Robert the Bruce (King Robert I)

Perhaps as famous, if not moreso than the legendary Sir William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, ancestor of Scottish king David I, famously used a mixture of guerrilla tactics and a revolutionary transformation of the Scottish schiltron (from a stationary to a manoeuvrable unit) to exact a decisive victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, winning sovereign independence for his nation.

Likely born at Turnberry Castle on the Carrick (or Ayrshire) coast, Bruce was the progeny of the Lords of Annandale, and would later be given the title (gained through his mother’s family) of the Earl of Carrick. Following his oath of fealty to Edward I, as recorded in the Ragman Rolls of 1296, the twenty-two-year-old Bruce broke from his father’s wishes and joined the rebellion against King Edward in 1297. Leaving his father, 6th Lord of Annandale in Carlisle, Bruce marched north to Annandale, his ancestral home, and there mustered those locals loyal to him. He is believed to have said: “No man holds his own flesh and blood in hatred, and I am no exception. I must join my own people and the nation in which I was born. I ask that you please come with me and you will be my councillors and close comrades.” It is easy to imagine those families of Annandale, such as the Johnstones and Maxwells who would later gain such renown as fearsome reivers, listening intently to the news of Robert’s return. In 1298, following Sir William Wallace’s defeat at the Battle of Falkirk, Robert the Bruce assumed guardianship of Scotland, alongside his long-time political rival, John Comyn. Neither could set aside their differences, however, and on 10th February 1306 Bruce met and murdered John Comyn inside the Chapel of the Greyfriars Monastery in Dumfries.

Though crowned King of Scotland just six weeks after the murder, Bruce was nevertheless excommunicated, and following defeat at the Battle of Methven, was forced to flee (perhaps to Ireland, the Hebrides, or Orkney, and perhaps to one cave in particular, in which a spider, patiently weaving its web, is said to have inspired Bruce in his bid for independence). Robert later returned to Scotland, bent on fighting the English, and this time coming out victorious.

Alongside his close-confidant Sir James Douglas, ‘the Good’ and ‘the Black’, Bruce embarked upon a guerrilla-style campaign to recapture Scotland’s strongholds, and regain the allegiance and trust of its nobility. This included Douglas’ famous siege of Roxburgh Castle in 1314, in which, his men apparently dressed as cows, Douglas stole over the castle walls by cover of darkness, surprising the English garrison there, and retaking the strategically-important stronghold for his country. That same year, further north, on the fields of Bannock Burn, Bruce won a pitched-battle victory against the English, essentially securing the end to England’s occupation of Scotland, and leading in time to the granting of Scotland’s independence.

With relation to the Borders, the Bruce granted part of Branxholme to Walter Comyn and the rest to Henry Baliol in 1307. He also split the Barony of Wilton between Gilbert Maxwell and Henry Wardlaw around the same time. He granted part of Kirkborthwick to William Barbour, and moved it from Roxburghshire to Selkirkshire. Later in life, the old king visited Jedburgh at least once: he granted a charter there in 1329. His heart was carried on crusade by his friend Sir James Douglas, and following Douglas’ death was reputedly returned to Scotland and buried under the chancel’s east window at Melrose Abbey.