Robert the Bruce was Scotland's greatest King ever. The Bruce, as he was known, was crowned King of Scots in 1306, a time when the ancient kingdom of Scotland was under harsh and illegal English occupation. As soon as King Robert began his reign, his army was treacherously attacked at Methven, resulting in a calamitous defeat for the Scots which forced the Bruce into hiding. Yet, steadily between 1307 and 1313 King Robert won battle after battle, shunning pitched medieval clashes, and fighting as a guerilla force, a form of warfare which he, perhaps, invented.
The war peaked in 1314 when the Bruce faced a formidable English invasion. With brilliant tactics and resolute bravery the vastly outnumbered Scots defeated and routed the knights, archers, and foot soldiers of mighty England at the Battle of Bannockburn. And that's only the first part of this epic tale of the Bruce's long and event-filled life.
The Great Scot is a novel filled with valor, treachery, passionate love, journeys great and small, and people of every rank and situation-all from the pages of Scottish history.
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About the Author
Duncan A. Bruce, a descendent of Sir Edward Bruce, brother of Robert the Bruce, is a native of Pittsburgh and a graduate of the Wharton School. He has written two nonfiction books on the contributions Scots have made to civilization, The Mark of the Scots, and The Scottish 100, which has received numerous honors. He is married with two grown children and lives with his wife, Tamara, in New York City.
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The Great Scot
A Novel of Robert The Bruce, Scotland's Legendary Warrior King
By Duncan A. Bruce
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Duncan A. Bruce
All rights reserved.
My girl, Leezie Maxwell, stood in the doorway smiling at me. She looked beautiful there in the moonlight and I kissed her earnestly. Her dark eyes sparkled with mischief in the cold air. She waved good-bye to me and, still smiling, closed the door, leaving me out on the main street of the town of Dumfries. I had just turned fourteen and had come to town looking for adventure. I wanted especially to see Leezie, but also hoped that I might meet a few of the lads for a jug of ale.
I had walked the few miles to the town from my mother's croft. My mother and I were poor, but we were never hungry. We had some chickens and a cow and we grew vegetables in our little plot. And there were fish aplenty in the river nearby. The laird didn't ask us for much rent. Only three chickens at Lammas, two score eggs at Candlemas, and a stone of butter around Michaelmas. We had more milk and eggs than we could use, so we sold some at the weekly market. My father, John Crawford, I can barely remember. He was a small feu holder, and was killed at Falkirk in 1298, fighting alongside the great William Wallace. He had lived only thirty-seven years. My mother told me that my father had a deep hatred of the English soldiers who were occupying many of the castles in our country. One time, for no apparent reason, an English officer had slapped him so hard he fell in a filthy ditch. My father never forgot that incident, and volunteered, along with many Scots, to fight for freedom with Wallace.
It was evening when I got to Dumfries. February 10, 1306, was the date, and it shall never leave my mind. The sun had long since set and it was dark. What light there was came from a weak moon, reflected by a thin layer of fresh snow. There were lights in some of the windows, but no one was moving about on the street, so far as I could see. This was not unusual, as many folk were afraid to be outside, what with the English troops occupying the town. I stood by a stone building and drew my cloak up around my neck against the chill. And then my world changed — aye, the world of Scotland itself would change within minutes. Into the street thundered several mounted riders. In the centre of the group, I could scarcely believe it, was none other than Robert Bruce, the Earl of Carrick. He was wearing light armour and that unmistakable coat of arms of the Bruces of Annandale with its stunning reds and golds. It wasn't often a lad such as I would see so great a personage. Bruce had been one of the Guardians of Scotland, and was a claimant to the throne of the country. And Scotland needed a strong king desperately, as it had been a long twenty years since the untimely death of our great king Alexander III. For all that time the succession had been in doubt, and the English king, Edward I, was using this opportunity to try to impose his will on us. King Edward was claiming an overlordship of Scotland and his soldiers were occupying our castles. King Edward hated the Scots. He even called himself "The Hammer of the Scots," as if he was bent on crushing us. We had all heard that King Edward offered to support the Bruce's claim to the throne, but only if he would acknowledge the supremacy of England. King Edward had even promised, "Gyff thow will hald in cheyff off me I sall do swa thow sall be king." But Robert Bruce had made it clear that if he were to become King of Scots his reign would be completely independent of England, and this enraged the English king. Why it should have I don't know, since our little kingdom of Scotland had been proudly existing centuries before the kingdom of England was even born.
Most of us country folk in southwest Scotland knew all about the Bruce. He was by far the most important person in the entire area, and we wished that he would become our king and lead us to freedom from the damned English, who were occupying our land and treating us like vermin. We ordinary people were choking on this rule by foreigners. We couldn't breathe without running into an English soldier. They helped themselves to whatever of ours they fancied, including our homes and our women. We wanted to live free, under our own laws. But most of the nobles, like the Bruces, were vacillating as to whether they were Scots or Englishmen. You see, most of the Scottish nobles were of Norman origin, often speaking French instead of Scots, and holding lands on both sides of the border. Most English nobles spoke French, too. In fact, the Normans were so powerful in England that the English language was dying out. The Bruces were, despite their Norman origin, of solidly Scottish noble ancestry on their maternal side. But the Earl of Carrick had not made up his mind; instead he was hedging his bets. Although he considered himself a patriotic Scot, his lands in England made him one of the richest men in that country. He was trying to keep what he had in both countries, and the pressure on him was great.
The noble party dismounted right outside the church known as Greyfriars, and Bruce went inside the chapel, leaving the others behind. I was fascinated and moved closer in the darkness so that I could better see what was happening. I didn't know then that John Comyn, called the Red Comyn, another former Guardian of Scotland, would arrive in minutes, but he did. And now I had seen two of the greatest men in Scotland one after the other. Comyn arrived with another knight, whom I later learned was his uncle, and they dismounted and gave an icy greeting to the Bruce party. It seemed obvious that these two great nobles, each with strong claim to the crown, and probably the two most powerful men in Scotland, should dislike each other. As joint Guardians there had been such a great friction between them that governing had been difficult. The Red Comyn went inside the chapel, motioning for his uncle to stay outside. To me it looked like the meeting had been prearranged and that the two great men wished to meet alone.
I couldn't resist the temptation to see all of this and moved closer to the chapel. I knew there was a side door to the sanctuary, and I entered as quietly and as quickly as I could, hiding myself behind a pillar. The inside of the chapel looked beautiful, glowing in the yellow light of the tapers on the walls. Bruce was seated in one of many wooden chairs that were arranged in ranks throughout, but he had taken his chair up to the high altar. He was sitting right there on the platform and it looked improper to me; perhaps not sacrilegious, but unseemly at least. Even seated the Bruce looked strong. He had a ruggedly handsome face, his thick, black hair set off by deep blue eyes. His frame was powerful and he looked resolute sitting there, all alone in the quiet of the chapel, when the Red Comyn entered. The stillness was broken as Comyn stalked in measured strides toward the altar, his boots echoing throughout the empty chapel and his spurs jangling. Comyn appeared arrogant as he swaggered foward, the coat on his chest adorned with the blue and gold colours of his family's arms. Bruce rose to meet him. There they were, just a few steps from me — the two former joint Guardians of the Realm of all Scotland. I was, I assure you, quite beside myself with excitement. Then these two great nobles, both strongly built, embraced and kissed — and then (it seemed to me to be a bad omen) they retreated so that they were standing more than a yard apart.
Bruce began to talk. He asked Comyn how he had been, and Comyn replied that he had been well, and asked how Bruce's affairs were going. Bruce answered that things were going very badly indeed, and suddenly, in great agitation, he produced from underneath his coat of arms a document that he waved at Comyn. His voice was angry, and he said something in French I couldn't understand.
"What's wrong with that?" said Comyn in Scots. "Isn't that the indenture to which we agreed?"
"It is indeed," replied Bruce, who seemed to be shaking with emotion.
"I don't see your concern," Comyn said. "I have agreed to support your claim to the crown, to mak ye king, and I sall be in your helping with ye giff me all the land that ye haiff now. Right?"
"That's right," said the Bruce, biting the words off short, his voice breaking with anger. "Your support in exchange for all my lands."
"Then what is your problem? Oh, Robert, you don't wish to break the contract, do you?"
"Not at all," said Bruce. And then he shouted, "The problem is that our agreement states clearly that under me as king of Scots, Scotland would be as before, completely independent of England, a concept you well know is hated by the English king. We further agreed we would keep our agreement secret from King Edward. I now accuse you of violating our agreement of secrecy and of telling all to King Edward!"
"But Robert, I have breached no such secrecy. It would be dangerous for me as well as yourself."
"Your are a liar, sir! You intended to inform the English king of our arrangement, and to claim falsely that I tricked you into signing it under duress. Further, you told King Edward that you remain loyal to him, and that I am a rebel, to be sought out and killed! Thus you will become his favourite for the post of puppet king, and then you will have all my lands as well!"
"Robert, you are mad! You cannot prove what you say!" The Red Comyn began to move his hand to his sword.
"Cannot I so prove?" asked the Bruce, now shaking with emotion. "I can prove it well. The copy of our indenture I hold in my hand is your copy, which my men took from your messenger, who was about to carry it across the border to England and King Edward. You, sir, are a traitor!"
At this point, both Comyn and Bruce were fingering their weapons and hurling insults at each other in French. As the argument got more heated Bruce pulled his dagger, a sgian-dubh, as the Highlanders call it, and got in the first blow. John Comyn grunted in agony and a great tide of blood welled up from his chest under his mail. He fell to the stone floor and sat in a pool of gore, his sword making a great clanging noise as it dropped from his hand. He tried to speak, making gurgling and gasping sounds. He tried to pick up his sword but couldn't. He tried to gain his feet, but fell back into the increasing mess of his own life-fluid. It was a horrible sight. I was terrified and retreated back outside to a place near the chapel door, managing to hide in the dark, where, I hoped, no one would see me. Suddenly Robert Bruce came out through the main door and said to one of his aides, whom I now know to have been Sir Roger Kirkpatrick, "I doubt I have killed the Red Comyn." Bruce said this in French, "Je doute que j'ai tué le Comyn Rouge." Sir Roger pulled his sword and answered in Scots that he would make sure that Comyn's life would end that night. "You doubt? Then I mak sikker" is how Sir Roger put it. He drew his sword, turned, and charged into the chapel.
On hearing this the other Comyn knight, the uncle, who had been relieving himself against a building across the street, finished his business and went for his sword, but one of the Bruce knights raced after him, drawing his own steel. The duel went on for only a few seconds, punctuated by the clanging of the weapons and the grunts of the knights. In the end, the Bruce swordsman won, dispatching his opponent. The fight had made a noise in the darkness, and people began to appear in the street.
In less than a minute Kirkpatrick emerged, and all of Bruce's party mounted. I heard the Bruce say in Scots, "Let us leave this place at once. When this news is out the Comyns will come back on us." They started to ride out of the town when, seeing me, they halted. "Who are you, young man?" one of the riders asked.
"I'm David Crawford, sirs," said I, taking off my cap and trembling with fear. I realised that I might be the only witness to the slaying. The Bruce asked me if I had been in the chapel, and, since my mother always told me to tell the truth, I admitted that I had seen all. At first I thought they might kill me, but the Bruce grabbed me and swung me up on his horse as if I weighed nothing more than a lapdog. "You will come with us," he said to me in Scots.
I was afraid to say anything, and we started up the road for Dumfries Castle, which was nearby. I missed my mother and knew that she would be upset I hadn't come home, but she could not possibly have imagined the company I was keeping that night. I was not to see her for quite some time. My adventure had now begun. I was riding into the night, behind the saddle, and with my arms around the waist of the most important man in Scotland.
As we rode to the castle, the whole town seemed to come awake. The streets filled at the news of the killings. But the people seemed to think the event a victory. I heard several shouts of "Up with the Bruce!" They had waited a long time for a champion to come forward, and he was widely admired, at least in my area. When our party reached the castle, the Bruce didn't waste any time. After we had all dismounted, the earl gave the reins to me and told me to stay quiet and wait. In an instant the lone guard was overcome and our knights were inside the castle, which contained a small contingent of unarmed and unprepared Englishmen. They were, of course, outraged that Bruce's arrival was interrupting their evening, but the earl made himself very clear, someone told me later, that they could either be escorted to the English border or stay in the castle while he burned it.
Bruce then met with his men and gave them instructions. He pointed to the banner high above the castle flying three leopards or lions for England; it was hard to tell which. "Make sure," he said to his men, "to take down that banner as soon as is convenient." He left several men in charge of the castle and asked me if I could ride. Of course, this is one thing I was really good at, so I said, "Yes, sir, I can indeed." Whereupon one of the English horses was made available to me, and, after I had mounted, the Bruce and I and one other horseman rode north in the dark. I could scarcely keep my breath, so great was the excitement in me. I knew I wasn't, but I felt I must be a knight!CHAPTER 2
It was too dark to ride any distance that night, and we three proceeded carefully, keeping close to the trail. Sometimes we could not even find the path. It was difficult going, and slow. I could see at times the coat of arms of the other rider, an angry-looking blue lion. I rode behind as the two knights talked during our journey, and I was able to understand that the other rider was the earl's brother, Edward Bruce. After a mile or two we turned our steeds into the forest. The trees obscured what little light there was and made it too dark to ride. We dismounted and walked the horses by their reins, using our arms to feel the route of the path. Within a few hundred yards we reached a clearing that surrounded a wooden cottage, a sort of hunting lodge, which I presumed the Bruces maintained. The earl asked me to water and feed the horses and told me that there were oats in a lean-to at the back of the building and a stream for watering. I attended to this business immediately, and when the horses had had their fill my chores were finished. I was wondering what to do next when Edward Bruce came out of the lodge and called, "Well, laddie, you can't eat your dinner out in the cold. Get in here!"
I entered the lodge as quietly as I could. There was a fire going and its warmth raised my spirits. The earl motioned for me to sit down at table and I sat, shivering. The table was rough enough, lit by two candles stuck in rude candlesticks, and the meal was some very old oatcakes and cheese, both somewhat mouldy. I noticed there were two jugs of the French wine called claret. I was given a bowl of it, and I am here to tell you that its taste opened a new world for me. I had never tasted anything stronger than ale before, and I like ale still. But the taste of this claret was something I had never expected. It was rich and earthy yet delicate, with a long sensuous after-taste. I ate some oatcakes and cheese and tried to relax, but Edward Bruce and the earl began to talk of their crime and the whole cabin became tense. They were snapping at each other.
"Robert, you look miserable. Set your mind at rest," Edward said, as he refilled the earl's bowl.
"You might also look uneasy had you just committed murder, Edward."
"Murder you call it — murder? I say an act of war against tyranny." The younger brother's voice was high-pitched and strident. He spoke rapidly.
"But it is I who did the deed, Edward. It is a dirty business, and in a holy place as well." The earl's voice was full of emotion and he spoke slowly.
"Am I not an accomplice, Robert? I am and proud of it. You have killed a turncoat, nothing more. You have wiped out a traitor. You have done a proud deed for our family and for Scotland. You will soon be king."
"Aye, you are right, Edward. But I have this sin on my conscience. It will never go away."
The Bruce brothers were silent for a while, sitting there as the soft candle-light flickered on them unsteadily, upon their fine satin coats such as I had never seen up close. Then they remembered that I was there. They were suspicious of me, and somehow they would have to deal with me. Edward Bruce looked at me sharply and began to question me. "Why were you in the chapel, Davie?" Before I could answer he continued, "Why were you in Dumfries town at all? Do you belong there?"
Excerpted from The Great Scot by Duncan A. Bruce. Copyright © 2004 Duncan A. Bruce. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One - The Road to Bannockburn 1306-1314,
CHAPTER ONE - Sacrilegious Murder,
CHAPTER TWO - The Lodge,
CHAPTER THREE - Three meetings,
CHAPTER FOUR - Coronation,
CHAPTER FIVE - Disaster at Methven,
CHAPTER SIX - Exile in the West,
CHAPTER SEVEN - A Visit to the Isles,
CHAPTER EIGHT - First Victories,
CHAPTER NINE - The Spider's Tale,
CHAPTER TEN - Momentous Success,
CHAPTER ELEVEN - Taking the Highlands,
CHAPTER TWELVE - Màiri,
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - Rescue by Sea,
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - The Challenge,
CHAPTER FIFTEEN - Battle at the Bannock Burn,
Part Two - The Way to Holyrood 1314-1328,
CHAPTER SIXTEEN - Imperial Aspirations,
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - A Declaration of Independence,
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - A Mission to the Pope,
CHAPTER NINETEEN - A Just Peace,
Part Three - Rest 1328-1376,
CHAPTER TWENTY - Passage to Dunfermline,
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE - Highlander,
Also by Duncan A. Bruce,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Would definitely recommend the book
Great entertaining story. If you liked the Braveheart movie, you'll like this book.
Good thing it was written through the eyes of a young boy, cause I think that's who wrote it.