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Robert the Bruce

Robert The Bruce

Robert I, the Bruce

King of Scots

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 Edward’s full fury on his family. The English king died before he reached Scotland, but Robert’s 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. Robert’s 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 life.’

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.