Documentary series charting Scottish history. Neil Oliver investigates the role the church played in Robert Bruce's struggle to secure Scottish independence.
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As summer drew to a close in 1305,
so too, it seemed, did the history of the Scottish crown.
King Edward I of England, Longshanks, the Lawgiver,
the Hammer of the Scots,
could have been forgiven for thinking that the Kingdom of Scotland was dead.
William Wallace certainly was.
He was food for the crows.
And as for the King of Scotland, John Balliol, he wasn't much better,
an absentee, exiled in France, a broken and beaten man.
Whether or not the crown was his hardly mattered.
He was neither able nor willing to wear it.
Edward was a keen chess player.
As far as he was concerned, this was the endgame.
Yes, Scotland was dead.
By 1305, Scotland had been fighting to defend its independence from England for nine long years.
Edward I had secured significant victories.
He had removed Scotland's King, John Balliol, from the throne with maximum dishonour.
He had captured and killed Scotland's greatest military leader, William Wallace,
with maximum cruelty.
There were some pockets of resistance left, but they were small,
nothing to worry about.
So job done, Edward owned Scotland.
Enough with the iron fist.
He could put the velvet glove back on.
In 1305, Edward set about what he hoped would be the final subjugation of Scotland.
And he slipped out of character.
He went about his business gently.
Edward did deals with all of Scotland's leading men.
He allowed Scotland's nobles to keep their lands as long as they swore loyalty to him as King.
He did deals with Scotland's bishops too,
but two of those bishops would be the very men who
would mastermind a revolution that would restore the Scottish crown.
Bishop William Lamberton of St Andrews was a strategist,
an intellect, a double dealer.
And Bishop Robert Wishart of Glasgow had been fighting for Scotland's independence for almost 20 years.
Edward should have strung them up with Wallace.
The story of the bishops who would rebuild the Scottish crown begins
here in 1301, four years before Edward's final military victory,
for it was in the tiny Italian hill town of Anagni that the Pope now made his court.
The Pope was the highest judge on earth,
closer to God than emperors and kings.
All earthly power came through him.
The Catholic Church held every Christian soul in Western Europe in its grasp.
Its spiritual powers were politics in disguise.
The courts and streets of Anagni would have been full, not just of priests,
but of diplomats and lawyers from every Christian kingdom.
No-one else but the Pope could set the final seal on Edward's success,
so, in 1301, Edward sought the Pope's agreement that John Balliol
was no king on the grounds that there was no Scotland to be king of.
The very existence of Scotland's crown was at stake,
so that summer a small party of Scottish priests were sent to Anagni to defend it,
priests with legal expertise, led by a man called Baldred Bisset,
handpicked to save the Scottish crown by Bishop William Lamberton.
But it wasn't just the Scottish crown that Lamberton wanted him to save.
English bishops largely did as they were told, and the Archbishops
of York and Canterbury were subject to the English King.
The English church was under Edward's thumb.
But in Scotland there was no archbishop, and the Scottish
crown had never fully secured control over church appointments.
Scotland's bishops had power that was independent of the Scottish crown
and the privilege of direct appeal to the Pope himself,
power and independence that could disappear if Scotland became an English province.
It all meant nothing if there was no Scottish King.
If Scotland was to become just another English territory,
then Scottish bishops would have to bend the knee, tug the forelock
and pay the tithes in Canterbury or in York, and they didn't want to.
In fact, they were determined that they would not.
So Bisset had his work cut out.
A crown to save, the independence of his bishops too.
Bisset brought with him a carefully prepared document, a legal brief.
He had three basic arguments to make.
First, he told a story.
The Scots were descended from Noah, they had lived in Scythia, near the Black Sea, then Spain.
One of their ancient kings had married an Egyptian princess called Scota, hence their name.
So the Scots were unique - not Irish, not Welsh, most of all not English.
Second, Bisset reminded His Holiness that Scotland bore the title of Rome's special daughter,
a status that required the Pope's protection.
And third, Bisset turned to the recent past.
Edward I, he said, had wickedly maltreated our legitimate king, exploited his absence
and our resultant weakness, committed boundless atrocities against Scots,
both clerical and lay, peasant and noble, male and female.
Free Balliol, said Bisset, and let him return to Scotland as our King.
The Pope was persuaded.
It was time, said the Pope, to stop the hammering.
He ordered the release of Balliol and let it be known
that in his eyes he was the illustrious King of Scots.
Bisset had saved the Scottish crown.
But Balliol was totally demoralised and made no attempt to resume his rule.
He took refuge in his family's lands in France.
The Scots were lumbered with a useless king.
For the bishops, defending the Scottish crown was no longer the problem.
The problem was the King himself.
How could he be replaced?
It was Bishop Lamberton who took steps.
He sought a secret meeting with a renowned Scottish philosopher,
Duns Scotus, and Scotus outlined an idea with explosive implications.
The real root of royal authority was not inheritance.
True kingship was a contract between King and people,
and when a king had failed, as Balliol had,
his people could reject him and choose someone else instead.
At last, Scotland's bishops could begin to look for someone to replace John Balliol.
But time was running out.
Edward was getting close to finishing his conquest of Scotland.
Edward had no idea that Scotland's bishops were looking for a king who could resist him.
He busied himself with the last moves in his final victory over Scotland's crown.
He spared no expense.
His siege of Stirling Castle was getting nowhere,
so, in 1304, Edward took his spending spree one step further.
He ordered a new siege engine,
a monstrous catapult of a kind known as a trebuchet.
He already had several, the instruments of other bitter victories.
This new machine was christened Warwolf.
It was the largest trebuchet ever built, and its component parts were transported in 27 separate wagons.
It was a weapon of terror.
For a counterweight, Edward used lead stolen from the roofs of local churches.
The hapless defenders of Stirling Castle watched
as this monstrosity took shape beneath their walls, and they surrendered.
Edward ignored them. He wanted to see Warwolf at work.
He even had a little shelter built so that the ladies of the court could watch.
The conquest of Scotland had become entertainment.
Warwolf's first shot shattered a section of the castle's curtain wall.
The ladies were duly impressed.
But Edward was attacking the wrong building.
He should have aimed at the Abbey of Cambuskenneth, no more than a mile away.
As the walls of Stirling Castle fell, Bishop William Lamberton held another secret meeting there,
this time with the future King of Scotland.
Two families had claims to the crown.
The Comyns were led by John Comyn, the Lord of Badenoch.
The Comyns had lands all over Scotland,
but they were blood relations of John Balliol.
And John Comyn himself was a stickler.
A scrupulous man, a doer by the book.
It would be difficult to get him involved in something that sounded
dangerously like the usurpation of the throne. But there was another family, another claim.
There was a man who nursed the secret but unshakable conviction
that the crown should have been given to his grandfather, not John Balliol,
and so Robert the Bruce believed that the crown was now rightfully his.
But until now, he'd had no idea how to go about getting it.
Like Lamberton, he was at this point a vassal of the English King,
but his loyalty to the family claim was considerably greater.
At Cambuskenneth, the Bruce and Lamberton signed a bond.
"They have agreed faithfully to be of one another's counsel in all their business and affairs
"at all times and against whichever individuals."
There can only have been one subject discussed, one purpose for the contract.
Lamberton and the Bruce had agreed that he should take the throne, with the Church's help.
There was no mention of this in the contract, of course.
Writing down such a plan would have been suicidally unwise.
Secrecy was vital.
So the penalty for the failure of either party to keep to the terms
was set at the fantastically high sum of £10,000.
£10,000 - the price of silence
until the time was right.
But Robert the Bruce was already 29, and he was not noted for his patience.
For just over 18 months, he managed to hold his tongue.
Then it started wagging - to the man the church had chosen not to choose, John Comyn.
On Thursday 10th of February 1306,
the sheriff court was in attendance at Dumfries Castle.
Edward's sheriffs, Edward's justice.
As for the King himself, it was widely known that he was lying ill in an English monastery.
Everyone of any importance for miles around was in attendance.
So it was perfectly natural for the Bruce and Comyn to be in town, their seats were local.
They could meet, and the Bruce could try to introduce John Comyn
to a truth he wouldn't like at all - "The bishops want me to be King".
They met at Greyfriars Church in Dumfries and embraced.
Previous meetings between the two had been less cordial.
Seven years before, they had shaken each other gently by the throat,
so today they stood on ceremony.
They were on their best behaviour.
It's almost certain that the bishops suggested such a meeting.
It made perfect sense, after all, for the Bruce to attempt to persuade John Comyn to support his claim.
It didn't make sense for the Bruce to kill him.
Leaving Comyn for dead, the Bruce and his men went to the sheriff's court
to break it up, which was open rebellion.
While he was there, the Bruce received news that the Comyn
was not dead, so he sent a follower back to Greyfriars Church to finish him off.
This was ugly.
This would be hard to spin.
He had murdered someone in a church.
The sin alone was deadly.
The place he had committed it, God's house, that made it infinitely worse.
He faced ruin, certain excommunication, expulsion from the Catholic Church,
and if he died whilst excommunicated, he would be damned eternally.
It was a steep price to pay for an impulsive act,
his immortal soul.
"I have spilt the blood of an innocent man."
The Bruce fled here, to Glasgow Cathedral,
to Bishop Robert Wishart, Lamberton's co-conspirator.
Wishart will have been displeased, to say the least. It was too early.
Almost certainly the bishops had wanted to wait for Edward's death.
The Bruce had ruined that.
Their cover was blown.
Nevertheless, Wishart absolved the Bruce of bloodguilt.
He had no choice, they were in too deep.
Then Wishart made the Bruce swear an oath,
an oath that as King he would always remain obedient to the wishes of the Scottish clergy,
a shameful reminder of his recent crime, a tug at the leash.
And then...it started.
He launched the Bruce, the church's candidate.
He told his flock, "This Robert the Bruce will be Robert I,
"he is your King.
"This is a crusade," he told them, "a holy war, fight for him".
As swiftly and as secretly as possible, Wishart and Lamberton
planned the inauguration of the Bruce as King of Scots.
Rumours that Scotland's upstart bishops were about to make a King reached Edward.
Edward was angry, but he wasn't worried. He had it all sewn up.
He'd found out everything the Scots needed to make a King and stolen it.
He'd taken the Stone of Destiny, he'd taken the Black Rood of St Margaret.
He'd even taken the Earl of Fife, who had the privilege of crowning Scottish Kings.
But on March 25th 1306, the bishops went ahead regardless
and made their King.
Scotland had a real King once more,
but there was no time to celebrate.
No parties, no pavilions, no parliaments.
King Robert returned to the Comyn lands in the south-west to secure them.
Bishop Wishart marched to Cupar Castle in Fife.
He took it, as the English later said, "like a man of war,"
which is exactly what he was.
By the end of the first week of April, Edward had appointed an agent in Scotland.
Edward ordered him to raise dragon, the banner which signified no quarter,
no prisoners, no mercy, no rules at all.
And the English rode north.
Wishart and Lamberton were swiftly captured.
The English regained Cupar Castle and moved towards Perth.
Robert I rode to meet them with all the forces at his disposal.
King Robert camped in the woods above Methven on the 18th June.
He had failed to draw the English out from Perth to a pitched battle
in the accepted, sporting style of medieval chivalry.
So he would try again tomorrow.
But the dragon banner was flying.
For the English, chivalry was by the by.
They approached under cover of darkness.
It was a rout, a slaughter.
Robert and a few hundred survivors dragged themselves west.
His wife, Elizabeth, was still with them, his daughter and his sisters too,
so he sent the women north, hoping they might find refuge in Norway.
But they were captured and handed over to Edward.
Robert and his remnant suffered a further defeat at Tyndrum, a defeat that must have seemed final.
So the King of Scotland was forced to flee still further west,
to Dunaverty, at the very tip of the Mull of Kintyre.
There was no land left to run to.
He put to sea and disappeared.
He must have sailed with the bitter knowledge that his crown was proving costly.
Bruce's wife and daughter were confined in convents.
He would not see his wife again for eight years.
Back on the mainland, Edward indulged himself in an orgy of executions.
One of the victims was Robert's brother, Neil.
Hung, drawn, quartered, as Wallace had been.
The news of his brother's excruciating death will have bitten deep.
Perhaps this misfortune meant that God didn't want him to be King.
For six months, Robert the Bruce remained in hiding.
In 1828, Walter Scott pulled all the strands of myth and hearsay together and gave the Bruce an encouraging
spider for comfort, but it was just a story.
Where he fled to, precisely, is not known.
Ardnamurchan is the current favourite.
But wherever he went, Sir Walter was right about one thing - the Bruce had a decision to make,
whether to give up or go on.
He had connections. One of his sisters was the Queen of Norway. He could have hidden there.
But that would have left his wife, his other sisters, his daughter and all his bishops in captivity.
It would have left his supporters, his friends and his brother dead
and unprayed for, in purgatory, or worse.
What sort of choice was that?
He chose to fight on.
He gathered a force of Irishmen and Hebrideans and landed secretly
at Turnberry in Ayrshire towards the end of February in 1307.
By the beginning of March, two more of his brothers were dead at English hands.
The price of Robert's throne was rising.
He took his forces, his anger and his grief into the broken lands of south-west Scotland.
He wasn't hiding. He was learning how to fight.
He had no more than a few hundred men. Hardly any knights.
He only had spearmen, foot soldiers, and no intention whatsoever of following Wallace to an early grave.
So he could only wait until the English were where he wanted them to be...
and then surprise them.
In April, Robert and a force of 300 men
surprised an English force of 1,500 here beside Loch Trool in Galloway.
It was an unpleasant surprise.
There was no room for cavalry to manoeuvre and nothing for
the English to do except trip each other up and die. So they ran away.
So this was victory. The Bruce enjoyed the taste.
But was it a fluke? A one-off?
It might be.
By May, Robert was in Ayrshire.
The land was full of the level playing fields that knights adored.
The Bruce chose Loudoun Hill instead.
The Bruce had a few more men to work with now, about 600, and he put them to work gilding the lily,
digging trenches to further reduce the opportunities for a wide assault,
narrowing them down to a point.
On 10th May the English approached, 3,000 strong.
They charged. Then they found out about the valley and the trenches.
They lost their elbow room.
A lot of them lost their horses as well.
When the Bruce and his men attacked it was with such terrible violence that those English troops
at the rear, those not yet engaged, decided not to engage at all.
They broke and ran.
It was no fluke.
Robert I was a winner. God was on his side.
God had also had enough of Longshanks, the Lawgiver, the slaughterer of Scots.
Angered by the failure of his much larger forces to crush the Bruce,
Edward dragged himself out of his sickbed and ordered his armies to muster at Carlisle.
But he was iller than he thought, and older too.
This is as far as he got, the sands and marsh of the Solway Firth.
He died within sight of Scotland.
But the "covetous King" did not go gently.
He asked his son to send his heart to the Holy Land on crusade,
but his bones would go with the army to Scotland to finish the business.
The King is dead.
Long live the King.
Longshanks' bones weren't up to the task, but they weren't the problem.
Edward II was.
He had his father's temper, but nothing else.
Not his intelligence or his learning or his tactical gifts.
His first act as King was to disobey his father's orders
concerning the disposition of his various body parts.
He simply dropped Dad off at Waltham Abbey to await proper burial.
Then, in his own good time, he joined the English army in Scotland.
On arrival he learned they'd been badly provisioned, so he marched them south for a good square meal.
He would leave the Scots in peace, by and large, for the next three years.
And now the Bruce had a job to do, Edward's job.
He had some Scots to slaughter.
The Comyn family and their many supporters were still loyal to the Balliol claim.
There was only one thing to do with such opposition...
He left the borders to his increasingly trusted lieutenant, James Douglas.
Himself, he marched north, accompanied by his brother Edward.
The Bruce's campaign gathered momentum as he moved up the Great Glen.
His forces were never large, although by now they had a reputation.
His tactics were thorough and unpleasant.
He reduced one Comyn castle after another.
He reduced them to rubble. He killed the occupants.
He burnt Nairn to the ground.
A ruined castle, after all, was no use to the Comyns, no use
to the English, if they returned, and no use to a King who had settled on a strategy, hit and run.
Right now, the Bruce had no use for castles.
Castles meant you couldn't move.
So, burn the castle, fill the well, move on.
It took him just two months.
By November, he was in the north-east, his forces now joined by those of the Bishop of Murray.
Another man of war, Bishop Murray.
The vestments were just for weekends.
the King is ill!
The Bruce's illness was nameless, mysterious.
It left him weak as a kitten.
There was no medicine to hand, no doctor.
He grew steadily weaker as the days passed.
The King is dying.
It was winter.
The army was perilously close to running out of food.
The Earl of Buchan, cousin of the murdered John Comyn,
had gathered a sizeable force and was waiting for the moment to attack.
The Bruce's forces withdrew into the highlands.
The King was taken to a castle, to die, some thought.
And then, magically, as spring came, the King recovered.
He returned to the slaughter.
He came here, to Barra Hill, near Aberdeen.
The Earl of Buchan had dug himself in at the summit, amidst the remnants of an Iron Age hill fort.
It was, he thought, an impregnable location.
He was wrong. By now the Bruce's reputation rode ahead of him.
The Earl of Buchan lost his cavalry to simple terror.
Then he lost the battle too.
John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, last of the Comyn nobility, fled to England.
He was dead within the year.
There were still supporters of the Comyns to exterminate.
King Robert rode north.
He came to Duffus Castle and the Bruce laid waste.
Then he sent his brother, Edward, eastward into Buchan, the heartland of Comyn power.
The Bruce did not forgive it.
On his orders, such damage was done that the land was infertile for a generation.
But it was not the land he damaged.
He didn't just burn the crops.
That would have made the land fertile in the coming year.
He ordered the slaughter of the livestock, and not only the animals,
but those who tended them and who grew the crops, men, women and children.
Parts of Buchan were left barren for a generation,
because there was no-one left alive.
"I have spilt the blood of innocent men..."
By March of 1309, the Bruce had crushed resistance almost everywhere in Scotland.
In the July of the previous year, the Pope had lifted his ban of excommunication.
So he was officially back in the fold, one of the saved, at least for the time being.
Now it was time to get on with the business of kingship.
Here at St Andrews, in a cathedral nearing completion after 150 years, he called his first parliament.
It was a funny sort of parliament, by modern standards.
It only lasted two days and only really did two pieces of business.
Day one, Parliament replied to a letter from the King of France,
who wanted the Scots to go with him on crusade.
"Not just yet," said Parliament, "we're busy".
Day two, Parliament issued an open letter, called the Declaration Of The Clergy.
It's not a famous document, but it should be.
The Declaration Of The Clergy published for the first time
the ideas that Scotland's bishops had borrowed from Duns Scotus.
With great cunning, it wove into Scotland's recent history the idea that a King could be chosen,
and it did it as though everyone should always have known that such a thing could be.
The clergy and the "people", seeing the virtue of Robert the Bruce,
had "agreed" upon him, and "with their concurrence and consent", he was raised to be King.
It's a very important document indeed.
It sounds almost revolutionary.
But in 1309, the "people" really meant the important people,
the nobility, the clergy, the community of the realm,
not the peasants or the drinkers down the pub.
No, the declaration was written for the people, not by the people,
because the people were meant to listen to it.
It was preached in churches.
It was copied, shown around, repeated.
It was the party line from Robert's faithful support and prop,
the Scottish church.
The Declaration Of The Clergy was stage two in Robert's conquest of Scotland,
an attempt to persuade the doubters, and there were still many, that Robert was indeed the rightful King.
This was good. But was it good enough?
The sheer scale of the Bruce's task was becoming clear.
His kingship was still in question.
He was not a legend yet.
Three things needed to be done if he was going to make the throne safe for himself and for his male heir.
One, he had to secure the loyalty of all of Scotland's nobles
and eject the English from any significant holdings.
Two, he had to force the English King to accept the independent status of his throne.
And three, he had to father a male heir.
He hadn't even finished task one, and his wife was still in English hands.
So no chance of an heir then, or not a legitimate one, at least.
But before all of these things, he must become unquestionable.
He must become a legend.
And for that, he would have to wait five years.
He would have to wait for Bannockburn.
By the spring of 1314, the Bruce had almost completed his first task.
Only Stirling and Berwick castles remained in English hands.
Edward II began raising an army to reconquer Scotland.
Edward mustered his forces at Berwick on 10th June.
15,000 foot soldiers, between 2,500 and 3,000 horse.
Edward's nobles were mostly absent
and they hadn't sent as many knights as he would have liked either.
So not exactly a vote of confidence then, but no matter.
Edward had more than enough confidence in himself to make up the shortfall.
They rode north.
The Scottish forces mustered in the Torwood, south of Stirling.
The numbers bore no comparison.
500 light horse, about 6,000 foot.
But size isn't everything.
By now, the Bruce's army was used to war.
The men were used to each other.
His brother Edward, James the Black Douglas,
Thomas Randolph, the Earl of Moray, were experienced, battle-hardened men.
And the foot soldiers of the Scottish army had learnt to fight in schiltroms,
packed together in close order, with spears and shields permanently presented,
like tanks, but made of human bodies.
By Saturday 22nd June, the Bruce had chosen where to fight.
He'd had a lot of practice by now.
He chose wisely, the edges of New Park, near the Bannockburn.
The trees limited cavalry action, and to the south-east the ground
was broken by streams and burns and rills.
On either side of the road leading to the New Park, the Bruce modified the terrain.
Just as he had done at Loudoun Hill, he made the ground treacherous for his foes, this time by ordering
the digging of innumerable pits, disguised with grass and branches.
These would snap the legs of English horse.
The English army itself made camp to the north, and night fell.
The next morning was a Sunday, so the Scots began it with a mass.
The Bishop of Dunkeld presided, and when the mass was finished, he will have got his weapons ready.
This would be the reckoning, the payment,
for the Bruce had lost brothers and friends, family and priests.
His wife and daughter, dear to him, had been imprisoned.
And those who gave allegiance to him had lost still more.
And now, the English King was here, no more than a hundred yards away.
He would be made to pay.
He must be made to pay.
The English opened with their knights, as was traditional,
a massed cavalry charge, and one of the knights, Henry de Bohun, found
himself charging an isolated figure, off to the side of his soldiers,
an isolated figure, wearing a crown.
He lowered his lance and galloped forward.
This was his chance at immortality. But the Bruce dodged it.
He rose up in his stirrups, and with a single blow of his battleaxe
split de Bohun's skull from crown to chin.
With that one stroke, the Bruce became legend.
The schiltroms held. They pushed forward.
The English cavalry were sent in again, but the Earl of Moray's
schiltrom forced them back, and that was the story of Bannockburn.
For two days, the Scottish schiltroms held
and then pressed forward, hemmed the English in for slaughter.
And on the second day, the English had had enough.
So they did what had now become the traditional thing when faced with a
Scottish army, its feet and spears firmly planted on the ground.
They ran away.
The Scots got down to the profitable business of taking prisoners, and Edward took to flight.
Robert had too few mounted men to send a sizeable number in pursuit, so Edward escaped.
Check, but not checkmate.
The haul was impressive. Robert was able to trade his prisoners.
He recovered Bishop Wishart, 74 years old and blind,
his daughter, his sister, and best of all, Elizabeth, his Queen.
Eight years of captivity had left their mark.
And Robert will have known that what she'd suffered was his fault.
All for his costly throne.
All for his legend.
In the history books and by the firesides,
the scale of the victory would swell, just as the tales would grow taller.
In fact, by the 20th century, the King himself had grown by two feet.
But the facts were rather bleaker.
Only the task of removing the English from Scotland was near completion.
The attempt to produce a male heir could now begin,
but it was perfectly possible that Queen Elizabeth might prove barren.
Bannockburn had given him his legend.
But it had changed nothing else.
The road to Scotland's independence seemed very long, and it was blocked.
Progress now depended on Edward II, who had no reason to make any concessions of any kind at all.
For four long years, the Scots raided English territories in the north of England, Ireland too.
Robert lost his last remaining brother, Edward Bruce, all in vain.
Edward took no notice.
He didn't need to.
He couldn't beat the Bruce on a battlefield,
so he'd changed the game.
He'd started playing by the rules that Scotland's bishops used.
He had gone to the Pope.
And the new Pope was desperate to restore papal prestige
by sending all the major crowns of Europe on crusade.
Kings who caused petty national squabbles would not be tolerated.
In 1318, the Scots discovered that the English had convinced the Pope
that the war between England and Scotland was Scotland's fault.
Robert, his lieutenants and his bishops were all excommunicated.
In addition, the Pope ordered that in every English church, three times
a day, a ceremony was to be held at which the name of Bruce was cursed.
The news will have been bitter.
As the curses rose from every English church, the Bruce
came to St Andrew's Cathedral for its day of consecration.
Almost 700 years ago, the Bruce stood here,
along with his old mentor, William Lamberton, but without Wishart, who had died two years before.
He watched as these marks were made.
A generous annuity for the new cathedral was announced.
He was pious, desperately so.
The Bruce's spending on things like this,
churches, chantries, monasteries and chapels, was increasing.
Generous grants were made to institutions dedicated to St Andrew, St Fillan, St Thomas, St Ninian.
His people called him Good King Robert.
But Good King Robert wasn't so sure.
He wanted the saints to intercede on his behalf.
Those English curses didn't seem quite empty, not at least to the man they were intended for.
The fate of the Scottish crown was back in the hands of the papacy.
And the Scottish clergy, once again, was the Bruce's only hope.
In April 1320, a Scottish knight set off for the papal court.
He was a postman of sorts.
He carried with him three letters.
All were written here, in Arbroath Abbey.
One was from King Robert, one was from the bishops, and the third was from the nobles of Scotland.
Only the letter from the nobles survives, and it's now known as the Declaration of Arbroath.
It has become a very famous document.
Some people see it as an astonishingly precocious manifesto for national and democratic freedom.
Some Americans argue that you can see its influence in their own Declaration Of Independence.
In 1320, it was a hard-nosed reply to English spin.
And it spun pretty hard itself.
Of course, it wasn't the nobles who actually wrote it.
This was ventriloquism, with the nobles' dummy sat firmly on the bishops' knee.
It was a potted history and a brandished fist of a document.
The Pope must have enjoyed reading it.
First, it summarised the arguments of Baldred Bisset's brief.
"We are an ancient people.
"We are Rome's special daughter."
Second, it asserted that Robert the Bruce, "by due
"consent and assent of us all", had freed them from the English yoke.
But if he should submit to the English, "We Scots will drive him
"out, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King.
"For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we be brought under English rule.
"It is in truth, not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom,
"for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself."
So, the idea of Duns Scotus, that kingship is contractual, with added brass neck
and a generous pinch of broadsword, had finally reached the papal court.
But it hadn't finished yet.
It added that it was the English, not the Scots, who were making excuses for not going on crusade,
and that if His Holiness didn't do something to stop them, then His Holiness would be blamed
by God for the slaughter of bodies and perdition of souls that would inevitably follow.
The Pope replied in August.
The letters, astonishingly, had had the desired effect.
The excommunications were suspended.
Better still, Pope John wrote to Edward and told him to end the conflict and negotiate.
Edward agreed, with an ill grace.
The treaty negotiations were to take place at Bamburgh,
in Northumberland, in the March of 1321.
So in March, the envoys began to gather.
The papacy and the French King sent agents too.
It was a farce, a drain blocked with all the old arguments.
The English wheeled out the ancient story of immemorial English ownership of the Scottish crown.
The Scots replied with creaky chunks of Bisset and a generous
helping of the Declaration, adding for good measure that the entire Norman and Plantagenet dynasty was
illegitimate, stemming as it did from the "foreign usurpation"
of 1066, an invasion led by someone the Scots chose to refer to as "William the Bastard".
The true and legitimate claim on the English crown, said the Scots,
lay with the house of Wessex, whose sole living representative
was one Robert I of Scotland.
The Bamburgh negotiations came to nothing.
A letter confirming Robert's excommunication arrived a month later.
And after that, for six years, it was Groundhog Day for Robert the Bruce.
Every time the Scots secured concessions at the papal court, Edward successfully got them undone.
The only day that delivered any variety was the 5th March 1324, when Queen Elizabeth
was delivered of a healthy baby boy, someone to give Scotland to, someone of his blood.
A miraculous male heir.
The Queen was 35.
The King was 50.
For those days, it was near enough to miraculous.
But did it matter?
Every morning, the Bruce awoke to find the English King unchanged.
The Bruce's Groundhog Day lasted until 20th January 1327,
when Edward II was deposed.
Edward was removed from the throne by his wife, Isabel of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer,
with the tacit approval of an English nobility that was heartily
sick of Edward's incompetence, favouritism, rumoured homosexuality, and corruption.
His son, the Prince of Wales, just 14 years old,
was crowned King Edward III a little less than two weeks later.
This was good news.
This was an opportunity. But King Robert, once again, was ill.
He remained active.
But sometimes he was active almost in effigy,
carried around from place to place, paralysed, like a statue of himself.
The illness came and went, but it came more and went less as time passed.
An eyewitness in July said the King was so ill, he "could scarce move anything but his tongue".
But it was time for one last effort, or this great opportunity would be lost.
And so, miraculously, in August the King was well enough to lay siege
to Norham Castle, while Moray and Douglas made assaults on the castles at Alnwick and Warkworth.
All of these sieges in Northumbria sent a message loud and clear.
The Scots, quite possibly, were about to take the north of England.
The threat was real.
The English folded.
On 18th October, whilst at Berwick, Robert issued his conditions.
The King of England must recognise his throne and the independence of the Scottish crown in perpetuity.
To seal the deal, his son David was to marry the King of England's sister, Joan.
The English hemmed and hawed, but there was little doubt
that they would accept all of the important points.
The Bruce had won.
Queen Elizabeth of Scotland died nine days later.
She was sure of her husband's success, but she was not alive to see it.
The Bruce's blessings were usually mixed.
The peace was finally concluded at the monastery of Holyrood,
where the Bruce lay ill, on 17th March 1328.
One of the English promises was to return the Stone of Destiny.
His earls were in attendance, his bishops too, including William Lamberton, who had chosen him,
with whom he'd signed a very different document 24 years before
and without whom, very likely, none of them would have been there at all.
Lamberton died two months later.
On 12th July, in accordance with the second of Robert's treaty conditions, David, who was only
four, and the princess Joan, who was six, were married in Berwick Church.
Neither king was in attendance.
One was too angry.
The other was too ill.
Peace at last,
after 32 years of struggle and bloodshed.
The Pope let it be known that he recognised the Scottish throne,
and he lifted the ban of excommunication from King Robert.
The Pope was onside. The gates of hell were firmly shut.
King Robert, you might think, could be sure of salvation.
But he wasn't.
Guilt weighed heavily on him.
His nameless illness assured him that he still lacked God's grace.
The crown was his, he wouldn't be parted from it.
But it was steeped in blood, the blood of his family and the blood of others.
He arranged for a chaplain in Buchan to say masses for his brother Neil,
dead since 1306, and made grants to Dunfermline Abbey, where his wife lay buried.
The Bruce and his advisers judged the time was ripe to ask for
something that every European monarchy of status possessed -
an ampulla, a bottle of sacred oil, blessed by the Pope himself.
Oil from such bottles was used to anoint kings at their coronations.
Any attempt to conquer the lands of a king who, by virtue of this oil,
had been anointed by God, was a mortal sin.
The English Kings had an ampulla.
The French did too. But the Scottish Kings didn't, and they wanted one.
It was more than any mere status symbol.
It was a bottle full of independence from the English King.
His illness grew worse.
"The King is dying," people said.
Nobody knew what he was dying of.
But this time it was true.
He had just three months to live, but he went on pilgrimage,
struggled down the south-west coast of Scotland
to the shrine of St Ninian in Whithorn Cathedral.
Too sick to ride, the warrior King was carried on a litter.
The journey took a month.
When he arrived, Robert the Bruce, mortally ill and on the edge of the abyss, did penance.
He fasted and did penance for five days.
After all, the Church had got him his crown.
Surely now God would take him back.
"God forgive me.
"I have spilt the blood of many innocent men..."
On his return, he gathered his earls around him and he spoke to them.
"My day is far gone," he said.
"I thank God for giving me time to repent in this life.
"Because of me and my wars, much blood has been spilt.
"Many innocent men have died.
"So I take this sickness and pain as proper penance for my sins."
And he let it be known that after his death, he wanted his heart to be removed and taken on crusade.
Robert knew he would never live to go himself,
but the Scots had been promising the Pope a crusade since 1320.
Robert died on 7th June 1329.
He was 55 years old.
The illustrious King of Scots was buried here, at Dunfermline Abbey, near his wife.
The dead King, and the first King of something that had never existed before.
The very word "Scots" meant something different.
There was a Scottish people now, loyal to a Scottish throne.
No more confusion, no more divided loyalties.
The bishops and the Bruce had done their job. It was a revolution.
The King is dead.
Long live the King.
His five-year-old son, David, succeeded Robert the Bruce on 7th June 1329.
The following year, James Douglas took the Bruce's heart on crusade
against the Moors in northern Spain, and died there.
The heart, having fulfilled its promise, was found on the
battlefield, returned to Scotland, and buried in Melrose Abbey.
After his death, the legend of the Bruce did what legends do.
It ate things up. It ate the human being.
All that was left was Robert the Bruce, the soldier King who fought for Scottish liberty and won.
It left a suit of armour, and this face, resolute and empty.
The legend hid his consuming guilt.
It rarely mentioned the bishops who'd chosen him and who had guided his every step.
It barely muttered the names of his lost family.
It shrunk the Scottish casualties and multiplied the English armies he'd defeated.
It blurred the medievalness of what he did.
It made it about liberty for all instead of a revolution
that established a free and independent Scottish crown.
On November 24th 1331, David and Joan were enthroned as King and Queen of Scotland.
There was no Stone of Destiny.
Edward III had promised to return it and hadn't.
But at last, there was an ampulla of sacred oil from the Pope,
the bottle of independence from the English crown,
final proof of the Bruce's triumph,
final proof that the Scottish crown was free and quit of English authority,
final proof that the reign of Good King Robert
had been worth everything, all the deaths and horror,
freedom from the English crown at last, for ever.
The next English invasion was in 1332.
So much for bottles and for promises.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Robert Bruce's 22-year struggle to secure Scottish independence is one of the most important chapters in the country's history. Neil Oliver explores the crucial role the Scottish church played in promoting the cause of Robert Bruce, how they launched repeated propaganda campaigns, both at home and abroad, and how the famous 1320 Declaration of Arbroath ultimately persuaded the Pope to finally recognise Scotland as an independent nation.