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Scottish William Tell


According to some Scottish sources, the famous story of William Tell shooting an apple from his son's head was actually a retelling of events that occured in Scotland about 1060, during the reign of King Malcolm Canmore. Those familiar with Shakespeare will recall that Malcolm and his brother Donald Bane were sons of King Duncan who was slain by MacBeth in 1040.  This event occured in battle and not by stealth at night as portrayed by the Bard in his immortal 'Scottish play.'  Malcolm and Donald found refuge in England with Siward, the Saxon Earl of Northumberland.  Malcolm returned to Scotland and killed MacBeth in battle in 1057.  He also killed Lulach, the son and successor of MacBeth, in 1058, and became King of Scots, reigning until 1093.  Malcolm's wife was the English Saint Margaret who introduced English manners and fashions to the Scottish court and was instrumental in Romanizing the Celticn Church and Clergy, for which she was later canonized. Now, returning to the story, the following is quoted from Samuel Green's SCOTLAND (1886):

"A young man named MacLeod had been hunting one day in the Royal Forest. A favorite hound of the king's having attacked MacLeod, was killed by him. The king soon heard of the slaughter of his favourite, and was exceedingly angry-so much so, that MacLeod was condemned to death. The gibbet was erected on Craig Choinnich, i.e. Kenneth's Craig. As there was less of justice than revenge in the sentence, little time was permitted ere it was carried into execution. The prisoner was led out by the north gate of the castle. The king, in great state, surrounded by a crowd of his nobles, followed in procession. Sorrowing crowds of the people came after, in wondering amazement. As they moved slowly on, an incident occurred which arrested universal attention. A young woman with a child in her arms came rushing through the crowd, and, throwing herself before the king, pleaded with him to spare her husband's life, though it should be at the expense of all they possessed.

Her impassioned entreaties were met with silence. Malcolm was not to be moved from his purpose of death. Seeing that her efforts to move the king were useless, she made her way to her husband, and throwing her arms around him, declared that she would not leave him-she would die with him. Malcolm was somewhat moved by the touching scene. Allen Durward, noticing the favourable moment, ventured to put in the suggestion that it was a pity to hang such a splendid archer. 'A splendid archer, is he?' replied the king; 'then he shall have his skill tried.'

So he ordered that MacLeod's wife and child should be placed on the opposite side of the river; something to serve as a mark was to be placed on the child's head. If MacLeod succeeded in hitting the mark, without injuring his wife or child, his life was to be spared, otherwise the sentence was to be carried into immediate execution.  Accordingly the young wife and he child were put across the river, and placed on Tomghainmheine..... the width of the Dee was to be the distance separating MacLeod from his mark.

He asked for a bow and TWO arrows; and having examined each with the greatest care, he took his position. The eventful moment came; the people gathered round him and stood in profound silence. On the opposite side of the river his wife stood, the central figure of a crowd of eager bystanders, tears glistening on her cheeks as she gazed alternately at her husband and child in dumb emotion.

MacLeod took aim; but his body shook like an aspen leaf in the evening breeze. This was a trial for him for harder than death. Again he placed himself in position; but he trembled to such a degree that he could not shoot, and, turning to the king, who stood near, he said in a voice scarcely articulate in its suppressed agony, 'This is hard.' But the king relented not: so the third time he fell into the attitude; and as he did so, almost roared, 'This is hard!' Then, as if all his nervousness and unsteadiness had escaped through the cry, he let the arrow fly. It struck the mark. The mother seized her child, and in a transport of joy seemed to devour it with kisses; while the pent-up emotion of the crowd found vent through a loud cry of wonder and triumph, which repeated itself again and again as the echoes rolled slowly away among the neighboring hills. The king now approached MacLeod, and, after confirming his pardon, inquired why he, so sure of hand and keen of sight, had asked for TWO arrows?

'Because,' replied MacLeod, 'had I missed the mark, or hurt my wife or child, I was determined NOT TO MISS YOU.'

The king grew pale, and turned away as if undecided what to do. His better nature prevailed; so he again approached MacLeod, and with kindly voice and manner told him that he would receive him into his bodyguard, and that he would be well provided for.

'Never,' answered the undaunted Celt. 'After the painful proof to which you have just put my heart, I could never love you enough to serve you faithfully.'

The king in amazement cried out, 'Thou art a Hardy! and as Hardy thou Art, so Hardy thou shalt be.' From that time, MacLeod went under the appellation of Hardy, while his descendants were termed the MacHardys, Mac being the Gaelic word for son."