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Robert The Bruce

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Robert I, King of Scotland, or, as he is more commonly known, Robert the Bruce, was born on the eleventh day of July, 1274. His father was the seventh Lord of Annandale and Earl of Carrick, and Robert, on the death of his father, succeeded to the title and a number of great estates which had come down from the first Robert de Bruce, who received them as a reward for his services while a follower of William the Conqueror. Of the early life and boyhood of the Bruce who became, after a series of most remarkable exploits as a warrior, the King of Scotland, neither contemporaneous nor subsequent histories throw any light. His grandfather was a claimant to the throne of Scotland, but this had been decided in favor of Baliol. Our first glimpse of the future King is when, in 1293, on the 3d day of August, he presents the resignation of his father as Earl of Carrick in his favor, to Baliol and swears fealty to Edward I of England. In this same year arose the disputes between King Edward and Baliol which resulted in the latter losing his crown. In October, 1295, the father, having done homage to King Edward, was made Governor of Carlisle. Baliol in revenge deprived de Bruce of Annandale and conferred it upon the Earl of Buchan, John Comyn. Soon after this we find the younger Bruce arrayed, in spite of his oath of fealty to Edward, with the rebels of the patriotic Wallace, who had come forward in Baliol's name to fight for Scottish independence. On July 7, 1297, came the capitulation of Irvine, when Bruce with other insurgents sued the King's peace and was restored to his former standing. Even after this he again took sides with his countrymen, for two years later he was elected one of the three guardians of Scotland in the name of Baliol, and led an attack against King Edward's garrison in Lochmaben castle. In 1304, however, when Edward renewed his campaign against Scotland and reduced Sterling, Bruce is shown to have been on the King's side. The King seems to have had a strong appreciation of the value of the young earl's cooperation to so readily restore him in favor after flagrant rebellion. This vacillating conduct on Bruce's part cannot be explained, and it serves as one of the shadows which tends to some-what dim his otherwise glorious career. His life was divided into three epochs : The one which has been related was the first. The second was that romance-surrounded period through which he struggled through despair and defeat for the freedom of Scotland and the third his triumphal succession of victories over the foes of his nation.

In October, 1302, Bruce attended King Edward's Parliament. It is considered probable that he was at that time looking after his own interests. The old Lord of Annandale, his father, was rapidly approaching his end, and the son's care was necessary to keep the family estates on English soil from falling into other hands. In 1303, Bruce was ordered to lead forces from Galloway to attend muster at Roxburgh. Bain is authority for the statement that Bruce took with him to this muster all the men at arms he could gather, including 1,000 foot soldiers from Carrick and Galloway. He seems at this time to have fully decided to cast his fortunes with the English. He received advanced pay for his services, being Edward's sheriff at Lanark and Governor at Ayr castle. The Scots lost all their strongholds upon the advance of the English forces with the exception of Sterling. The Scots under Comyn and his friends surrendered at Strathord, February 9, 1304. A few of them were sentenced to various terms of exile, but the periods of punishment were shortened on condition that the offenders would devote them-selves toward effecting the capture of the patriot, Wallace. The King of England thus showed leniency to those who had repeatedly broken their promises of allegiance and made them his assistants in an effort to arrest Wallace, who had never sworn fealty to him. About that time King Edward wrote a letter to Robert, Earl of Carrick, and the contents of that communication brings to us the information that Bruce was one of the most diligent among those in pursuit of the fugitive patriot. The father of Bruce died in 1304 and Robert went to London to look after his properties. In the meantime he maintained a correspondence with King Edward, who had decided to begin a formidable siege of Sterling, and Bruce assisted in this enterprise by furnishing a number of engines of war. So determined was the King to reduce this last stronghold, that he ordered the Prince of Wales to strip lead from all the churches in the vicinity of Perth to use as missiles. Sterling castle withstood the fierce onslaught but a brief time, and then Sir William D. Oliphant and his men surrendered and were taken to England as prisoners of war. This gave the last of the fortresses of Scotland into the hands of the English. Wallace, however, was still at large, and the search for him was prosecuted with greater energy. He was finally captured in Glasgow in the summer of 1305. The prisoner was conveyed to London, arriving there August 22. The following day he was brought before the judges and mockingly crowned with laurel. Wallace protested that he was not guilty of treason to the King, never having sworn fealty to him. The argument availed him nothing, and he was convicted of treason, sacrilege, homicide, robbery, and arson. On the charges of robbery and homicide he was hanged that same clay. As an outlaw his head was cut off. For burning churches and relics his entrails were taken out and burned. As a traitor his head was fixed on London bridge and his quarters were suspended on gibbets at Newcastle-on-Tyne, Berwick, Sterling, and Perth. Some authorities assert that Robert Bruce was a witness of the execution of William Wallace.

This concludes the record of Bruce's career up to the time he was 31 years of age. Scotch writers have called it a humiliating chronicle, but they have annexed to the statement that his subsequent achievements in behalf of Scotland were of sufficient glory to efface the transgressions of his early history. At the time of Wallace's untimely death Bruce was a stalwart warrior, of engaging manners, and always able to find followers in any cause he was willing to undertake. What led him finally to sever his affiliations with King Edward and once for all take up the cause of Scotland has been a matter of dispute. Fascinating romance has been interwoven into the record of his deeds to such an extent that it has become difficult to separate the embellishments from the authentic historical facts. He had fought valiantly against his own country-men, and, although strongly impressed by the courageous warfare maintained by Wallace, his sympathies for Scot-land do not seem to have been stirred until after the execution of the patriot, when King Edward felt secure in the belief that the long extended rebellion of the Scots was for-ever at an end. He entertained the hope of conciliating the nobles by a policy of clemency and rewards and thus securing undisputed authority over Scotland. The King called a parliament in London during the month following Wallace's execution, which was attended by Scotch representatives, Bruce among them, and a plan of government for Scotland was arranged. From the fact that an agreement was here made that Bruce's estates at Kildrummy were to be placed in charge of a person answerable to the King, it is evident that Edward had already some suspicion that Bruce harbored hostile motives.

At any rate Bruce hastened to Scotland and suddenly decided to revive his claims to the throne of Scotland. After the abdication of King John, his most formidable competitor for this honor was John Comyn, called John the Red. According to Fordun, Bruce offered Comyn all the Carrick estates if he would renounce his claims to the throne and support Bruce for King. Also that he made the alternative proposition to support Comyn's claims if the latter would give over his estates to Bruce. Fordun's version is to the effect that the two entered into a sworn agreement by which Comyn was to aid Bruce to secure the crown, but that immediately afterward he treacherously revealed the plot to King Edward and urged the monarch to put Bruce to death. Bruce, the narration continues, learned of this, and whatever the true account may be, it is certain that on February the tenth, 1306, Bruce and Comyn met before the altar in the Church of the Minorite friars at Dumfries, and that Bruce there slew Comyn. Bruce hastened to his castle at Lochmaben, gathered some of his friends and proceeded to Glasgow and made the preparations which resulted in his coronation as King of Scotland, at Scone, March 29, 1306. The ceremony was conducted by the Bishops of St. Andrews and Glasgow and Bruce's four brothers and a gathering of friendly Scotch earls and others of the nobility. As a result of the fact that it was the recognized and hereditary right of the family of Macduff, Earls of Fife, to place the crown on the King's head, this feature was carried out by Isabella, Countess of Buchan, notwithstanding the fact that her husband was of the family of the man Bruce had slain. The new King now set out to secure a kingdom.

When the tidings of this sudden turn in events reached King Edward in England, he at once ordered preparations for a campaign against his new enemy. All the estates of Bruce were declared forfeited. King Robert thus found himself poor and minus even the title of Earl of Carrick. Aymer de Valence, King Edward's lieutenant in the north, was directed in a series of fiery letters, written almost daily by the King, to capture all the lords and bishops who had aided Bruce, yet he also directed that the life of Bruce should be spared in the event of his capture.

On June 5, 1306, the greater excommunication was passed upon Bruce in St. Paul's Cathedral. There soon followed a blow to the cause of the insurgent Scots which seemed to be final, so completely were Bruce's forces con-fused and scattered. Edward was unable to go north, but Aymer de Valence succeeded in taking King Robert by surprise near Methven. On Sunday, June 26, de Valence, with a force outnumbering that of Bruce by 1,500 men, fell upon the Scots. It became a hand-to-hand conflict. Bruce led his men into the fray with the personal bravery for which he long since had become distinguished. In the charge he was unhorsed and was with difficulty rescued from his perilous position. The battle went against him most decisively, and Bruce, with a few of his knights, fled from the field, after his army had been completely routed.

Bruce and his constant friend, James of Douglas, wandered about in the Highland hills for some time after the battle of Methven, and then proceeded to Aberdeen. Robert there met his wife and was joined by his daughter Marjory and his two sisters. The party went westward, and at a place called Dairy, near the borders of Lorn, Bruce and his handful of men met in battle a much larger number under John of Lorn. The Scots under Bruce were again badly defeated, and it was with great difficulty that Robert escaped from the field with his life. Among the many incidents told of his personal valor it is related that while riding away from the scene of this combat he was waylaid by three brothers. One of the men attempted to seize the bridle of-Bruce's horse, but his arm was cut off with one sweep of the warrior's battle-axe. Another brother clutched the stirrup, but Bruce crushed his hand beneath his foot and finally killed his attempted captor, and the third was dispatched as he attempted to leap upon the horse behind Bruce. In spite of the danger King Robert proceeded to give the ladies of the party safe escort to Kildrummy castle. He here separated from the Queen at this time, and it was many years before he was able to re-join her.

King Robert's wife and his sisters were soon afterward taken by the English, the castle of Kildrummy having fallen before the onslaught of the Prince of Wales. The Queen and Princess, and Marie de Brus, were confined in cages in the castles of Roxburgh, Berwick, and in the tower of London. Partisans of Bruce were captured and executed or imprisoned in great numbers. The prospect which King Robert saw before him at that time was an extremely dismal one. He started westward again after the fight at Dalry. Sir James Douglas and 200 followers were all he had upon which he might depend to make good his claim to be master of Scotland. He was on foot and anxious to escape to some island. He arrived at Loch Lomond, but there was no boat on the shore with which to transport his men. An old sunken hull was found, however. and this was pressed into service. It required a day and a night to carry the little army across, and Bruce is said to have read aloud from romances in order to make the tedious hours pass more quickly. The days that followed were dark ones for the King of the Scots. Cooped up in the hills, in dangerous proximity to Lorn and Mentieth, he and his men would have added starvation to their other sufferings had not Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, come to their relief. Having procured some more worthy vessels, the band left their unsafe resting place and embarked on the Clyde near Dunbarton and sailed for Cantyre. With his force augmented to 300 men Bruce set sail from Cantyre for Rachrin, an island off the Irish coast. The winter of 1306-1307 was spent here, according to Bartour, and Bruce then left the bleak and barren island for the island of Arran. In the midst of the rugged hills and vales, densely wooded, Bruce might have avoided any enemies for an indefinite period, but he did not wish to remain on the defensive. The outlawed King was within twenty-five miles of his own earldom of Carrick, and could almost see the smoke rising from his own buildings nearer Arran.

He was anxious as to the fate of his wife and child. He sent a spy called Cuthbert into Scotland to find what the feeling was regarding himself. Cuthbert was to build a fire on a great hill near the coast if in his opinion the conditions were favorable to the return of Bruce to the land where he was King in name. Cuthbert found matters very unfavorable so far as an immediate return of Bruce was concerned, and built no fire. A fire was built by peas-ants, however, and Bruce thinking this was the signal for him, set sail in his galleys for the coast. He landed only to find Cuthbert on the shore, frantic with fear lest the innocent beacon light on the hill had drawn his chief into a position of peril. Bruce determined to stay in Scotland, notwithstanding the fact that he had gone there under a misapprehension. His first move was to place himself at the head of his 300 men and make an attack on his own castle of Turnberry, which was then under the control of Henry de Percy, who was stationed there with a garrison of 300 men. Bruce led his men stealthily in the night to the cottages surrounding the castle, and raising the Highland war cry, fell upon the English soldiers occupying them, killing many. Henry de Percy feared to come to the rescue from his position within the castle, as he knew not the strength of the attacking party. Bruce secured arms, provisions, and clothing, and then withdrew into the hills again.

It was not long after this first success of the King of Scots that his two brothers, Thomas and Alexander, landed south of Turnberry and were attacked and routed. The brothers were taken to Carlisle and instantly hanged. After King Robert had sought safety in the Galloway Hills, following his hasty visit to his own estate, Sir James de Douglas, Bruce's right-hand man, set off for his home in Lanarkshire, with only two companions. Douglas disguised himself and went among his old friends and organized a band to retake his own castles from the English. His confederates attacked the garrison on Palm Sunday in St. Bride's castle of Douglas. The English were put to the sword or taken prisoners. There was no resistance offered when Douglas and his men entered the halls of the castle. The great pile of masonry was totally destroyed, and the Douglas band joined Bruce in the Galloway Hills, where the King was in desperate straits. His enemies were closing in on him from every side, and treacherous Scots who had been employed to assassinate him, increased his danger. De Valence was advancing at the head of a formidable force of English to crush the little band of Scots and affairs were daily assuming a more serious aspect. Bruce divided his force into three bands and began a retreat. Bloodhounds were used by Lorn to trace the retreating King, and when this was discovered Bruce ordered his men to scatter, retaining with himself only his foster brother. On one occasion five men of Lorn's command came up with them. In the combat which followed all five were slain. By following the channel of a stream the bloodhounds were thrown off the scent. While continuing their flight through a wood, Bruce's companion was slain by peasants, and the King narrowly escaped sharing the same fate. After many stirring incidents Bruce at last reached Craigencallie, where he was joined by the faithful Douglas and Edward, the only surviving brother of Bruce. Here he gathered under his banner 150 loyal friends. Soon after this he was attacked by a force under De Valence, who was repulsed with great loss.

The English recovered, however, and Bruce found himself hemmed in on all sides by disciplined troops, but he managed to make his escape from the mountain passes and suddenly appeared in Ayrshire. De Valence, foiled again, retired to Bothwell on the Clyde. Bruce now had with him 600 fighting men and a battle was fought between the two armies on the face of Loudon Hill. De Valence found himself unable to take the position assumed by Bruce, and before night the English army was in full retreat; put to flight, Barber writes, in spite of the fact that they had 3,000 men to the Scot's 600. This was the first time Bruce had met the English in the open fields, and it served to help his cause materially. Minor battles were fought in the following months, and King Edward, greatly exercised over the failure of his lieutenants to crush Bruce, himself set out to take charge of the campaign. He died on June 7, 1307, after just coming in sight of the land of the Scots. It now devolved upon Edward II to: take issue with King Robert. The son had little of the resolute spirit of the father, and the effect of the change of English monarchs made itself apparent in Scotland. The new king allowed the most critical period of the war to pass without striking a blow, giving himself up to the pleasures and diversions of his court while his leaders were meeting failure after failure. He finally headed an army and marched to Cumnock, but failing to meet the enemy he returned with his army without having struck a blow. On returning -south he celebrated his marriage with Isabella of France, and the conduct of the war was again left to the generals who had already proven themselves too feeble for the task.

These opportunities were not allowed to pass by Bruce, who took advantage of the neglect and indolence with which the English were carrying on the war to inaugurate a series of rapid and brilliant campaigns and meeting in nearly every instance with great success. Bruce placed his brother Edward in charge of affairs in Galloway, and suddenly made his own appearance in Aberdeenshire. During the closing months of 1 307 and the early part of the year 1308, he invaded Buchan, defeating the Earl of Buchan at Inverary and thus disposing of one of the most persistent and troublesome of the Scottish leaders who op-posed him. By quick and strategic marches he next made his appearance in Argyll, where he surprised Lord Lorn in the Pass of Brander, defeated him in a fierce engagement and took Dunstaffnage.

His cause was now gaining rapidly and support came to him from every hand. During 1309 a truce was arranged by the Pope and Philip of France, but it cannot be said to have been observed. During the following year the clergy of Scotland formally recognized Bruce as King. This was of the greatest importance to him, as it gained for him the support of many sections which were previously doubtful. The three succeeding years were marked by a series of small but none the less important victories. Linlithgow was won at the end of 1310, in October of the following year Dumbarton was added to the list of victories, and in January of 1312 Bruce himself took Perth. He even made a raid into the north of England, and on re-entering Scotland reduced Butel, in Galloway, Dumfries, and a number of other places of minor importance.

The memorable year of 1313 closed with the capture of the Roxburgh castle by Sir James Douglas. This feat was followed by the capture of Edinburgh castle by Thomas Randolph, another of Bruce's strong allies. Edward de Brus attempted to take Sterling castle in 1313, but had agreed to suspend hostilities until Midsummer Day (June 24), 1314. De Brus was to receive the surrender of Sir Philip de Moubray, in command of the garrison, if the latter did not receive reinforcements by the date stipulated. This arrangement eventually brought about the battle of Bannockburn, which effectually settled the opposition to King Robert. The King of England made immense preparations to supply de Moubray with reinforcements. The muster of 21,540 foot soldiers was ordered at Wark, for July 11. Auxiliaries in Wales and Ireland were summoned to gather under the English banner against The Bruce. Maxwell is inclined to the belief that the number of troops brought together for the expedition in relief of Stirling castle was 50,000. Others have placed it much higher. The same authority places the strength of the Scots at 20,000, with the probability that this is too generous an estimate. Bruce chose to meet the enemy near the Bannockburn near Parkmill. When the English hosts appeared the King of Scots was riding up and down his lines, swinging his battle-axe and waiting calmly for the beginning of the conflict which might lose to him all he had gained. Sir Henry de Bohun advanced from the English lines and offered to meet any knight among the Scots. Bruce accepted the challenge. De Bohun rode at him with poised spear. Bruce nimbly took himself out of the way and brought his axe down upon the head of the English knight with such force that de Bohun's helmet was cloven from crown to chin.

The real combat soon began and Bruce, Randolph, Douglas, and Edward de Brus led the fight for the Scots. The English took flight after a bloody conflict, some going to Stirling castle and some back the way they came. Fighting was renewed the following day and King Ed-ward watched the progress of the engagement from the elevation of Charters Hall. He was very nearly captured, and as he realized that all was lost, fled from the scene of bloodshed. By strategy, brawn, and endurance the Scots had pounded the English columns until even the superior forces of Edward could not withstand the strain. Knights and common soldiers went down under the axes of the Scots on all sides, and hosts of prisoners were taken. It is estimated that 30,000 Englishmen perished in the battle and during the flight. King Edward escaped to Berwick. The loss sustained by the Scots in this memorable battle was insignificant.

This was the decisive turning point in the career of Bruce. The whole nation was wildly enthusiastic over his victory. At the Parliament of Ayr, held April 25, 1315, it was unanimously settled that the succession to the throne of Scotland rested in him. The result of the war in Scot-land decided the whole Celtic race to rise against England, and at the persistent invitation of the natives, Edward Bruce in 1315 crossed to Ireland. This decided the Welsh in the following year to become his allies. In the autumn of 1315, King Robert joined his brother in Ireland. During the campaigns in Ireland no fewer than nine-teen victories were won. In May, 1316, Robert returned to his own country while Edward continued the campaigns in Ireland. With his army he was finally, after meeting with reverses, compelled to retreat to Dundalk, where a battle was fought in which Edward was slain and his army defeated. This ended the efforts of the Scots in behalf of the Irish race.

In the meantime King Robert, having returned to Scotland, took up the siege of Berwick. At this time ambassadors from the Pope arrived in England to effect a truce, threatening in the event of the refusal of the Scottish King to comply, to renew the excommunication against him. Bruce firmly refused to treat with the messengers sent to him and the siege of Berwick continued. In March, 1318, the town and castle of Berwick capitulated and the Scots ravaged the English territory as far as Ripon. The following December a great Scottish Parliament was held at Scone. It was here decided that inasmuch as the brother and daughter of Bruce having died, and there being no heir to the throne, that the succession go in favor of Randolph, and in the event of his death to Douglas, both of whom had been the most trustworthy generals of Bruce during the wars. Bruce showed his wisdom by arranging extensively for the defense of the country and regulating a system of justice for the nation, which showed no partiality between rich and poor.

The great champion of Scottish liberty, having achieved the ambition of his life, left the conduct of further wars to his generals, Randolph and Douglas, and spent the few remaining years of his life at Cardross Castle on the Clyde, where he engaged himself with ship-building and the civil affairs of the nation. As his years advanced he became of a pious turn. He had already been excommunicated, but one of his chief provisions was for masses for his soul. On the seventh day of June, 1329, he died as the result of leprosy, contracted during the hard-ships of his campaigns. He was buried at Dunfermline. He was succeeded by his only son, David, born to him by his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh.

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