Friday, October 1, 2010

The Bruce Children

Robert the Bruce had at least two wives, undoubtedly several mistresses, and eleven children. Of several, a great deal is known; of others, very little and even that is sometimes uncertain.
Robert first married Isabella of Mar, daughter of Helen of Wales and the Earl of Mar, one of the seven guardians of Scotland. What little is known of her suggests she was beautiful, educated, and wealthy, heiress to a large section of northeastern Inverness. She spoke both Gaelic and High English. Moreover, she and Robert were in love, an unusual thing in the arranged marriages of the time. She was 18. In December 1996, at the age of 19, she died shortly after giving birth to their daughter Marjory.
Of dozens of sites I've read on Bruce, only one mentions a 'second' marriage license, dated September 19, 1295 to Maud Fitz Alan. The source reports that this marriage ended, without children, in divorce or annulment, probably due to their having a blood relationship. However, since Bruce married Isabella in 1295, and she lived through most of 1296, it is impossible to imagine how a second marriage could have occurred that year. Was it a first proposed marriage that fell through?
Six years after Isabella's death, in 1302, Robert married another beautiful and wealthy young woman, Elizabeth de Burgh. Records of her birth date vary greatly, but she may have been as young as 18. Their early marriage was hardly a honeymoon, much of it being spent in hiding from the English. In 1306, Elizabeth was captured at Tain with Marjory and several others. She was imprisoned in a convent until after Bannockburn, in 1314. Her children were born in the years following Bannockburn: David, Matilda, Margaret, and John.
Marjory, Bruce's eldest daughter, is a story of triumph and tragedy. Most sources agree she was born in December of 1296, the same month Longshanks invaded Scotland and took Berwick. As an author, I could hardly write better foreshadowing for the life Marjory would lead. In June 1306, at the age of 9, she was captured at St. Duthac in Tain, north of Inverness, while trying to escape to safety in Orkney. It is all too easy to imagine the terror of a 9 year old girl, separated from her father, who she knows is fighting not just for his kingdom, but for his life, seeking safety in a church with her aunts and step-mother, and seeing armed men storm into what should have been a place of refuge and safety. It is easy to imagine the terror of wondering what had become of her Uncle Nigel who had tried to protect them, still under attack back at Kildrummy; or what would become of Sir John of Atholl, who had whisked them away from Kildrummy for safety, or her aunts and step-mother.
We know that two of the women captured in the church that day--Isobel MacDuff and Mary Bruce, Marjory's aunt--would spend years living in cages hung on castle walls. Edward I had a similar cage built for Marjory at the Tower of London, but in a rare moment of softness, reconsidered and instead ordered her held in solitary confinement in the nunnery at Watton. There, the young Marjory lived, virtually alone, for 8 years. She was released after Bannockburn in 1314, when she was still 17, in exchange for English prisoners held by the Scots.
The following year, she married Walter, the 6th High Steward of Scotland, who was only 22 himself at the time, but one of the heroes of Bannockburn. She very quickly became pregnant. The following March, she rode her horse in the late stages pregnancy, fell when it reared, and delivered the future Robert II by c-section on March 2, 1316, according to Electric Scotland.
The tragedy of her life is that she died at the age of barely 19, having spent close to half her life in near-solitary confinement. It hardly gets more tragic than this.
Marjory's triumph is that, despite a tragically short and difficult life, spent mostly alone, she became the mother of the Stewart Dynasty and ultimately, all future monarchs of Scotland, and England since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, right down to the present day! A partial list of her descendents: Robert II of Scotland, Robert III of Scotland, James I, James II (James of the Fiery Face), James III, James IV (who married Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII), James V, Mary Queen of Scots, mother of James VI of Scotland who was also James I of England, father of King Charles I of England, Charles II of England, James II of England (VII of Scotland), father of Mary (wife of William of Orange) and Anne.
Of Marjory's half-siblings, Margaret, Matilda, and John, we know very little. John died in childhood. Margaret married the 5th Earl of Sutherland and died in 1358. Matilda married a Thomas Isaac, with whom she had two daughters, Joan and Katherine. She died on July 20, 1353.
David II, King of Scotland, like his half-sister Marjory, is a lesson to those who wish they'd been born kings and queens. History says it is rarely a pleasant or easy life. He was born March 5,1324, and married Joan of the Tower, the daughter of Edward II of England, on July 17, 1328, as per the treaty of Northampton. Yes, he was 4. He succeeded to the throne on his father's death in 1229, at the age 5. He was already an orphan.
He and Joan were crowned at Scone in November of 1331, when he was 7. A series of guardians ruled while he was a minor, one after another being lost to death in battle or capture and captivity. He spent much of his youth in France, safely away from Edward Baliol, who was trying to claim (or reclaim as he saw it) his father's brief kingship of Scotland. David ruled Scotland in his own right from June 1341 until he was captured at the Battle of Neville's Cross in October 1346, and held prisoner in England for 11 years. He returned to Scotland in 1357, promising to pay his ransom money to England. Instead, he returned to a poverty-stricken kingdom, a third of its population decimated by the Black Plague while he'd been imprisoned in the Tower of London. Payment to England was impossible. He tried to trade the inheritance rights to the throne of Scotland for remission of his debt to England. The Scots nobles did not particularly care for this plan. He died unexpectedly at Edinburgh Castle February 22, 1371, without children, and is buried at Holyrood Abbey.
Robert Bruce also had a number of children termed, in medieval terms, 'natural,' or, in our words, illegitimate. Historical sources state their mothers as unknown. Others, primarily genealogical sites, claim they are all the children of Robert's wife, Elizabeth de Burgh.

Robert Bruce of Liddesdale was born about 1303, although his birth dates range from 1299 onward. He was killed at the battle of Dupplin Moor, August 12, 1332. Prior to this, he had led an unsuccessful attempt at preventing Edward Baliol from landing in Scotland. One site mentions that Clan Elliott made an unusual move from Glenshire in the north to the Teviotdale in the Scottish Borders, in order to protect Robert Bruce of Liddesdale, whom Robert Bruce (king), had made lord of Liddesdale, as the previous lord, William de Soulis, had been imprisoned for treason. Does this mean Robert Bruce of Liddesdale had a connection with the Elliott family? Little more is said of this son, except that he made a gift of 20 pounds to St. Fillan's Church, in the year his father died. (Robert Bruce had greatly venerated St. Fillan.) One site lists his mother as Matilda, and another lists his mother as a woman who, according to all my other research, never existed and is unlikely to have, and if she did, was certainly not Bruce's wife as that site claims.
Of Bruce's remaining children, Sir Neil Bruce of Carrick died at the Battle of Neville's Cross on Oct 17, 1346. His half-brother, King David II, commanded the army at this battle. Of the rest, we know little beyond names. Walter Bruce of Odistoun on the Clyde, pre-deceased his father; he is not mentioned at all in some genealogies. Christina Bruce of Carrick died after 1329, at which point there is a record of her receiving a pension. Of Margaret Bruce, we know only that she was born before 1327--one site tells me Dunfermline in 1307--was alive as of the 29 February, 1364, and married Robert Glen. Elizabeth Bruce, the youngest, married Walter Oliphant of Gask. Sources suggest that these children, though illegitimate, were treated with love by Bruce. Elizabeth, for instance, is called Princess Elizabeth in a site on Clan Oliphant. Robert Bruce of Liddesdale was made a lord and given lands by Bruce. And Neil Bruce was knighted.

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