Robert the Bruce, also known as Robert I, led Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against England. He was very successful in his campaigns against the English and was one of the most feared warriors of his generation. Here are 10 interesting facts about one of Scotland’s greatest heroes.

 

#1 It is said Bruce’s mother held his father captive till he agreed to marry her

Robert the Bruce
Depiciton of Robert the Bruce

Born on 11 July 1274, Robert the Bruce was the eldest son of Robert Bruce and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick. His mother was a formidable woman and it is said she held his father captive and refused to release him till he agreed to marry her. His grandfather, also named Robert Bruce, was a claimant of the Scottish crown. Hence from his mother Bruce inherited the Earldom of Carrick, and through his father a royal lineage that would give him a claim to the Scottish throne.

#2 His first wife was Isabella of Mar and his second wife was Elizabeth de Burgh

In early 1296, Robert the Bruce married his beloved Isabella of Mar, who was the daughter of the Earl of Mar. However Isabella died the same year after giving birth to their daughter Marjorie Bruce. Six years later Bruce married his second wife Elizabeth de Burgh, daughter of a powerful Irish noble. They had three children who reached adulthood. One of them was the future king of Scotland David II.

#3 He participated in Edward I’s invasion of Scotland

Robert the Bruce and Elizabeth de Burgh
Depiction of Robert the Bruce and Elizabeth de Burgh

In 1292, King Edward I of England awarded the vacant Scottish throne to John Balliol. Edward I wanted to maintain his control over Scotland but Balliol maintained that he was only answerable to his people and their relationship began to deteriorate. Robert the Bruce and his father refused to back Balliol whom they considered a usurper and they participated in Edward I’s invasion of Scotland. Scottish resistance was crushed, Balliol was deposed and Edward I installed himself as King of Scotland.

#4 Robert the Bruce took part in William Wallace’s revolt against Edward I

William Wallace, on whom the Hollywood movie Braveheart is made, started a Scottish revolt against Edward I. Orders were made to Robert the Bruce to support Edward I’s commander but Bruce continued to support the revolt. William Wallace led Scotland to a great victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 but after being defeated in the Battle of Falkirk the following year, he resigned as Guardian of Scotland. Robert the Bruce and John Comyn, Balliol’s nephew, succeeded him as joint Guardians.

 

#5 Bruce stabbed John Comyn to death before the altar in a church

On February 10, 1306 a meeting was arranged between Robert the Bruce and John Comyn at the church of the Greyfriars at Dumfries, Scotland. An argument started between the two, they came to blows and Robert stabbed Comyn to death before the high altar. He was outlawed by Edward I and excommunicated by the pope. The same year on March 25, Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scots by Bishop William de Lamberton at Scone, near the city of Perth in Scotland.

Robert Bruce Killing John Comyn
An Illustration of John Comyn being killed by Robert Bruce

 

#6 His reign as the King of Scots began disastrously

Robert’s reign began disastrously. He had to face a full-scale civil war with the family and friends of John Comyn in Scotland. Edward I sent a large army and defeated Bruce in the Battle of Methven. Robert the Bruce was forced to flee. Many of his supporters were killed. His wife and daughter were captured by the English and sent to harsh imprisonment while three of his brothers were executed.

Coronation of Robert The Bruce
A modern tableau at Edinburgh Castle depicting Robert The Bruce being Crowned King of Scots

 

#7 He used guerrilla warfare to beat the English

After spending the winter hiding on an island, Robert returned to wage a highly successful guerrilla war against the English. He won a small victory at the Battle of Glen Trool in April 1307 and the following month he gained his first major victory at the Battle of Loudoun Hill. He also crushed internal resistance through his landmark defeat of Comyn at the Battle of Inverurie in May 1308. People of Scotland, who were apprehensive about Bruce because he switched sides earlier, now got behind him.

Statue of Robert the Bruce
Statue of Robert the Bruce at the Bannockburn monument

 

#8 Robert the Bruce defeated Edward II in one of the most famous battles in Scottish history

Bruce’s most famous victory came at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. After the death of Edward I, his son Edward II compiled the largest ever army to invade Scotland. Despite being outnumbered by at least 2:1, facing probably the finest army of the medieval world with famed cavalry and being much less advanced in terms of weapons; Robert’s Scottish army handed a crushing defeat to the English. Edward II had to flee from the field and Robert the Bruce exchanged English nobles captured at Bannockburn with his family members.

Battle of Bannockburn Painting
A painting depicting the Battle of Bannockburn

 

#9 He won one of the most celebrated single contests

On the first day of the Battle of Bannockburn, an English cavalry spotted and charged towards a Scottish group. The Scottish king was present there and an English knight, Sir Henry de Bohun charged across the field on his war-horse to strike him. Robert Bruce stood his ground, dodged the lance and struck Bohun with his axe to split his head in two. This incident charged Bruce’s army for the battle and is one of the most celebrated single contests in Scottish history.

Robert the Bruce and Henry de Bohun Duel Painting
A depiction of the duel between Robert the Bruce and Henry de Bohun

 

#10 England was forced to recognize Bruce’s kingship before his death

In 1320, the Scottish nobility submitted the Declaration of Arbroath to Pope John XXII, declaring Bruce as their rightful monarch and Scotland as an independent kingdom. Four years later the Pope recognised Bruce as king of an independent Scotland. In 1327, England fell into crises after the deposition of Edward II. Bruce seized the moment launching an invasion of northern England. Hence Edward III was forced to make peace with Scotland and recognize Bruce’s kingship and Scotland’s independence. Robert the Bruce died a year later on 7 June 1329. Scotland remembers him as one of its greatest heroes.

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