The future king, Robert Bruce, was born on the 24th March 1274 in Turnberry. His mother Marjorie was the heiress to the ancient Gaelic Earldom of Carrick, his father had many English ties; he served as keeper of Carlisle Castle and the Bruce family had a home in London, his grandfather ultimately serving Robert Bruce with his belief in his rightful place as the King of Scots, as he was denied on grounds of primogeniture the vacant throne by Edward I of England. Eventually the old man's claim passed to the grandson, and as King John was stripped of his title, the young Bruce was to eventually realise the family ambition.
The years after King John's abdiction were a political minefield for the Scots. Edward I began an English occupation, but famously the Scots led by William Wallace and Andrew Moray rebelled. After Wallace's defeat at Falkirk, Bruce became one of the Guardians of Scotland, but his quarrels with the Comyns and others led to his resignation. In a move abhorrent to today's nationalists he then sided with Edward I; how could a man famous for achieving once more the freedom of the Scots ever have sided with a man known as 'the Hammer of the Scots'? In truth, Bruce was only ever interested in one thing, the Scots kingship, and at this time he thought the siding with Edward I gave him his best chance.
There is evidence that Bruce never quite burnt his bridges with the nationalists. He was to fall out of favour with Edward around the time of the capture of Wallace. Whether this proved to him what kind of man Edward I was, or that Wallace was caught with evidence incriminating Bruce against the English; it forced Bruce's hand. A quarrel with John Comyn in Dumfries set the die and Bruce hurried to Scone to be crowned King of Scots in 1306.
After the death of Edward I and a brilliant guerilla campaign aginst Edward II, Robert the Bruce finally assured Scotland's independence with a stunning victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
Much of the legend of Robert the Bruce comes from John Barbour's fourteenth century poem The Bruce written c.1375. Interestingly Barbour makes mention of King Arthur in his poem indicating a knowledge of Geoffrey of Monmouth's work. Barbour's poem was fourteen thousand lines long and was divided into twenty books for convenience.
|Book 1, lines 549- Scots/English translation:|
But tantalisingly, Barbour later makes reference to a 'round table' on leaving Stirling Castle, as a fleeing Edward II leaves the Battle of Bannockburn heading towards Linlithgow. This confirms the antiquity of the earthwork known locally as Arthur's O'on on the north bank of the River Carron, near Falkirk and also that it was well known as the round table when Barbour wrote The Bruce. Stuart McHardy in his The Quest for Arthur notes:" It was demolished in the middle of the eighteenth century but there is little doubt that it was originally a Roman temple that had become associated with Arthur." (Bower's Scotichronicon suggests it was built by Julius Caesar, Boece's Chronicles of Scotland suggest it was built by the general Vespasian.)
|Book 13, lines 377- Scots/English translation|
After Bannockburn, his brother Edward tried to free the Irish from English rule. He was crowned High King of Ireland in 1316, but Irish in-fighting was prevalent and Edward could not capture English-held Dublin. A disasterous campaign in the south of Ireland followed in the winter of 1317, in which both Bruce Kings, Robert of Scotland and Edward of Ireland both nearly starved to death.
Robert turned to Scottish matters in 1318 successfully retaking Berwick, but this made him neglect the battles in Ireland. His brother Edward died in a battle at Dundalk the same year. After the Battle of Dundalk, some Scots lords were hoping for a coup, with King John's son, Edward Bailiol, as figurehead. This lead to the famous Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 by the Scots, effectively saying that the Scots picked their own king and that they would resist English lordship with their lives. The Black Parliament of 1320 condemned the Scots against Bruce to execution.
In his later years, Bruce achieved a truce with England in 1323. He fathered
a son, David, in 1324 for an heir. In 1326 he renewed the Auld Alliance with
France and built a manor house in Cardross near Dumbarton the next year. In
1328, he successfully made a treaty with the English and had his excommunication
lifted. By his time, Bruce was dying, probably from leprosy, and in 1329 he
made a pilgrimage to Whithorn to St. Ninian's shrine, the first saint to convert
the Scots. On his deathbed Bruce asked that his body be buried at Dunfermline
abbey and his heart to be taken on Crusade to the Holy Lands. (The rest of his
internal organs were buried at St. Serf's Chapel near Dumbarton.) Taken by Sir
James Douglas, who was killed in Spain in 1330 fighting Saracens, his heart
was returned and buried at Melrose Abbey.