King Robert II (r.1371-1390)

Robert Stewart was born in 1316, the son of Walter Stewart and Marjorie Bruce the eldest daughter of Robert I. It was this Bruce descent that would secure his kingship on David II's failure to produce an heir.

At only 16 Robert was involved in the Battle of Halidon Hill on 19th July 1333 against Edward Balliol. He escaped back to Dumbarton Castle on the Scots defeat but stayed on to fight the Balliol supporters as David II went into exile in France; he was no doubt mindful that his slim chances of succession depended entirely on David II remaining king. Robert proved himself a worthy deputy and by 1341 Edward Balliol was a spent force. On David II's return that year, Robert was the main powerbroker in Scotland.

There began a deep rivalry between king and guardian. David II successfully chipped away at Robert Stewart's influence only to lose his hard won power on his defeat and subsequent capture at the Battle of Neville's Cross in 1346. Robert Stewart abandoned the king in battle and returned to Scotland to reinstate his own power. It was only in 1357 that David II once again returned to Scotland to reestablish his regal authority.

While David II was childless, Robert had married Elizabeth Mure and fathered four sons and several daughters. His second wife Euphemia Randolph gave him a second brood. He also fathered several illegimate children by various mistresses. The contrast between the two men was striking. On David II's death in 1371 Robert became king. He was now 55.

As king, Robert II was happy to marry off his many sons and daughters into the powerful families of the day. Whilst this initially had the effect of settling his rule, the increasing powers of the Stewart princes led them to feud with one another. By 1384 the old king could no longer control his sons; his eldest son and heir, Prince John, the Earl of Carrick, effectively took charge of the country as Lieutenant.

Previously Robert II had given the Scots backing to the French Pope during the Avignon schism and Prince John resumed the Auld Alliance in a campaign that included French troops against England in 1385. It was a disaster and the English reacted by invading up to the Lothians and burning Edinburgh. Both king and heir had now proven ineffective.

Power in the north rested with Robert II's fourth son Alexander and Prince John's failure to control his brother led to his resignation when his main ally, the Earl of Douglas, died in the still victorious Battle of Otterburn in 1388. The Lieutenancy fell now to Robert II's third son, Prince Robert, the Earl of Fife.

An aged Robert II, now in his seventies, could do nothing to prevent the political battle between his bickering family; especially between Prince Alexander and Prince Robert. The king retired to Dundonald Castle in Ayrshire where he died aged 74. Historians have long branded Robert II feeble and ineffective, but his best days came before he was king. The crown was too late.