Photographer: Annan, Thomas (1829 - 1887)
Medium: Photographic print
“Long since, beneath Dunfermline’s nave,
King Alexander fills his grave,
Our Lady give him rest!
Yet still the nightly spear and shield
The elfin warrior doth wield
Upon the brown hill’s breast”
This view of Dunfermline Abbey in Fife, Scotland, illustrates verses from an 1866 edition of Sir Walter Scott’s long narrative poem, ‘Marmion’. Legend tells that King Alexander III of Scotland (r.1249-86) fought and won a contest with a spectral warrior, who took “the form of England’s king”, Edward I, then “a thousand leagues far” fighting in the Crusades in Palestine. The victor compelled his supernatural adversary to reveal to him the outcome of an impending war with the Danes:
“Himself he saw, amid the field,
On high his brandished war-axe wield
And strike proud Haco from his car,
While all around the shadowy kings
Denmark’s grim ravens cowered their wings.”
Alexander was buried in Dunfermline Abbey alongside other Scottish monarchs including David I, Robert Bruce, and Queen Margaret, who founded the abbey soon after 1070. The story of King Alexander’s battle with the spectre is told to Lord Marmion by an inn keeper. Marmion, suffering a sense of ominous foreboding, wakes his squire Fitz-Eustace and they ride out to the nearby site of the legendary combat to see if Marmion too can call up the spectre and divine the future.
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was the Scottish author of immensely popular historical novels and poems. Their epic combination of history, chivalry and romance was especially beloved by readers of the Victorian era. ‘Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field’, first published in 1808, tells the story of the noble but arrogant Lord Marmion, a fictional 16th-century English knight in the time of Henry VIII, and the fate of his two loves Clara de Clare and Constance Beverley. The story is intertwined with the antagonism between England and Scotland under the rule of James IV. When Henry VIII attempted to invade France, James declared war on England and led an invading army south. The poem takes its title and inspiration from the Battle of Flodden Field in Northumberland in 1513, at which James was defeated and killed with many of his Scottish nobles and thousands of his feudal army. This edition of the poem is illustrated with 15 photographs by the Glasgow-based photographer Thomas Annan of sites in Northumberland and Scotland which feature in the poem.