The origin of the Bruce family often seems shrouded in mystery. However, there appear to be two distinct groups of thought. Some believe that the de Brus family, as it was originally known, was of Flemish origin, but others suggest that they came from Brix in Normandy: a land annexed from the kingdom of France by Vikings back around 900AD. These Vikings originally came as warriors but soon settled with their families and integrated into French society through intermarriage. They vigorously took on the key elements of French feudal society, particularly its civil administration and legal processes and the country’s religious adherence to the papacy in Rome.
Scots often play down this element of the Bruce story as if the Norman influence somehow might diminish the loyalty of the man who wrought Scotland’s independence from England’s grasp. I, on the other hand, believe it adds a richness of dimension and character to a man whose family’s roots were imbedded in Scotland for over two centuries and whose maternal heritage included the ancient Celtic earldom of Carrick – but more of this in forthcoming blogs.
Today I want to tell you about a personal quest of mine. In 2006, I was lucky enough to visit the site of, what many believe to be, the original Bruce manor house or castle.
Located in the Cotentin area of western Normandy, the area appeared quite hilly, rugged almost, and the old village of stone houses and small shops nestled within a forest of trees.
Having read so much about Robert the Bruce, and with my own family connections, I found the whole experience to be very moving as if I had stumbled upon the very essence of the Bruce story. Here it was the early de Brus’s must have had those difficult family conversations about their future and one younger son opted to follow the path of William the Conqueror to England. Others remained behind. Their descendants remain in France today and perhaps still resided within the beautiful chateau which stood before me.
It was a day of misty rain, soft and fresh upon the skin, and the trees dripped a slow insistent beat into puddles on the pavement. Earlier, I had stopped at the Mairie’s office to ask directions and my appalling French was answered with bewildered looks by the staff. Eventually, someone deciphered my requests for the old Bruce castle and I was directed to go past the old church and down a lane. The sturdy stone building, weathered grey with time, rested amidst its walled graveyard. As I wandered past, my eye caught the myriad of
flowers which adorned the lichened tombstones.
A sign on the stone wall of the chateau’s gate proclaimed to the world the Bruce family’s connection with the site. I must admit to being taken aback by this. For a start, I hadn’t expected a sign written in English and with the characteristic thistle emblazoned upon it. The chateau, which was closed to the public, looked to be a very elegant family home. A statue of the Madonna stood in the gardens which held a gentle, welcoming wildness. Sadly, the ruins of the original castle or manor house lay in the grounds some distance from the chateau itself so were not visible.
I stood there, wondering about past and present residents, my mind whizzing over the pieces of connecting history and this serendipitous finding of the Bruce chateau. It had taken a lot to digress to this small village and I only had a short time before moving on to the joys of Dinan and Mont St Michel in Brittany. I was thankful to have been able to make this pilgrimage to the birthplace of the Bruce family where another precious piece of the historical puzzle slipped into place for me ─ a seismic shift that I have never forgotten.