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19 September 2014
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Robert the Bruce

Robert Bruce
copyright Historic Scotland

‘Let Scotland’s 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 flee away.
Crying out in the night, let her men be on their guard,
and her enemies in confusion will flee from hunger’s sword. Surely it will be so, as we’re guided by Robert, our lord.’

Scotland’s 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 Bruce’s 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 Scotland’s crown.

Claimant of the Crown
Robert Bruce’s struggle for the Scottish crown wasn’t entirely an enterprise born of patriotism, and, although no doubt his attitude changed over the years, Bruce’s 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 I’s invasion of Scotland in 1296, hoping to gain the crown after Balliol’s 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 Wallace’s 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 Balliol’s claim to the throne, and Bruce was ‘replaced’ 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 wasn’t adverse to switching sides in pursuit of his goal, and this wasn’t irregular practice amongst noblemen in pursuit of power at the time. The rhetoric of the Declaration of Arbroath, 22 years later - “For as long as a hundred of us remain alive, we shall never on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English” - was never Bruce’s rhetoric, for he had appealed to English lordship on more than one occasion.

1304 was a crucial year for Bruce. His father’s 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 wasn’t expected to live much longer. Bruce started to seek allies.

On 11th February 1306 Robert Bruce met John ‘The Red’ Comyn at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries. We don’t know what they discussed, but an argument flared, swords were drawn, and Bruce stabbed Comyn before the high altar. Comyn’s 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.

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