Robert Bruce (1274-1329)

Relation to me: 22nd great-grandfather

Introducing Robert the Bruce

This Robert Bruce, is popularly known as Robert the Bruce. He was the King of Scots from 1306 until his passing in 1329. Robert is one of the most famous warriors of his generation. He would eventually lead Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence against England, fighting successfully during his reign to regain Scotland’s place as an independent country and today is revered in Scotland as a national hero.

He was a descendant of Anglo-Norman and Gaelic nobles. His paternal grandfather,

(c) The University of Aberdeen; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Robert de Brus, the 5th Lord of Annandale


Robert de Brus, the 5th Lord of Annandale, was one of the claimants to the Scottish throne during the “Great Cause”. As the Earl of Carrick, our subject here had supported his family’s claim to the Scottish throne and had taken part in William Wallace’s revolt against Edward I of England.


In 1298, Robert would be appointed as a Guardian of Scotland alongside his chief rival for the throne, John Comyn, the Lord of Badenoch and William Lamberton, the Bishop of St. Andrews. Two years later in 1300, because of his quarrels with Comyn and the apparently imminent restoration of King John Balliol, Robert would resign. A couple of years after that, once he had submitted to Edward I he returned to “the king’s peace” and inherited his family’s claim to the Scottish throne upon his father’s death.

February of 1306 Robert had killed Comyn after an argument and was then excommunicated by the Pope. He would receive absolution from Robert Wishart by the Bishop of Glasgow. Robert would then move quickly to seize the throne and was then crowned the King of Scots on the 25th of March. Edward I’s forces defeated Robert in battle, forcing him to flee into hiding in Hebrides and Ireland before returning in 1307 to defeat an English army at Loudoun Hill and waged a highly successful guerrilla war against the English. Robert would defeat his other Scots enemies, destroying their strongholds and devastating their lands. Two years later, Robert held his first parliament. Then between 1310 and 1314 a series of military victories would win him control of a lot of Scotland. In 1314 the Battle of Bannockburn took place and Robert had defeated a much larger English army under Edward II of England. This would confirm the re-establishment of an independent Scottish kingdom. This battle had marked a significant turning point, with Robert’s armies now free to launch devastating raids throughout northern England, while he also extended his war against English to Ireland by sending an army to invade there and by appealing to the native Irish to rise against Edward II’s rule.

Despite Bannockburn and the capture of the final English stronghold at Berwick, Edward had refused to renounce his claim to the overlordship of Scotland in 1318. Two years later, the Scottish nobility submitted a Declaration of Arbroath to the Pope, John XXII, declaring that Robert was their rightful monarch and asserted Scotland’s status as an independent kingdom. Four years after this the Pope would recognize Robert as king of an independent Scotland. The Franco-Scottish alliance was renewed in the Treaty of Corbell two years later. A year later in 1327, the English deposed Edward II in favor of his son Edward III, and peace was concluded between Scotland and England with the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, by which Edward III had renounced all of his claims to sovereignty over Scotland.

In June of 1329, Robert would pass away, his body was buried in Dunfermline Abbey, while his heart was interred in Melrose Abbey.

Robert’s Background

Robert was one of ten children and the eldest son of Robert the Brus, the 6th Lord of Annandale, and Marjorie, the Countess of Carrick. His mother was by all accounts a formidable woman who, legend would have it, had kept Robert’s father as a captive until he had agreed to marry her. From his father, a royal lineage that would give him a claim to the Scottish throne. The Bruces also held substantial estates in Aberdeenshire, County Antrim, County Durham, Essex, Middlesex, and Yorkshire. Robert would later claim the Scottish throne as a fourth great-grandson of David I.

His Early Life


Ruins of Turnberry Castle


Robert’s date of birth is known but the place he was born is not as certain. It’s most likely that he was born at Turnberry Castle in Ayrshire, the head of his mother’s earldom. Not much else is known of Robert’s youth, but he probably had been brought up in a mixture of the Anglo-Norman culture of Northern England and Southeastern Scotland, and the Gaelic culture of Southwest Scotland and most of Scotland North of the River Forth. Annandale was thoroughly feudalized and a form of Northern Middle English, that would later develop into Scots language was spoken throughout the region. Carrick was historically an integral part of Galloway and through the Earls of Carrick would achieve some sort of feudalization. The society of Carrick at the end of the 13th Century would remain emphatically Celtic and Gaelic speaking. Growing up around these different languages, Robert would have most probably have become trilingual at an early age. He would have been schooled to speak, read and possibly write in the Anglo-Norman language of his Scots-Norman peers and his father’s family. He would have also spoken both the Gaelic language of his Carrick birthplace and his mother’s family and the early Scots language.

As an heir to a considerable estate and a pious layman, Robert would have also been given working knowledge of Latin, the language of charter lordship, liturgy and prayer. This would’ve afforded him and his brothers access to a basic education in law, politics, scripture, saints’ lives (vitae), philosophy, history and chivalric instruction and romance. It’s suggested in a number of ways that Robert had taken a personal pleasure in such learning and leisure. Barbour reported that Robert read aloud to his band of supporters in 1306 and recited from memory tales from the 12th century romance of Charlemagne, Fierabras, and also related examples from history such as Hannibal’s defiance of Rome.

As a king, Robert certainly had commissioned verse to commemorate Bannockburn and his subjects’ military deeds. Contemporary chroniclers, Jean Le Bel and Thomas Grey, would both assert that they’d read a history of his reign ‘commissioned by King Robert himself.’

In his final years, Robert would pay for Dominican friars to tutor his son David, for whom he would also purchase books. In a 1364 parliamentary briefing document it was asserted that Robert ‘used continually to read, or have read in his presences, the histories of ancient kings and princes, and how they conducted themselves in their times, both in wartime and in peacetime; from these he derived information about aspects of his own rule.’

Tutors for the young Robert and his brothers were most likely drawn from unbeneficed clergy or mendicant friars associated with churches patronized by their family. However, as growing noble youths, outdoor pursuits and great events would also have held a strong fascination for Robert and his brothers. They would have had masters drawn from their parents’ household to school them in the arts of horsemanship, swordsmanship, the joust, hunting and perhaps aspects of courtly behavior, including dress, protocol, speech, table etiquette, music and dance. Some of these may have been learned before the age of ten while they had served as pages in their father’s and grandfather’s household. Many of these personal and leadership skills were bound up within a code of chivalry. Robert’s chief tutor was surely a reputable, experienced knight, drawn from his grandfather’s crusade retinue. This grandfather, known to contemporaries as Robert ‘the Noble’ and to history as “Bruce the Competitor”, seems to have been an immense influence on the future king. Robert’s later performance in war certainly underlines his skills in tactics and single combat.


Lochmaben Castle ruins


His family would have moved often between castles of their lordships—Lochmaben Castle, the main castle of the Lordship of Annandale, and Turnberry and Loch Doon Castle, the castles of the


Loch Doon Castle ruins


earldom of Carrick. A significant and profound part of his childhood experience was when Edward and possibly the other Bruce brothers (Neil, Thomas and Alexander), had gained, through the Gaelic tradition of being fostered to allied Gaelic kindreds. This was a traditional practice in Carrick, Southwest and Western Scotland, the Hebrides and Ireland. A number of Carrick, Ayrshire, Hebridean and Irish families and kindreds affiliated with the Bruces, may have also experienced this. Robert’s foster-brother is referred to by Barbour as sharing Robert’s precarious existence as an outlaw in Carrick from 1307 until 1308. This influence has been cited as a possible explanation for Robert’s apparent affinity for ‘hobelar’ warfare, using smaller, sturdy, ponies in mounted raids, as well as for sea-power ranging from oared war-galleys (‘birlinns’) to boats.


Birlinn boat


According to historians, such as Barrow and Penman, it’s also likely that when Robert and Edward Bruce had reached the male age of consent of twelve years old and began their training for full knighthood, they were sent to reside for a period with one or more allied English noble families, such as the de Clares of Gloucester, or perhaps even in an English royal household. Sir Thomas Grey had asserted in his Scalacronica that in about 1292, Robert, then aged eighteen, was a ‘young bachelor of King Edward’s Chamber’. While there remains only a little firm evidence of his presence at Edward’s court on the 8th of April 1296, both Robert and his father were pursued through the English Chancery for their private household debts of sixty pounds by several merchants of Winchester. This raises the possibility that young Robert, on occasion was a resident in the royal center, which Edward I would visit frequently during his reign.

Robert’s first appearance in history is on the witness list of a charter that was issue


Margaret, Maid of Norway


d by Alexander Og MacDonald, the Lord of Islay. His name also appears in the company of the Bishop of Aryll, the vicar of Arran, a Kintyre clerk, his father, and a host of Gaelic notaries from Carrick.

The king to be, was just sixteen years old when Margaret, the Maid of Norway had died in 1290. It was also around this time that he would have been knighted and began to appear on the political stage in Bruce dynastic interest.

The Great Cause

His mother would pass away in the early part of 1292 and then in November, Edward I of England, on the behalf of the Guardians of Scotland, and following the “Great Cause”, awarded the vacant Crown of Scotland to his grandfather’s first cousin once removed, John Balliol. Almost immediately, Robert de Brus, the 5th Lord of Annandale, resigned his lordship of Annandale and transferred his claim to the Scottish throne to his son, Robert, the 6th Lord of Annandale, who then resigned his earldom of Carrick to his eldest son, Robert, the future king, so as to protect Bruce’s kingship claim while their middle lord (Robert the Bruce’s father) now held only English lands. While their bid for the throne had ended in failure, Balliol’s triumph had propelled the 18-year-old Robert onto the political stage in his own right.

The Bruces’ Regroup


John Balliol


Even after John had ascended, Edward would continue to assert his authority over Scotland and relations between the two kings soon deteriorated. The Bruces would side with King Edward against King John and his Comyn allies. He and his father both had considered John a usurper. Being against the objections of the Scots, Edward I had agreed to hear appeals on cases ruled on by the court of Guardians that had governed Scotland during the interregnum.

Further provocation would come in the case brought by Macduff, the son of Malcolm, the Earl of Fife, in which Edward would demand that John appear in person before the English Parliament to answer to the charges. King John would do so, but the final straw would be when Edward demanded that the Scottish magnates provide military service in England’s war against France. This was unacceptable. The Scots instead formed an alliance with France. The Comyn-dominated council, acting in the name of King John, summoned the Scottish host to meet at Caddonlee on the 11th of March. The Bruces and the Earls of Angus and March would refuse to do so. The Bruce family withdrew temporarily from Scotland. The Comyns would seize their estates in Annandale and Carrick, granting them to John Comyn, the Earl of Buchan. Edward I, thereupon provided a safe refuge for the Bruces, having appointed the Lord of Annandale to the command of Carlisle Castle in October of 1295. At some point in the early part of 1296, Robert married his first wife, Isabella of Mar, the daughter of Domhnall I, the Earl of Mar and his wife Helen.


Carlisle Castle


The Start of the Wars of Independence

A direct attack on the Bruces was nearly the first blow in the wars between Scotland and England. On the 26th of March in 1296, Easter Monday, seven Scottish Earls made a surprise attack on the walled city of Carlisle. This was not so much an attack against England as it was the Comyn Earl of Buchan and their faction attacking the Bruce enemies. Both Robert’s father and grandfather were at one time the Governors of the Castle and following the loss of Annandale to Comyn in 1295, it was their principle residence. Robert would have gained first-hand knowledge of the city’s defenses, the next time Carlisle was to be besieged, which would come in 1315, Robert would be leading the attack.

Edward I would respond to King John’s alliance with France and the attack on Carlisle by invading Scotland at the end of March 1296. He would take the town of Berwick in a particularly bloody attack upon flimsy palisades. At the Battle of Dunbar, the Scottish residence was effectively crushed. Edward deposed King John and placed him in the Tower of London, then installed Englishmen to govern the country. The campaign had been very successful, but the English triumph would only be temporary.


Battle of Dunbar


Although the Bruces by now were back in possession of Annandale and Carrick, in August of that year, Robert and his son, Robert were among more than 1500 Scots at Berwick. They would all swear an oath of fealty to King Edward I of England. When the Scottish revolt against King Edward I broke out in July of 1297, James Stewart, the 5th High Steward of Scotland, led into rebellion a group of disaffected Scots, including Robert Wishart, the Bishop of Glasgow, MacDuff, the son of the Earl of Fife, and the young Robert Bruce. The future king was now twenty-two and in joining the rebels he seems to have been acting independently of his father, who had taken no part in the rebellion and appears to have abandoned Annandale once more for the safety of Carlisle. It appears he had fallen under the influence of his grandfather’s friends, Wishart and Stewart, who had inspired him to resistance. With the outbreak of the revolt, Robert left Carlisle and made his way to Annandale, where he called together the knights of his ancestral lands.

According to the English chronicler Walter of Guisborough he addressed them with this:

“No man holds his own flesh and blood in hatred and I am no exception. I must join my own people and the nation in which I was born. I ask that you please come with me and you will be my councillors and close comrades.”

Urgent letters were then sent ordering that Bruce support Edward’s commander, John de Warenne, the 6th Earl of Surrey, of whom Bruce was related, in the summer of 1297. Instead of complying with these letters, Bruce continued to support the revolt against Edward I. That Robert was in the forefront of the fomenting rebellion, is shown in a letter written to Edward by Hugh Cressingham on the 23rd of July 1292, which reports the opinion that “if you had the Earl of Carrick, the Stewart of Scotland and his brother…you would think your business done.”

On the 7th of July, Robert and his friends would make terms with Edward through a treaty known as the Capitulation of Irvine. Scottish lords were not to serve beyond the sea against their will and were thus pardoned for their recent violence in return for swearing an allegiance to King Edward. The Bishop of Glasgow, James the Steward, and Sir Alexander Lindsay became sureties for Robert until he delivered his infant daughter, Marjorie, as a hostage, which he never did. When King Edward had returned to England


Battle of Falkirk


after his victory at the Battle of Falkirk, the Bruce’s possessions were excepted from the Lordships and lands that Edward assigned to his followers. The reason for this is not certain, but Fordun records that Robert fought for Edward at Falkirk, under the command of Antony Bek; Bishop of Durham, Annandale and Carrick. This participation is contested as no Bruce appears on the Falkirk roll of nobles present in the English army, and two 19th century antiquarians, Alexander Murison and George Chalmers have also stated that Bruce did not participate and that in the following month had decided to lay waste to Annandale and burn Ayre Castle, so as to prevent it from being garrisoned by the English.

Robert as Guardian

William Wallace had resigned as the Guardian of Scotland after his defeat at the Battle of Falkirk. He was then succeeded by Robert and John Comyn as joint Guardians, but they couldn’t see past their personal differences.


William Lamberton


In 1299, William Lamberton, the Bishop of St. Andrews would be appointed as the third, natural Guardian to try to maintain order between Robert and Comyn. In the next year, Robert finally resigned as joint Guardian and was then replaced by Sir Gilbert de Umfraville, the Earl of Angus. In May of 1301, Umfraville, Comyn, Lamberton all resigned as joint Guardians too and were then replaced by Sir John de Soules as soul Guardian. Soules was appointed largely because he was part of neither the Bruce or Comyn camps and was a patriot. He was an active Guardian and made renewed efforts to have King John returned to the Scottish throne.

In July of 1301, King Edward I would launch his sixth campaign into Scotland. Even though he captured the castles of Bothwell and Turnberry, he did little to damage the Scots’ fighting ability. The following year, in January he agreed to a nine-month truce. It was also around this time that Robert submitted to Edward, along with other nobles, even though he had been on the Scottish side up until then. Rumors were that John Balliol would return to regain the Scottish throne. Soules, who had probably been appointed by John, supported his return, as did most other nobles. This was no more than a rumor and nothing would come of it. In March of 1302, Robert had sent some letters to monks at Melrose Abbey, apologizing for having called tenants of monks to do service in his army when there had been no national call-up. He pledged that from then on he would “never again” require monks to serve unless it was to “the common army of the whole realm”, for national defense.

Within this same year Robert also married his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, the daughter of Richard de Burgh, the 2nd Earl of Ulster. By Elizabeth he would have four children. In the following year, Edward would invade again, reaching Edinburgh before marching on to Perth. He would stay in Perth until July, then he proceeded via Dundee, Brechin, and Montrose to Aberdeen, where he would arrive in August. From there he marched on, traveling through Moray to Badenoch before re-tracing his path back to the South to Dunfermline.

In February of 1304, with the country now under submission, all leading Scots, except for William Wallace had surrendered to King Edward. John Comyn, who was by now Guardian would also submit to Edward. Laws and liberties of Scotland were to be as they had been during the days of Alexander III. Any that needed alteration would be with the assent of King Edward and the advice of Scottish nobles. A few months later, in June, Robert de Brus, and William Lamberton had made a pact that bound them, each to the other, in “friendship and alliance against all men.” If one should break that pact he would forfeit to the other the sum of ten thousand pounds. This pact is often interpreted as a sign of patriotism even though both had already surrendered to the English. Homage was again obtained from the nobles and burghs, and a parliament was held to elect those who would meet later on that year with the English parliament so as to establish rules for governance of Scotland. The Earl of Richmond, Edward’s nephew, was to be head of the subordinate government of Scotland.

On the 23rd of August of 1305, while all of this was taking place, William Wallace was finally captured near Glasgow, and then was hanged, drawn and quartered in London. A month later, Edward ordered Robert to put the castle at Kildrummy, “in the keeping of such a man as he himself will be willing to answer for,” which suggests that King Edward had suspected Robert wasn’t entirely trustworthy and may have been plotting behind his back. However, an identical phrase appears in an agreement between Edward and his lieutenant and lifelong friend, Aymer de Valence. On the 10th of October a further sign of Edward’s distrust would occur when he revoked his gift of Sir Gilbert de Umfraville’s lands to Bruce that he had given to him only six months before. Robert, as the Earl of Carrick, and now the 7th Lord of Annandale, had held huge estates and property in Scotland and barony and some minor priorities in England, as well as a strong claim to the Scottish throne.

The Murder of John Comyn

Robert, like all of his family, had a complete belief in his right to the throne. However, his actions of supporting alternatively the English and Scottish armies had led to a great deal of distrust towards Robert among the “Community of the Realm of Scotland”. His ambition was further thwarted by John Comyn, who had been much more resolute in his opposition to the English.

John Comyn was the most powerful noble in Scotland and was related to many more powerful nobles, both within Scotland and in England, including relatives that had held the Earldoms of Buchan, Mar, Ross, Fife, Angus, Dunbar, and Strathearn. He also had relatives with Lordships in Kilbride, Kirkintilloch, Lenzie, Bedrule, and Scraesburgh and the Sheriffdoms of Banff, Dingwall, Wigtown and Aberdeen. Comyn also had a powerful claim to the Scottish throne through his descent from Donald III on his father’s side and David I on his mother’s. He was also a nephew of John Balliol.

According to Barbour and Fordoun, in the late summer of 1305, in a secret agreement sworn, signed and sealed, John Comyn agreed to forfeit his claim to the Scottish throne in favor of Robert upon receipt of Bruce lands in Scotland should an uprising occur that was led by Bruce. Whether the details of this agreement with Comyn are correct or not, King Edward moved to arrest Robert while he was still at English court. Fortunately for Robert, his friend, and Edward’s son-in-law, Ralph de Monthemer learned of Edward’s intentions and warned Robert by sending him twelve pence and a pair of spurs. Robert would take the hint and he and a squire fled the English court during the night. They made their way away from Scotland quickly. Again, according to Barbour, Comyn had betrayed his agreement with Robert to King Edward I and when Robert arranged a meeting for February 10th of 1306 with Comyn in the Chapel of Greyfriars Monastery in Dumfries and accused him of treachery, they came to blows.


Death of John Comyn


Robert would stab Comyn before the high altar. The Scotichronicon says that on being told that Comyn had survived the attack and was being treated, two of Bruce’s supporters, Roger de Kirkpatrick (uttering the words “I mark siccar” (“I make sure”)) and John Lindsay, would go back into the church and finished Robert’s work. Barbour however, tells no such story. Robert would assert his claim to the Scottish crown and began his campaign by force for independence of Scotland. Robert and his party would then attack Dumfries Castle where the English garrison would surrender. He then hurried from Dumfries to Glasgow. Here his friend and supporter, Bishop Robert Wishart had granted him absolution and subsequently adjured the clergy throughout the land to rally to Bruce. Nonetheless, Robert was excommunicated for his crime.

English records that are still in existence today tell a completely different story. They state that John Comyn’s murder was planned in an attempt to gain the throne of Scotland. For this reason, King Edward of England would write to the Pope and asked for his excommunication of Robert Bruce. No records have ever been found in England that state that King Edward had any knowledge of treachery by Robert Bruce before his acts against John Comyn. They do state though that King Edward didn’t hear of the murder of Comyn until several days after it had occurred.

The War of Robert I

Six weeks after Comyn was killed in Dumfries, on March 25th, Robert was crowned as King of the Scots by Bishop William de Lamberton at Scone, near Perth, with all formality and solemnity. The royal robes and vestments that Robert Wishart had hidden from the English were brought out by the Bishop and set upon King Robert. The Bishops of Moray and Glasgow were in attendance, as was the Earls of Atholl, Menteith, Lennox, and Mar. The great banner of the kings of Scotland was planted behind his throne. Isabella MacDuff, the Countess of Buchan and the wife of John Comyn, the 3rd Earl of Buchan and a cousin of the murdered John Comyn, arrived the next day, too late for the coronation. She would claim the right of her family, the MacDuff Earl of Fife, to crown the Scottish king for her brother, Donnchadh IV, the Earl of Fife, who was not yet of age and in English hands. So a second coronation would be held and once more the crown was placed on the brow of Robert Bruce, the Earl of Carrick, Lord of Annandale, and now King of the Scots.

In June, Robert would be defeated at the Battle of Methven. In August, Robert’s wife and daughters and some other women of their party were sent to Kildrummy under the protection of Bruce’s brother Neil Bruce and the Earl of Atholl, along with most of his remaining men. Robert would flee with a small following of his most faithful men, including Sir James Douglas and Gilbert Hay, his brothers Thomas, Alexander, and Edward, as well as Sir Neil Campbell and the Earl of Lennox.

Edward I would march North again in the spring. On his way, he granted the Scottish estates of Robert and his adherents to his followers and had published a bill that would excommunicate Robert. Bruce’s queen, Elizabeth, his daughter Marjorie, his sisters Christina and Mary, and Isabella MacDuff would be captured in a sanctuary at Tain and had sent them to harsh imprisonment. Mary and Isabella would be hanged in cages at Roxburgh and Berwick Castles respectively for about four years, while his brother Neil was executed by hanging, drawn and quartered.

On the 7th of July, King Edward I would pass away, leaving Robert opposed by the king’s son, Edward II. It’s still not certain where Bruce spent the winter of 1306-1307. Most likely he had spent the winter in Hebrides, possibly sheltered by Christina of Garmoran who was married to Bruce’s brother-in-law, Duncan, the brother of Bruce’s first wife, Isabella of Mar. Ireland is also a serious possibility, as is Orkney, which was under Norwegian rule at the time, or Norway proper, where his sister Isabel Bruce was queen dowager. Although it is unlikely these are not impossible.

Robert and his followers would return to the Scottish mainland in February of 1307 in two groups. One of the groups was led by Robert and his brother Edward and landed at Turnberry Castle and started a guerrilla war in the Southwest of Scotland. The other group, led by Robert’s brothers Thomas and Alexander, landed slightly further south in Loch Ryan, but they were soon captured and executed. In April, Robert had won a small victory over the English at the Battle of Glen Trool, before also defeating Aymer de Valence, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, at the Battle of Loudoun Hill.

At this same time, James Douglas had made his first foray for Robert into the Southwestern Scotland, attacking and burning his own castle in Douglasdale. Leaving his brother, Edward in command in Galloway, Robert traveled North, capturing Inverlochy and Urquhart Castles, burning Inverness Castle and Nairn to the ground, then unsuccessfully threatened Elgin. Late in 1307, after transferring operations to Aberdeenshire, Robert threatened Banff before falling seriously ill, probably owing to hardships of a lengthy campaign. While recovering and leaving John Comyn, the 3rd Earl of Buchan unsubdued at his rear, Robert returned West to take Balvenie and Duffus Castles, then Tarradale Castle on Black Isle.

In 1308, John looped back via the hinterlands of Inverness and with a second failed attempt to take Eglin, Robert finally achieved his landmark defeat of Comyn at the Battle of Inverurie. Then he overran Buchan and defeated the English garrison at Aberdeen. The harrying of Buchan in 1308 was ordered by Robert to make sure all Comyn family support was extinguished. Buchan had a very large population because it was the agricultural capital of Northern Scotland. Most of the population was loyal to the Comyn family, even after the defeat of the Earl of Buchan. Most of the Comyn castles in Moray, Aberdeen and Buchan were destroyed and their inhabitants were killed. Robert ordered similar harryings in Argyle and Kintyre, in the territories of Clan MacDougall. With these acts, Bruce successfully destroyed the power of the Comyns, which had controlled most of Northern and Southwestern Scotland for over one-hundred and fifty years. Robert then crossed to Argyll and defeated the MacDougalls, who were allies of the Comyns, at the Battle of the Pass of Brander and took Dunstaffnage Castle, the last stronghold of the Comyns.


The Pass of Brander


During March of 1309, Robert held his first Parliament at St. Andrews. By August he would control all of Scotland North of the River Tay. A year later, in 1310, the clergy of Scotland would recognize Robert as king at the general council. The support that was given to him by the church, in spite of his excommunication, was of great political importance. Over the next three years, one English-held castle or outpost after another would be captured and reduced:

Linlithgow in 1310

Dumbarton in 1311

Perth, by Bruce himself, in January of 1312

Robert also had made raids into the Northern part of England, and by landing at Ramsey in the Isle of Man, laid siege to the Castle Rushen in Castletown, capturing it on the 21st of June 1313. He would deny the island’s strategic importance to the English. After eight years of exhausting but deliberate refusal to meet with the English on even ground had caused many to consider Robert as one of the great guerrilla leaders of any age. He represented a transformation for one raised as a feudal knight.

The Battle of Bannockburn

In 1314, Robert I had recaptured most of the castles in Scotland that were once held by the English, and was sending raiding parties into Northern England as far as Carlisle. In response, Edward II would plan a major military campaign with the support of Lancaster and other barons, mustering up a large army between 15,000 and 20,000 strong.

In the spring of 1314, Edward Bruce laid siege to Stirling Castle. The castle was a key fortification in Scotland, whose governor, Philip de Mowbray, had agreed to capitulate, if not relieved before the 24th of June 1314. In March, James Douglas had captured Roxburgh, and Randolph had captured Edinburgh Castle. Two months later, in May, Robert again raided England and subdued the Isle of Man. Later on that month news of an agreement regarding Stirling Castle reached the English king, who would then decide to speed up his march to the north from Berwick to relieve the castle. Robert with between 5,500 and 6,500 troops, predominantly spearmen, prepared to prevent Edward’s forces from reaching Stirling.

On the 23rd of June the Battle of Bannockburn would begin, as the English army attempted to force its way across the high ground of the Bannock Burn, which was surrounded by marshlands. A skirmish between two sides had broken out, resulting in the death of Sir Henry de Bohun, whom Robert killed in personal combat. Edward would continue his advance the next day, which is when he encountered the bulk of the Scottish army as they came out of the woods of New Park. The English appeared to not have expected the Scots to give battle there, and as a result they kept their forces in marching, rather than in battle order with the archers—who would usually have been used to break up enemy spear formations—at the back of the army, rather than the front. The English cavalry found it hard to operate in the cramped terrain and were crushed by Robert’s spearmen. The English army was overwhelmed and its leaders were unable to regain control. Edward II was dragged away from the battlefield, being hotly pursued by Scottish forces, and only just escaped the heavy fighting. The historian Roy Haines describes the defeat as a “calamity of stunning proportions” for the English, whose losses in battle were huge. In the aftermath of defeat, Edward had retreated to Dunbar, then he traveled by ship to Berwick, and then to York. In his absence, Stirling Castle had quickly fallen.

Further English Confrontation and the Irish Conflict

After Scotland was free from English threats, the Scottish army could now invade Northern England. Robert would also drive back subsequent English expeditions north of the border and launched raids into Yorkshire and Lancashire. Buoyed by military successes, Bruce’s forces also invaded Ireland in 1315. This was purportedly to free the country from English rule, having received a reply to offers of assistance from Donald O’Neil, the King of Tyrone, and to open a second front in continuing wars with England. The Irish had even crowned Edward Bruce as High King of Ireland the following year. Robert would later go to Ireland with another army to assist his brother. In conjunction with the invasion, he popularized an ideological vision of a “Pan-Gaelic Greater Scotia” with his lineage ruling over both Ireland and Scotland.

This campaign for propaganda was aided by two factors. The first was Robert’s marriage alliance from 1302 with the de Burgh family of the Earldom of Ulster in Ireland. The second factor was Bruce himself, on his mother’s side of Carrick, was descended from the Gaelic royalty in Scotland as well as Ireland. His Irish ancestors included Eva of Leinster, whose ancestors included Brian Boru of Munster and kings of Leinster. Thus lineally and geopolitically, Robert attempted to support his anticipated notion of a pan-Gaelic alliance between Scot-Irish Gaelic populations under his kingship. This would be revealed by a letter he had sent to Irish chiefs, where he calls the Scots and the Irish collectively nostra nacio (our nation), stressing their common language, customs and heritage. The letter states as follows:

“Whereas we and you and our people and your people, free since ancient times, share the same national ancestry and are urged to come together more eagerly and joyfully in friendship by a common language and by common custom, we have sent you our beloved kinsman, the bearers of this letter, to negotiate with you in our name about permanently strengthening and maintaining inviolate the special friendship, between us and you, so that with God’s will our nation (nostra nacio) may be able to recover her ancient liberty.”

Diplomacy would work to a certain extent, at least in Ulster, where the Scots had some support. The Irish chief, Donal O’Neil, for example, later justified his support for the Scots to Pope John XXII by saying “the Kings of Lesser Scotia all trace their blood to our Greater Scotia and retain to some degree our language and customs.” The Bruce campaign in Ireland was characterized by some initial military success. However, the Scots would fail to win over the non-Ulster chiefs or to make any other significant gains in the south of the island, where people couldn’t see a difference between the English and the Scottish occupation. Eventually it was defeated when Edward Bruce was killed at the Battle of Faughart. The Irish Annals of the time described the defeat of the Bruces by the English as one of the greatest things ever done for the Irish nation. This was due to the fact that it brought an end to famine and pillaging that was brought upon the Irish by the Scots and English.

Robert’s Later Reign

The reign of Robert Bruce also included some significant diplomatic achievements, such as the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. This would strengthen his position, particularly vis-a-vis the Papacy, and Pope John XXII would eventually lift his excommunication.

In May of 1328, King Edward III of England would sign the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, which had recognized Scotland as an independent kingdom and Bruce as the king. Back in 1325, Robert I would exchange lands at Cardross for those of Old Montrose in Angus with Sir David Graham. It was here that Robert would build a manor house that would serve as his favored residence during the final years of his reign. The extant chamberlain’s accounts for 1328 detail a manor house at Cardross with the king’s and queen’s chambers and glazed windows, a chapel, kitchens, bake-and-brew houses, falcon aviary, medicinal garden, gatehouse, protective moat and a hunting park. There was also a jetty and beach area for ‘king’s cobble’ (for fishing) along with the ‘king’s great ship’. As most of mainland Scotland’s major royal castles had remained in their razed state since around 1313 or 1314. Cardross manor was perhaps built as a modest residence sympathetic to Robert’s subjects’ privatization through a long war, repeated famines and livestock pandemics. Before Cardross became habitable in 1327, Robert’s main residence was at Scone Abbey.


Scone Abbey


Robert’s Illness and Death

Robert had been suffering from a serious illness since at least 1327. The Lanercost Chronicle and Scalacronica state that the king was said to have contracted and died of leprosy. Jean Le Bel had also stated that in 1327 the king was a victim of ‘la grosse maladie’, which is usually taken to mean leprosy. However, the ignorant use of the term ‘leprosy’ by the 14th century writers meant that almost any major skin disease might be called leprosy. The earliest mention of this illness can be found in an original letter written by an eyewitness in Ulster at the time the king made a truce with Sir Henry Mandeville on the 12th of July 1327. The writer of this letter had reported that Robert was so feeble and struck down by the illness that he would not survive, ‘for he can scarcely move anything but his tongue’. Barbour writes of Robert’s illness that ‘it began through a benumbing brought on by his cold lying’ during the months of wandering from 1306 until 1309. It’s also been proposed that, alternatively, he may have instead suffered from eczema, tuberculosis, syphilis, motor neuron disease, cancer, or a series of strokes. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence as to what Robert himself or his physicians believed his illness was, nor is there any evidence of an attempt in his last years to segregate the king in any way from the company of his friends, family, courtiers, or foreign diplomats.

During October of 1328, the Pope finally lifted the interdict from Scotland along with Robert’s excommunication. The king’s last journey appears to have been on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Ninian at Whithorn. This was possibly in search of a miraculous cure, or to make peace with God. With Moray by his side, Robert would set out from his manor at Cardross for Tarbert on the ‘great ship’, thence to the Isle of Arran, where he would celebrate Christmas at the hall of Glenkill, near Lamlash. He then set sail to the mainland to visit with his son and his bride, both being just children at the time, now installed at Turnberry Castle, the head of the earldom of Carrick and once his own main residence.

Robert then journeyed overland, being carried on a litter to Inch in Wigtownshire. Houses were built there and supplies were brought there, as though the king’s condition had deteriorated by then. At the end of March of 1329, Robert was staying at Glenluce Abbey and at Monreith, from where St. Ninian’s cave was visited. In the early part of April, Robert would arrive at the shrine of St. Ninian at Whithorn. He then fasted for four or five days and prayed to the saint before returning by sea to Cardross.

Barbour and some other sources relate that Robert would summon his prelates and barons to his bedside for his final council. He would make copious gift to religious houses, dispensed silver to religious foundations of various orders, so that they may pray for his soul and repented of his failure to fulfill a vow to undertake a crusade to fight the ‘Saracens’ in the Holy Land. His final wish would reflect conventional piety and was perhaps intended to perpetuate his memory.


Melrose Abbey


After Robert’s death his heart was to be removed from his body and accompanied by a company of knights that were to be led by Sir James Douglas, then taken on a pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, before it was to be interred in Melrose Abbey upon its return from the Holy Land:

“I will that as soone as I am trespassed out of this worlde that ye take my harte owte of my body, and embawme it, and take of my treasoure as ye shall thynke sufficient for that enterprise, both for your selfe and suche company as ye wyll take with you, and present my hart to the holy Sepulchre where as our Lorde laye, seyng my body can nat come there.”

He would also arrange for perpetual soul masses to be funded at the chapel of Saint Serf, at Ayre and at the Dominican friary in Berwick as well as at Dunfermline Abbey.

Robert would pass away on the 7th of June of 1329 at the Manor of Cardross near Dumbarton. He would die utterly fulfilled. The goal of his lifetime struggle—untrammeled recognition of the Bruce right to the crown—had been realized and the confidence that he was leaving the kingdom of Scotland safely in the hands of his most trusted lieutenant, Moray, until his infant son had reached adulthood. Six days before his passing, so to complete his triumph still further, papal bulls were issued granting privilege of unction at the coronation of the future King of Scots.

It remains unclear to this day what had caused the death of Robert, a month before his fifty-fifth birthday. Accusations by his contemporaries suggest that he suffered from leprosy, the “unclean sickness”–treatable Hansen’s disease—derived from English and Hainault chroniclers. No Scottish accounts of his death hint at him having the illness. Penman states that it is very difficult to accept the notion of Robert as a functioning king, serving in war, performing face-to-face acts of lordships, holding parliament and court, traveling widely and fathering several children, all while he was displaying the infectious symptoms of a leper. Along with other suggestions of eczema, tuberculosis, syphilis, motor neuron disease, cancer or stroke, a diet of rich court foods had also been suggested as possible contributory factors in Robert’s death. His Milanese physician, Maino de Maineri, did criticize the king’s eating of eels as a danger to his health in his advancing years.

King Robert’s body was embalmed at Cardross and his sternum was opened to allow for the extrication of his heart, which Sir James Douglas placed into a silver casket to be worn on a chain around his neck. Robert’s viscera were interred in the chapel of Saint Serf near Cardross, the ruins of which are located in present-day Levengrove Park in Dumbarton. His body was carried to the east from Cardross by a carriage that was decked out in black lawn cloth, with stops that are recorded at Dunipace and Cambuskenneth Abbey. His funeral was a grand affair with 3,040 kg of wax having been purchased for the making of funerary candles. A file of the mourners that were on foot, including Robert Stewart and a number of knights that were dressed in black gowns, accompanied the funeral party into Dunfermline Abbey. A canopy chapel or a ‘hearse’ of imported Baltic wood was erected over his grave.


Dunfermline Abbey


Robert’s body was placed in a wooden coffin and then interred within a stone vault beneath the floor and a box tomb of white Italian marble that was purchased in Paris by Thomas of Chartres after June of 1328. A plinth of black fossiliferous limestone from Frosterley topped this structure, and atop this was a white alabaster effigy of Robert I and painted and gilded. The following Latin epitaph was inscribed around the top of the tomb:

“Hic jacet invictus Robertus Rex benedictus qui sua gesta legit repetit quot bella pregit ad libertatem perduxit per probitatem regnum scottorum: nunc vivat in arce polorum.”

In English:

“Here lies the invincible blessed King Robert/Whoever reads about his feats will repeat the many battles he fought/By his integrity he guided to liberty the Kingdom of the Scots: May he now live in Heaven”

Ten alabaster fragments from the tomb are on display at the National Museum of Scotland and traces of the gilding still remain on some of them.

Robert had bequeathed enough funds to pay for thousands of obituary masses in Dunfermline Abbey and elsewhere, and his tomb would thus be the site of daily votive prayers. When a projected international crusade had failed to materialize, Sir James Douglas and his company, escorted the casket containing Robert’s heart by sea to Spain where Alfonso XI of Castile was mounting a campaign against the Moorish kingdom of Granada. According to John Barbour, Douglas and his companions, including Sir William de Keith, Sir William de St. Clair of Rosslyn and brothers Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig and Sir Walter Logan, were welcomed cordially by King Alfonso.

In August of 1330 the Scots contingent formed part of the Castilian army besieging the frontier castle of Teba. Under circumstances which are still disputed today, Sir James and most of his companions would be killed. Sources all agree that being outnumbered and separated from the main Christian army, a group of Scots knights led by Douglas was overwhelmed and wiped out. Surviving members of the company would recover Douglas’ body together with the casket containing Robert’s heart. His heart along with Douglas’ bones were brought back to Scotland. In accordance with Bruce’s written request, his heart was buried at Melrose Abbey in Roxburghshire.

Discovering Robert’s Remains

It wasn’t until 1920 when Robert’s heart was discovered by archaeologists, who would then rebury it, but the location was not marked then. In 1996, a casket was unearthed during some construction work. A scientific study by the AOC archaeologists in Edinburgh, demonstrated that it did indeed contain human tissue and it was of the appropriate age. It was then reburied in Melrose Abbey two years after being discovered, pursuant to the King’s dying wishes.

On February the 17th of 1818, some workers that were breaking ground on a new parish church to be built on the site of the eastern choir of Dunfermline Abbey would uncover a vault before the site of the former abbey high altar. The vault was covered by two large, flat stones, one formed a headstone and a larger stone, six feet in length, with six iron rings or handles set in it. When these stones were removed, the vault was found to be seven feet in length and 56cm wide and 45cm deep. Within this vault, were remnants of a decayed oak coffin and a body that was entirely enclosed in lead, with a decayed shroud of cloth of gold over it. Over the head of the body the lead was formed in the shape of a crown, fragments of marble and alabaster had been found in the debris around the site of the vault several years before, which were then linked to Robert’s recorded purchase of a marble and alabaster tomb made in Paris.

Barons of Exchequer would order that the vault was to be secured from all further inspection with new stones and iron bars and then be guarded by town constables and once walls of the new church were built up around the site, an investigation of the vault and remains could take place. Accordingly, on the 5th of November 1819 an investigation took place. The cloth of gold shroud and lead covering were found to be in a rapid state of decay since the vault had first been opened twenty-one months prior. The body was raised up and placed on a wooden coffin board on the edge of the vault. It was found to be covered in two thin layers of lead and the skeleton was inspected by James Gregory and Alexander Monro, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh. The sternum of the skeleton was found to have been cracked open from the top to the bottom, permitting for the removal of the king’s heart after his death. A plaster cast was then taken of the detached skull by the artist William Scoular. The bones were then measured and drawn and the king’s skeleton was measured to have been five feet and eleven inches. It has been estimated that Robert may have stood around six feet and one inch tall as a young man, which by medieval standards was impressive. At this height he would have stood almost as tall as Edward I, who was six foot and two inches in height.

Afterwards, the skeleton, lying on the wooden coffin board was then placed on top of a lead coffin and a large crowd of curious people who’d assembled outside of the church were allowed to file past the vault to view the king’s remains. Robert’s remains were ceremonially re-interred in the vault at Dunfermline Abbey on the 5th of November 1819. They were placed in a new lead coffin, into which was poured 1500 pounds of molten pitch to preserve the remains before the coffin was sealed. A number of reconstructions of Robert’s face have been produced, including those by Richard Neave from the University of Manchester and Peter Vanezis from the University of Glasgow.

Robert’s descendants include all of the later Scottish monarchs and all British monarchs since the Union of the Crowns in 1603. A large number of families have definitely descended from him as well.

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