Robert the Bruce – a summary

Few figures from the time of the First Scottish War of Independence (1296 to 1328) are more confusing than Robert the Bruce. Feted as a Scottish hero and the man who delivered independence to the Scots from the hated English king, Edward I, and hailed as the heroic victor at the crucial Battle of Bannockburn (1314), the Bruce has remained a pivotal figure in Scottish history.

The truth about the man is far less flattering.  It shows Robert the Bruce as a self-serving man who was interested in only one goal, seizing the crown of Scotland for himself.

The Earl of Carrick

Robert the Bruce was born on 11 July 1274, the son of Robert de Brus, 6th Lord of Annandale, and grandson of Robert de Brus that had contended the Scottish throne during the Great Cause.  In 1292, following the death of his mother, Robert the Bruce was given the position of the Earl of Carrick.  That same year Edward I chose John Balliol as the king of Scotland ahead of Robert.

During the early part of the First Scottish War of Independence, the young Earl allied himself to Edward I.  This was probably to give himself a better chance to seize the crown for himself when, presumably, Balliol was defeated and deposed.

But despite the eventual forced abdication of Balliol, Robert the Bruce was unable to take the throne of Scotland for himself as the ambitious Edward had his own ideas about how Scotland should be governed.

John Comyn

Bruce continually swapped sides in the next few years as he jockeyed for position among other contenders for the throne, including John Comyn with whom he became the joint Guardian of Scotland, following the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Falkirk on 22 July 1298.

The competition between the Bruce and Comyn came to a head in Greyfrairs Church in Dumfries on 10 February 1306.  The two men argued, came to blows and Comyn was killed.  Robert the Bruce then had little alternative but to make efforts to secure the throne for himself.

Just seven weeks after the murder of Comyn, on 25 March 1306, at Scone, Robert the Bruce was crowned King of the Scots.

Following a number of defeats and setbacks, the Scots rallied behind Bruce and between 1306 and 1314 they set about recapturing the castles and towns of Scotland that were still under English control.

Battle of Bannockburn

Between the 23 and 24 of June 1314, the Scots faced down the might of an English army, which was determined to relieve the English garrison at Stirling. Over the course of the two days the Scots inflicted such a crushing blow on the English at Bannockburn that the English did not seriously challenge Bruce’s claim to the throne for the remainder of the war.

Another 14 years of warfare still lay ahead, but, finally, on 1 March 1328, King Edward III of England finally renounced any claim the English crown had over the sovereignty of Scotland.

Robert the Bruce remained as king until his death at Cardross, near Dumbarton, on 7 June 1329.

His body was buried at Dunfermline Abbey, where it rests to this day.

Russell Burgess
See also a summary of Edward I and articles on the Battle of Bannockburn and the Battle of Falkirk.