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Scottish Independence: Robert the Bruce

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Scottish Independence: Robert the Bruce

Robert the Bruce

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Robert the Bruce - Early Life:

Robert the Bruce was born July 11, 1274, to Robert de Brus, 6th Lord of Annandale and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick. Raised in a mix of Anglo-French and Gaelic cultures, Robert became Earl of Carrick upon his mother's death in 1292. The same year, he witnessed English King Edward I award the Scottish crown to John Balliol over his grandfather Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale. Displeased with the decision, Robert viewed John as a usurper and refused to swear fealty to the new king. After traveling to Ireland in 1294, he married Isabella of Mar (d. 1296) the following year.

Robert the Bruce - The Wars of Independence Begin:

With the outbreak of war between John and Edward in 1296, Robert initially backed the English king and swore fealty in August 1296. This proved short-lived and the following year, he switched his allegiance and joined the Scots. Continuing to vacillate, Robert and several other nobles returned to Edward's camp on July 7 through the Capitulation of Irvine. In the wake of the Scottish victory at Stirling Bridge in September, he again defected and attacked English forces in Annandale and Ayr. The defeat led Edward to bring a large army north the next year which defeated Sir William Wallace and the Scots at Falkirk.

As Edward worked to consolidate his position after the victory, he saw Robert as a one the rebelling nobles who could be won back to his cause. As a result, Annandale and Carrick were among the few lands not reassigned to his followers. Despite this, Robert continued to oppose Edward and was made joint Guardian of Scotland with John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch in 1298. A key supporter of John Balliol and also possessing a claim to the throne, Comyn was Robert's foremost enemy in Scotland. As the two men proved unable to work together, William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, was also made a guardian in 1299.

This arrangement continued to prove untenable and by 1301 all three had resigned in favor of Sir John de Soules. Though Edward campaigned in Scotland, he proved unable to subjugate the country. After agreeing to a nine-month truce in early 1302, he wooed many of the nobles, including Robert, back into his fold. Marrying Elizabeth de Burgh that year, Robert was compelled to watch as Edward effectively took control of Scotland over the next two years. Becoming Lord of Annandale in 1304 after his father's death, Robert possessed significant land and wealth in Scotland.

Robert the Bruce - Death in Dumfries & King of Scots:

Due to his history of switching sides, Robert was viewed with some skepticism by both the English and Scots. While Edward had concerns about the Scottish noble plotting against him, Robert's ambitions north of the border were blocked by Comyn. Despite this animosity, some sources indicate that in 1305, Robert agreed to forfeit his lands to Comyn in exchange for the latter's support for his claim to the Scottish throne. In early 1306, Robert, then at the English court, was warned by Ralph de Monthermer that Edward intended to have him arrested. Fleeing that night, Robert rode north.

Meeting with Comyn at Greyfriars Church in Dumfries on February 10, Robert accused him of treachery. The two men soon came to blows and Robert stabbed Comyn. Falling, he was finished by two of Robert's friends. Traveling to Glasgow, Robert immediately confessed and sought absolution from his friend Bishop Robert Wishart. This was granted and Wishart began rallying the clergy to the Bruce cause. Having set events motion by eliminating his rival, Robert asserted his claim to the throne and was crowned King of Scots at Scone on March 25. This was attended by the leading nobles and clergy of the realm.

Robert the Bruce - From Hiding to Victory:

Believing the murder of Comyn to have been planned, Edward wrote to the Pope seeking Robert's excommunication and began directing forces against him. As Robert raised his troops, he was also confronted by those loyal to the Comyns. In June, Robert was defeated at the Battle of Methven by the Earl of Pembroke. Following this defeat, he ordered his wife and family north, while he was nearly taken at Strathfillan. While Robert and his party were forced to flee to the island of Rathlin, his wife, daughter, and sisters were captured at Tain late in the year.

Returning to Scotland in February 1307, Robert arrived at Turnberry Castle and began a guerilla war against the English. Commencing his campaign, he beat Pembroke at Glen Trool and Loudoun Hill in March and May respectively. Though Edward had come north in 1307 to deal with Robert, he died on July 7 cutting the campaign short. With the English threat gone, Robert moved north to pacify the Highlands. After taking Inverlochy and Urquhart Castles, he burned those at Inverness and Nairn before being turned away at Elgin. Consolidating his hold, he planned a campaign against the Comyns for 1308.

Advancing, Robert defeated John Comyn, Earl of Buchan at the Battle of Inverurie in May 1308. Breaking the Comyn's power, the victory allowed him to commence the "Harrying of Buchan" which saw Robert's followers systematically eliminate Comyn's supporters. Moving west, Robert inflicted a similar fate upon Clan MacDougal which had aided the Comyns in the past. Having asserted royal power over the lands north of the River Tay, Robert called his first Parliament in 1309. Fully recognized as king, he also officially received the support of the church.

Over the next three years, Robert's forces pushed south taking Linlithgow, Dumbarton, and Perth. Scottish forces also raided the Isle of Man to prevent its use by the English. In 1314, Scottish troops laid siege to Stirling Castle while the Earl of Moray completed the daring capture of Edinburgh Castle. Spurred to action by the siege of Stirling Castle, the new English king, Edward II, marched north to its relief. As the English approached on June 23, Sir Henry de Bohun, nephew of the Earl of Hereford, spotted Robert riding in front of his troops and charged. The Scottish king, unarmored and armed with only a battle axe, turned and met Bohun's charge. Evading the knight's lance, Bruce cleaved Bohun's head in two with his axe. The next day, Robert led his army to a decisive victory over Edward at the Battle of Bannockburn. With the English fleeing south, Robert had effectively secured Scottish independence.

Robert the Bruce - Later Reign

With Scotland largely secured, Robert sought to create a greater Gaelic state by invading Ireland. While supported by the population of Ulster, this enterprise ultimately failed and resulted in the death of his brother, Edward Bruce, in 1318. Despite the defeat in Ireland, that year saw Robert capture the key border town of Berwick. With Scottish prestige on the rise, the country's nobles issued the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. Directed to Pope John XXII, it sought recognition for the nation as a kingdom and sought to overturn Robert's excommunication. In 1323, Robert was recognized as king by the Vatican and a truce was signed with England. Further recognition from abroad came in 1326, when France renewed its alliance with Scotland through the Treaty of Corbeil.

Having worked to reform Scottish laws, Robert achieved his ultimate goal in 1328 with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh–Northampton. Concluded with new King Edward III, it recognized Scottish independence, Robert the Bruce and his heirs as rightful rulers, and set the borders. Robert the Bruce died on July 7, 1329, barely a year after the treaty's signing. While his body was buried at Melrose Abbey, he directed that his heart be removed and taken on crusade. This request was later honored by Sir James Douglas. Robert's son by Elizabeth de Burgh took his place on the throne as David II.

Selected Sources

  • BBC: Robert the Bruce
  • The Bruce Trust
  • NNDB: Robert the Bruce

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