Robert The Bruce: The Father of Scottish Independence
Written by: Stewart Borland
Published: 15th January 2018
Robert the Bruce: Overview
Life: 1274 – 1329
Reign: 1306 – 1329
Age at ascension: 31
Cause of death: Suspected leprosy
The Birth of Robert The Bruce
Queen Elizabeth II’s 19th great-grandfather, Robert The Bruce (Robert I) was born in 1274. He was not the first Robert Bruce is his family’s lineage, nor the only one to make attempts at the Scottish throne. Born of formidable stock, it is said that his mother Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, held his father captive until he agreed to marry her.
Bruce’s lasting legacy is his enduring and successful fight for Scottish independence. He was the grandfather of King Robert II – the first Stewart king of Scotland – and famously supported William Wallace’s uprising against the English.
Both Bruce and his father supported King Edward I’s invasion of Scotland in 1296, hoping themselves to gain the crown. It is unsurprising that they were disappointed when Edward I took over the reign of Scotland. For 10 years from 1296, Scotland was ruled as a province of England by King Edward I.
In 1298 Bruce became a guardian of Scotland. After an argument with John Comyn, his biggest rival for the Scottish throne, he stabbed him to death in a church in Dumfries. Shortly afterwards he claimed the throne and was crowned at Scone on March 25 1306.
Robert The Bruce And The Spider Legend
The year following his coronation, Bruce was deposed by Edward’s army and forced to flee. His wife and daughters were taken prisoner and three of his brothers were murdered. Bruce retreated to an island off the coast of Northern Ireland.
Whilst in hiding, legend has it that Bruce watched a spider swing between rafters, trying to anchor its web. It failed six times, but with the seventh try was successful. Bruce took this as a sign and decided to battle on.
Robert The Bruce and The Battle of Bannockburn
When Bruce returned to Scotland, he launched guerilla warfare against the English. Edward I was furious at Bruce, but died within sight of Scotland whilst on a northward march to defeat the rebels. The English throne’s successor Edward II couldn’t match his father and tried for a two year truce with Bruce.
Bruce defeated a much larger English army under Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314 – re-establishing the independent Scottish monarchy. This was perhaps Bruce’s finest hour and most enduring legacy – fighting for Scotland’s independence in a David and Goliath style battle, and winning.
Robert The Bruce and the Declaration of Arbroath
However Edward II did not relinquish he reign lightly. In 1320 Scotland’s most influential people sent a letter to Pope John XXII claiming Bruce as their rightful monarch. This letter became known as the ‘Declaration of Arbroath’ – asserting the antiquity of the Scottish people and their monarchy. It was several years before Bruce finally was recognised as the king of an independent Scotland – the year before his death.
“…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.” Declaration of Arbroath – 1320
The Death of Robert The Bruce
Scotland’s independence was officially recognised by the Treaty of Edinburgh, between Robert I and Edward III, in 1328 – ending a three decade war of independence. The following year Robert The Bruce died at his home in Cardross after suffering an illness some described as leprosy. He was just 54 years old.
Bruce had requested that his heart be taken to the holy land, but it only reached as far as Spain before being returned to Melrose Abbey where it was buried. His body was laid to rest in Dunfermline Abbey, where it remains today.