Biography of Robert the Bruce

Robert the Bruce

Robert the Bruce was King of Scotland and who beat the English at the Battle of Bannockburn.

When and Where was he Born?

11th July, 1274 at Turnberry Castle, Ayrshire, Scotland which is near the famous golf course.

Family Background:

The Bruce was the seventh generation of Bruces originally invited into Scotland from Normandy by King David the First. His mother was the Celtic Countess of Carrick.

Education:

Received from his family and retainers particularly in the field of law. He also learnt the Knightly acts and became proficient with the battle axe.

Timeline of Robert the Bruce:

1286: Bruce’s family enter into “The Turnberry Band” and stake their claim to the Scottish throne.

1295: Death of Bruce’s Grandfather whilst John Balliol was still King of Scotland. He had been one of the contenders for the throne when Alexander the Third died but King Edward the First of England was invited to settle the dispute over the succession and chose Balliol.

1297: William Wallace kills the Sheriff of Lanark and takes over the garrison. He attacks the English Justiciar at Scone. Robert the Bruce leads a Scots uprising in Carrick.

1300: In May The Bruce resigns his Guardianship and Ingram de Umfraville is appointed in his place.

1302: Bruce returned to the fold of King Edward the First of England after supporting Scotland’s freedom fighters. He did not wish to be seen to support the cause of his rival John Balliol who by this time had been banished to his estates in France.

1304: Death of Bruce’s father in Cumberland. He was buried in the church at Abbeytown west of Carlisle.

1305: Execution of Sir William Wallace in London. Word reached Bruce that King Edward was terminally ill and he realised it was the time to try and assume the throne. He arranged to meet with John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch (“The Red Comyn”) in Dumfries. He was a nephew of John Balliol and one of the largest landowners in Scotland and could block Bruce’s passage to the throne if he so wished. Bruce offered Comyn all his family’s territories in return for his support as King and said that he would support Comyn’s claim to the throne in return for all his lands. Fortunately Comyn chose the Bruce lands rather than the crown.

1306: Legend has it that Comyn told King Edward the First of England of Bruce’s desire to become King of Scotland, which was tantamount to treason. The two met at Greyfriars Monastery in Dumfries on 10th February. Bruce confronted Comyn and in the ensuing argument Bruce stabbed Comyn with his dagger in front of the altar which was a major act of sacrilege. Sir Roger Kirkpatrick finally “finished off” the Red Comyn, telling Robert the Bruce “I mak siccar”. The moment had now been forced with the death of Comyn for him to take the throne and Bruce took his men to seize the English garrison at Dumfries Castle. Bruce’s army moved northwards and met up with men belonging to James, Lord of Douglas. On 25th March the crown of Scotland was placed on Bruce’s head at Scone in front of “Four Bishops five Earls and the people of the land”. Traditionally the Earl of Fife performed the ceremony but Duncan the present Earl was allied to the English. His aunt Isabel performed the coronation despite the fact that her own husband the Earl Buchan was also in the pay of the English. Within a few months however Bruce was defeated at Methven west of Perth and again Dalrigh south of Tyndrum. Isabel and his sister Mary were imprisoned in cages and his Queen, Elizabeth and his daughter Marjorie were put into solitary confinement by the English. Bruce himself then laid low for several months, probably somewhere in the Western Isles.

Frieze on Greyfriars Monastery
Frieze on the site of Greyfriars Monastery, Friars Vennel, Dumfries where Robert the Bruce 
killed John “The Red” Comyn to seize the throne. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1307: In February Bruce landed near his birthplace of Turnberry on the Ayrshire coast from the Isle of Arran. During April Bruce surprised and defeated an English force at Loch Trool. On 10th May, he again defeated a superior English force at Loudoun Hill in North Ayrshire. Edward the First of England died at Burgh by Sands near Carlisle in July and this was the signal for many Scots to flock to Bruce’s cause. Bruce set about capturing the remaining castles one by one and began to deal with the opposition to his crown by the supporters of John Balliol and “the Red Comyn”.

Robert the Bruce's stone
Bruce’s Stone, Loch Glentrool, Galloway Forest. This was the first major skirmish in 1307 between the 300 men of Robert the Bruce and the English Army which included 1,500 heavy Cavalry. Bruce had lured them into a remote area he knew well and, trapped by the surrounding hills, the English were slaughtered (copyright Anthony Blagg)
Glentrool information board
Information Board at Glentrool

1308: In August King Robert defeats McDougall of Lorne at The Battle of Brander.

1309: In March Bruce holds his first parliament at St Andrews.

1311: In August The Bruce invades northern England.

1312: In August he again raids northern England.

1313: By now most of the castles had been recaptured largely by stealth as the Scots were outnumbered by about ten to one and Bruce didn’t wish to provoke outright hostilities. In January he captures Perth. In February he re-conquers the southwest and Dumfries and in May he takes over The Isle of Man. Bruce put the attack on Stirling Castle in the hands of his impetuous brother Edward but his deal with the Castle’s Captain saying that it would be handed over to the Scots if a relieving army was not to appear by midsummer meant that the English would take it as a direct challenge to recover it. A large English army was mustered and Bruce retired to Torwood to regroup his followers.

1314: The English army gathered at Berwick upon Tweed on 10th June and began to march north. Bruce pulled his men back towards the Bannock Burn on the old Roman road leading to Stirling Castle. On the 23rd June the 22,000 strong English army approached the Scots position and the Battle of Bannockburn began. Bruce’s spearmen managed to hold off the English cavalry. As night fell Bruce had to decide whether his outnumbered army should retreat or stand and fight another day. On 24th June not long after 3 a.m. Bruce gave the order for his men to advance. Edward replied by setting his archers to fire on them but Bruce had seen Scottish spearmen decimated at the Battle of Falkirk under Wallace and sent his cavalry to disperse the archers. Finally Bruce’s reserves entered the battlefield and put the English to rout. James Douglas pursued English King Edward 60 miles to the castle at Dunbar.

1315: The English still refused to negotiate with the Scots and Bruce began taking tribute money from the northern English counties who did not want their towns sacked. The Scots then invaded Ireland in an attempt to gain support from another Celtic land.

Robert the Bruce Statue
Statue of Robert the Bruce at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1316: Bruce’s brother Edward was made King of Ireland.

1317: In January King Robert goes to Ireland to fight alongside his brother.

1318: Hopes that Ireland could be annexed by Scotland were dashed when the Scots were defeated near Dundalk. Edward Bruce here met his death. The Scots take Berwick-Upon-Tweed.

1319: The English began to besiege Berwick upon Tweed but Lord Douglas and Randolph by-passed them and raided into Yorkshire cutting an army raised by the Archbishop of York to pieces.

1320: In order to seek help from the Pope for the Scots cause the “Declaration of Arbroath” was made. It stated that Bruce was King of Scots and their defender rather than King of Scotland.

1322: King Edward the Second enters Scotland for the last time. King Robert pursues Edward II into England and defeats the English at The Battle of Old Byland near Thirsk. Various peace treaties are drawn up and then broken.

1324: The Pope recognises Robert the Bruce as King.

1327: The two armies met each other at Stanhope in County Durham. Douglas made an attack at night and narrowly missed capturing the King. The Scots held an un-winnable situation and disappeared. Their forces now began to play cat and mouse with the English, fighting them wherever they thought they could gain advantage. In October a delegation from London sought out Bruce as he was besieging Norham Castle saying that they were ready for peace negotiations.

Waymarker for Robert the Bruce
Waymarker near Greyfriars Church on the Robert the Bruce Trail in Dumfries (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1328: In March the Treaty of Edinburgh was signed and Bruce’s son David married Joan of the Tower, the Sister of King Edward the Third of England. Scotland also agreed to pay £20,000 reparation for war damages.

1329: Bruce had a house built on the river Leven just north of Dumbarton near Cardross and spent his final days in relative tranquility.

(1330): After his death Douglas took Bruce’s heart in a wooden casket to fight the Moors in southern Spain. Bruce had always wanted to go on a crusade to the Holy Land. However Douglas was slain and the overwhelmed Scots came back to their native land with the body of Douglas and the Casket carrying Bruce’s heart.

When and Where did he Die?

7th June 1329, Cardross, Dumbarton.

Age at Death:

55.

Marriages:

Isabel, daughter of the Earl of Mar, who died shortly after the birth of their daughter Marjorie.
1302: To Elizabeth de Burgh, daughter of the Earl of Ulster.

Site of Grave:

Dunfermline Abbey, Scotland.
His heart is buried under the floor in the Chapter House, Melrose Abbey, Scotland.

Places of Interest:

AYRSHIRE:

Turnberry Golf Course, Ayrshire. The ruins of the castle where he was born are near the lighthouse.
Kirkoswald Church, Ayrshire. (Contains the font where Bruce was baptised).

DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY:

Monument at Loch Trool, Galloway Forest Park.
Trail around Dumfries town and surrounding area available from the local Tourist Information Shop.

EDINBURGH:

Statue of Robert the Bruce at the left hand side of the entrance to Edinburgh Castle.

PERTHSHIRE:

He was crowned at Scone Palace, Perth.
The Declaration of Arbroath.

STIRLING:

Heritage Centre, Bannockburn.