Robert the Bruce
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Robert de Bruce, the soldier king Scotland
Although William Wallace and Robert the Bruce were of the same period in Scottish history, their aims were, to begin with, very different. Wallace was driven by patriotism and hatred of the English invaders, Bruce on the other hand, was initially motivated by his personal ambition. The family of Bruce was Anglo-Norman and known as de Brus. His grandfather had been one of the claimants to the Scottish throne when Balliol was nominated by the English King, Edward I. The Bruce had originally sworn fealty (allegiance) to the English king too but changed sides as Wallace became recognized as the leader of the Scottish armies by virtue of his various successes against the English.

However as the success of Wallace waned, Bruce once more switched his allegiance, along with many more of the Scottish Lords who originally joined Wallace, back to the English King. When Wallace was out of the country and Edward I was warring in France, the way was open for Bruce to take the initiative. His own patriotism had been instilled in him by his first wife, the daughter of the earl of Mar. It was the daughter of this union, through her marriage to Walter the Steward, that became the mother of the first great Scottish Stewart dynasty. Later relations in this line included Charles I, and Bonnie Prince Charlie.

At this time the English Parliament had written up a Constitution for Scotland that had failed due to a lack of consent by the Scots who had strong resentment toward the English and their involvement in Scotland. In 1306 Bruce's patriotism was enhanced when he killed his hereditary enemy, the Red Comyn during a quarrel in the Church of the Convent of the Minorite Friars, in Dumfries. Bloodshed on sacred ground was sacrilege, and this act put Bruce outside the parameters of Christendom, and enraged Edward.

With the backing of a few friends and a small host gathered round him, Bruce went to Scone where the Kings of Scotland were crowned and became the King of Scotland. The coronation was conducted by two Scottish Earls and three bishops. Bruce was crowned by the Countess of Buchan in place of her brother who held the hereditary right to crown the Kings of Scotland, since he refused to attend in this case. The real crown having been stolen by Edward was replaced by a golden coronella. Thus Robert the Bruce, the greatest soldier king Scotland ever had, began his battle against the English. He also began his fight to capture the hearts and minds of the Scottish people and bring back pride and independence to the beleaguered Scots.

Edward was enraged by Bruce's actions and sent a strong force north of the border that crushed the smaller Scottish force, aided by treachery by some Scots. Bruce and some of his followers took refuge in the wild mountainous areas of Athol and Argyle. He was accompanied by Sir James Douglas, known as 'the Black Douglas', whose clan was one of the strongest in Scotland at the time. Edward sent many forces to find Bruce, Douglas and the rest of the small band, but they were unable to bring them to captivity. There were many close encounters where Bruce, through sheer guts and determination, was able to avoid capture. These various encounters have gone down in Scottish folklore, but at the time they gave the Scots a focus for their hopes of independence.

While in hiding from the English, Bruce's lands were confiscated and his wife and young daughter were imprisoned in English castles. The Countess of Buchan who had dared crown Bruce was imprisoned in an open cage made of wickerwork and fixed to the walls of a castle in Berwick. Three of Bruce's brothers were put to death. Many others who opposed Edward and supported Bruce or Wallace suffered similar fates with their heads being placed on spikes to discourage others from acting against their English overlords.

These brutal actions undertaken by Edward, however had the opposite effect and Scots from the Clergy, nobles, gentles and commons rallied to Bruce's banner swearing fealty to him as their rightful King. For about a year Bruce was a fugitive in great danger but fate was on his side. King of England, Edward I - the 'hammer of the Scots' - died, failing in his great purpose of life to totally annex Scotland under English rule. Such was the hatred of Edward that his dying wish was to have his bones carried to Scotland the next time a rebellion broke out.

Edward II was not the same type of character as his father, though he led an army into Scotland to obey his father's dying behest only to be defeated in Ayrshire. Bruce continued to enhance his position by defeating his enemies, those who had conspired with the English, within Scotland. Philip IV of France attempted to bring about a truce between Scotland and England but as Bruce enjoyed more success in getting Scotland behind him, these attempts were ignored.

Another important step for Bruce was to get the Clergy to support him after the incident in the church when he had slain Comwyn. This was eventually achieved with the clergy swearing fealty to him as their rightful King and amending their seals accordingly.

Tit for tat exchanges occurred between the English and the Scots across the borders, with Bruce and the Scots being more successful than their English counterparts. Various castles in Scotland that had been taken by the English during the time of Edward I, returned to their legitimate owners. Dumbarton, Perth, Roxburgh and the great stronghold of Edinburgh Castle were recaptured with daring and cunning, often with the Black Douglas acting as leader.

The most important stronghold of Stirling remained in the hands of the English, so Bruce assigned the taking of it by his brother, Edward Bruce. The English governor of the Castle suggested a sporting challenge by offering to surrender were the Castle not relieved before the twenty-fourth day of the following June. This allowed time for an English army to attempt to relieve the much besieged garrison and offered a chance for the Scots to face the might of the English army once and for all. The challenge was accepted out of chivalry and the stage was set for the best known battle in Scottish history.

Duly the English marched north with the biggest force yet to face the smaller Scots army. As the English approached Bruce was riding a small mount, not expecting any attack at that point. Sir Henry de Bohun, an English knight, recognized Bruce and seized the chance to fight him as, unlike Bruce, he was dressed in full armor and riding a great war horse. On seeing the oncoming attack, Bruce turned and rising in his stirrups, with one blow, clove de Bohun's skull in two with his battle axe, which consequently broke.

The morning of the battle followed a night of revelry for the English, so sure were they of victory, the Scots on the other hand had spent it in"silence and devotion." Bruce prepared the ground around the Bannock Burn, placing his troops in strategic positions that allowed for retreat if victory proved impossible. The army was divided into four 'schiltrons' or circles, under Edward Bruce, Sir James Douglas, Sir Thomas Randolph and Walter the Steward. The King himself was in charge of the reserves. The ground between the Scots and the approaching English was full of marshes and watercourses. The Bannock Burn gave some protection to the Scottish front, as did two great bogs that threatened to slow the English progress.

The English attack commenced with a hail of arrows over the Scots. In the hand to hand fighting the defenders had the upper hand as the English, fighting in spaces too close, were caught up in the submerged pits and bogs. Men and horses plunged helplessly, and knights, hampered by heavy armor could not rise. The English ranks, in total disorder, suffered the final blow when a group of observers tore down the hill where they had been eagerly watching shouting the Bruce's battle cry and making the English think that Scots reinforcements had arrived. Edward II fled the field leaving some intrepid English still fighting.

Bannockburn was the greatest defeat that the English ever suffered at the hands of the Scots and the victory provided great booty, but more important, independence and Bruce as master of Scotland. The succession to the throne was quickly organized by Parliament and ensured that if there was no male heir to Bruce, that his brother Edward and his male heirs would succeed. The only child of Bruce was Marjorie who died in child birth, after a fall from a horse, the surviving infant of the Princess later became Robert II.

The Pope intervened between the two warring countries by proclaiming a two-year truce. Bruce ignored this as the Pope refused to recognize him as the rightful King, and sent forces to Berwick to retake the city that had been in the hands of the English since Edward I had butchered its inhabitants. The English remained oblivious to Scotland as independence and the Scots sent an appeal to the Pope stating that, "While there exists a hundred of us we will never submit to England. We fight not for glory, wealth or honour, but for that liberty the loss of which no virtuous man will survive."

Hostilities between the countries continued, Edward II running out of supplies returned south after ravaging the Scottish border area only to be surprised by Bruce heading north after raids into Yorkshire. Treachery was waiting for Edward II after he fled south to escape Bruce; first, by the Earl of Carlisle who was in league with the Scots and was summarily executed; and secondly, by his wife who, with her lover, was conspiring against him. With various problems hanging over him, Edward called for a thirteen-year truce with the Scots, although this did not include recognizing Bruce as the 'King of Scotland'. Bruce also got papal approval and with the birth of his son, he was universally recognized as King. The uneasiness between the English and Scottish neighbors continued and Bruce was able to raise more taxes for his armies through the Scottish Parliament. The situation remained the same as Edward II was replaced by Edward III, though a treaty was initially signed which attempted to bring peace. Finally a large English army was forced to disband when faced by a smaller Scottish army and with this and other pressures playing on the English, overtures for peace were made. The terms were concluded in Edinburgh the following year with Scotland being formally recognized as an independent Kingdom, her King an independent Sovereign, her inhabitants a free and independent people.

Robert the Bruce saw the fulfilment of his highest hopes and he was able to live out the last years of his life in peace at Cardross, where he died in his fifty-fifth year. His last request was that his heart be taken on the crusades against the infidel. James Douglas carried out this last wish throwing it in front of him into the fighting, and following it as he so often had done. The Black Douglas was killed in Spain but the Bruce's heart was returned to its native Scotland.

Bruce and the North East of Scotland
Bruce was crowned in 1306 on the 26th of June, however his struggle over the enemy from the south continued for many years after. Kildrummy Castle lies some 30 miles west of Aberdeen and it was here that Bruce sent the Queen, and his brother Nigel for safety. Unfortunately the Queen was taken prisoner by the English.

Bruce defeated his sworn enemies, the Comyns, at Old Meldrum, north west of Aberdeen on Christmas eve in 1307. After this, the whole of the north east swore fealty to him, and legend has it attacked the garrison in the castle at Aberdeen who supported Edward I, and put them to the sword. The Aberdeen motto 'Bon-Accord' on the city Coat of Arms, was said to have been given to the town by Bruce in thanks for their defeat of the English garrison. However, the historic accuracy of this is open to speculation.

Keeping peace in the north of Scotland depended on Aberdeenshire (now Grampian). To this end, many strong fortifications were built such as Kildrummy, Kindrochit in Mar (Braemar - 70 miles west of Aberdeen and 15 miles from Balmoral, the summer home of the present Queen) and later Hallforest (a hunting lodge built by Bruce) outside Kintore.

Bruce spent much time in Aberdeen especially as it was the first area of Scotland to offer its support to him. To show his thanks to the Aberdonians once his authority become the dominant force in Scotland, heconferred a Royal Charter to the city in 1314. The Royal Forest of Stocket also became the property of the city and the Brig (bridge) of Balgownie was probably built by funds from Bruce.

Bruce also shaped the future of the area by giving lands, some from the Comyns, to various families who became the main dynasties of the area. The names that dominated the area, such as Gordon (Gordon of Khartoum), Keith, Lesley, Fraser, Irvine, Burnett, Hay and Johnstone, are still in evidence today and much of the local history is in the context of these names and families.

Clan McAlister of America

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Last Updated: 1 December 2001