History marches on but hunger for Scotland’s warriors remains
Scotland’s heroes and villains are have become immortal due to their place in poetry, prose, art and song. And there is no let up in artistic interest in the likes of Robert the Bruce and co. 2018 saw the release of Outlaw King; the action film that focuses on Bruce’s uprising to win back Scotland’s independence from English rule. 2019 sees the unveiling of another epic, Robert the Bruce; in which actor Angus MacFadyen reprises his regal role from the 1995 cinema epic Braveheart. This film threw fresh patriotic light on William Wallace. It seems that hunger for reimaginings of our favourite warriors doesn’t abate as history marches on.
King Robert I, known as Robert the Bruce, established Scotland’s independence from England. His defeat of the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 inspired ‘Flower of Scotland’, Scotland’s unofficial national anthem. A song now passionately sung at sporting events and other national occasions.
The aristocratic Bruce clan had been eyeing up the Scots throne for years. Bruce’s grandfather was one of its unsuccessful claimants during a succession dispute in the early 1290s. Come 1296, the invading English king, Edward I, ruled Scotland as a province of England.
At this time William Wallace was rallying against the English and Bruce supported his cause. But in 1306, he experienced excommunication by the pope and became an outlaw, after murdering his rival for the throne John Comyn. Nevertheless Bruce became king at Scone, proclaiming his right to the throne. The following year, a defeat by Edward’s army forced him to flee.
Returning to Scotland after a period in exile in Northern Ireland, Bruce waged a successful guerrilla war against the English. At the Battle of Bannockburn he defeated a much larger English army under Edward II. Once again, Scotland had an independent monarchy. Today visitors can follow in Bruce’s footsteps at the Battle of Bannockburn experience near Stirling.
Edward II refused to give up his claim. However, in 1320, the ‘Declaration of Arbroath’ was sent to Pope John XXII by Scots nobles. They were asserting Scotland as an independent sovereign state and Bruce as its rightful monarch.
Four years later, Bruce received papal recognition as king of an independent Scotland. In 1327, the English gave up claims over Scotland. Bruce died in 1329 and he’s buried at Dunfermline Abbey – in whose tower is carved the giant letters KING ROBERT THE BRUCE – although his heart in fact lies in Melrose Abbey.
Outlaw, assassin, rebel and hero
William Wallace was returned to the Scottish conscience thanks to Mel Gibson’s 1995 portrayal in Braveheart. As a leader during the First War of Scottish Independence he’s a national hero. However, he was also as an outlaw, an assassin and a rebel who faced execution for treason. Consequently, securing his martyrdom and position in Scottish history.
In 1296 Scotland was under English rule and revolt was in the air. Wallace gathered a band of men in Lanark and murdered the occupying English Sheriff, ensuring his uprising gained momentum.
He’s most famous for a stunning victory against a much larger English army at Stirling Bridge in 1297; that left 5,000 English warriors dead. Buoyed by success he launched raids into England. He was knighted and appointed ‘guardian of the kingdom’ in the name of King John Balliol who’d been forced to abdicate. But the shock of defeat at Stirling rallied the English who marched north with an army. Later, in 1298, the Scottish and English armies met near Falkirk. Wallace led the Scots to defeat. Escaping, he later resigned the guardianship; Robert the Bruce and John Comyn taking his place.
Wallace fled to France to seek support for the Scottish cause, returning to Scotland in the early 1300s. Meanwhile Robert the Bruce and John Comyn had reached terms with the English that excluded Wallace.
His refudal to submit to the English, led them to declare Wallace an outlaw. Capturing Wallce at Robroyston near Glasgow in 1305, they had him transported to London. There he was charged and tried with treason; which he denied, saying he had never sworn allegiance to the English king. He was hung, drawn and quartered on August 23rd.
The Scottish ‘Robin Hood’
Rob Roy MacGregor is another folk hero romanticised in fiction and film. Sometimes referred to as the Scottish ‘Robin Hood’; he was an outlaw and rebel and notorious in his stomping ground of the Trossachs.
Born in 1671, Robert MacGregor acquired the name of ‘Roy’ early in life; Roy being the Scots nickname for someone with red hair.
The MacGregor clan had a wild reputation for cattle thieving and extorting protection money from farmers. They supported the Jacobite cause in the first Jacobite rising in 1689. Rob Roy and his father also fought in the Battle of Killiecrankie.
His early days passed peacefully as a drover; buying and selling Highland cattle under the patronage of the Duke of Montrose. His success enabled him to acquire the title of Laird of Inversnaid; a settlement on the east side of Loch Lomond.
Having borrowed money from the Duke of Montrose, his fortunes crashed in 1712. One of his drovers absconded with cattle and a massive sum of money; leaving Rob Roy was bankrupt and now an outlaw. He sought revenge on his benefactor through a sustained campaign of cattle rustling, theft and banditry. Supported by the powerful Duke of Argyll, he became a Robin Hood figure, robbing the wealthy to benefit his clansfolk.
During the 1715 Jacobite uprising Rob Roy’s influence raised the MacGregor clan. By this time he had a price on his head for treason and banditry. Even though caught several times, he always managed to escape.
Tales of his exploits spread and with the publication in 1726 of Daniel Defoe’s partly fictionalised biography of Rob Roy, Highland Rogue, he received a Royal pardon during his lifetime. The rest of his days passed fairly peacefully.
In Victorian times his notoriety soared again with the publication of the novel Rob Roy by Walter Scott. Rob Roy’s burial place is in Balquhidder Kirkyard in the Trossachs.
Discover Scotland Tours offers a one day tour from Glasgow to Stirling Castle & Loch Lomond National Park which follows in Rob Roy’s footsteps in the Trossachs and passes close to the sites of the Battles of Bannockburn and Stirling Bridge. A one day shore excursion from Greenock offers a similar tour.