Chapter III Robert Bruce 1305-1314
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.