The Bruces from the years 1120 through 1329
Deborah Bruce Gottlieb, FSA Scot
This commentary is based on ten articles written for the Blue Lion from 2012 through 2014 in preparation for the Family of Bruce visit to Scotland to commemorate the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. The information for these articles is based on four sources listed at the end of the commentary.
1. The Bruces and Scotland (1120-1295) – Blue Lion issue February 2012
2. Events Leading up to the Wars of Scottish Independence (1296 – 1306) – Blue Lion issue May 2012
3. Families/Clans Supporting Scotland and Robert the Bruce (1306) – Blue Lion issue August 2012
4. The Battles and Events before Bannockburn (1307 – 1313) – Blue Lion issue November 2012
5. Edward Bruce Makes an Agreement (1313) – Blue Lion issue February 2013
6. Preparing for Battle (1313 – June 1314) – Blue Lion issue May 2013
7. The Battle (June 1314) – Blue Lion issue August 2013
8. Finally… Acknowledgement & the Declaration of Arbroath (1314 – 1320) – Blue Lion issue November 2013
9. The “Peace” in a Courageous Era (1320 – 1329) – Blue Lion issue February 2014
10. Final Measures to Celebrate the 700th Anniversary of Bannockburn – Blue Lion issue May 2014
Article 1 – The Bruces and Scotland (1120-1295)
The Bruces – from Normandy England Scotland
The following bulleted points are a summary of the history of the Bruces through 1295.
• Approximately 1120 – Robert deBrus from Brix near Cherborg, Normandy, a protégé of Henry I, King of England, established residency in England and joined other protégés including David, son of Malcolm III, King of Scots. About the time when David became King of Scots, Robert was granted lordship of Annandale in southwest Scotland and became the 1st Lord of Annandale. When David I invaded England (Battle of the Standard in 1138), the 1st Robert Bruce sided with England and at that time passed the lordship of Annandale to his son Robert who became Robert Bruce the 2nd Lord of Annandale.
• In 1173-74, war between Scotland and England flared up again. In addition to lands in Annandale, Scotland, the 2nd Robert had extensive lands in England and chose to support the English. The Bruces lost the Annandale lands but they were restored back to the Bruces when the 2nd Robert’s son and heir, William (3rd Lord of Annandale) married William the Lion’s daughter.
• Approximately 1219 – William Bruce’s son and heir Robert Bruce, the 4th Lord of Annandale married into the Scottish royal family when he married Isabel, second daughter of David, Earl of Huntingdon who was a descendant of David I, King of Scots. This marriage of the 4th Robert to Isabel added the Bruces in the lineage of the succession to the Scottish throne.
• Approximately 1240 – The 4th Robert’s son, Robert Bruce, the 5th lord of Annandale, also known as Robert the Noble and/or Bruce the Competitor, was very ambitious and courageous. At the age of 50, he joined a crusade expedition to the Holy Land that was led by Prince Edward of England who would eventually become Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots. After returning from the Crusades, the 5th Robert served Edward I in England until about 1285.
• 1271 – The 5th Robert’s son, Robert Bruce, the 6th Lord of Annandale married Marjorie, Countess of Carrick and acquired the title of Earl of Carrick.
• 11 July 1274 – Robert, the 7th Lord of Annandale, was born to the 6th Robert and Countess of Carrick, most likely at Turnberry Castle which was the head of his mother’s earldom. Robert, the 7th Lord of Annandale, would eventually become Robert I, King of Scots aka Robert the Bruce. Through his parents’ marriage, he was connected to the ancient and native aristocracy of Scotland. The Bruce family had extensive holdings in south-west Scotland and estates in England. The 7th Robert’s upbringing was that of an aristocrat and he would have been trained and schooled in religion, languages, social graces, law, hunting, and martial arts.
By 1286, the Bruces were well established in England and Scotland and had much influence and lands in both countries.
Kingdom of Scotland vs. Edward I’s Power
The following is a high level summary of the complex past of this medieval time from 1274 through 1295.
Alexander III was the King of Scots when the 7th Robert was born. Scotland was a single kingdom in 1274; although, the cultures and language of the Scots were very varied. The Gaelic people of Galloway (Southwest Scotland) were resisting becoming absorbed into Scotland. The Bruces of Annandale, although they were Anglo-Norman, had learned and adhered to Gaelic traditions and the family was well honored.
By this time, England and Scotland had shared 500 years of complex history. England was much wealthier and at times claimed lordship over all of Britain. A custom had developed in the 12th Century that certain Scottish kings accepted the English lordship and would swear fealty to England. Alexander III is said to have insisted categorically that he held his kingdom from God alone and would not swear fealty to Edward I.
In 1286, Alexander III, King of Scots, was fatally injured from a fall from his horse. Since all of his children predeceased him, the heir to the Scottish throne was his grand-daughter Margaret, the Maid of Norway. Since she was only three-years old and not of good health, her claim to the throne was challenged by Robert Bruce the Competitor and John Balliol. They were both eligible in the order of succession to the Scottish throne as they were both descendants through marriage of the two daughters of David, Earl of Huntington. In the meantime, Margaret, Maid of Norway, reaches England.
In 1290, the Guardians of Scotland developed a plan to marry the then six year old Margaret to Edward I’s heir, the five year old Edward of Caernarfon (who later became Edward II of England). The Treaty of Birgham was the official document agreed upon between Scotland, England, and Norway and would proclaim a union of the crowns; although, the Scottish Kingdom would remain separate and free. In October of 1290, Margaret, the Maid of Norway, who was to be enthroned as Queen of Scots, died in Orkney on her way to Scotland.
In 1291-92, a tribunal named the Great Cause presided over by Edward I would ultimately decide who should succeed Alexander III. Edward I established “rights of jurisdiction” over Scotland and no Scots objected at this time. Both John Balliol and the 5th Robert Bruce (the Noble/Competitor) were descended from the Earl of Huntington; however, John Balliol was descended from the 1st daughter through his father, and Robert Bruce directly from the 2nd daughter. It was determined that John Balliol was the proper heir to the Scottish throne to succeed Alexander III because of his descent from the 1st daughter. With this move it was well known that the King of Scots would be a vassal of the King of England; therefore, making him subservient to Edward I. Because the 5th Robert Bruce was defeated and not chosen as King of Scots, he resigned his claim to succeed to the throne to his son and his heirs. In doing this, he ensured a future Bruce claim to the Scottish throne. Shortly thereafter, the 6th Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick resigned his Earldom in favor of his son the 7th Robert Bruce, who was to be the future King of Scots.
On St Andrews Day 1292, the Great Cause came to a close when John Balliol was enthroned on the Stone of Destiny at Scone. King John was then required to pay homage to Edward as his overlord. A number of high ranking families who were also supporters of Bruce the Noble were purposely absent from the ceremony. The Comyn family, who had significant power in Scotland for many years, resumed control in the government. In 1289, John Comyn succeeded his father as Earl of Buchan and constable of Scotland and wielded much power. In December of 1292, a month after King John was enthroned as King of Scots, King Edward instructed King John to issue documents freeing Edward from all previous obligations and promises. In 1293, King John declares null the Treaty of Birgham causing Scotland not to be an independent country any longer, but part of English rule.
In August 1293, Robert Bruce, the 7th Lord of Annandale was officially established in his mother’s earldom of Carrick. The new Earl of Carrick and future King of Scots was then 19 years of age. Because of his position, he could not avoid paying homage and fealty to John Balliol, King of Scots; however, his grandfather and father (the 5th and 6th Robert Bruces) were absent and never paid homage to King John.
Since King Edward was overlord, he continually harried King John against Scots who made appeals to Edward to resolve conflicts. This resulted in much embarrassment and loss of dignity to King John. The Comyn dominated council at that time stood with King John and resisted against Edward’s demands.
In 1294, a war began between Edward I and Philip IV of France over Gascony. During this time there was also a revolt in Wales when Edward I called upon the Welsh to fight in Gascony. In the past, when there were conflicts between England and France, Scotland, when requested, would come to the aid of France.
In 1295, as many matters were coming to a head, the Comyn dominated Scottish council took the matters with the French out of King John’s hands. The Scots and French then agreed to a treaty called the Franco-Scottish treaty of 1295.
During this time, the 5th Robert Bruce, The Noble and Competitor died. Through his efforts, his son, the 6th Robert Bruce succeeded to Annandale, and his grandson, the 7th Robert Bruce had been confirmed as the Earl of Carrick. The Bruces were not likely to support the Balliol and Comyn regime because of family and political differences in how Scotland should be governed. They forfeited their lands in Annandale and Carrick when they temporarily departed for England. King Edward appointed the 6th Robert Bruce the command of Carlisle Castle. At this time of turmoil, the Bruces as well as some other Scottish nobility and landowners supported Edward I.
• The Bruces are one of a number of families of Norman descent who became leaders in Scotland.
• The Bruces knew well the monarchs of England over the years, and they especially knew the strengths and weaknesses of Edward I.
• Through the marriage of Robert Bruce the 4th Lord of Annandale to Isabel the second daughter of the Earl of Huntingdon, the Bruces became part of the succession to the throne of Scotland.
• The Balliol and Comyn families, although distant cousins of the Bruces, were fierce competitors for the throne of the Kingdom of Scotland.
• Through the centuries, England had often attempted to interfere with the government of Scotland.
• King John Balliol was no match for the strong-willed King Edward.
• Many noble families had titles and properties in Scotland and England which caused internal conflicts of loyalties in the rule of the Kingdom.
• Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, 7th Lord of Annandale, and the future King of Scots, was 12 when Alexander III died in 1286. His grandfather, Robert Bruce, the 5th Lord of Annandale, through his actions, ensured his grandson would have a lawful claim to the Scottish throne.
Article 2 – Events which led to the Wars of Scottish Independence (1296-1306)
Part I of this series concluded with John Balliol, King of Scots, losing influence and control of situations between Scotland and England. The Comyn regime was in control of the Scottish Council; the Bruce’s had forfeited their lands in Annandale and Carrick and temporarily departed for England; and there was much turmoil and at this time in 1295 a number of Scottish nobility and landowners including the Bruces supported Edward I of England.
At the start of 1296, King Edward I unleashed a devastating attack on the town of Berwick. After this event, there was little resistance from the Scots. King John surrendered to Edward I and was stripped of his position and became known as “Toom Tabard” or “empty surcoat”. Edward I became overlord of Scotland and removed all the sacred relics, regalia, The Black Rood of St Margaret, and the Stone of Destiny on which the King of Scots had always been enthroned. Once again Edward I required the Scots nobility and gentry to subscribe allegiance to him, and the document known as the Ragman Roll contains the collection of records of their commitments. Names on this document include Robert Bruce VI, and Robert Bruce VII, the future king, as well as the Comyns. Also, at this time England and France were still at war and Edward’s plans were to send the Scots to the brutal war in France to fight for England.
Animosity between the Bruces and Comyns increased, there was much discontent throughout Scotland, and the violence and warring continue. At this point William Wallace attacks and kills an English Sheriff. Wallace, the son of a knight, is followed in his rebel cause by a number of Bruce supporters – namely Sir William Douglas, James the Steward, Robert Wishart Bishop of Glasgow, and the young Robert Bruce VII, Earl of Carrick now 22 years of age. Although the future king denounces his fealty to King Edward I; his father, Robert VI, wanted nothing to do with his rebel alliance and in turn his father’s supporters in Annandale did not follow the rebels. Shortly thereafter, Wallace and the rebel army won a decisive battle at Stirling Bridge.
In 1298, with continued invasions into Scotland and fierce battles, Edward I had a major victory at Falkirk over the Scots. The Army of Scotland and many of the nobles regrouped and it was decided that after such a defeat Wallace could no longer remain as sole guardian of Scotland. Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick and John Comyn of Badenock the younger were elected as joint guardians of Scotland. They did attempt to bury their differences and to work together to resist Edward’s army even though the differences between their families had existed for many years and they were also both in line for the throne of Scotland. By August 1299, it was clear that the Bruce and Comyn sides were clearly divided. Bishop Lamberton was then made a third guardian to bring some impression of harmony. By the end of 1299, the Scots were able to take Stirling Castle and celebrated a major victory over the English.
In the meantime, King John was released from papal custody and the Comyn and Balliol elements among the Scots were delighted, and they at once began working toward a restoration of King John to the throne of Scotland. Robert Bruce then ceased any cooperation with Comyn and was not a guardian any longer mainly due to his loathing to the prospect of fighting for King John.
The English Army led by Edward I invaded Scotland in the later part of 1300 and again in 1301. Robert Bruce made the decision in 1302 to distance himself from the patriots and return allegiance to Edward I. It is assumed that this was primarily due to the prospect of the Balliol restoration to the throne as well as negotiations about the return of Bruce estates, including a guarantee for him, his men, their lands and tenements, and freedom from imprisonment.
With this agreement Robert gained security for his lands and titles, without compromising his claim to the Scottish throne – as Edward would ensure the Balliol kingship would not be restored in Scotland. Another benefit was the approval by Edward I of the marriage of Robert to Elizabeth de Burgh. This marriage further strengthened the Bruce, de Burgh, and Steward Family’s alliances.
At this point in 1303, William Wallace now lived mostly in isolation and was wanted by Edward I. John Comyn had decided that the rebel resistance could no longer be maintained.
The Scots had been overwhelmed by the military might of England and the failure of King John to put his support behind his subjects. Negotiations with Edward and the Scottish nobles resulted in compromise agreements, but Edward was unwilling to accept all the Scottish leaders into peace until Wallace had been captured.
In 1304, Edward overtook Stirling Castle with all the tools of medieval technology unleashed upon it. All Edward wanted now was William Wallace. He ordered Comyn and the other Scottish leaders to capture Wallace if they wanted easier surrender terms. By August 1305, Wallace was captured, tried, and brutally executed. Wallace had no opportunity to answer the charges and was treated with no compassion or respect as should have been due to a former Guardian of Scotland.
In 1305, Edward then begins to define the future government of Scotland as England’s latest territory – rather than a separate kingdom – as Scotland had been reduced to obedience by Edward. Accommodation was reached with the Comyns and their cooperation was secured for Edward I. Robert Bruce was to have a minor role and was nominated to sit on the guardian’s council. Edward I had succeeded in “hammering the Scots” into submission and he thought his achievements would last indefinitely.
At this time, Robert Bruce VII had much authority. He was married to the daughter of the most powerful magnate in Ireland, holding Ayr and Kildrummy castles, and three royal forests as well as the titles of Earl of Carrick and now Lord of Annandale since his father Robert VI had passed in 1304.
As noted earlier, the Bruces and Comyns did not see eye to eye on many issues regarding Scotland. They both negotiated and compromised much with their wealth, lands, and position for power. The heads of both families met in the Greyfriars Church at Dumfries on 10 February 1306. Robert Bruce and John Comyn had come to blows in the past and did so again at this meeting. Their discussions turned to argument, accusation, and rage. Bruce struck Comyn with his sword before leaving the kirk. It is not clear if the blow killed Comyn outright or if Bruce’s supporters finished the deed. It was however, a defining moment in Scottish history and for Robert Bruce.
Bruce’s intentions were to unite Scotland and not bring her to a civil war. However, his actions at Greyfriers Kirk was a crucial event that changed Scottish history. Edward I died shortly thereafter understanding his conquest of Scotland was now beyond his reach.
If the revival of the Scottish kingship were to be believable, all traditional forms would have to be observed as much as possible. There was much improvising in moving forward with the enthronement ceremony because Edward I had removed most of the sacred relics. Scotland was greatly divided and there were still a great number of Scots who supported the more legitimate Balliol claim to the throne; however, Bruce had support among the higher clergy and nobility. There was much outrage regarding the intrusion upon the rights and liberties of the Scots kingdom, the humiliation of King John, and the execution of William Wallace.
March 25th 1306 was the enthronement date and all essential ceremonies were observed. Ironically, at this time, many Scottish nobles were on the side of the English as they wished to have peace even at the expense of the Scots nation. Many of the Scottish citizens were uncertain as to who to support.
Article 3– Supporters of Scotland and Robert the Bruce (1306)
For the past ten years, war had already been waged between Scotland and England as there had been rights and liberties taken away from Scotland by Edward I and many bloody battles had already been fought. Robert the Bruce’s grandfather, Bruce the Competitor, mentored his grandson well in leadership and politics and Robert was now ready to return liberty and freedom to Scotland.
In 1306, the moment and time was right for Robert the Bruce to take a stand for a united Scotland against those who wished to stay aligned with England. Robert was 32 at this time and ready for the task. After the death of the Red Comyn at Greyfriers Church during a heated argument between Robert Bruce and John Comyn, it was critical for Robert to move quickly and establish support and plans with allies. Although Robert was criticized because the Red Comyn was killed in a church, there was much discussion about his excommunication despite the fact that some of his closest allies were Bishops of the Scottish Roman Catholic Church. Bishop Wishart of Glasgow, a strong supporter of William Wallace and Robert Bruce, counseled Robert shortly after the Greyfriers Church incident forgiving him of the sin of the killing of Comyn and administered an oath from Robert that once he was King he would abide by the advice of the clergy of Scotland.
At the enthronement ceremony of King Robert I, Bishops Moray, Wishart, Murray, and Lamberton were in attendance. In addition, four earls, Donald, heir of Mar, Malcolm of Lennox, Alan of Menteith, and John, Earl of Atholl attended. Isabel, Countess of Fife and wife of the Earl of Buchan, who was a relative and staunch supporter of John Comyn, also was in attendance in the traditional role as the representative of the Earl of Fife to place the coronet on King Robert’s head.
The followers of Edward I, including many Scots, were in hot pursuit of King Robert and his small army. Loyal followers of Robert included his four brothers Edward, Neil, Alexander, and Thomas, as well as Walter Burradon, Gilbert Hay, Neil Campbell, Christopher Seton, James Douglas, Sir David Barclay, Sir Simon Fraser, James Stewart, John DeSoules, Robert Boyd, Brice Blair, Sir Robert Keith, and Thomas Randolph just to name a few. These knights made up King Robert’s leadership circle in addition to the others mentioned earlier at the enthronement ceremony.
Bruce had placed his Queen, Elizabeth and daughter, Marjorie (from his 1st wife, Isabella of Mar who died soon after childbirth) in the care of his brother Neil, Alexander Lindsay, and Robert Boyd, all faithful knights. They went to Kildrummy castle thinking it would be a safe haven.
The Battle at Methven in June 1306 resulted in an English victory and Bruce’s first defeat. There were many close calls during those early battles in 1306 with some defeats and one incident where King Robert was almost captured. In August of 1306, Bruce and his men were defeated a 2nd time at Dail Righ near Tyndrum. Around the same time, Bishop Lamberton and the elderly Bishop Wishart were captured and sent to the dungeons of Wessex in England.
There was a high price to pay for those loyal to King Robert. Many of his followers had made peace with King Edward I just two years before and now some had to forfeit their lands for supporting Bruce. Some of Bruce’s followers went against their Lords who supported King Edward to continue to support Bruce.
After Bruce’s 2nd defeat at the battle at Dail Righ, Queen Elizabeth and Robert’s daughter Marjorie were sent north for better protection. Shortly thereafter, the party who was charged with the protection of the Queen and Marjory were captured. Robert’s brother Neil was drawn, hanged, and beheaded at Berwick. Christopher Seton, King Robert’s sister’s husband, suffered a similar fate at Dumfries. Sir Simon Fraser was sent to London with the same sentence and many others were also executed.
Elizabeth, Queen Consort of Scots, was confined to a manor house. Christian Bruce, King Robert’s sister and widow of Christopher Seton, was sent to a nunnery in Lincolnshire. The others were treated even more outrageously. Mary, King Robert’s other sister was confined in a cage at Roxburgh castle hanging from a tower, and the Countess Isabel of Buchan was in a hanging cage at Berwick castle. Both were kept in cages for four long years when they were then confined to other quarters. It is understood that King Robert’s daughter Marjorie, then 12 years old, was first ordered to be kept in a cage at the Tower of London, but instead was sent to Yorkshire Gilbertine nunnery at Watton. All were finally released eight years later after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
Article 4 – The Battles and Events before Bannockburn (1307 – 1313)
In early 1307, King Robert travelled to Carrick on the west coast of Scotland near where he was born, and at that time, the lands in Carrick were occupied by English supporters. Two of King Robert’s brothers, Thomas and Alexander, were apprehended by the enemy and were tragically executed. King Robert had now lost three of his brothers leaving only Robert his brother Edward and their sisters the only family members still alive.
Although King Edward I was gravely ill and on his death bed, the Scots were greatly
outnumbered by the English and King Robert realized that his training as a knight in chivalric methods of valor, courage, bravery, and courtesy was not going to work against the much larger English force. His decision to change from battle mode to guerrilla warfare would change the course of Scottish history. Guerilla warfare was difficult for knights trained in chivalric combat as it was considered to be beneath their status and not refined or proper. In addition to guerilla warfare methods, a key strategy was to destroy and burn down castles before the English could take them over and use them for protection and to store their provisions. The list of castles destroyed included his own castle at Turnberry where he was born. From the Spring of 1307 through 1313 most of the battles were fought by the Scots in this unaccustomed and unorthodox way. Notable battles in 1307 included those at Glen Trool in April and Loudon Hill in May, both concluding in Scottish victories and resulting in a great rise in support for King Robert.
Late in 1307, King Robert became seriously ill for several months. It is not known exactly what struck him down, but speculation is that it was a type of scurvy due to the lack of nutritious food and difficult living arrangements. He finally recovered and although weak he was still a force in leading his men in defeating his enemies.
In 1308, the Scots won key battles at Inverurie, Galloway, and the Battle of Brander Pass.
By 1309, King Robert decided there should be an assembly of all the key Scottish Lords and in March of that year he held his First Parliament in St. Andrews. This gathering of the higher nobility made a clear statement that the new government was now fully established and he exercised his rightful authority to require the attendance of the Lords and Clergy. Two declarations were presented at the Parliament (one from the clergy and one from the nobles) which included documents going back to 1299 showing that Robert’s grandfather, Bruce the Competitor, was the true heir of King Alexander and that King Robert was now the true and nearest heir of King Alexander. Although, many nobles and clergy were at the First Parliament confirming loyalty to King Robert, a number of key Scottish nobles still supported King Edward II and England.
King Robert had achieved much up to this point, but he was keenly aware that he could not defeat the English in open battle because he was so outnumbered by his enemies.
The years between 1309 and 1312 were spent by King Robert mainly in the center and southern portions of Scotland with frequent raids into England. He made numerous attempts to win over the allegiance of more Scots to his side; however, many of the Scots who lived near the English border were loyal to the English out of necessity rather than fealty.
The Scots had been well received in Ireland and were able to purchase food, weapons, and materials for armor (which were probably made by the English and resold to the Scots by the Irish).
The bold tactics of King Robert and his loyal captains (Douglas, Randolph, Boyd, and his brother Edward Bruce) in taking castles by surprise in the middle of the night was astounding. In January 1313, Bruce and his army took Perth from the English and then took Dumfries in February.
To the west, the Isle of Man was an English stronghold making Scotland an easy target from the sea. Bruce had been strategizing for some time on how to take the Isle of Man and in May of 1313 seized the opportunity to invade the island and just one month later, Dungal Macdouall (a fierce enemy of Bruce) surrendered the Isle to Bruce.
As Bruce led his men into battle and demonstrated his willingness to risk his personal safety for them, many more Scots along with others were inspired to join the mission for Scottish freedom from the English.
From Spring to midsummer 1313, Edward Bruce, King Robert’s brother, attempted to take control of Stirling Castle which was held by the English.
Article 5. Edward Bruce Makes an Agreement (June 1313)
By 1313, King Robert had been King of Scots for seven years in the quest for Scottish independence from England. As he led his men into battle and demonstrated his willingness to risk his personal safety for them, many more Scots along with others were inspired to join the mission for Scottish freedom. From spring to midsummer 1313, Edward Bruce, King Robert’s brother, attempted to take control of Stirling Castle which was held by Sir Philip Moubray, a Scot, but a leader in the English army.
Because Edward Bruce failed to lay siege to Stirling Castle, Sir Philip Moubray suggested a pact which allowed a year for him to receive help from the English or else his position at Stirling would be indefensible. It also meant that no English army could come within three miles of the castle before Midsummer Day 1314 (June 24). This proposal was approved by Edward Bruce; however, was then sharply criticized by King Robert because it hurt his strategy of not fighting the English in open battle. This pact created a decisive moment for King Robert and Scotland and he now realized he had to change his battle strategy and tactics to one that was focused on a different type of battle from his guerilla warfare combat.
Article 6. Preparing for Battle (June 1313 – June 1314)
To support his changed battle strategy and tactics, King Robert knew he had to build, train, and sustain a large army, as well as become extremely self-confident in achieving the enormous undertaking in front of him.
In Lord Elgin’s book, The Bruce – Robert King of Scots: A Personal View, he explains that King Edward II of England would certainly arrive with many heavy horsemen ready for a crippling cavalry assault. “King Robert could press his infantry schiltroms (compact body of troops) close upon the armoured horse and their speed and the weight of their shock would fail. Over years of skirmish warfare, Bruce had been adept in contriving to narrow his fighting front. This meant that several pikemen (infantrymen using long spears) could get a good dig into the more isolated English knight on horseback…. He had time to do the same thing at Stirling.” In addition, among the logistics to consider were when should they arrive before the battle, how much food and provisions would be needed, techniques for practice and drills, as well as the answer to the question – should there be a battle….or not.
In early 1314, King Robert acquired two key castles which were held by the English…In February 1314 Roxburgh Castle was taken by Sir James Douglas, and in March 1314 Edinburgh Castle was captured by Thomas Randolph (King Robert’s nephew and the 1st Earl of Moray). These castle defenses were immediately destroyed In accordance with King Robert’s strategy regarding English strongholds.
On the English side, the emphasis of King Edward II was “to put down and suppress the wicked rebellion of Robert Bruce and his accomplices in the king’s (Edward) land of Scotland”. His determination was to finally settle the “Scottish Question” and have a victorious conquest. By March 1314, he was in the process of raising a large infantry force, ships and sailors, horsemen and large war horses known as destriers. King Edward II also expected the Irish and the Welsh would provide thousands of spearmen and archers to his cause. To sum up the English position, they were very well provisioned with the leadership of powerful magnates, large forces of men and horses, as well as money to ensure adequate storage of food and grain.
By May 1314, King Robert was finalizing the mustering of his infantry and still contemplating the possibility of a pitched battle at the designated place and time, which was not a strategy he favored. At this point, the numbers of Scottish cavalry were much inferior to King Edward’s forces. While the English knights rode destriers, the Scottish cavalry was mounted on light hackneys. It was clear at this point, a month before the scheduled battle that King Robert would have to clearly out maneuver King Edward and his army to achieve a victory.
As the battle date drew near, King Edward’s army marched six days from England to Scotland. The weather was unusually warm and the horses, horsemen, and infantry were weary from the journey. As worn out as the English army was, they were a splendid sight with their colourful heraldic banners waving in the wind, and the earls and noblemen leading the procession wearing their resplendent coats of arms and accessories. The English spent the night at Falkirk before moving on to Stirling on 23 June. If they did not relieve Stirling Castle by 24 June, the castle would be forfeited to Robert and the battle would be lost from England.
Robert assembled his army at Torwood, a forest stretching either side of the road to Stirling. He was still struggling with indecision as to fight or not, and where. He decided to make a stand on Tor Burn near Torwood. He left Moray, his lieutenant, at Torwood to hold the front lines. His brother, Edward, lead the second division, and King Robert the third. He positioned all forces in or near the woods to keep them safe from a cavalry attack. Just north of the Tor Burn he ordered his men to dig a trap for the English cavalry. It consisted of shallow holes a foot wide and deep as a man’s knee and hidden with twigs and grass designed to disrupt a cavalry charge.
On the afternoon of 23 June, an English group of “young aristocratic hotheads” spotted some Scots under some trees and assumed they were fleeing in retreat. Surprisingly, King Robert gallops out on a small horse towards them, with nothing more on his head than a leather cap and his crown. Sir Henry de Boun, an English knight rode with full swiftness with his lance leveled toward the King. As de Boun misses, King Robert stood up in his stirrups and brought his axe down on de Boun’s head – ruining his good axe! The English knights fled and the news spread quickly throughout the Scottish ranks of the episode which enormously encouraged the Scots. Later in the evening, the English cavalry stopped close to the trees to form up a charge. The Scottish pikemen targeted and wounded the horses which in turn threw several of their riders. The wounded English cavalry and horses rejoined their troops with excuses and tales of the courage of the Scots.
In the evening of 23 June, the light was fading and the English being already tired when they arrived were now totally disheartened. The Scots however were lighthearted and optimistic for a successful encounter the next day.
Article 7. The Bannockburn Battle June 24 1314
The morning of June 24, 1314 dawned and King Robert and the Scots heard mass and then Bruce gave an inspiring speech to his troops which has been immortalized in the poem/song by Robert Burns, Scots Wha Hae….
Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victorie!
Now’s the day, and now’s the hour:
See the front o’ battle lour,
See approach proud Edward’s power
Chains and slaverie!
Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward’s grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn, and fleel
Wha for Scotland’s King and Law
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa’,
Let him follow me!
By Oppression’s woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins
But they shall be free!
With Bruce’s knowledge about how English leaders and noblemen would camp and what their needs would be after a long and dusty march to Bannockburn, his strategic plans included positioning the English exactly where the Scots would have the best tactical position. With their need for water, the tired and disorganized English had camped between the Pelstream Burn (stream) to the north and on the wet banks of the Bannock Burn to the south, the exact place where King Robert “influenced” them to go.
The Scots were in high spirits the morning of the Battle having witnessed combat the evening before between their King Robert and an English knight, Sir Henry de Bohun, who rode directly at King Robert who then raised his battle axe and drove it through the knight’s helmet and skull. The English, however, having spent the night near the marshy pools along the stream caused them much discouragement and loss of heart.
The Scots army was made up of primarily foot soldiers as well as about 500 light horses and a small number of archers. The total estimate of troops would be between 5,000 and 8,000.
The English army included a huge number of heavy cavalry (mounted knights), large numbers of Welsh longbow men and English archers. Various accounts were from four to six times the number of Scots, or between 20,000 and 30,000.
The Scots previously dug traps to thwart the English cavalry, which included shallow holes a foot wide and knee high hidden with twigs and grass with some holes containing sharp stakes at the bottom. Barricades over roads and paths directed the English heavy cavalry into the bogs where they would not have an effective position to battle the Scots.
The four Scots divisions were led by Sir Edward Bruce, The Earl of Moray, Sir James Douglas, Sir Walter Stewart, and King Robert.
The English thought they had a great position and that the Scots were intimidated by them, but they soon discovered they didn’t have room to maneuver their warhorses to pick up speed at the start of the battle.
The Scots schiltrons were able to continue to move toward the English and push them back into the wet ground where many English drowned as they fought in their heavy armor. Much of the English foot were literally bogged down and were soon slain by the Scots foot. The English archers, who were greatly feared by the Scots, were commanded to move forward to break up the Scots schiltrons but were unable to fulfill the command because they had been positioned in the rear and did not have the space to move into position. The Scots moved so quickly towards them the archers ran and fled.
It is likely that the greater part of the English army never saw battle due to the disastrous failure of the initial attacks and the “appearance” of a large Scottish army numbering in the many thousands made up of “secondary/support” foot who were, for the most part, enthusiastic but poorly armed. Fortunately, the English were unaware of the condition of these additional Scots, and panicked at their appearance late in the battle. Most turned and ran, including Edward II, who was one of the first taken off the field, and that by his own bodyguard.
The flower of English chivalry were killed or taken prisoner, probably well over 700 knights and other nobles. One estimate is that as many as 15,000 of the English were killed, wounded or taken prisoner, but that may be an exaggeration. Most escaped back to England, including Edward II. It is reported that 200 pairs of silver English spurs were recovered from the battleground. Much booty, including war horses, weapons, armor, and almost the entire English baggage train was taken. Even the chest of money to be used to pay the English soldiers was confiscated. Most of the captured knights and other nobles were held for ransom, and a notable sum paid for their release. Many English dead remained unburied and rotting in the bogs for a very long time. Scottish casualties were relatively small in comparison.
Scottish independence was affirmed, in that the English were not able to further challenge the Scots in any significant military fashion for decades following. The English were embarrassed and humiliated. The cream of English chivalry was dead, with many survivors being ransomed at great cost. The Scots who had supported the English had their lands confiscated by the crown, and many were banished from Scotland. King Robert, who had so successfully managed this victory, was acclaimed by many of the Scots as a hero.
Ultimate peace was not to be experienced for a number of years.
Article 8. Finally… Acknowledgement & the Declaration of Arbroath
(1314 – 1320)
The day is now June 25, 1314, and the most important battle in all of Scotland’s history was won by the Scots led by King Robert I. The English were out strategized and out maneuvered by the Scottish army and their supporters. In addition to the Scottish army, a number of supporters who were local townsfolk bravely charged across the battle field and were mistakenly identified by the English as warriors, and causing the English to flee. Over the years a number of legends have claimed the Knights Templars contributed to the battle victory; however, there is no physical evidence to support the claim as the Templars were disbanded and arrested and many executed by King Philip IV of France between 1307 and 1314.
Soon after the battle, negotiations commenced to free Bruce’s wife, Queen- Consort Elizabeth de burgh, his daughter Marjorie, the elderly Bishop Wishart, as well as the many others who were captured in 1306. A number of the English Knights were released without ransom and the Welsh archers were allowed to escape.
The Scottish lands the King of England had seized and given to his supporters had to be returned. There was much to be done to restore order, rule, infrastructure, trade, and parliamentary stability.
Although the major battle was won, this did not necessarily mean peace was won. In the years to come, many truces were broken and war continued particularly in the North of England with many raids by Scots.
Ireland had not had a High King for many years and the country was divided between Irish dynasties and English supporters. In 1315, King Robert I sent his brother Edward to Ireland to expand the war against the English. Edward was supported by many of the Kings of the Irish dynasties. In June 1315, a number of northern Irish Kings swore fealty to Edward Bruce as the High King of Ireland. Many battles were fought and the Irish army was supplemented with Scots forces. In 1317, King Robert himself led forces in support of his brother accompanied by Randolph to undertake a bold operation to rouse the clans in Ireland to support the war effort against the English. However, during that time there was also a great famine which significantly reduced the number of fighting men. In 1318, at the battle of Faughart, Edward Bruce was defeated and killed. In hindsight, if King Robert had known, he would have come to his brother’s aid with a large army.
Declaration of Arbroath – 1320
In 1320, a ‘letter’, called the Declaration of Arbroath, was composed possibly by Bernard of Killwinning. As Abbot Bernard of Arbroath, it is believed he is the principal author of the Declaration of Arbroath; although, for years he was incorrectly identified as Bernard de Linton. It was a letter to Pope John XXII “signed by the seals of eight earls and forty-five barons, asking for the Pope’s dispassionate intervention in the bloody quarrel between the Scots and the English, and that he might understand the difference between the two”. The significance of the letter was its plea for the “liberty of man” by the advocates of Scotland and was a contract between King Robert and his people. It claimed that Scotland was an independent sovereign state and that it had a right to defend itself when unjustly attacked – particularly from England. That King Robert I had delivered and defended Scotland from English aggression and it was the right of the Scottish people to be free and independent. A popular quote from the Declaration is “…for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
In addition, it requested the Pope to lift the excommunication of Robert the Bruce for the murder of John Comyn in Greyfriers Church in 1306.
The letter was taken to the Papal court in Avignon, and was the English were directed by the Pope to make peace with the Scots; however, peace and a treaty did not occur until October 1328.
Article 9. The “Peace” in a Courageous Era (1320 – 1329)
As noted in the last article, the Declaration of Arbroath was presented to Pope John XXII in the Spring of 1320 stating Scottish rights, asking the Pope to acknowledge Robert Bruce as King of Scots, and to lift the excommunication order. At this time, King Robert also sent a letter to King Edward II inviting him to negotiations for peace which did result in a two year truce. There were several attempts for a true peace throughout 1321; however, King Robert and King Edward II could not find compromise on the issue of sovereignty and Edward would not admit defeat. Once the two year truce had expired, Bruce resumed an offensive war strategy upon Northern England to further the Scottish quest for the ultimate province over Scotland.
Throughout 1322, raids continued on both sides and in addition, Edward was in a political struggle with his own barons who wanted him to begin to negotiate peace with the Scots. King Edward then won a significant battle early in the year at the Battle of Boroughbridge when he defeated his own barons who were against him. With this significant battle behind him, he decided to invade Scotland once again in August and September. After destroying Holyrood, Melrose, and Dryburgh Abbeys, King Edward and the English army found themselves in Edinburgh without enough provisions to sustain and feed them and they then retreated back to England. In mid-October the Scots attacked in Yorkshire near where King Edward was in refuge. There, during the Battle of Byland, King Robert’s offensive positions outmaneuvered the English army and once again King Edward II lost his shield!
After several attempts at a peace treaty, in May 1323, a 13 year truce was signed, and in January 1324 the Pope finally acknowledged to King Edward that he had decided to address Robert the Bruce as the King of Scots.
Throughout this time of continued turmoil, King Robert’s governing of Scotland resulted in many charters defined for burghs, craftsmen guilds, commercial trade, communication, transportation and other needs to enable communities throughout the country to be sustainable.
On March 5, 1324 a son, David, was born to King Robert and Queen Consort Elizabeth at Dunfermline Palace. The birth of David ensured there would be a Bruce heir to the throne.
The King was now at the height of his popularity; nevertheless he was still afflicted with periodic illness as in his early warrior days. He began to build a house on the bank of the River Leven opposite Dunbarton in the parish of Cardross. Instead of building a castle, as most royalty did, he built a ‘manerium’ or a dwelling–house. The specific location of the mansion is not known, but it is understood it was located in the Pelanyspflait or Mains of Cardross area which is currently the town of Renton. The Strathleven Artizans, a group dedicated to promote historical links in the area and whose patron is Lord Elgin, have opened the Robert the Bruce Heritage Centre in Renton which contains much historical information about Robert the Bruce and this area.
In January 1327, charges were brought upon Edward II for his incompetence as a leader, failure to govern, losing lands, and many other accusations which had caused his people to lose faith in him. By February, a coronation was held for his son as Edward III, King of England. Several invasions ensued by the Scots and the English between the borders, and in August, Bruce and his army invade Northumberland. By October, negotiations for peace between Scotland and England continued but now with more earnest discussion. In March 1328, the Treaty of Edinburgh, which brought an end to the long fought War of Independence, was signed by Robert the Bruce, and then ratified by the English Parliament at Northampton in May. King Robert the Bruce had finally succeeded in bringing peace between Scotland and England.
At the end of 1328, although ill, King Robert went on a pilgrimage (setting off from the home he had built in the Parish of Cardross) to Arran, Turnberry, and other areas that were dear to him. When he returned back to his manor house, he was placed on his deathbed and requested that upon his death his heart to be removed from his body and carried on a crusade to the Holy Land. After his death on June 7, 1329, his heart was removed from his body, embalmed and placed in a small lead casket and his body was interred at Dunfermline Abbey. In accordance to King Robert’s wishes, Sir James Douglas, with the casket containing the King’s heart around his neck, along with other trusted knights, including Sir William Keith, Sir William Sinclair, Robert and Walter Logan, set off in 1330 on their crusade to the Holy Land. While traveling through Spain, they joined up with King Alfonso’s campaign against the Moors of Granada. During the battle at Teba on August 25, 1330, Douglas and the others found themselves separated from the main body of the army they had joined and they were tragically mortally slain. Douglas, knowing his fate, tossed the casket bearing Bruce’s heart into battle with the words (according to Barbour text):
“Now pass thou forth before,
As thou was wont in field to be,
And I shall follow or else die”
Douglas’ body was recovered from the field, and his bones along with King Robert’s heart taken back to Scotland by Sir William Keith. In accordance with the King’s earlier wish, his heart was buried ceremoniously at Melrose Abbey. King Robert the Bruce had fulfilled the quest to bring peace and security to Scotland, receive acknowledgement from Rome that his excommunication was absolved, and that he was recognized as the King of Scots.
Article 10. Final Measures to Celebrate the 700th Anniversary of Bannockburn
“Now’s the day, and now’s the hour”
From “Scots Wae Hae “ by Robert Burns as he imagined Robert the Bruce addressing his troops at Bannockburn Preparing for Bannockburn
This concludes the articles in The Blue Lion titled “Preparing for Bannockburn” which documented the political and cultural events that led up to the outcomes in Scotland during the reign of Robert I – King of Scots.
The title of Article 10 is “Final Event Plans to Celebrate the 700th Anniversary of Bannockburn”, however, first there will be a recap of the other articles!
The Bruces originated from Normandy and traveled to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. In 1124, When Prince David, the most powerful baron in England, and youngest son of Queen Margaret, went to Scotland to become King David I, he was accompanied by his companion-in-arms Robert de Brus – known as Robert the Cadet. King David conferred the strategic Lordship of Annandale upon Robert de Bruis. In the continuing conflict between English and Scottish rulers, Bruis and his sons were torn between rival feudal loyalties and often were forced to choose between their lands in England and those in Scotland. Increasingly, Scotland became the focus of this branch of the Bruce family, and Robert, fourth Lord of Annandale, cemented ties to the royal family by marrying Isobel, a niece of King William the Lion. It was through this marriage that the Bruce family gained its claim to the Scottish throne. Robert the Bruce was the seventh Lord of Annandale, and in addition to a claim to the Scottish throne, Robert the Bruce’s mother was the Countess of Carrick with ancestral ties to Celtic nobility.
The Balliol and Comyn families were King Edward I supporters and fierce competitors for the Throne of the Kingdom of Scotland. When John Balliol, King of Scots, was removed from the throne by King Edward there were many devastating attacks on Scotland. By 1305 after much overwhelming military might, King Edward begins to define Scotland as his latest ‘territory’ rather than a separate kingdom. Robert Bruce, the future King of Scots, had much authority at this time. He and John Comyn, who were both in contention for the crown, met at Greyfriers Kirk to discuss the current events…. They argued and John Comyn was mortally slain. Robert was then crowned in March 1306 at Scone Palace as King of Scots, Robert the Bruce.
Between the years of 1306 and 1313, there was much warring and bloodshed. King Robert, was able to out-wit and out-maneuver the military might of the now King Edward II, the son of King Edward I. Much of the details of the events between this time can be read in articles 3 through six.
The Battle of Bannockburn, the 700th Anniversary which will be celebrated in June 2014, took place on June 23-24, 1314. King Robert’s superior strategic and tactical planning abilities enabled him and his army to succeed and win this significant battle which was a disastrous failure for Edward II.
After Bannockburn, there were still years of warring. In 1320, a letter to the Pope called the Declaration of Arbroath, signed by 8 earls and 45 barons asked for the Pope’s dispassionate intervention in the bloody quarrel between the Scots and the English. In 1323, when a 13 year truce was signed, the Pope acknowledged King Robert as King of Scots. However, real peace did not occur until October 1328 when the Treaty of Edinburgh was signed.
Robert I, King of Scots, died on June 7, 1329 knowing he had finally succeeded in bringing peace between Scotland and England.
The series of articles above were composed using the three books listed below as well as an article which appeared in August 2011 Blue Lion. There is much more interesting history to account for that can be individually researched by those who desire additional information.
Barrow, G. W. S. – Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, Edinburgh University Press.
McNamee, Colm – Robert Bruce Our most Valiant Prince, King and Lord, published by Birlinn Limited 2006.
Bruce, Andrew, Lord Elgin, 11th Earl of Elgin and 15th Earl of Kincardine – The Bruce – Robert King of Scots, a Personal View, published by Masonic Publishing Co. 2006 – Glasgow
Bruce, William, MA, FSA Scot – Summary in the August 2011 Blue Lion, The Battle of Bannockburn – The Basics