Robert the Bruce
warcraft be this: footsoldiers, mountains and marshy ground; and let her woods,
her bow and spear serve for barricades. Let menace lurk in all her narrow places
among her warrior bands, and let her plains so burn with fire that her enemies
Crying out in the night, let her men be on their guard,
and her enemies in confusion will flee from hungerís sword. Surely it will be
so, as weíre guided by Robert, our lord.í
Scotlandís Strategy of Guerrilla Warfare ( c.1308)
Who was Robert Bruce?
Bruce was descended from ancestors in Brix, in Flanders. In 1124, King David
I granted the massive estates of Annandale to his follower, Robert de Brus, in
order to secure the border. The name, Robert, was very common in the family.
Born in 1274, Bruce was
the grandson of another Robert Bruce, the failed claimant of the Scottish crown
in 1290/2, and the son of yet another Robert Bruce. His mother, Marjorie,
Countess of Carrick, brought him an ancient Gaelic lineage. Descended from the
Gaelic Earls of Carrick, she was a formidable operator who apparently held
Bruceís father captive after he returned from crusade, refusing to release him
until he agreed to marry her.
Brought up at Turnberry
Castle, Bruce was a product of his lineage, speaking Gaelic, Scots and Norman
French. In 1295 he became Earl of Carrick and was no doubt convinced of his
families entitlement to Scotlandís crown.
Claimant of the Crown
Robert Bruceís struggle for the Scottish crown wasnít entirely an enterprise
born of patriotism, and, although no doubt his attitude changed over the years,
Bruceís motives do appear to be slightly more self-serving than that. The
ascension of his family to royalty seemed more central to his long-term plans
than Scottish liberation from English rule. The facts speak for themselves. Both
Bruce and his father supported Edward Iís invasion of Scotland in 1296, hoping
to gain the crown after Balliolís fall. They were understandably disappointed
when Edward proceeded to install himself as king.
In 1297, Bruce, encouraged
by Bishop Wishart, raised the standard of revolt at Irvine (the reason why he
was absent at the Battle of Stirling Bridge). However, the rising failed and
Bruce, rather than join Wallace after the Scots victory at Stirling Bridge, kept
a low profile until he could determine what the English reaction would be.
Bruce was also absent at
the Battle of Falkirk, in which Wallaceís army was devastated, but seems to
have made an effort to help by burning the town of Ayr in order to deny it to
the English as they returned south.
In 1298, after the Scots defeat at Falkirk, Bruce and John Comyn replaced
Wallace as Guardians of Scotland. They soon quarrelled however, Comyn being a
supporter of Balliolís claim to the throne, and Bruce was Ďreplacedí a
year later. He continued to fight on until it seemed Balliol was about to
return, then, once again, he submitted to the English king, hoping for
recognition of his claim to the throne.
So Bruce wasnít adverse
to switching sides in pursuit of his goal, and this wasnít irregular practice
amongst noblemen in pursuit of power at the time. The anti-English rhetoric of
the Declaration of Arbroath, 22 years later - ďFor as long as a hundred of us
remain alive, we shall never on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of
the EnglishĒ - was never Bruceís rhetoric, for he had appealed to English
lordship on more than one occasion.
1304 was a crucial year
for Bruce. His fatherís death made him the Bruce claimant to the throne, and
the capitulation of the Scots in the face of English attacks ended hopes of a
Balliol restoration. Edward I had conquered Scotland, but he wasnít expected
to live much longer. Bruce started to seek allies.
On 11th February 1306
Robert Bruce met John ĎThe Redí Comyn at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries. We
donít know what they discussed, but an argument flared, swords were drawn, and
Bruce stabbed Comyn before the high altar. Comynís murder is not believed to
have been premeditated, however Bruce was excommunicated and outlawed, whilst
Scotland was plunged into civil war.
There was no way back,
Bruce realised he would have to start his rising, that force would now take
precedence over diplomacy. Within six weeks Bishop Wishart gave him absolution
and he was hurriedly crowned king at Scone on March 25th 1306
The Fugitive, Outlawed,
It was disastrous start to his reign. Bruce had provoked civil war as well
as war with England. One of his brothers was killed, whilst his sisters, wife
and daughter were captured and imprisoned. In June 1306, Bruceís disorganised
forces were defeated at Methven and he fled to the Gaelic west, hiding on
Rathlin Island, off Ireland, and in the Hebrides Islands. It is here that he
passes into legend as the dispossesed king, hiding in the mountains and in
caves, suffering hardship for the good of the nation. However, at this point
Bruce was by no means the peopleís hero in Scotland. Very few bishops or
nobles had been at his inauguration, and there is evidence to suggest that he
threatened many his countrymen into supporting him.
It was then that Bruce changed tactics, and success followed. He turned out to
be a natural guerrilla commander, winning small victories at Glen Trool and
Loudon Hill. In 1308 he defeated the Comyn faction at Inverurie and took
Aberdeen, establishing control over the Kingdom north of Perth and Dundee.
He ruthlessly crushed
those who opposed him, forcing them into exile, but he also knew how to reward
those who came over to his side. The tide seemed have turned in Robert's favour
and many of the common people of Scotland now turned to him as their only hope
of salvation from English tyranny.
Luck was also on his side.
Edward I, furious at Bruce, died within sight of Scotland on a march north to
crush the rebels. His successor, Edward II, never a match for his father, sought
a two year truce with Bruce. By 1313 Robert was powerful enough to issue an
ultimatum to the remaining Balliol supporters - to join him or forfeit their
Bruceís commanders now
embarked on daring raids on the remaining English garrisons. Sir James Douglas
surprised Roxburgh castle, inspiring Thomas, Earl of Moray, to take Edinburgh
castle by stealth. In England, Edward II had to react. In 1314 he led a massive
invasion force into Scotland, where they met the Scots army at the now famous
Bannockburn, near Stirling.
Bruce's body is buried in
Dunfermline Abbey, whilst his heart is at Melrose Abbey in the borders. It is
buried with the inscription -
Bruce had chosen his ground carefully at Bannockburn,
in the battle that ensued, on the 23rd and 24th of June, Bruce won a tremendous
victory over a vast English army. Edward II was nearly caught up in the
catastrophe, and only just escaped. Here was perhaps his greatest hour and the
most enduring memory of Robert the Bruce - fighting for his nation's
independence against a hugely superior English force and winning, just as
Wallace had done at Stirling Bridge 17 years earlier.
Bruce was now in total control of Scotland, however, he still hadn't achieved
his aim. Scotland's independence and Bruce's monarchy still hadn't been
recognised by the English or the Pope, and this was essential if his rule was to
have any credence in Christendom as a whole.
Edward Bruceís invasion of Ireland 1315-18
The Scots opened a second front when Robert's brother, Edward, invaded Ireland.
Robert appealed to the native Irish to rise against Edward IIís rule, and some
have seen this as a cynical manipulation of Gaelic sentimentalism. The Dark Age
Kings of Alba had been intensely proud of their Gaelic-Irish origin and Bruce
wrote as king asking them to free Ďour nationí (meaning both Scots and
Irish) from English rule. Edward Bruce may also have had a reasonable claim to
the Irish high kingship. He was supported by Irelandís most powerful king,
Domnall Ua Neill, a kinsman of Robert and Edward through their maternal
The invasion, however, was a disaster, as famine blighted Ireland, and
Edwardís bid for the high kingship ended when he was slain in 1318. The whole
expedition does show, however, just how ambitious the Bruce family were. The
attack on English-ruled Ireland could be perceived as ploy to split English
forces and, hence, better defend Scotland, but Edward Bruce did have a serious
ambition to rule Ireland as the King. Would the Bruces have stopped at Ireland
and Scotland? Or would Wales have been their next target, in a sort of United
Diplomacy & Real Politick.
On the diplomatic front, the Scots appealed to the papacy through the famous
'Declaration of Arbroath', but to no avail. The papacy ignored the Declaration
and English recognition wasnít forthcoming. Bruce, by now quite ill with a
form of leprosy, accepted a 13 year truce with Edward II in the knowledge he
would surely die before its end.
However, another stroke of luck helped Robert to fulfill his ambitions. In 1328
England fell into crisis after the deposition and murder of Edward II. Seizing
the moment, Bruce launched an invasion of northern England, threatening to annex
it to Scotland. His challenge
couldnít be ignored and the Edward IIIís government was forced to recognise
Bruceís kingship and Scotlandís independence. A year later, Bruce died.
ĎA noble hart may haiff nane es...Gyff fredome failyheí.