Robert the Bruce

Statue of the Bruce at Bannockburn Google images

Statue of the Bruce at Bannockburn
Google images

Born on 11 July 1274, Robert de Brus was the heir apparent to the Lordship of Annandale, through his grandfather, the 5th Lord, and his father, the 6th Lord. The Lordship of Annandale were established in 1124 by David Fitzmalcolm, when he was named King David I of Scotland, to Robert de Brus, who was a member of the King’s retinue. Originating in the Brix region of France, the de Brus’ were related to William Longsword, Great Great grandfather of William, Duke of Normandy. The Lordship included several lands through England, and Scotland with the seat being in the central border region of what is now Dumfries and Galloway.

Robert 1st Lord Annandale later parted company with David, following the death of Henry I, when David sided with the claim of Matilda to the English throne, rather than that of her cousin King Stephen. David used the unrest caused by ‘the Anarchy’ to settle the claim of Northumberland on his son, a claim which had previously been settled on the Church of Durham, by the late King Henry.
David ignored a plea from Lord Annandale to remember how the Normans had fought and gained lands in Scotland for his brother, from King Alexander at the turn of the century. As a result, Robert and his eldest son Adam fought against David in the 1138 Battle of the Standard. His younger son Robert, fought for the Scottish and was named as heir by his father to the Lordship of Annandale.

Following the death of King Alexander III of Scotland, in 1286. The only heir was his three year old granddaughter, Margaret. Scotland was ruled through regents while she was a child, and in 1290, following her betrothal to five year old Edward of Caernarvon, heir apparent of the English throne, son of Edward I, she made her way to Scotland, to take up her throne. However she died on the journey throwing the Scottish succession into disarray. The council of auditors sensing civil war between the rivals, requested Edward I make a choice of the best contender to take the throne, with 14 possible candidates, in ‘the Great Cause’ of 1290. Most of these contenders had spurious claim on the Scottish throne, but there were four main candidates, all descendants of David I through the daughters of his eldest son, Henry Earl of Huntingdon. Amongst the four were John of Hastings, his brother, Floris V of Holland, their cousin John Balliol and their cousin Robert de Brus, 5th Lord Annandale, later known as Bruce the Competitor.

Grave of King Robert near what was the High Altar of the Abbey church of Dunfermeline, now the parish church. Google images

Grave of King Robert near what was the High Altar of the Abbey church of Dunfermeline, now the parish church.
Google images

In 1292 Balliol was declared King of Scotland through right of primogeniture, although Bruce’s claim had been the stronger with right of proximity of blood. Edward I, hoping to show that Scotland was not a separate kingdom, with entitlement to self-rule, rather a feudal land of England, supported Balliol’s claim, and as part of his coercive role as Lord Superintendent of Scotland, demanded fealty of John and of Scotland. He soon made demands that as vassals of England, Scotland must prepare to fight against the French in the proposed war he was leading to, demanding that Scottish troops be trained, and control of all Castles be turned over to England and his crown. Robert de Bruce refused to swear allegiance to King Edward, and resigned his Lordship of Annandale, the Earldom of Carrick and his claim to the Scottish throne to his son, Robert, the 6th Lord Annandale, who days later bestowed on his own son Robert the title of Earl of Carrick, which was his late wife’s family title.

In 1294, Edward summoned Balliol and demanded the raising of Scottish troops and the supply of funds with which to assist his invasion. On his return to Scotland a war council was convened and emissaries of Scotland were sent to approach the French King and warn him of Edward’s impending invasion. In return for the information, King Phillip IV agreed to an alliance by which, if England invaded France, Scotland would invade England and the French would support the Scots. This treaty ‘the Auld Alliance’ would be re-negotiated and updated many times over the next two hundred and fifty years. As a separate treaty, King Eric II of Norway agreed to lease a number of warships to the French-Scottish cause for a period of four months of the year for as long as the war lasted between France and England.

Edward discovered the negotiations in 1295 and began to make his preparations for invasion, taking control of Carlisle Castle from Balliol and appointing Bruce as Governor. He also demanded the castles of Roxburgh, Jedburgh and Berwick be turned over, and sent a fleet north to meet with a militia of 200 tenants in Newcastle. In response, John hastily summoned all able bodied men to raise arms and muster by 11th March. The majority of the nobles ignored the summons, including Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick, whose lands had been seized by Balliol and given to John Comyn earlier that year. In March 1296, the Army of King Edward I invaded Scotland, following the Sack of Berwick. Balliol and Comyn attacked Carlisle Castle, which was defended by the two Bruces. father and son, fighting on the side of the English. The Battle of Dunbar led to a defeat of the Scottish, and the abdication of Balliol in July. Edward had the Stone of Destiny removed from Scone Palace, preventing the traditional crowning ceremony of any further Kings in Scotland, and convened a Parliament in Newcastle at which he forced all the Scottish Lords to swear allegiance to the English Crown.

Cast of Robert the Bruce's skull Google Images

Cast of Robert the Bruce’s skull
Google Images

The following year, 1297 saw the rise of William Wallace, leading some of those same Scottish nobles in revolt against the English monarch. Wallace was named guardian of Scotland following his victory at Stirling Bridge and various successful raids into the North of England. One ‘defeat’ led to the Scottish capitulation of Irvine, at which the young Bruce was present. A document exists to show the signed terms of the capitulation, allegedly brought about by the two opposing armies laying camp on opposite banks of the Loch, and being within earshot of each other, when the Scottish Nobles to the North began to bicker amongst themselves and eventually got so loud and fractious that the English got up and left in disgust. By this it seems that the young Earl of Carrick and future Scottish King had grown tired of his allegiance to Edward, and had been listening to his grandfather’s advisors, leading him to join the rebels. He did however, following the Capitulation, once again swear allegiance to Edward.
In July 1298, Edward retaliated leading his troops into battle at Falkirk and securing a victory at which point Wallace resigned. Robert the Bruce and John Comyn were awarded joint guardianship of Scotland, succeeding Wallace, but unease and distrust lingered between the two men. William Lamberton was appointed a neutral third as a result. In this revolt the senior Bruce, Lord Annandale had chosen Carlisle and remained away from involvement, but his son had joined the Scottish side once again.

In 1299, Edward returned to England, victorious yet not having completely crushed Scottish rebellion and bid for independence. He led further campaigns in Scotland in the following years, leading to a negotiated truce between the two nations in 1302, which was subsequently broken, leading to the siege at Stirling in 1304. When the Castle fell to the English, the Scottish nobles were once again forced to surrender and pay homage to Edward. In 1305, Wallace was captured near Glasgow and executed in London in August.

There appears to have been a level of mistrust between Bruce and Edward, with the King rewarding his service with additional lands, yet revoking them shortly afterwards, and issuing warnings of oath. On the whole it appears Bruce’s allegiance was neither to England nor to the Scottish King, Balliol and his Comyn relatives. His allegiance seemed more to his own rights as contender to the throne and for the preservation of his family and their titles and inheritance. He seemed perfectly willing to fight anybody who threatened those rights, whichever flag they marched under. He had joined with the English King to fight the Scottish one who secured his throne and removed his other rights of estate. He fought Edward when he threatened Bruce’s home.

John Comyn, Bruce’s adversary and main rival for the throne, following the abdication of John Balliol, Comyn’s uncle, allegedly offered Robert the Bruce a deal, whereby he would give up his own claim to the throne, in return for Bruce’s Carrick and Annandale lands, should Bruce lead an uprising against Edward. A signed deal was apparently made between the two. Comyn however, sent word to Edward, while Bruce was at the English court, of Bruce’s part in the arrangement, hoping that Edward would arrest him, leaving the way clear for Comyn to take the lot. The Bruce was however warned of Comyn’s plan, and Edward’s intention to have him arrested before he could leave, by his old friend, Ralph de Monthermer, Edward’s son in law, who sent him by messenger, twelve pence and a pair of spurs. Robert took the hint, and managed to escape in the night with one of his squires. He attended a pre-arranged meeting with Comyn in the Chapel of Greyfriars Monastery in Dumfries where he exposed his deceit and the pair came to blows. During this fight, Bruce succeeded in killing Comyn, an act for which he later sought and was granted absolution. Nonetheless he was subsequently excommunicated by the Pope, on request of Edward, hearing of Comyn’s murder. Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick, 7th Lord Annandale, was crowned King of Scotland six weeks later in July 1306.

His own campaign against the English continued, with the Battle of Methven and a surprise ambush at Strathfillan. His brother Neil managed to escape with the women and children, although they were later captured and imprisoned; Neil was executed. Edward I died in July 1306 and Bruce and his remaining brothers escaped for the winter, although not much is known of his whereabouts during those months. In February 1307, the brothers, along with the Earl of Lennox, Sir James Douglas and Sir Neil Campbell returned and dividing into two groups began to attack the remaining Comyn family power base. Thomas and Alexander Bruce were captured and executed quite quickly, Edward Bruce was left to consolidate positions around Galloway, whilst Robert continued his campaign against the English under Edward II and the Comyn allies, until by March 1309 he controlled everything north of the river Tay in Dundee and convened his first Parliament in St Andrews.

Casket containing the heart of Robert the Bruce, Melrose Abbey Google images

Casket containing the heart of Robert the Bruce, Melrose Abbey
Google images

By 1314, Bruce had successfully claimed Dumbarton, Perth and Linlithgow. Edward Bruce had laid siege to Stirling Castle, Philip de Mowbray agreeing a surrender if not relieved by June. Simultaneously James Douglas took Roxburgh and Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray took Edinburgh. Robert quelled the remaining uprisings on the Isle of Man, taken in 1312. Eight years of conflict ending with the victory against the English at the Battle of Bannockburn secured Scotland’s independence. But Robert wasn’t finished. In 1315 he led Scotland’s armies into Ireland, using the support of the Irish King of Tyrone, Donal O’ Neil, and the descent of his wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, to raise a new front against England. The Irish crowned Edward Bruce High King of Ireland in 1316. But support from the Southern Irish Lords was not forthcoming. They didn’t see a difference between being ruled by the Scottish or the English, and had suffered years of famine and pillaging from both. In 1318, this culminated in the Battle of Faughart, leading to a defeat of the Bruces and the death of Edward. It also put an end to Robert’s plans for a united Scotland and Ireland and a second front against the English.

In 1328, the Pope reversed the excommunication on King Robert, who was by now seriously ill. A formal truce was signed by Edward III, the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton. It isn’t clear what Robert was actually suffering, historians believe it is possible it was leprosy, tuberculosis, syphilis, or motor neurone disease. Contemporary writers of the time describe how the King was too ill to move, only to talk. He did not however isolate himself from friends, family or court which suggests his illness was thought not to be communicable. In 1329, King Robert the Bruce made one last trip to his Carrick seat at Turnberry to see his son and his new wife. He then made a pilgrimage by litter to the Shrine of St Ninian at Whithorn, staying at Glenluce Abbey in Monreith. After staying a few days, the Bruce made his way home, by sea to Cardross.
Between April and June, Robert deteriorated fast. He convened a final council to leave his instruction, from his bed, and made several generous bequests of money, land and plate to religious houses, for the prayers for his soul. On June 7th 1329, the great Scottish King Robert I, The Bruce, died. He was buried in Dunfermline Abbey beside his wife. His heart was removed before his internment and placed in a silver casket which was carried by James Douglas on the crusade that Robert had pledged to complete, but never managed. Douglas however was unable to join a crusade proper, due to a level of peace maintained in the Holy Land at the time, and so he joined the Spanish battle of Teba in Grenada against the Moors.

Douglas allegedly threw the casket containing the heart of the Bruce towards the line of the enemy shouting “Now pass thou onward before us, as thou wert wont, and I will follow thee or die.” The Moors subsequently slayed Douglas and his men. The few survivors managed to locate both Douglas’ body and the casket, bringing them home to Scotland where Robert’s heart was laid to rest at Melrose Abbey, as per his requests.In 1920, archaeologists discovered the casket but reburied it, without marking the place. In 1996, the casket was re-discovered, and analysis confirmed it contained human tissue and was approximately the right age to be that of the Bruce. Again the heart was re-interred in Melrose Abbey as per the Bruce’s wishes. In 1818, workmen building a new Parish Church on the remains of the Abbey of Dunfermline came across a vault, in the place of the High Altar. Subsequent investigation revealed of the remains, which were double coated in lead, and interred in what remained of an old Oak coffin, showed the remains to be that of a tall man, around six feet one inch tall. He had a shroud of cloth of gold and the replication of a crown. A plaster cast was taken of his skull, and the chest upon examination showed the sternum had been cracked to facilitate the removal of his heart.

Knowing the location of the Bruce’s burial, the solid construction of the vault, and the remains of a fine tomb, alabaster and gold leaf, some of which survives in the National Museum in Scotland, that the Bruce was known to have commissioned from Chartres prior to his death, the remains were confirmed to be those of the Bruce. They were put on display for the public and then reinterred in their vault, in a new lead coffin, filled with pitch to preserve the skeleton. The Eastern part of the Abbey was rebuilt to form the parish church where the Bell Tower now stands on this site, and is picked out with the Bruce’s name in stone to mark the position of his tomb. A commemorative window was added to the North Transept on the 700th anniversary of his birth. The Bruce is also commemorated with Statues at Bannockburn, Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle, the latter alongside one of William Wallace. The Bruce is also depicted on the twenty pound notes issued by the Clydesdale bank, showing that seven hundred years after successfully ridding Scotland of the English, the Bruce remains the true Scottish hero.

Phoebe