The story is well known to the members of our clan of of Bedrule’s rescue of the king of Scotland from a raging bull and how we became the Turnbull Clan, but just who was this king that gratefully bestowed on our ancestor the name of Turnbull? Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, the man who led his army to defeat the English and win freedom for his country is a national hero to Scots, but who was he before that? Who was Robert the Bruce?
Born on July 11, 1274 at Turnberry Castle, Ayrshire, Robert carried the blood of nobility. His ancestry is both Celtic and Norman. Robert was the first son of Robert de Brus, 6th Lord of Annandale and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, daughter of Niall, Earl of Carrick. His claim to the throne was tenuous. John Balliol was actually the King of Scotland at the time but he had surrendered his kingdom to Edward the First of England, Longshanks, known as “the Hammer of the Scots” in 1292. The royal arms were stripped from the coat of arms and John Balliol became known as “Toom Tabard” which means Empty Coat.
William Wallace had attempted to restore King John, who had gone into exile, to the throne. Wallace had some success in defeating the English at the battle of Stirling Bridge and became the guardian of Scotland in 1297. He was subsequently defeated by Edward’s
forces at the battle of Falkirk. Wallace resigned as guardian and went into hiding for seven years until 1305 when he was betrayed as he slept. Wallace was captured in Robroyston near Glasgow. He was put on trial for treason, convicted and executed in a most hideous manner. On the 24th of August, 1305, William Wallace was hung, drawn and quartered, and beheaded. Edward I of England, as a warning to other would be rebels, had Wallace’s body parts put on display in Berwick, Stirling, Perth, and Newcastle. His head was impaled on a spike at London Bridge. Following Wallace’s resignation as guardian of Scotland, John ‘the Red’ Comyn and Robert the Bruce became joint guardians of the oppressed kingdom until Ingram de Umfraville took Bruce’s place in 1300.
Bruce submitted to Edward “Longshanks” of England in 1302. He did this to win a pardon for himself and also because he didn’t want to see the Comyn/Balliol families come into power with their claim to the throne he so strongly desired for himself. Wallace was in hiding and Bruce did not see any reason to continue the fight for independence if he was not going to be king. With Wallace’s execution in 1305 though, things changed yet again.
It wasn’t until 1304, with the death of his father, that Robert had come into real competition with the Comyn/Balliol family for the Scottish throne. Before he could become the king though, Robert had to somehow eliminate his competition. John ‘the Red’ Comyn, the nephew of the exiled king John Balliol, stood in his path to the throne. Comyn was a powerful opponent who had the support of many friends and allies; he was very influential as well and had, maybe, a stronger claim to the kingship than did Bruce.
The future king had to come up with a plan to win Comyn’s support in his wish to be king. His plan was to give his land holdings to Comyn in order to buy the support he needed. He arranged for a meeting with his adversary to be held on the 10th of February 1306 at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries. Comyn agreed to attend and the two met at the altar of the church on the chosen day. Instead of accepting Bruce’s proposal however, Comyn was outraged at the plan and a heated argument ensued.
At the peak of his own anger Robert the Bruce pulled his dagger and plunged in into John Comyn killing him right there in the church. Comyn’s uncle, Sir Robert Comyn tried to come to his nephew’s aid and was subsequently slain by Bruce’s men.
However dubious the murder of John Comyn might have been, Robert the Bruce was now the heir to the throne of Scotland. He was in a precarious place though, having killed a respected nobleman, in a sacred place no less. He knew that Comyn’s kinsmen would not go quietly in the night and he was now an outlaw because of his temper. He was excommunicated from the church by Pope Clement V for his actions on that history changing day.
None the less, just six weeks after the murder, on March 25th 1306, Robert the Bruce was crowned king of Scotland. Now all he had to do was to drive the English out of his kingdom…
Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland
Robert the Bruce, crowned King of Scotland in Scone Palace on March 25th 1306, had but one goal; defeat the English in order to win freedom for his country. After the killing of John ‘the Red’ Comyn a mere six weeks earlier in Greyfriars Church in Dumfries, Bruce found that he had made enemies in Comyn’s family. Also, he was excommunicated from the church by Pope Clement V for the murder.
As to be expected, the new king was outlawed by King Edward I of England. He was now a hunted man, Edward commanded Aymer de Valence, brother-in -law of John Comyn, to hunt down and capture or kill Bruce. Valence defeated Bruce’s forces in a battle at Methven and Bruce himself was very nearly captured by other of Comyn’s kinsmen at Tyndrum.
Things went from bad to worse for Robert the Bruce. For their safety, he had sent his family to Kildrummy Castle in Aberdeenshire but the attempt at protecting then proved futile. By September his wife Elizabeth de Burgh and Marjorie Bruce, his daughter by his first wife, Isabella of Mar, were captured and imprisoned. His brother Neil was hanged and beheaded and his sister Mary and the Countess Isabella were put in cages.
Bruce fled to the isle of Rathlin off the Irish coast. He remained hidden until his return to Scotland in 1307. During this period of exile many legends arose regarding Bruce. One of the better known tales is that while hiding in a cave the king observed a spider trying to spin a web across the mouth of the cave. After two failed attempts the spider finally succeeded in its task on its third try. Bruce was supposedly inspired by this and knew that he would try again and if necessary again to conquer the English king and lead his people to the freedom that they so craved.
King Robert returned to his beloved Scotland in February of 1307 acutely aware of the strength of the English army as well as its affiliation with the Comyn family and their followers. His only option was to follow the example set by William Wallace which was to conduct a guerilla war and try to demoralize and frighten his enemies. Victory was achieved by the Scots on several occasions. In April of 1307 John Mowbray and his troops were ambushed in Glen Trool, Galloway. Though it was a minor battle, the English suffered heavy losses while the Scots lost few men. The Scottish Army was greatly encouraged by their triumph however small.
In May of the same year the battle of Loudoun Hill near Kilmarnock was fought. While Bruce’s forces were again greatly outnumbered, roughly 600 against 3,000, the Scottish prevailed against once more over the English, defeating Aymer de Valence, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke and Edward’s first cousin, soundly crushing the opposition. Following William Wallace’s guerilla tactics, Bruce used his intimate knowledge of the landscape to overcome a force five times larger than his own. He ordered that a series of trenches be dug to force the English troops to approach across a large boggy area and through a narrow gap between the trenches. His men lay in wait then struck hard and fast using pikemen to stop the English. The battle of Loudoun Hill was to be a training ground for Bruce and his troops. Similar tactics were used seven years hence in the decisive battle of Bannockburn. This battle though small brought King Robert the Bruce his first major victory against the English; it was not to be his last.
Just over a month later, on July 7, 1307, the news spread that King Edward I, the ‘Hammer of the Scots’, was dead. Longshanks was gone at last. While coming north to deal once again with the Scots the English king died of dysentery at age sixty-eight at Burgh on Sands, Cumberland. The story goes that he was not very confident in his son’s ability to carry on the fight to conquer his northern enemies and ordered his flesh boiled from his bones so that they could accompany the troops on the forthcoming battles. His son, Edward II disregarded this request and buried his father in Westminster Abbey among his predecessors.
The Battle at Loudoun Hull is considered by many to be a turning point in the fight for Scottish independence. There were to be many more battles before the Scots defeated the English at Bannockburn in 1314.
Following the battle at Loudoun Hill and the death of Edward I of England, Scotland’s fight for independence became easier for the Scots. Edward II was not like his father; he was a weak willed dilettante who is thought to have been homosexual. Though no coward, Edward II cared little for campaigning and waging war. He was however still responsible for finishing the matter that his father had left.
The battle and subsequent victory at Loudon Hill in 1307 served as a training ground for the Scottish forces. Other skirmishes provided invaluable experience for Bruce’s forces, too. They were able to learn the methods and tactics of the English army and prepare for the long fight for independence. Intense training of his troops was led by Bruce and his captains in the two months that led up to the battle that finally achieved independence for the Scots; the Battle at Bannock Burn in 1314.
Bannockburn is located just over two miles to the south-south east of Stirling and approximately midway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is a small town named for Bannock Burn, a small stream the cuts though the village on its way to join the River Forth. Today Bannockburn is a part of the city of Stirling.
The battle took place over a two day period; June 23-24, 1314. Edward II of England had come north to relieve Stirling Castle but the Scots would have none of it and kept them at bay. Under overwhelming odds the Scots used the weakness of the English against them. Edward’s troops were arrogantly condescending of the Scots and even though they outnumbered Bruce’s forces by almost ten to one, Bruce and his men were far better equipped for battle. It was with dogged determination that these doughty men were victorious. The English side lost thousands of men while the Scots lost hundreds and in the end King Edward the second of England was persuaded to leave the battlefield and escape to the south. This action may have saved his life but the consequences were that the English fighters lost heart at the sight of their king fleeing the field. Fear set in for them while the Scots were inspired to fight all the harder winning the day and freedom at last for Scotland.
Though the English did not recognize Scotland as a sovereign nation for fourteen more years, until 1328 when the treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton was signed, the Battle of Bannockburn was the deciding factor. The terms of the treaty recognized Scotland as a fully independent nation, recognized Robert the Bruce and his heirs and successors as the rightful rulers of Scotland and set the border between the two countries as that recognized under the reign of King of Scots Alexander III (1249-1286).
Robert the Bruce was now the recognized, if not undisputed, King of Scotland. He still had enemies though. The Balliol family still claimed to be the rightful rulers of the land and did everything in their power to regain the crown. After Bruce’s death the second war of Scottish independence was fought, secretly backed by the English crown.
King Robert was militarily successful, by defeating the English King he and his army accomplished that which was thought impossible. With the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320, he gained more credibility and this led to the lifting of his excommunication from the Catholic Church by the new Pope, John XXII. Then in 1328 King Edward III of England signed the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton recognizing Scotland as a free nation with Bruce as her king. Bruce has been a national hero in Scotland for over seven hundred years and with the passage of time he grows larger in our hearts and minds as we remember him and his heroic deeds.
It is indeed unfortunate that his death was an ignoble one. Not in battle did Robert the Bruce die like the warrior that he was. Instead he suffered a debilitating illness that many believe was leprosy, but since that disease is not discussed in the accounts of the time others feel that his death might have been due to an “Unclean disease” such as syphilis, additional possibilities include; psoriasis, motor neuron disease or a series of stokes. On June 7, 1329, just one year after the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton Robert the Bruce died at the Manor of Cardross near Dumbarton. However, his death is not important to those left around the world who remember him as the man who set Scotland free. We choose to remember his deeds of valor, his undying desire for a free and independent Scotland.
It was his last wish that his heart be taken on a crusade to the battles abroad; ‘Against God’s foes’. The slaying of John Comyn had haunted Robert and he fervently desired atonement for the sin that nearly cost him his salvation. So while the body of Robert Bruce lies buried in Dunfermline Abbey, Sir James Douglas was given the task of fulfilling the king’s last request. Bruce’s heart was taken and preserved in a silver casket (right) that Douglas carried suspended from a chain around his neck. A crusade however did not take place in a timely fashion so Douglas and his team instead journeyed to the Spanish Peninsula in order to join Alfonso XI in a campaign against Muhammed IV, Sultan of the Moorish Kingdom of Granada.
Douglas fell in August 1330 during the siege of Teba and Robert’s heart was retrieved by Sir William Keith and returned to Scotland and buried at Melrose Abbey in accordance with Bruce’s wishes. Archaeologists discovered the heart in 1920, but reburied it without marking the location. Then in 1998, during some construction the casket was rediscovered and sent to Edinburgh where it was examined by AOC archaeologists who determined that the casket did indeed contain a human heart and was of the correct age. It was reburied at Melrose Abbey in 1998.