Robert the Bruce

Who was the real man behind the story of 'Outlaw King', played by Chris Pine?

Robert the Bruce - a king with a heart

Outlaw King - the story of Robert the Bruce, portrayed by Hollywood legend Chris Pine. An American by birth, he tried to incorporate Scottish slang into his language in his spare time to prepare for his role as Scotland's King. The Netflix film production received very good reviews. But who was the real man behind the story? Who was Robert the Bruce?  

Robert The Bruce was King of Scotland from 1306 to 1329. Before he was crowned king, he fought for the freedom of the country together with William Wallace (Braveheart) and became one of Scotland's most important rulers.

From his father Robert the Bruce, as the eldest son of the family, he inherited the connection to the Scottish high nobility, for his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was King David I. A fact which Robert the Bruce then also asserted as underpinning his claim to the crown. He inherited the principality of Carrick from his mother Marjorie. Robert is said to have spoken several languages, including fluent Gaelic, Normand, Latin and of course English.

 Very little is known about his childhood and teenage years. However, it is assumed that he was raised by another family, as was the custom at the time. It is known, however, that he spent much of his time at the English court of King Edward I. When Edward I then placed John Balliol on the throne at the end of the 13th century, Robert the Bruce felt cheated of his right to inherit.

The title Lord of Annandale, which he inherited through his grandfather, helped him to move in the circles of the nobility and to ally himself with King Edward I against the puppet king John Balliol. Robert also seemed to be in the English king's favour in other ways, for Edward not only allowed him to visit Ireland, but also granted him a longer period to pay his debts.

Robert the Bruce, like his father, had sworn allegiance to the English King Edward I, but he broke this oath to join the Scottish revolt in the Wars of Independence.

Although he was forced to surrender at Irvine in July 1297, he rejoined the Scottish rebels a few months later after the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Edward I stripped him of his principalities in Carrick and Annandale, but still gave him the opportunity to prove his loyalty.

Edward I practised raiding Scotland again in the early 14th century and a number of nobles, including Robert the Bruce, submitted to him. This decision seems strange, as shortly before he had fought on the side of Scotland and against the English ruler, but there were some reasons for it: Robert the Bruce realised that his situation was quite hopeless. Rumour had it that John Balliol was to take the throne again and so any chance of Robert the Bruce making his claim was crushed. And Edward I realised that at times like this it would be better to have a Scottish nobleman as an ally rather than an enemy. 

Robert the Bruce had a daughter, Marjorie, by his first marriage to Isabella of Mar. When Isabella died, Robert married again in 1302: Elizabeth, the daughter of Richard Og the Burgh, a close friend of the English king. King Edward I by now ruled the whole of Scotland and all the nobles submitted to him. All - except William Wallace. On 11 June 1304, Robert the Bruce formed an alliance with William de Lamberton. Both were deeply patriotic and had seen the heroic defence of the Scots against the English with their own eyes at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. However, they wanted to wait for the death of the already aged king before acting.

Edward I made a big mistake: in 1305 he captured William Wallace and had him brutally executed, and Wallace became a national hero. His death only stoked the fires of anger in the Scots. The pact between Bruce and de Lamberton was discovered and Robert turned to his rival John Comyn.

They were supposed to support each other, but Comyn, who first agreed, betrayed his rival. Robert the Bruce was nevertheless able to escape in time.

A few months later, Robert the Bruce asked John Comyn for a parley in a Franciscan church. However, the debate between the two ended in a quarrel, with Bruce seriously injuring Comyn. When he then fled the church, his companion Sir Roger de Kirkpatrick decided to finish it off and do away with John Comyn once and for all. Because of this bloody deed on hallowed ground, Robert the Bruce was banned from the church and Edward I could no longer support him.

Now there was no turning back for Robert the Bruce. In order not to lose everything, he had to act very quickly. Without any rivals, he had himself crowned King of Scotland in Scone. Robert the Bruce was now finally king - but a king without a kingdom. Unfortunately, many of the die-hard Scottish patriots distrusted him because he had supported the English king. They refused to be loyal to him.

Edward I invaded Scotland again, seized Robert's lands and possessions, and imprisoned his wife and daughter, as well as Robert's sister. Three of Robert's younger brothers were executed. But the king was old and died soon after. His son Edward II was weak and unfit to rule. So the tide seemed to be turning in Robert's favour at last. Little by little he began to reclaim his kingdom. The Battle of Glen Trool was his first great victory over the English and Loudoun Hill and many more followed. The Battle of Bannock Burn was arguably one of the most significant in Scottish history, for the Scots won despite facing more than twice as many enemies. This victory finally earned him the complete respect of the Scots, who now accepted him as their king. A king who never gave up! There is also an exhilarating story about this that is known to almost every schoolchild in Scotland:

King Robert I was on the run after a defeat. For months he hid in a cave. At the entrance to the cave, he observed a spider desperately trying to build a web on the stone, but it just wouldn't succeed. The spider kept falling to the ground, failing. When Robert I woke up one morning, he saw a spider's web sparkling in the first rays of the sun. It covered most of the entrance to the cave. The spider had actually made it! It had not given up and believed in itself! And that was exactly what Robert the Bruce took to heart. It became his motto in life: Never give up! If you fail, get up and try again, until you succeed.

Robert the Bruce died at the age of 55 from an unknown illness. His dying wish was for his ally James Douglas to extract his heart and take it to the Holy Land to atone for the murder of John Comyn. However, James Douglas died on the way there at the Battle of Teba. The Douglas family crest has since featured a heart - the heart of King Robert the Bruce, which he had delivered into the hands of a Douglas. The heart of Robert the Bruce was later found and returned to Scotland where it was buried under the altar of Melrose Abbey in Roxburghshire. In the hearts of Scots, Robert the Bruce lives on forever as one of the most important kings Scotland has ever had.