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29 October 2014
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Scottish Wars of Independence

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By 1306, things looked bad for Robert the Bruce. He wanted to be King of Scots but the rumour was that King John Balliol was going to return to Scotland. The leader of Balliol's supporters was John Comyn, the head of one of the most powerful families in Scotland. Bruce arranged to meet Comyn in Greyfriars Church, Dumfries.

No-one knows why the two rivals arranged to meet or what was said. All we know is that John Comyn was found dead in front of the altar. Some said that Bruce had planned the murder and tricked Comyn into meeting him in the church. Others claimed the two men met on good terms but that they'd disagreed, a fight broke out and Comyn was accidentally stabbed in the scuffle. Either way, Bruce was in trouble. The powerful Comyns became Bruce's sworn enemies and the leaders of the church turned against him for committing murder in a holy place. How could he become King after that?

There is still a Greyfriars Church in Dumfries. This building dates from 1868. On the spot where the original Greyfriars stood there's now a Pound Shop.

Dr Steve Boardman, University of Edinburgh

The death of John Comyn was very important. Comyn's relatives wanted revenge for his death and were determined to kill Robert the Bruce if they could. Other people in Scotland were shocked by what Bruce had done and so they wouldn't support him when he tried to become King of Scots. For a long time after 1306 Robert's most dangerous enemies were Scottish lords who thought he was a bad person who had done terrible things to become king. These men thought that they were fighting for a good cause and did not think of themselves as traitors even when they supported the English kings Edward I and Edward II against Bruce.

Dr Alastair Macdonald, University of Aberdeen

The episode that launched Robert Bruce's bid for the crown, this event is vital for understanding the character of the man. He can hardly have planned in advance to murder Comyn; doing the deed in a church made the killing even worse. But the two had literally been at each other's throats before, and no doubt cross words led to the bloody conclusion. Bruce now had to fight a civil war against Comyn's family and friends, who found themselves forced into the English camp, fighting against a man they thought of as a murderer and usurper. Whatever you think of the hero-king, he was a violent man in violent times.


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