Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


6.3.10
  Stirling Castle and Robert the Bruce

A bit of a mixed bag with info snippets about Stirling Castle and Robert the Bruce. A more detailed guided tour of the castle will follow.

One evening, I revisted the Bannockburn Heritage Centre in Stirling (built in the late 1960ies) and the Bruce Memorial in a park that may have been the original battlesite, though the subject is still discussed. Like last time, the sky was a mix of sunshine and dramatic clouds which made for some interesting shots.

Robert the Bruce, against the Scottish summer sky

The famous battle of Bannockburn took place on 24 June 1314. I'm not going into details in this post - I should leave that to Kathryn (aka Alianore), our knowledgeable Edward II blogger. The short version is: the Scots* won that one and sent King Edward II of England packing in a hurry, though I'm sure he'd have liked to stay the night in the spectacular castle below.

* Well, Bruce's allies, to be correct, there were some Scots hanging out at Edward's court because they could not resist Edward's sex appeal decided to keep their oaths.

Stirling Castle, seen from the west

Stirling Castle did not look like today during Robert's and Edward's time - most of the buildings date from 1496 and 1583 - but it had been an important place in Scottish history since the time of King Alexander I who died at Stirling Castle 1124. The rock, guarding the crossing of the river Forth, probably was fortified much earlier, though any attempt to date occupation back to Roman times and a stronghold of the Votadini tribe has not (yet) been supported by archaeological finds.

Edward would have found the place not very accomodating anyway, since Robert the Bruce destroyed the defenses of the castle so the English could not use it against him. Had he but known that Edward galloped off to Dunbar instead.

Bruce Memorial; the other side

Robert the Bruce, born 1274 as son of Robert Bruce, 8th Lord of Annandale, and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, became Robert I King of Scotland in March 1306 until his death in 1329.

I'm not going into a detailed biography of Robert the Bruce, but here is some basic information: Edward I ruled Scotland as province of England since 1296. During the rebellion of William Wallace and other strives, Robert seems to have been on and off the English side until neither Edward nor the Scots really trusted him any longer. Clearly a survivor in the game of alliances and allegiances, though. What Robert really wanted was the Crown of Scotland to which his family held a claim. Unfortunately, so did several other powerful families like the Balliol and Comyn. Robert met with John III Comyn (the Red) in February 1306 to discuss matters. Whether planned murder or temper getting he better of Robert - he stabbed John to death, and in a church to boot. So Robert the Bruce became King of Scotland and had a civil war with the Comyn allies on his hand right there.

King Edward I took advantage of that messy situation, of course, supported the Comyns by sending an army (I'm not sure how much they liked that sort of support), declared Bruce and his followers outlaws, and had the pope excommunicate Robert Bruce for murder. He defeated Bruce in battle and while Robert himself escaped, two of his brothers got captured and executed as traitors (the full hanging, drawing and quartering treatment), one of his sisters and his mistress, Isabella Countess of Buchan, were suspended from English castle walls in open cages. Robert himself fled into hiding and lived in caves. There's no shortage of those on the Scottish coast.

Another take of the Bruce Memorial

But Robert got lucky: Edward died in July 1307, and his son Edward II was too busy keeping the Earl of Lancaster and his merry band of disgruntled nobles from exiling Piers Gaveston, and updating his Facebook account, to wage war upon Scotland. Bruce started a successful guerilla war against every English and Comyn supporter he could flush out; and by the end of 1309 controlled all Scotland north of the river Tay.

Stirling Castle was one of the few places still held by the English. It was besieged by Robert's brother Edward (I'm going to call him Ned to avoid confusion with the English Edwards) who made a deal with the English constable that if an English relief army had not arrived by June 24, 1314, the garrison would surrender. So King Edward gathered 20,000 men, the largest army to invade Scotland. Now, his father would have made haggis out of Robert and Ned with that force, but Edward II botched the job, picked the wrong terrain (the bogs between the Forth and the Bannockburn) and the wrong tactics (mounted knights against pickets of lances), and lost to 7,000 Scots. Oops. Robert the Bruce took a bunch of nobles prisoner and exchanged them for the members of his family still held captive in England.

In 1324, the pope acknowledged Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland. Edward had been sent into early retirement where he died under questionable circumstances, and his son, another Edward, was rather busy, first trying to cut something off his mother's lover, Roger Mortimer (no, not that part; the head) and later he was more interested in the English claim to big chunks of France, so he was willing to agree on the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1328. Robert the Bruce died the year thereafter and was succeeded by his son David (kudos for putting an end to the Roberts in that family). Edward III later came back a few times to remind the Scots that England was still there. ;)

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle has often been the focus of historical events during history. It was besieged at least 16 times, and three battles have been fought in its vicinity. A number of Scottish kings and queens have been to Stirling Castle for important events like coronations; or died there. To give you a little tidbit just for the time of Robert the Bruce, here's a - somewhat shortened - excerpt of the timeline given on the Undiscovered Scotland website:

  • 1291 - Stirling Castle is placed under the control of Edward I of England.
  • July 1291 - The Scottish nobility swear fealty to the English Crown at Stirling Castle.

  • 1296 - Edward captures the castle.
  • Sept. 1297 - Battle of Stirling Bridge (William Wallace is victor over the English). Stirling Castle which is held by the English, surrenders to the Scots.
  • 1298 - The Scots abandon the castle after the lost battle of Falkirk; Edward I again resumes control.
  • 1299 - Robert the Bruce lays siege to the castle and regains it from the English.
  • 1304 - The castle is besieged by the English and surrenders to Edward I.
  • 1314 - The castle is besieged by Robert's brother; a deal is made that the castle will surrender if the English don't relieve it by June 24 (midsummer's day).
  • June 24, 1314- Battle of Bannockburn. The castle surrenders to the Scots and Robert destroys the defenses to prevent it from being used again by the English.
  • 1333 - The English again take control fo Stirling Castle and rebuild its defenses.


  • Rinse and Repeat.

    View from the North Gate into the Nether Bailey

    With the above timeline, you don't need to wonder that the castle has been altered a lot during the centuries. The north gate, dating from 1380, is the oldest remaining part of the castle, and the fortifications of the Nether Bailey probably date from the same time though they have been rebuilt later.

    This was another case of reliving the past: when I passed through the gate the first time, there were kids rolling down the grass-covered wall, and they did the same this time. I sat on the grass and had a little picnic, just like ten years ago. It's a pretty spot nowadays, and the sun had come out both times as well. I didn't roll down the wall, though; didn't want to get grass stains on my jacket. But it looked like fun.

    View from the battlements to the Highlands

    Stirling is called the Gate to the Highlands, and on this photo, the sun was so kind to highlight the mountains in the north. Beautiful, isn't it?

    Sources: The official Castle guidebook, the Undiscovered Scotland website, a booklet about the Battle of Bannockburn and a short biography of Robert the Bruce I got in the Bannockburn Heritage Centre.
     
    Comments:
    16 sieges? There must be plenty of blood soaked into the flagstones there.

    Great photos. How big is the statue of Robert the Bruce?
     
    Loved the post and the pix!
     
    Thanks for this great, funny post and the links to my blog, Gabriele! I love your pics of Stirling Castle - sadly I've never been there, something I hope to rectify before I'm too much older. I'll definitely have to write a post (or probably several) about the battle of Bannockburn sometime.

    there were some Scots hanging out at Edward's court because they could not resist Edward's sex appeal. So very, very true. :-)
     
    Great stuff, Gabriele. I can see the castle (just) from my front window and the Wallace Monument too.
    I was up at the Bannockburn Heritage Museum where Bruce's statue is about a month ago doing some research. The statue is amazing, the plinth alone is about twelve feet high, and the artist has really caught the Bruce's strength and power, though I suspect the actual likeness is wishful thinking.
    The country around Stirling is soaked in history. There's a lovely iron age fort and a neolithic burial mound less than a mile from my house and the Battle of Sheriffmuir was at the top of the hill behind Bridge of Allan.
     
    I like the castle! Apparently, so did everyone else. ;P
     
    Brian, the Scottis rain washes the blood off. :)
    I don't know the exact measures of the statue, but as Doug said the plinth alone is 12 feet high, the statue must be a good deal higher.

    Thank you, Susan.

    Katrhym, Stirling is definitely worth a visit. Not only for the castle; there's a lot to see around the place, and it's a nice little town, too.

    Doug, you live in a great place. I can see some trees from my window, but not places soaked in history (the Romans at my backdoor, as I call them, still need a 20 minute drive) but Göttingen is quite pretty, I have to say. :)
    I've been to the Wallace Monument as well.
    Research about the Bruce? Are there plans for something not-Roman in the future?

    Louis, looks like, doesn't it? :)
    It's a tourist attraction as well, though it was less crowded than Edinburgh Castle.
     
    Magnificant statue.
    I have a biography of Bruce around somewhere - am going to have to re-read it.
     
    Awesome post, Gabriele.

    My favourite aspect about Edward's siege of Stirling was that he constructed the mightiest trebuchet in history: the Loup de Guerre (War Wolf). The Scots actually tried to surrender even before it was completed, so massive and imposing the beast was. Edward, who is easily my favourite English king for his magnificent bastardry, said "You'll surrender when I damn well please, knaves!" and tested out the thing. It took out a whole section of the curtain wall.

    If I were Frank Miller doing a 300-style account of the Wars of Independence, I like to imagine the counterweight was shaped like a snarling wolf's head, with the supports resembling paws, and the arm shaped like the tail. And it would have torches in its eyes and mouth. And the traction as it launched would sound like a wolf's howl. :P
     
    Bernita, he was an interesting man, for sure.

    Al, that was Edward I in 1296, shortly before William Wallace showed him that trebuchets alone don't make you win a war, either. I found a photo in Wikimedia - it should be to Constance's liking albeit you can only see the counterweight, not the entire arm. A big bad boy indeed. :)
     
    Any self-respecting tribe would surely have wanted a hillfort on top of Stirling Rock :-)

    Stirling is in such a strategic place, controlling access to the whole of the north of Scotland, that it's a wonder it hasn't been besieged even more often than it has.

    I think the hills you see from Stirling are the Ochils. Lovely photo.
     
    I was at Stirling in August 2004. It's a wonderful town and a fantastic castle. I thought it was better than Edinburgh.

    Just a quick note: Edward III HATED the 1328 treaty with Scotland! It included the marriage of his sister Joan with David Bruce, the heir of Scotland. It was all the doing of his mother and Roger Mortimer.

    Great pictures, too!!
     
    Edward III attacked Scotland in, um, without checking I think it was 1332 - his aim was to put Edward Balliol, son of John, on the throne in place of his (Ed III's) brother-in-law David. The earl of Mar, regent of Scotland and formerly one of Ed II's greatest supporters (so I love him, hehe...;) was killed at the battle of Dupplin Moor in 1332. Ed III inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the Scots at Halidon Hill in 1333, and in 1346 captured King David himself.

    Ed III really, really didn't want to abide by his mother and Mortimer's peace treaty. :-)
     
    Brad, Heh, if it was Roger's idea, no wonder Edward III hated it.

    Kathryn, lol, looks like he didn't.

    See, that's what you get when relying on guidebooks and websites - I have that point about Ed III not being interested in Scotland in my mind since Carlisle in 2007.

    But I can't put up with another major research subject (the Romans and the Mediaeval German Emperors keep me busy enough). Just well I have online friends who know more about that bunch of Edwards. :)
     
    Carla, I bet they had one, but that big whopping castle covers all traces of Iron Age settlements.
     
    Exactly, Gabriele - I am here for all your Edward needs. :-) There is a tendency online when discussing Bannockburn to say things like 'the Scots won their freedom there', which is maybe another reason why it's easy to miss the fact that (unfortunately) the whole situation was by no means over in Ed II's reign - not for centuries. :(
     
    Kathryn, that sounds much like the 'Arminius kicked the Romans out of Germany in the Teutoburg Forest' adage. The fact that Germanicus came back in 14 AD, and that even after the Romans indeed decided to have the Rhine as border and not turn Germania into a province, they still snatched the agri decumantes in the Rhine/Danube angle during the first century AD, tend to be glossed over.
     
    Rinse and repeat, indeed- very appropriate given the amount of blood and Scottish rain involved :)

    Wonderful pictures.

    Barbara Erskine gives a chilling account of the experiences of Lady Mary Bruce and Isobel, Countess Buchan, in her novel, "Kingdom of Shadows". Hard to imagine how sane you would be after several years of hanging outdoors in a cage, subject all the while to constant abuse (as well as the Scottish/English rain).
     
    Annis, I certainly wonder if the ladies didn't return home half mad, and full of very bloody and unpleasant revenge scenarios.
     
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    Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

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    I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.

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