ROBERT the BRUCE – Hero or Villain?

Today the spotlight is on Robert the Bruce. Naturally, he holds a prominent role in my story about his sisters, and it is through their eyes that we see him grow into manhood and his role as king.

As a novelist, I love to speculate on the driving force behind a character’s actions, to imagine the joys and sorrows, the gnawing fear and towering aspirations. I’m not an historian, but many facts about Robert the Bruce are well-known and therefore open to discussion and debate; his actions are best measured, not against our values and beliefs, but within the rich context of his time.

Let’s dive head-first into the murky waters of betrayal! So often the memory of Robert the Bruce is sullied by claims that he was a wily betrayer ─ of King John Balliol; William Wallace; the Scots’ nation; the murdered John Comyn the Red. And let’s not forget, Robert’s second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, and the fact that he had at least one mistress, during Elizabeth’s eight years of imprisonment, who bore him children. Other crimes railed against him include the savage treatment of his enemies ─ the brutal harrowing of Comyn lands and people in Galloway and in the north east ─ and the ill-famed invasion of Ireland.

Was he a selfish, murdering bastard who cared for nought but himself and the aggrandizement of his family’s interests? The answer comes as a resounding ‘Yes!’ on the part of his critics. But let’s take a step backwards and reflect, in a summary of sorts, on the context of Robert’s life and his character, and see where that takes us. In a roundabout way, in time, it will lead us to his sisters, for his decisions catapulted them into grave danger. No doubt they, too, cursed him when their spirits were raw.

  •  Robert the Bruce was truly a flawed hero: the best kind from a literary point of view. He was a living, breathing man who made mistakes and sought to rectify them. He had to out-maneuver his enemies ─ not least the great Edward 1 and all the might and power of the English, as well as his enemies amongst the Scots ─ with few resources but his wits and an indomitable band of loyal supporters. His choices were simple, despite their innate complexity. ‘Adapt or Perish’ might have been his motto. His courage and persistence have never been doubted.  
  • Medieval Scotland was not the country it is today, to state the obvious. Back then, its nationhood was in a state of flux, fractured by competing interests and beliefs. The ‘Celtic highlands versus the Anglo-Norman faction’ is much too simple a dichotomy ─ ‘the ragged poor versus the self-indulgent rich’, too shallow ─ for these reflect our one-dimensional perspective of hindsight. Suffice to say, Robert the Bruce was critical, in propelling Scotland forward towards its current sense of identity. If William Wallace was Scotland’s conscience, then Robert the Bruce was its grit and determination: some might even say its heart and soul.
  • Robert was under the pump, but the punishment came so cruelly – the deaths of three of his brothers; his womenfolk incarcerated; the loss of lands and title, home and hearth, and his health suffered. Sympathy tilted his way. In true Judeo-Christian tradition, Robert was punished for his ‘so-called’ misdemeanors. And his detractors cheered!
  • And then the epiphany, Robert metamorphosed into ‘Good King Robert 1 of Scotland’.  It has been said that the best judge of a man’s character is how he deals with power. During his solid reign of twenty three years, Robert brought Scotland from its oppressed state, via a second war with England, to freedom from physical, political, economic and social chaos. No mean feat, but his detractors put this down to storytellers of the day paid to ‘spin’ out the bad and replace it with good.

Amidst this medieval morality tale, who was the real Robert the Bruce? My novel seeks to follow Robert’s path in all its vivid, compelling complexity. You, the reader, must reach your own conclusions.

2 thoughts on “ROBERT the BRUCE – Hero or Villain?

  1. Hollie says:

    Is this is real sisters?

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