On Sibling Guilt

Writers often come to love their characters and I am no different. Sisters of The Bruce has taken over my life: I am completely and utterly under its spell.

Over time, I have grown to love these women as my own sisters. Their unique voices have penetrated my waking and sleeping life. And I am grateful for their intimate accounts ─ about themselves, their life and family ─ shared with us over the past few months; but what about the complex relationships between these siblings and their famous brother?

Have you ever wondered what Robert the Bruce was like, beyond the façade of hero king: the flawed man and brother to nine siblings, all of them equally fascinating? I wondered what Robert might say if he was asked those intriguing, difficult questions about his rise to power and how this impacted on his family. Today, a guest blogger, a mystery Scot, shares his vision of just such an interview with Robert the Bruce…

How do you view what happened to your brothers and sisters?

Of course on one level, I look back and feel guilt. Three brothers put to death for following me, and supporting my claim to the throne. Another killed in battle in Ireland.  Two of my sisters, my wife and daughter imprisoned, and cruelly treated.  You think I feel nothing? I do look back and wonder what it was all for? Would things have ended better had I never pursued my grandfather’s claim to the throne of Scotland? Perhaps it would for some of them, although the destruction of the Bruce family by John Balliol and the Comyns was certain if they had sustained control of Scotland. If we had supported the cause of England, perhaps we would have been well rewarded as a family, but at what cost to Scotland’s independence?

Never imagine I do not acknowledge that I led my family into great peril. It was my responsibility, but they answered of their own free will. They did what they believed to be right.

Is there anything that you would change with regard to your siblings?

Well what happens, happens and cannot be undone, but I do feel that I made a mistake with Alexander. I should have left him to study further at Oxford or perhaps in Rome or Paris. He had the nature to make a fine priest and in time he may have had an important role in the Scottish church. What was certain was that he was not cut out to be a soldier and follow me in the heather. I should have known that and not risked both him and Tom on the raid into Galloway. Alexander had begun to make his way in the church as a Dean of Glasgow Cathedral, and I think he could have played a great role as Chancellor or such. The important thing is to find the right roles for people and in Alexander I got it wrong.

For the rest, I can only say that they made their own choices, and I respect them for that.

 What about your relationship with your brother, Edward?

I cannot pretend that he was ever my favourite. Perhaps we were too close to each other, but I have always known that he was rash, intemperate and made too many enemies without thought or consideration. That is not to say that he was not brave or determined, but that is not enough for a king. In a sense it was ambition that ruined him or perhaps he competed too hard against me?

Jealous? Perhaps he was, though he never said so, and I knew that I could trust him in a fight. I do not regret the plan to invade Ireland, although he got embroiled there and seduced by the notion of High-Kingship. What should have been a short campaign became a distraction; although it served its purpose in showing the English that they were more vulnerable than they believed …

We leave it there, but perhaps you have your own questions of Robert the Bruce?

4 thoughts on “On Sibling Guilt

  1. Elspeth says:

    Robert, are you usually able to stand back from events once the worst has happened? Do you suffer to the point of wanting to escape your destiny when friends and family are frightfully damaged or lost?

    • diaspora52 says:

      Elspeth, here is Robert’s answer to your question:
      “As I get older, I grow more phlegmatic about what happens and has to happen. However, I am still gripped by feelings of remorse for what has happened to my family. If I don’t articulate it in public then that is not to be wondered at. I take some comfort that we were born into a time when sacrifice and loss was inevitable given the collision of two kingdoms and the struggle for survival of the smaller one to which we were all born. Grievous losses have happened to many other families and not all of those followed the cause of the Bruces.

      I can assure you that when you see me pace back and forward there are troubling thoughts in my head, but I try to keep those feelings to myself. To lead is often to be on one’s own. I accept that.”

  2. What an entertaining way to get to the heart of who I now like to think of as ‘the man behind the sisters’. Can’t wait to read more.

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