biography · english history · history · Scottish History

Battle of Bannockburn and Robert the Bruce (Part 3)

Part One ( The Great Cause (Part 1) )

Part Two ( William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2) )

In 1297, the Robert the Bruce was 22 years old. In part 1 of this series, his grandfather (also named Robert Bruce) was one of the contenders for the Scottish throne but lost to John Balliol. The Bruce family was still one of the most powerful Scottish families and were determined to see their claim to the throne fulfilled. They sided with Edward I when the first rebellions broke out.  This was because they refused to back their rival John Balliol and hoped others would support their claim. Now, the young Robert Bruce, against the wishes of his father, decided to join the Wallace’s rebellion in 1297. In 1298, Bruce was named Guardian of Scotland. His rival, John Comyn (the nephew of John Balliol), was also named co-Guardian. The men disliked each other and again were beginning to split into factions, just like their previous relations. Yet, despite these factions, in 1302 Edward received oaths of allegiance from all parties. Was young Robert the Bruce going to honor this oath?

Robert the Bruce (

In February 1306, Robert the Bruce stabbed and murdered John Comyn in a Franciscan church in Dumfries. The murder was sudden and a shock to everyone, including Edward I. It was shocking not just because one of the Guardians of Scotland had murdered the other, but because it was committed on sacred ground. Comyn was murdered in front of the altar inside a church. Yet this shocking event did not seem to have been planned. After this attack, Bruce’s plot had been revealed. For two years, it seems that Bruce had been forming alliances and support for his retaking of the throne, which would be viewed as an act of treason by Edward I. It seems that in this secret meeting at Dumfries, John Comyn, refused to collaborate in this conspiracy. In a fit of rage, Robert Bruce destroyed his rival.

Robert the Bruce moved swiftly after this event, for now his plot was exposed. He had to begin his war now before Edward I could register what happened. Bruce and his supporters quickly began to take back castles in south-west Scotland and then moved to Glasgow. The city’s bishop, Robert Wishart, had absolved Robert Bruce for his sins at Dumfries (though the pope still excommunicated Bruce) and provided him with a banner with the Scottish royal arms and vestments fit for a king. It seems that these had been secreted away before the English could confiscate them. By the end of March, Bruce had quickly arrived at Scone Abbey (the traditional place for Scottish coronations) and was crowned as King Robert of Scotland. This was witnessed by many Scottish nobles and churchmen which revealed their approval of Robert Bruce’s rebellion. Scotland was declared a kingdom once again.

Edward I was in shock and furious. Robert the Bruce’s swift treason and coronation had come at a complete surprise to the English King. His wrath was so terrible that it affected Edward’s physical health. By this time, Edward was 67 years old and was not as strong as he had once been earlier in his reign. It was difficult for him to give up control of his armies to others, but he was now being carried by a litter. His son, future Edward II of England, was knighted and took up most of the command.

Edward of Caernarfon set out immediately for Scotland with a military force. His father followed at a laborious pace behind, due to the physical pain he was in. After eight years of conflict with the Scots, his latest success had been overthrown quickly. Yet, Bruce was also out of luck.

Robert Bruce was defeated at Methven in June by the forces of King Edward. Bruce had escaped and was now forced into hiding. The support that he had been attempted to obtain with his coronation was fading fast. His brother, Neil Bruce, was captured and executed.  Bruce’s wife, Isabella countess of Buchan, and his sisters were captured and imprisoned in cages that hung off the towers of the castles at Roxburgh and Berwick. They were hung there to send a message to any other rebels that still lurked.

Robert Bruce was on the run from the English. His coronation was only months ago. Was his reign really to end this way? This was likely a distressing and humiliating position for Bruce to be in. He was also worried about his loved ones who had been captured by the English. We know the history now, but at this time Robert the Bruce likely thought he was finished.

Robert the Bruce gained inspiration from a spider. | Ancient Pages
Robert the Bruce and the Spider (

There is a legend about Robert the Bruce that is still told today. According to the story, a disheartened King Robert sought refuge in a dark cave during his period of exile. For a long time, he watched a spider who was trying to make a web across the cave wall. The spider would fall again and again, but always get back up to try to spin its web. Finally, after a long period of work, the spider was able to attach a strand of web to the wall and began to spin a beautiful web. The moral of this story is the cliché phrase, “if at first you don’t succeed…try, try again.” Robert the Bruce took inspiration from this spider to stand up again and face the English. He was not going to give up that easily. If not from the spider, Bruce found his courage somewhere and began a guerrilla warfare campaign against the English in the north of Scotland.

In 1307, Robert Bruce began to crack through English defenses and emerge from hiding as the “redeemer”.  With these small victories, Bruce was destroying the myth of the English invincibility. The exile king began to obtain the confidence of his people again and they began to follow him. Meanwhile, on the English side, Edward I was now 68 years old and his health was in bad shape. There were worries throughout the kingdom that Edward I would not live, which would doom the Scottish campaign. There was, rightly so, a lack of confidence in his heir (Edward of Caernarfon) who was much weaker than his father and less experienced. When Bruce began his attack, Edward of Caernarfon was summoned back north to return to the war, but it seems he decided to take his time in the south with his favorite, Piers Gaveston.

Edward I was, again, extremely unhappy with the turn of events which led to another decline in health. Yet, in response, he left his litter and again mounted his war horse and rode out to take on the Scots. He did not make it. He died on July 7, 1307 in Cumberland, England on the way to war. The loss of such a powerful king was such a blow to the English that his death remained a secret until the heir could arrive. The death of Edward I at this moment was an advantage to Robert the Bruce. A strong leader was replaced by a weaker one.

Edward II had a difficult legacy to follow and could not have been more different than his formidable father. His devotion to his favorites allowed him to be easily controlled and swayed. Edward II was very attached to his male favorites (more likely his lovers), but his taste in men was not very good. Prior to his fathers death, he had become devoted to a knight called Piers Gaveston. His father had banished Gaveston due to how much Gaveston influenced his son. The first act of Edward II’s reign was to recall this favorite to his side.

Edward II.
Edward II of England

Edward II began to gift his favorite coveted earldoms which angered the English nobles. They believed that this “low-born” Gaveston did not deserve the titles that they were entitled too. They demanded the banishment of Gaveston and a restriction to the King’s role in appointments/finances. This eventually led to the nobles capturing and murdering Piers Gaveston. Later in his reign, Edward II found some new favorites in Hugh le Despenser and his son, the young Hugh le Despenser (also likely the kings lover). The Despenser’s took advantage of the weak Edward II and their greed ran rampant. Edward II allowed the Despensers to run wild and put too much reliance in them for the affairs of the kingdom. In the end, Edward II’s own wife, Isabella of France, and her lover Roger Mortimer invaded England and forced Edward II to abdicate in favor of his son, Edward III, in 1326. The Despenser’s were quickly executed.

Though this happens all in the future, it is helpful to see how Edward II differed from his father. His reliance on others, blindness to corruption among his favorites, and his weakness during his abdication shows that Robert the Bruce had a new advantage. Bruce began to chip away at the English strongholds one by one and took back the Scottish castles.

Edinburgh Castle | History, Treasures, & Facts | Britannica
Edinburgh Castle (

Edinburgh Castle is the most besieged castle in British history. There have been 23 attempts to capture the castle throughout its existence. One of these instances was in 1314, by Robert the Bruce and Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray. Randolph was the nephew King Robert and was personally granted the earldom of Moray by his uncle.  In early 1314, Randolph devised the plan to take back Edinburgh Castle from the English. Like Stirling, Edinburgh castle is also built upon an outcropping of volcanic rock and overlooks the city. It is in a great defensive position that would be difficult for armies to reach. Randolph met with a William Francis who knew of a secret way to climb the rocks and enter the stronghold in secret. Apparently, Francis had used the secret way to meet with a lover that lived in town. According to John Barbour’s poem, The Brus, Randolph and 30 men climbed up the rocky cliff under the cover of darkness. It really is an amazing feat when looking at images of the cliff side. One slip would mean a fall to your death. After climbing the wall, Randolph and his men surprised the garrison that was stationed there and seized control of the castle from the inside.

By 1314, Robert the Bruce and his troops controlled almost all of Scotland and began to raid the villages of northern England. The Scots had taken back their castles and were finally united with the same goal. Edward II raised another large army to confront Bruce (which was estimated to be about 15,000-20,000 men). As usual, the Scots were outnumbered with only 6,000 men. Yet, the Scottish army was now experienced after years of raids and guerrilla warfare under the command of Robert Bruce. Bruce, his brother Edward, and Sir Thomas Randolph led the three divisions. These divisions were arranged in the schiltroms formations (as discussed in part 2).

Day 1 of Battle of Bannockburn (

The armies met on June 23, 1314 just south of Stirling castle. The Battle of Bannockburn was a long battle (by medieval standards) as it lasted two days. Edward II’s army found that the road to Stirling had been blocked by the Scots army and was surrounded by boggy terrain.  The English division, led by Sir Henry de Bohun, began to charge when they saw King Robert and his troops emerge. Henry de Bohun had hopes of killing the Scottish King himself to gain the fame and valor. Bruce and de Bohun met in single combat which ended with Bruce splitting the knight’s head with an axe. This legendary contest boosted the morale of the Scottish troops. When the Scots rushed the troops, the English cavalry had to withdraw. The English divisions led by Robert Clifford and Henry de Beaumont moved forward to try and outflank the Scots but failed when the schiltrons (led by Thomas Randolph) emerged from their hiding place in the woods. They took the cavalry by surprise. The English cavalry could not break through the mighty spearmen despite attempting to throw their swords and maces at the Scots. The Scottish army had won the first day and gained strong morale, while the English were humiliated.

Day 2 of Battle of Bannockburn (

On June 24, 1314, Bruce’s divisions of schiltrons advanced against the English forces. In this battle, Bruce did not only use the schiltrons as a defensive position, but as an offensive one as well. They advanced slowly and kept the tight formations that would protect them from the cavalry of the English. The Scottish archers were sent out to bait the English longbowmen to shoot at them and distract those archers as the schiltrons advanced. The English bowmen fell for the ruse. The English also had some infighting between their commanders, Clifford and Gloucester, as to who should lead the charge. The English were unorganized.

As the English cavalry ran into the schiltrons, the arguing commanders and their men were destroyed. The Scottish formations held and continued to push their enemies back. Edward Bruce’s schiltrons pushed the English forces all the way to Bannockburn stream. Their goal was to trap the forces between two streams, the Bannockburn and Pelstream. The Scots revealed their strong discipline to hold these positions and how their training during these years had paid off. By this point, the English longbowmen were useless as the Scots were too close and they archers would risk hurting their own forces. Some of the English archers broke out but were quickly stopped by Sir Robert Keith’s Scottish cavalry. As the hand to hand combat took place between the English and the Scots, Robert the Bruce brought in his own division and with their attack the English were broken. The English fled and Robert the Bruce had just won one of the most legendary battles of his career and of Scottish history.

(I thought this video was very good at illustrating the Battle of Bannockburn, much better than I can explain )

Edward II and the English presence in Scotland was finished. He would never recover from this defeat. The Scots did not stop at Bannockburn and continued to raid into the open lands of Northern England. King Robert the Bruce of Scotland was finally ruler of a united and a free Scotland.

Declaration of Arbroath - Wikipedia
Declaration of Arbroath 1320

In 1320, The Declaration of Arbroath was created. It was a letter written to the pope by the people of Scotland requesting him to recognize their independence and Robert the Bruce as their king. In 1324, the Pope officially recognized Bruce as the legitimate King. In 1328, Edward III (ruler after Edward II was forced to abdicate) was made to sign the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northhampton. In this treaty the English king recognized Scottish independence and renounced the English claims of overlordship. They sealed this with a marriage between Bruce’s son, David, and Edward’s sister.

Reconstructed face of Robert the Bruce before leprosy (left) and after.
2016 facial reconstruction of Robert the Bruce by historians at the University of Glasgow and LJMU (

King Robert the Bruce had finally achieved what so many Scottish kings, nobles, and military had been struggling for years to do. He received recognition that Scotland was independent and defeated the English. Therefore, he is still remembered today as one of the most famous figures in Scottish history. He died in his fifties on June 7, 1329 and was succeeded by his son David II (who would go on to rule Scotland for over 40 years).

I hope this was an enjoyable series and I hope one day I will be able to see all the places mentioned in person!



Bower, Walter and D E R Watt, ed. A History Book for Scots: Selections from the Scotichronicon. Mercat Press: Edinburgh, 1998.

Captivating History. Wars of Scottish Independence: A Captivating Guide to the Battles Between the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England, Including the Impact Made by King Robert the Bruce. Captivating History, 2018.

Hourly History. Wars of Scottish Independence: A History from Beginning to End. Hourly History, 2019.

Morris, Marc. A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain. New York. Pegasus Books, 2008. -“Battle of Bannockburn, 1314 First War of Scottish Independence” HistoryMarche

Goldstein, R. James (1991) “The Women of the Wars of Independence in Literature and History,” Studies in Scottish Literature: Vol. 26: Iss. 1. Available at:

biography · english history · european history · history · Scottish History

William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2)

In part one of this series (The Great Cause (Part 1)), Edward I had forced the Scottish nobles and their King to swear an oath of allegiance to him as their “overlord”. As he believed he had finally subjugated Scotland, the English king attended to affairs in other parts of his kingdom. After the betrayal of John Balliol and a failed rebellion, Edward I completely occupied Scotland. He sent soldiers to ensure his rule would continue. The people of Scotland were taken advantage of and abused under this military occupation. Scotland needed a new champion to take up their cause for freedom. Their nobles had failed them with their infighting and military defeats, so it was time for one of their own to pick up his sword.

William Wallace’s background is hazy and was thought to be the son of a minor feudal lord in Renfrewshire or Ayrshire. He seems to have grown up with military training which contributed to his later success. He was a very tall man . He was over six feet when the average male height was about 5’6” (though this physical characteristic was highly exaggerated in legends). Walter Bower (author of  the Scotichronicon) describes him as having “a certain good humour, had so blessed his words and deeds with a certain heavenly gift, that…he won over to himself the grace and favour of the hearts of all loyal Scots.” Bower also described him as “fair in his judgments”, compassionate, patient, and a skilled orator. Yet, English sources would describe him as “a vagrant and a fugitive”, a “bloody man”, and “a chief of brigands” (Morris, pg 303).

Continue reading “William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2)”

english history · european history · history · Scottish History

The Great Cause (Part 1)

This month I was supposed to be travelling to Scotland with one of my best friends. Scotland has been a dream trip of mine for a while, but it seems 2020 had other plans for me and so many others in similar situations. I hope to re-schedule, but, in the meantime, I would love to share some Scottish history in a new three-part series. This series will focus on the First Scottish War of Independence (1296-1328). This was a time that was filled with fascinating characters, intriguing military battles, and cunning tactics. On the English side, we have Edward I, “The Hammer of the Scots”. Edward was one of the strongest monarchs in English history, but also has a reputation of being a tyrant. Later, his weaker son, Edward II, will struggle to carry on his father’s legacy. There are some familiar names on the Scottish side such as: William Wallace and the legendary King Robert the Bruce. Along the way there will be a sprinkling of minor characters, including a brilliant sneaky re-capture of Edinburgh by Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray. I am greatly looking forward to this series and I hope it will provide an interesting read!

The Lothians - East, West & Midlothian | VisitScotland
A photo of Edinburgh, which was our travel destination (

In 1286, Alexander III of Scotland died and ended what had been considered a golden age of the Scottish kingdom. At 45 years old, King Alexander decided to risk it all and take a dangerous ride through a stormy night in order to spend the night with his new young bride of twenty-two years old. The next morning, he was found dead at the rocks at the bottom of a cliff. It was a disaster for Scotland as Alexander III had survived all his children and his new young wife had not yet produced an heir. With the throne up for grabs, powerful factions began to form which threatened the stability that had been a constant in the prior Kings reign. The main players were John de Balliol and Robert Bruce (senior, his grandson will become the more famous Bruce). Rebellion and civil war threatened Scotland due to the succession crisis and infighting between the two factions.

Continue reading “The Great Cause (Part 1)”

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Book Spotlight: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

In this post I wanted to highlight a new book by author and historian, Hallie Rubenhold. The Five is a history that involves the now infamous story of Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper was a serial killer that terrorized Victorian London. In the modern area, it seems his killing spree has almost been glorified through the media and tourist attractions. It is all about Jack the Ripper, his mysterious identity, and his modus operendi. His victims are only remembered as “prostitutes”, but can any of us even recite their names?

Continue reading “Book Spotlight: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold”

Ancient History · english history · european history · history

Roman Frontiers: Antonine Wall

The final season of the popular show Game of Thrones is almost upon us, but much of the world that George R.R. Martin created was inspired by true events. This would include Hadrian’s Wall in England and the Antonine Wall in Scotland. These walls were the boundary of the known world for the Romans during the second century. Just as fan favorite, Jon Snow, looked out into the great unknown from atop the icy Wall, it would have been just as intimidating for the Romans who looked over these historical walls at the expanse of Scotland. They were at the edge of their known world, which could have been very intimidating. So, while there may not have been white walkers, to the Romans, there could have been anything.

Image result for the wall game of thrones
The Wall from HBO’s Game of Thrones

With this post I wanted to pay more attention to the lesser known Antonine Wall rather than the more established Hadrian’s wall. The Antonine Wall was the furthest point that the Roman empire stretched into Britannia. It was only manned for about twenty five years before the wall was abandoned. The wall cut modern Scotland in half as it crossed the land between Clyde to Forth (about 37 miles long). It was made mostly out of layers of turf rather than stone (like Hadrian’s) with a deep ditch that ran along with it. Forts would have been laid out along the wall, including Rough Castle, which would hold the 7,000 men that would have been stationed there. There would have also been a military service road that connected those at the wall with the rest of the empire in Britain. Continue reading “Roman Frontiers: Antonine Wall”

biography · english history · history

Aethelflaed: The Heroine of Mercia

Aethelflaed has received a revival of interest with the popularity of the show The Last Kingdom and other media. She is a fascinating character, but, in this post, I wanted to answer two questions. Who was the actual Aethelflaed and why is she so important to English history? I believe she is an important female figure who is often overshadowed by others during the Anglo-Saxon period. In the year 911, Aethelflaed, known as the Lady of the Mercians, took over the command of the kingdom of Mercia after her husband’s death. She was not just a regent until the next male heir came of age but was viewed as the head of government by her own people. She is known as an effective military commander, diplomat, and a benevolent ruler. By the end of Aethelflaed’s reign, she contributed much to the eventual consolidation of Saxon England.

Continue reading “Aethelflaed: The Heroine of Mercia”
english history · european history · history

A Christmas to Remember: The Truce of 1914

Image result for all together now statue
“All Together Now” by Artist Andrew Edwards.

Christmas Eve, 1914

“It must have been sad do you say? Well I am not sorry to have spent it there and the recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty. At midnight a baritone stood up and in a rich resonant voice sang, Minuit Chretiens. The cannonade ceased and when the hymn finished applause broke out from our side and from the German trenches! The Germans were celebrating Christmas too and we could hear them singing two hundred yards from us. Now I am going to tell you something which you will think incredible but I give you my word that it is true. At dawn the Germans displayed a placard over the trenches on which was written Happy Christmas then, leaving their trenches, unarmed they advanced towards us singing and shouting “comrades!”. No one fired. We also had left our trenches and separated from each other only by the half frozen Yser, we exchanged presents. They gave us cigars and we threw them some chocolate. Thus almost fraternizing we passed the morning. Unlikely indeed, but true. I saw it but thought I was dreaming.” -Letter from a Belgian soldier printed in The Times, 1915

World War I began in July of 1914 with the expectation on both sides that it would be a quick victory. Over the course of 51 months the war would bring a devastating death toll of 15 to 19 million soldiers and civilians. This tragic event would practically destroy a whole generation and cause much pain to the families that had to endure. It is easy to remember the death and destruction this war brought, but it is also just as important to remember the positive points. There were moments that showed there was still hope, kindness, and generosity despite differences. In the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to dive into the unusual occasion of the Christmas Eve truce in 1914. This was truly brought on by the common soldier and the truce itself was unofficial and spontaneous. The men found that despite the death, destruction and bad feelings that had surrounded them since the summer; they could take the opportunity to still share a common experience with their enemy. It seems unbelievable to us now (and definitely to the soldiers then) that Christmas Carols were sung with their enemies. These were the same enemies that had fired shoots at them the day before. This is the story and experience of the Christmas Truce 1914.

Continue reading “A Christmas to Remember: The Truce of 1914”

english history · european history · history

Will the Mystery of the Princes in the Tower Finally Have Answers?

Could the mystery of the Princes in the Tower finally be solved?

In 1674, workers (while remodeling the Tower of London) came upon two child skeletons that were hidden in box under a staircase. Instantly, to the 17th century contemporaries, these bones were assumed to have been the lost Plantagenet princes (Edward V and Prince Richard). Sir Thomas More, in his histories, wrote specifically that the princes were buried “at a stair-foot” (possibly this information came from interviews with those who lived during the time of Richard III or maybe More was just making assumptions). This was enough for Charles II who had the bones buried at Westminster Abbey where they have remained to this day.

But, these bones have never been tested. There is no proof that these were the Princes except that they were found in the last location that the Princes had lived and were bones of children. Now, there might be a chance to solve this mystery once and for all. A direct descendant of Jacquetta of Luxembourg (the prince’s maternal grandmother) has been found and has allowed a sample of her DNA to be used to test against the bones found in the tower. From what I have read, it has been very difficult search to find a direct descendant (which makes sense due to the over 500 year time gap). The only hurdle now is to get permission from Westminster to exhume the bones once again in order to complete this test. Again, from what I have read, it seems that Westminster has been unwilling in the past to allow this, but maybe with having this solid DNA sample they may be more accepting.

Continue reading “Will the Mystery of the Princes in the Tower Finally Have Answers?”

biography · english history · european history · history

Add to Your Reading List: A Testament of Youth

I suppose it is better to have had such splendid friends as those three were rather than not to have had any particular friends at all, but yet, now that all are gone, it seems that whatever was of value in life has tumbled down like a house of cards.”

-Letter from Edward to Brittain in response to the death of their friend, Victor

Image result for testament of youth real
Edward Brittain, Roland Leighton, Victor Richardson

I have spent August reading a memoir from World War I, which really kept me thinking for days after. I believe this is a very important memoir and one most people should take the time to read. It is one of the few accounts from the era that is from a female point of view. Many accounts of World War I are from the men in the trenches, but what about the women they left behind? In Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain writes of her life during this era and a bit afterwards. Brittain was born in 1893 and had grown up in northern England. She had one brother named Edward and the siblings were very intelligent and talented. Brittain was very interested in furthering her education and in writing, while Edward was a musician. The two were part of a lost generation and much of the memoir focuses on how their generation was affected by a war of that scale. She discusses how the generations that came before or after could never really comprehend what they went through. They were on their own island.

Continue reading “Add to Your Reading List: A Testament of Youth”

english history · history · Scottish History

Best Escapes from the Tower of London!

So I see you’re a prisoner, thrown into the Tower by order of the King/Queen. What are you in for? Were you a traitor to the crown? Did you fall out of royal favor? Or were you just in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Whether you are truly innocent or guilty or whether you are rich or poor; your fate will remain the same. You need to take matters into your own hands and plan an escape! The Tower of London may seem daunting. It may be a heavily guarded fortress surrounded by a moat, but over 40 prisoners have escaped over the centuries. Maybe you can learn a thing or two from them…

Here are some tips and tricks from the stories of four of the greatest escapes from the Tower of London: Continue reading “Best Escapes from the Tower of London!”