King Robert The Bruce

Learn how King Robert the Bruce came to be viewed as a hero by the people of Scotland, after initially being cast as a traitor.

Robert the Bruce, who ultimately became Robert I of Scotland, was born in 1274, the son of an Anglo-Norman family that had royal Scottish blood in them. Although it seemed that Robert had a degree of patriotism flowing through him, it was nothing compared to that other equally famous Scot of the same time, William Wallace. This Scottish warrior hated the English to an almost unbelievable degree, and was prepared to die for his country.

The defeat of John de Balliol in 1296 by the English, led by Edward I, also known as Longshanks, meant that the throne was essentially up for grabs. Wasting no time though, Edward decided that he would take control of it. He despised Scotland and it was his lifelong ambition to annex it. Upon this action, the behaviour of our two aforementioned Scottish heroes was markedly different, even surprisingly so. Wallace managed to unite most of Scotland and began a series of vicious battles against the English. Robert the Bruce initially sided with Wallace, as it seemed his band of warriors was going from strength to strength. Upon learning of some of Wallace's victories, and the gory mutilations he carried out on the English bodies, Edward I decided that he had reached the end of his tether. He sent a huge army to Scotland to seek out Wallace, and in 1298 defeated him at Falkirk. By this time Robert the Bruce had switched sides, probably putting self-preservation before blind patriotism. This didn't stop the majority of Scottish folk regarding him as a traitor though. They compared him unfavourably with the fearless Wallace, who had managed to escape overseas.

Because Robert the Bruce had pledged his allegiance to England, Edward I looked him upon positively, so he was named as one of four regents to rule over the Kingdom of Scotland. This angered the Comyn and MacDougall clans especially, as they had been fierce supporters of John de Balliol. It seemed that Edward's dream of annexing Scotland might come true with this state of affairs, and in 1305, the Bruce was involved in discussions ascertaining the possibility of Scotland becoming a province of England.

1305 was notable for another reason though. William Wallace had returned to England, but was recognised and arrested. He was tried and found guilty of being a criminal of the state. Subsequently he was hung, drawn and quartered - a truly grisly death. Each quarter of his body was taken to a corner of England and put on display; a warning to any other would be rebels.

The Bruce was forced to watch his former friend being tortured, and this must surely have stirred up a strong feeling of patriotism within. However, even before that harrowing event, he had been consulting with church members to acquire them as his allies, should he try to become king of Scotland. The Scottish patriot, John Comyn learned of this and passed the information onto the English. Robert the Bruce fled just in time, but vowed revenge on Comyn. He arranged to meet him at a church in Dumfries. There a heated argument took place over who should claim the Scottish throne; Comyn was stabbed and died at the altar.

Upon doing this, the Bruce rode quickly to Scone where he was crowned King of Scotland in the spring of 1306. He had the blessing of the church and therefore of the people. His act had angered Edward though, augmented by the fact that he had murdered a person on sacred ground. The following year Longshanks sent his army to Scotland once more to reclaim the crown. The Bruce was deposed and forced to flee to the Highlands, and then the West Scottish Islands. It was whilst retreating that an event occurred that has become the thing of legend. Whilst hiding, Robert the Bruce observed a spider struggling and failing to reach its web. He associated it with his own struggle to reclaim his homeland, and vowed like the spider to continue trying.

A consequence of losing the crown was the confiscation of his estates by Edward. Even worse, his wife and daughter were imprisoned, and three of his brothers were executed. This only made the Scots more passionate about their cause, and for all those followers of The Bruce that had been captured he had recruited more than enough to fill their gaps. Two years and many battles later, he had regained most of the land that the English had claimed.

Longshanks became increasingly enraged by the victories of the Scots, so just as he had done against Wallace in 1298, he sent a massive army, twice the size of Scotland's, to finally crush them. They rode in 1314, with an air of over confidence highlighted by poor preparations and celebrating victory before the battle had taken place. The Scottish on the other hand, planned meticulously and spent the night in silent meditation. The next day the Battle of Bannockburn was won by the Scots, and is considered to be their greatest ever victory against the English.

Over the next decade, Robert the Bruce was far more successful than the English in battle. Edward I had died, and his son Edward II, far less passionate about Scotland, had taken over. He was quick to sign a truce with the Scots, to prevent any further outbreaks of fighting. In 1327 though, Edward III was crowned King of England though, and war broke out once more. The Scots were again victorious, so the following year the English were forced to sign the Edinburgh-Northampton treaty, recognising the independence of Scotland, and the right of Robert the Bruce to the throne. The Bruce retired to Cardoss castle safe in the knowledge that Scotland had at last become an independent country. He died there in 1329, having suffered in his last days from leprosy.

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