Ewan J. Innes, MA(Hons Scot. Hist.) FSA Scot
Synopsis: This essay describes the political balance which Robert I had to manage while carrying on the war with England.
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It would seem to me that in order to prove or disprove the above statement we should
ask ourselves what the people who lived at the time thought of Robert I's attempts to
reconcile those Scots opposed to him. I think that we need only look at the title which
Bruce was given i.e. "Good King Robert" in order to see the results of this.
This title, which was used sparingly towards Scottish sovereigns, seems to have come from
the instinctive feeling that Bruce had achieved a certain rapport with the community of
the realm. This rapport was more secure and better established than any comparable
relationship which either his predecessors or successors experienced.
Bruce had to deal with rough and unruly noblemen many of whom did not go in awe of him;
he also had to try to manage churchmen who, while they might be his staunchest supporters,
owed allegiance to the church and its own monarchy, the papacy. His greatest challenge was
the management of the community of the realm, that inarticulate yet impalpable force which
had always to be reckoned with. It was wayward to lead, yet was impossible to drive. We
should look at his relations with these groups in turn in order to understand the problems
which faced him and the solutions by which his success should be measured. It is also the
case that Bruce dealt with all of these with a moderate and lenient style which impressed
itself upon his enemies both Scots and English.
From the very beginning of his reign Robert I was guided by the principle that there
would be no disinheriting of men and women who claimed land by hereditary right, provided
that they were prepared to swear allegiance to him and to come into his peace. This policy
lies behind the declaration in 1313 that those people who wished to hold their land must
swear fealty to the king by his next parliament in November 1314. From this date onward
men and women could no longer hold English land as well as their Scottish estates. For the
first time since the eleventh century landowners now had to chose whether to be Scottish
or English as they could not be both. Those 'disinherited' i.e. those who wished to enjoy
their Scottish estates while being subjects of the king of England or vice-versa, were
wisely left out of the peace negotiations in 1328.
The statement that "it was at least as important for Robert I to reconcile all
Scots as to defeat the English in battle" is of course absolutely true. However the
one could not go without the other. Bruce had as his first objective the defeat of the
English and their recognition of Scotland as a separate kingdom. Only then could he begin
to attempt to win support from all Scots.
It would seem obvious that Bruce would treat the Balliols and Comyns badly in order to
establish his authority. However, this is simply not the case with respect to the Comyns,
despite the murder of John Comyn. While both the king and his brother had harried and
overrun the earldom of Buchan in 1308, it was not the king's intention to destroy the
Comyn family entirely.
Although the earldom was dismembered, with half going to Margaret Comyn, daughter of
Alexander Comyn, brother to the king's irreconcilable enemy Earl John, and the other half
escheated to the crown because Margaret's sister Alice Comyn had become irretrievably
English in consequence of her marriage to Sir Henry Beaumont, Bruce did not fully use his
power as sovereign to destroy the wealth of the Comyn family. This enabled Bruce to grant
land to some of his faithful followers, with the Keiths getting the biggest share.
The Balliols were a different case, however. They would not accept Bruce as the
rightful king, as one of their own family had of course been king until being forced to
abdicate by King Edward I. Because of their refusal to swear fealty to Robert I the
Balliols were disinherited, (not all, Sir Henry Balliol submitted to Bruce and got the
lands of Branxholm) .This disinheritance was to be the cause of great trouble after the
death of Bruce in 1329 and during the minority of David II.
If we were to generalise on the distribution of lands by Robert I we find, roughly
speaking, that only those Scots who had no intention of becoming Bruce's subjects and
those Scotsmen who proved irreconcilable enemies had lands forfeited. Those families which
either never made peace or did so only temporarily included the MacDougalls of Lorn, the
MacDoualls of Galloway and the Moubrays. Bruce had no objection to granting lands in
Scotland to Englishmen so long as they left the English king's faith and entered into his
We also find that those people who gained substantially in land were few in number and
would undoubtedly have done so had there been no war and no forfeitures - most from the
king's own family. The most favoured among the king's kin were the Stewarts. With the
marriage of Walter Stewart to the king's then only legitimate child in 1315 the king
created, or at least established, the legacy of the royal house of Stewart.
On further looking into the confused amount of detail as regards the granting of land,
we find that there was a small group of specially trusted, indeed specially favoured men,
who although not related to the king ,were his counsellors and were prominent in the Royal
service, military, diplomatic and judicial. Some, like Sir James Douglas (only Randolph
surpassed him in terms of grants of land and power), had been the king's companions during
his period of adversity, while others had joined him at a later date and gained the king's
The last piece of the jigsaw, with respect to the nobles, is the relationship between
the nobles and their military service. Scotland stuck, unlike England, with the old
practice where military service was attached to the holding of land. The reason for this
must lie in the experience the king had of Scottish warfare. The so called feudal host of
Scotland could not, because of the relative poverty of the country, hold a place within
the Scottish military organisation comparable with that south of the border. The emphasis
shifted instead towards knights who would normally fight on foot and even more upon the
need for bowmen.
The role played by the church in the war of independence was crucial to the final
outcome. Edward II himself complained to the Pope in 1324 that it was the prelates of
Scotland who were responsible for the propagation of the war. It was not true however that
Bruce had the church behind him- indeed only three bishops attended his coronation at
Scone and it was to be some time (8-10 years in fact, see later notes) before he could
count on the support of the majority of the bishops equal to that which the leaders
between 1296 and 1304 had enjoyed.
It was always a problem for Robert I to have bishops installed who met with his
approval when he was faced with a hostile papacy. While there had been five bishoprics
appointed pre 1302, only one was appointed post 1302. The reason for this is simply that
the Scots had enjoyed a benevolent papacy during this time. Another problem for Bruce was
that the bishops of St. Andrews and Glasgow were in English hands. These bishoprics were
the richest and most powerful in the country, together making up half the population of
Scotland. This problem was further complicated by the refusal of the Pope to recognise any
candidate put up by King Robert for the bishopric of Glasgow on the death of Robert
Wishart . Only by bettering relations was this achieved. Thus for fifteen years King
Robert did not have a bishop in this important diocese upon whose support he could depend.
The situation with Bishop Lamberton of St. Andrews was somewhat better. He had been
imprisoned along with Wishart but had been given partial freedom in 1308 and acted under
duress as an English negotiator at the peace talks in 1309-10. He had however returned to
the Scots fold by 1312 and spent the rest of his life working prominently in public
affairs and in the administration of his diocese.
During the war of independence the church in Scotland produced several very able
members in both political and diplomatic terms. Indeed the members of the church formed a
close-knit group who often held offices in several dioceses at one time. This gave them
immense power over the people, and it is little wonder that the king should strive to have
clergy consecrated who would be favourable towards his cause.
At some point between Bannockburn and the death of Robert Wishart in 1316, a council of
the Scottish Church was held in order to symbolise the reconciliation of the entire bench
of bishops with Robert I. At the council, the St. Andrews manifesto (this supported
Bruce's claim to the throne and was first issued at the St. Andrews parliament of 1309),
was issued on behalf of all the bishops and, whatever their private feelings were, they
were now publicly ranged solidly behind King Robert. The principle architect of this and
indeed many other acts of defiance towards the Pope, including the Declaration of
Arbroath, was the king's chancellor Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath. Indeed he was possibly the
main organiser of the process by which the clergy in Scotland presented a united,
patriotic front to the papacy, England and the other nations in the Christian world.
The final aspect to be considered is the relationship between the king and the
community of the realm. Bruce had, as his first task, to ensure the perpetuation of the
Royal house. There was not much point in restoring the monarchy if this was not done. Even
so, it was not until the Ayr parliament in 1315 that the whole question was decided. It
was agreed that, with Marjorie Bruce's consent, the crown would pass to the King's brother
Edward if the king should die without leaving any legitimate male heirs . Marjorie would
then only succeed to the throne if both Robert I and Edward Bruce died without male heirs.
However, bad luck beset the king in his attempts at settling the succession. His first
marriage lasted about six years, the only child Marjorie dying in 1317. His second
marriage was also beset by problems because of the enforced separation while the queen was
captive in English hands. There were however four children born from this marriage, two
boys and two girls. David,who was born just 5 years before Bruce's death, became the only
surviving male heir, as the other boy had died in childhood.
With the deaths of Marjorie Bruce in 1316 and of Edward Bruce in 1318 at the battle of
Dundalk, new arrangements were necessary. Marjorie, through her marriage to Walter
Stewart, had left a son, Robert Stewart. The new arrangements were that Robert should
succeed the king if he died without a male heir. The guardianship would once again pass to
Thomas Randolph if the heir were a minor.
The succession was only one of the king's duties towards the community; another was
good and efficient administration. King Robert, who claimed to be the successor of
Alexander III, strove to reintroduce Alexandrian systems of Government, and the systems of
sheriffs and sheriffdom continued with little alteration and the creation of only one new
There was much legislation introduced by the king at his many Parliaments, dealing with
property, military service, and to some extent criminal law. The greatest changes were
made in property law, while criminal law underwent very little change. The last type of
legislation dealing with military service was only introduced because of the period of
prolonged military action and set out what each man had to have in respect of arms.
Legislation was also introduced which laid out rules by which armies were to requisition
food, and the export of goods and money.
While there was to be no crisis as severe as that of Bannockburn for Bruce and the
community to face, the relationship between the king and his lieges and the papacy was at
least as decisive. 1320 was a year which was almost as decisive as 1314 with respect to
the papacy. The Pope's anger was at its greatest during 1319 and 1320 due to Edward II's
interference in Scottish Church affairs and his determination to have Bishop Lamberton
removed. This led to the letter from the community of the realm to the Pope which set out
their support for King Robert I and has become more usually known as the Declaration of
This letter is I feel the final peace of evidence needed in order to prove that
"it was at least as important for Robert I to reconcile all Scots to his rule as to
defeat the English in battle". It was an expression of national unity from an
admittedly divided baronage, even with the mystery surrounding the de Soules plot which
came to light only a few months after the sending of the letter.
Ewan Innes, January 7 1990