Robert the Bruce statue Bannockburn

Earl of Carrick, Robert Bruce was born at Turnberry Castle , Ayrshire, in 1274, of both Norman and Celtic ancestry. The son of Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, he was the grandson of the Robert Bruce who had been one of the competitors for the throne after the death of the Maid of Norway.

Two years before his birth, Edward Plantagenet had become King Edward I of England . The ruthlessness of Edward, who earned the title "the Hammer of the Scots" brought forth the greatness of Bruce whose astonishing victory at Bannockburn in 1314 over the much larger and better-equipped forces of Edward II ensured Scottish freedom from control by the hated English.

Scotland 's struggle for control of her crown began when Alexander III died in 1286, leaving as heir his grandchild Margaret, the infant daughter of the King of Norway. Margaret was better known in history as the “Maid of Norway” The conflict started when she died on route to Scotland . This left the country with several claimants to the crown, the strongest of whom were John Balliol and Robert Bruce.

Alexander III


The horse tripped on the rocky shore, and died that very night

Perhaps the fall had killed it, or its heart succumbed to fright


The history of a nation would be changed this stormy day

One stumble by an injured horse, what a price this land would pay


The country calm, the monarch strong, how could this people be so wrong

The claim is torn from righteous hands, forfeiting laws that ruled our land.


The Maid is dead still as a child, and thirteen claim this country wild.


Who is to blame? The arbitrator with the Hammer claim, or the peers who meekly sit in shame

We allowed this person in distrait to tarnish this proud nation's name


He selected well the chosen one, and smiled upon him like the sun

Control and power ruled the roost, as another country's wealth we boost


The one who first appeared so weak, is now upset, so will loudly speak

Attack, attack he proudly claims as south his Scottish army reigns

His patron shows his evil streak, and soon reels in ‘Toom Tabard' meek


The land erupted all around and nowhere now could peace be found

Men would die for what they thought; this vacant land in blood would rot


From this fair land there came a man, who was willing now to make a stand

He fought as none had done before, with the enemy screaming at his door


They charged the schiltrons jagged sides, and many of them bled and died

The battlefield was won that day, when Scotland 's foes all ran away


Freedom now on every lip, as from the victor's cup we sip

A kingdom ruled by sword on hip, a mighty King with vice like grip


So every twenty-fourth of June the bagpipes play victorious tunes

We dance and sing to the wondrous sound but we don't forget who won this ground.


Brave men lie buried on these green slopes, so Scots like us may live in hope. They faced the force of Edwards might and won for us our glorious fight.

King Edward, who believed him to be the weaker and more compliant of the two Scottish claimants, supported John Balliol. The Balliol family were English barons belonging to a house with an established tradition of loyalty to the English crown. At a meeting of 104 auditors, with Edward as judge, the decision went in favour of Balliol, who was duly declared to be the rightful king in November 1292.

For his support Edward of England demanded much from Scotland 's new monarch. Edward demanded that he should have feudal superiority over Scotland , including homage from Balliol, judicial authority over the Scottish king in any disputes brought against him by his own subjects and defrayment of costs for the defence of England as well as active support in the war against France .

It was through John Balliol that we have the “Auld Alliance treaty with France . Even the mild Balliol ‘Toom Tabard' as he became known (Empty Coat), could not stomach the demands from the English King and told him so. He said to Edward, “I am King of Scotland , and only do the bidding of my people”. He went to the French and set up the famous treaty, which was also to be a precursor to invading England .
Robert the Bruce

Edward of England went north to receive homage from a great number of Scottish nobles, as their feudal lord. 21 year-old Robert Bruce, who owned estates in England , was one of them. This became known as the ‘Ragman's Roll' . The whole town of Berwick were put to the sword and left to rot in the streets as a lesson to any opposition. Balliol looked on this signing by Bruce as treachery and seized his lands in Scotland . Balliol gave them to his own brother-in-law, John Comyn. John Balliol did not last long as King of Scotland. Edward of England, at Dunbar in April 1296, defeated his army. Then he was also trounced at Brechin, on 10 July. Balliol was left with no choice now but give up his Scottish throne to the powerful English king. Edward the first of England took into his possession the stone of Scone , "the coronation stone" of the Scottish kings. At a parliament, which he summoned at Berwick, the English king received homage and the oath of fealty from over 2,000 Scots.

Robert the Bruce

Nationalistic tendencies began to stir, caused by English forces north of the border. The upsurge in patriotism sparked the need for new Scottish champion. One was to appear from nowhere. A man, who until that time had been unknown to many people out with his own district, was to become one of Scotland 's most feted hero's. Following a brawl with English soldiers in the market place at Lanark, William Wallace, after killing an English sheriff (who had murdered Wallace's wife) found himself at the head of a fast-spreading movement of national resistance. At Stirling Bridge , a Scottish force led by Wallace won an astonishing victory when it completely annihilated a large, lavishly equipped English army under the command of Surrey , Edward I's viceroy.

Yet Wallace's great victory, successful because the English cavalry were unable to manoeuvre on the marshy ground and their supporting troops had been trapped on a narrow bridge. After this defeat Edward of England brought a large army north in 1298. He was trying to goad Wallace into fighting a second pitched battle; the English king's forces were more successful on this occasion. At Falkirk , they crushed the over-confident Scottish followers of Wallace.

Falkirk was a grievous loss for Wallace who never again found himself in command of a large body of troops. After hiding out for a number of years, he was finally captured in 1305 at Robroyston near Glasgow , and brought to London to die a traitor's death. With the execution of Wallace, it was time for Robert Bruce, whose heritage as Earl of Carrick to free himself from his fealty to Edward and to lead the fight for Scotland .

At a meeting in Greyfriar's Kirk at Dumfries between the two surviving claimants for the Scottish throne, the Bruce murdered John Comyn, thus earning the enmity of the many powerful supporters of the Comyn family, but also excommunication from the Church. On March 27, 1306 he declared himself King of Scots. King Robert I of Scotland , and was given the traditional blessing from Countess Isabel of the MacDuffs. It was an impressive ceremony, but not a well attended one. Most Scottish nobles didn't dare support Bruce, fearing the wrath of Edward. MacDougall of Lorn and the Earl and the Earl of Ross, friends of the murdered Comyn, were hostile, not to mention John Comyn the new Earl of Buchan, uncle of the murdered man. Bruce and his small band of supporters were hunted around Scotland .

As guardian of his nephew, the infant Earl of Mar, Bruce had access to the mighty new castle at Kildrummy on Donside. He sent his women folk there for safety, under the protection of his youngest brother, Sir Nigel Bruce. Edward's reply was predictable; he sent a large army north, defeated Bruce at the Battle of Methven, executed many of his supporters and forced the Scottish king into becoming a hunted outlaw.

Hearing of an English force advancing on the castle, Sir Nigel sent the ladies north, probably hoping they would find refuge in Orkney. They were spotted in Easter Ross and took refuge in St Duthac's Church, Tain. The Earl of Ross's men, violating the sanctuary, dragged them out and sent them captive to Edward.

Meanwhile, Sir Nigel waited at Kildrummy to delay the English advance. The castle withstood every effort of the besieging forces, but was betrayed by a Blacksmith who was promised all the English gold he could carry. He did get the gold as promised, but not in the way he thought, for it was heated until it became liquidised and was poured down his throat while he was still alive. Sir Nigel and his commanders were sent to London for execution.

Robert the Bruce was unaware of these tragedies because he and his small band of loyal friends were obliged to hide in the hills. In the winter of 1306-1307, with his fortunes at their lowest, Bruce took refuge in the southern Hebrides or Rathlin Island . His wife, daughter and sisters were imprisoned; and the English executed three of his brothers. At this point the legend of Robert the Bruce is born. After the bloody defeat, and whilst taking refuge in a dark cave escaping the English army, Robert sat and pondered his campaign. Feeling the power of failure he looked up and saw a small spider climbing up its silken thread to reach its web, time and time again the spider fell, but returned again to struggle its way home. As you might have guessed, the influence that this imagery had on Robert lead him to pick up his sword and exclaim "If at first you don't succeed - try, try again!” His words remain with us all still to this day.

King Robert the Bruce possessed real military genius and he was helped by the fact that in 1307 Edward I, the self-styled 'Hammer of the Scots' , died and was succeeded by his less effective son Edward II.

From 1307 onwards, with energy and determination, Robert waged highly successful guerrilla warfare against the English occupiers, establishing control north of the Forth , and gradually won back his kingdom; by 1314, Stirling was the only castle in English hands.

His campaign culminated in resounding victory over Edward II (whose larger army of 20,000 outnumbered Robert's forces by three to one) at the Battle of Bannockburn, near Stirling on 24 June 1314 . Bannockburn confirmed the re-establishment of an independent Scottish monarchy. Even after Bannockburn and the Scottish capture of Berwick in 1318, Edward II refused to give up his claim to the over lordship of Scotland, and so in 1320 the Scottish earls, barons and the 'community of the realm' sent a letter to Pope John XXII declaring that Robert I was their rightful monarch. This 'Declaration of Arbroath' has become perhaps the most famous document in Scottish history.

Robert the Bruce

The Declaration asserted the antiquity of the Scottish people and their monarchy:

To the most Holy Father and Lord in Christ, the Lord John, by divine providence Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Roman and Universal Church, his humble and devout sons Duncan, Earl of Fife, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, Lord of Man and of Annandale, Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March, Malise, Earl of Strathearn, Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, William, Earl of Ross, Magnus, Earl of Caithness and Orkney, and William, Earl of Sutherland; Walter, Steward of Scotland, William Soules, Butler of Scotland, James, Lord of Douglas, Roger Mowbray, David, Lord of Brechin, David Graham, Ingram Umfraville, John Menteith, guardian of the earldom of Menteith, Alexander Fraser, Gilbert Hay, Constable of Scotland, Robert Keith, Marischal of Scotland, Henry St Clair, John Graham, David Lindsay, William Oliphant, Patrick Graham, John Fenton, William Abernethy, David Wemyss, William Mushet, Fergus of Ardrossan, Eustace Maxwell, William Ramsay, William Mowat, Alan Murray, Donald Campbell, John Cameron, Reginald Cheyne, Alexander Seton, Andrew Leslie, and Alexander Straiton, and the other barons and freeholders and the whole community of the realm of Scotland send all manner of filial reverence, with devout kisses of his blessed feet.

Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules , and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea , to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since. In their kingdom there have reigned one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken a single foreigner.

The high qualities and deserts of these people, were they not otherwise manifest, gain glory enough from this: that the King of kings and Lord of lords, our Lord Jesus Christ, after His Passion and Resurrection, called them, even though settled in the uttermost parts of the earth, almost the first to His most holy faith. Nor would He have them confirmed in that faith by merely anyone but by the first of His Apostles -- by calling, though second or third in rank -- the most gentle Saint Andrew, the Blessed Peter's brother, and desired him to keep them under his protection as their patron forever.

The Most Holy Fathers your predecessors gave careful heed to these things and bestowed many favours and numerous privileges on this same kingdom and people, as being the special charge of the Blessed Peter's brother. Thus our nation under their protection did indeed live in freedom and peace up to the time when that mighty prince the King of the English, Edward, the father of the one who reigns today, when our kingdom had no head and our people harboured no malice or treachery and were then unused to wars or invasions, came in the guise of a friend and ally to harass them as an enemy. The deeds of cruelty, massacre, violence, pillage, arson, imprisoning prelates, burning down monasteries, robbing and killing monks and nuns, and yet other outrages without number which he committed against our people, sparing neither age nor sex, religion nor rank, no one could describe nor fully imagine unless he had seen them with his own eyes.

But from these countless evils we have been set free, by the help of Him Who though He afflicts yet heals and restores, by our most tireless Prince, King and Lord, the Lord Robert. He, that his people and his heritage might be delivered out of the hands of our enemies, met toil and fatigue, hunger and peril, like another Macabaeus or Joshua and bore them cheerfully. Him, too, divine providence, his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our Prince and King. To him, as to the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by law and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand.

Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom -- for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Therefore it is, Reverend Father and Lord, that we beseech your Holiness with our most earnest prayers and suppliant hearts, inasmuch as you will in your sincerity and goodness consider all this, that, since with Him Whose Vice-Regent on earth you are there is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman, you will look with the eyes of a father on the troubles and privation brought by the English upon us and upon the Church of God. May it please you to admonish and exhort the King of the English, who ought to be satisfied with what belongs to him since England used once to be enough for seven kings or more, to leave us Scots in peace, who live in this poor little Scotland, beyond which there is no dwelling-place at all, and covet nothing but our own. We are sincerely willing to do anything for him, having regard to our condition, that we can, to win peace for ourselves.

This truly concerns you, Holy Father, since you see the savagery of the heathen raging against the Christians, as the sins of Christians have indeed deserved, and the frontiers of Christendom being pressed inward every day; and how much it will tarnish your Holiness's memory if (which God forbid) the Church suffers eclipse or scandal in any branch of it during your time, you must perceive. Then rouse the Christian princes who for false reasons pretend that they cannot go to help of the Holy Land because of wars they have on hand with their neighbours. The real reason that prevents them is that in making war on their smaller neighbours they find quicker profit and weaker resistance. But how cheerfully our Lord the King and we too would go there if the King of the English would leave us in peace, He from Whom nothing is hidden well knows; and we profess and declare it to you as the Vicar of Christ and to all Christendom.

But if your Holiness puts too much faith in the tales the English tell and will not give sincere belief to all this, nor refrain from favouring them to our prejudice, then the slaughter of bodies, the perdition of souls, and all the other misfortunes that will follow, inflicted by them on us and by us on them, will, we believe, be surely laid by the Most High to your charge.

To conclude, we are and shall ever be, as far as duty calls us, ready to do your will in all things, as obedient sons to you as His Vicar; and to Him as the Supreme King and Judge we commit the maintenance of our cause, casting our cares upon Him and firmly trusting that He will inspire us with courage and bring our enemies to nought.

May the Most High preserve you to his Holy Church in holiness and health and grant you length of days.

Given at the monastery of Arbroath in Scotland on the sixth day of the month of April in the year of grace thirteen hundred and twenty and the fifteenth year of the reign of our King aforesaid.


In 1324, the Pope recognised Robert as king of an independent Scotland . Two years later, the Franco-Scottish alliance was renewed in the Treaty of Corbeil, by which the Scots were obliged to make war on England should hostilities break out between England and France .

In 1327, the English deposed Edward II in favour of his son Edward III and peace was then made between Scotland and England with the treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, which began with England 's total renunciation of all claims to superiority over Scotland . Robert had achieved all he had fought for: ejecting the English, re-establishing peace and gaining recognition as the true king.

By that time, King Robert was seriously ill, and he died at Cardross, Dunbartonshire on 7 June 1329 , aged 54. A few days later, in response to an earlier request by him, the Pope granted permission for kings of Scots to be anointed at their coronation (Scottish kings had previously been enthroned in a mainly secular ceremony at Scone ). This was a clear acknowledgement that the Pope recognised Scotland 's independence.

Robert I was buried at Dunfermline and, in fulfilment of his dying wish, Sir James Douglas set out to carry his heart to the Holy Land . In a fight against the Moors in Spain , Douglas was killed and the embalmed heart was returned to Scotland . It was buried in Melrose Abbey. Recently a new casket (pictured here) was created for the embalmed heart. A new stone and was placed over the spot where his heart is interred. It says, in Scots , "A noble hart may hae nae ease, gif freedom failye" - "A noble heart may have no ease if freedom fail".


House where Robert the Bruce died

That is the story of The Bruce, but there was more to him than that. He moved about Scotland he was a frequent visitor to Aberdeen , his first arrival being in 1306.

In the month of September 1319, King Robert, had again visited the city, where he stayed for some time, lodging in William the Lion's Palace in the Green.

The citizens of Aberdeen , many of whom were his former comrades-in-arms, gave Bruce a tremendous welcome. The King went south well pleased with the reception he had received, and at Berwick on 10 th December 1319 , made his most generous benefaction to Aberdeen . He gave the burgesses in perpetual feu, and for a nominal payment of £213:6/8d stg, the whole of the Stocket Forest . From this remarkable gift the city's ‘Common Good Fund' may be said to have originated. The fund has accumulated over the years and has assets worth millions of pounds; the cities citizens still enjoy the benefits to this very day.



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