A Momentous Occasion

Robert the Bruce

On 25th March, 1306, a new King of Scots was crowned. To mark this turning point in Scottish history, here is an excerpt from my book, Sisters of The Bruce.

Imagine if you will, Kirsty Bruce in her chamber. Outside the wind has picked up. A candle flickers. Shadows dance across the walls. Kirsty picks up her quill, tests the point and begins to write. She knows, in far off Norway, Isabel is desperate for news of the family.

Kildrummy Castle

March 1306

Isa, dear heart,

  A dreadful event has taken place. At Dumfries, Robert went to confront the Comyn regards his treachery. Involved in some disputes being heard at the judicial court, Comyn was lodged at Greyfriars Kirk. It was upon this neutral ground the pair met at Robert’s request. An argument ensued. Both men drew their daggers. In front of the high altar, they struggled. Comyn fell to the ground. When his uncle rushed to his aid, Christopher struck the older man with a blow to the head, killing him. The friars carried the younger man into the vestry. Shocked, Rob ran outside. Some of his men went back in to make sure the Comyn was dead. Chaos followed. With many rallying to his banner, Robert’s force seized Dumfries Castle. The justices barricaded themselves behind the doors of the Great Hall where they had been holding the Assizes Court. Our brother threatened to burn the place down. Surrender was prompt!

  From February through to March, the fiery cross was carried from hillside to hillside across Scotland alerting men to raise arms, this time for the Bruce. Castle after castle fell to Robert and his men: Dumfries, Tibbers, Dalswinton and Ayr. Across the Firth of Clyde, Robert Boyd took Rothesay on Bute, and then placed Inverkip under siege. Through the exchange of another, our brother gained Dunaverty Castle on the tip of Kintyre. Our own castle on the isle in Loch Doon was placed in the hands of my lord husband. With a defensive ring of fortified castles in place, Robert hoped to protect the western seaboard, thus curtailing the movement of English ships based at Skinburness. Only then might our allies from Ireland travel with impunity. Without success, Robert sought the surrender of the great rock fortress of Dumbarton on the Clyde.

  Despite a murder having been committed on holy ground, Bishop Wishart exhorted his flock to rise up and support Robert. The old Celtic process of tanistry had run its regrettable course, especially when all attempts at reasonable compromise had failed. March saw our brother swear an oath before the bishop to fight for the freedom of Scotland and uphold the liberties of the Scottish church, long overpowered by Rome and Avignon. Notables from all over the country headed for Scone.

  Our contingent arrived, relieved to be attending the royal coronation of one of our dearest members.  Meanwhile, Bishop Lamberton escaped from Berwick under cover of darkness. By taking the ferry from North Berwick, he reached Scone. Nothing, he said, would have kept him from witnessing Scotland’s destiny take shape and form. Where possible, all royal traditions were to be maintained for this great event and, when Robert was crowned king, he sat upon a large block of stone on Moot Hill.

  It was rumoured some months before the theft of the Stone of Destiny a replica of the ancient stone seat was secreted in its stead by Scone’s canny monks. If it were so, then it seemed the English king was none the wiser. 

  I wish you could have been with us, Isa. No one, not least Robert, liked how it had come about, but all were euphoric and willing to go with the grandeur of the occasion. All through the night we banqueted and danced. For a brief time, our country’s woes were pushed from the foreground of our thoughts.

Only Elizabeth, our new queen, her mood sombre and restrained, reflected on what the future might hold, expressions of fear and worry jostling with pride and love. King Edward was known to be a cruel, unforgiving man to his enemies. In his wrath, he would unleash the full force of the mighty English host upon her lord husband and his beloved Scotland. This Elizabeth understood. Once, she told me, she prayed they would come to an understanding. Now, she knew their differences could only be decided by war. Edward could never grasp how the community of the realm mattered so deeply to Robert. At its core, this Celtic belief was at odds with the feudal superiority of the English king. Ultimately, it set Robert apart.

  The next day, a small party of horsemen rode in to Scone, gasping mounts lathered white. Concealed for safety within the group was Countess Isobel of Buchan, wife of the earl who was a firm supporter of England. She escaped her husband’s harsh care to ride to Scone to fulfill the ancient role belonging to the earls of Fife – her own family line – to crown the Scottish monarchy.

  Keen to uphold tradition and legitimise his status, Robert had a second coronation take place to great acclaim. With the ceremony complete, our family accompanied the king to Kildrummy where Mhairi and the household had prepared a great banquet. How proud you would have been to see our household gathered in the Great Hall, cheering our brother, mugs of wine and ale raised to his health and happiness. You were sorely missed, dear one.