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       King Robert The Bruce

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                                                      Robert the Bruce

                                               1274 - 1329

 

By successfully achieving independence from English claims of Overlordship and restoring the Scottish monarchy, Robert the Bruce, is now seen as the most iconic of Scotland’s kings. His journey to the throne, however, was neither easy nor straightforward but definitely bloody.

 

Robert the Bruce was born 1274, the eldest son of Robert de Brus, Lord of Annandale and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick. The de Brus family was of Anglo/Norman descent, having arrived in England with William the Conqueror. Since then they had become one of the most important aristocratic families in both Scotland and England and had acquired lands, through marriage and by grants, from successive monarchs and, as a result, owed fealty to monarchs in both countries.

 

In 1286 Scotland suffered from horrendous storms and terrible consequences were predicted. On 18th March, Alexander III, against the advice of his ministers, but anxious to return from Edinburgh to Kinghorn where Yolande of Dreux, his new wife was waiting, insisted on making the journey. He set off with only two companions but when travelling along the coast road near Kinghorn, they became separated. The following morning the king was found dead on the shore beneath the cliffs, his neck had been broken. The heir apparent was the young Maid of Norway, granddaughter to King Alexander III, and Great niece to Edward I. She was also daughter of King Erik II of Norway, and as such was heir apparent to the Norwegian throne. In 1290, with the agreement of the Scots, the Treaty of Birgham was signed agreeing to a marriage between Edward I’s son, Edward of Carnarvon and the Maid. The Crowns of Scotland and England, however, would only fall to the heir of this marriage and Scotland until then would remain separate. Before these plans could come to fruition, however, the Maid, a sickly child, died in Orkney on the journey to Scotland. Who would now succeed to the Scottish throne?

The two strongest claims, however, were Robert Bruce, Grandfather of Robert I, known as “the Competitor” and John Balliol. To rule the country and, to facilitate the process of deciding who should succeed to the throne, six “Guardians” were elected. Edward I of England, who had gained a reputation in the Courts of Europe as an impartial and able arbiter was asked by the Guardians, the Church and seven of the Scottish earls, to preside over the highly unusual court case, now known to history as “The Great Cause”. Edward agreed to their request but only if they acknowledged him as their Lord Paramount and the Scots reluctantly agreed.

 

After some initial unrest, six Guardians with the support of the Scottish Magnates, had maintained peace in Scotland for nearly four years but in 1291, a meeting took place near Berwick on the Scottish Border to decide on an heir. Fourteen claimants came forward, although only four, John Balliol, Robert Bruce, John Hastings of Abergavenny and Count Florence V, Count of Holland were considered serious contenders. All four were direct descendants of Henry of Northumberland, son and heir of David I. However, after nearly 18 months deliberation, it was decided on the grounds of primogeniture, that the strongest claims were those of Balliol and Bruce but that John Balliol was the rightful heir. This decision was promptly acted upon and Balliol was crowned in November 1292. His reign was short and in 1296, Edward enforced his role as Lord Paramount. King John was arrested and stripped of his royal vestments. The Stone of Destiny, The Black Rood of St. Margaret and the King’s Regalia were taken south. Without even resorting to arms, Edward had taken over the Kingdom of Scotland but in doing so, had laid the seeds for the first of the Scottish Wars of Independence which would lead to the succession of Robert the Bruce.

J S