Robert the Bruce was born in Turnberry, Scotland, in 1274. He inherited the title Earl of Carrick and in 1296 swore fealty to Edward I. However, in 1297 he joined the Scottish revolt under William Wallace and was appointed one of the four guardians of Scotland.
In 1306 Bruce was crowned king of Scotland. After being defeated by the English army at Methven in 1306 he was forced to flee to Raithlin Island off the north coast of Ireland.
Bruce returned to Scotland and defeated an English army at Loudoun in May 1307. Two years later Bruce was strong enough to hold his first parliament at St. Andrews. A series of military victories between 1310 and 1314 won Bruce control of northern Scotland. He also captured the castles of Edinburgh and Roxburgh.
In the summer Bruce besieged Stirling Castle. Stirling was the last castle still left in English control, and Edward II decided that every effort should be made to stop it being captured by Bruce. Edward therefore decided to take the largest army that had ever left England, to save the castle.
Scotland's army was not only outnumbered but lacked the experience of Edward's troops. Edward also had a large number of armoured knights and longbowmen, the two most effective forces in medieval warfare. Bruce, on the other hand, had very few of either and instead had to rely heavily on spearmen.
Bruce made no attempt to stop Edward's large army from entering Scotland. He decided that his best hope was to force the English to fight on territory that best suited his limited resources. Bruce chose a site only two and half miles south of Stirling, by a stream called Bannockburn. The Scots took the high ground and, if the English were to attack, they had to advance on a narrow front between marshland and a thick wood.
The English advance guard arrived at Bannockburn on the 23rd June. Sir Henry Bohun, the leader of the English party, recognised Robert Bruce. After fixing his lance, Bohun charged the Scottish king. Bruce darted out of the way of the lance and killed Bohun with a blow from his axe.
The main English army arrived on 24th June. Gilbert, 10th Earl de Clare, who had brought 500 of his own knights with him, advised Edward to allow the men to rest for a day. Edward disagreed and accused Gilbert of being afraid of the Scots. Gilbert was stung by these comments and immediately ordered his men to attack. Gilbert gallantly led the charge but his horse was cut down and while he was on the ground he was killed by Scottish spearmen.
However, while the English knights were assembling, Scottish spearmen, who had been hiding in the woodland, launched an attack. The English knights, still not organised into battle order, were forced to retreat.
The English archers were called forward but before they could take effective action they were charged by the Scottish knights. After large numbers were killed the archers were also forced to retreat.
Edward now decided to use his knights to charge the Scottish position at the top of the hill. As the English knights were forced to attack on a narrow front, the Scottish spearmen were able to block their advance. English archers tried to help, but as both armies were crushed together their arrows were just as likely to hit their own men as the Scots.
Suddenly, English soldiers started to turn and run. Others followed and soon the English army was in retreat. The Scots charged after them. Many of the English knights were able to escape but those without horses, such as the spearmen and archers, suffered very heavy casualties.
The battle of Bannockburn was the worst defeat in English history. While what was left of the English army tried to get back home, the Scots were able to take Stirling Castle.
Bruce was now able to launch attacks on northern England and Berwick was captured in 1318. The Declaration of Arbroath was issued in 1320 and three years later Pope John XXII recognised Robert the Bruce as king of Scotland.
Robert the Bruce took advantage of the accession of the young Edward III to force the English monarchy to accept the Treaty of Northampton which secured Scottish independence. Robert the Bruce died in 1329.
Three of them went at King Robert, and the other two... made at his man. King Robert met the three and dealt such a blow at the first that he sheared through ear and cheek and neck to the shoulder... With that the King Robert glanced aside and saw the other two making a sturdy attack against his man. He left his own two and leapt on the other two and smote off the head of one of them... though he had a struggle. King Robert killed four of his foes.
Robert Bruce triumphed single handed over all the ill-luck and numberless problems he had to face... With the Lord's help, by his own strength and by his human manhood he cut fearlessly his way into the columns of the enemy... in the art of fighting... Robert was the best in the world.
For the first time it appears that God is openly for Robert Bruce, for he has destroyed all King Edward's power... the Scottish people firmly believe that Robert Bruce will win... Preachers are deceiving the people by their false preachings. For they have told them that they have found a prophecy of Merlin that the Scottish people and the Welsh shall band together and have the power to live together in peace until the end of the world.
Robert Bruce's men, who had been concealed in caves and in woodlands, made a heavy attack on our men... For Robert Bruce, knowing himself unequal to the King of England in strength/ decided that it would be better to resist our King by secret warfare rather than in open battle.
Our people and your people.., share the same ancestry... We have sent over to you the bearers of this letter, to negotiate with you about permanently strengthening and maintaining the special relationship between us and you.
10 things you (probably) didn’t know about Robert the Bruce
How many of these obscure facts about Robert the Bruce do you know? Test your knowledge ahead of the release of Netflix’s Outlaw King.
Robert the Bruce was one of the most revered warriors of his generation. Often referred to as ‘Good King Robert’, he is best known for his defeat of the English army under Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314.
For the release of the Netflix original film, Outlaw King, we thought we’d dig up some interesting intel about the man of the moment.
Bruce is such a well-known figure in Scottish history that facts you may not already know about him are quite hard to come by. However, we caught up with our historians Nikki Scott and Morvern French to chat about some lesser known bits of information. Take note of our ten facts below, and impress your friends with your knowledge as you watch Outlaw King!
1. Never the twain shall meet
Although they were alive at the same time, and William Wallace was Guardian of Scotland immediately before Robert the Bruce, there is no evidence that the two ever met.
2. Not an axe-ident
The poet John Barbour wrote that Bruce broke a favourite axe killing Henry de Bohun in single combat at the Battle of Bannockburn.
Accounts tell that the English knight lowered his lance and charged at Bruce. The Scot stood his ground. At the last minute Bruce side-stepped the charge, bringing down his axe on the challenger’s head.
3. Family reunion
Bruce’s victory at Bannockburn in 1314 enabled him to demand the return from English captivity of his wife Elizabeth, his daughter Marjorie, his sister Christina, and Robert Wishart, bishop of Glasgow.
4. The Peerage of Scotland
Robert the Bruce was Earl of Carrick from 1292 to 1313. This title is now held by Charles, the Prince of Wales.
5. Changing sides
Both Robert and his father were loyal to the English king when war broke out in 1296. They even paid homage to Edward I at Berwick. However, eight months later Bruce renounced his oath and joined the Scottish revolt against Edward, recognising John Balliol as king.
From 1302 to 1304 Robert was again back in English allegiance. His marriage to Elizabeth de Burgh, daughter of the earl of Ulster (part of English-held Ireland) influenced this change. From 1304 he abandoned Balliol, and planned to take the throne for himself.
6. An important landowner
As well as the earldom of Carrick and the lordship of Annandale, Bruce held land in the Carse of Gowrie, Dundee, and the Garioch in Aberdeenshire.
Before the Wars it was fairly common for Scots to hold English lands. Records show that Bruce held lands in Durham and other large English estates. In 1306, Edward I confiscated the honour of Huntingdon from Bruce.
7. An attack on the Irish
In 1315, Robert’s younger brother Edward led an expedition to Ireland. His aim was to overthrow the Dublin-based English government and become the High King of Ireland.
Robert joined his brother with a sizeable force in 1317. However, bad weather, famine, and disease forced the Scots to retreat when they reached Limerick. Edward held on in the north until he was defeated and killed in 1318.
8. A regal match
As per the terms of the 1328 Treaty of Edinburgh, making peace between Scotland and England, Robert’s son David (aged 4) was married to Edward III’s sister Joan (aged 7).
Other terms of the treaty saw Scotland agree to pay England £20,000 to end the war and England recognise Scotland’s independence with Robert I as king.
9. In the archives
More than 600 written acts by Bruce have survived, including charters, brieves, letters and treaties.
Most of these documents are grants or confirmations of property. This was a key way that Bruce rewarded individuals and families who had supported him.
10. A wee bit more inclusive
During Robert’s reign, parliament became more representative of the full community of the realm. Bruce summoned a small number of burgesses from each royal burgh to attend sessions in 1312 and 1326, after which it became normal practice.
Loved the show? You might also like our behind-the-scenes post detailing six of our sites that feature as filming locations in Outlaw King!
Not sure what we’re on about? This Netflix original film follows Robert the Bruce’s battle to regain control after being made an outlaw by the King of England for taking the Scottish Crown.
Imprisoned and Punished – The Female Relatives of Robert Bruce
The women associated with Robert the Bruce endured imprisonment and punishment during the First War of Scottish Independence. The Bruce women were captured by the English King Edward I, imprisoned in barbaric conditions, placed under house arrest and sent to convents for religious training by the English King, and all because they shared “a common danger of loyalty” to the newly crowned King of Scotland, Robert I.
After the Battle of Dalry in 1306, the Bruce family separated from each other for their own safety during the war. Robert Bruce and three of his brothers Edward, Thomas and Alexander fought against the English King, whilst Robert’s youngest brother Nigel took the Bruce women to Kildrummy Castle for their own safety. The women were discovered by the English King’s forces and captured. They were all separated and sent to various locations as prisoners and hostages against their King, Robert.
The Scottish Queen, Elizabeth de Burgh was taken to Burstwick, Holderness to be placed under house arrest. Her father was an Irish noble on the side of Edward I of England, and therefore her father was able to make her situation more comfortable than perhaps the circumstances of her fellow ladies. Elizabeth’s marriage was also arranged by the English King Edward I for the benefit of political aspirations of her father and the English King and therefore, she was not treated in a barbaric manner as a hostage as her circumstances were not of her own doing.
Robert The Bruce and Elizabeth de Burgh
In the manor house, Elizabeth was assisted by “two elderly women, two valets and a page sent by her father.” This meant that for a prisoner of war and the wife of the Bruce who was considered at this time a rebel, she had a relatively comfortable imprisonment, especially compared to that of Bruce’s sisters, Bruce’s daughter Marjorie and the Countess of Buchan, Isabella MacDuff.
The danger Bruce’s daughter Marjorie faced simply by being Bruce’s daughter was large and so when she was captured alongside her step-mother Elizabeth, Marjorie’s imprisonment initially appeared to be a bleak one as “initially King Edward ordered that twelve year old Marjorie de Bruce should be imprisoned in a cage on the Tower of London, but fortunately for her either the King was persuaded otherwise, or a glimmer of mercy prevailed”, as she was sent to a convent instead.”
Although placed in a convent, she was still a hostage of the King of England and separated both from her father and her step-mother Elizabeth. Marjorie’s mother Isabella of Mar had died in childbirth with Marjorie and Marjorie herself at this time was only twelve years old. Being a prisoner of war at such a young age must have been a terrifying experience for the young and at the time only heir of Robert the Bruce. Marjorie was held at a convent in Watton, East Yorkshire.
Bruce’s sisters both had very different experiences during their capture by the English. Christina Bruce faced a similar imprisonment to her niece Marjorie: she was placed in Gilbertine Nunnery in Sixhills, Lincolnshire as a prisoner of war. Her punishment of a lesser degree, suggests that she showed no threat to the English and was merely guilty by association and therefore, used as a prisoner and hostage against the Scottish King.
Notable figures in the first Scottish War of Independence including Isabella, Countess of Buchan. Detail from a frieze in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, photographed by William Hole. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
The experiences of Mary Bruce, sister of Robert Bruce and the Countess of Buchan, Isabella MacDuff were brutal and cruel in comparison to that of their fellow women. Their conditions were barbaric even in the standards of medieval punishments for women. Undoubtedly in the eyes of the English Isabella, unlike the other Bruce women, was guilty of elevating Robert Bruce and his kingship and actively acting against Edward I.
Isabella MacDuff had taken it upon herself to crown Robert Bruce King, in the absence of her father. Her role in this made her guilty of acting in a rebellious nature when captured by the English and therefore, the punishment she received was deemed worthy for her crimes. Sir Thomas Gray’s account of the events of medieval Scotland also demonstrates how the crowning and subsequent rise of Robert Bruce ensured a terrible fate upon Isabella, for her role in his enthronement, stating that “the countess was taken by the English” after the siege of Kildrummy in which Neil Bruce lost his life, “and brought to Berwick… she was put in a wooden hut, in one of the towers of Berwick Castle, with criss-crossed walls so that all could watch her for a spectacle.” Whilst, traditionally women were captured in medieval war for the purpose of hostages and ransoms, Isabella’s fate was deemed to be of her own doing and for her own actions and not just because of her association to the newly crowned King of Scotland.
The cage punishment was barbaric and would have been an experience of pure suffering for the Countess. Historian McNamee argues that both Isabella and Mary Bruce, Robert’s sister were subject to this punishment and were punished in “the most inhumane, even by the standards of the time.” Even the cage’s location in the case of Isabella MacDuff was a calculated manipulation by the English King to punish her for elevating Robert the Bruce. The purpose of Isabella’s location at Berwick in these barbaric conditions is also significant in understanding the emotional experiences of the Bruce women. Berwick’s location meant that Isabella would be able to view her beloved Scotland across the sea, to be constantly reminded during her imprisonment of the catalyst to her experiences – the crowning of Bruce. Isabella MacDuff arguably suffered most of the Bruce women as she was never to return to Scotland and never freed. It is believed that she died in 1314 before Robert could secure the Bruce women’s releases from captivity.
Mary Bruce, Bruce’s other sister also faced the cage punishment. Although little is known about Mary in general, it is argued that Mary Bruce must have somehow angered the English king to have been given such a punishment, as her fellow family members did not have to endure such barbarity. Mary’s cage was at Roxburgh Castle, but it is believed that it is possible that she was moved to a convent later in her imprisonment as there is no record of her staying at Roxburgh in later years and she was released with the other Bruce women in 1314 after Robert Bruce’s victory at the Battle of Bannockburn.
By examining the differing positions of the Bruce women during the Scottish Wars of Independence it can be seen that medieval women experienced the horrors and dangers of war as much as the men who fought the wars. In the case of the Bruce women they suffered long enduring punishments simply for their relationship to the man leading the Scottish side of the war.
By Leah Rhiannon Savage, aged 22, Master’s Graduate of History from Nottingham Trent University. Specialises in British History and predominantly Scottish History. Wife and Aspiring Teacher of History. Writer of Dissertations on John Knox and the Scottish Reformation and The Social Experiences of The Bruce Family during The Scottish Wars of Independence (1296-1314).
Outlaw King (2018)
No. While researching the Outlaw King true story, we learned that the tomb of Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) was discovered when part of the Abbey Church in Dunfermline, Scotland was being rebuilt in 1817. Contained inside a rotted wooden coffin was the skeleton of the King of Scots. It was encased in lead and covered by fragments of Cloth of Gold shroud. A plaster cast was taken of the skull before the remains were reburied a few months later. Some items were not reinterred, including a foot bone (metatarsal), Cloth of Gold shroud, pieces of the lead coffin, and the impressive white marble table-top tomb itself. These objects are currently part of The Hunterian collection at the University of Glasgow.
Nearly two centuries after the discovery of Robert the Bruce's skull, historians led by Dr. Martin McGregor at the University of Glasgow were able to use the cast of the skull to digitally reconstruct the face of the Scottish king. "I saw an opportunity to apply the technology to the skull held here at Glasgow, first to test the credibility of its connection to Bruce and then to try to add to our knowledge of Scotland's greatest king," McGregor said. He recruited the help of Professor Caroline Wilkinson, a craniofacial expert from John Moores University, to carry out the digital reconstruction of Robert the Bruce's face.
"Using the skull cast, we could accurately establish the muscle formation from the positions of the skull bones to determine the shape and structure of the face," stated Wilkinson. "But what the reconstruction cannot show is the color of his eyes, his skin tones and the color of his hair." The digital reconstruction revealed a large and formidable head supported by a muscular neck and a stocky body. This significantly contrasts actor Chris Pine's 6-foot tall frame in the movie. Robert the Bruce's large head indicates that he was likely very intelligent. -Daily Mail Online
Were there any paintings or sculptures made of Robert the Bruce when he was alive?
Did Robert the Bruce really pledge loyalty to King Edward I before eventually rebelling against English oppression in Scotland?
Yes. The movie begins in 1304 with Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine), his father (James Cosmo), and other Scottish nobles pledging allegiance to England's King Edward I (Stephen Dillane). A fact-check of Outlaw King reveals that this indeed happened. In 1303, Edward invaded Scotland again. By 1304, the country was under submission and all of the leading Scots surrendered to Edward in February of that year, except for William Wallace, who was in hiding. Robert the Bruce and other Scottish nobles had also previously submitted to Edward in 1302, after the English king had embarked on a military campaign through Scotland.
Was King Edward I's son, the Prince of Wales, really as sadistic as he's made out to be in the movie?
No. It's true that Edward, Prince of Wales did lead campaigns into Scotland, but there's no evidence that he was as cruel as he's portrayed to be in the movie. In fact, when he became King Edward II, he was a reluctant ruler who often delegated his duties. He was not tyrannical by nature, though he did head an oppressive regime in his later years. He was known for his generosity to his household staff and for taking the time to stop and chat with his subjects, including laborers and other lower-class workers, which drew criticism from his contemporaries.
Was Edward, the Prince of Wales gay?
Speculation around the Prince of Wales sexuality stems primarily from his relationship with one of his squires, Piers Gaveston (portrayed by Ben Clifford in the movie). The two became close companions, with Gaveston eventually being temporarily exiled by the Prince's father, King Edward I, for unknown reasons. Historians have engaged in extensive debate regarding the exact nature of the Prince's bond with Gaveston, with most modern historians believing that it was more than friendship. In fictional depictions, including literature, theater and movies, the two men are almost always portrayed as lovers. This includes Braveheart, which finds Gaveston (renamed Phillip) being throne out of a window by the King (it never happened in real life). Outlaw King never directly addresses the Prince's sexuality.
In exploring the Outlaw King true story, we discovered that there is no reliable evidence to say that Edward, the Prince of Wales was definitely gay. If anything, he was more likely bisexual, since both he and Piers Gaveston had sexual relationships with their wives and they both had children. In addition, Edward was the father to an illegitimate son and possibly had an affair with Eleanor de Clare, his niece. Historians who don't necessarily believe that the Prince's relationship with Gaveston was sexual in nature cite that some such allegations were politically motivated, reasoning that it's certainly possible that the Prince and Gaveston were simply close friends who worked together.
Does the film get the costumes right?
Yes. The first thing that the movie gets right costume-wise is that there are no kilts, a possibly intentional mistake that other films like Braveheart have made. Kilts didn't become a mainstream clothing item until the 1600s. The armor that the soldiers wear is spot on for the 1300s, including the basic metal helmet, chain mail, and cuir bouilli (boiled leather armor) overtop. This is still before the era of full-plate armor.
How much crossover is there between Outlaw King and the events in Braveheart?
William Wallace was executed in London on August 23, 1305 for his disloyalty to the crown. At the start of Outlaw King, Wallace is in hiding. We then see only a glimpse of him after his execution. His face is not shown, just one arm and a portion of his chest. His presence is a reminder of what can happen for standing up to England and helps us to understand that a similar fate could be waiting for Robert the Bruce. Wallace's death also signifies a passing of the mantle of rebellion to Bruce, who will soon become King of Scots and lead them in battle against King Edward I and the English.
Wallace's grisly end was even more violent in real life. He was stripped naked and dragged by horse through the streets of London to the Elms at Smithfield. He was hanged (but released before strangulation), drawn and quartered, emasculated, eviscerated, and his bowels were burned within his sight. Finally, he was beheaded and cut into four parts. His head was stuck on a pike atop London Bridge. His limbs were sent to four northern cities, Stirling, Perth, Berwick and Newcastle, as a warning to Scots.
How much younger was Robert the Bruce's second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh?
The real Elizabeth de Burgh, King Edward I's goddaughter, was born around 1284, making her roughly 10 years younger than her husband Robert the Bruce. In the movie, Elizabeth is played by actress Florence Pugh, who is more than 15 years younger than actor Chris Pine. The real Robert the Bruce and Elizabeth de Burgh married in 1302 when Elizabeth was about 18 and Robert 28.
Did Robert the Bruce really stab and kill John Comyn, his rival for the Scottish throne?
Yes. Like in the movie, John Comyn reportedly betrayed an agreement he had made with Robert the Bruce, whereby Comyn would forfeit his claim to the Scottish throne in exchange for the Bruce lands in Scotland should Bruce start a rebellion against England. When Robert the Bruce found out that Comyn had betrayed him to King Edward I, he arranged a meeting with Comyn for February 10, 1306 at the Chapel of Greyfriars Monastery in Dumfries. Bruce accused Comyn of treachery and a fight ensued that resulted in Bruce stabbing Comyn before the high altar. English historical records of the stabbing tell a somewhat different story, stating that Bruce intended to kill Comyn all along so that he could gain the Scottish throne. The exact details of their discussion at the meeting are unclear. It's true that Bruce received absolution for his sins from the Bishop of Glasgow.
Did King Edward I's giant trebuchet really exist?
Are Robert the Bruce's sidekicks in the movie based on real Scots?
Yes. During our Outlaw King fact-check, we learned that Aonghus Óg Mac Domhnaill (Tony Curran) and James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are real-life Scots who fought with Robert the Bruce. Aonghus Óg is believed to have switched his allegiance to King Robert I of Scotland shortly after Robert murdered John Comyn III in 1306 and crowned himself King of Scotland. Aonghus Óg and Robert fought alongside each other in Robert's greatest victory over the English, the Battle of Bannockburn.
As for actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson's character, James Douglas, Lord of Douglas, he's a real-life Scottish knight who first met King Robert I when the newly crowned King was on his way to Glasgow. This unfolds in a similar manner in the movie. The real James Douglas fought with Robert in his early defeats at Methven and the Battle of Dalrigh, and together, they learned the value of guerrilla warfare. This led to victories, including at the decisive Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. As for the battle scenes where we see James Douglas in a violent rage, that type of behavior was taken from historical accounts of his fighting style. He indeed became known as the "Black Douglas".
Did James Douglas retake his family's castle?
Yes. As seen in the movie, James Douglas went to King Edward I and asked for his family's land back, including Douglas Castle, a request that the King firmly denied. In response, Douglas and a small band of men attacked the English garrison at Douglas Castle on Psalm Sunday 1307. They were hidden until the garrison left their posts to attend the local church. Like in the film, Douglas entered the church and unleashed his war-cry, "Douglas! Douglas!" as he attacked the English soldiers inside, killing some and taking others prisoner. The prisoners were taken to the castle and beheaded. The heads were then piled in the wine casks of the castle's food cellars before the cellars were set ablaze. The well water was poisoned with salt and the festering carcasses of dead horses.
Was Robert the Bruce's second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, really imprisoned?
Yes. In the movie, Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) is motivated to take up arms against England after witnessing oppressive taxation, forced conscription of Scottish young men, and the imprisonment of his young new wife, Elizabeth (Florence Pugh). Robert and Elizabeth were crowned King and Queen of Scots on March 27, 1306, not long after the execution of William Wallace. After the Scots lost during a surprise night attack at the Battle of Methven on June 19, 1306, King Robert sent Elizabeth, his daughter Marjorie (from his first marriage), and his sisters to the safety of Kildrummy Castle, where Robert's brother Niall would protect them. All of this is depicted in the film.
The English laid siege to the castle and all of the men were killed, including Niall Bruce (portrayed by Lorne MacFadyen in the movie) who was drawn and quartered. The royal ladies fled and ended up in the hands of the Earl of Ross, a supporter of the Comyns who was loyal to the English throne. The ladies, including Elizabeth, were dispatched to King Edward. Elizabeth remained a prisoner of the English for eight years, held under harsh conditions of house arrest in England. She was finally returned to Scotland as part of a prisoner exchange in November 1314, 7 years after the movie&rsquos finale at the Battle of Loudoun Hill. The film doesn't make it clear how long she was a prisoner, simply stating that she was "eventually" returned to Scotland.
Did Robert the Bruce emerge victorious at the 1307 Battle of Loudoun Hill?
Yes. Like in the Outlaw King movie, the May 1307 Battle of Loudoun Hill was the first major military victory for Robert the Bruce and his Scottish force. His rival, Aymer de Valence (played by Sam Spruell), commanded the English. De Valence had previously been victorious over an ill-prepared Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Methven the year prior, despite having not captured Bruce. Loudoun Hill, however, proved to be a sound victory for Bruce.
Was the Prince of Wales (King Edward II) let go by Robert the Bruce after being defeated at the Battle of Loudoun Hill?
Did Robert the Bruce have leprosy?
Though the Outlaw King movie ends in the years following the 1307 Battle of Loudoun Hill, Jean Le Bel, a chronicler who lived at the time of Robert the Bruce, stated that in 1327 the king was a victim of 'la grosse maladie', which is often interpreted to mean leprosy. If he did have the disease, it was likely mild or at least hadn't affected his face very much. There is no historical record of any sort of facial disfigurement. Historians and craniofacial experts created a second version of Robert the Bruce's face (pictured below), which reveals mild signs of leprosy.
In 2017, researchers at the University of Ontario concluded that Robert the Bruce did not have leprosy, stating that both the cast of his skull and a foot bone that had not been reinterred showed no signs of the disease. Is it possible that Robert the Bruce having leprosy is a rumor that lasted for nearly seven centuries? That's what some historians now believe, pointing out that labeling someone a leper created an extremely negative stigma around that person. Attributing leprosy to Robert the Bruce could essentially have been propaganda put forth to ruin his reputation. If it was indeed a rumor, it may have been spurred on by the fact that Robert's father suffered and died from leprosy. His father's condition is more noticeable in the movie Braveheart.
Robert himself passed away a month before his 55th birthday. The cause of death remains unknown, with some speculating that it could have been cancer, heart disease, tuberculosis, syphilis, eczema, stroke, or even motor neuron disease.
Robert The Bruce (KING ROBERT I) Life Timeline
Sources: Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, Ronald McNair Scott, 1982.
Robert Bruce & the Community of the Realm of Scotland, Geoffrey W. S. Barrow,
Family of Bruce International, Inc. is a non-profit organization established to create and promote kinship amongst its family members and to encourage interest in the Family of Bruce and its history. Membership is open to persons who qualify by surname, by descent, or by recognized septs: Carlysle, Carruthers, Crosbie, Randolph, and Stenhouse. It is the only such organization recognized by the hereditary chief of the Name of Bruce, The Right Honorable the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine.
The Declaration of Arbroath
In later years, Bruce’s chancery sought to justify his violent actions in 1306, and written sources from the period have left an enduring legacy. Most familiar today is a letter to the Pope written in 1320, known since the 20th century as the Declaration of Arbroath.
Robert I’s victory over the English at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 had not brought the expected rewards and recognition: Bruce still had opponents in Scotland, and neither the Pope nor England’s Edward II recognised him as king. The Pope called for a truce to enable both kingdoms to devote more money and energy to a crusade in the Holy Land. The fear in Scotland was that the Pope would acknowledge England’s sovereignty over the Scottish kingdom as the basis for this peace settlement.
Bruce summoned a council to Newbattle Abbey to discuss a response: three letters were written and sent to the Pope in Avignon – one from the king, one from the church and one from the barons of the realm. The barons’ letter was written up at Arbroath Abbey, and the surviving document is a copy that was kept in Scotland for the chancery’s records (the original having been dispatched to the Pope).
Above: The Declaration of Arbroath. © National Records of Scotland.
The letter sought to justify continuation of the war with England by setting out the legal and philosophical case for Scottish independence. It opens with a retelling of Scotland’s ancient past, framed to show the kingdom’s long pedigree as a free and autonomous entity. The Declaration was not the first letter proclaiming Scotland’s independence, nor the first attempt by Bruce to garner the acceptance as king of Scotland at home and abroad, but it was the most eloquent, concise and effective articulation of this argument that had yet been produced.
Through carefully constructed arguments, deliberately framed to appeal to legal and theological arguments popular at the papal court, the letter sought to demonstrate that it was not Robert I’s stubbornness that prevented a truce: the letter states that should the king submit to England, the barons of Scotland would replace him with another. Kings of England and France had previously adopted similar tactics to deflect papal pressure, producing letters evoking the communal opinion of the elite nobility to back up their cause.
The seals of nineteen Scottish magnates survive attached to the document, of the fifty or so that were originally affixed. The names of those who put their names to the letter suggests it was produced as a matter of urgency – magnates based in the south-east of Scotland or within easy reach of Newbattle are overrepresented. Though many powerful figures are named in the 1320 letter, an attempted coup shortly after it was written underlines that support for Robert I was not as strong as the document suggests.
Though peace between the kingdoms was some time in coming, papal replies sent to Scotland in summer 1320 show that one of Robert’s aims had been achieved – they addressed him as ‘illustrious king of Scotland’.
Robert I of Scotland, better known as Robert the Bruce, reigned as King of Scotland from 1306 to 1329 CE. For his role in achieving independence from England, Robert the Bruce has long been regarded as a national hero and one of Scotland's greatest ever monarchs.
Robert succeeded John Balliol (r. 1292-1296 CE) but only after a tumultuous decade of side-switching and military ups and downs against English armies led by Edward I of England (r. 1272-1307 CE) and those of rival Scottish barons. A grand victory over the English at Bannockburn in 1314 CE cemented Robert's claim to be the rightful king of Scotland and his skilful diplomacy brought recognition of Scotland's full independence both from the Pope and Edward III of England (r. 1327-1377 CE). Robert was succeeded by his son David II of Scotland (r. 1329-1371 CE).
Robert (VIII) the Bruce was born on 11 July 1274 CE at Turnberry Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland. His father was Robert (VII) the Bruce (d. 1304 CE) and his mother was Marjorie, Countess of Carrick. The Bruce family had been the lords of Annandale since the 1120s CE, and they claimed descent from Earl David, younger brother of William I of Scotland (r. 1165-1214 CE). Robert spent a period of his youth in either the Western Isles or Ulster. As the family had estates and properties in England, so, too, he spent time in Carlisle Castle and London. In 1292 CE Robert inherited the earldom of Carrick.
Around 1295 CE Robert married Isabel of Mar (d. c. 1296 CE), daughter of Donald, earl of Mar, and then, in 1302 CE, Elizabeth de Burgh (d. 1327 CE), the daughter of Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster. With Isabel, Robert had a daughter Marjorie (b. c. 1295 CE) and with Elizabeth, he had two daughters - Matilda and Margaret - and two sons - David (b. 1324 CE) and John (possibly the twin of David but he died as a child).
The Great Cause
When Alexander III of Scotland died (r. 1249-1286 CE) in 1286 CE and his only heir was his granddaughter who then herself died in 1290 CE, Scotland was plunged into a political crisis. The royal houses of England and Scotland had been tied via several marriages but Edward I of England went a step further and considered the Scottish king his vassal. Edward arbitrated over a host of successor candidates in a process known as the Great Cause. The English king chose John Balliol in November 1292 CE. The main challenger to Balliol had been Robert (VI) the Bruce (b. 1210 CE), the grandfather of his more famous namesake and future king. The Bruces did not accept Edward's decision and continued to press their own claim for the throne. Balliol had won because he was an even closer descendant of Earl David and, more importantly for Edward I, a more anglicised and weaker candidate, meaning he could be more easily manipulated.
As it turned out, John Balliol's reign lasted only four years as Scottish nobles tired of his ineffective resistance to the overbearing Edward and the rise in taxes imposed to pay for the English king's war with France. In late 1295 CE, a regency council of 12 discontented nobles established a new government, perhaps entirely independent of John. This council, and therefore Scotland, formally allied itself with Philip IV of France (r. 1285-1314 CE) in February 1296 CE, the first move in what became known as the 'Auld Alliance'. King John renounced his fealty to Edward I in April 1296 CE. The Bruces did not support this rebellion against Edward I's overlordship, and Robert even joined the English force that attacked Scotland in 1296 CE. Edward's emphatic response to the 'Auld Alliance' was to repeatedly attack Scotland. There was a massacre of thousands of innocents at Berwick, Edward took the key Scottish castles, and he inflicted a defeat on the Scottish army at the Battle of Dunbar on 27 April 1296 CE. Three English barons were nominated to rule Scotland, which, in effect, became a province of England. John Balliol was stripped of his title and put in the Tower of London.
Sign up for our free weekly email newsletter!
War of Independence
Unfortunately for Edward I, Scotland proved rather more difficult to subdue than he anticipated. Almost immediately, rebellions sprang up. The most successful was the uprising led by William Wallace (c. 1270-1305 CE) and Sir Andrew Moray of Bothwell. The rebels won a famous victory in September 1297 CE at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. A ruling council was established consisting of Wallace, John Comyn, and then Bishop Lamberton, but the Bruces did not support this group, especially as the Comyns were supporters of the rival Balliols. At this point, the Bruces seem not to have fully backed either Wallace or Edward I but, instead, they bided their time to better see the outcome of this first stage in what has become known as the First War of Independence. By 1298 CE, though, Robert the Bruce was clearly on the Scottish side and was involved in the attack on English-held Ayr Castle. However, in 1302 CE Robert's marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of an ally of Edward I, coupled with the release of John Balliol from the Tower of London meant that Robert once again sided with the English lest Balliol's Scottish allies succeed in reinstating the ex-king.
Edward responded to the defeat at Stirling Bridge by leading his army in person and winning another encounter in July 1298 CE at the Battle of Falkirk, where 20,000 Scots were killed. Edward then sent more armies, and in 1305 CE, Wallace was captured and executed as a traitor in London. Nevertheless, Wallace had become a national hero and an example to follow for others, notably Robert the Bruce, who by 1305 CE began to have serious misgivings concerning his support for the English Crown. It now seemed highly unlikely that Edward I would ever make Robert king of Scotland. Steadily over the next year - and probably largely in secret - Robert began to work on gaining allies from key Scottish barons.
By February 1306 CE, the Scots were rallying around their new figurehead, Robert the Bruce, who denounced John Balliol as a puppet of Edward I. On 10 February, Robert or his followers assassinated John Comyn, his chief rival claimant for the throne, by stabbing him in the church of Greyfriars in Dumfries. With the definite support of the northern Scottish barons and the dubious support of others, Robert went for broke and declared himself king. Robert was inaugurated at Scone Abbey on 25 March 1306 CE. The king's position was, though, precarious indeed. There followed two defeats to an English army at Methven on 19 June and to a Scottish army led by John Macdougall of Argyll at Dalry on 11 July. Robert was obliged to flee to Rathlin Island on the coast of Ireland. The English, unable to get their hands on the king, went for the next best thing and hunted down his family. Three of Robert's brothers were executed, and his sister Mary was kept in an iron cage dangling from the walls of Roxburgh Castle, a fate she suffered for four years. Robert's wife Elizabeth was confined in a manor house at Burstwick.
When Edward I died in July 1307 CE, he was succeeded by his son Edward II of England (r. 1307-1327 CE). The new king lacked the political and military talents of his father, and he had to deal with a descent into political anarchy in his own kingdom which eventually erupted into a civil war. These developments left Scotland some breathing space. Robert was able to return to Scotland, where he and his brother Edward fought a sustained guerrilla war against English troops and Balliol supporters. By mid-1308 CE, Robert had smashed the Comyns, taken their key castles and razed them to the ground, and taken possession of Aberdeen. In the autumn of 1309 CE at the Battle of the Pass of Brander, the Macdougalls were decisively defeated, too. Now Robert offered truces to any Scots willing to follow him. Consequently, in March 1309 CE, a parliament at St. Andrews declared that the people of Scotland supported Robert the Bruce as their king. An embassy from France similarly declared that Robert was the rightful king of Scotland. Still, though, several key castles remained in English hands, and these included Berwick, Roxburgh, Edinburgh, and Stirling. Over the next four years, Robert set about getting them back, very often leading the attacks in person.
Bannockburn & Independence
Edward II's preoccupation with his own internal troubles meant that Robert could pick off English-held castles one by one (and destroy them to prevent reuse by the enemy). He also made regular and lucrative raids into northern England seemingly at will. After an unsuccessful attack in 1311 CE, it was not until 1314 CE that Edward led an army to Scotland, the motivation being the siege of the English-held Stirling Castle. Edward's force greatly outnumbered the Scots led by Robert the Bruce (15-20,000 v. 10,000 men), but this advantage and the mobility of Edward's 2,000 heavy cavalry were negated by Robert's choice of a narrow, boggy ford as the battle site near Bannockburn village. When the two armies clashed on 23 and 24 June, Edward held back his archers until too late, and the terrain and Scottish pikemen arranged in bristling and mobile hedgehog formations (schiltroms) did the rest. Around 200 English knights were killed in a disastrous defeat. The English king narrowly escaped with his own life. Robert had shown both his skill at leadership and his bravery in battle, meeting the challenge of a one-on-one fight with Henry de Bohun - Robert split his opponent's head with a mighty blow of his battle-axe. After the battle, Stirling Castle surrendered and immense booty was taken from the abandoned English camp.
Scotland had effectively reasserted its independence. Robert negotiated the release of Queen Elizabeth and Princess Marjorie. He also confiscated the lands of those Scottish lords who had supported Edward, giving him ample resources to reward his followers and ensure their continued loyalty. Long-term consequences of this policy were the creation of almost-too-powerful families in certain regions, the creation of enemies amongst the descendants of the disinherited, and the impoverishment of the Crown itself, a development which necessitated taxes merely to pay for the living expenses of the monarch. For the moment, though, Robert was riding high. Berwick was taken in 1318 CE, and the Scottish king continued to raid northern England, almost capturing York in 1319 CE.
Foreign Policy & Recognition
Robert was secure enough in his kingdom after 1314 CE to even consider foreign conquest. In a campaign covering three winters, the Scottish king grabbed Ulster and installed his brother Edward (b. c. 1276 CE) as the King of Ireland in 1316 CE. The Scottish army had been assisted by the locals who were only too willing to rid themselves of the English barons there. However, Edward Bruce proved just as unpopular, and he was killed in battle in 1318 CE. In the end, the Scottish gave up Carrickfergus Castle and withdrew from Ireland.
On 6 April 1320 CE a letter was sent to the Pope requesting a withdrawal of Robert's excommunication and the placing of Scotland under an interdict, both applied because Robert had refused to sign a truce with England back in 1317 CE. The contents of the letter are often called the Declaration of Arbroath, which boldly stated that Scotland was a free and independent kingdom and the English Crown had no rights whatsoever there. This impressive document, which is festooned with the seals of eight earls and 38 barons, still survives today.
Robert, meanwhile, still had a handful of Scottish barons working against him, and a failed assassination plot was ruthlessly avenged in late 1320 CE. In 1322 CE a lacklustre English invasion was repelled. Then, in 1323 CE, a 13-year truce was agreed between England and Scotland. The 1326 CE Treaty of Corbeil formally established an alliance of mutual assistance between Scotland and France (including a clause whereby a French attack on England obliged Scotland to also attack their southern neighbour). Scotland's independence and Robert's right to the throne were recognised by the English Crown in the 1328 CE Treaty of Edinburgh/Northampton. The treaty was sealed with Robert handing over £20,000 and the betrothal of Robert's son David to Joan (b. 1321 CE), the sister of the new king, Edward III of England. The cherry on the cake was the Pope's decision in 1329 CE to allow Scottish monarchs to officially receive a crown and holy anointment during their coronations. The kingdom of Scotland was, for the first time, now on an equal footing with other European monarchies.
Death & Successors
Robert the Bruce died on 7 June 1329 CE at his manor house at Cardross in Dumbartonshire. The king had been ill for two years, the medieval chroniclers describing his ailment as leprosy. Robert was buried at Dunfermline Abbey. However, he had long wished to go on a Crusade to the Holy Land and, never having managed it, he requested that Sir James Douglas take his heart there. Douglas was killed in a battle in Spain, but legend has it Robert's embalmed heart was taken back to Scotland and buried at Melrose Abbey.
Robert was succeeded by his son who became David II of Scotland. The new king was only five years old and so an opportunity was presented for rivals to the Bruce family to try and take power. Edward Balliol (c. 1283-1367 CE), the son of King John Balliol, had the support of Edward III, and David was deposed in 1332 CE. Balliol was made king, but there was another round of musical thrones, and by the end of 1336 CE, David II was back he would rule Scotland until 1371 CE.
Meanwhile, Robert the Bruce's reputation grew ever grander as he became a favourite of medieval chroniclers and the subject of a celebrated poem The Bruce, commissioned by the king's grandson Robert II of Scotland (r. 1371-1390 CE). A century later, James III of Scotland (r. 1460-1488 CE) was carrying Robert the Bruce's sword in battle. And so it continued over the centuries as Robert became the paradigm of good kingship and a national hero. In more recent times, the king has again piqued public interest with the reconstruction of Robert's face from his skull found at Dunfermline Abbey and the ongoing issue of Scottish parliamentary independence from the United Kingdom.
The Battle of Loudoun Hill – Robert the Bruce’s Turning Fortunes
Ask any schoolchild in Scotland who Scotland’s greatest king was, and they will, undoubtedly, answer “Robert the Bruce”. That he was Scotland’s greatest king is up for debate, but he is certainly the nation’s most famous king and stands tall in the pantheon of Scotland’s independence heroes.
Now ask those same schoolchildren what the Bruce’s most important military victory was, and they will, of course, answer the Battle of Bannockburn. This battle was his most impressive and one of the most significant battles in that it finally drove the English from Scotland and opened the north of England to Scottish raids which would eventually culminate, in 1328, to England accepting Scottish sovereignty. However, Robert Bruce’s most important victory, arguably, was at the Battle of Loudoun Hill in Ayrshire. This was the Bruce’s first major victory and the turning point in his fortunes.
The Rebel King
In 1305, the Scottish independence fighter, William Wallace was captured and brutally executed in London. King Edward I of England’s control of Scotland seemed assured.
However, in 1306, Robert the Bruce began to make moves against Edward. He murdered John ‘the Red’ Comyn , his main rival for the crown of Scotland within sacred ground in the Greyfriars Kirk, Dumfries. He immediately moved to have himself inaugurated as King of Scots at Scone in March 1306. An enraged Edward declared that no quarter would be given to Bruce or to those who supported him and dispatched Sir Aymer de Valence, the Earl of Pembroke with an army to deal with Bruce’s rebellion.
Valence, who happened to be the brother-in-law of the murdered Comyn, inflicted a heavy defeat on Bruce at the Battle of Methven in June 1306. Fleeing west, Bruce was then defeated a second time at Dalrigh by a force from the Clan Macdougall whose leader was also a relation of Comyn. Following this defeat, the remainder of Bruce’s army was dispersed and many of his family members were captured, each facing execution or lengthy periods of imprisonment. Robert the Bruce, himself, evaded capture and fled the mainland and went into hiding amongst the Western Isles or possibly in Ireland. It was during this low point in King Robert’s life that the legend of the tenacious spider spinning it’s web is said to have inspired him to continue his efforts.
Bruce returned to the mainland in early 1307 at Turnberry. He now switched to using guerrilla tactics they had worked for William Wallace before the disaster at Falkirk, after all. Robert’s forces ambushed the English at Glen Trool in April 1307 before meeting the enemy in pitched battle at Loudoun Hill.
Bruce had learned his lesson from his defeat at Methven. There he had been unprepared and ambushed after taking Valence at his word. Bruce had been prepared to observe the gentlemanly conventions of feudal warfare and invited Valence to leave the walls of Perth and join Bruce in battle. Valence declined and the king, perhaps naively believing that the refusal was a sign of weakness, retired only a few miles, to nearby Methven where he made camp for the night. Before dawn on 19th June 1306, Bruce’s army was taken by surprise and almost destroyed.
The lesson had been learned. Chivalry was dead.
Nearly one year later, Robert the Bruce and Aymer de Valence would again face one another. The outcome would be very different. Valence challenged Bruce to fight after the Scot’s success at Glen Trool. Bruce accepted the challenge and the battle was fought on the plains under Loudoun Hill on 10th May 1307.
Bruce took the opportunity of the challenge to prepare his ground, cutting three ditches inward from the edge of the bogs, leaving 90 metre gaps in the centre which were to be guarded by dismounted pikemen, while soil embankments with ditches protected the flanks. This forced the English to approach through the narrow front created by their opponents, restricting their movements and deployment capabilities effectively neutralising their numerical advantage. It was reminiscent of William Wallace’s great victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, with the same filtering effect at work.
King Robert gathered his small force of 500 to 600 men and awaited the approach of Valence’s 3,000 strong army. The English force was split into two squadrons as they advanced on the smaller army. The Scots used their spears to great effect against both men and horses, leaving many dead and wounded. The English assault began to collapse. The Scots seeing their enemy begin to falter, charged their opponents who broke and fled the field. However, the Scottish army would have been unable to chase down their routing opponents for long due to them being on foot and not horseback.
None of the sources for the battle provide any indication of the losses suffered by either force, but we can safely assume that the number of casualties would have been lower than other medieval battlefields due to the lack of any meaningful pursuit of the routed English army.
King Edward finally began to recognise that Bruce was a serious threat and resolved to deal with him personally. This approach had proved successful for him in the past. He gathered a new army and began his march northwards. However, Edward developed dysentery and his health was failing fast, and on 7th July 1307 Edward died at Burgh-by-Sands, near Carlisle. Without his leadership, the planned invasion faded away. His son, Edward II, made an attempt to continue the invasion but he had too many responsibilities demanding his immediate attention at home. For the next seven years, Edward II was too busy with domestic issues to send any major force north of the border against Bruce.
Robert Bruce did not just sit on his haunches for those seven years. He took the opportunity in the reduction of English activity to consolidate his position within Scotland. He moved to challenge his internal enemies, principally the Comyn family and their allies. The king moved his Royal Army north and fought a series of actions, including the Battles of Barra and Pass of Brander, that delivered Scotland into his hands. He also turned the former Comyn lands in the north-east into a stronghold of his own support through terror tactics and placing his own friends on the seats of power in the area.
By the time that Edward II came back “seven years later” it was to relieve the beleaguered English garrison at Stirling Castle. He never made it. He and his army were stopped just short at the Bannock Burn.
The Rest is History
To learn more on King Robert’s time in exile and the lead up to the Battle of Loudoun Hill then I highly recommend the Netflix movie Outlaw King. The film does contain some artistic licence and historical inaccuracies but it is a highly entertaining watch and the history, generally, is pretty spot on if a little out of sync.
How Robert the Bruce, Inspired by a Spider, Won Scottish Independence
One of the most famous — fine, infamous — episodes in the biography of Robert the Bruce occurred Feb. 10, 1306, when Robert arranged a meeting with his longtime political rival, John "the Red" Comyn, inside a church. The two men openly despised each other, says Michael Brown, a professor of Scottish history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The last time they'd met, Comyn had to be pulled off Robert's throat.
The meeting took place at a moment of high political tension in Scotland following the failure of William Wallace's armed uprising against the English King Edward I, who refused to allow Scotland to crown its own monarch. But that didn't stop people like Robert and Comyn, both leaders of powerful Scottish clans, from hatching schemes and hastily forming alliances to claim the Scottish throne for themselves.
"There's an awful lot of plotting going on in Scotland in 1305 and 1306," says Brown, author of "The Wars of Scotland: 1214-1371."
No one knows exactly what went down inside that church in the town of Dumfries or what kind of deal Robert proposed to his bitter rival, but the negotiations quickly broke down.
"It gets out of hand, the two men draw swords and Robert the Bruce's men are quicker or perhaps better prepared," says Brown. "Comyn and his uncle are cut down."
Whether it was a planned assassination or a crime of passion, Robert murdered Comyn at the church altar, simultaneously breaking the laws of God and man, and turning him into both an outlaw and an outcast.
While that's a wild story, what's even more amazing is that Robert the Bruce, this brazenly ambitious character, mounted a comeback in which he not only became king of Scotland, but won Scottish independence from the hated English. While Robert the Bruce isn't as "pure" a Scottish hero as Wallace, who was immortalized by Mel Gibson in the movie "Braveheart," he's still a legendary figure of Scottish national pride.
What's the Backstory on Robert the Bruce?
Robert was born July 11, 1274, into the wealthy and politically connected Bruce family. His father's line came from Northern France as part of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, so they all spoke French. His official name would have been Robert VIII de Bruce (as in Robert VIII of the Bruces), and historians like Brown have no idea why it shifted to Robert le Bruce (Robert the Bruce) not long after his death in 1329.
He wasn't the first Bruce to set his sights on the Scottish throne, either. The whole brouhaha with Comyn dated back to a rivalry between Robert's grandfather, nicknamed "the Competitor," and Comyn's uncle, John Balliol. When the Scottish king died without an heir, both Robert's grandfather and Balliol lobbied Edward I with claims to be the next rightful ruler of Scotland, but Balliol prevailed and was crowned king in 1292.
Brown says that Robert and his grandfather's royal ambitions wouldn't have been seen as selfish or power-hungry in their day. Scottish nobles of the medieval period were raised to be fierce competitors whose sole purpose was to increase the clan's landholdings and status.
"You defend and extend what you inherit and pass it on," says Brown. "If an opportunity comes and you don't take it, that shows that you're 'lacking.' Both Bruce and his grandfather are of that same mold. It's something that's built into their job as the head of the family."
As it turned out, Robert's grandfather dodged a bullet. Balliol's rule was short (just four years) and unpopular (the Scots nicknamed him Toom Tabbard or "Empty Coat"). In 1296, a band of Scottish noblemen seized power and aligned with the French. Edward I invaded, stripped Balliol of the throne and decided to rule Scotland as a feudal holding of England.
William Wallace wasn't having it. In 1297, the Scottish rebel launched a guerilla military campaign against English rule in Scotland. In "Braveheart," the movie depicts Robert the Bruce betraying Wallace at the fateful Battle of Falkirk, where the kilted rebel was routed by the English. But Brown says such a meeting likely never happened. What's true is that Robert originally backed Wallace's rebellion before capitulating to Edward I in exchange for keeping his lands.
Wallace famously made no such deal and paid a horrific price for it, with Edward ordering him hung, disemboweled, drawn and quartered, and his head placed on a spike on London Bridge.
Robert Credited His Comeback to a Spider
That brings us full circle back to the moment when Robert kills Comyn at the church altar. In England, Comyn's murder was decried as an "outrageous sacrilege inhumanly committed against God and the holy Church" and Robert was declared public enemy No. 1.
Instead of laying low, Robert saw this as his moment to cement power. He won absolution from the Bishop of Glasgow and rallied support among Scottish noblemen. (Not all of them, though. Many, says Brown, still saw Robert as a "terrorist.")
On March 26, 1306, just weeks after killing Comyn, Robert the Bruce was crowned king of Scotland in direct repudiation of the authority of Edward I, who didn't take open rebellion lightly. Edward recruited Scottish clans still loyal to Comyn and went after Robert's forces.
During the summer of 1306, Robert's army was handily defeated in a string of battles. Far worse, three of his brothers were captured and brutally killed (hung, drawn and quartered, of course), and Robert's wife and daughter were held prisoner in England.
According to legend, Robert fled to an island off the West Coast of Scotland to hide out for the winter. It was there, in a coastal cave that Robert had a life-changing vision. He saw a spider dangling from a silken thread trying over and over again to weave its web. And each time it fell, it pulled itself up to try once again. Robert vowed that he, too, wouldn't give up until the battle was won.
"Scottish writers intended [the apocryphal spider story] to be seen as a kind of penance," says Brown. "Robert the Bruce had done wrong, broken God's law and had to pay a price. The defeats, the slights, the death of his brothers, the imprisonment of his wife and daughter, are all part of that. Once he's expiated the sins he committed, it's all about Robert not giving up, not capitulating."
Victory at Bannockburn and Independence
Back in the fight, Robert used guerilla tactics to inflict damage on the English forces, but those small victories failed to align all of the Scottish noblemen behind his authority as the true king of Scotland. In 1313, Robert issued an ultimatum — that all of Comyn's loyalists join him or give up their lands, and that the English forces in Scotland surrender.
Edward II, the new (and inept) heir to the English throne, led a massive invasion of Scotland with 25,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry riders, to face down a regular Scottish army of some 6,000 and change.
The turning point came at Bannockburn, an epic battle that quickly became shorthand in Scotland for independence and national honor. Over two days, the undermanned Scots outwitted and outfought the English, and Robert more than proved his mettle as a fierce fighter and inspiring leader of men. Edward II fled back to England and released Robert's wife and daughter in exchange for captured English noblemen.
More importantly, the decisive victory at Bannockburn convinced the last of Comyn's supporters to throw their full weight behind King Robert I of Scotland. The war with the English went on for another 14 years before another English King, Edward III, finally signed the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328 that granted full independence to Scotland.
Robert the Bruce died just a year later, having achieved everything he sought out to achieve for both his clan and his country. It wasn't always a clean fight, but victory was his.
HowStuffWorks may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article.
After Robert's death, Sir James Douglas was tasked with delivering the king's heart to the Holy Land, but Douglas was waylaid at a battle against the Moors in Spain. Charging against the enemy, Douglas reportedly threw the heart before him and cried, "Lead on brave heart! I'll follow thee!"
Robert the Bruce
Robert I (11 July 1274 – 7 June 1329), popularly known as Robert the Bruce (Medieval Gaelic: Roibert a Briuis modern Scottish Gaelic: Raibeart Bruis Norman French: Robert de Brus or Robert de Bruys Early Scots: Robert Brus Latin: Robertus Brussius), was King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329. Robert was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, and eventually led Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence against England. He fought successfully during his reign to regain Scotland's place as an independent country and is today revered in Scotland as a national hero.
Descended from the Anglo-Norman and Gaelic nobilities, his paternal fourth-great grandfather was King David I. Robert's grandfather, Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale, was one of the claimants to the Scottish throne during the "Great Cause". As Earl of Carrick, Robert the Bruce supported his family's claim to the Scottish throne and took part in William Wallace's revolt against Edward I of England. Appointed in 1298 as a Guardian of Scotland alongside his chief rival for the throne, John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, and William Lamberton, Bishop of St Andrews, Robert later resigned in 1300 due to his quarrels with Comyn and the apparently imminent restoration of King John Balliol. After submitting to Edward I in 1302 and returning to "the king's peace", Robert inherited his family's claim to the Scottish throne upon his father's death.
In February 1306, Robert the Bruce killed Comyn following an argument, and was excommunicated by the Pope (although he received absolution from Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow). Bruce moved quickly to seize the throne and was crowned king of Scots on 25 March 1306. Edward I's forces defeated Robert in battle, forcing him to flee into hiding in the Hebrides and Ireland before returning in 1307 to defeat an English army at Loudoun Hill and wage a highly successful guerrilla war against the English. Bruce defeated his other Scots enemies, destroying their strongholds and devastating their lands, and in 1309 held his first parliament. A series of military victories between 1310 and 1314 won him control of much of Scotland, and at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Robert defeated a much larger English army under Edward II of England, confirming the re-establishment of an independent Scottish kingdom. The battle marked a significant turning point, with Robert's armies now free to launch devastating raids throughout northern England, while also extending his war against the English to Ireland by sending an army to invade there and by appealing to the native Irish to rise against Edward II's rule.
Despite Bannockburn and the capture of the final English stronghold at Berwick in 1318, Edward II refused to renounce his claim to the overlordship of Scotland. In 1320, the Scottish nobility submitted the Declaration of Arbroath to Pope John XXII, declaring Robert as their rightful monarch and asserting Scotland's status as an independent kingdom. In 1324, the Pope recognised Robert I as king of an independent Scotland, and in 1326, the Franco-Scottish alliance was renewed in the Treaty of Corbeil. In 1327, the English deposed Edward II in favour of his son, Edward III, and peace was concluded between Scotland and England with the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, by which Edward III renounced all claims to sovereignty over Scotland.