Robert the Bruce who lived from 1274 to 1329 was perhaps one of the foremost influential figures of the Scottish Middle Ages as he was the person who secured Scottish Independence from England around 1318 and is still a symbolic figure of the identity of Scotland today. Let’s take a look at the man and the myth.
The Man Who Would Be King
Robert the Bruce was the grandson of a former Robert who had tried to secure the Scottish throne for himself in 1290. Born on July 11th 1274 at Turnberry Castle Ayrshire to Marjory Countess of Carrick Robert the Bruce is credited with a number of achievements that secured him hero status meaning he has long been remembered and celebrated in Scottish history. His achievements included
- Restoring the monarchy in Scotland to premier position
- Securing independence from the English crown
- Securing independence from the English parliament
- Securing independence from the Pope in Rome
Robert faced down many rivals for the throne of Scotland including his arch rival John Comyn Lord of Badenoch. In 1306 Robert fought with Comyn and killed him resulting in Robert being excommunicated from the church by the pope. Robert didn’t let this stop him and moved quickly forward securing the Scottish throne on March 25th 1306. Robert would fight against Edward 1st of England but was defeated resulting in him going into hiding for a time in Ireland.
Robert would however return to the fray and in 1307 Roberts army defeated Edward 1sts army at Loundon Hill opening the door to a guerrilla war that would rage for some time to come. He also took care of his many opponents securing his place on the throne in the process. By 1309 Robert held his first parliament, while victory after victory against his enemies made his control of Scotland even greater.
The Battle of Banockburn
The name of Robert the Bruce is synonymous with the Battle of Banockburn which was one of his most significant successes. This battle which took place in 1314 was fought against the English during the reign of Edward II. This huge battle was the catalyst for further raids into England by the Scots. Edward II escaped with his life but only just! Losses on the English side of the campaign were colossal culminating in the English finally losing Sterling Castle. Roberts forces also invaded Ireland advising the Irish to resist against English rule, while his defeat of the stronghold of Berwick in 1318 did nothing to influence Edward II’s belief that HE still ruled Scotland. The Irish in turn were not to be swayed by Robert as they viewed the invading Scots every bit as bad as the invading English.
The Declaration of Arbroath
The Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 was a submission by the Scottish nobility to Pope John XXII declaring Scotland independent and Robert the Bruce their king. By 1324 the pope had recognised Robert as King of Scotland and indeed Scotland as an independent kingdom as well as lifting the declaration of excommunication of Robert from the church. In 1327 Edward II was deposed and his son Edward III became king of England. Edward III signed the Treaty of Edinburgh/Northampton which meant that Edward III conceded that he had no further claim to the Scottish throne.
Robert the Bruce died in 1329 following many years of ill health. It isn’t immediately clear just which malady befell Robert but it is thought that he may have suffered from tuberculosis, syphilis or motor neurone disease. One of Roberts final journeys was a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Ninian at Whithorn. This was probably in hope of finding a cure to what ailed him. The final resting place of his body is in Dunfermline, while his heart, as requested by Robert is buried in Melrose Abbey.
There are all kinds of strange tales surrounding the life of Robert the Bruce. It is said that while inside a cave on Rathlin Ireland he watched a spider trying to create a web from one side to the other. The web kept breaking and the spider would begin again unrelenting in its aim of creating the web. Robert used this as inspiration to never give up on defeating the English. How true the story is being up for debate.
Another story which may be myth or may be true is how Robert killed Sir Henry de Bohun at the Battle of Bannockburn. Legend has it that Robert sat erect on his horse, dodged the lance coming toward him then bludgeoned Sir Henry with his battle axe splitting his helmet and skull in two. Apart from the fact that Robert had damaged his axe he was unperturbed about the event. The story is said to show how Scottish people are a breed set apart, determined and undeterred in the face of adversity.