotland into the hands of the general reader. It is a marvellous and unforgettable story. Perhaps its importance is best summed up by Bower himself, who wrote at the end of it: Non Scotus est Christe cui liber non placet iste – Christ! He is not a Scot who is not pleased with this book!
A History Book for Scots is selected from the complete edition of Scotichronicon by WALTER BOWER, edited by D E R WATT and a team of scholars, in nine volumes. This monumental work of scholarship, in which the original Latin text appears side by side with a translation in modern English, was completed in 1998. Extensive introductory material and notes guide the reader through the complexities of Bower’s history and its background.
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