What the Ides of March was to Caesar...

February 10 is the day Robert Bruce killed John Comyn in front of the altar of Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries, in 1306. The two families, Bruces and Comyns, had long been at odds over the throne of Scotland, and in the days after John Baliol’s failed kingship, the rivalry renewed. Bruce and John Comyn agreed to meet at Greyfriars to discuss matters.

Whether Bruce went with the intention of killing Comyn, or whether the crime was committed in the heat of an argument is unknown, but the end result is remembered 700 years later: Robert the Bruce, Scotland’s greatest king, killed a man in front of an altar on holy ground. The deed launched him on a more abrupt road to kingship and war with England than he most likely intended.

Killing was not an unusual matter in medieval life. Killing a man on holy ground, however, was a serious matter. Bruce knew that he would be ex-communicated for it, and, more importantly, that an ex-communicated man cannot be crowned king. His answer was the race to Scone, where he was crowned before the Pope could get the news and proceed with the ex-communication.

The killing at Greyfriars also cemented some of the great families of Scotland against Bruce as king, and leading them to side with England in the years leading up to Bannockburn. Who’s to say what would have happened, had tempers stayed cool at Greyfriars that day. Would Scotland have had an easier time, had the Comyns and their kin not turned against Bruce? Or would Scotland have had a harder time, with continued infighting amongst the clans? Regardless, the incident stands out as a major event in the life of Robert Bruce and the history of Scotland.

More on John Comyn tomorrow.

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