Robert Bruce - a man who wanted a free
Scotland or a
a man who would be king?
Tough question, and one with no easy, clear-cut answers
for seldom in life is anything all one thing and nothing of another. For
many decades I have found great empathy and admiration for The Bruce.
William Wallace was a shooting star, passing from the rebel that fired
Scotland's Fight for freedom to folk hero upon his death, then to larger than
life legend that, for the most part, tends to overshadow what the Bruce
accomplished even to this day, even though Bruce has the longer struggle.
One only has to look to the movie Braveheart to see the Bruce is not viewed in
the same adoring light as Wallace. In Scotland January 2000, we saw the
great debate over a planned burning of The Bruce in effigy - though the
originator of the idea later claimed it was meant to honour The Bruce!
Not for an instant do I discount what Wallace did for our country. Since
childhood, I have been a great admirer of him, a man unwilling to yield, even
when he likely knew what the outcome would be. He has received credit for
almost singlehandly engineering the decisive win at Stirling, with history
rarely giving Sir Andrew de Moray's vast role in that victory a footnote.
Surely, de Moray deserves as many laurels as Wallace? Had he not roused
the Highlanders, and joined Wallace, backing him with his noble
background, the Battle of Stirling may have been written much differently, with
Scotland likely becoming a mere satellite of England as Edward Plantagenet had
intended. Question of just how much of the win was due to Wallace and
what was due to de Moray goes on and on in debate with de Moray
belatedly getting some deserved recognition. Stirling was a defencive
battle. This goes to support the de Moray side, since only a year later at
Falkirk, Wallace chose to fight an offencive battle when he commanded alone.
Why would Wallace change the Highland tactics of hit-and-run and defencive
battles? For centuries they struck, catching their enemy on bad or
unfamiliar ground, and then fading into the Mists - so typical of Stirling's
Battle tactics. Rarely did they take on battles in head on confrontation,
for they numbers were less, and mostly untrained, were no match for the
hard-bitten army of the English, increasingly made up by professional paid
Tactics of General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate
Army in the US War Between the States reflected similar defencive
campaigns, for he, too, faced greater numbers with better armed men, though Lee,
as well, failed completely at Gettysburg making an offencive attack.
Everything about the conflict at Falkirk demonstrated ill-thinking. The
Scots were farmers and serfs, not trained as soldiers, lacking weaponry and the
skills, especially notable the English Longbow. Had the defencive measure
of Sterling been employed, it might have turned the tide in the Scots favour.
Despite this failing, Wallace showed the common man he had a voice and a will
that mattered. He made people believe. Wallace gave
Scotland a national identity, where before Clan loyalties ruled. This was
a mere crack in the ice. Had those men who picked up the fallen banner not
carried on, not endured the years of hardships and battles, not seen it through
to the end, the final outcome would have witnessed Edward Longshanks' aim
I think it is this long shadow Wallace casts makes the Bruce pale. Wee
see Robert swearing fealty to Longshanks four times, casting those oaths aside
when the time was ripe with promise for rebellion, only to accept Edward's Peace
again and again. In the end, his break and trek northward is thought to
have take place because a friend sent him a warning of a silver shilling and a
pair of spurs, alerting of his imminent arrest.
Robert Earl Carrick
became King of the Scots fighting most of Scotland as well as the English Kings.
However, I remember he was first and foremost a man ? a young man at that in the
early stages of the rebellion. He had been raised at English Court where
everything is used to an advantage. From the cradle he had been spoon-fed
one day he would be king. That much about the man is easily seen.
His grandfather was Robert the Competitor, challenged John Balliol for the right
to kingship and had been named heir apparent under Alexander II and Alexander
III during periods when there were no children for heirs. Bruce of
Annandale, quite obviously, felt when Longshanks subdued the Scots after the
Battle of Dunbar, Edward would turn eye upon the second choice in the Great
Cause. So Robert grew up with the creed of waiting till the time was right
and positioning yourself to the best advantage.
To believe Robert wanted to be a hero cannot be doubted. Is there any man
who would not like to be the leader of some just cause, to strike a blow that
will bring about major changes in the world around you? However, to seek
being a hero solely for the honour and frame is nothing more than a dream.
To be very fair to Bruce, you must see the situation as he did.
It was true the Bruces were a formidable power - in the Lowlands
- yet nearly 2/3 of the country was aligned or under control with the mighty
Clan Comyn - Balliol was the King and brother-in-law to the Clan leader.
Clan Comyn and Clan Bruce were constantly at each other throats. When
Annandale and Carrick failed to deliver homage to Balliol after being
crowned king, their lands in Scotland were taken from them and given to Clan
Comyn, restored to them by Edward after the Ragmans Roll. At
various points, right up to the death of Red Comyn, anything Bruce did
to further the cause of freedom for Scotland, saw a checkmate from this
powerful Highland Clan. And if it is believed, Bruce tried to strike a
bargain with Comyn: Bruce would give all his lands to Comyn if he would support
Robert as King or Comyn would give all his lands to Bruce while Bruce supported
Comyn’s bid to be the King of the Scots. If that is accurate, then it
hardly shows Bruce putting his being King above Scotland and its freedom.
At every step the way after Dunbar, Clan Comyn did what was right for their
Clan rather than Scotland, and this truly saw Clan Bruce and Robert
hamstrung. Every time Robert pulled away from the English King and tried
to strike a blow for freedom, his youth and lack of backing from the rest of the
country, forced his hand where, once more, he had no alternative but to
accept Edward’s Peace. To do anything else would be futile.
Had Robert stayed the course of rebellion, he would have ended, at the very
least, like Sir William Douglas, dying in prison, or more likely, as Wallace and
the Bruce's brothers, a dead heroes executed in a most hideous fashion –
but with Scotland no closer to independence.
I think Robert the Bruce was a realist. He wanted a
free Scotland, he wanted to rule as its King, and in becoming that king, he had
to nearly fight half the country of Scotland as well as the might of the
English. At one time, early in the struggle, he struck out for
independence only to see even his own vassals and serfs not support him.
To be a hero is honourable, but it achieves little lasting if there is not some
solid basis for the real world behind it. It is sad people cannot see,
cannot put themselves in his shoes and ‘walk a mile’ to know, yes,
Bruce wanted to be king, he likely wanted to be a hero to Scotland, but he was
clear thinking enough to know dreams are only castles in the clouds if they
cannot be made into something solid and lasting. One wonders if William
Wallace would still be the great hero today had The Bruce not taken
Wallace’s hopes and goals and turned it into a solid reality.
So, yes, I think Bruce wanted to be King, and that may
have come first, but I find myself unwilling to condemn a man when so many
others would not have done differently.