The Auld Alliance

Scottish Pub - Paris

Robert Bruce

The Bruces, like so many Scottish nobles, were of Norman descent arriving in Scotland in the 12thC. Robert's grandfather had claimed the Scottish crown in 1290 when the throne was empty.

Edward I of England claimed feudal power over the Scots involved and awarded the throne to John Balliol whom he saw as 'his man'. In 1296 Balliol's power was taken, he was imprisoned in London and Edward I ruled Scotland directly. Robert (8th Robert de Bruce) was born in 1274.

In 1292 his father (7th Robert de Bruce) passed on the title of Earl of Carrick to young Robert. The Bruces did not back Balliol but in common with most Scots nobles gave fealty to Edward I. During the times of Wallace's rebellion, Robert and his father appeared to disagree - his father staying out of the rebellion and backing England until his death in 1304. Young Robert however joined Wallace and with his arch rival John Comyn, became a Guardian of Scotland.

In 1302 young Robert accepted Edward I's offer of truce suspecting that the Pope and the French might try to put Balliol back into power and remove Edward's hold in Scotland. In the year of Wallace's death, 1306, Bruce killed John Comyn in a church in Dumfries on 10th February. Since Comyn was a nephew of Balliol this act removed Bruce's main rival to the throne implying that he had now set his sights firmly on becoming king. He then rushed to Scone, ancient coronation site for Scots monarchs, and was crowned Robert I on 25th March 1306. But Bruce was far from asserting himself as ruler. Edward had garrisons throughout Scotland and Bruce was defeated firstly at Methven and then at Tyndrum both in 1306. Edward attempted to crush Bruce with his usual enthusiasm for violence. Three of Bruce's four brothers were murdered, his wife imprisoned and he himself went into hiding on the island of Rathlin off Ireland.

The legend of the spider is said to come from this episode. Bruce watched a spider try and try again to place a web across a wide space in his cave. Bruce was impressed by the creature's resilience - each time it failed it climbed up again and tried once more. He took a lesson from the spider and tried again.... In February 1307 Bruce landed in Ayrshire and with his brother Edward began the 'fight back' slowly capturing territory in southwest Scotland.

In the same year Edward I of England died and the relative weakness of his sone Edward II must have played a part in Bruce's climb to success. Leading churchmen of Scotland also supported Bruce. He defeated another John Comyn cousin of the one he earlier murdered. In 1313 Bruce made a breakthrough by capturing the major centre of Perth from it's English garrison. In 1314 his followers moving steadily northward captured Edinburgh. In 1314 agreement had been reached between Edward Bruce and Philip de Mowbray, the Commander of the country's strategically most important fortress - Stirling Castle - that if it were not relieved by mid-summer's day, it would be surrendered. A huge English army of almost 20,000 men under the personal command of Edward II attempted to fight through to Stirling. Robert I with 7000 men chose his defensive positions with care at the Bannockburn making use of bogs, gorge and sloping terrain. The English could not deploy properly on the narrow front and Bruce's spearmen held firm. As the day progressed the English began to loss the struggle. Edward II reached Stirling castle with a bodyguard of 500 knights. De Mowbray stuck to his oath saying that the battle was lost, that he was about to surrender and banned Edward's entry. In contrast to old Edward I's past behaviour, both Robert and Edward Bruce had adopted a policy of allowing garrisons who surrendered safe passage. Although many of the Bruce's supporters felt that retribution for past attrocities was called for, this chivalrous policy paid dividends.

Although England's power within Scotland had been thoroughly destroyed at Bannockburn, fighting continued throughout Robert's reign. Berwick was captured in 1318 and the north of England was repeatedly ravaged. Edward II led an army to Edinburgh but a scorched earth defense forced starvation and retreat. It was not until Edward II had been deposed that peace was finally made in the Treaty of Northampton in 1328 and all claims to Scotland by England were dropped forever.

After 1314 Bruce devoted his efforts into re-establishing the mechanisms of government which had been absent for 20 years. Lands of those who had backed England and opposed him were forfeit and give to his supporters. This changed the structure across Scotland with new families rising to positions of local power from, the MacPhersons of the central highlands to the Douglass in the borders. It took till the end of his reign to achieve a fully functioning exchequer again. Robert I died possibly of leprosy in 1329 and was succeeded by his son David II (B. 1324). The Bruce had always wished to visit the Holyland and Sir James Douglas is said to have attempted the journey with Bruce's heart. Alas Douglas was killed and Bruce's heart was buried at Melrose Abbey.

sources: www.scotsmart.com