On 10th February 1306, John III Comyn of Badenoch, one of the most influential men in Scotland and a claimant to the throne, met an old rival in the Greyfriars Church in Dumfries.
In the low light and humming silence of the church, Comyn met Robert the Bruce. He too was a claimant to the throne, which had remained vacant in the wake of King John Balliol’s abdication.
The Comyn’s and the Bruce’s had long been rivals. When Alexander III died without a male heir in 1290, both men’s grandfathers had jostled in the subsequent power vacuum that emerged.
The Comyn’s had come out on top and saw that their kinsman John Balliol secured the throne.
Nearly two decades later, Scotland found itself in a tumultuous state of affairs. A royal abdication, a crushed rebellion and a nation under the heel of King Edward I, Scotland needed stern leadership – and both men believed it their right to lead.
Only one of them would leave the church of the Greyfriars alive. The fateful meeting between Comyn and Bruce that day altered the course of Scottish history.
A fateful meeting
The details of what happened during the meeting are, as one might expect, convoluted. Over the years differing versions of the story have emerged, each making their position on the matter clear.
What is known is that before the high alter of the Greyfriars Church, John III Comyn was stabbed to death.
Some accounts suggest that Bruce lured Comyn to the church with the intention of murdering him, while others hint that the murder was committed in the heat of the moment after a fiery altercation or that Bruce was justified after Comyn broke an agreement over lands.
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One particular account, which almost borders on legendary, claims that Bruce stabbed Comyn several times before ordering his men, Roger Kirkpatrick and Sir Robert Fleming, to “finish the job”.
After Kirkpatrick and Fleming finished off the wounded Comyn heir, the latter is said to have exited the church brandishing his severed head.
John III Comyn wasn’t the only family member present that day, according to contemporary sources. Sir Robert Comyn had attended the meeting alongside him and was killed whilst trying to aid his wounded nephew.
The aftermath of the John Comyn murder
The murder shocked Scotland. John III Comyn was a former Guardian of Scotland, a claimant to the throne and member of arguably the most powerful family in the kingdom. In the wake of the incident, Bruce was crowned King of Scots at Scone Palace and the country was once again plunged into conflict as the newly-crowned king sought to consolidate power.
In England, the reaction was met with fury by King Edward I. The English monarch ordered Aymer de Valence, Comyn’s brother-in-law, to hunt down Bruce and his followers.
King Edward also had John Comyn’s son brought to England and raised in the royal court. John IV Comyn returned to Scotland in 1314 as part of Edward II’s invasion. He died at the Battle of Bannockburn.