Thursday, September 11, 2014

ROBERT THE BRUCE King of the Scots by Michael Penman

King of the Scots
Michael Penman

Robert the Bruce: King of the Scots is a detailed biography of the famous Scottish king written by Historian Michael Penman. As I am an amateur armchair historian, I feel ill-equipped to review this massive, detailed, professional work.

            Before reading the book, I was aware of Bannockburn and fascinated by Robert the Bruce – but, I was aware of little else. This immense historical tome has changed that.

            Although Penman claims that Robert the Bruce focuses on Robert’s fifteen year rule after Bannockburn, the book, like the story, begins much earlier. Penman describes the climate into which the Bruces claimed rights as heir to the Scottish throne, as well as the contrary rights claimed by others. We learn of the complex machinations, the political climate of both England and Scotland, and the competing claims that led up to Robert Bruce being crowned king of Scotland. We see how masterful Robert was at reading and handling the politics around him, as well as at dealing with adverse natural conditions that challenged the country. Penman explains how Bruce handled these difficult situations, conspiracies, and changing political and religious climates, both within and without Scotland. Bannockburn was a turning point, and Robert’s method of rule also changed. The book continues through – and beyond – Robert’s death, resulting perhaps from leprosy.

            I was amazed to learn how “hands-on” and “down in the trenches” a ruler Robert was. In addition, he appears to have been very savvy and sophisticated.  But, as I have already admitted, I am no Historian.

            I enjoyed Robert the Bruce, and I learned a great deal. I did not, however, particularly care for the writing style. Although the book is informative, insightful, and appears to be well documented, it is not an easy read. While reading it, I frequently wished that I could sit down and do some rewriting of it.

            In addition to the writing, I was most frustrated by the organization. Penman would be progressing through time and then suddenly the book would seem to jump backwards in time. Though the book appears to progress chronologically, it jumps around so much that I quite honestly cannot understand the organizational understructure. Perhaps this is simply the bane of the discipline.

            Nonetheless, to chronicle Robert the Bruce’s rule is a massive undertaking, and the result is chocked full of much detailed information. Penman should be commended for his masterful reconstruction of the life of Scotland’s beloved hero.


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