Robert the Bruce

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Robert I
Victorian depiction of Bruce
King of Scots
Reign 1306–1329
Coronation 25 March 1306
Predecessor John Balliol
Successor David II
Spouse Isabella of Mar
Elizabeth de Burgh
Marjorie Bruce
David II of Scotland
House House of Bruce
Father Robert de Brus, Earl of Carrick
Mother Marjorie, Countess of Carrick
Burial Dunfermline Abbey (Body) – Melrose Abbey (Heart)
Religion Roman Catholicism

Robert de Brus (July 11, 1274 - June 7, 1329), Earl of Carrick[1], Lord de Brus[2] and sixth feudal Lord of Annandale all upon his father's death; and also known as Robert 'The Bruce', was proclaimed King of the Scots on March 27, 1306 and reigned until his death in 1329.

Early Years

This family descend from another Robert (c1078 - 1142), second son of the Anglo-Norman family of de Brus who were seated at Skelton Castle in Cleveland, North Yorkshire.[3]

Robert de Brus 'The Bruce' was born at his father's manor of Writtle, near Chelmsford, in Essex, England[4][5][6], for which manor his grandfather, the 'Competitor', did homage in April/May 1252. He was one of at least eight children of Robert de Brus, Earl of Carrick (in right of his wife) and Lord of Annandale (d. March 1304) and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick (in her own right)(d. before October 23, 1292) daughter of Nial, 2nd Earl of Carrick by his wife Margaret, daughter of Walter FitzAlan, 3rd High Steward of Scotland. His paternal grandfather, also Robert de Brus (1210-1295), was a 'Competitor' for the throne of Scotland.[7]

In what is perhaps Robert's earliest recorded appearance in history he is witnessing, with his father the Earl of Carrick, a Deed of Alexander Macdonald of Islay in about 1286.[8] Other witnesses include the Bishop of Argyll, the vicar of Arran, a clerk of Kintyre, as well as various personages of the Earldom of Carrick.[9]

Scottish Affairs

An important year for the de Bruce family was 1292, when, on November 9th, Robert's father resigned the Earldom of Carrick, which he held in right of his wife, to the future king, then eighteen years old, and confirmed at the Stirling Parliament of August 1293. The father went, also in 1293, to Norway, by leave of King Edward 1st, to give his daughter Isabel as the second wife of Erik III Magnusson, King of Norway (whose first wife was Princess Margaret, daughter of Alexander III King of Scots). By marrying Isabel King Eric renewed his Scottish interests.

Robert 'The Bruce' was present at the judgement of the 'Great Cause' at Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1292, which awarded the Crown of Scotland to his distant relative, John de Balliol (1248-1314), a great-grandson of David, 9th Earl of Huntingdon (a grandson of King David 1st), by the Earl's eldest daughter. Soon afterwards, The Bruce's grandfather, Robert de Brus, Lord of Annandale, a 'Competitor' (grandson of the Earl but by his second daughter), died on Good Friday at Lochmaben Castle.[10] He was interred in the de Brus family tomb in Guisborough Priory, England, having resigned his feudal lordship and lands to his son Robert de Brus (1253-1304), The Bruce's father, who was firmly in the English camp and a Lord in the English Peerage.[11]

In April 1294, this Robert de Brus, the younger, had permission to visit Ireland for a year and a half, and, as a further mark of King Edward's favour, he received a respite for all the debts owed by him to the English Exchequer.

With his father, 'The Bruce' swore fealty on August 28, 1296, to Edward 1st at Berwick-upon-Tweed. Three years later Robert was chosen as one of the Guardians of the Kingdom of Scotland, in a council of nobles assembled at Peebles on August 19, 1299. Upon the death of his father he was held to have become Lord Bruce (in the English peerage), and he had livery of his father's lands in both kingdoms on June 14, 1304 having again done homage to King Edward.[12] Following his subsequent betrayal of Edward he was attainted and forfeited of his all his estates, on February 20, 1305/6.


In 1295, Robert married his first wife, Isabella of Mar (d. before 1302) the daughter of Domhnall (Donald), Earl of Mar (d. after July 1297)[13] by his wife Helen (1246 - after Feb 1295). They had one daughter, Marjorie, who married Sir Walter FitzAlan, 6th High Steward of Scotland.

Robert married secondly, about September 19, 1295[14] Maud, daughter of John FitzAlan of Clun & Oswestry, and Arundel, Robert being her second husband: they had no issue, and a divorce was granted about 1301, presumably on grounds of consanguinity.[15]

In 1302 Robert married his third wife, Elisabeth, daughter of Sir Richard de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, Knt.,[16] by his wife Margaret, daughter of John de Burgh, Baron of Lanvalley in Ireland. By Elizabeth, de Brus had four children: David, John (died in childhood), Matilda (who married Thomas Isaac and died at Aberdeen 20 July 1353), and Margaret (who married William de Moray, 5th Earl of Sutherland in 1345).

Beginning of the Scottish Wars

After the rebellion in 1295 Edward demanded, in October that year, that the border castles of Berwick, Roxburgh and Jedburgh be handed over till the end of his French war and asked that no French or Flemings should be allowed to enter Scotland. In February 1296, however, the French Alliance treaty was ratified in the Scottish parliament. It was a declaration of war. The English army was summoned to meet at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on March 1st.[17]

On Easter Monday seven Earls of Scotland led a large infantry force south, burning the villages from Authuret to the suburbs of Carlisle and trying to take the city itself by storm. The Commander of Carlisle Castle was Robert de Brus, Lord of Annandale, who, with his young son, this Robert 'The Bruce', now Earl of Carrick, adhered to the English King. After a day's 'siege' the Scots withdrew to Annandale. Edward had at this point taken Berwick-upon-Tweed. Meanwhile the Scots went inland, avoiding the army at Berwick-upon-Tweed, and raided and burnt Northumberland including incinerating schoolboys at Corbridge. Edward's army moved north under John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, and Patrick 7th Earl of Dunbar (or March), to totally defeat a Scottish army at Dunbar on Friday April 27th. This was the end for King John de Balliol.

Changing sides

Despite his oath of allegiance to King Edward as recently as August 1296, Robert junior now joined Sir William Wallace's revolt against him in 1297. This was a crucial, if not reckless gamble for the young Bruce. His father, Robert, Lord de Brus, remained loyal to Edward. Urgent letters had been sent ordering the de Brus's to support Edward's commander, the Earl of Surrey, in the summer of 1297; but instead of complying, Robert de Brus junior laid waste the lands of some of those who had adhered to Edward. On July 7, Robert and his friends were forced to make terms by a treaty called the Capitulation of Irvine, a condition of which was that the Scottish Lords were not to serve beyond the sea against their will, and were pardoned for their recent violence, in return for swearing allegiance to King Edward. The Bishop of Glasgow, James FitzAlan, The Steward, and Sir Alexander Lindsay became sureties for Robert de Brus jnr., until he delivered his infant daughter Marjorie as a hostage.

Shortly after the Battle of Stirling Bridge, 11 September, 1297, de Brus jnr., again defected to the Scots; Annandale was now wasted by the English forces and in retaliation he burned the English-held castle at Ayr. Yet, when King Edward returned to England after his decisive victory over the Scots at the Battle of Falkirk, 22 July, 1298, Annandale and Carrick were excepted from the Lordships and lands which he assigned to his followers; de Brus jnr., was being treated as a waverer whose allegiance might still be retained.

After the total defeat of the Battle of Falkirk, Sir William Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland and went to France. He was succeeded by Robert de Brus jnr., now popularly known as 'The Bruce', and Sir John Comyn of Badenoch, 'The Red' (whose mother was a sister of King John de Balliol), but they had difficulty in seeing past their personal differences. As someone with his own claim to the Scottish throne, Comyn was The Bruce's enemy. In 1299, William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, was appointed as a third, neutral Guardian to try and maintain order between Bruce and Comyn. The following year Bruce finally resigned as joint Guardian and was replaced by Gilbert, 1st Lord de Umfraville (d. before 13 October 1307), Earl of Angus (in right of his mother, Maud, Countess of Angus).

In May 1301, de Umfraville, Comyn and Lamberton also resigned as joint Guardians and were replaced by Sir John de Soules, whose father was feudal Lord of Liddesdale, as sole Guardian. Soules was appointed largely because he was part of neither the Bruce nor the Comyn camps and was a patriot. He was an active Guardian, and made renewed efforts to have King John de Balliol returned to the Scottish throne. There were rumours that Balliol would indeed return. Soules, who had probably been appointed by King John, supported his return, as did most other nobles, but the return of John as King would lead to The Bruce losing any chance of ever gaining the throne.

In July, King Edward 1st launched his sixth campaign into Scotland. He quickly captured Bothwell, Lanarkshire, and Turnberry Castle in Ayrshire, but apparently did little to damage the Scots' fighting capacity and in January 1302 agreed to a nine-month truce. It was around this time that Robert 'The Bruce' submitted yet again to King Edward, along with other nobles, even though he had been on the side of the patriots until now.

However, despite his recent pledge to support King Edward, it is interesting to note that Robert 'The Bruce' sent a letter to the monks at Melrose Abbey in March 1302 which effectively weakened his usefulness to the English King. Apologising for having called the monks' tenants to service in his army when there had been no national call-up, Bruce pledged that, henceforth, he would "never again" require the monks to serve unless it was to "the common army of the whole realm", for national defence.

In 1303, Edward invaded again, reaching Edinburgh, before marching to Perth. John Comyn, who was by now again a Guardian, could not hope to defeat King Edward's forces. King Edward stayed in Perth till July, then proceeded via Dundee, Brechin and Montrose, to Aberdeen, where he arrived in August. From here he marched through Moray, before his progress continued to Badenoch, before re-tracing his path back south to Dunfermline. With the country now under submission, all the leading Scots, except for Sir William Wallace, surrendered to King Edward in February 1304. Terms of submission were negotiated by John Comyn of Badenoch.

The laws and liberties of Scotland would be as they had been in the days of King Alexander III, and any that needed alteration would be with the advice of King Edward and the advice and assent of the Scots nobles.

On June 11, 1304, both of them having witnessed Edward's siege of Stirling Castle, Bruce and William Lamberton made a pact that bound them, each to the other, in "friendship and alliance against all men". If one should break the secret pact, he would forfeit to the other the sum of ten-thousand [Scots] pounds. They now intended to bide their time until the death of the now elderly ind increasingly unwell King of England.

King Edward called for homage again from the nobles and the burghs, which was again forthcoming, and a parliament was held to elect those who would meet later in the year with the English parliament to establish rules for the governance of Scotland. The Earl of Richmond, King Edward's nephew, was to head up the subordinate government of Scotland.

While all this took place, William Wallace was betrayed by a fellow Scot and captured near Glasgow, taken to London, and executed on 23 August, 1305.

On June 19, 1306 The Bruce was defeated at the Battle of Methven by the Earl of Pembroke, and on August 11, he was surprised at Dalry on the borders of Perth and Agyll by Alexander of Argyll, Lord of Lorn, where he was again defeated. The ladies of his family were sent to Kildrummy Castle in Aberdeenshire, under the command of his brother Nigel de Brus. However the Earls of Lancaster and Hereford besieged and took it on September 13. Nigel was executed. It is said that his wife Elisabeth, Marjorie, daughter by his first wife, and Marie and Christiana, his sisters, had managed to escape and took refuge in St.Duthac's in Tain, Rossshire, but were given up by the Earl of Ross to Edward 1st, who ordered them to be imprisoned: the sisters to be kept in cages, on November 7th.[18] Bruce, now almost without a follower, fled first to the west Highlands & Islands and then to Rathlin Island off the northern coast of Ireland. Returning via Carrick, Bruce and his followers returned to the Scottish mainland in February in two groups. One, led by himself and his brother Edward landed at Turnberry Castle and began a guerrilla war in southwest Scotland. In April, Bruce won a small victory over the English at the Battle of Glen Trool before defeating Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, at the Battle of Loudoun Hill on May 10, 1307,[19] although an indecisive defeat. The other group, of 700 Irishmen, led by his brothers Thomas and Alexander landed slightly further south, in Loch Ryan in Galloway, but on February 9 they were defeated by Sir Dougal MacDougal and the men of Galloway, in King Edward's interest, and the brothers were soon captured and executed,[20] their heads displayed on the gates of Carlisle.

Death of Edward 1st

King Edward marched north again in the spring. On his way he granted the Scottish estates of Bruce and his adherents to his own followers and published a Bill excommunicating Bruce. But, on July 7, 1307, King Edward I died[21] again en route north with his army, leaving Bruce to now be opposed by his feeble son, Edward II, and the odds turned to Bruce's favour.

Transferring his operations to the north in late 1307, leaving his brother Edward in command in Galloway, he routed the Earl of Buchan at Slaines in Aberdeenshire on Christmas Day, captured Inverlochy and Urquhart Castles, burning Inverness Castle and Nairn to the ground, then unsuccessfully threatening Elgin and nearby Banff before succumbing to a serious illness, probably owing to the hardships of the lengthy campaign. Recovering, leaving John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan unsubdued at his rear, Bruce returned West to take Balvenie and Duffus Castles, then Tarradale Castle on the Black Isle. Looping back via the hinterlands of Inverness and a second failed attempt to take Elgin, Bruce finally achieved his landmark defeat of Comyn at the Battle of Inverurie on May 22, 1308,,ref>Dunbar, 1899, p.132.</ref> then overran Buchan and slaughtered the English garrison at Aberdeen.

He then crossed to Argyll and defeated Alexander, Lord of Lorn and the men of Argyll, on August 22, 1308, at the Battle of Pass of Brander, and took Dunstaffnage Castle - the last major stronghold of the Comyns.

In March 1309, he held his first Parliament at St. Andrews, and by August he controlled all of Scotland north of the River Tay. On February 14th the following year, the clergy of Scotland recognised Bruce as King at a General Council.[22] The support given to him by the Scottish church despite of his excommunication was of great political importance.

The next three years saw the capture and reduction of one English held castle or outpost after another: Linlithgow in 1310, Dumbarton in 1311; and Perth, by The Bruce himself, on January 8, 1313. Bruce then made raids into England, "ravaging the north" in autumn 1311, and Durham in 1312.[23] and, landing at Ramsey in the Isle of Man, then laid siege to Castle Rushen in Castletown capturing it on June 21st 1313 to deny the island's strategic importance to the English. In the spring of 1314, Edward Bruce laid siege to Stirling Castle, whose Governor, Philip de Mowbray, agreed to capitulate if not relieved before 24 June 1314. On February 27, 1313, Sir James Douglas captured Roxburgh Castle, and Sir Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, captured Edinburgh Castle on March 14.[24] In May Bruce again raided England and subdued the Isle of Man.

The eight years of exhausting but deliberate refusal to meet the English on even ground have caused many to consider Bruce as one of the great guerrilla leaders of any age. This represented a transformation for one raised as a feudal knight. Bruce secured Scottish independence from the English king's overlordship at the decisive Battle of Bannockburn on June 24, 1314.

The following year, Edward de Brus, brother of the King, with six thousand Scots, invaded Ireland, landing at Carrickfergus in Ulster, Ireland. Edward was crowned King of Ireland on May 2, 1316. King Robert then went to Ireland to support his brother Edward, landing at Carrickfergus in autumn, and stayed until May 1317. However on October 14, 1318, Edward de Brus, 'King of Ireland', was defeated and slain by the English at Tagher, near Dundalk. [25]

Scotland's armies also invaded northern England. The Scots ravaged the bishopric of Durham about the end of June 1315; and King Robert besieged Carlisle unsuccessfully from July 22, to August 1, 1315. On April 28, 1318 the Scots took Berwick-upon-Tweed from the English, who had held it for 20 years, and in May the Earl of Moray invaded and burned the northern parts of England. At the battle of Mitton-on-Swale in Yorkshire, September 20, 1319, The Scots, again under the Earl of Moray, and Sir James Douglas, defeated the English, who lost 3000 men, including about 300 clergy.[26]


Robert the Bruce died on June 7, 1329, at the Manor of Cardross, near Dumbarton. He had suffered for some years from what some contemporary accounts describe as an "unclean ailment"; the traditional view is that he died of leprosy, but this is now disputed with syphilis, psoriasis, motor neurone disease and a series of strokes all proposed as possible alternatives.

His body lies buried in Dunfermline Abbey, but according to a death bed decree Sir James Douglas removed his heart for burial at Jerusalem. This verbal decree overrode an earlier written request, dated May 13 1329 at Cardross, that his heart be buried in the monastery at Melrose. Proceeding through Spain he was enticed to join in a campaign against the Moors in Granada and carried the heart 'against the enemies of the name of Christ', in battle during which Douglas was killed. On realising his imminent death Douglas is said to have thrown the casket containing Bruce's heart ahead of him and shouted "Onward braveheart, Douglas shall follow thee or die." According to legend (Fordun's Annals), the heart was later recovered by Sir William Keith and taken back to Scotland and buried at Melrose Abbey, in Roxburghshire, in keeping his earlier decree. In 1996, a casket, thought to contain the heart, was unearthed during construction work.

Robert the Bruce
Born: 11 July 1274 Died: 7 June 1329
Preceded by
Earl of Carrick
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Robert VI de Brus
Lord of Annandale
Succeeded by
Thomas Randolph
Regnal titles
Title last held by
King of Scots
Succeeded by
David II


  1. By his father's resignation on October 27/November 7, 1292: Stones E.L.G., Professor of Mediaeval History at Glasgow University, (editor & translator), Anglo-Scottish Relations 1174-1328, selected documents, Oxford, 1965 &1970, p.117.
  2. English title, created for his father June 24, 1295 by Writ.
  3. Flower, William, Norroy King of Armys, edited by Charles B. Northcliffe, M.A., of Langton, The Visitation of Yorkshire, 1563/4, London, 1881, p.40.
  4. Thompson, E.M., editor, The Chronicle of Geoffrey le Baker of Swinbrook, 1889, p.38. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that he was born at Turnberry Castle as is sometimes asserted by Scottish nationalists.
  5. Dunbar, Sir Archibald, Bt., Scottish Kings 1005 - 1625, Edinburgh, 1899, p.127.
  6. Richardson, Douglas, Plantagenet Ancestry, Baltimore, Md., USA., 2004, p.171, ISBN: 0-8063-1750-7
  7. Dunbar, 1899, p.126n.
  8. The legal age to be a witness was 14, so this was possibly illegal nothwithstanding the important clerical witnesses.
  9. Barrow, Professor G.W.S., Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, London, 1965, p.38.
  10. Barrow, 1965, p.92.
  11. Cockayne, G.E., edited by the Hon. Vicary Gibbs, The Complete Peerage, vol.ii, London, 1912, p.360.
  12. Cockayne, 1912, p.360.
  13. Dunbar, 1899, p.127.
  14. Date of Marriage License
  15. Richardson, Douglas, Plantagenet Ancestry, Baltimore, Md., 2004, pps: 171 and 314-5.
  16. Dunbar, 1899, p.128, who mistakenly gives it as his second marriage, failing to record Maud FitzAlan at all.
  17. Barrow, 1965, p.96.
  18. Dunbar, 1899, p.130.
  19. Dunbar, 1899, p.131.
  20. Dunbar, 1899,p.131.
  21. Dunbar, 1899, p.131.
  22. Dunbar, 1899, p.132.
  23. Dunbar, 1899, p.133.
  24. Dunbar, 1899, p.133.
  25. Dunbar, 1899, p.134-5.
  26. Dunbar, 1899, p.135-6.