Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Comeback King

The “spider encounter”, has become an integral part of the story of Robert’s, and Scotland’s phoenix like rise from the ashes. However it probably has no basis in fact.
A Persian friend of mine recounted a similar tale of Genghis Khan, involving an ant carrying a grain of rice, and I noticed a similar reference on Wikipedia attributing it to Tamerlane.

But as the newspaper editor in the movie “The man who shot Liberty Valence” said:

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

However, whether inspired by a spider or not, Robert did not just blindly try, try and try again, he clearly understood the reasons for the successes and failures of both himself and other Scottish leaders, because in the coming years few of the failures were to be repeated. New tactics were employed to play to his strengths and to his enemies weaknesses and, a new winning strategy would lead to ultimate victory.

Following the deaths of his brothers in Galloway Robert was rightly cautious about returning to the mainland, but in February he sent an advance party to Carrick, with instructions to light a signal fire if it was safe for the main force to land. On seeing the fire the King and the main party landed, only to discover that the advance party had not set it, because they did not consider conditions suitable for a return. Having returned, the decision was made to stay, and the subsequent months must have been extremely perilous, as Edward urged his local commanders to capture Robert and end the “rebellion”. Although he was in his own Earldom few were prepared to join him, and those who were not against him were happy to “wait and see”.
Robert managed to elude the various forces seeking him, until some time in April, when he moved south to Glen Trool, where he ambushed and routed an English force sent to destroy him. He then move north to Loudon Hill where, on May 10th 1307, he occupied a prepared position, and defeated a second English force, under Aymer de Valence, the victor of Methven,
Much is often made of these victories, but some modern historians believe these were minor local actions which, caused little real damage to the English ability to administer Scotland, but were built up by the Bruce propaganda machine. Whatever the truth they were significant enough for Edward I to leave his sick-bed, for one last campaign in Scotland. On the way north Edward succumbed and died at Burgh-on sands on July the 7th 1307. The death of his greatest enemy gave a huge advantage to Robert, but I do not believe, as many do, that the final outcome would have been different, had Edward lived.
The task would have been much harder but Robert would still have ultimately prevailed.
Robert immediately took advantage of his opponents disarray following Edward’s death, and with a small force, he broke-out of the south west heading north for his ultimate rendezvous at Barra.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The King in the Heather

1306, had been a disaster for the Robert; his wife and daughter were captives of the English, his brother Nigel and many of his followers had met the same fate as Wallace.
The King himself was on the run, a fugitive from the English administration and a “blood enemy” of the Comyns, and their allies, arguably the most powerful party in Scotland.
Not the most auspicious start to a reign.

1307: However, inspired by the famous spider Robert returned to his lands in Carrick, early in 1307, determined to retake his Kingdom. He sent his brothers Thomas and Alexander to Galloway, but they were quickly defeated and killed. He survived several difficult months, but events were about to turn in his and Scotland’s favour

Robert and the Spider

For Scotland's and for freedom's right
The Bruce his part has played;--
In five successive fields of fight
Been conquered and dismayed:
Once more against the English host
His band he led, and once more lost
The meed for which he fought;
And now from battle, faint and worn,
The homeless fugitive, forlorn,
A hut's lone shelter sought.

And cheerless was that resting-place
For him who claimed a throne;--
His canopy, devoid of grace,
The rude, rough beams alone;
The heather couch his only bed--
Yet well I ween had slumber fled
From couch of eider down!
Through darksome night till dawn of day,
Absorbed in wakeful thought he lay
Of Scotland and her crown.

The sun rose brightly, and its gleam
Fell on that hapless bed,
And tinged with light each shapeless beam
Which roofed the lowly shed;
When, looking up with wistful eye,
The Bruce beheld a spider try
His filmy thread to fling
From beam to beam of that rude cot--
And well the insect's toilsome lot
Taught Scotland's future king.

Six times the gossamery thread
The wary spider threw;--
In vain the filmy line was sped,
For powerless or untrue
Each aim appeared, and back recoiled
The patient insect, six times foiled,
And yet unconquered still;
And soon the Bruce, with eager eye,
Saw him prepare once more to try
His courage, strength, and skill.

One effort more, his seventh and last!--
The hero hailed the sign!--
And on the wished-for beam hung fast
That slender silken line!
Slight as it was, his spirit caught
The more than omen; for his thought
The lesson well could trace,
Which even "he who runs may read,"
That Perseverance gains its meed,
And Patience wins the race.

By: Bernard Barton (1784-1849)

Sunday, July 8, 2007


I have lived in America for a number of years, but had for the previous 20 years lived in Oldmeldrum, close to the site of Robert the Bruce's victory over John Comyn.

This battle variously called Battle of Barra; Battle of Inverurie, took place on the 23rd of May 1308.

I had always entertained the idea of writing an account of the battle and creating a diorama using miniature figures. But other things came along and these plans slipped.

I have recently been looking at the "on-line" collaborative movement, and thought that it may be a vehicle for the production of a publication to commemorate the upcoming 700 year anniversary, of the Battle.

Historical Note:
Following his disappearance after the disasters of 1306, Robert returned to Galloway in 1307 and won a series of victories, prompting Edward I to head for Scotland to "finish the rebellion once and for all". However Edward died on route, and was replaced by Edward II. This left Robert free to act, and at some time during the summer of 1307, he launched a "break-out" for the south-west. He proceeded to intimidate or attack his Scottish enemies, and headed towards Moray, which had been an almost constant centre of resistance throughout the War of Independence.

So like Robert I, I am "breaking-out", and would be pleased to hear from others interested in the subject, and to work to produce a commemorative publication to mark the 700th anniversary of this turning point in Scotland's history. (either in conventional paper, or online form)