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19 September 2014
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Robert the Bruce (II)

The Battle of Bannockburn

The Fugitive, Outlawed, Ex-communicated King
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, Bruce’s 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 people’s 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.

Guerrilla Warfare
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 estates.

Bruce’s 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 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 Bruce’s 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 II’s 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 ‘our nation’ (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 Ireland’s most powerful king, Domnall Ua Neill, a kinsman of Robert and Edward through their maternal grandfather.

The invasion, however, was a disaster, as famine blighted Ireland, and Edward’s 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 Celtic Kingdom?

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 wasn’t 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

Dunfermline Abbey

Scotland. His challenge couldn’t be ignored and the Edward III’s government was forced to recognise Bruce’s kingship and Scotland’s independence. A year later, Bruce died.

Bruces body is buried in Dunfermline Abbey, whilst his heart is at Melrose Abbey in the borders. It is buried with the inscription -
‘A noble hart may haiff nane es...Gyff fredome failyhe’.

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