Robert Bruce and the Battle of Bannockburn

Introduction: Robert Bruce and the Battle of Bannockburn

Background

The eldest son of Robert and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, Robert Bruce was the eighth of his name. Born in 1274 at Turnberry, he grew up in Antrim, Kintyre, Aberdeen as well as his father's other lands in Carrick and England. At 18 he took over from his father as Earl of Carrick.

The Bruces owned estates in Scotland, England and Ireland so initially his loyalties were with his feudal superior, Edwward I. This wasn't uncommon for nobles in this era. But he seems to have had a change of heart, changing sides. He changed sides five times, in 1297 he sided with William Wallace and is thought to have said "No man holds his flesh and blood in hatred, and I am no exception. I must join my own people and the nation in whom I was born". He was back with the English a few months later. This on and off again relationship with Edward I was about to change for good. Bruce, having seen the failure of John Balliol, one of his rivals (along with John Comyn), and the defeat of the patriot Wallace, whom he had knighted, decided that the throne of Scotland would not be acquired from Edward, decided to take it for himself -- for all of Scotland.

Robert the Bruce
[Robert Bruce]
In 1304 it appears that he was came back to the Scottish cause for good when he made the Bond of Cambuskenneth with Bishop Lamberton of St. Andrews, the head of the Scottish church. Clearly Robert wished to claim the throne and the backing of the church was vital, and this Bond could only help him in that respect.

In February 1306, shortly after Wallace's execution, he met John, 'the Red Comyn', his main rival, in the Greyfriars church, Dumfries. Details of what happned next are sketchy, but the long standing feud betwixt the two rivals came to a head inside the church. It is not known what happened between them but the final result was that Comyn was dead, stabbed in front of the alter by Bruce. Because this took place in a church, the murder was considered sacrilege; a crime for which he would be denied recognition as king later on by the Pope. But for now, Bruce turned it to his advantage by making the stabbing a part of his bid to claim the throne of Scotland. He went to Scone where, in a simple ceremony, he was proclaimed King, sans the Stone of Destiny.

Bruce & the spider
[Bruce watching spider]
Edward was enraged and immediately set his best northern general against Bruce, Armer de Valence. It took some time for Bruce to get support, much of which he found in the Highland Clans. There is a charming, but probably fictional story, of Bruce hiding in a cave from his pursuers. As he sat alone in the cold, damp cave he noticed a spider trying to spin a web in the corner of the cavern. The spider could not get its webs to stick to the moist surfaces, but instead of quitting, it tried again and again until finally it had weaved a small section, adding more web to that section each time. According to the legend, this is where Bruce (who has come to be called 'the Bruce"), got the idea to take Scotland one small section at a time. Never give up. It's a cute story, doubtful in authenticity, but the legend stuck, regardless of fact. Bruce began to rally the Highlands to his cause, and he also had with him several powerful Lowland families. Opposed to Bruce were the MacDougals, Comyns, and of course, the whole of the English nation. In time he began to form disiplined armies, employed and improved Wallace's use of the schiltron (colums of spearmen in formation), and after some initial defeats, he began to wage a successful guerilla war against the English and their Scottish allies.

The Scottish nation rallied to Bruce who, after a few setbacks, defeated the English at the Battle of Louden Hill in 1307. Edward I was now dead and Edward II was notably less ambitious and able than his imposing father had been. By 1314 only Berwick and Stirling remained in English hands, the commander (under authorization from Robert's brother, Edward Bruce) of the Stirling garrison had told the besiegers that if help had not arrived from England by midsummer he would surrender. Whether or not Robert Bruce sanctioned this deadline that was certain to invite an English invasion, is unclear. But Edward Bruce felt confident enough to issue the statement. This finally spurred the effeminate Edward II into action and by June 23th his army had arrived at Bannockburn.

This is where our story picks up. Bruce, knowing that Edward II and the largest English army ever to invade Scotland was coming to Stirling Castle, planned and trained his men, Highlanders and Lowlanders, for the inevitable conflict.

Now, the stage is set for the biggest, most important battle in Scotland's history.


  • Part One - King faces King.

  • Back to Bruce & Bannockburn Menu

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