Blind Harry is renowned as the earliest surviving source for the events of the life of William Wallace, the Scottish patriot and freedom-fighter, and hero of the film Braveheart. Harry lived c1440-c1493, and wrote The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace around 1477, 170 years after the death of Wallace in 1305. He was also variously known as Blin Hary and Henry the Minstrel.
Blind Harry's words were made more accessible by a translation written by William Hamilton of Gilbertfield (c1665-1751) published in 1722. In this form they met the notice of poets such as Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Robert Southey, John Keats, and William Wordsworth. It was also a prime source for Randall Wallace in his writing of the novel Braveheart, the book on which the popular Hollywood film was based. Most recently, in 1998, Elspeth King published Hamilton's text amended for modern readers, as Blind Harry's Wallace.
Little is known about Blind Harry's life, but a few snippets of information are available. One source is the Lord High Treasurer's Accounts of 1473-1492, which recorded payments to him for performances at the court of James IV. Historian John Major also wrote about Harry in 1518. These sources differed on whether or not he was blind from birth, but Harry almost certainly seems to have had a military background.
Harry's depiction of Wallace has been criticised by Major and others as being full of inaccuracies, but the minstrel claimed it was based on a book by John Blair, Wallace's boyhood friend and personal chaplain. Elspeth King maintained that despite any inaccuracies, Harry's patriotic and nationalistic portrayal was to ensure Wallace's continuing reputation as a hero. Burns acknowledged his debt to Harry, incorporating the following lines from Harry's Wallace in his own poem Robert Bruce's Address to his Army at Bannockburn (Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled):
A false usurper sinks in every foe
And liberty returns with every blow
which Burns described as a "a couplet
worthy of Homer
Whatever one's views of Blind Harry's work, it must surely be acknowledged that it has played a major part in ensuring the continuation of the Wallace legend to the present day.
Blind Harry's Wallace, William Hamilton of Gilbertfield (Introduced by Elspeth King), Luath Press Ltd, 2000