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.