Robert I, King of Scots (11 July, 1274 – 7 June, 1329) usually known in modern English as Robert the Bruce (Medieval Gaelic: Roibert a Briuis; modern Scottish Gaelic: Raibeart Bruis; Norman French: Robert de Brus or Robert de Bruys; ) was King of the Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329.
Although his paternal ancestors were of Scoto-Norman heritage (originating in Brieux, Normandy), his maternal ancestors were Scottish-Gaels. He became one of Scotland's greatest kings, as well as one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against the Kingdom of England. He claimed the Scottish throne as a fourth great-grandson of David I of Scotland.
His body is buried in Dunfermline Abbey, while his heart is buried in Melrose Abbey. His heart was to be taken on crusade eventually to the Holy Land, but only reached Moorish Granada, where it acted as a talisman for the Scottish contingent at the Battle of Teba.
Robert was the first child of Robert de Brus, 6th Lord of Annandale (d. 1304) and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, (d. 1292) daughter of Niall, Earl of Carrick. His mother was by all accounts a formidable woman who, legend would have it, kept Robert Bruce's father captive until he agreed to marry her. From his mother, he inherited the Gaelic Earldom of Carrick, and through his father a royal lineage that would give him a claim to the Scottish throne. Although his date of birth is definitely known, his place of birth is less certain, but it was probably Turnberry Castle in Ayrshire.
Very little is known of his youth. He could have been sent to be fostered with a local family, as was the custom. It can be presumed that Bruce was raised speaking all the languages of his lineage and nation and was almost certainly fluent in Gaelic and Norman French, with literacy in Latin. Robert's first appearance in history is on a witness list of a charter issued by Alasdair MacDomhnaill, Lord of Islay. His name appears in the company of the Bishop of Argyll, the vicar of Arran, a Kintyre clerk, his father and a host of Gaelic notaries from Carrick.
He saw the outcome of the 'Great Cause' in 1292, which gave the Crown of Scotland to his distant relative, John Balliol, as unjust. As he saw it, it prevented his branch of the family from taking their place on the Scottish throne. Soon afterwards, his grandfather, Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale—the unsuccessful claimant—resigned his lordship to Robert de Brus, Bruce's father. Robert de Brus had already resigned the Earldom of Carrick to Robert Bruce, his son, on the day of his wife's death in 1292, thus making Robert Bruce the Earl of Carrick. Both father and son sided with Edward I against Balliol.
In April 1294, the younger Bruce had permission to visit Ireland for a year and a half, and, as a further mark of King Edward's favour, he received a respite for all the debts owed by him to the English Exchequer.
Some sources claim that Helen was the daughter of the Welsh ruler Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of North Wales, Llywelyn 'The Great' (1173–1240) and his spouse Joan, Lady of Wales, an illegitimate child of King John of England. However, as both Llywelyn and Joan were dead by 1246, that theory would most likely be incorrect. However, there are suggestions that Helen may have in fact been the daughter of Llywelyn's son Dafydd ap Llywelyn and his Norman wife Isabella de Braose, of the south Wales dynasty of Marcher Lords.
In August 1296, Bruce and his father swore fealty to Edward I of England at Berwick-upon-Tweed, but in breach of this oath, which had been renewed at Carlisle, the younger Robert supported the Scottish revolt against King Edward in the following year. Urgent letters were sent ordering Bruce to support Edward's commander, John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, (to whom Bruce was related), in the summer of 1297; but instead of complying, Bruce continued to support the revolt against Edward. On 7 July, Bruce and his friends made terms with Edward 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 for swearing allegiance to King Edward. The Bishop of Glasgow, James the Steward, and Sir Alexander Lindsay became sureties for Bruce until he delivered his infant daughter Marjorie as a hostage.
Shortly after the Battle of Stirling Bridge, Bruce again defected to the Scots; Annandale was wasted and he burned the English-held castle of Ayr. Yet, when King Edward returned to England after his victory at the Battle of Falkirk, Annandale and Carrick were excepted from the Lordships and lands which he assigned to his followers; Bruce was seen as a waverer whose allegiance could be acquired.
After William Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland after the Battle of Falkirk, he was succeeded by Robert Bruce and John Comyn as joint Guardians, but they could not see past their personal differences. As a nephew and supporter of John Balliol, and as someone with a rightful claim to the Scottish throne, Comyn was Bruce's enemy. In 1299, William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, was appointed as a third, neutral Guardian to try and maintain order between Bruce and Comyn. The following year, Bruce finally resigned as joint Guardian and was replaced by Sir Gilbert, 1st Lord de Umfraville (d. before 13 October 1307), Earl of Angus (in right of his mother, Maud, Countess of Angus).
In May 1301, Umfraville, Comyn and Lamberton also resigned as joint Guardians and were replaced by Sir John de Soules as sole Guardian. Soules was appointed largely because he was part of neither the Bruce nor the Comyn camps and was a patriot. He was an active Guardian and made renewed efforts to have King John returned to the Scottish throne.
In July, King Edward I launched his sixth campaign into Scotland. Though he captured Bothwell and Turnberry Castle, he did little to damage the Scots' fighting ability and, in January 1302, agreed to a nine-month truce. It was around this time that Robert the Bruce submitted to Edward, along with other nobles, even though he had been on the side of the patriots until then.
There were rumours that Balliol would return to regain the Scottish throne. Soules, who had probably been appointed by King John, supported his return, as did most other nobles, but the return of John as king would lead to the Bruces losing any chance of ever gaining the throne themselves.
However, though recently pledged to support King Edward, it is interesting to note that Robert the Bruce sent a letter to the monks at Melrose Abbey in March 1302 which effectively weakened his usefulness to the English king. Apologising for having called the monks' tenants to service in his army when there had been no national call-up, Bruce pledged that, henceforth, he would "never again" require the monks to serve unless it was to "the common army of the whole realm", for national defence. Bruce also married his second wife that year, Elizabeth de Burgh (d. 26 October, 1327), the daughter of Richard de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, (d. 1326). By Elizabeth he had four children: David II, John (died in childhood), Matilda (who married Thomas Isaac and died at Aberdeen 20 July, 1353), and Margaret (who married William de Moravia, 5th Earl of Sutherland in 1345).
In 1303, Edward invaded again, reaching Edinburgh, before marching to Perth. John Comyn, who was by now Guardian, could not hope to defeat King Edward's forces. Edward stayed in Perth until July, then proceeded via Dundee, Brechin and Montrose, to Aberdeen, where he arrived in August. From there, he marched through Moray to Badenoch, before re-tracing his path back south to Dunfermline. With the country now under submission, all the leading Scots, except for William Wallace, surrendered to Edward in February 1304. Terms of submission were negotiated by John Comyn.
The laws and liberties of Scotland were to be as they had been in the days of Alexander III, and any that needed alteration would be with the advice of King Edward and the advice and assent of the Scots nobles.
On 11 June 1304, with both of them having witnessed the heroic efforts of their countrymen during King Edward's siege of Stirling Castle, Bruce and William Lamberton made a pact that bound them, each to the other, in “friendship and alliance against all men.” If one should break the secret pact, he would forfeit to the other the sum of ten thousand pounds. The pact is often interpreted as a sign of their deep patriotism despite both having already surrendered to the English.
With Scotland defenceless, Edward set about absorbing her into England. Homage was again obtained from the nobles and the burghs, and a parliament was held to elect those who would meet later in the year with the English parliament to establish rules for the governance of Scotland. For all the apparent participation by Scots in the government, however, the English held the real power. The Earl of Richmond, Edward's nephew, was to head up the subordinate government of Scotland.
Bruce, like all his family, had a complete belief in his right to the throne. However his actions of supporting alternately the English and Scottish armies had led to a great deal of distrust towards Bruce among the “Community of the Realm of Scotland”. His ambition was further thwarted by the person of John Comyn. Comyn had been much more resolute in his opposition to the English, he was the most powerful noble in Scotland and was related to many more powerful nobles both within Scotland and England. He also had a powerful claim to the Scottish throne through both his descent from the ancient Celtic monarchy and through his being the nephew of John Balliol. To neutralise this threat, Bruce invited him to a meeting under truce in Dumfries on 10 February 1306.
Bruce attacked Comyn before the high altar of the church of the Greyfriars monastery and fled. On being told that Comyn had survived the attack and was being treated, two of Bruce's supporters, Roger de Kirkpatrick and John Lindsay, went back into the church and finished Comyn off. Bruce was excommunicated for this crime, which eventually led to the excommunication first of the barons who supported him and then the entire country. Realising that the 'die had been cast' and he had no alternative except to become king or a fugitive, Bruce asserted his claim to the Scottish crown. He was crowned King of Scots as Robert I at Scone, near Perth on 25 March, by Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, (alleged by the English to be his mistress) who claimed the right of her family, the Macduff Earl of Fife, to place the Scottish king on his throne. Though now king, Bruce did not yet have a kingdom, and his efforts to obtain it were unsuccessful until after the death of King Edward I.
Edward I marched north again in the spring. On his way, he granted the Scottish estates of Bruce and his adherents to his own followers and published a bill excommunicating Bruce. Bruce's queen, Elizabeth, his daughter Marjorie, and his sister Mary were captured in a sanctuary at Tain, while his brother Niall was executed. But, on 7 July, King Edward I died, leaving Bruce opposed by his feeble son, Edward II, and the odds turned in Bruce's favour.
Bruce and his followers returned to the Scottish mainland in February in two groups. One, led by Bruce and his brother Edward landed at Turnberry Castle and began a guerrilla war in southwest Scotland. The other, led by his brothers Thomas and Alexander, landed slightly further south in Loch Ryan; but they were soon captured and executed. In April, Bruce won a small victory over the English at the Battle of Glen Trool, before defeating Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke at the Battle of Loudoun Hill. Leaving his brother Edward in command in Galloway, he travelled north, capturing Inverlochy and Urquhart Castles, burning Inverness Castle and Nairn to the ground, then unsuccessfully threatening Elgin.
Transferring operations to Aberdeenshire in late 1307, he threatened Banff before falling seriously ill, probably owing to the hardships of the lengthy campaign. Recovering, leaving John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan unsubdued at his rear, Bruce returned west to take Balvenie and Duffus Castles, then Tarradale Castle on the Black Isle. Looping back via the hinterlands of Inverness and a second failed attempt to take Elgin, Bruce finally achieved his landmark defeat of Comyn at the Battle of Inverurie in May 1308, then overran Buchan and slaughtered the English garrison at Aberdeen.
In March 1309, he held his first Parliament at St. Andrews, and by August, he controlled all of Scotland north of the River Tay. The following year, the clergy of Scotland recognised Bruce as king at a general council. The support given to him by the church in spite of his excommunication was of great political importance.
The next three years saw the capture and reduction of one English-held castle or outpost after another: Linlithgow in 1310, Dumbarton in 1311, and Perth, by Bruce himself, in January 1312. Bruce also made raids into northern England and, landing at Ramsey in the Isle of Man, then laid siege to Castle Rushen in Castletown capturing it on 21 June 1313 to deny the island's strategic importance to the English. In the spring of 1314, Edward Bruce laid siege to Stirling Castle, whose governor, Philip de Mowbray, agreed to capitulate if not relieved before 24 June 1314. In March 1314, Sir James Douglas captured Roxburgh, and Randolph captured Edinburgh Castle. In May, Bruce again raided England and subdued the Isle of Man.
The eight years of exhausting but deliberate refusal to meet the English on even ground have caused many to consider Bruce as one of the great guerrilla leaders of any age. This represented a transformation for one raised as a feudal knight. Bruce secured Scottish independence from England militarily — if not diplomatically — at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
Freed from English threats, Scotland's armies could now invade northern England. Bruce also drove back a subsequent English expedition north of the border and launched raids into Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Buoyed by his military successes, Bruce's forces also invaded Ireland in 1315, to free the country from English rule, and to open a second front in the continuing wars with England. The Irish even crowned Edward Bruce as High King of Ireland in 1316. Robert later went there with another army to assist his brother.
To go with the invasion, Bruce popularised an ideological vision of a "Pan-Gaelic Greater Scotia" with his lineage ruling over both Ireland and Scotland. This propaganda campaign was aided by two factors. The first was his marriage alliance from 1302 with the de Burgh family of the Earldom of Ulster in Ireland; second, Bruce himself on his mother's side of Carrick, was descended from Gaelic royalty - in Scotland. Thus, lineally and geopolitically, Bruce attempted to support his anticipated notion of a pan-Gaelic alliance between Scottish-Irish Gaelic populations, under his kingship.
This is revealed by a letter he sent to the Irish chiefs, where he calls the Scots and Irish collectively nostra nacio (our nation), stressing the common language, customs and heritage of the two peoples:
Whereas we and you and our people and your people, free since ancient times, share the same national ancestry and are urged to come together more eagerly and joyfully in friendship by a common language and by common custom, we have sent you our beloved kinsman, the bearers of this letter, to negotiate with you in our name about permanently strengthening and maintaining inviolate the special friendship between us and you, so that with God's will our nation (nostra nacio) may be able to recover her ancient liberty.
The diplomacy worked to a certain extent, at least in Ulster, where the Scots had some support. The Irish chief, Donal O'Neill, for instance, later justified his support for the Scots to Pope John XXII by saying "the Kings of Lesser Scotia all trace their blood to our Greater Scotia and retain to some degree our language and customs."
The Bruce campaign to Ireland was characterised by some initial military success. However, the Scots failed to win over the non-Ulster chiefs, or to make any other significant gains in the south of the island, where people couldn't see the difference between English and Scottish occupation. Eventually it was defeated when Edward Bruce was killed at the Battle of Faughart. The Irish Annals of the period described the defeat of the Bruces by the English as one of the greatest things ever done for the Irish nation due to the fact it brought an end to the famine and pillaging brought on the Irish by both the Scots and the English.
Robert the Bruce died on 7 June, 1329, at the Manor of Cardross, near Dumbarton He had suffered for some years from what some contemporary accounts describe as an "unclean ailment"; the traditional view is that he died of leprosy, but this is now disputed with syphilis, psoriasis, motor neurone disease and a series of strokes all proposed as possible alternatives.
His body lies buried in Dunfermline Abbey, but according to a death bed decree Sir James Douglas removed and carried his heart 'against the enemies of the name of Christ' , in Moorish Granada, Spain. The decree overrode an earlier written request, dated 13th May 1329 Cardross, that his heart be buried in the monastery at Melrose. Douglas was killed in an ambush whilst carrying out the decree. On realising his imminent death Douglas is said to have thrown the casket containing Bruce's heart ahead of him and shouted "Onward braveheart, Douglas shall follow thee or die." According to legend (Fordun Annals), the heart was later recovered by Sir William Keith and taken back to Scotland to be buried at Melrose Abbey, in Roxburghshire, following his earlier decree. In 1996, a casket, thought to contain the heart, was unearthed during construction work.
In addition to his legitimate offspring, Robert Bruce had several illegitimate children by unknown mothers. His sons were Sir Robert (died 12 August 1332 at the Battle of Dupplin Moor); Walter, of Odistoun on the Clyde, who predeceased his father; and Niall, of Carrick, (died 17 October, 1346 at the Battle of Neville's Cross). His daughters were Elizabeth (married Walter Oliphant of Gask); Margaret (married Robert Glen), alive as of 29 February, 1364; and Christian of Carrick, who died after 1329, when she was in receipt of a pension.
Robert was succeeded by his only legitimate son, the infant David II.
Robert's only child by his first marriage, Marjorie Bruce, married Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland (1293–1326). She died on 2 March 1316, near Paisley, Renfrewshire, after being thrown from her horse while heavily pregnant, but the child survived. He was Robert II, who succeeded David II and founded the Stewart dynasty.
Bruce's descendants include all later Scottish monarchs (except Edward Balliol whose claim to be a Scottish monarch is debatable) and all British monarchs since the Union of the Crowns in 1603. A large number of families definitely are descended from him but there is some controversy about some claims.
But this legend appears for the first time in only a much later account, "Tales of a Grandfather" by Sir Walter Scott, and may have originally been told about his companion-in-arms Sir James Douglas (the "Black Douglas"). The entire account may in fact be a version of a literary trope used in royal biographical writing. A similar story is told, for example, in Jewish sources about King David, and in Persian folklore about the Mongolian warlord Tamerlane and an ant.
On March 21, 2008, Dr. Bruce Durie, academic manager of genealogical studies at the University of Strathclyde, opined in the British daily newspaper The Guardian, "that despite his romantic reputation, Robert the Bruce was an absolute scoundrel". "The first thing he did after taking power was destroy Stirling castle and he was a self-serving, vainglorious opportunist who was determined to be king at any cost," Durie added..
Scholars of the period might, however, point out that Bruce only slighted Stirling castle to deny it to future English invaders, that he restored the independence of the country by expelling the Occupation government, and that he was a very successful monarch in very difficult circumstances.
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