King of Scots
1274 – 1329
Robert Bruce was born on 11 July 1274, the first child of Robert de Brus, 6th Lord of Annandale and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, herself daughter of Niall, Earl of Carrick. From his mother he inherited the Gaelic Earldom of Carrick, and through his father a royal lineage that would give him a claim to the Scottish throne. His place of birth is uncertain, probably Turnberry Castle in Ayrshire, although Lochmaben in Dumfriesshire and Writtle in England are other possibilities.
In August 1296 Bruce and his father swore fealty to Edward I of England at Berwick-upon-Tweed, but in breach of this oath, which had been renewed at Carlisle, the younger Robert joined in the Scottish revolt against Edward in the following year laying waste the lands of those who adhered to Edward. However he was forced to make terms by a treaty called the capitulation of Irvine.
After William Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland after Falkirk, he was succeeded by Robert Bruce and John Comyn as joint guardians. Comyn also had a powerful claim to the Scottish throne through both his descent from the ancient Celtic monarchy and through his being the nephew of John Balliol. Bruce invited Comyn to a meeting under truce in Dumfries on 10 February 1306 where killed him. Bruce, and eventually the whole country was excommunicated for this crime. Realising that the die had been cast and he had no alternative except to become king or a fugitive, Bruce asserted his claim to the Scottish crown. He was crowned King of Scots as Robert I at Scone, near Perth on 25 March, by Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan.
In June 1306 Bruce was defeated at the Battle of Methven. In August he was surprised in Strathfillan, and fled to the islands on the western coast of Scotland.
There is speculation that this interval was spent on Rathlin Island. According to legend, Bruce hid himself in a cave there, where he watched a spider trying to spin a web. Each time the spider failed, it started all over again. Inspired by this, Bruce returned to inflict a series of defeats on the English, thus winning him more supporters and eventual victory. However, this legend only appears for the first time in a much later account, “Tales of a Grandfather” by Sir Walter Scott, and may have originally been told about his companion-in-arms Sir James Douglas (the Black Douglas).
Edward I marched north again in the spring. However, on 7 July, he died, leaving Bruce to now be opposed by his feeble son, Edward II.
Bruce and his followers returned to Scotland in February 1307 and in a series of battles began to defeat his enemies. In March 1309, he held his first Parliament at St Andrews, and by August he controlled all of Scotland north of the River Tay. The following year, the clergy of Scotland recognised Bruce as king at a general council. Between 1309 and 1314, in a series of guerrilla actions he captured many English held castles and outposts also raided northern England and the Isle of Man. Eventually Bruce secured Scottish independence from England militarily at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
Pope John XXII eventually lifted Bruce’s excommunication and in May 1328 King Edward signed the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, which recognised Scotland as an independent kingdom, and Bruce as its king.
Led by his brother Edward, Bruce’s forces also invaded Ireland in 1315, supposedly to free the country from English. The Irish crowned Edward Bruce as High King of Ireland in 1316. Robert later went there with another army to assist his brother.
The Bruce campaign to Ireland was characterised by some initial military success. However, the Scots failed to win over the non-Ulster chiefs, or to make any other significant gains in the south of the island, where people couldn’t see the difference between English and Scottish occupation. Eventually it was defeated when Edward Bruce was killed at the Battle of Faughart.
Bruce died on 7 June 1329. His body is buried in Dunfermline Abbey, but his heart at Melrose Abbey, in accordance with his wishes.
Location of plaque: Visitor’s Centre – Rathlin Island
Date of unveiling: 23 June 2007
Report of Plaque unveiling available HERE