King Robert The Bruce and Dundee

From the Old History of DundeeRobert the Bruce

 

The execution of Sir William Wallace took place on the 24th August 1305. In June of the year preceding, 1304, his friend Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, met Robert Bruce at the Abbey of Canbuskenneth. A concurrence of events made this interview a momentous one for Scotland. Wallace was being hunted down; Comyn, who succeeded him as Guardian, and represented the Balliols, had formally resigned the government to Edward. Robert Bruce, the elder Bruce, a supporter of the English king, had just died. His son, as Earl of Carrick, had now great territorial influence to back his undoubted claim to the throne. Hitherto irresolute, and even hostile to Wallace and the national party, the Bishop is said to have so mingled his reproaches on Bruce, with entreaties to redeem the past, as to have moved him to tears. By a solemn league they bound themselves to stand by each other at all hazards. Edward, through the treachery of Comyn, whom Bruce had taken into his confidence, became aware of this compact; and the better to watch Bruce's movements, required his presence at London, where he resided at the time of Wallace's execution.

Whether or not that spectacle had moved his pity, and hastened his resolution to act, is not known; but, on the 3rd of February, 1306, he secretly left London, and hurried to Dumfries, where he met and slew Comyn before the altar of the church. The die was now cast; and on the 27th of March, Bruce was solemnly crowned at Scone. His reign began in disaster; for, on the 19th June, another English army under Pembroke had reached Perth, and defeated the royalist forces at Methven. After various movements in the Highlands, the King with a handful of followers passed to the Western Isles. In 1307, he crossed into Galloway, from which he was obliged to retire to the north. At Inverury, although so enfeebled by sickness that he had to be supported on his horse, he defeated the English, 24th May, 1308; after which fortune favoured his arms, and many of the barons joined his standard. On his way southward, he captured the castle of Forfar, but Dundee does not seem to have been secured (The castle was still held by the English on the 12th May, 1309, of which date orders were issued in London to forward supplies of corn, malt, pease, beans, and wine to eight garrisons in Scotland, of which Dundee was one.

In the following year, however, it gave him a moral support of great value, in the form of a declaration from a national council of the clergy, held within the church of the Minorite Friars, which asserted the independence of Scotland under King Robert. By thus attaching the clergy to his cause, and by a generous policy towards the nobles who adhered to him, the king rapidly consolidated the power acquired by his arms. On Jan. 1311, he laid siege to Perth, which, after a desperate resistance of six weeks' duration, was captured by a night assault, the king himself leading the storming party, by wading the moat with the water up to his neck, and the second who scaled the wall. Dundee appears to have been invested about this period, and so obstinately held by William de Montfichet, the governor, that a treaty was concluded to give it up within a stipulated time. Edward no sooner heard of this than he ordered it to be disregarded under the penalty of death: he also wrote flattering letters to the officers and authorities of the town exhorting them to persevere in their resistance; and fresh orders were sent to Newcastle and Berwick to hurry forward supplies and reinforcements by sea. King Robert being absent in the Isle of Man, his impetuous brother, Sir Edward Bruce, attacked and captured Dundee (1312-13), and immediately after invested Stirling, the last stronghold remaining in the hands of the English. A similar agreement for capitulation was here made, which the king on his return perceived to be in the highest degree prejudicial to his interest, but disdained to imitate the mean conduct of Edward in the case of Dundee.

The consequence was that a grand army was launched into Scotland for the relief of Stirling, and, on 24th June, 1314, was fought the memorable battle of Bannockburn, which gave Bruce the undisputed sovereignty of Scotland. After restoring the monarchy to its former lustre, and esta­blishing himself upon the throne of his ancestors, King Robert visited the different districts of his kingdom, rectifying and correcting the dis­orders which a state of almost incessant war had introduced. In the eighth year of his reign, namely, in 1314, we find him residing in Dundee, and exercising the best prerogative of royalty — the dispensation of kindness. While here, among other gifts, he bestowed the, keeping of the forest of Stocket on the burgh of Aberdeen, the charter of which is dated at Dundee, 24th October of that year.

In April '1320, the king convened a parliament at Arbroath, which answered the Pope's threatened excommunication, by a memorable assertion of national independence, which declared that " so long as there shall but one hundred of us remain alive, we will never sub­ject ourselves to the dominion of England. For it is not glory," they continue, "it is not riches, neither is it honour; but it is liberty alone that we fight and contend for, which no honest man will lose but with his life." Among the signatures to this deed we find several local' names : — David, Lord of Brechin, Sir David Lindsay of Finhaven, Sir John Fenton of Baikie, Sir William Montealt of Fearn, Sir William Ramsay of Auchterhouse, and Sir William Montfitchet, formerly governor of Dundee in the English interest. Strange to say, the same Lord of Brechin, a nephew of King Robert, and the recipient of royal favours, was put on his trial five months after, before the "Black Parliament" at Scone; and being convicted on the clearest evidence of connivance in a plot to assassinate his sovereign, expiated his treason on the scaffold, along with three of his accomplices.

The Burgesses of Dundee, finding themselves deprived of every record of the privileges which they had enjoyed from the munificence of former sovereigns, in consequence of their total destruction by the English, made application to Robert, that the rights granted them by his predecessors might be recognised. Willing to redress the grievances of his subjects, a commission was issued, the translation of which is:—

"Robert, by the grace of God, King of Scots, to all our good subjects to whom these present letters shall come, greeting : Know ye that we have appointed Bernard, by the grace of God, Abbot of Arbroath, our chancellor, and Alexander Eraser, our chamberlain, our beloved and faithful lieutenants, to recognise the liberties which the burgesses of Dundee had and possessed in the time of Alexander, King of Scots, of blessed memory, our predecessor last deceased, and of other kings of Scots, our predecessors; and to make return to us, and to our council, of such things as shall be recognised and found by them in the premises. Wherefore, we charge and command you that you wait upon and make answer to our foresaid chancellor and chamberlain, as holding our place in the premises. Witness myself, at Arbroath, the 22d day of June, in the 20th year of our reign" [1325].

1325 Bruce Commission

The two commissioners accordingly repaired to Dundee: and, on the day after the Nativity of St John the Baptist [25th June, 1325], examined on oath the following persons:— Alexander Straton, William de Strabroke, David de Inverpeffer, Patrick and John de Ogilvie, Henry de Fithie, Patrick de Strivelin, James de Straton, John de Greinlay, Adam de Pilmor, and, besides these, many respectable burgesses of Berwick, Aberdeen, St Andrews,. Forfar, Arbroath, and Montrose; and found full and complete evidence that the burgesses of Dundee enjoyed, in the times of Alexander and of former kings, the same liberties of buying and selling, by land or water, with those of the other free towns in Scotland. On this recognition, Robert granted to Dundee an infeftment and charter, dated at Edinburgh, on the 4th March, 1327 (for a translation of this, the oldest surviving charter of the town, is given here).

Rober the Bruce Charter

King Robert appears to have been again residing in the town in 1326; for, on 20th April of that year, he issued a commission, appointing ambassadors for renewing with Charles, King of France, the ancient league between that kingdom and Scotland. In July of the same year, the first Parliament was held at Cambuskenneth, in which burghal representatives are positively known to have assisted, when Dundee doubtless exercised the privilege of which it had just obtained legal recognition. At this time, and after, Dundee, along with Edinburgh, Perth, and Aberdeen, had  the  honour of being security for the performance of national treaties.

The good King Robert, become prematurely old by the hardships of war and incessant toil for the welfare of his people, was now approaching his end. But the aim of his life was accomplished. He had so roused and guided the spirit of his countrymen, that, after two-and-thirty years of war, in which the fleets and armies of England had contended in vain, the freedom of Scotland was at last and forever recognised by the treaty of Northampton. A son had been born to him, to whom the English princess was given in marriage; and, after welcoming the youthful pair at Edinburgh, the king retired to Cardross, and calmly awaited the hour of his departure.  

It came on the 7th of June, 1329, and found him commending, with his last breath, to Douglas and his faithful comrades, the care of his beloved country. "Happier than the lawgiver of Israel, he had been permitted to accompany his chosen people to the last through all their troubles, till he had established them free denizens of a free country, the land of their children's love,—he had crowned his work of patriotism, he had won the wreath of glory. His star hovered over him awhile, as he leaned against the goal, weary with the race, but at last departed fairly, lingeringly, but for ever; while slowly, amid a nation's sobs, he sank into the arms of death, a willing prey. Well indeed might Scotland, well may mankind, revere King Robert's name; for never, save Alfred the Great, did monarch so profit by adversity. Vacillating and infirm of purpose, a courtier, and a timeserver at the footstool of Edward during the days of Wallace, and betrayed into sacrilege and bloodshed on the very steps of the altar, he redeemed all by a constancy, a patriotism, a piety, alike in his troubles and his prosperity, which rendered him the pride and example of his contemporaries, and have been the theme of history, and of a grateful posterity, in all succeeding ages.

The Christian, the patriot, the wisest monarch, and the most accomplished knight of his age, and, more endearing than all, the owner of a heart kind and tender as a woman's, we may indeed bless his memory, and, visiting his tomb, pronounce over it his epitaph in the knightly words with which Sir Hector mourned over Sir Lancelot:— 'There thou liest, thou that wert never matched of earthly knight's hands! And thou wert the most courtly knight that ever bare shield! And thou wert the kindest man that ever struck with sword! And thou wert the goodliest person that ever came among press of knights!

And thou wert the meekest man, and the gentlest, that ever ate in hall among ladies' And thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in rest!' Such, and more than this, was Bruce."