Famous Men of the Middle Ages/Robert Bruce
The most famous king that Scotland ever had was Robert Bruce. He lived in the days when Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III were kings of England.
During the reign of Edward I the king of Scotland died and thirteen men claimed the throne. Instead of fighting to decide which of them should be king they asked Edward to settle the question. When he met the Scottish nobles and the rivals, each of whom thought that next day he would be wearing the crown, Edward told them that he would himself be their king. Just then an English army marched up. What could the nobles do but kneel at the feet of Edward and promise to be his vassals? This they did; and so Scotland became a part of Edward’s kingdom and Baliol (Ba’-li-ol), one of the rivals who claimed the Scottish throne, was made the vassal king.
Some time after this Edward ordered Baliol to raise an army and help him fight the French. Baliol refused to do this, so Edward marched with an army into Scotland and took him prisoner. He was determined that the Scotch should have no more kings of their own. So he carried away the sacred stone of Scone (scoon), on which all kings of Scotland had to sit when they were crowned, and put it in Westminster Abbey in London, and there it is to this day. [NOTE FROM Brett Fishburne: As of 1994, the stone is in Edinburgh Castle.] It is underneath the chair on which the sovereigns of England always sit when the crown of England, Scotland, and Ireland is placed upon their heads. It is said to have been the very stone that Jacob used for a pillow on the night that he saw, in his dream, angels ascending and descending on the ladder that reached from earth to heaven.
Edward now supposed, as he had this sacred stone and had put King Baliol in prison, that Scotland was conquered.
But the men whom he appointed to govern the Scotch ruled unwisely and nearly all the people were discontented. Suddenly an army of Scots was raised. It was led by Sir William Wallace, a knight who was almost a giant in size. Wallace’s men drove the English out of the country and Wallace was made the “Guardian of the Realm.”
Edward then led a great army against him. The Scottish soldiers were nearly all on foot. Wallace arranged them in hollow squares—spearmen on the outside, bowmen within. The English horsemen dashed vainly against the walls of spear-points. But King Edward now brought his archers to the front. Thousands of arrows flew from their bows and thousands of Wallace’s men fell dead. The spears were broken and the Scotch were defeated. Wallace barely escaped with his life. He was afterwards betrayed to Edward, who cruelly put him to death.
But the Scotch had learned what they could do and they still went on fighting for freedom, under two leaders named Robert Bruce and John Comyn. Edward marched against them with another large army. He won a great victory, and the nobles once more swore to obey him.
But in spite of this oath, Bruce meant to free Scotland if he could, and win the crown. He was privately crowned king of Scotland in the Abbey of Scone in 1306.
He said to his wife, “Henceforth you are the queen and I am the king of our country.”
“I fear,” said his wife, “that we are only playing at being king and queen, like children in their games.”
“Nay, I shall be king in earnest,” said Bruce.
The news that Bruce had been crowned roused all Scotland and the people took up arms to fight under him against the English. But again King Edward defeated the Scotch and Bruce himself fled to the Grampian Hills.
For two months he was closely pursued by the English who used bloodhounds to track him. He and his followers had many narrow escapes. Once he had to scramble barefoot up some steep rocks, and another time all the party would have been captured had not Bruce awakened just in time to hear the approach of the enemy. He and his men lived by hunting and fishing.
However, many brave patriots joined them, until after a while Bruce had a small army. Five times he attacked the English, and five times he was beaten. After his last defeat he fled from Scotland and took refuge in a wretched hut on an island off the north coast of Ireland. Here he stayed all alone during one winter.
It is said that one day, while he was very down-hearted, he saw a spider trying to spin a web between two beams of his hut. The little creature tried to throw a thread from one beam to another, but failed. Not discouraged, it tried four times more without success.
“Five times has the spider failed,” said Bruce. “That is just the number of times the English have defeated me. If the spider has courage to try again, I also will try to free Scotland!”
He watched the spider. It rested for a while as if to gain strength, and then threw its slender thread toward the beam. This time it succeeded.
“I thank God!” exclaimed Bruce. “The spider has taught me a lesson. No more will I be discouraged.”
About this time Edward I died and his son, Edward II, succeeded to the throne of England. For about two years the new king paid little attention to Scotland.
Meantime Bruce captured nearly all the Scotch castles that were held by the English, and the nobles and chiefs throughout the country acknowledged him as their king.
At last Edward II marched into Scotland at the head of a hundred thousand men. Bruce met him at Bannockburn on June 24, 1314, with thirty thousand soldiers.
Before the battle began Bruce rode along the front of his army to encourage his men. Suddenly an English knight, Henry de Bohun, galloped across the field and tried to strike him down with a spear. Bruce saw his danger in time and with a quick stroke of his battle-axe cleft the knight’s skull.
The Scotch army shouted again and again at this feat of their commander, and they went into the battle feeling sure that the victory would be theirs. They rushed upon the English with fury and although outnumbered three to one, completely defeated them. Thousands of the English were slain and a great number captured.
In spite of this terrible blow Edward never gave up his claim to the Scottish crown. But his son Edward III, in 1328, recognized Scotland’s independence and acknowledged Bruce as her king.