Ewan J. Innes, MA(Hons Scot. Hist.) FSA Scot
Synopsis: This essay summarizes the history of the Scottish Wars of Independence up to 1329.
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The man behind that rebellion was Robert Bruce, earl of Carrick, and now
lord of Annandale. The death of Bruce's father had left him the claim to
the throne, a claim he now determined to take on forcibly.
To put Robert Bruce into perspective, we should perhaps look at him in a
little detail. The Bruce family had ties both north and south of the
border. The abbey of Guisborough in Northumberland was a Bruce
foundation. Bruce "the competitor" was involved a great deal with the
English court and held extensive lands in England. he acted as a
justiciar for Edward in the north of England. His son also was involved
in the English court and was keeper of Carlisle castle for a while. The
young Robert Bruce was brought up at Edward's court and had extensive
knowledge of it and was also a favorite of Edward. However, he was also
an angry young man feeling that his family had been deprived the
crown of Scotland. In the early years of the rebellion, Bruce was in
many ways hamstrung by both a desire to fight for Scotland, and also
well aware that the fight was being carried out in the name of Balliol.
He, along with most Scottish nobles, changed sides on more than one
occasion depending upon how the wind blew.
By early 1306, however things had changed. He was now the head of his
family and therefore did not have any ties to prevent him claiming the
throne for himself. In addition, he was faced with a crisis. While in
London, news reached him that John Comyn, lord of Badenoch, had let
Edward know of a plot that Bruce was hatching to claim the throne.
Bruce received a few minutes warning and fled to Scotland. In a church in
Dumfries, Bruce met Comyn, argued with him and then killed him at the
alter. This act changed things dramatically, he was left with no option
but to claim the throne as quickly as possible, and then deal with the
Comyn wrath as king.
He rushed to Scone, passing by Glasgow to be absolved for the
sacrilegious murder of Comyn. he was hurriedly crowned at Scone and
shortly after defeated by a small English force at Methven, outside
Perth. Sending his wife and sister north, Bruce fled West with the
remains of his small army. He was defeated again by Lame John MacDougall at Dal Righ in Argyll, and fled to the isles.
Where Bruce spent the winter of 1306/7 is unknown. Any island from
Rathlin to Orkney has been said to be the location. It is probable that
we should look at a Hebridean location for this sojourn. Probably in the
lands of Angus Og MacDonald, certainly his wife and sister were
attempting to flee for a boat when the were captured at Kildrummy castle
The situation was bleak for the new king, his kingdom was overrun by
English troops, moreover the north of the country was very hostile to
him. Over the winter, plans were laid for the new year.
1307 brought the turning point in Scotland's fight for independence.
Bruce landed at Turnberry, to discover the area overrun with English
soldiers. A group of troops under his younger brothers were captured and
beheaded. Then, a stroke of genius. At Loudon hill in Lanarkshire, Bruce
defeated a large troop of English soldiers. Edward in an extremely
angry mood order an army put together for a campaign to put down Bruce.
Edward was however ill, the army marched north but never made it to
Scotland. Edward died on the Solway cursing the Scots. He ordered his
body boiled and the bones taken with the army. His son, now Edward II
took the more pragmatic view and marched south again.
Bruce was now free to deal with his enemies within Scotland. A battle on
the slopes of Ben Cruachan in Argyll put paid to any involvement from
the MacDougalls and then it was the turn of the Comyns.
During the later part of 1307 and into 1308, the lands of the Comyns in
Buchan and Badenoch were raided, burnt and generally destroyed. The
Comyns were then forfeited and their lands granted out to Bruce
supporters. By the new year, Bruce was in undisputed control of
Scotland, now he could turn his hand to riding it of the English. In
this he was aided by the ineptitude, disinterest and political problems
of Edward II. There was no effective English invasion of Scotland until
1314. By which time the only castles in English hands were Stirling and
Stirling was, due to an agreement with the garrison, to be surrendered by
midsummer 1314. The English got round to putting an army together,
advanced to Stirling and were annihilated by Bruce and an army 1/3 of
the size. Scotland was to all intents and purposes free.
It would be 1329 before this was finally admitted to by the English
king. However, when the news came that the English had agreed that
Scotland was free and Scottish kings could be anointed, Bruce was dead.
He had achieved more in his reign than many others had. He had united a
realm behind him. From now on there would be no conflict of loyalties
between Scots who held land on both sides of the border. After 1318, all
Scots landholders had to decide which lands they wanted and swear fealty
to the relevant king. If they wanted their Scottish lands then they
forfeited their English lands and vice-versa.
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