I, the Bruce
Of Scots-Norman lineage, the Bruce family had been strong contenders
for the throne in 1292 when they lost out to John Balliol. Robert
Bruce was pragmatic rather than patriotic, serving with Wallace
then Edward, wherever he saw his own interests best served.
His moment of no return came in 1306 when in the Greyfriars
Church in Dumfries he murdered John Comyn, leader of the Balliol
faction. He was hurriedly crowned King of Scots at Scone, bringing
down Edwards full fury on his family. The English king
died before he reached Scotland, but Roberts forces were
scattered and he and his supporters fugitives. It was at this
low point that, sheltering in a cave, he was said to have learned
the effectiveness of endurance from a spider struggling repeatedly
to climb a wall to build her web.
In 1307 Robert began the long haul of driving the English out
of the country, waging a seven-year campaign of guerrilla warfare.
By 1314 only Berwick and Stirling were still held by the English.
Roberts greatest victory was at Bannockburn at midsummer
1314: against a larger, better equipped force, his superior
tactics won the day. The English army was decimated, losing
three-quarters of its 20,000-strong force, and Edward II ignominiously
fled the field in disgrace, chased by James Douglas.
Robert was confirmed king by Parliament, who agreed a detailed
act of succession. War with England continued intermittently
until Scottish independence was recognised in 1328 in the Treaty
of Northampton. Bannockburn was a turning point, and Scotland
was never again subject to the overlordship of England. The
most important recognition of Scottish independence came from
the papacy after the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath - a letter
from the Scots nobles to the pope, - which has stood as a poignant
declaration of Scottish patriotism and independence:
While there exist a hundred of us we will never submit
to England. For we fight not for glory, wealth, or honour, but
for that liberty which no virtuous man lays down but with his
For such a superb general, Robert was a surprisingly successful
peacetime king, reconciling alienated factions, introducing
legal reforms, reasserting royal authority and caring for the
rights of ordinary people. He died at Cardross in 1329, ravaged,
it is said, by leprosy, contracted during the hardships of his
life on the run. He was the man to whom Scotland owed its continuing
independence, and he is probably the single most important figure
in Scottish history.