Wednesday, May 7, 2008

So who were the bad guys?

Well !! - From earlier posts you may have the impression that the Bruces were, and that the Comyns, and their allies, were the patriots. However, later Bruce and Stuart histories eulogised Robert and vilified the Comyns, [More of them in a later post] which brings to mind a quotes from Winston Churchill:

“History is written by the victors.”

Setting aside the “spin” and the propaganda, we should judge the protagonists on their level of competence. To do this I would like to look at three letters written by Robert’s opponents between the summer of 1307 and the summer of 1308. They are presented by Dr. GWS Barrow in his Robert the Bruce.
The first of these letters to Edward I, (RB p172), written by a Scottish noble supporting the English, which Dr. Barrow dates as May 15th 1307 and suggests Alexander Abernethy as the possible author.
The author tells how the “good will” of the people is with him [Robert], and that if he can cross the Mounth he will find support there. He goes on to say “…..unless King Edward can send more troops for there are many people living loyally in his peace so long as the English are in power”
He finally talks of false preachers and a prophesy of Merlin predicting a Scottish/Welsh alliance.

The remaining letters were written to Edward II.

The second letter (RB p175), was written by the Earl of Ross, to which Dr. Barrow gives a probable date of November 1307.
He firstly speaks of Robert “coming with great power”, and despite mobilizing 3000 men for a fortnight, the Earl was powerless against him. Because the warden of Moray was away his men would not assist the Earl, so he, on the advice of “good men”, accepted a truce until June 1308.
He pleads for help – “May help come from you, our lord, if it please you, for in you, Sir, is all our hope and trust”…………..
He ends with – “Wherefore, dear lord, remember us and tell us what is your will on these matters of which we have given an account”
The third letter (RB p179), was written by John of Lorn, which Dr. Barrow dates around March 1308, but details events which pre-date those in the Earl of Ross’ letter.
He firstly speaks of being ill, and then details Robert’s approach of his lands, with 10,000 or 15,000 men, but he only had only 800 men to face him. He then claims Robert asked for a truce for a short time, which he granted and “……and I have got a similar truce until you send me help”
He then asks Edward to ignore the rumors that he has come to “Robert’s peace”, and pledges his allegiance. He then boast about his castles and galleys, and being ready to serve Edward. He states he cannot trust any of his neighbours, but goes on to say, ……..” As soon as you or your army come, then, if my health permits, I shall not be found wanting where lands, ships or anything else is concerned, but will come to your service”…….

So what can we tell from the letters?

It is clear that Robert was very active and was inspiring confidence in his supporters and doubt in his enemies. The Scottish nobles are clearly intimidated by his actions and although the estimates of Robert’s forces were probably exaggerated, (especially John of Lorn) to excuse the acceptance of truces, the perception of being outnumbered, may also be a factor of Robert’s highly aggressive and mobile style of warfare, which gave the impression of a much larger force.
The other consistent theme is the request for aid from the English King, one can sense the feeling of helplessness from the letters, the nobles are powerless in the face of Robert.
These men had consistently fought for the Scottish cause, but had been “ weight, measured, and found wanting”. It is clear that they were now broken men, and when faced with this new force were unable to withstand it, and too ideologically opposed to join it.
They had failed in their feudal obligations to King and country and would consequently be judged harshly by history.
Robert, although undoubtedly driven by personal ambition, proved to be competent and able, thus taking his rightful place as Scotland’s hero king

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