Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Robert II

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ROBERT II (1316–1390), the Steward, afterwards king of Scotland, son of Walter III, steward of Scotland, and Marjory, daughter of Robert the Bruce [q. v.], was born on 2 March 1316. His father was fifth in direct male descent from Walter I, son of Alan, and this Walter is described as steward (dapifer) of Malcolm IV in a charter of 24 May 1158, which refers to the stewartry (senescallia) as granted to him by David I. In the prior reign of David I, Walter I was witness to two charters without the designation of Steward, so that the surname of the royal house of Stewart probably dates from the reign of Malcolm IV and the person of Walter I. Its earlier genealogy is uncertain, but an ingenious and learned, though admittedly in part hypothetical, attempt to trace it to the Banquho of Boece and Shakespeare, Thane of Lochaber, has been recently made by the Rev. J. K. Hewison (Bute in the Olden Time, pp. 1–38, Edinburgh, 1895). The chief estates of the Stewarts were in the shires of Renfrew. The Cluniac monastery of Paisley was founded by Walter I in 1160. He died in 1177. His son Alan, his grandson Walter II, his great-grandson Alexander, and his great-great-grandson James are all styled Stewards of Scotland. James, who took the patriotic side in the war of independence, died in the fourth year of Robert the Bruce, and was succeeded by his son, Walter III, whose support of Bruce was rewarded by the hand of his daughter, Marjory Bruce, in 1315. Marjory died in 1316, shortly after the birth of her only child, named Robert, doubtless after his maternal grandfather. The tradition that he owed his bleared or red eyes to a Cæsarian operation after his mother's death, by a fall from her horse near Paisley, is not supported by proof. Lord Hailes ingeniously suggested that it may have been invented to account for the colour of eyes which Froissart describes as like ‘sandal wood,’ or perhaps ‘lined with red silk’ (sendal). On 3 Dec. 1318, after the death of Edward Bruce without issue, the parliament of Scone, in presence of the king, enacted that, if Robert the Bruce should die without lawful heirs of his body, the son of Walter the Steward and Marjory should succeed to the crown, and made the further declaration that the succession should be in future to the heirs male in the direct line, whom failing to the heirs female in the same line, whom failing to the nearest collateral heir male.

On the death of Walter the Steward in 1326, his son Robert succeeded to the office and estates of his father, and three years later, on the death of Robert the Bruce, the latter's young son, David II, became king [see Bruce, David]. When Edward Baliol, by the aid of the English, got possession of part of Scotland, David II was sent to France, and in 1334 Baliol granted the whole estates of Robert, the young Steward, to David Hastings, earl of Atholl. Robert, like his father, had naturally supported the Bruces, and led, when a boy of sixteen, the second division of the Scottish army at the battle of Halidon on 13 July 1333. After Halidon he took refuge in Dumbarton Castle, which Malcolm Fleming still held for David II, and, crossing to Bute, succeeded, with the aid of Campbell of Lochowe and the islanders of Bute, called St. Brandan's men, in routing and slaying Alan Lile, who held Bute for Baliol. Ayrshire also yielded, and John Randolph, third earl of Moray [q. v.], having returned from France, he and Robert the Steward were chosen in 1334 regents in name of the exiled king. Robert was at this time a popular favourite, and is described by Bower ‘as beautiful beyond the sons of men, stalwart and tall, accessible to all, modest, liberal, cheerful, and honest.’ Next year a parliament was held by the regents in April at Dairsie Castle, near Cupar. The Earl of Atholl attended, and succeeded in creating dissension between the Steward and the Earl of Moray, so the parliament broke up in confusion, which spread throughout the country, each of the regents collecting the customs in the districts where he was most powerful. Later in the year Moray was taken prisoner by the English while engaged in a border raid, and a treaty was concluded with Edward III at Perth on 18 Aug. 1335 by certain nobles, who alleged that they had full powers both from Atholl and the Steward. Atholl alone was made lieutenant of Scotland for Edward, and, though the Steward is said by the English chronicler Knighton to have made his peace with the English king at Edinburgh, it is doubtful how far he shared in the treason of Atholl. Before the close of the year Atholl was killed in an engagement in the forest of Kilblane by a small Scottish force which had rallied to the support of the independence of the country under Sir Andrew Murray (d. 1338) [q. v.], and a council at Dunfermline rewarded Murray with the sole regency of the kingdom.

On Murray's death in 1338, Robert the Steward again became regent, and sent Sir William Douglas (1300?–1353) [q. v.], the knight of Liddesdale, to France to obtain aid from Philip of Valois. He laid siege in 1339 to Perth, which Baliol had left in the hands of Ughtred, an English captain. He was aided in the siege by William Bullock, a skilful soldier, though an ecclesiastic, who at this time deserted the English side, and brought over the castle of Cupar in Fife. Some French troops brought by the knight of Liddesdale, and commanded by Eugène de Garancières, arrived while the siege was in progress, and Perth capitulated on 17 Aug. Stirling soon after surrendered, and Robert made a progress through all Scotland north of the Forth. On 17 April 1341 the castle of Edinburgh was recovered by the Steward, through a stratagem of Bullock and the knight of Liddesdale, and on 4 May David II and his queen returned from France, landing at Inverbervie in Kincardineshire. David now assumed the personal government, which he held till the defeat of Neville's Cross or Durham on 17 Oct. 1346, when he was taken prisoner. The Steward, who, along with the Earl of March, had commanded the left wing, made good his retreat to Scotland, when the Steward was again elected regent, under the title of lieutenant of David II. The suspicion that he had deserted the king when the battle turned against him does not appear to be well founded.

The expedients adopted for raising the ransom belong to the history of David II [see Bruce, David]. Robert's position was directly affected by the negotiations, at first secret, though their purport must soon have leaked out, to evade the ransom by settling the succession on an English heir. In 1361 this project was broached to an embassy sent by David to York and London, whose members were David's most faithful civil and ecclesiastical advisers. In the same year the Earl of Mar rose against the king, and his castle of Kildrummy was taken. In 1363 the Earl of Douglas seized Dirleton, then in the king's hands, and the Steward, along with his two sons, made a bond with Douglas and the Earl of March to force the king to change his councillors. But David defeated Douglas at Lanark, and March and the Steward submitted. On 4 May 1363 the latter renewed his oath of fealty at Inch Murdach. David soon after went to London, and on 27 Nov. 1363 made a treaty with the English king, by which, on consideration of the discharge of the ransom, the crown was settled on Edward III in the event of failure of issue male of his body. Singularly enough, he had shortly before this date married Margaret Logie with the hope of issue. Both the treaty and the marriage were deadly blows against the Steward's right as heir-apparent, and it is not wonderful that they were followed by the seizure of the Steward and his three sons, who were, according to Fordun, put in separate prisons; but Robert and his fourth son, Alexander, the Wolf of Badenoch, appear to have been both imprisoned in Lochleven Castle. In a parliament at Scone on 4 March 1364 the proposal to transfer the succession from the Steward to Edward III, or his son Lionel, duke of Clarence, was brought forward, and unanimously rejected by the estates, who declared that they would have no Englishman to rule over them. The dispute between the king and Margaret Logie, which culminated in her divorce in 1370, led to the release of the Steward and his sons, and the exchequer rolls appear to prove that the Steward had been incarcerated only between June 1368 and 1369. On 22 Feb. 1371 David died in Edinburgh Castle.

Robert the Steward succeeded to the throne under the settlement of Robert the Bruce, and was crowned at Scone on 26 March 1371 under the title of Robert II. He was past his prime, having already reached his fifty-fifth year, and his children were already grown up. His precocious youth was the most brilliant portion of his life. His reign, though it lasted nineteen years, is of secondary importance, except as an epoch in Scottish history, through the commencement of a new race of kings which, notwithstanding its chequered fortunes, held the crown for more than three centuries.

In the parliament of 1372 provision was made for the election of the committee of lords of the articles out of the three estates, following the precedent set in the fortieth year of David II. This committee, which became so notable a feature of the Scottish parliament at a later period, ultimately fell under the influence of the king; but its inception appears to have been due to an opposite cause—the desire of the nobles to control the royal power. Next year parliament passed a statute as to the succession, by which it was declared that the king's five sons were to succeed according to the order of birth, in the event of failure of heirs of those elder to them. There had been comparative peace between England and Scotland till the succession of Richard II in 1377. Border raids, the capture of Mercer, a Scottish merchant captain, and the seizure of Berwick by a small band of independent Scots in the end of 1378, led to the renewal of hostilities. Robert himself, however, took no part in the war, which was conducted by the Earls of Douglas, Moray, and Mar. In 1380 John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, advanced to the border with a large force, but with full power to make peace, and a truce for a year was concluded. Next year he came to Scotland, and carried on further negotiations with the Earl of Carrick near Ayton in Berwickshire. It is significant that the whole negotiations with John of Gaunt were carried through by the Earl of Carrick, whose father, the king, is never once mentioned. The murder in 1381 of the king's son-in-law, Lyon of Glamis, by his nephew, Sir James Lindsay of Crawford, opened the great office of chamberlain, which Lyon held, to the king's second son Robert, earl of Fife, and was the first step in his ambitious career. In 1385 the truce with England expired, and war was renewed on both sides, Lancaster sailing up the Forth as far as Edinburgh, but effecting nothing of importance, while the Earls of Northumberland and Nottingham crossed the border. The Earls of Mar and Douglas, along with some French knights, retaliated in the north of England. ‘Of this journey,’ says Froissart, ‘the kynge of Scottes might ryght well excuse hymselfe, for of their assemble nor of their departyng he knew nothing, and though he had known thereof he coulde not have let it when they were once onward.’ In the parliament which met in Edinburgh in spring 1385 the Earl of Carrick was directed to carry out the restoration of order in the highlands committed to him by the parliament of 1384. All the facts point to the bodily and perhaps mental decline of Robert II. When Vienne, the admiral of France, came with a force of two thousand men and 1,400 suits of armour for the Scots, to enable them to prosecute with vigour the war with England, Robert did not at first meet him; and when he came at last to Edinburgh the French observation of him, as reported by Froissart, was: ‘It seemed right well that he was not a valiant man in arms; it seemed he had rather lie still than ride.’ But many of the Scottish nobles, as well as French allies, were eager to fight, and a levy was fixed on which amounted to thirty thousand men. Robert, perhaps really averse to war, as well as physically incapable for it, retired to the highlands, ‘because he was not,’ says Froissart, ‘in good point to ride in warfare, and there he tarried all the war through, and let his men alone.’

Neither in this expedition, nor in the defence of his kingdom when Richard II invaded it and burnt Edinburgh, nor in Sir William Douglas's brilliant diversion by a descent on Ireland, nor in the still greater expedition of 1388, in which the victory of Otterbourne and the capture of Hotspur were dearly bought with the death of Douglas, did the aged monarch take any part; and it is improbable that it was owing to any influence he personally exerted that shortly before his death Scotland was included in the truce made at Boulogne between France and England. At last, in 1389, the estates saw that the nominal government of Robert must be ended, and his eldest son, the Earl of Carrick, being disabled by a kick from a horse, his next surviving son, Robert, duke of Albany, was named guardian of the kingdom. Albany's son Murdoch was soon afterwards made justiciar north of the Forth in place of his uncle, Alexander, the Wolf of Badenoch, who was deposed from the office. Robert did not long survive his deposition. He died on 13 May 1390, in his seventy-fifth year, at Dundonald in Ayrshire, and was buried at Scone in a tomb he had prepared.

It is not quite easy to understand the panegyric which almost all Scottish historians, except John Major [q. v.], have pronounced on Robert II. It seems to have been due in part to his early successes, in part to amiable personal qualities, but chiefly perhaps to the fact that at the close of his reign, as Wyntoun—or rather his substitute, for he did not write this part of the ‘Chronicle’—puts it:

    Of Scotland wes na fute of land
    Oute of Scottis mennys hand,
    Outane Berwyck, Roxburgh, and Jedwurth.

Yet the credit was not due to him, but to the able generals who fought for him. Even the successes of his younger days were generally shared by others, like his earlier regencies. Major's sound judgment seems to suit the facts better than the traditionary verdict: ‘Now, whatever our writers may contend, I cannot hold the aged king to have been a skilful warrior or wise in counsel.’ He especially condemns the making of the Earl of Fife regent, which was ‘nought else than to run the risk of setting up two rival kings.’ But it appears probable that the preference given to the brother over the son of Robert II was due not to the king's own act, but to the powerlessness both of Robert and the Earl of Carrick to prevent it. There is a portrait of Robert II in John Johnston's ‘Icones of the Scottish Kings,’ Amsterdam, 1602, and in Pinkerton's ‘Iconographia Scotica.’ Pinkerton doubts its authenticity, and there is a suspicious resemblance, almost amounting to identity of feature, between this portrait and that of Robert III in the same work. Although neither portrait is proved authentic, the costume is that worn at this period, and the features have some resemblance to the faces on the coins of these reigns.

Robert II married in the end of 1347, or soon after, Elizabeth More or Mure, daughter of Sir Robert Mure of Rowallan. A dispensation for the marriage, dated in December 1347 by Clement VI, was discovered by Andrew Stuart in 1789. Robert had lived with Elizabeth Mure before marriage, for the dispensation sets forth that they had ‘a multitude’ of children of both sexes. Those known were John, lord of Kyle, created earl of Carrick, who succeeded his father as Robert III [q. v.]; Walter, earl of Fife; Robert, earl of Menteith and, after his brother Walter's death, of Fife, and duke of Albany, the regent [see Stewart, Robert, first Duke of Albany]; and Alexander, earl of Buchan, the Wolf of Badenoch [see Stewart, Alexander, d. 1405].

Robert II also had six daughters: Marjory, wife of John Dunbar, son of the Earl of March, himself created Earl of Murray; Jean, wife of Sir John Lyon, lord Glamis; Elizabeth, wife of Sir Thomas Hay of Errol; Margaret, wife of Macdonald of Isla; Catherine or Jean, wife of David Lindsay, first earl of Crawford [q. v.]; and Giles, wife of William Douglas, lord of Nithsdale, who was deemed the most beautiful Scotswoman of her time. After Elizabeth Mure's death, and before 1356, Robert married as second wife Euphemia, daughter of Hugh, earl of Ross, and widow of John Randolph, third earl of Moray [q. v.], by whom he had David, earl of Strathearn; Walter, earl of Atholl [see Stewart, Walter]; and Isobel, wife of James, earl of Douglas. Besides these he had at least six natural children, among whom were Sir John Stewart of Rowallan, called The Black; and Sir John Stewart of Dundonald, called The Red Stewart. The numerous alliances of Robert II's children with the chief noble families, as in the case of Robert the Bruce himself, probably strengthened his claim to the throne, but after his accession led to discord which he was unable to control.

[Acts of Parliament (Scotland), vol. i.; Exchequer Rolls, vols. i. ii.; and specially Burnett's Prefaces, Wyntoun's Chronicle; Bower's addition to Fordun's Scotichronicon; John Major's Greater Britain (Scottish History Society, Edinburgh); Extracta e variis Chronicis Scocie; Liber Pluscardensis. Pinkerton and Tytler are the best modern historians of this period. Andrew Stewart's History of the Stewarts discusses, in a supplement, the question of the marriage of Elizabeth Mure, and prints the dispensation.]

Æ. M.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.234
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
344 i 13 f.e. Robert II: for 1370) read 1390)
346 i 14 for fifteen read nineteen