Heroes of the Middle Ages  by Eva March Tappan

Robert Bruce

I n the days of King John, the English had their hands full with only one king to manage, but a time came in Scotland when there were thirteen persons who claimed the throne. Finally it was clear that two of them had stronger claims than the other eleven. They were John Baliol and Robert Bruce. Baliol was the grandson of the eldest daughter of a certain royal David, and Bruce was a son of the second daughter of this same king. People in Scotland took sides, some in favour of Baliol and some in favour of Bruce, and feeling was so strong that there was danger of civil war. "King Edward of England is a wise king. Let us leave the question to him," said the Scottish nobles, and it was done. This was a fine chance for King Edward. He declared at once that neither Baliol nor Bruce, but he himself had the best claim to the Scottish throne. Baliol, however, might rule under him, he said. But Baliol did not prove obedient enough to please him, so Edward carried him and the famous Stone of Scone off to London together. The Scots prized the Stone highly. They had a tradition that Jacob's head had rested upon it the night that he had his dream of angels ascending and descending between heaven and earth; and whenever a Scottish king was to be crowned, he always took his seat upon this stone. Edward had it put underneath the seat of the chair in Westminster Abbey, in which English sovereigns sit at their coronation; and perhaps he thought that Scotland had yielded, and there would be no more trouble. On the contrary, in a very little while William Wallace led the Scots against the English and defeated them in a great battle. Soon after this, however, he fell into the hands of Edward and was put to death.


Edward I.

After a few years the Scots found a new leader. This was the grandson of Robert Bruce, and his name, too, was Robert Bruce. He was crowned King of Scotland, and the Scots flocked to his standard. Then came Edward with a large force, and soon the King of Scotland was hiding first in the Grampian Hills, then on a little island off the north coast of Ireland. He was almost in despair, for he had tried six times to get the better of the English and had failed. One day, it is said, he lay in a lonely hut on a heap of straw, wondering if it would not be better to give it up and leave Scotland to herself. Just then he caught sight of a spider trying to swing itself from one rafter to another. Six times it tried, and six times it failed. "Just as many times as I have failed," thought Bruce, and he said to himself, "If it tries again and succeeds, I, too, will try again." The spider tried again and it succeeded. Bruce tried again, and he, too, succeeded. Edward died, and before his son Edward II. was ready to attend to matters in Scotland, Bruce had captured most of the castles that Edward I. had taken and had brought an army together.


Coronation Chair with Stone of Scone

When Edward II was at last ready to march into Scotland, some two or three years later, he came with a large force as far as Stirling. Bruce met him with one only one-third as large, but every man in it was bent upon doing his best to drive away the English. Bruce dug deep pits in front of his lines. Many of the English cavalry plunged into these and were slain, and the rest were thrown into confusion. Then as the English troops looked at the hill lying to the right of the Scottish army, they saw a new army coming over the crest. It was really only the servants and wagons and camp followers; but Bruce had given them plenty of banners, and the English supposed they were fresh troops. Then King Edward and his men ran away as fast as they could; but the Scots pursued, and the king barely escaped being taken prisoner. This was the Battle of Bannockburn, the most bloody defeat that the English ever met with in Scotland. The victory of the Scots freed Scotland from all English claims; and a few years later England acknowledged her independence.


Battle of Bannockburn

It was of this battle that Robert Burns wrote:—

Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,

Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;

Welcome to your gory bed,

Or to victory!

Now 's the day, and now's the hour;

See the front o' battle lour;

See approach proud Edward's power—

Chains and slavery!

Wha will be a traitor knave?

Wha can fill a coward's grave?

Wha sae base as be a slave?

Let him turn and flee!

Wha for Scotland's king and law

Freedom's sword will strongly draw,

Freeman stand, or Freeman fa',

Let him follow me!

By oppression's woes and pains!

By your sons in servile chains!

We will drain our dearest veins,

But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!

Tyrants fall in every foe!

Liberty's in every blow!—

Let us do, or die!

In 1603 James VI. of Scotland became James I. of England, but although for the next hundred years the kingdoms were ruled by the same sovereign, the parliaments were not united. This followed, however, in 1707, England and Scotland were henceforth one country under the name of Great Britain.