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Robert the Bruce (1274-1329):

"A noble hart may have none ease gif freedom failye."
~ John Barbour [The Brus]
Robert the Bruce
Robert the Bruce

The biography of Robert the Bruce is the story of Scotland's independence from England. Although Hollywood gave all the glory of the First War of Independence to William Wallace, Scotland was saved in the end by its king. Bruce bided his time to build up his authority as the King of Scotland to prepare himself and his army to face the challenge posed by the formidable "Hammer of the Scots," King Edward I of England.

The fourth great-grandson of David I of Scotland, Robert the Bruce, was born in Turnberry Castle in Ayrshire to Robert de Brus, 6th Lord of Annandale, and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, daughter of Niall, Earl of Carrick. Through his mother he would inherit the Earldom of Carrick, and his patrilineage put him in line for the Scottish throne. Little else is known about Robert's youth, except that he was fluent in the languages of his lineage, Norman French and Gaelic, and taught to read and write Latin.

Robert the Bruce was born into the most tumultuous time of Scotland's history. The nation faced unprecedented crisis in 1286 when Alexander III died, leaving his granddaughter Margaret, three-year-old daughter of the King of Norway, as his heir. Edward I, who had his eyes set on subjugating his northern neighbor, suggested to Margaret's father, Eric II of Norway, that she should be betrothed to his son, five-year-old Edward of Caernarvon and heir to the English throne. The Guardians of Scotland, a group of noblemen who acted as the de facto heads of state during the young queen's minority, did not have the power to deny the marriage, but were able to secure Scotland's future with the Treaty of Birgham. Any offspring of a marriage between Margaret and Edward would be heir to the crowns of both England and Scotland - the treaty provided a provision that Scotland would "remain separate, apart and free in itself without subjection to the English Kingdom," should such an heir ascend to power.

Margaret was sent to Scotland in September 1290, as per the Treat of Birgham's agreement that she would arrive before 1 November. However, she died en route at the Orkney Islands, leaving Scotland's throne without an uncontested successor.

John Balliol, great-great-great grandson of King David I through his mother, made a claim to the throne, as he was senior in line by genealogical primogeniture. Robert the Bruce's grandfather, Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale and great-great grandson of King David, rose as a competitor to Balliol, as he was the senior heir by blood proximity. The two challengers submitted their claims to a panel of one hundred and four Scottish auditors with King Edward as arbitrator at a conference in Berwick-upon-Tweed in June 1291.

King Edward favoured Balliol, whom he believed would be more compliant with England's agenda, as Balliol's house had an established tradition of loyalty to the English crown. Balliol was thus pronounced rightful king of Scotland in November 1292, and was coroneted at Scone on St. Andrew's Day.

Now Edward showed his true intentions. He coerced Balliol into recognizing him as Lord Paramount of Scotland, feudal superior of the realm, and steadily undermined the Scottish king's authority. Edward treated Scotland like a vassal state; he demanded homage and taxation, and repeatedly humiliated the new king, whose lack of real authority earned him the nickname "Toom Tabard."

Statue of Bruce
Statue of Bruce

But when Edward demanded that Balliol supply Scottish troops for his campaign against King Philip IV of France in 1295, Balliol balked. The kingdom's leading noblemen appointed a new panel of twelve Guardians to advise King John, who displayed courage hitherto unknown. He refused Edward's request for military support, declaring himself sovereign of Scotland and accountable only to his own people. The new Guardians went on to secure the first of a series of pacts of mutual assistance with France against England, which became famously known as the Auld Alliance.

Edward was ready for the challenge. He went north to receive homage from a number of Scottish nobles, among them twenty-one-year-old Robert the Bruce, now 7th Earl of Annandale and Earl of Carrick, and his father. (After Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale, lost the throne to Balliol, he resigned his lordship to his son. The younger Brus, however, had already resigned the Earldom of Carrick to his son upon his wife's death.) Balliol immediately punished this disloyalty by seizing Bruce's lands and giving them to his brother-in-law, John II Comyn, Earl of Badenoch. The Wars of Independence had begun.

The First War of Scottish Independence:

In April 1296, Edward's army crushed Balliol at Dunbar. That July, the Scottish king was forced to abdicate the throne and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Edward seized the sacred coronation stone of the Scottish kings from Scone and had it placed in Westminster Abbey. He summoned a parliament at Berwick-upon-Tweed, where two thousand Scottish noblemen - including Robert the Bruce and his father - swore the oath of fealty to the English monarch. Scotland seemed subdued.

But the rising tide of nationalist fervor in the face of English conquest could not be held down - a new generation of leaders was emerging to counter the invading armies. Andrew Moray raised a banner in the name of John Balliol following abdication, and his forces repelled English garrisons at the castles in Banff and Inverness by the year's end. After a brawl with English soldiers in a Lanark marketplace, William Wallace found himself thrust to the head of a resistance movement closer to the border.

Statue of Bruce near Stirling Castle
Statue of Bruce near Stirling Castle

Robert the Bruce broke his oath of fealty to Edward and took up arms under William Wallace in 1297; after Wallace resigned as Guardian the following year (for the main task of the Guardian was to raise armies against England, and Wallace's military reputation was crushed following his defeat at Falkirk), Bruce and John "the Red" Comyn, filled his place. Comyn's father, brother-in-law to King John, had been one of six Regents for Margaret, Maid of Norway, and a competitor for the throne during the succession crisis against Bruce's grandfather and John Balliol. As nephew to John Balliol, Red Comyn posed a serious threat to Bruce's claim to the throne. The two could not reconcile their personal differences to serve effectively as co-Guardians, so William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, was assigned as a third Guardian to maintain neutrality and balance within the post. Bruce, however, resigned the following year and was replaced by Sir Gilbert, Earl of Angus. In 1301 the triumvirate resigned in favour of a single Guardian, Sir John de Soules, whose loyalties belonged neither to Bruce nor Comyn, but to Scotland, and campaigned for King John's return.

Despite the valiance of the Scottish resistance, the King Edward's armies were too powerful. After 1302, John Balliol (who had been living in exile in France and Italy) gave up his attempt to reclaim the throne from abroad and extended no further support to the Scots who raised banners in his name. By summer's end in 1303, Edward's forces had taken Edinburgh, Perth, Dundee, Brechin, Montrose, and Aberdeen. From there he marched north through Moray to Badenoch and then went south against Underline. The last major Scottish stronghold, Sterling castle, fell that winter. The country was conquered.

In February 1304, the leading noblemen - excepting William Wallace, who remained at large, refusing to pay homage to Edward, and John de Soules, who was in France to garner support from King Philip - surrendered to a new sovereign. John "the Red" Comyn, serving again as Guardian in a singular capacity, negotiated the terms of submission. Subordinate to England, and without a monarch or a heroic patriot (for Wallace was captured and executed in 1305), Scotland was left powerless - and it was time for Robert the Bruce to rise to his rightful place in history.

Bruce adamantly believed in his right to the throne. However, he held vast amounts of property in Scotland, a barony, and a large family to protect. If he made his claim, he would throw the country into a second series of wars, and would be risking everyone and everything he held dear - Edward would surely strip Bruce of his lands, titles, and his very life should he fail. The risk was huge, especially since John Comyn, another potential claimant, could easily thwart him: Comyn had been more resolutely opposed to the English than Bruce and so was seen as more loyal to Scotland; his house was the most powerful of the noble families; and he could claim descent from King Donald III through his father and from King David I through his mother.

The two surviving claimants to the Scottish throne reached a compromise: Bruce would renounce his claim in exchange for a large land grant from Comyn's estate. Comyn, however, thought to keep both the claim and his land, and sought to eliminate his rival by informing King Edward of Bruce's ambitions for the throne. But before the message could reach Edward, Bruce's party captured the messenger and discovered Comyn's betrayal.

Bruce invited Comyn to meet under the pretense of calling for a truce in the church of the Grey friars monastery in Dumfries, in February 1306. It was a different kind of meeting than what Comyn was expecting: Bruce attacked his unsuspecting foe before the high altar and fled. Upon hearing that Comyn had survived the attack and was being treated in the monastery, two of Bruce's supporters, Roger de Kirkpatrick and John Lindsay, returned to finish Comyn off.

Bruce had only two options now: become a fugitive or a king. He chose the latter course.

While Rome prepared to excommunicate Bruce for his sacrilege, William Lamberton, with whom Bruce had made a secret pact of allegiance to continue the struggle after Scotland's surrender, encouraged the Scottish church to side with Bruce. The Bishop of Glasgow, Robert Wishart, was a nationalist and a patriot, and easily swayed: instead of excommunicating Bruce, he absolved him of the crime and urged the people of Scotland to rise in his support. Bishop Wishart then accompanied Bruce to Perthshire, where other prominent clergymen and nobles, including Lamberton, had gathered to witness the coronation at the sacred Scone Abbey.

Robert & Elizabeth
Robert & Elizabeth

Isabella Macduff Comyn, Countess of Buchan (and rumored mistress of Bruce), asserted the right of her family, the Macduff Earl of Fife, to place the Scottish king on his throne. On 25 March 1306, she crowned King Robert I of Scotland.

Now that Bruce had attained his kingship, he had to reclaim his kingdom. Upon facing the impending trials that lay ahead, Bruce's wife (and now Queen of Scots), Elizabeth de Burgh, is reported to have mused, "It seems to me we are but a summer king and queen whom children crown in their support".

The Raised Dragon:

On 5 April, an irate King Edward sent Aymer de Valance, his plenipotentiary in Scotland and Comyn's brother-in-law, to destroy those who objected to his rule. Valence marched north under orders to take no prisoners, and to burn and waste the lands, homes, and goods of all rebels. With an army of English soldiers stationed in southern Scotland, and a few Scots hostile to Bruce, Valence "raised dragon" on his king's order - unfurled a dragon banner that indicated the war they were waging would be total war, without quarter.

Valence moved quickly, making his base at Perth by mid-summer, where he was joined by the powerful Comyn family, who was itself engaged in civil war against King Robert. On 18 June, Bruce came with his forces from the west; ready to meet his foe in the gentlemanly, formal conventions of feudal warfare, his herald invited Valence to leave the walls of Perth and engage on the field of battle. Valence piously declined on the grounds that the Sabbath - for it was Sunday - was a day ill-suited for battle, and declared that they would engage tomorrow. Bruce, devout despite killing a man before the altar, took Valence's word at face value, and withdrew his army five miles to Methven to make camp for the night.

Valence struck before dawn. The Scots, having time not even to armor or mount, were utterly devastated - only about five hundred of a force of about 4,500 men managed to flee. Bruce himself narrowly escaped.

King Robert struggled to regroup. But as the months progressed, the future appeared bleaker. His brother Niall was captured and executed; his wife, daughter, and sister were captured in a sanctuary at Tain and sent to prison in England. What was left of his army was mauled again by the Macdougalls of Lorn, allies of the English, and many of his most loyal supporters were captured. Pushed to the fringes of the country, the freedom fighters had no base save the empty range of hills, their friends that were still alive had been terrorized into passivity, and the Comyn family still sought their destruction. The Scottish army, as an organized military force, had ceased to exist. As historian I. M. Davis remarked of the situation, "a venture unpromising from the first shrunk into a ghastly farce". 1

Plaque on Rathlin Island
Plaque on Rathlin Island

For a while the king found refuge at Dunaverty Castle near the Mull of Kintyre, but as Valence uncovered his position and prepared to move in once more, Bruce, with nary a follower, fled to Rathlin Island off the northern coast of Ireland.

Legend has it that while Bruce was hiding in a cave in Rathlin, lost in his thoughts, he observed a spider trying to spin a web on the cave's ceiling. He did not pay much attention at first, but started to notice that the spider was having undue difficulty connecting the threads. Each time the web broke, the spider simply started over again, unflappable in its patient determination. Bruce was soon mesmerized by the spider's fortitude, and eventually saw a large web reaching from one part of the ceiling to another. Encouraged by the spider's perseverance despite its seemingly hopeless circumstances, Bruce resolved to come out of hiding to re-launch his campaign.

Bruce’s Stone
Bruce’s Stone

The devastation at Methven had imparted a valuable tactical lesson: Bruce could not hope to defeat England in conventional medieval warfare. In February 1307, with an army of men recruited from the Western Isles, Bruce came ashore in his own earldom of Carrick, where he could expect to command the local support. More importantly, he knew the countryside well, and it was full of remote and difficult areas that would protect and cover his men as they engaged in guerrilla warfare. They successfully raided an English camp in the area and established a base at the head of Glen Trool in Galloway. When Valence learned of his foe's presence, he sent a small party of knights up the narrow track that led to Bruce's camp. Bruce's men coupled expert use of the terrain with the lack of the knights' mobility and dealt a small but humiliating loss to Valence. Perhaps the most important aspect of the victory was that it showed Bruce's key strength as a military leader: his chameleon-like ability to adapt to new circumstances, advancing and retreating as the occasion demanded.

Fresh recruits came from the surrounding countryside to rally around the returned king. When the Scots engaged Valence's forces at Loudon Hill, the Scots used the boggy landscape to neutralize their numerical disadvantage while restricting the movement of the English knights; Bruce's spearmen, moreover, descended with such ferocity that the rear ranks of the English army fled in panic. Bruce left his brother Edward in command of Galloway while he campaigned in the Highlands.

The victory at Loudon Hill was important for encouraging morale, but the greatest boost came two months later when, on 7 July 1307, King Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, died.


Battle of Bannockburn
Battle of Bannockburn

King Edward II lacked his father's drive and ambition - Bruce reportedly snickered that he feared the dead Edward I more than the living Edward II. The new king did not bear a personal grudge against the Scots, and was more interested in entertainment than conquest. Legend says his father, on his deathbed, requested to have his body boiled and his bones extracted to be carried with the army until Scotland was subdued. Edward II ignored this request, and had his father buried in Westminster Abbey instead.

While Edward II left his allies in Scotland without support to focus on domestic issues, Bruce moved to knock out his internal opponents, beginning with the Balliol party in Galloway. From there he marched on towards Inverness, where John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan (not to be confused with his cousin who was murdered in 1306), held his power base, taking castles with ease. Buchan prepared to take Bruce by surprise when the king, who had fallen seriously ill that spring, made camp in Inverurie. His feudal levies at the rear of the formation were operating under an assurance that Bruce was too sick to take to the field himself - so when the levies caught the king in their sights, they crumbled.

Bruce's Seat
Bruce's Seat

Intent on ending internal resistance, Bruce ordered his men to destroy the whole Earldom: all the farms, crops, animals, homes and strongholds associated with the Comyns and their supporters were burned to the ground. The violent and bloody "Harrying of Buchan" was so terrorizing that the population of the whole earldom lost all loyalty to the Comyns, never again to rise in hostility against Bruce and his supporters.

For the next seven years, King Robert I steadily clawed back more of the country that Edward I had taken from Scotland. Bruce's guerilla strategy - an exhausting but deliberate refusal to meet the English on even ground - eroded English strongholds while Edward, concentrating on domestic troubles with his barons, left Scotland free of invasion for two full years. By 1314, only Stirling Castle and Berwick remained under English control.

On 23 June 1314, Edward II took an army of twenty thousand infantry and three thousand cavalry to relieve the siege of Stirling Castle. He gambled the entirety of his grand feudal army to force Bruce and his army of - men of all ranks collected from all of Scotland - into a final battle, unable to afford losing his last forward castle in Scotland. Edward mistakenly believed that his vastly superior numbers would alone be enough advantage to defeat the Scots. As he moved along the main road to Stirling, King Robert and his army waited at the Bannock Burn.

Making expert use of the terrain to their advantage, Bruce's men peppered the old main road with three-foot deep pits to force the enemy onto the carse, a hard low-lying area of the river valley, where they would be caught in a kind of natural vise, blocked by streams to the north, east, and south. Things started to go wrong for the English even before the first blow was struck.

The English vanguard advanced recklessly down the road, crossing the ford over the Bannock Burn towards Bruce's division at the opening of the park, and the battle opened with a Hollywood-like bang. Sir Henry de Bohun, nephew of the Earl of Hereford, was riding ahead of his companions when he caught sight of the Scottish king, mounted on a small palfrey without armor, armed only with a battle-axe. De Bohun seized a chance to win perpetual glory, and lowered his lance. Bruce stood his ground as the war-horse thundered closer; at the opportune moment, he stood in his stirrups, turned aside, and split de Bohun's skull in two with a tremendous blow of his axe. Chided by his commanders for taking such an enormous risk, the king admitted regret that he had broken the shaft of his axe.

Bruce's division, cheered by their king's heroic encounter, charged forth to engage the main vanguard. The schiltron division had furthermore learned how to keep mobility and formation at the same time, and the English horsemen couldn't penetrate their ranks without the support of archers. Furthermore, the sheer size of the English army was soon working against them, as their lack of mobility lost them much time getting into formation.

The next day, Edward moved his forces across the Bannock Burn toward Stirling, and faced a surprise attack as Bruce's army poured from the cover of the woods. Before they drew too near, the Scots stopped and knelt in prayer. Supposedly, Edward marveled, "They pray for mercy!" To which an attendant somberly replied, "For mercy, yes. But God's, not yours - these men will conquer or die."

Panel commemorating the Battle
Panel commemorating the Battle

The whole Scots army pushed into the English mass, so tightly packed that the man who lost his footing was immediately crushed underfoot. With the English formations cracking, and the knights beginning to retreat back across the burn, the Scots army shouted, "They fail! Lay on, lay on!" When Bruce's camp followers heard the cry, they gathered weapons and banners and rushed forth from the wood; the English still on the north side of the Bannock Burn thought this was a fresh reserve and hopelessly broke into flight. A crush ensued as they tumbled over one another down the steep, muddy banks, so deadly that "men could pass dry-shod upon the drowned bodies." 2 Edward escaped with his personal bodyguard and any remaining order collapsed. Only a force of Welsh spearmen that was kept together by its commander reached the safety of Carlisle across the border. Only a third of the great English army came home.

Scotland had secured its independence, but the war was far from over.

Edward Bruce and Ireland:

In January 1315, a force of Norman-backed Scots took the Isle of Man from King Robert's control, opening Argyll and southern Scotland to potential invasions. If Robert could open a second front in Ireland, Argyll would be safeguarded and England would be drained of precious manpower, materials, and finances. Having long maintained personal and political contact with the men of Ulster, Robert sent envoys to the native kings and clergymen with letters invoking the common ancestry between the two nations, and offered to assist them in recovering their liberty from England. Although Gaelic chieftains had enjoyed relative autonomy from their English overlords in the past, they were pushed close to financial ruin as Edward II burdened them with high demands to finance his war with Scotland. King Robert thought he could use the brewing discontent to his advantage.

King of Tyrone, Domnall mac Brian O'Neill accepted his offer in the face of mounting Anglo-Irish incursions on his borders. In exchange for aid, he agreed to recognize Edward Bruce, King Robert's younger brother, as the High King of Ireland. England had been ruling Ireland since the reign of King Henry II, and Ireland had not had a high king since the end of the twelfth century. King Robert, delighted at the prospect of him and his brother ruling a grand Gaelic alliance, agreed. Thus Edward Bruce and his fleet of six thousand men landed in May on the Irish coast, where a dozen Ulster kings paid homage to him as the High King of Ireland.

Edward Bruce spent several years warring against the Anglo-Irish and their Norman supporters. At first the Scots-Irish alliance seemed unstoppable as he and his Gaelic allies won battle after battle, eventually conquering most of the country. But when famine and disease took over in 1317, their attacks turned into little more than plundering raids on an already desperate peasantry. Bruce lost much popular support, and was confined to the north, held by serious shortages of provisions and supplies. He had to wait until the next year, after the weather and harvest improved, to exert his forces again.

Then, in October 1318, Edward Bruce engaged John de Birmingham's huge army in battle without waiting for reinforcements to arrive from Scotland. He fell in the Battle of Faughart, and his body was beheaded and quartered in four different cities. All attempts to restore a Gaelic kingdom in Ireland fell with him.

The Declaration of Arbroath:

Robert the Bruce monument
Robert the Bruce monument

Since the defeat at Bannockburn in 1314, Edward II had been preoccupied with an ongoing political struggle among himself and his senior barons. He had ignored the Scottish raids into the north of his country, but could no longer disregard his enemy after Sir James Douglas and Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, reclaimed Berwick-upon-Tweed, the last English stronghold in Scotland, in 1318. The loss of this important point sobered Edward and his magnates; he and Aymer de Valence temporarily reconciled to bring a sizeable army together in the summer of 1319.

Queen Isabella accompanied her husband as far north as York, where she took up a residence. While the Scots valiantly held back the English army, King Robert would not risk a direct attack. Instead, he ordered Douglas and Moray on a diversionary large-scale raid into Yorkshire, hoping to draw the English away from Berwick. As the Scots army advanced, rumor circulated that one of the aims of their raid was to take the queen captive. She was rushed out of the city, and Yorkshire itself was left virtually undefended. The Archbishop of York hurried to scrounge up an army from among its citizens, including a large number of men of the cloth. An estimated four thousand Englishmen were killed by the Scots army, and another thousand drowned in the River Swale.

Bruce's strategy worked: the English army at Berwick split apart over the encounter at Myton-upon-Swale. While Edward and southern noblemen wished to continue the siege, the northern lords, including de Valence, Duke of Lancaster, were concerned about their own families and lands and wanted to return to protect their homes. De Valence refused to remain at Berwick, and the siege had to be abandoned. Moray then followed the disbanded army with raids in Cumberland and Westmorland. Edward asked Bruce for a truce before Christmas.

On 6 April 1320, eight Scottish earls and forty-one other magnates and noblemen affixed their seals to a letter to Pope John XXII that sought affirmation for Scotland as an independent, sovereign state, and its just use of military action to defend against attacks. Known as the Declaration of Arbroath, this document asserted that Scotland was an independent kingdom, and had always been independent; and King Edward I had acted unjustly in his invasion, and perpetrated atrocities against Scotland; and that Robert the Bruce had delivered Scotland from this peril:

"As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself."

The letter also asserted that independence was the prerogative of the Scots people, not the king of Scots, and that the nobles had the right to depose a king who threatened Scotland's independence. In this way, the letter argued that King Robert had been forced to fight an illegal war or face being deposed. It is one of the earliest expressions of a Scottish national consciousness, and one of the earliest proto-democratic documents in Europe to declare the right of a people to choose their king.

Scotland and England held several peace conferences between 1321 and 1324. However, Edward refused to recognize Bruce as King of Scots, despite the Pope's acquiescence to the assertions of Arbroath; and although a truce was called in 1324, Edward allowed English privateers to attack vessels trading with Scotland. After the English attacked the Flemish Pelarym and slaughtered all the Scots on board, Bruce's demand for justice was unmet. He renewed the Auld Alliance with France in 1326, and resumed his raids into northern England.

Peace was finally formalized after Edward II died, leaving Dowager Queen Isabella and Earl Mortimer of March to govern on behalf of the underage Edward III of England. The Treaty of Northampton was ratified on 3 May 1328, bringing the First War of Scottish Independence to a close.

Bruce’s alleged death mask
Bruce’s alleged death mask

Isabella and Mortimer agreed, in the name of King Edward III, that they "renounced all pretensions to sovereignty" over Scotland, and restored the England-Scotland border to its position during the reign of Alexander III of Scotland. The treaty concluded that Scotland "shall remain forever to the eminent prince Lord Robert, by the grace of God the illustrious king of Scots, our ally and dearest friend, and to his heirs and successors, divided in all things from the realm of England, entire, free, and quit, without any subjection, servitude, claim, or demand." To formalize the arrangement, King Edward's six-year-old sister was married to the four-year-old son of King Robert that summer. Scotland was free.

The Heart of the King:

Marker for Bruce’s heart
Marker for Bruce’s heart

Robert the Bruce was not fated to long enjoy the peace of his kingdom. He was just fifty-four when, in 1329, he fell ill with a severe skin disease (thought for centuries to be leprosy but now reevaluated as psoriasis or something of the like). Before passing away on 7 June 1329 at Cardross Manor in Dumbarton, he called his closest friend and most loyal compatriot, Sir James Douglas, to his bedside. He requested that the knight carry his heart to Jerusalem and deposit in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - unable to embark upon a crusade during his lifetime, King Robert perhaps hoped that the symbolic journey could atone for his murder of John Comyn.

Early in 1330, Douglas, wearing the heart in a small silver casket upon his person, set sail for the Holy Land along with seven other knights, twenty-six squires, and a proportional retinue. They made a stop-over in Flanders, where they heard of King Alfonso IX of Castile's plea for assistance in his crusade against the hostile Moors of Muhammad IV's Kingdom of Granada. The Scots were joined by a large company made up of knights from all over Europe, and the international party proceeded to Seville to support King Alfonso's army.

At the Battle of Teba in August 1330, Douglas wore the silver casket containing the heart of Bruce around his neck. While in command of one of the army's flanks, he led his troops forward under the mistaken belief that a general advance had been ordered. The Scottish contingent charged the Moors, but, not fully supported by the rest of the flank, was soon surrounded. Douglas became separated from his attending knights, and when he saw a body of Moors surround them, he charged towards rescue. The party was soon encircled by a throng of enemies. Realizing that death was imminent, Douglas took the casket off his neck and hurled it into the midst of the enemy, crying, "Onward, brave heart, I'll follow thee or die!"

Dunfermline Abbey
Dunfermline Abbey

After the battle, the few surviving Scottish knights retrieved Sir Douglas's body and the casket containing the heart. They brought the relics back to Scotland, and buried the heart in Bruce's beloved Melrose Abbey. A team of archeologists uncovered the heart in 1920 and put the old container inside a modern one before reburying it. The heart was again unearthed in 1996 by experts from Historic Scotland and was taken to a conservation laboratory; researchers, however, did not risk damaging the original container by trying to open it. The heart was reburied in 1998, its site commemorated with a plaque bearing the inscription:

"A noble hart may have none ease gif freedom failye."

  1. Davis, I. M., The Black Douglas. 29
  2. Reese, P., Bannockburn, Canongate: Edinburgh, 2003. p.167
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