Robert the Bruce is undoubtedly Scotland’s most famous monarch. The warrior king who played a pivotal role leading Scottish resistance against English rule under Edward I, and later his son, Edward II.
The subject of many a tale, Robert the Bruce is a fascinating character and a towering figure in Scottish history.
Here are five facts about the real ‘Braveheart’.
Not quite as ‘Scottish’ as you think
Robert the Bruce is portrayed as the quintessential Scottish hero. The underdog. The king on the run fighting a desperate resistance against tyrannical rule.
And while there’s no denying that Robert the Bruce is a Scottish hero, the ethnic makeup of 14th century Britain was quite complicated.
Rather than descending solely from a long line of Scottish nobles, Robert the Bruce was the eighth descendant of a Norman knight who also bore his name.
Robert de Bruce, named after a Norman castle known as ‘Bruise’, likely came to Britain in the mid-11th century following the Norman conquest. This Anglo-Norman family would go on to firmly establish itself in the nobility as the Lords of Annandale – even marrying into royalty.
This mingling with royalty meant that during the succession crisis in the wake of Alexander III’s death in 1286, Robert the Bruce’s grandfather had a valid claim for the throne.
He changed ‘sides’ on more than one occasion
Although the wars of Scottish independence appear to be rather cut and dry – the Scottish crown versus its English counterpart – loyalties were often fragmented, and ebbed and flowed.
When war broke out with England in 1296, Robert the Bruce and his father both remained loyal to the Edward I of England. However, Bruce would later break his oath and join the cause of John Balliol in rebellion against his sworn leige.
After the capture of John Balliol and Bruce’s marriage to Elizabeth de Burgh, the daughter of the Earl of Ulster, he once again switched allegiances and paid homage to the English crown.
Ultimately, Robert the Bruce abandoned the Balliol cause and sought to seize the Scottish throne for himself; beginning his long struggle to the height of Scotland’s nobility.
In perhaps what is one of the most interesting moves in Scottish history, Robert the Bruce sanctioned an invasion of Ireland in 1315.
Little over a year after his famed victory at Bannockburn, the Scottish king supported his younger brother Edward’s goal of becoming High King of Ireland.
The invasion aimed to open up a new front against the English crown and crush English dominance in parts of Ireland.
The move saw some success at first, but quickly slowed into a protracted conflict which ended in defeat – and the death of Edward Bruce – in 1318.
Read More: Dreams of the Past: A United Celtic Kingdom
As mentioned, Robert the Bruce is the subject of many a tale, including one peculiar story involving a struggling spider.
Following two crushing defeats at Methven and Dalry in 1306, Bruce found himself on the run while his brothers lay dead and his wife wallowed in chains.
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During this period, the fugitive king is said to have taken shelter on the island of Rathlin off the Northern Irish coast. While hiding in the cave, Bruce observed a spider struggling to weave a web in the wet and windy conditions.
Time and time again the spider struggled before eventually succeeding. Inspired by its perseverance, Bruce was emboldened to continue the fight.
The real ‘Braveheart’
Commonly associated with William Wallace after the film bearing the name, the term ‘Braveheart’ actually referred to Robert the Bruce. And it’s a rather inspiring – albeit grim – story.
Robert the Bruce requested that his heart be removed upon his death. Thereafter, it was to be taken on crusade.
Carrying his heart was Sir James Douglas. However, the trusted noble was killed in battle fighting the Moors in Spain, and the heart was brought back to be buried at Melrose Abbey.
Legend says that Douglas held Bruce’s heart aloft during battle and declared: “Lead on brave heart, I’ll follow thee!”
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