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Chapter III Robert Bruce 1305-1314

Early Character of Bruce

We now enter upon the history of this great and rapid revolution; and in doing so, it will first be necessary to say a few words upon the early character and conduct of the Earl of Carrick, afterwards Robert the n First.

This eminent person was the grandson of that Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale, who was competitor for the crown with John Baliol. He was lineally descended from Isabella, second daughter of David earl of Huntingdon, brother of William the Lion. John Baliol, the late King of Scotland, had, as we have already seen, renounced for ever all claim to tho throne; and his son Edward was at that time a minor and a captive. Marjory Baliol, the sister of this unfortunate monarch, married John Comyn lord of Badenoch. Their son, John Comyn, commonly called the Red Comyn, the opponent of Wallace, and, till the fatal year 1303, the Regent of the kingdom, possessed, as the son of Marjory, Baliol's sister, a to the throne, after the resignation of Baliol and his son, which, according to the principles on which Edward pronounced his decision, was unquestionable. He was also connected by marriage with the royal family of England, and was undoubtedly one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, subject in Scotland.

His great estates and connexions

He was also connected by marriage with the royal family of England,* and was undoubtedly one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, subject in Scotland. Bruce and Comyn were thus the heads of two rival parties in the state, whose animosity was excited by their mutual claims to the same crown, and whose interests were irreconcileable. Accordingly, when Edward gave his famous award in favour of Baliol, Bruce, the competitor, refused to take the oath of homage;and although he acquiesced in the decision, gave up his lands in the vale of Annandale, which he must have held as a vassal under Baliol, to his son, the Earl of Carrick; again, in 1293, the Earl of Carrick resigned his lands and earldom of Carrick to his son Robert, then a young man in the service of the King of England.J In the years 1295 and 1296, Edward invaded Scotland, and reduced Baliol, and the party of the Comyns, to submission. During this contest, Bruce the Earl of Carrick, and son of the competitor, possessed of large estates in England, continued faithful to Edward. He thus preserved his estates, and hoped to see the destruction of the only rivals who stood between him and his claim to the throne. Nor was this a vain expectation; for Edward, on hearing of the revolt of Baliol and the Comyns, undoubtedly held out the prospect of the throne to Bruce :ยง and these circumstances afford us a complete explanation of the inactivity of that baron and his son at this period. Meanwhile Baliol and the Comyns issued a hasty order, confiscating the estates of all who preserved their allegiance to Edward. In consequence of this resolution, the lordship of Annandale, the paternal inheritance of the Earl of Carrick, was declared forfeited, and given by Baliol to John Comyn earl of Buchan, who immediately seized and occupied Brace's castle of Lochmaben, an insult which there is reason to think the proud baron never forgave. Compelled to submit to Edward, the Comyns, and the principal nobles who supported them, were now carried prisoners into England; and, when restored to liberty, it was only on condition that they should join his army in Flanders, and assist him in his foreign wars.

During the brief but noble stand made by Wallace for the national liberty, Robert Brace, then a young man of three-and-twenty, was placed in difficult and critical circumstances. It was in his favour that his rivals, the Comyns, were no longer in the field, but kept in durance by Edward. His father remained in England, where he possessed large estates, and continued faithful in his allegiance to the king. At this time it is important to remark what Walter Hemingford, a contemporary English historian, has said of young Brace: After mentioning the revolt which was headed by Wallace, he informs us, "that the Bishop of Carlisle, and other barons, to whom the peace of that district was committed, became suspicious of the fidelity of Robert Brace the younger, Earl of Carrick, and sent for him to come and treat upon the affairs of Edward, if he intended to remain faithful to that monarch." Brace, he continues, did not dare to disobey, but came on the day appointed, with his vassals of Galloway, and took an oath on the sacred host, and upon the sword of St Thomas, that ho would assist the kiug against the Scots, and all his enemies, both byword and deed. Having taken this oath, he returned to his country; and, to give a colour of truth to his fidelity, collected his vassals, and ravaged the lands of William Douglas, carrying the wife and infant children of this knight into Annandale. Soon after this, however, as he returned from a meeting of the Scottish conspirators to his own country, having assembled his father's men of Annandale, (for his father himself then resided in the south of England, and was ignorant of his son's treachery,) he told them, "that it was true he had lately taken a foolish oath at Carlisle, of which they had heard." He assured them that it was extorted by force, and that he not only deeply repented what he had done, but hoped soon to get absolution. Meanwhile he added, "that he was resolved to go with his own vassals, and join the nation from which he sprung; and he earnestly entreated them to do the same, and come along with him as his dear friends and counsellors. The men of Annandale, however, disliking the peril of this undertaking, whilst their master, the elder Bruce, was in England, decamped in the night; and the young Bruce, aspiring to the crown, as was generally reported, joined himself to the rebels, and entered into the conspiracy with the Bishop of Glasgow, and the Steward of Scotland, who were at the bottom of the plot." Such is an almost literal translation from the words of Walter Hemingford, whose information as to Scottish affairs at this period, seems to have been minute and accurate.

Rivalry with the Comyns

At this time the ambition or the patriotic feelings of Bruce were certainly short-lived; for, not many months after, he made his peace at the capitulation at Irvine, and gave his infant daughter, Marjory, as a hostage for his fidelity. Subsequent to the successful battle of Stirling, the Comyns, no longer in the power of the English king, joined Wallace; and young Bruce, once more seeing his rivals for the throne opposed to Edward, kept aloof from public affairs, anxious, no doubt, that they should destroy themselves by such opposition. He did not, as has been erroneously stated, accede to the Scottish party, but, on the contrary, shut himself up in the castle of Ayr, and refused to join the army which fought at Falkirk. As little, however, did he cordially co-operate with the English king, although his father, the elder Bruce, and his brother, Bernard Bruce, were both in his service, and, as there is strong reason to believe, in the English army which fought at Falkirk. Young Bruce's conduct, in short, at this juncture, was that of a cautious neutral; but Edward, who approved of no such lukewarmness in those who had sworn homage to him, immediately after the battle of Falkirk advanced into the west. Bruce, on his approach, fled; and Edward afterwards led his army into Annandale, and seized his strong castle of Lochmaben.

In a parliament held not long subsequent to this, the king gave to his nobles some of the estates of the chief men in Scotland; but the great estates of the Bruce family, embracing Annandale and Carrick, were not alienated. The fidelity of the elder Bruce to England, in all probability preserved them. On the 13th of November, 1299, we find Robert Bruce the younger, Earl of Carrick, associated, as one of the regents of the kingdom, with John Comyn, that powerful rival, with whom he had hitherto never acted in concert.

Is in favor with Edward 1

It seems, however, to have been an unnatural coalition, arising more out of Brace's having lost the confidence of Edward, than indicative of any new cordiality between him and Comyn; and there can be little doubt also, that they were brought to act together, by a mutual desire to humble and destroy the power of Wallace, in which they succeeded. But to punish this union, Edward, in his short campaign of 1300, wasted Annandale, took Lochmaben castle, and marched into Galloway, ravaging Brace's country. Thus exposed to, and suffering under, the vengeance of the King of England, it might be expected that he should have warmly joined with his brother regents in the war. But this seems not to have been the case. He did not take an active share in public affairs; and previous to the battle of Roslin, he returned, as we have seen, to the English party. During the fatal and victorious progress of Edward through Scotland in 1303, he remained faithful to that monarch, while his rivals, the Comyns, continued in arms against him. On the death of his father, which took place in 1304, Brace was permitted by the King of England to take possession of his whole English and Scottish estates; and so high does he appear to have risen in the esteem of Edward, that ho acted a principal part in the settlement of the kingdom in 1304; whilst his rival Comyn, was subjected to a heavy fine, and seems to have wholly lost the confidence of the king.

Relative Situation of Bruce and Comyn

In this situation matters stood at the important period when we concluded the last chapter. Bruce, whose conduct had been consistent only upon selfish principles, found himself, when compared with other Scottish barons, in an enviable situation. He had preserved his great estates, his rivals were overpowered, and, on any new emergency occurring, the way was partly cleared for his own claim to the crown.

The effect of all this upon the mind of Comyn may be easily imagined. He felt that one, whose conduct, in consistency and honour, had been inferior to his own, was rewarded with the confidence and favour of the king; whilst he who had struggled to the last for the liberty of his country, became an object of suspicion and neglect. This seems to have rankled in his heart, and he endeavoured to instil suspicions of the fidelity of Bruce into the mind of Edward ; but at the same time he kept up to that proud rival the appearance of friendship and familiarity. Bruce, in the meantime, although he had matured no certain design for the recovery of the crown, never lost sight of his pretensions, and neglected no opportunity of strengthening himself and his cause, by those bands and alliances with powerful barons and prelates, which were common in that age. He had entered into a secret league of this kind with William de Lamberton bishop of St Andrews, in which they engaged faithfully to consult together, and to give mutual assistance to each other, by themselves and their people, at all times, and against all persons, to the utmost of their power; without guile to warn each other against all dangers, and to use their utmost endeavour to prevent them.

Agreement between Bruce and Comyn

This league was of course sedulously concealed from Edward, but it seems to have become known to Comyn, and a conference between him and Bruce on the subject of their rival claims actually took place. At this meeting, Bruce described in strong expressions the miserable servitude into which their mutual dissensions, and their pretensions to the crown, had plunged the country; and we are informed by one of the most ancient and accurate of the contemporary historians, that he proposed as an alternative to Comyn, either that this baron should make over his great estate to Bruce, on condition of receiving from him in return his assistance in asserting his claim to the throne, or should agree to accept Bruce's lands, and assist him in the recovery of his hereditary kingdom. "Support my title to the crown," said Bruce, "and I will give you my estate; or give me your estate, and 1 will support yours." Comyn agreed to wave his right, and accept the lands; and, in the course of these confidential meetings, became acquainted with Bruce's secret associations, and even possessed of papers which contained evidence of his designs for the recovery of his rights. These designs, however, were as yet quite immature, and Bruce, who was still unsuspected, and in high confidence with Edward, repaired to the English court. Whilst there, Comyn betrayed him,and despatched letters to the king, informing him of the ambitious projects of Bruce. Edward, anxious to unravel the whole conspiracy, had recourse to dissimulation, and the Earl of Carrick continued in apparent favour. But the king had inadvertently dropped some hint of an intention to seize him; and Bruce, having received from his kinsman, the Earl of Gloucester,an intimation of his danger, took horse, and, accompanied by a few friends, precipitately fled to Scotland.

Comyn betrays the design

On the Borders they encountered a messenger hastening to England. His deportment was suspicious, and Bruce ordered him to be questioned and searched. He proved to be an emissary of Comyh's, whom that baron had sent to communicate with Edward. He was instantly slain, his letters were seized, and Bruce, in possession of documents which disclosed the treachery of Comyn, pressed forward to his castle of Lochmaben,which he reached on the fifth day after his sudden flight. Here he met his brother, Edward Bruce, and informed him of the perilous circumstances in which he was placed.It was now the month of February, the time when the English justiciars appointed by Edward were accustomed to hold their courts at Dumfries; and Bruce, as a freeholder of Annandale, was bound to be present. Comyn was also a freeholder in Dumfriesshire, and obliged to attend on the justiciars; so that in this way those two proud rivals were brought into contact, under circumstances peculiarly irritating.

Comyn Slain by Bruce and Kirkpatrick

They met at Dumfries, and Bruce, burning with ill-dissembled indignation, requested a private interview with the rival who had betrayed him, in the Convent of the Minorite Friars. Cornyn agreed, and, entering the convent, they had not reached the high altar, before words grew high and warm, and the young baron, losing command of temper, openly arraigned Comyn of treachery. "You lie !" said Comyn; upon which Bruce instantly stabbed him with his dagger, and hurrying from the sanctuary which he had defiled with blood, rushed into the street, and called, "To horse!" Lindsay and Kirkpatrick, two of his followers, seeing him pale and agitated, demanded the cause. "I doubt," said Bruce, as he threw himself on his horse, "I have slain Comyn." "Do you doubt cried Kirkpatrick, fiercely, "Til make sure!" and instantly entered the convent, where he found the unhappy man still alive, but bleeding, and lying on the steps of the high altar.

By this time the noise of the scuffle had alarmed his friends; and his uncle, Sir Robert Comyn, rushing into the convent, attempted to save him. But Kirkpatrick slew this new opponent, and having despatched his dying victim, who could offer no resistance, rejoined hiB master. Bruce now assembled his followers, and took possession of the castle of Dumfries, whilst the English justiciars, who held their court in a hall in the castle, believing their lives to be in danger, barricaded the doors. But the building was immediately set fire to, upon which the judges capitulated, and were permitted to depart from Scotland without further molestation.

Critical situation of Bruce

This murder had been perpetrated by Bruce and his companions in the heat of passion, and was entirely unpremeditated; but its consequences were important and momentous. Brace's former varying and uncertain line of policy, which had arisen out of the hope of preserving, by fidelity to Edward, his great estates, and of seeing his rival crushed by his opposition to England, was at once changed by the murder of which he had been guilty. His whole schemes upon the crown had been laid open to Edward. This was ruin of itself; but, in addition to this, he had, with his own hand, assassinated the first noble in the realm, and in a place of tremendous sanctity. He had stained the high altar with blood, and had directed against himself, besides the resentment of the powerful friends and vassals of the murdered earl, all the terrors of religion, and the strongest prejudices of the people.

The die, however, was cast, and he had no alternative left to him, but either to become a fugitive and an outlaw, or to raise open banner against Edward; and, although the disclosure of his plana was premature, to proclaim his title to the crown. Having determined on this last, he repaired immediately to Lochmaben castle, and despatched letters to his friends and adherents. It was fortunate for him at this trying crisis, that he had secured the friendship and assistance of the Archbishop of St Andrews, William de Lamberton, by one of those bands or covenants, which, in this age, it was considered an unheard-of outrage to break or disregard. Lamberton's friendship, disarmed of its dreadful consequences that sentence of excommunication which was soon thundered against him, and his powerful influence necessarily interested in his behalf the whole body of the Scottish clergy.