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Timeline of Scottish History

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Robert the Bruce

  • Name  : Robert I (Robert The Bruce)
  • Born  : 1274
  • Died  : 1329
  • Category  : Kings and Queens
  • Finest Moment : Bannockburn (1314)

Born 11 July 1274, at Turnberry in Ayrshire, son of the 7th Robert de Bruce, Earl of Carrick and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick. The Bruce family were Anglo-Norman, having come to Scotland in the early 12th Century. At 18, Bruce became Earl of Carrick and married Isabel of Mar. She died young, but not before leaving a daughter, Marjorie.

Both father and son refused to support John Balliol in 1296, but like most landholders (with the prominent exception of William Wallace), gave fealty to Edward I of England. The father remained loyal to Edward right up to his death in 1304, but Bruce split, declaring 'I must be with my own' and joined up with the guerrilla leader William Wallace, becoming a Guardian of Scotland with John Comyn.

Edward offered a truce in 1302, and Bruce accepted, possibly to help defend Scotland against a suppose Papal and French plan to restore Balliol. Four years later he finally made up his mind and with the murder of John Comyn in the Franciscan Church at Dumfries on 10 February 1306 (either by Bruce or his followers) he began open rebellion. He was crowned at Scone on 25 March by Isabella, Countess of Buchan.

Edward I regarded Bruce as a traitor, and with the security of many important Scottish garrisons was able to defeat Bruce twice; at Methven near Perth, on 19 June, and at Dalry near Tyndrum, on 11 August. Bruce escaped to the Western Isles via Loch Lomond and Kintyre, hiding for a while on Rathlin, off the Ulster coast. Three of his brothers were executed, and his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh of Ulster, captured. It was at this low point we have the story of Bruce watching the spider building a web despite many setbacks and problems, being inspired to fight on.

Fight on he did, starting a brilliant guerrilla war in 1307 with victories at Glen Trool, Loudon Hill, and sites along the Great Glen leading to Inverness. These were initially with his brother Edward Bruce. By mid-1308 he held Scotland north of the Forth excepting a few isolated garrisons. In 1313 he captured Perth, which had been in English hands. It must be said here that, in contrast to the cruel policies of England's King Edward I, Bruce provided defeated defenders safe passages home. Meanwhile his brother Edward Bruce had initiated a truce with the Governor of Stirling Castle, Philip de Mowbray. The conditions were that unless the Castle were relived by midsummer, it would be surrendered.

Edward I had to react to this of course, and raised an army. On 22 June 1314 he marched from Edinburgh to Falkirk with some 16,000 infantry, 2500 mounted knights, and a 20-mile supply train. Bruce, at nearby Torwood, had about 6000 spearmen, a few archers, and 500 light horse. He withdrew to a deer park just south of Stirling, traversed by a Roman Road, on the higher reaches of the Bannock Burn, with moorland to the west, and farmland to the east, leading to the boggy lower stretches of the Burn.

The next day, 23 June, battle commenced. The English cavalry charged, attempting to open the road and almost capturing Robert. They were driven back with heavy losses, as was another charge to the north, near St Ninian's Kirk, this time defended by Thomas Randolph's spearmen. Both sides stopped at nightfall for a broken sleep.

The next day the Scots had drawn themselves up into four flexible squares of spearmen, called schiltrons. These were commanded by Randolph, James Douglas and Walter Stewart, Edward Bruce, and Robert The Bruce respectively. The front was too narrow to allow the English infantry to fight efficiently, and they were driven back into the Bannock Burn. The burn ran red with blood. English blood.

Edward I managed to reach Stirling Castle with 500 knights, but Mowbray refused him entry, as surrender was imminent. They then avoided the continuing slaughter at the battle and escaped, reaching Winchburgh and continuing to Dunbar. Douglas followed them all the way.

Most of the English leaders had been captured or killed, but Scottish chivalry again surpassed that of Edward's levels, and many survivors praised Robert's treatment of them. Sir James Douglas (knighted on the battlefield at Bannockburn) continued to harry the Borders, preventing support to the English army. Robert rejected Papal letters addressed to 'Robert Bruce, Governor of Scotland', while further Papal noises, promoting English claims to Scotland, produced the stirring Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. The Declaration, a letter in Latin to Pope John XXII, summarised the evils of Edward I's tyranny, and continuing to the accession of Robert I, 'who has brought salvation to his people through the safeguarding of our liberties'.

The Declaration, sometimes called the Declaration of Independence, continues: 'Yet, even the same Robert, should he turn aside from the task and yield Scotland or us to the English king or people, him we should cast out as the enemy of us all, and choose another king to defend our freedom; for so long as a hundred of us remain alive, we will yield in no least way to English dominion. For we fight, not for glory nor for riches nor for honour, but only and alone for freedom, which no good man surrenders but with his life.'

It was sealed by eight earls and 31 barons, and written in the Abbey of Arbroath by its Abbot, Bernard of Linton, Chancellor of Scotland.

Bannockburn had been the most notable victory in the Scottish War of Independence, which continued for some years. It was not until 1318, for example, that Berwick was captured. Edward II was pushed back from Edinburgh in 1327, with the Scots employing a 'scorched earth' strategy. Edward III never even made it across the border. With pressure from his advisers, the latter finally agreed to the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1328, signed at Robert's bedside in Holyrood. He was now ill, perhaps with leprosy, and spending most of his time at Cardross in Dumbartonshire.

The years since Bannockburn had been spent getting Scotland back to some sort of royal government, since this had been suspended since about 1296. In the spring of 1329 he was carried on a pilgrimage to Whithorn, returning to Cardross to die, on 7 July 1329. He had been a much-loved man; replete with courage, good humour and humanity. His son David II was to succeed him, while his daughter Marjorie started the House of Stewart.

It was his dying wish to embark on a crusade. James Douglas carried his heart with him to battle against the Moors in Spain. Douglas was killed, but the heart was brought back and buried in Melrose; Robert The Bruce's body was buried at Dunfermline.

Tags: Kings

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