Christina MacRuairi

Castle Tioram
Christina MacRuairi is one of those fascinating characters of whom history records far too little. Maybe it is only that my first 'sight' of her was through the eyes of Nigel Tranter, in his Bruce Trilogy, who portrayed her as standing cool as Scottish mist on her ship while enemies attacked and her men fought around her, a woman who stepped easily into the life of heiress of vast holdings and clan chief in her own right in a day when men typically ruled, a woman who commanded, made bold decisions in the face of dramatic consequences, consorted with kings, and very clearly marched to her own drummer. (Actually, the MacRuairi family is better known for its pipers than drummers.) The beautiful Castle Tioram, on a spit in Moidart that leaves the castle on an island except at low tide, was her home.

Sadly, little is really known about Christina, sometimes called Christian or Christiana, Christina of Garmoran, or Christina of Mar. The daughter and only (legitimate) child of Alan MacRuairi, she inherited vast portions of the western isles: Knoydart, Rum, Eigg, Moidart, Barra, Uist, and Gigha, in the early 14th Century. She married Duncan, second son of the Earl of Mar, and brother to Robert Bruce's first wife. She was, therefore, a sister-in-law to the woman who would have been queen, had she lived, and related by marriage to Bruce himself.

While Nigel Tranter portrays Christina and Bruce meeting at sea when Bruce comes unexpectedly upon her ships being attacked and sails to her aid, Clan Donald by Donald J. MacDonald says that they met in Carrick, on Bruce's land (not at sea at all), when she brought fifteen men to join him. Ronald McNair Scott, in his book Robert the Bruce: King of Scots, says that Bruce went to Christina seeking her aid.

Says Barbour: A lady of that country [Carrick], who was his near kinswoman, was wondrous glad at his arrival and made haste to join him, bringing fifteen men whom she gave the king to help him in his warfare. Fordun says: "the lady was a certain noblewoman, Christian of the Isles and it was by her help and power and goodwill that Bruce was able to return to Carrick."

A modern historian, Dr. Louise Yeoman, makes the case much more strongly, stating that it was not a spider (as per the legend), but a woman, Christina MacRuairi, who really inspired Bruce to keep fighting, by backing him with ships and hundreds of men.

At the time, living as a fugitive from Edward I of England, with very few at his side, even resorting to caves for shelter at times, Bruce would have been grateful regardless of where they met, regardless of whether it was fifteen men or hundreds, and this would indeed have made her a brave woman, following in the footsteps of Isobel MacDuff, to stand at his side at a time when few others had.

She is believed to have sheltered Robert Bruce in the months between his loss at the Battle of Methven in June 1306 until his return to Carrick on the mainland in February 1307, according to Fordun. Others go further and say that she not only sheltered him, but helped organize his armed return to his lands. We do know that she was a consistent and loyal supporter and did at various times support him with food and shelter, in addition to ships and men.

Beyond this little bit, most scholarly reports of Christina concern her brother Roderick, Alan's illegitimate son, to whom both she and Bruce gave land, or the mention of her in connection with her niece Amie.

Less academic sources mention Christina's strong friendship, and possible affair with Bruce during the eight years his wife, Elizabeth, was imprisoned by the English; yet she became fast friends with
Elizabeth in the years after her release. James MacFarlane and Nigel Tranter both portray Christina and Bruce's relationship in this light. MacFarlane says, through Bruce, that Christina was first and foremost a warrior and clan chief.

I have been lucky to find a series on James Douglas, written in story form, but based on two or more years of on-site research with primary sources in Scotland and England. It is my hope that some day someone will do as thorough a job researching Christina of Garmoran, and perhaps tell the world a great deal more about the life of this remarkable and fascinating woman.


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