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Robert Bruce

Updated on December 13, 2016

Robert Bruce, (1274-1329), King of Scotland. The Bruces were of Norman origin, and Bruce's grandfather, with John de Baliol, had claimed the Scottish throne in 1290. On the death of his father in 1304, Bruce became sixth lord of Annandale. At the beginning of his career he supported Edward I, hoping, probably, to secure his father's accession to the Scottish throne. As Earl of Carrick he swore fealty to the English monarch at Berwick, and in 1297 renewed his oath at Carlisle. Shortly after this, however, he served under William Wallace, but after the capitulation of Irvine he was again at peace with Edward. In 1298 he rebelled once more, and burned the castle of Ayr, whilst five years later he fought on the English side, during the siege of Stirling.

From then onward, however, Bruce vacillated no longer; he was soon to become prime champion of Scotland's independence. His secret alliance with Lamberton, Bishop of St Andrews, undertaken as a means of defeating Edward's ambitious projects, was an important step in his career. Of all the clergy, Lamberton had been the most loyal supporter of Wallace, and was therefore, after his meeting with Bruce, a firm bond of union between the two leaders in the national movement. But the turning-point in Bruce's career was the murder of the Red Comyn in 1306, before the high altar of the church of the Friars Minor, Dumfries. Bruce had probably made some compact with Comyn, who was de Baliol's nephew, as to their respective claims to the throne. While they were together in the church, a violent quarrel ensued, and Bruce fatally stabbed his rival. Bruce gathered his adherents together, and two months later was crowned king by the Bishop of St Andrews at Scone. He now had to reckon with both the English and the Comyn party. In June 1306 he was surprised by the Earl of Pembroke, commander-in-chief of the English army, in Methven wood, and had to seek refuge in the moors of Athole. Two months later he suffered a second defeat, near the head of Loch Tay, at the hands of the Comyn's uncle, Lord of Lorn. Leaving his queen at Kildrummie Castle, Aberdeenshire, he was obliged to lead a wanderer's life in the western Highlands, until he managed to escape to the island of Rathlin (off Antrim, Ireland). Many tales survive of the hairbreadth escapes of Bruce and of his courage throughout all difficulties.

Scotland shall remain to Robert, King of Scots, and his heirs free and undivided from England, without any subjection, servitude, claim or demand whatsoever.

Meanwhile his friends at home gave him up for dead, and Edward proceeded with his work of vengeance. Bruce's lands were confiscated and he and his followers were excommunicated. But Bruce's days of hardship and defeat were nearly over. Early in 1307 he landed at Carrick, and though he was forced for a time to take refuge in the hills of Ayrshire, he rallied his forces, and at Loudon Hill subdued the English under the Earl of Pembroke. His final success was assured by the death, in 1307, of his formidable adversary, King Edward. By 1311, Bruce was in possession of all the great castles, with the exception of Stirling. This stronghold, too, fell into his hands after his memorable defeat of the English at Ban-nockburn (1314), in which his superior generalship deprived the enemy of their huge numerical advantage. In 1318 Bruce captured Berwick, which was henceforth a Scottish, instead of an English, frontier town. On the accession of Edward III, the Scots made wide incursions into the northern counties of England, but the Treaty of Northampton (1328) ended hostilities. By its chief clause 'Scotland shall remain to Robert, King of Scots, and his heirs free and undivided from England, without any subjection, servitude, claim or demand whatsoever'.

The last two years of Bruce's life were passed at Cardross Castle, on the Firth of Clyde. He died of leprosy, which he had contracted during his campaigns. On his death his heart was extracted, embalmed, and given to Sir James Douglas, who was to have carried it to Jerusalem, but who died whilst fighting the Moors in Spain. The relic was finally deposited in the monastery of Melrose, whilst Bruce's body was buried in the abbey church at Dunfermline. Bruce is remembered as Scotland's national hero. He had undoubted military genius, and possessed a strength of character and an ability to inspire devotion which brought him loyal followers even in defeat.


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    • saif113sb profile image


      7 years ago

      Reading history such as this is always horrifying, the constant wars and deaths. Imagine living there, in those days...For a while, as I was reading, I felt as though I was there. A good read.


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