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Famous Men of The Middle Ages|
by Haaren, John H. (LL.D.) and Poland, A. B. (Ph.D.)
|King from 1306-1329
The most famous king that Scotland ever had was Robert Bruce. He
lived in the days when Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III were
kings of England.
During the reign of Edward I the king of Scotland died and thirteen
men claimed the throne. Instead of fighting to decide which of them
should be king they asked Edward to settle the question. When he
met the Scottish nobles and the rivals, each of whom thought that
next day he would be wearing the crown, Edward told them that he
would himself be their king. Just then an English army marched
up. What could the nobles do but kneel at the feet of Edward and
promise to be his vassals? This they did; and so Scotland became
a part of Edward's kingdom and Baliol (Ba'-li-ol), one of the rivals
who claimed the Scottish throne, was made the vassal king.
Some time after this Edward ordered Baliol to raise an army and
help him fight the French. Baliol refused to do this, so Edward
marched with an army into Scotland and took him prisoner. He was
determined that the Scotch should have no more kings of their own.
So he carried away the sacred stone of Scone (scoon), on which all
kings of Scotland had to sit when they were crowned, and put it in
Westminster Abbey in London, and there it is to this day. It is underneath the chair on which the sovereigns of
England always sit when the crown of England, Scotland, and Ireland
is placed upon their heads. It is said to have been the very
stone that Jacob used for a pillow on the night that he saw, in his
dream, angels ascending and descending on the ladder that reached
from earth to heaven.
Edward now supposed, as he had this sacred stone and had put King
Baliol in prison, that Scotland was conquered.
But the men whom he appointed to govern the Scotch ruled unwisely
and nearly all the people were discontented. Suddenly an army of
Scots was raised. It was led by Sir William Wallace, a knight who
was almost a giant in size. Wallace's men drove the English out
of the country and Wallace was made the "Guardian of the Realm."
Edward then led a great army against him. The Scottish soldiers were
nearly all on foot. Wallace arranged them in hollow squares--spearmen
on the outside, bowmen within. The English horsemen dashed vainly
against the walls of spear-points. But King Edward now brought
his archers to the front. Thousands of arrows flew from their bows
and thousands of Wallace's men fell dead. The spears were broken
and the Scotch were defeated. Wallace barely escaped with his life.
He was afterwards betrayed to Edward, who cruelly put him to death.
But the Scotch had learned what they could do and they still went
on fighting for freedom, under two leaders named Robert Bruce and
John Comyn. Edward marched against them with another large army.
He won a great victory, and the nobles once more swore to obey him.
But in spite of this oath, Bruce meant to free Scotland if he could,
and win the crown. He was privately crowned king of Scotland in
the Abbey of Scone in 1306.
He said to his wife, "Henceforth you are the queen and I am the
king of our country."
"I fear," said his wife, "that we are only playing at being king
and queen, like children in their games."
"Nay, I shall be king in earnest," said Bruce.
The news that Bruce had been crowned roused all Scotland and the
people took up arms to fight under him against the English. But
again King Edward defeated the Scotch and Bruce himself fled to
the Grampian Hills.
For two months he was closely pursued by the English who used
bloodhounds to track him. He and his followers had many narrow
escapes. Once he had to scramble barefoot up some steep rocks, and
another time all the party would have been captured had not Bruce
awakened just in time to hear the approach of the enemy. He and
his men lived by hunting and fishing.
However, many brave patriots joined them, until after a while Bruce
had a small army. Five times he attacked the English, and five
times he was beaten. After his last defeat he fled from Scotland
and took refuge in a wretched hut on an island off the north coast
of Ireland. Here he stayed all alone during one winter.
It is said that one day, while he was very down-hearted, he saw
a spider trying to spin a web between two beams of his hut. The
little creature tried to throw a thread from one beam to another,
but failed. Not discouraged, it tried four times more without
"Five times has the spider failed," said Bruce. "That is just the
number of times the English have defeated me. If the spider has
courage to try again, I also will try to free Scotland!"
He watched the spider. It rested for a while as if to gain strength,
and then threw its slender thread toward the beam. This time it
"I thank God!" exclaimed Bruce. "The spider has taught me a lesson.
No more will I be discouraged."
About this time Edward I died and his son, Edward II, succeeded
to the throne of England. For about two years the new king paid
little attention to Scotland.
Meantime Bruce captured nearly all the Scotch castles that were held
by the English, and the nobles and chiefs throughout the country
acknowledged him as their king.
At last Edward II marched into Scotland at the head of a hundred
thousand men. Bruce met him at Bannockburn on June 24, 1314, with
thirty thousand soldiers.
Before the battle began Bruce rode along the front of his army to
encourage his men. Suddenly an English knight, Henry de Bohun,
galloped across the field and tried to strike him down with
a spear. Bruce saw his danger in time and with a quick stroke of
his battle-axe cleft the knight's skull.
The Scotch army shouted again and again at this feat of their
commander, and they went into the battle feeling sure that the
victory would be theirs. They rushed upon the English with fury
and although outnumbered three to one, completely defeated them.
Thousands of the English were slain and a great number captured.
In spite of this terrible blow Edward never gave up his claim to
the Scottish crown. But his son Edward III, in 1328, recognized
Scotland's independence and acknowledged Bruce as her king.