Ch 8 - BRUCE AND THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE.
Summary: Robert the Bruce wasn't just about the spider, the cave and the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Robert the Bruce was an ambitious man who's attitude towards England and English involvement in Scotland seemed to change with the seasons. He was a complex character who's fate was, in many respects, sealed when he killed of Red Comyn. This event forced Bruce's hand against the English. If it weren't for this, it's possible that Bruce would have ended up supporting the English against the French.
BRUCE AND THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE.
The position towards France of Edward I. made it really more desirable for him that Scotland should be independent and friendly, than half subdued and hostile to his rule. While she was hostile, England, in attacking France, always left an enemy in her rear. But Edward supposed that by clemency to all the Scottish leaders except Wallace, by giving them great appointments and trusting them fully, and by calling them to his Parliament in London, he could combine England and Scotland in affectionate union. He repaired the ruins of war in Scotland; he began to study her laws and customs; he hastily ran up for her a new constitution, and appointed his nephew, John of Brittany, as governor. But he had overlooked two facts: the Scottish clergy, from the highest to the lowest, were irreconcilably opposed to union with England; and the greatest and most warlike of the Scottish nobles, if not patriotic, were fickle and insatiably ambitious. It is hard to reckon how often Robert Bruce had turned his coat, and how often the Bishop of St Andrews had taken the oath to Edward. Both men were in Edward's favour in June 1304, but in that month they made against him a treasonable secret covenant. Through 1305 Bruce prospered in Edward's service, on February 10, 1306, Edward was conferring on him a new favour, little guessing that Bruce, after some negotiation with his old rival, the Red Comyn, had slain him (an uncle of his was also butchered) before the high altar of the Church of the Franciscans in Dumfries. Apparently Bruce had tried to enlist Comyn in his conspiracy, and had found him recalcitrant, or feared that he would be treacherous (February 10, 1306).
The sacrilegious homicide made it impossible for Bruce again to waver. He could not hope for pardon; he must be victorious or share the fate of Wallace. He summoned his adherents, including young James Douglas, received the support of the Bishops of St Andrews and Glasgow, hurried to Scone, and there was hastily crowned with a slight coronet, in the presence of but two earls and three bishops.
Edward made vast warlike preparations and forswore leniency, while Bruce, under papal excommunication, which he slighted, collected a few nobles, such as Lennox, Atholl, Errol, and a brother of the chief of the Frazers. Other chiefs, kinsmen of the slain Comyn, among them Macdowal of Argyll, banded to avenge the victim; Bruce's little force was defeated at Methven Wood, near Perth, by Aymer de Valence, and prisoners of all ranks were hanged as traitors, while two bishops were placed in irons. Bruce took to the heather, pursued by the Macdowals no less than by the English; his queen was captured, his brother Nigel was executed; he cut his way to the wild west coast, aided only by Sir Nial Campbell of Loch Awe, who thus founded the fortune of his house, and by the Macdonalds, under Angus Og of Islay. He wintered in the isle of Rathlin (some think he even went to Norway), and in spring, after surprising the English garrison in his own castle of Turnberry, he roamed, now lonely, now with a mobile little force, in Galloway, always evading and sometimes defeating his English pursuers. At Loch Trool and at London Hill (Drumclog) he dealt them heavy blows, while on June 7, 1307, his great enemy Edward died at Borough-on-Sands, leaving the crown and the war to the weakling Edward II.
Fortune had turned. We cannot follow Bruce through his campaign in the north, where he ruined the country of the Comyns (1308), and through the victories in Galloway of his hard-fighting brother Edward. With enemies on every side, Bruce took them in detail; early in March 1309 he routed the Macdowals at the west end of the Pass of Brander. Edward II. was involved in disputes with his own barons, and Bruce was recognised by his country's Church in 1310 and aided by his great lieutenants, Sir James Douglas and Thomas Randolph, Earl of Murray. By August 1311 Bruce was carrying the war into England, sacking Durham and Chester, failing at Carlisle, but in January 1313, capturing Perth. In summer, Edward Bruce, in the spirit of chivalry, gave to Stirling Castle (Randolph had taken Edinburgh Castle) a set day, Midsummer Day 1314, to be relieved or to surrender; and Bruce kept tryst with Edward II. and his English and Irish levies, and all his adventurous chivalry from France, Hainault, Bretagne, Gascony, and Aquitaine. All the world knows the story of the first battle, the Scottish Quatre Bras; the success of Randolph on the right; the slaying of Bohun when Bruce broke his battle-axe. Next day Bruce's position was strong; beneath the towers of Stirling the Bannockburn protected his front; morasses only to be crossed by narrow paths impeded the English advance. Edward Bruce commanded the right wing; Randolph the centre; Douglas and the Steward the left; Bruce the reserve, the Islesmen. His strength lay in his spearmen's "dark impenetrable wood"; his archers were ill-trained; of horse he had but a handful under Keith, the Marischal. But the heavy English cavalry could not break the squares of spears; Keith cut up the archers of England; the main body could not deploy, and the slow, relentless advance of the whole Scottish line covered the plain with the dying and the flying. A panic arose, caused by the sight of an approaching cloud of camp-followers on the Gillie's hill; Edward fled, and hundreds of noble prisoners, with all the waggons and supplies of England, fell into the hands of the Scots. In eight strenuous years the generalship of Bruce and his war-leaders, the resolution of the people, hardened by the cruelties of Edward, the sermons of the clergy, and the utter incompetence of Edward II., had redeemed a desperate chance. From a fief of England, Scotland had become an indomitable nation.
Bruce continued to prosper, despite an ill-advised attempt to win Ireland, in which Edward Bruce fell (1318.) This left the succession, if Bruce had no male issue, to the children of his daughter, Marjory, and her husband, the Steward. In 1318 Scotland recovered Berwick, in 1319 routed the English at Mytton-on-Swale. In a Parliament at Aberbrothock (April 6, 1320) the Scots announced to the Pope, who had been interfering, that, while a hundred of them survive, they will never yield to England. In October 1322 Bruce utterly routed the English at Byland Abbey, in the heart of Yorkshire, and chased Edward II. into York. In March 1324 a son was born to Bruce named David; on May 4, 1328, by the Treaty of Northampton, the independence of Scotland was recognised. In July the infant David married Joanna, daughter of Edward II.
On June 7, 1329, Bruce died and was buried at Dunfermline; his heart, by his order, was carried by Douglas towards the Holy Land, and when Douglas fell in a battle with the Moors in Spain, the heart was brought back by Sir Simon Lockhart of the Lee. The later career of Bruce, after he had been excommunicated, is that of the foremost knight and most sagacious man of action who ever wore the crown of Scotland. The staunchness with which the clergy and estates disregarded papal fulminations (indeed under William the Lion they had treated an interdict as waste-paper) indicated a kind of protestant tendency to independence of the Holy See.
Bruce's inclusion of representatives of the Burghs in the first regular Scottish Parliament (at Cambuskenneth in 1326) was a great step forward in the constitutional existence of the country. The king, in Scotland, was expected to "live of his own," but in 1326 the expenses of the war with England compelled Bruce to seek permission for taxation.
Go to chapter 9 - Decadence and Disasters -- Reign of David II
Return to index page - Scotland History