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Robert the Bruce

Robert the BruceBorn: 11-Jul-1274
Birthplace: Turnberry, Scotland
Died: 7-Jun-1329
Location of death: Cardross, Dumbartonshire, Scotland
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Dunfermline Abbey

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Royalty

Nationality: Scotland
Executive summary: Secured independence for Scotland

Robert I, commonly Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, was the son of the 7th Robert de Bruce, Earl of Carrick by right of his wife Marjorie, daughter of Niel, or Nigel, Earl of Carrick, and was the eighth in direct male descent from a Norman baron who came to England with William the Conqueror. After the death of Margaret, the maid of Norway, in 1290, Bruce's grandfather, the 6th Robert de Bruce, Lord of Annandale, claimed the crown of Scotland as the son of Isabella, the second daughter of David, earl of Huntingdon, and greatgranddaughter of David I; but John de Baliol, grandson of Margaret, the eldest daughter of Earl David, was preferred by the commissioners of Edward I.

The birthplace of Bruce is not certainly known, but was probably Turnberry, his mother's castle on the coast of Ayr. The date is the 11th of July 1274. His youth is said by an English chronicler to have been passed at the court of Edward I. At an age when the mind is quick to receive the impressions which give the bent to life he must have watched the progress of the great suit for the crown of Scotland. Its issue in 1292 in favor of Baliol led his grandfather to resign Annandale to his son, the 7th Robert de Bruce, who either then or after the death of his father in 1295 assumed the title of lord of Annandale. Already on his wife's death in 1292 he had resigned the earldom of Carrick to his son, the future king, who presented the deed of resignation to Baliol at Stirling in August 1293, and offered the homage which his father, like his grandfather, was unwilling to render. Feudal law required that the king should take seisin of the earldom before regranting it and receiving the homage, and the sheriff of Ayr was directed to take it on Baliol's behalf. As the disputes between Edward I of England and Baliol, which ended in Baliol losing his kingdom, commenced in this year, it is doubtful whether Bruce ever rendered homage; but he is henceforth known as Earl of Carrick, though in a few instances this title is still given to his father. Both father and son sided with Edward against Baliol. In April 1294 the younger Bruce had permission to visit Ireland for a year and a half, and as a further mark of Edward's favor a respite of all debts owing by him to the exchequer.

In August 1296 Bruce and his father swore fealty to Edward I at Berwick, but in breach of this oath, which had been renewed at Carlisle, the younger Robert joined Sir William Wallace, who raised the standard of Scottish independence in the name of Baliol after that king had surrendered his kingdom to Edward in 1296. Urgent letters were sent ordering Bruce to support John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, Edward's general, in the summer of 1297; but, instead of complying, he assisted to lay waste the lands of those who adhered to Edward. On the 7th of July Bruce and his friends were forced to make terms by a treaty called the capitulation of Irvine. The Scottish lords were not to serve beyond the sea against their will, and were pardoned for their recent violence, in return owning allegiance to Edward. The bishop of Glasgow, James the steward, and Sir Alexander Lindesay became sureties for Bruce until he delivered his daughter Marjorie as a hostage. Wallace almost alone maintained the struggle for freedom which the nobles, as well as Baliol, had given up, and Bruce had no part in the honor of Stirling Bridge in September 1297, or the reverse of Falkirk, where in July 1298 Edward in person recovered what his generals had lost, and drove Wallace into exile. Shortly afterwards Bruce appears again to have sided with his countrymen; Annandale was wasted, while he, as Walter of Hemingford says, "when he heard of the king's coming, fled from his face and burnt the castle of Ayr which lie held." Yet, when Edward was forced by home affairs to quit Scotland, Annandale and certain earldoms, including Carrick, were excepted from the districts he assigned to his followers, Bruce and other earls being treated as waverers whose allegiance might still be retained. About 1299 a regency was appointed in Scotland in the name of Baliol, and a letter of Baliol mentions Robert Bruce, lord of Carrick, as regent, along with William of Lamberton, bishop of St. Andrews, and John Comyn the younger, a strange combination -- Lamberton the friend of Wallace, Comyn the enemy of Bruce, and Bruce a regent in name of Baliol. Comyn in his own interest as Baliol's nephew and heir was the active regent; the insertion of the name of Bruce was an attempt to secure his cooperation. For the next four years be kept studiously in the background, biding his time. A statement of Peter Langtoft that he was at the parliament of Lincoln in 1301, when the English barons repudiated the claim of Pope Boniface VIII to the suzerainty of Scotland, is not to be credited, though his father may have been there. In the campaign of 1304, when Edward renewed his attempt on Scotland and reduced Stirling, Bruce supported the English king, who in one of his letters to him says, "If you complete that which you have begun, we shall hold the war ended by your deed and all the land of Scotland gained." But, while apparently aiding Edward, Bruce bad taken a step which bound him to the patriotic cause. On the 11th of June, five weeks before the fall of Stirling, he met Lamberton at Cambuskenneth and entered into a secret bond by which they were to support each other against all adversaries and undertake nothing without consulting together. The death of his father in 1304 may have determined his course, and led him to prefer the chance of the Scottish crown to his English estates and the friendship of Edward.

This determination closes the first chapter of his life; the second, from 1304 to 1314, is occupied by his contest for the kingdom, which was really won at Bannockburn, though disputed until the treaty of Northampton in 1328; the last, from 1314 to his death in 1329, was the period of the establishment of his government and dynasty by an administration as skilful as his generalship. It is to the second of these that historians, attracted by its brilliancy even amongst the ninny romances of history and its importance to Scottish history, have directed most of their attention, and it is during it that his personal character, tried by adversity and prosperity, gradually unfolds itself. But all three periods require to be kept in view to form a just estimate of Bruce. That which terminated in 1304, though unfortunately few characteristics, personal or individual, have been preserved, shows him by his conduct to have been the normal Scottish noble of the time. A conflict of interest and of bias led to contradictory action, and this conflict was increased in his case by his father's residence in England, his own upbringing at the English court, his family feud with Baliol and the Comyns, and the jealousy common to his class of Wallace, the mere knight, who had rallied the commons against the invader and taught the nobles what was required in a leader of the people. The merit of Bruce is that he did not despise the lesson. Prompted alike by patriotism and ambition, at the prime of manhood he chose the cause of national independence with all its perils, and stood by it with an unwavering constancy until he secured its triumph. Though it is crowded with incident, the main facts in the central decade of Bruce's life may be rapidly told. The fall of Stirling was followed by the capture and execution of Wallace in London in August 1305. Edward hoped still to conciliate the nobles and gain Scotland by a policy of clemency to all who did not dispute his authority. A parliament in London in September 1305 to which Scottish representatives were summoned, agreed to an ordinance for the government of Scotland, which, though on the model of those for Wales and Ireland, treating Scotland as a third subject province under an English lieutenant, was in other respects not severe. Bruce is reputed to have been one of the advisers who assisted in framing it; but a provision that his castle of Kildrummy was to be placed in charge of a person for whom he should answer shows that Edward, not without reason, suspected his fidelity. The details of his final breach with the English king are somewhat obscure. According to one account, the bond between Bruce and Lamberton was revealed to Edward by Comyn while Bruce was at the English court. Alarmed by a hint dropped by Edward, he left England secretly, and in the church of the Friars Minorite at Dumfries on the 10th of February 1306 met Comyn, whom he slew before the high altar for refusing to join in his plans. So much is certain, though the precise incidents of the interview are variously told. It was not their first encounter, for a letter of 1299 to Edward from Scotland describes Comyn as having seized Bruce by the throat at a meeting at Peebles, where they were with difficulty reconciled by the regents.

The bond with Lamberton was now sealed by blood, and the confederates lost no time in putting it into execution. Within little more than six weeks Bruce, collecting his adherents in the southwest, passed from Lochmaben to Glasgow and then to Scone, where he was crowned king of Scotland on the 27th of March 1306. Two days later Isabella, countess of Buchan, claimed the right of her family, the Macduffs, earls of Fife, to place the Scottish king on his throne, and the ceremony was repeated with an addition flattering to the Celtic race. Though a king, Bruce had not yet a kingdom, and his efforts to obtain it were disastrous failures until after the death of Edward I. In June 1306 he was defeated at Methven, and on the 11th of August he was surprised in Strathfillan, where he had taken refuge. The ladies of his family were sent to Kildrummy in January 1307, and Bruce, almost without a follower, fled to the island of Rathlin. Edward came to the north in the following spring. On his way he granted the Scottish estates of Bruce and his adherents to his own followers, Annandale falling to Humphrey de Bohun, 4th earl of Hereford. At Carlisle there was published a bull excommunicating Bruce; and Elizabeth his wife, Marjorie his daughter, and Christina his sister, were captured in a sanctuary at Tain, while three of his brothers were executed. In a moment all was changed by the death of Edward I on the 7th of July 1307. Instead of being opposed to the greatest, Bruce had now as his antagonist the feeblest of the Plantagenets. Quitting Rathlin, he had made a short stay in Arran, and before Edward's death had failed to take Ayr and Turnberry, although he defeated Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, at Loudoun Hill in May 1306. After wasting the critical moment of the war in the diversions of court life, the new English king, Edward II, made an inglorious march to Cumnock and back without striking a blow; and then returned south, leaving the war to a succession of generals. Bruce, with the insight of military genius, seized his opportunity. Leaving Edward, now his only brother in blood and almost his equal in arms, in Galloway, he suddenly transferred his own operations to Aberdeenshire. He overran Buchan either once or twice, and after a serious illness defeated the earl of Buchan, one of his chief Scottish opponents, near Inverurie on the 22nd of May 1308. Then crossing to Argyllshire he surprised another body of his enemies in the pass of Brander early in 1309, took Dunstaffnage, and in March of this year held his first parliament at St. Andrews. In 1309 a truce scarcely kept was effected by Pope Clement V and Philippe IV of France, and in 1310, in a general council at Dundee, the clergy of Scotland, all the bishops being present, recognized Bruce as king. The support given to him by the national church in spite of his excommunication must have been of great importance in that age, and was probably due to the example of Lamberton. The next three years was signalized by the reduction one by one of the strong places still held by the English: Linlithgow towards the end of 1310, Dumbarton in October 1311, Perth, by Bruce himself, in January 1312. Previous to these two latter successes the king had made two raids into the north of England; after which Buittle, Dalswinton and Dumfries were reduced, and Berwick was threatened. In March 1313 his lieutenant Sir James Douglas surprised Roxburgh, and Thomas Randolph surprised Edinburgh. In May Bruce was again in England, and though he failed to take Carlisle, he subdued the Isle of Man. About the same time Edward Bruce took Rutherglen and laid siege to Stirling, whose governor, Sir Philip de Mowbray, agreed to capitulate if not relieved before the 24th of June 1314.

Bruce's rapidity of movement was one cause of his success. His sieges, the most difficult part of medieval warfare, though won sometimes by stratagem, prove that he and his followers had benefited from their early training in the wars of Edward I. We know that he had been employed by that king to prepare the siege-train for his attack on Stirling in 1304. By the close of 1313 Berwick, Stirling and Bothwell alone remained English. Edward II felt that if Scotland was not to be lost a great effort must be made. With the whole available feudal levy of England, and a contingent from Ireland, he advanced from Berwick to Falkirk, which he reached on the 22nd of June 1314. After a preliminary skirmish on Sunday the 23rd, in which Bruce distinguished himself by a personal combat with Sir Henry de Bohun, whom he felled by a single blow of his axe, the battle of Bannockburn was fought on Monday the 24th; and the complete rout of the English determined the independence of Scotland and confirmed the title of Bruce. The details of the day, memorable in the history of war as well as of Scotland, have been singularly well preserved, and redound to the credit of Bruce, who had studied in the school of Wallace as well as in that of Edward I. He had chosen and knew his ground, lying between St. Ninians and the Bannock, a petty burn, yet sufficient to produce marshes dangerous to heavily armed horsemen, while from the rising ground on his right the enemy's advance was seen. His troops were in four divisions: his brother Edward commanded the right, Randolph the center, Douglas the left. Bruce with the reserve planted his standard at the Bore Stone, from where there is the best view of the field. His camp followers on the Gillies' Hill appeared over its crest at the critical moment which comes in all battles. The plain on the right of the marshes was prepared with pits and spikes. But what more than any other point of strategy made the fight famous was that the Scots fought on foot in battalions with their spears outwards, in a circular formation serving the same purpose as the modern square. A momentary success of the English archers was quickly reversed by a flank movement on the part of Sir Robert Keith. The Scottish bowmen followed up this advantage, and the fight became general; the English horse, crowded into too narrow a space, were met by the steady resistance of the Scottish pikemen, who knew, as Bruce had told them truly, that they fought for their country, their wives, their children, and all that freemen hold dear. The English rear was either unable to come up in the narrow space, or got entangled in the broken ranks of the van. The first repulse soon passed into a rout, and from a rout into a headlong flight, in which the English king himself barely escaped. In the career of Bruce, Bannockburn was the turning-point. The enthusiasm of the nation he had saved forgot his tardy adhesion to the popular cause, and at the parliament of Ayr on the 25th of April 1315 the succession was settled by a unanimous voice on him, and, failing males of his body, on his brother Edward and his heirs male, or failing them on his daughter Marjorie and her heirs, if she married with his consent. Soon afterwards she married Walter the steward. As a result of Bannockburn, Bruce's queen was restored to her husband; Stirling was delivered up to the Scots; the north of England was ravaged, and Carlisle and Berwick were besieged.

The last part of Bruce's life, from 1315 to 1329, began with an attempt which was the most striking testimony that could have been given to the effect of Bannockburn, and which, had it succeeded, might have altered the future of the British Isles. This was no less than the rising of the whole Celtic race, who had felt the galling yoke of Edward I and envied the freedom the Scots had won. In 1315 Edward Bruce crossed to Ireland on the invitation of the natives, and in the following year the Welsh became his allies. In the autumn of 1316 Robert came to his brother, and together they traversed Ireland to Limerick. Dublin was saved by its inhabitants committing it to the flames, and, though nineteen victories were won, of which that at Slane in Louth by Robert was counted the chief, the success was too rapid to be permanent. The brothers retreated to Ulster, and, Robert having left Ireland in May 1317 to protect his own borders, Edward, who had been crowned king of Ireland, was defeated and killed at Dundalk in October 1318. On his return Bruce addressed himself to the siege of Berwick, a standing menace to Scotland. While he was preparing for it two cardinals arrived in England with a mission from Pope John XXII to effect a truce, or, failing that, to renew the excommunication of Bruce. The cardinals did not trust themselves across the border; their messengers, however, were courteously received by Bruce, but with a firm refusal to admit the papal bulls into his kingdom because not addressed to him as king. Another attempt by Adam Newton, guardian of the Friars Minorite at Berwick, had a more ignominious result. Bruce admitted Newton to his presence at Aldcamus or Old Cambus, and informed him that he would not receive the bulls until his title was acknowledged and he had taken Berwick. On his return Newton was waylaid and his papers seized, not without suspicion of Bruce's connivance. In March 1318 the town and soon afterwards the castle of Berwick capitulated, and Bruce wasted the English border as far as Ripon. In December he held a parliament at Scone, where he displayed the same wisdom as a legislator which he had shown as a general. The death of his brother and his daughter rendered a resettlement of the crown advisable, and it was settled on his grandson, Robert, son of Marjorie and Walter the steward, in case Bruce died without sons, with a provision as to the regency in case of a minor heir in favor of Randolph. The defense of the country was next cared for by regulations for the arming of the whole nation, down to every one who owned the value of a cow, a measure far in advance of the old feudal levy. Exports during war, and of arms at any time, were prohibited. Internal justice was regulated, and it was declared that it was to be done to poor and rich alike. Leasing-making -- a Scottish term for seditious language -- was to be sternly punished. The nobles were exhorted not to oppress the commons. Reforms were also made in the tedious technicalities of the feudal law. In September 1319 an attempt to recover Berwick was repelled by Walter the steward, and Bruce took occasion of a visit to compliment his son-in-law and raise the walls 10 feet.

The king's position was now so strong that foreign states began to testify their respect. Bruges and Ypres rejected a request of Edward II to cut off the Scottish trade with Flanders. Pope John, who had excommunicated Bruce, was addressed by the parliament of Arbroath in April 1320 in a letter which compared Bruce to a Joshua or Judas Maccabaeus, who had wrought the salvation of his people, and declared they fought "not for glory, truth or honor, but for that liberty which no virtuous man will survive." Moved by this language and conscious of the weakness of Edward, the pope exhorted him to make peace with Scotland, and three years later Randolph, now earl of Moray, procured the recognition of Bruce as king from the papal see by promising aid for a crusade. In 1326 the French king, Charles IV, made a similar acknowledgment by the treaty of Corbeil. Meantime hostilities more or less constant continued with England, but, though in 1322 Edward made an incursion as far as Edinburgh, the internal weakness of his government prevented his gaining any real success, while in October of this year Bruce again ravaged Yorkshire, defeated the English near Byland, and almost captured their king. Some of his chief nobles -- Thomas, earl of Lancaster, in 1321, and Sir Andrew Harclay, earl of Carlisle, in 1322 -- entered into correspondence with the Scots, and, though Harclay's treason was detected and punished by his death, Edward was forced to make a truce of thirteen years at Newcastle on the 30th of May 1323, which Bruce ratified at Berwick. In 1327 Edward III became king of England, and one of the first acts of the new reign, after a narrow escape of the young king from capture by Moray, was the treaty of York, ratified at Northampton in April 328, by which it was agreed that "Scotland, according to its ancient bounds in the days of Alexander III, should remain to Robert, king of Scots, and his heirs free and divided from England, without any subjection, servitude, claim or demand whatsoever." Joanna, Edward's sister, was to be given in marriage to David, the infant son of Bruce, born subsequent to the settlement of 1318 and now recognized as heir to the crown, and the ceremony was celebrated at Berwick on the 12th of July 1328.

The chief author of Scottish independence barely survived his work. He appears to have conducted an expedition to Ireland in 1327, and on his return led a foray into England. His last years were chiefly spent at the castle of Cardross on the Clyde, which he acquired in 1326, and the conduct of war, as well as the negotiations for peace, had been left to the young leaders, Moray and Sir James Douglas, whose training was one of Bruce's services to his country. Ever active, he employed himself in the narrower sphere of repairing the castle and improving its domains and gardens, in shipbuilding on the Clyde, and in the exercise of the virtues of hospitality and charity. The religious feeling, which had not been absent even during the struggles of manhood, deepened in old age, and took the form the piety of the times prescribed. He made careful provision for his funeral, his tomb, and masses for his soul. He procured from the pope a bull authorizing his confessor to absolve him even at the moment of death. He died at Cardross from leprosy, contracted in the hardships of earlier life, on the 7th of June 1329, and was buried at Dunfermline beside his second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster, whom he had married about 1304, and who bore him late his only son, David, who succeeded him. Of two surviving daughters, Matilda married Thomas Ysaak, a simple esquire, and Margaret became the wife of William, earl of Sutherland. Marjorie, an only child by his first wife, Isabella, daughter of Donald, earl of Mar, had predeceased him. Several children not born in wedlock have been traced in the records, but none of them became in any way famous.

In fulfilment of a vow to visit the Holy Sepulchre, which he could not accomplish in person, Bruce requested Douglas to carry his heart there, but his faithful follower perished on the way, fighting in Spain against the Moors, and the heart of Bruce, recovered by Sir William Keith, found its resting-place at Melrose. When his corpse was disinterred in 1821 the breast-bone was found severed to admit of the removal of the heart, thus confirming the story preserved in the verses of Barbour. That national poet collected in the earliest Scottish poem, written in the reign of Bruce's grandson, the copious traditions which clustered round his memory. It is a panegyric; but history has not refused to accept it as a genuine representation of the character of the great king, in spirit, if not in every detail. Its dominant note is freedom -- the liberty of the nation from foreign bondage, and of the individual from oppression. It is the same note which Tacitus embodied in the speech of Galgacus at the dawn of Scottish history. Often as it has been heard before and since in the course of history, seldom has it had a more illustrious champion than Robert the Bruce.

Father: Robert de Brus, 6th Lord of Annandale (d. 1304)
Mother: Marjorie of Carrick, (d. 1292)
Wife: Isabella of Mar (m. 1295, d. circa 1302)
Daughter: Marjorie Bruce (b. 1296, d. 2-Mar-1316)
Wife: Elizabeth de Burgh (d. 26-Oct-1327)

    Scottish Monarch 1306-29
    Excommunicated 1306


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