Chapter II; King Robert the Bruce, 1306-1315, 9 years, pp.13-26.

[History of Scotland Contents]

Revolt of Robert Bruce, his flight to Scotland, and murder of Comyn,               1306
Battle of Methven,                                                                                                       1306
The fight with the Comyns at Loch Awe,                                                                   1306
Bruce passes from Rathlin to Ayrshire, and takes Turnberry Castle,                    1307
The Battle of Loudon Hill,                                                                                           1307
Edward I. dies at Burgh-on-Sands,                                                                            1307
Siege of Stirling by Edward Bruce,                                                                             1313
Battle of Bannockburn,                                                                                                 1314

   1.  After the death of Wallace, Scotland seemed so completely subdued that Edward took steps to incorporate it with England, and Scotsmen of the highest rank in church and state were selected to represent their country in the English parliament. Twelve years of war, however, had made such a union impracticable. The English king was preparing for a parliament of the two nations to meet at Carlisle, and was intending by a conciliatory party to reconcile the Scots to his rule, when one morning in the beginning of February, 1306, less than six months after the death of Wallace, it was announced that Robert Bruce had left the English court, and set off for Scotland.

   2.  Bruce had all along regarded himself as the rightful heir to the Scottish crown. He was seventeen years old when his grandfather had pleaded his claim against Baliol, and had, doubtless, ever since, cherished the hope of one day winning his kingdom. Policy made him swear fealty to the English king and even bear arms against his countrymen, but his vacillating conduct showed that he never was reconciled to spend his life in meek submission.

    3.  After the abdication of Baliol, the nearest heir to the throne was the Red Comyn. He was the son of Marjory, John Baliol’s sister, and of that Comyn who had been a competitor with Bruce and Baliol for the crown. He and Bruce entered into an agreement by which Comyn was to receive Bruce’s lands, and, in return, was to aid Bruce in obtaining the crown. This compact Comyn betrayed to Edward. The English king at the same time got into his hands a bond entered into between Bruce and Lamberton, bishop of St. Andrews, for mutual aid and protection. As Lamberton had been a zealous supporter of Wallace, Edward might well be suspicious as to the aim of such a bond. Edward took the bishop to task about the document, and on the same day, when heated with wine, gave utterance to a threat which showed that Bruce’s life was in danger. A friend of Bruce, the Earl of Gloucester, warned him by sending him a purse of money and a pair of spurs. Bruce fled accompanied by two followers. There was snow on the ground, and, to baffle any attempt to track them, they had their horses’ shoes reversed, so that the footmarks might seem those of horses on their way to London. In their flight they met a messenger on his way to Edward, with more dangerous papers from Comyn. This messenger they slew, and Bruce thus possessed himself of the proofs of Comyn’s treachery.

    4.  At Dumfries Bruce and Comyn met alone in the church of the greyfriars, where Bruce charged Comyn with his treachery. “You lie,” said Comyn, whereupon Bruce in his passion stabbed him with his dagger. Horrified at having shed blood in so sacred place, he rushed forth and called “To horse!” Lindsay and Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, two of his followers, seeing his agitation, asked the cause. “I doubt,” said Bruce, “I have slain the Comyn.” “Do you doubt,” said Kirkpatrick, “I mak siccar.” He accordingly ran into the church and slew the wounded man. Bruce and his party thereafter attacked the place where the English judges were holding an assize. They surrendered, and were driven across the Border.

    5.  The die was cast. Bruce must now win his kingdom or perish in the attempt. Quickly to every hut and hamlet as well as to every village and town sped the news that a successful attack had again been made upon the English invaders. Those of the English who were not protected by fortifications hurried out of the country. Bruce immediately made his own castle of Lochmaben his headquarters. This and other strong places of his, and especially his castle of Kildrummy in Aberdeenshire, were garrisoned and strengthened to resist the foe.

    6.  From Lochmaben he proceeded to Scone, and in the Chapel Royal there, on the 27th of March, 1306, six weeks after the slaughter of Comyn, he was crowned King of Scots. The Stone of Destiny was wanting, and a chaplet of gold had to serve for a crown. It was the right and privilege of the clan Macduff to place the crown on the heads of the Scottish kings at their coronation. The chief of the clan did not come forward to perform the ceremony for Bruce; but his sister, Isabella, the Countess of Buchan, hastened to Scone and discharged the duty.

   7.  Edward was at Winchester when he heard of these events. He was now an old man of sixty-five, but, though sick and bent by care, he at once took steps to put down the revolt. His rage knew no bounds. He issued an ordinance that all who were in arms against him should be pursued and taken dead or alive, that all who gave shelter to persons in arms should be hanged and beheaded, and that all who were concerned in the death of Comyn should be drawn and hanged. He got a bull from the pope authorizing the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Carlisle to excommunicate Bruce by “Bell, Book and Candle.” Though unable to march with his army, he caused himself to be carried northwards in a litter. His movements were necessarily slow, but he sent Pembroke on before with an army, to crush the revolt before it could gather strength.

    8.  It was early in the summer of 1306 when he set out, but it was March. 1307, before he arrived at Carlisle. Pembroke meanwhile had marched rapidly to Scotland with his army and posted himself strongly at Perth. Bruce approached too near with his little band and was attacked and defeated at Methven on June 19th, 1306. It is said that on this occasion Bruce had challenged Pembroke, that Pembroke had replied that he would fight him on the morrow, and that the Scots, trusting to this promise, undid their armour and were preparing for rest when Pembroke suddenly attacked and routed them.

   9.  After this, the Scottish king with a few faithful followers had to take refuge in the Highlands. At Dalry, near Tyndrum, not far from Loch Awe, they were pursued by John of Lorn, a relation of the Comyn that was slain at Dumfries, who with a thousand followers hemmed in the king and his party and attacked them in a narrow defile. Bruce made a skilful retreat. He caused his followers to go on before him, while he now and again turned on his enemies and beat them back. Two brothers, on this occasion, who had sworn to take his life, watched with a comrade till the retreating party had to pass between the lake and its steep bank, where the path was so narrow that Bruce could not turn his horse. There they sprang upon the king. One seized the bridle and was instantly cut down. Another got his hands between the stirrup and the boot and tried by heaving up the king’s foot to unhorse him. A third leaped up behind and grasped the king to assist in unhorsing him. Bruce stood straight up in his stirrups, and twisting himself round, cleft the skull of the Highlander behind him and then cut down the other who was dragging at his stirrup.

   10.  As the winter was approaching, Bruce sent his queen and her ladies under charge of his brother, Nigel, to his castle of Kildrummy, while he, with Sir James Douglas and other followers, made for the western coast, till they reached the headland of Cantyre, whence they sailed to the isle of Rathlin, off the coast of Ireland. Here Bruce spent the winter of 1306-1307.

   11.  During his absence his brother Nigel and other friends, who aided him in the defence of Kildrummy, were forced to surrender. They were sent in chains to Berwick and hanged. The queen and her daughter, Majory, who had taken refuge in the sanctuary of St. Duthac, in Ross-shire, were dragged thence by the Earl of Ross and sent to an English prison. Two sisters of Bruce were also imprisoned.

   12.  The Countess of Buchan was exposed to the scorn or the pity of passers-by, in a cage suspended from one of the outer turrets of the walls of Berwick.

   13.  Bruce had so effectually concealed himself in Rathlin that many supposed he was dead; but in the spring of 1307 he passed over to Arran, and thence to Carrick, where he took from the English his own castle of Turnberry. A strong English force made him, however, take refuge in the mountainous district of Ayrshire. There he was pursued by the men of Galloway, against two hundred of whom he defended himself in a narrow pass at a ford, and killed many of them before the noise of his followers, coming to his rescue, caused them to retreat. Pembroke and John of Lorn also went in quest of him in the same district. On one occasion, when attacked by the English in front and by the men of Lorn in the rear, his little band dispersed and fled in small parties. Lorn, however, had a bloodhound which once belonged to the king. This animal followed his track by scent until the king and his companion waded down a running stream, and thus were enabled to retreat in safety. and reach the place where at parting he had agreed to meet his followers. That very night he surprised the advanced post of the English and slew about a hundred of them.

   14.  Bruce soon reduced Carrick, Kyle, and Cunningham, and Pembroke retired to Carlisle, whence he returned with a fresh army of 3000 men, mostly horsemen. The Scottish king met him at Loudon Hill on May 10th, 1307. Bruce formed his men into squares and gallantly repulsed the heavy English cavalry, inflicting on them a total defeat. This was the beginning of his victorious career.

   15.  King Edward by this time had reached Carlisle, and thinking his health improved he hung up his litter in the cathedral, and once more mounted his war-horse. He reached Burgh-on-the-Sands in sight of Scotland, and there died on the 7th of July, 1307. When near his end he gave orders that his flesh should be stripped from his bones, and that these should be carried before the English army till Scotland was subdued. His son did not carry out his wishes, but caused him to be buried in Westminster, and put this inscription on his tomb, “Here lie the hammer of the Scots.”

   16.  It was fortunate for Bruce and for Scotland that Edward I. died at this juncture, and left as his successor a prince who had neither the strong will nor the military talents of his father. Edward II., after marching as far as Cumnock, in Ayrshire, led back his army to England. Bruce now made rapid progress in driving out the English and in compelling the few Scottish nobles that were opposed to him to submit to his authority. Comyn, Earl of Buchan, made a stand against him, and met him at Inverury on the Don. Bruce, though sick at the time, mounted his war-horse, and scattered his enemies. He afterwards declared that the excitement of victory had restored his health.

   17.  The English garrisons were soon driven out of the chief strongholds. Randolph captured Edinburgh. Douglas took Roxburgh and his own castle of Douglas. Linlithgow was taken by a countryman named Binnock. Bruce himself took the castles of Aberdeen and Perth. Dundee, Rutherglen, and Dumfries also fell into the hands of the Scots. The fortresses were generally destroyed, because Bruce could not spare men to garrison them.

   18.  In 1309, by the advice of the King of France, Edward II. agreed to a truce with the Scots. But the English king had soon to complain that they broke the truce. Peace was not desired by them so long as the English had a footing in Scotland. They made more than one raid into England, and on one occasion penetrated as far as Durham, where they did much mischief.

   19.  At last, in 1313, a crisis came. When all the other fortresses had fallen, Stirling Castle still held out. Edward Bruce, the king’s brother, besieged it in the autumn of 1313, and Mowbray, the governor, fearing famine, prevailed on him to agree to a treaty, by which it was stipulated that the castle should be surrendered if not relieved by an English army before the 24th of June next year. King Robert was displeased when he heard of this agreement, but for the sake of his brother’s honour resolved to abide by it.

   20.  When the English heard of the treaty they felt in honour bound to relieve Stirling Castle. Edward II. roused himself to make a great effort for its relief and the reconquest of Scotland. He raised an army of 100,000 men. Of these 10,000 were cavalry splendidly mounted. With confident anticipations of victory, he marched into Scotland at the head of this mighty host. Bruce knew that he must meet them in front of Stirling Castle, and there accordingly, with great skill, he drew up his little army of 30,000 men. On the right his position was protected by the Bannock Burn. His front extended to the village of St. Ninians, and his left wing stretched away towards the town of Stirling. There was in this direction a level tract through which cavalry might pass to the gate of Stirling Castle. In this tract Bruce caused many rows of pits to be dug, in which were placed pointed stakes, and these pits were so covered that the ground seemed solid. On the 23d of June, 1314, the English army was seen advancing in splendid array. Countless banners were flying. and the burnished steel armour of thousands of horsemen glittered in the summer sun.

   21.  Bruce had taken up a position at a spot now called the Borestone, where his standard was planted, and whence he could scan the whole of the battle-ground. It was the duty of the king’s nephew, Randolph, to protect the approach to Stirling, and this duty needed to be discharged with peculiar care, for if the English could relieve the castle, the primary object for which they came would have been accomplished. They might then have moved elsewhere, and not have been compelled to fight the Scots in their strong position.

   22.  When the English host was only two miles from the Scottish army Lord Clifford advanced with a detachment of 800 horsemen, and under cover of some gravelly knolls was, unseen by Randolph, stealthily trying to get past the left wing of the Scottish army so as to reach the castle. Bruce, however, from his higher position, saw the movement, pointed it out to Randolph, and rebuked him for his negligence, saying, “Oh! Randolph, a rose has fallen from your chaplet.” Stung by the reproof, Randolph, by a rapid movement, soon placed a small band of 500 spearmen in the way of the English horsemen. Clifford’s squadron, with spears in rest, charged them at full gallop, but Randolph’s men, formed in a square, with spears pointing forth like the prickles of a hedgehog, firmly withstood the shock, killed many of the English horse, and unhorsed their riders. The English cavalry tried to surround the spearmen, and for a time it seemed as if Randolph’s little band would be beaten. Douglas, with the reluctant consent of Bruce, was moving to the rescue, when he saw that the spearmen were winning the day. He then checked his advance, that Randolph might have all the honour of victory, and soon the English horsemen were seen retreating in confusion to the main army.

   23.  King Robert, mounted on a small horse with his battle-axe in his hand, and distinguished by a circlet of gold above his steel helmet, was riding along in front of his own line, when Henry De Bohun, an English knight, armed at all points, and mounted on a heavy war-horse, galloped forward to attack him. De Bohun doubtless thought to kill the king, and by a single blow decide the fate of Scotland. Bruce, under the circumstances, might, with honour, have retired and avoided the encounter; but to the astonishment of all, he spurred his pony forward to meet his assailant. There was a moment of terrible suspense. On came the English knight in full career, but the king by a sudden movement parried the spear, and standing up in his stirrups, with one blow of his battle-axe cleft helmet of steel and skull in two, and laid his foe dead at his feet. The king was blamed by his followers for so rashly risking his own life and the safety of the army. To their censure he made no answer, but seemed like one mourning over his battle-axe, the shaft of which had been broken in two.

   24.  The defeat of the attempt to succour Stirling Castle, and the death of De Bohun, filled the Scots with hope, but sent a feeling of apprehension through the English army.

Blackie's History of Scotland (1881) p22

   25.  At daybreak, on the 24th of June, both armies prepared for battle. When the van of the English army had approached within bowshot of the Scots, the Abbot of Inchaffray, barefooted, and holding aloft a crucifix, was seen to walk slowly along the line, and as he passed the Scots knelt down and prayed for a moment. “See,” cried Edward, “they are kneeling, they ask mercy.” “They do,” said Umfraville, a Scottish baron in the English service, “but it is from God, not from us. These men will win the day or die upon the field.” “Be it so,” said Edward, and commanded the charge to be sounded. The Scots were drawn up in squares, bristling with spears, to receive the attack of the heavy English cavalry. They were at first dreadfully galled by the English bowmen, but Bruce caused his small reserve of cavalry to disperse the archers. Then it was a contest between Scottish spearmen and English horsemen. Firm as a rock stood the squares of infantry against the repeated charges of the cavalry. Back from each onset on these squares, bristling with spear-points, recoiled the English battalions. The knights, whose horses were stabbed and rendered furious by their wounds, were thrown from their saddles. At every attempt to break the Scottish squares the English lost more men and horses. The English lines began to waver, and the Scots were pressing forward with increasing vigour, when, on the crest of a hill that lay in the rear of the Scottish army, there appeared a number of camp-followers who had gone up to see the battle, and who, with sheets elevated on poles to look like flags, and loud shouts, endeavoured to encourage their countrymen. These camp-followers or Gillies (from whom the hill on which they appeared was afterwards called the Gillies’ Hill) were mistaken for a fresh army of Scots, and filled the English army with dismay. They broke into utter confusion. The flight became general, and the slaughter was terrible. The horsemen, who had avoided the pitted field in their advance, were driven into it in their retreat, and there they floundered and fell, and were either captured or slain. Thirty thousand Englishmen were left dead on the field. Of the Scots there fell not more than 4000. The English king, with 500 knights who rallied round him, fled at full gallop to Dunbar, where the earl of March provided him with a fishing-boat in which he escaped to England.

   26.  An enormous amount of valuable booty, and many noble captives, fell into the hands of the Scots. The spoil, in the shape of money, armour, golden vessels, and costly vestments, has been valued at nearly three millions of our present money [in 1881 – in 2020 this is the equivalent of £363,269,157.]

   27.  King Robert caused the dead to be reverently buried, and treated his captives with great kindness and courtesy. In exchange for the Earl of Hereford, who after the battle had taken refuge in Bothwell Castle, where he capitulated to Edward Bruce, the king got back his wife and daughter, who had been prisoners in England for eight years, his sister Christian, Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, and the young Earl of Mar. Among the prisoners was a Carmelite friar whom Edward had brought to see the battle, and celebrate his anticipated victory. Him Bruce compelled as the price of his ransom to celebrate the victory of the Scots, which he did in a poem that is still preserved. On the day after the battle Mowbray delivered up Stirling Castle to the Scots, and entered into the service of the King of Scotland.

   Summary. – After the death of Wallace Scotland seemed completely subdued, and Edward was taking steps to incorporate the two kingdoms when, in the beginning of 1306, Robert Bruce left the English court. He and Comyn had entered into an agreement for the delivery of Scotland, but Comyn betrayed the design to Edward. Bruce met Comyn at Dumfries, charged him with treachery, and stabbed him. Soon after he went to Scone, where he was crowned. Edward was in a rage when he heard of Bruce’s doings. He raised an army and set out for Scotland. As he was old and infirm, and unable to march quickly, he sent Pembroke on before him with an army to put down the revolt. Pembroke defeated Bruce at Methven in June, 1306. The Scottish king and his followers took refuge in the Highlands, where they were pursued by the men of Lorn. Bruce then sent his queen and her ladies, under his brother Nigel, to Kildrummy, in Aberdeenshire, but this castle was taken by the English during the winter. Meanwhile Bruce concealed himself in Rathlin, off the coast of Ireland. In the spring of 1307 he landed in Ayrshire, where, after taking his castle of Turnberry from Pembroke, he had to take refuge among the hills. After being pursued and hunted with bloodhound, he raised an army and defeated Pembroke at Loudon Hill in May, 1307. Edward, meanwhile, was approaching Scotland, but he died at Burgh-on-Sands, leaving his son, Edward II., to carry out his designs. Edward II. had not the capacity of his father. He proceeded as far as Cumnock, in Ayrshire, and then led back his army to England. Bruce and his followers employed the next six years in driving the English out of the Scottish strongholds. Edward Bruce, in 1313, laid siege to Stirling Castle, the last important fortress unrecovered. Mowbray, the governor, entered into a treaty with him by which it was stipulated that the castle would be surrendered if it were not relieved before the 24th of June the next year. The English raised an army of 100,000 men to relieve Stirling. Bruce collected a force of 30,000 to oppose them. He posted his little army at Bannockburn, where, on the 24th of June, 1314, he completely defeated the English, and took immense spoil and many prisoners.

   Questions:- What did Edward try to do after the death of Wallace? What put an end to his designs? Why did Bruce leave the English court? Relate the manner of his escape. Give an account of the death of Comyn and of Bruce’s coronation. What did King Edward do when he heard of these events? Give an account of the battle of Methven, with date. What happened to Brice and his friends during the winter of 1306-1307? Relate the king’s adventures in the spring of 1307. Describe the death of Edward I. and the subsequent doings of Bruce till 1313. What treaty led to the battle of Bannockburn? Give a brief account of the attempt to relieve Stirling Castle, the encounter with De Bohun, and the Battle of Bannockburn. What booty did the Scots obtain? What did king Robert do after the battle?
com-plete’-ly, wholly. sur-ren’-dered, gave up.
re-pre-sent’, to act for. for-ti-fi-ca’-tion, stronghold.
con-cil’-i-a-tor-y, kindly, winning. gar’-risoned, provided with soldiers for defence.
re-con-cile, to make content with. priv’-i-lege, particular right.
cher’-ished, fostered. ex-com-mu’-ni-cate, to deprive of church privileges.
feal’-ty, faithfulness. chal’-lenged, asked to fight.
sub-mis’-sion, obedience. sanc’-tuar-y, a sacred place of refuge.
ab-di-ca’-tion, giving up a crown or office. sus-pend’-ed, hung up.
mu’-tu-al, giving and receiving. dis-persed’, scattered.
treach’-er-y, faithlessness. ex-cite’-ment, strong feeling.
pen’-e-trat-ed, entered. an-tic-i-pa’-tion, thinking of beforehand.
dis-charged’, done. ac-com’-plished, finished.
re-luc’-tant, unwilling. en-coun’-ter, meeting.
par’-ried, turned aside. re-coiled’, fell back.
vest’-ments, robes, dresses. ca-pit’-u-lat-ed, yielded on conditions.
as-size’, county court.
Carlisle’, a town in Cumberland. 
St. Andrews, a city, and university town in Fife. 
Dumfries’, county-town of Dumfriesshire. 
Lochmā’ben, town and castle in Dumfriesshire. 
Buch’an, a district in the north of Aberdeen and Banff shires. 
Win’chester, a town in Hampshire. 
Meth’ven, a village 6 miles from Perth. 
Dalry, a locality on the western border of Perthshire, near Tyndrum and Loch Awe in Argyleshire. 
Kildrum’my, a castle in Aberdeenshire, on the Don. 
Car’rick, Kyle, and Cun’ningham, the southern, middle, and northern divisions of Ayrshire. 
Gal’loway, a district comprehending the counties of Wigtown and Kirkcudbright. 
Lorn, a part of Argyleshire. 
Lou’don Hill, between the counties of Ayr and Lanark. 
Dou’glas, a village and castle in Lanarkshire. 
Ruth’erglen, in Lanarkshire, near Glasgow. 
Dundee’, in Forfarshire, on the Frith of Tay. 
Inchaff’ray, a village in the parish of Madderty, Perthshire. 
Both’well Castle, on the Clyde, near Hamilton, in Lanarkshire.