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Posts Tagged ‘Robert the Bruce’

Robert the Bruce’s defeat of Edward II of England at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314 was the most spectacular event in his colourful career, a career which had its origins in what is now South Ayrshire. Robert’s unrecorded birthplace was almost certainly Turnberry Castle, the ancestral home of his mother, Marjorie, countess of Carrick, and Robert in due course became earl of Carrick.

The fragmentary remains of Turnberry Castle, probable birthplace of King Robert the Bruce, can still be seen beside the lighthouse on the edge of the famous golf course.

The fragmentary remains of Turnberry Castle, probable birthplace of King Robert the Bruce, can still be seen beside the lighthouse on the edge of the famous golf course.

Having seized the Scottish kingship in 1306, Robert was defeated and forced to seek refuge for a time among the islands off the west coast. When he returned to the Scottish mainland in 1307 to launch his fightback against English garrisons and the many Scots who were hostile to him, he sailed from Arran to Ayrshire’s Carrick coast and landed near Turnberry. Here he could be sure of mustering men whose loyalty he could depend on, and who, along with the Islesmen accompanying him, would form the nucleus of his army. After a faltering start, Robert’s guerrilla campaign began to deliver the string of successes (including the repulse of an English force at Loudoun Hill) which ultimately led to the confrontation of the kings near Stirling in 1314. Edward was caught off guard when Robert suddenly abandoned his defensive tactics and seized the initiative with a dawn attack. Advancing in good order, the Scottish spearmen closed with the English knights before they were able to mount an effective charge. They kept pushing forward to bottle up the entire opposing army and then drive it into the steep-banked channel of the Bannock Burn.

King Robert the Bruce and his men are featured on the cover of the official brochure for the 1934 Pageant of Ayrshire.

King Robert the Bruce and his men are featured on the cover of the official brochure for the 1934 Pageant of Ayrshire.

Around 1375 John Barbour, archdeacon of Aberdeen, wrote The Bruce, an epic poem celebrating the deeds of King Robert (who had died in 1329) and his comrades in arms. While Barbour’s vivid description of Bannockburn differs on a number of points from other accounts of the time, it remains the principal source for the events of the battle. Barbour places the men of Carrick in Robert’s own division, along with the men of Argyll, Kintyre and the Isles. Other Ayrshire contingents probably served under Sir Walter Stewart in the division of Robert’s brother Edward Bruce.

Walter, head of his family, with his principal seat at Ayrshire’s Dundonald Castle, later married Robert’s daughter Marjorie Bruce and founded the line of the royal Stewarts. It is now thought that a Scottish division said by Barbour to have been jointly commanded by Walter Stewart and Sir James Douglas was an invention intended to please Walter’s son King Robert II – the third Scottish division at Bannockburn was led by Robert the Bruce’s nephew Sir Thomas Randolph, earl of Moray.

Many traditions of King Robert would be related in Ayrshire in later times. He was said that when he held a parliament in Ayr in 1315, he established the burgh of Newton-upon-Ayr and granted privileges in the new burgh to 48 men who had distinguished themselves at Bannockburn. These privileges were passed down to their descendants, the Freemen of Newton. Situated on the north bank of the River Ayr near its mouth, Newton was in the territory of the Stewarts, and it is likely to have been they who actually founded the burgh. However, this does appear to have taken place in the period soon after Bannockburn.

Bruce’s Well at Kingcase, Prestwick. Tradition tells that here the ailing king drank the healing waters and founded a leper hospital.

Bruce’s Well at Kingcase, Prestwick. Tradition tells that here the ailing king drank the healing waters and founded a leper hospital.

Towards the end of his life, Robert suffered from a painful and disfiguring skin disease, said by English chroniclers to be leprosy. In the later Middle Ages, the spittal of St Ninian at Kingcase, south of Prestwick, was dedicated to the care of lepers. It was understood to have been endowed for this purpose by King Robert the Bruce, who had drunk from its healing well. The king probably did visit the spittal at Kingcase during the last months of his life. He travelled down the Ayrshire coast during the course of a pilgrimage from his estate at Cardross near Dumbarton to the shrine of St Ninian at Whithorn. The well at Kingcase became known as Bruce’s Well. In 1912 Prestwick Town Council restored and rebuilt the well, replacing its rough old stonework and worn steps with fine masonry to create its present appearance.

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The ruins of Turnberry Castle, the seat of the earls of Carrick, engraved by Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899). Robert the Bruce’s place of birth in 1274 is not recorded, but as his mother was Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, it was almost certainly here. In 1292 Robert himself became Earl of Carrick. Most of the castle ruins were removed when Turnberry Lighthouse was built in 1873.

The ruins of Turnberry Castle, the seat of the earls of Carrick, engraved by Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899). Robert the Bruce’s place of birth in 1274 is not recorded, but as his mother was Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, it was almost certainly here. In 1292 Robert himself became Earl of Carrick. Most of the castle ruins were removed when Turnberry Lighthouse was built in 1873.

A copy of an unknown and very rare Robert the Bruce letter from the build-up to the Battle of Bannockburn, was recently discovered by chance at the British Library.

Dauvit Broun, Professor of History at Glasgow University spoke about his remarkable discovery at this year’s History Fair.

He was visiting the British Library to examine a manuscript written in the late 15th Century by the monks of Kirkstall Abbey in Yorkshire. This contains copies of much older letters, the originals of which no longer survive. Professor Broun was looking through copies of the correspondence of Edward III of England when he realized that one of them, previously thought to be a letter of Robert II of Scotland to Edward III, was actually a 1310 letter from Robert the Bruce to Edward II.

Prof Broun, said: “The letter reveals a couple of things. Firstly, Bruce’s tone is extremely conciliatory. He seems to be offering to do anything possible to establish peace. However, he is nonetheless plainly addressing Edward as one king to another.

“There is no doubt that the bottom line here is that Edward should recognise Robert as king of the Scots, and the Scots as separate from the English.”

He added: “The writing of this letter should be seen as a bold move by Bruce who had perhaps recognised that the tables were turning and he could stand his ground in the face of an advancing English army and open negotiations with the king.”

The new letter has presented historians with fresh information about a pivotal time in the wars of Scottish independence. Translated from its original Latin, it states: “To the most serene prince the lord Edward by God’s grace illustrious king of England, (from) Robert by the same grace king of Scots.”

It adds: “Our humbleness has led us, now and at other times, to beseech your highness more devoutly so that, having God and public decency in sight, you would take pains to cease from our persecution and the disturbance of the people of our kingdom in order that devastation and the spilling of a neighbour’s blood may henceforth stop.”

Read more and view a short video on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-22734279

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Arrangements for our 2013 South Ayrshire History & Family History Fair on Saturday 1st June are well underway with three of the four speakers already booked.

They are:

Professor Dauvit Brown of the University of Glasgow, whose talk will feature new information about William Wallace, and a previously unknown letter of Robert the Bruce which he found just before Christmas in the British Library.

Tom Barclay, our local history librarian, who will be speaking about the 1263 war with Norway which culminated in the Battle of Largs, and its significance for Ayrshire and Scottish history. (This year is the 750th anniversary.)

Chris Paton, the well known and respected genealogist, who will be explaining how to research Irish Family History on the Internet. His new book on this matter will be published in March.

As usual, the Fair will be held in the Walker Halls, Troon, from 10am until 4pm. Further details will be appearing on the Blog in due course.

History Fair Enquiries

If you have any enquiries that you have about the History Fair or would like to make a booking please do not hesitate to contact us.

Jean Inness
South Ayrshire History Fair,
Library HQ, John Pollock Centre, Mainholm Road,
Ayr KA8 0QD

Tel: (01292) 294320 or 294303 Fax: (01292) 619019

Email: localhistory@south-ayrshire.gov.uk or jean.inness@south-ayrshire.gov.uk

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