Robert I, king of Scotland

Robert I or Robert the Bruce, 1274–1329, king of Scotland (1306–29). He belonged to the illustrious Bruce family and was the grandson of that Robert the Bruce who in 1290 was an unsuccessful claimant to the Scottish throne. He became (1292) earl of Carrick and on his father's death (1304) assumed the lordship of Annandale and of the Bruce lands in England. In 1296, Robert swore fealty to Edward I of England, but the following year he joined the struggle for national independence. He appears to have taken part only intermittently until an obscure contest between him and John Comyn (d. 1306) for the adherence of the Scottish nationalists resulted in Comyn's murder (probably unpremeditated) by Bruce or his followers. In defiance of Edward I, Robert was then crowned king at Scone in Mar., 1306. Defeated by the English at Methven (1306), he fled to the west and apparently took refuge on the island of Rathlin, off the coast of Ireland. The Bruce estates were confiscated by Edward, and punishment was meted out to Robert's followers. From this time of discouragement stems the legend that Robert learned courage and hope from watching a spider persevere in spinning its web.

Returning in 1307, Robert won a victory at Loudon Hill, which brought him new adherents. Edward I attempted to lead a new expedition against the rebellious Scots but died on the way and was succeeded by his son, Edward II, who failed to pursue his father's vigorous course. Robert was able to consolidate his hold on Scotland and to recapture lands and castles from the English. Stirling was besieged by the Scots and so hard pressed that the English governor finally agreed to its surrender if relief from England did not arrive before June 24, 1314. On June 23 and 24, at nearby Bannockburn, Robert overwhelmingly defeated the large English relief force led by Edward II. The war went on, and in 1318 the Scots recaptured Berwick. A truce, made in 1323, lasted only until 1327, when the bellicose young Edward III led an unsuccessful expedition to the north. Finally, by the Treaty of Northampton (1328), the English recognized the independence of Scotland and the validity of Robert's title to the throne.

Robert spent the short remainder of his life in his castle at Cardross and died there, perhaps of leprosy. As he requested, his embalmed heart was given to Sir James de Douglas, lord of Douglas, to be carried to Jerusalem for burial. Douglas was killed in Spain, but (according to tradition) Robert's heart was recovered, brought back to Scotland, and buried in Melrose Abbey. By his courage and skill Robert had freed Scotland from English rule. He was succeeded by his son, David II.

See biographies by A. M. Mackenzie (1934, repr. 1957), G. W. S. Barrow (1965, rev. ed. 1988), and R. M. Scott (1989, repr. 1996); C. McNamee, The Wars of the Bruces (1997).

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