More Strike Swans: Historical and Film Connections

Happy Seventh Day of Christmas for those of you keeping score at home! Of course, even if you don’t have a fun set of seasonal glasses as we do at my house (one for each day of Christmas), you probably remember that the seventh Image result for what do the seven swans a swimming refer today is the one with seven swans a-swimming.  In the spirit of the day’s iconic birds, we’ll continue our look at one of the most interesting themes of Lethal White and explore its connection to an obscure historic event that has turned up in a recent film. Join me after the jump to talk about swans and to see what on earth Robert the Bruce has to do with Cormoran Strike (a surprising little bit, actually).

A bit over a week ago, our esteemed Headmaster posted an excellent analysis of the swan symbolism in the fourth Cormoran Strike novel. Adding to the vast flock of birds who wing their way through the gritty Rowling/Galbraith mysteries, the swans add to the fantastic mythic tapestry that is woven throughout each story and through the entire series. They also have a fascinating connection to an obscure historic event that may also be connected to the Strike series.

I must confess, I was not familiar with the May 22, 1306, event that is generally known as the  Feast of the Swan (or swans). But then, IImage result for outlaw king decided to check out the Netflix Original film Outlaw King, focused on the Scottish king Robert the Bruce. Even though my Baird ancestors were Bruce supporters, I only have a general knowledge of his story, and I was eager to see how the film lined up with what few facts survive as well as with the very loose adaptation of history that is Braveheart, probably the only film depiction of Robert the Bruce known to general audiences. The film is a pleasant surprise. Although certainly not a family film, the violence is historically and narratively necessary (people really were disemboweled, hanged, drawn and quartered, and so on to great extent in the early 1300s in the contentious struggle for control of Scotland) and the hanky-panky is limited to a love scene between the Bruce and his wife, to whom he has been married for some time, but because the union was an arranged one, he has patiently waited for their relationship to Image result for outlaw king chris pinedevelop, while gaining respect for his smart and compassionate queen (yes, we see even more of Chris Pine than Wonder Woman did, but this is positively tame compared to five minutes of GOT or Outlander). Like many of the new Netflix productions, it is as good or better than a theatrical release. The scenery is great, the acting is solid, the relationships are interesting,  and the battle scenes are appropriately muddy and horrible, evoking both Agincourt and World War I France as well as fourteenth-century Scotland.  There are also some nice literary touches, and even a hint of ring composition.Image result for outlaw king chris pine

But the scene that puzzled a number of viewers was actually one that led me to a little research and right back to our pal Corm.

In what seems a completely arbitrary set-up, two caged swans are featured during the knighting of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward II, a sequel who was just as rotten as Edward I, just in slightly different ways).  Then, later, the prince is seen holding two dead swans by the neck as he swears upon them and vows to take down Robert the Bruce. It appears tImage result for outlaw king swanshe swans may also be part of the ensuing feast.  In the film, the sequence serves a couple of functions. It is presented in tandem with the crowning of King Robert at Scone, the traditional site of Scottish coronations. His coronation is a humble, outdoor event including earnest, hopeful people who expect to be killed for the rebellious act of choosing their own leader.  It is a stark contrast to Edward’s decadent, glossy court extravaganza. In addition, the two scenes contrast the selfish Edwards with the selfless Bruce.

The odd thing is, it actually happened. On May 22, 1306, Edward I knighted 267 men after a cattle call for recruits. Part of the traditional swearing-in ceremony featured taking oaths upon the two swans featured at the feast, and a Image result for feast of the swangreat deal of smack was talked regarding how they were going to wallop the Scots.  It’s now known as the Feast of the Swans, though I’ve yet to see if it had much connection to St. Hugh of Lincoln, patron saint of swans (cobblers and sick people, too) who was canonized in 1220 and was well known for his pet swan. Not only is the scene a nice bit of storytelling, it’s an homage to an actual historic event.Hug-lin-pi.jpg

It’s also a nifty connection with Lethal White. Like Raphael, son of Jasper Chiswell, the Prince is a disappointing son who never seems good enough for his demanding father and his governmental expectations. Whether he’s depicted merely as a mean-spirited, cowardly bully as in this film, or as an effeminate whiner as in Braveheart, the future Edward II is, like Raphael, far from noble, and the various interpretations of his character can be seen in Lethal White’s murderous son. The bloody, complicated story of the wars for Scottish independence is one that sits well alongside the bloody complicated exploits of our man in Denmark Street and his faithful Robin, but I sense that the nasty business of the nasty Edwards may have much more to offer us going forward in the series. Like Strike’s absent rockstar father, Edward I was a poor father with a horde of progeny.  Edward was also obsessed with the Arthurian legends, and we’ve already seen Rowling’s use of the Arthur elements.Image result for lethal white

I’ll be very interested to see how the swan motif develops as the Strike series continues, and I’ll be watching for further connections to the fourteenth century family and political drama and tragedy.

In the meantime, enjoy the seventh day of Christmas and any gifts, birds or otherwise, that your loved ones care to send along.

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