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Robert The Bruce: Warrior King of Scotland

Robert The Bruce was a warrior for Scotland in their battle with the English King, Edward I.

During these years he proved himself worthy to be Scotland's King, and gained full independence for Scotland during his reign. His life and times are covered below.

Robert the Bruce, a Scottish warrior king

Robert the Bruce's right to be King of Scotland

Robert I, the King of Scotland, was born on July 11 1274 and is perhaps better known in history as Robert the Bruce.

He reigned as the King of the Scots from 1306 until 1329, a lengthy and productive twenty-three year reign.

He is known as one of Scotland's greatest kings as well as one of her more notable warriors due to his leadership during Scotland's Wars of Independence against Edward I and II of England.

He was able to claim the Scottish throne through descent from David I of Scotland, which means he was pure Scots-Gaels on his paternal line.

On his mother's side he claimed descent from Scoto-Norman ancestry out of Normandy, France, which may have helped make him more acceptable to the snobbish nobility of Europe at that time.

Robert was the oldest son and firstborn of Robert de Brus, the 6th Lord of Annandale and Marjorie, the Countess of Carrack, daughter of Niall, Earl of Carrack.

He inherited his strength, ambition and formidable constitution from both parents.

According to one story, his mother kidnapped his father and held him hostage until he agreed to marry her. We can only imagine what Robert the Elder (Robert's grandfather) was thinking during all of this.

Robert the Bruce inherited the Earldom of Carrick through his mother and his direct descent claim to the Scottish throne through his father.

While we know exactly when he was born, we unfortunately don't exactly know where. Recordkeeping was a bit spotty in those days, after all. As far as we can tell today, he was probably born in Turnberry Castle in Ayrshire.


The Childhood Days of Robert the Bruce

Unfortunately, we don't know very much about his youth.

The custom at that time was that he'd be sent to foster with another local family so he could grow up with people who wouldn't go soft on him from favoritism.

Because of how noble children in general were raised at that time, we're pretty sure that he grew up speaking Gaelic, Norman French, and was able to read and write Latin fairly well.

The first time we catch evidence of him in history after his birth was a signature he gave, along with his father and a ton of notaries, on a charter issued by Alastair MacDomhnaill, the Lord of Islay.


Robert the Bruce's claim to Kingship of Scotland Rejected

He was present during the "Great Cause" in 1292, which only managed to cause a great lot of trouble. This council was the landmark of Edward I's claim to overlordship of Scotland.

Margaret, the tiny Maid of Norway had died of illness while at sea and the Scottish nobility met to figure out who had the best claim to the throne.

The Bruces put forth their claim along with John Balliol. Edward I had agreed to mediate as long as Scotland accepted his overlord status.

Edward chose John not because John had a better claim to the throne, but because Edward didn't want to put up with the independence and strength of the Bruces.

Robert, along with his father and grandfather, resented the outcome. After losing so grievously, Robert the Eldest, our Robert's grandfather, gave up Annandale to his son, Robert's father, who had already given our Robert the Bruce, the Earldom of Carrick earlier that year upon Robert's mother's death.

We know that Robert the Bruce did not always despise Edward I. In April of 1294, Robert was both excused from all debts he owed to the English Exchequer and permission to visit Ireland for a year and a half.

This historical marker shows Edward trying to appease the Bruces for their loss by being gracious so he'd keep them on his side.


Robert the Bruce and his first marriage

He married Isabella of Mar, daughter of Domnhall I, Earl of Mar in 1295, but that marriage was unfortunately cut short by her death prior to 1302.


Robert the Bruce Betrays Edward I

Robert and his father had sworn fealty to Edward I in 1296 along with all the other nobles at Berwick-on-Tweed, but soon reneged on that oath by joining in with the Scottish revolt that rose up the next year.

Though Edward I ordered Robert to support his relative John Warenne, the Earl of Surrey, Robert instead ravaged lands of those nobles loyal to Edward.

The main causes for Robert's initial rebellion were the measures Edward I had planned to introduce against the nobles of Scotland.

Edward I taxed them heavily compared to English nobles and tried to conscript whole noble households into fighting for him in Flanders.


The Capitulation of Irvine and Edward I takes Robert the Bruce's Daughter Hostage

Robert and his friends were forced to surrender and come to terms on July 7 with the Capitulation of Irvine, wherein they gained the right to not have to militarily serve overseas against their will and were pardoned for their rebellion in return for once again swearing allegiance.

Edward I held several of Robert's friends hostage until he gave Edward his recently born baby girl, Marjorie.

Marjorie lived through being held hostage by Edward I and went on to marry Walter Stewart, the 6th High Steward of Scotland. Unfortunately, in March of 1316 she was thrown from a horse while in an advanced state of pregnancy and died in childbirth, predeceasing her father by thirteen years.

Her son, Robert II, survived to found the Stewart dynasty of Scottish monarchs after David II's death.

However, infant daughter or no, Robert soon threw in with the Scots again after the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

His own land, Annandale, was pretty torn up, so he turned around and burned the English castle at Ayr.

When Edward I got back to England after defeating William Wallace at Falkirk, he decided not to strip Robert's lands from him in hopes of winning Robert's true allegiance.

Edward I had yet to find out how big of a mistake that was.


The Guardians of Scotland: Robert the Bruce and John Comyn

Robert the Bruce and John Comyn succeeded William Wallace as joint Guardians of Scotland. Pity they couldn't stand each other.

Both of them had equal measures ambition and claim to the Scottish throne. William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews was appointed a third, hopefully neutral Guardian in 1299 to try and ease some of the tensions.

This didn't work and Robert the Bruce resigned the following year.

After some entertaining convoluted political maneuvering, Robert was once again forced to surrender and ally with England.

He decreased his usefulness to England as much as possible by swearing to never call up his monk tenants to serve in the army unless it was for national defense.


Robert the bruce and His Second Marriage

He also married his second wife, Elizabeth of Burgh, and by all accounts loved her deeply.

They had four children together, David II, Matilda and Margaret, and John who died in childhood. No record exists to tell how he took John or Marjorie's deaths, but from his loyalty to his other family members we know it must have grieved him deeply.

David II eventually inherited the throne of Scotland from his father, and Matilda and Margaret both went on to marry well and live full lives for the era.


Unlike William Wallace, who never once swore fealty to Edward, Robert swayed back and forth several times.

While this doesn't always look so good, keep in mind that Robert had a large family and large lands and tenants to look after, whereas for the most part, William did not.

Like most nobles, Robert's first thought had to be the civilians he was responsible for, so he swore allegiance and broke it as he thought was necessary.

What Robert the Bruce is most notable for in his military history is twofold.

  • He was one of the first noble military leaders in history to win his throne by guerrilla means

  • and he was patient enough to outwait and eventually outlive the redoubtable Edward I.

It took him eight, long, miserable years, but he persisted and eventually won with hit and run lightning tactics based off of common support instead of noble might and big budgets.


Robert the Bruce kills John Comyn

Along the way, he invited John Comyn to Dumfries to "work out their differences."

Looking back, we're pretty sure Lord Comyn didn't think having his head bashed in by Robert in front of the high altar was a negotiation tactic he'd have to worry about.

Of course, that's exactly what Robert wound up doing, and the Pope in Rome excommunicated him and eventually all of Scotland for it.

Fortunately for Robert's campaign for the throne, the Scottish Church still supported him against Rome's injunction, proving that Scottish clergy were willing to put up with a lot for independence from England.


Robert the Bruce attacking the English

While the elder Edward came close to rendering Scotland defenseless, his weak son Edward II gave Robert all the opening he needed.

During Edward I's reign, Robert had to settle for hit and run tactics, at one point almost despairing when he had next to no followers and his wife, sisters and daughters were imprisoned by Edward.

He continued to blithely ignore anything resembling military chivalric conventions and, once Edward II was on the throne, specialized in mounting military campaigns at the targets that would hurt the English most instead of facing his enemies head on as the honor code of the day usually demanded.

After the intense and exhausting eight year military campaign, during which he had to fight England, assassinate John Comyn, and convince the Scottish people that he really was on their side after all, Robert triumphed over the English at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

After his country was free from direct English threat, he proceeded to invade Yorkshire and Lancashire in order to recoup his losses during such a lengthy expedition.


Robert the Bruce tries to bring Ireland under Scottish Rule

Robert tried to unite Scotland and Ireland under one Pan-Gaelic national ideal in 1315-1316, with himself and his lineage at the head.

He had some initial success with the northern Irish chiefs, but ran into trouble and had to give up when faced with the southern Irish who saw little difference between occupation by the English and occupation by the Scots.


Robert the Bruce lives to see an Independent Scotland

King Edward III signed the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328, recognizing Scotland as an independent nation and Robert the Bruce as its king.


The death of Robert the Bruce and the Rise of his Children

Robert the Bruce is remembered through out Scotland

Robert died a year later at the Manor of Cardross from an unspecified illness.

Today, most of him is buried at Dunfermline Abbey, while his heart resides at Melrose Abbey.

The reason for the split was a deathbed decree by Robert that his heart be carried against Scotland's enemies in the name of Christ.

Scottish warriors took his heart with them on Crusade to the Holy Land, and made an appropriate reliquary in which to carry it.

Fortunately for the warriors, they only made it to Grenada when most European warriors were dying in droves around Jerusalem.

The heart reliquary served as a rallying talisman for the Scots at the Battle of Teba.

All later Scottish monarchs, including the Stewart dynasty and excepting only Edward Balliol, are descended from Robert the Bruce.

He has a huge number of Scottish descendants, but some individual claims have been hopelessly obscured by time and poor recordkeeping.

Photo courtesy of Wknight94

Robert the Bruce and the Spider in the Cave

One of the more infamous legends about Robert is that at one point he was forced to hide out during the winter of 1305-1306 in a cave on the Irish coast.

While he was stuck in this cave through the winter, he saw a spider spin a web eight times.

The first seven times, the web fell apart, but on the eighth try the tiny spider was successful.

Robert was moved by the spider's persistence and lack of self-pity, which inspired him to return to England and inflict a series of defeats on the English which turned the tide in his favor.

Of course, according to the legend, he had been defeated seven times by the English prior to taking shelter in this cave, and he, like the spider, was successful on the eighth try.


Robert the Bruce in Conclusion

Robert's history and shifting allegiances show more what the era was like that he lived in than the measure of the man himself.

According to all accounts, he was loyal first and foremost to the people he loved or had promised to take care of.

While he believed wholeheartedly in his claim to the Scottish throne, it took him a while to decide to go for it because he knew it would throw the whole country into chaos.

He also knew that if he failed, he and his family would be fugitives instead of nobility.

However much he vacillated, he did take the plunge when he saw that it was best for himself, his family and for Scotland as a whole.

Throughout his life, he displayed perserverance, a deep personal and patriotic loyalty, and the stunning ability to be as politically canny as he was militarily brilliant.


Robert the Bruce References

Primary book I used was:

Robert the Bruce, King of Scots by Ronald McNair Scott, Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York, NY,2002.


Supplementary material came from:

Bartlett, Robert, The Making of Europe, Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change from 950-1350

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Geoffrey the Baker’s Chronicon Galfridi le Baker de Swynebroke ed. Edward Maunde Thompson, Oxford, London, England 1889


Major write by L Ice, rewrites by Donald Urquhart, 2008.

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