Medieval Scotland – a more perilous place would be hard to imagine!
There are so many layers and convolutions to the polarizing events of the late 13th and early 14th centuries that to offer even a modest précis erodes clarity and drama from such intricate and calamitous times. I must confess to being stymied by such a task and can offer only a loose sketch to set the scene for the forthcoming interviews with Robert and his sisters. For a more robust and detailed account, delve into Professor Barrow’s esteemed work on Robert the Bruce.
Some describe the Scottish Wars of Independence as a civil war between the powerful Bruce and Comyn families. Could it be that simple? I suspect not, but tempers were frayed by conflicting interests and volcanic personalities, and kinship links offered security and survival.
Let’s pick up the story…
Were the Bruces Anglo-Norman interlopers as is so often suggested? This claim seems wide of the mark for the Bruces had lived in Scotland for many generations, having befriended King David I and been given lands in Scotland’s southwest. Certainly, they were cross-border lords who owned estates both in Scotland and England, as many nobles did, and carried out high-level, administrative functions for both countries in times of peace. The family descended from David I and thus Robert’s grandfather could put forward his case to be King of Scots with confidence. But his rival claimant was John Balliol, kinsman of the Comyns – mortal enemies of the Bruce family.
Enter King Edward I of England…
He chose Balliol’s stronger legal claim over Bruce, thus igniting the fuse: simmering unrest and division followed. Robert’s father and grandfather refused to support Balliol for they deemed him a poor choice for king and no match for the fiery Edward. Balliol took the Bruce lands for his Comyn kinfolk and the Bruces were forced out of their rightful place in Scottish society. Doubt surrounded the English king’s motives: perhaps a divided Scotland, weakened by internal dissent, would best serve his interests. In time, he defeated the Scots in battle at Falkirk and executed Sir William Wallace most cruelly. More battles! More defeat! And the people of Berwick lay dead in their thousands. Later, Edward stripped King John Balliol of his royal powers and imprisoned him in the Tower, already heaving with Scottish prisoners.
The ancient Kingdom of Scots became a dominion of England, similar to Wales, crushed by the relentless might of a much larger, better-equipped and well-organized foe. Englishmen filled the castles and towns of Scotland and ran the country.
The stage was set for a new rebellion.
Enter Robert the Bruce…