Marjory Bruce – Princess of Scotland

On our trip through England, we called into a small village in the East Riding area of Yorkshire, looking for Watton Priory. It was here that Marjory, the eleven year old daughter of Robert the Bruce, had been imprisoned in 1306 by Edward I during Scotland’s bitter War of Independence.
Eight years later, her father won her release with his success at the Battle of Bannockburn. But what must it have been like for a young girl to be ripped apart from her family and seemingly abandoned in hostile England? ‘Sisters of The Bruce’ takes up this story.
At Watton, there are no signs about the priory and we only found it by pure chance. If you happen to find yourself there, you’ll see a small car park off the main road with a public path leading into the distance between two fields. Such a lovely walk it was too. The sun was shining and the birds serenaded us. Serendipitously, at the end of the footpath, a large field emerged with low mounds of what looked like earthworks. To our ‘time team’ eyes, these appeared suspiciously old. To add to our excitement, a large interesting building loomed beyond a line of trees, bare of leaves but home to a large rookery. The house was a mix of ancient sections with newer parts added later. It is privately owned so we took some care not to be intrusive but it was a joy to find something so isolated but with clear links to this fascinating past.
Wandering across the earthworks, holes excavated by rabbits overflowed with mossy white lumps of fine handworked plaster. Pieces of broken terracotta tiles added strength to our growing conviction that this must have been the site of the old priory. I wondered whose feet had trod upon these tiles.
Shortly after, we had the fright of our lives when we saw a brown snake coursing through the grass. No doubt it was just a harmless tree snake. But in Australia, we exercise great caution walking through paddocks. For us, here in England, the shock was magnified perhaps because we were so engrossed in our discoveries and felt so relaxed.
Later research clarified that we had indeed found Watton Abbey. I struggle a bit between what constitutes an abbey or a priory – the site was a priory but the existing building is known as Watton Abbey and is a Grade I listed building. Regardless it is an intriguing remnant of a fascinating period.
One of the stories attached to this priory, relates to the Nun of Watton, who entered there as a toddler. Unable to accept the strict rule of celibacy, she later fell in love with one of the lay workers – the English Gilbertine monasteries system allowed males and females to coexist but with separate living and working quarters. Predictably, the young nun fell pregnant. Older nuns wanted to punish her by burning or branding. Instead the lass was chained hand and foot, and fed bread and water in solitary confinement. Her captured lover was handed over to the nuns who castrated him. If he didn’t die from his injuries, presumably he was imprisoned as well.
Given this sad historical anecdote, one can only imagine the harsh environment in which young Marjorie found herself without hope of rescue and an anticipated lifetime of unrelenting imprisonment.
Miraculously, she did survive but the damage to her physically and emotionally must have been immense. Another casualty of a profoundly cruel and violent war!