Born among the Scottish aristocracy, Robert the Bruce is best remembered for his stalwart leadership of Scotland during the nation’s war for independence with England in the late 13th century. Despite a great many obstacles standing in the way of his ascension, Robert successfully claimed the throne of Scotland and led his people to victory over the oppressive rule of the English.
Although the details of his early life are uncertain, as the son of Robert VI de Brus, a Scottish Lord, Robert was born into a line of Scottish nobility that no doubt afforded him an education and upbringing well beyond that of his typical countrymen. By the time he was 18 years old, Robert was already entangled in the elaborate web of politics surrounding the rule of Scotland.
Following the death of its queen in 1290, Scotland entered an interregnum or gap in governance. Edward I, King of England (known famously as Longshanks), was asked to choose between the various claimants competing for the vacant throne. When Edward selected John Balliol as the rightful heir in 1292 (over Robert the Bruce’s grandfather), both Robert and his father refused to accept the new king.
As England now moved to exert further influence over Scotland, the Bruces sided with Longshanks rather than support the tenuous grip of newly crowned King John. This choice would find the Bruce family at odds with many of their countryman, leaving them allied with England in a growing conflict against their own nation (which had allied itself with France in the meantime).
Hearing of this new alliance, in 1296 England launched an outright invasion of Scotland and King John was quickly dethroned by Longshanks. Although Scotland was once again left without a true monarch, Robert finally broke from his father's wishes and sought to align himself with those seeking to revolt. However, it wasn't until 1298 after once again siding with Longshanks at the Battle of Falkirk that Robert truly broke from the English king. After seeing his fellow countrymen defeated, including the equally noteworthy Sir William Wallace, the time had come for change. When Wallace ceded the title of Guardian of Scotland, Robert was named his successor.
Following a series of purported agreements and broken promises over the future of the Scottish throne, in 1306 Robert met with John Comyn, nephew to prior King John. Comyn was another strong claimant to the throne and potential rival to Robert. The details of their meeting are still debated to this day, but what is known for certain is that at some point the two came to blows and Comyn was killed by Robert. Less than two months later, Robert was named King of Scots by his fellow noblemen.
As King, Robert led Scotland in a prolonged conflict against England that persisted not only through the reign of Edward Longshanks but also that of his son, Edward II. For nearly eight years, Scotland and England volleyed for control of the nation, culminating in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. By some accounts Robert's forces were outnumbered three to one, yet through clever tactics the Scottish emerged victorious. Suffering thousands of casualties, the battle was an utter humiliation for England and King Edward. With momentum on his side, Robert now pushed the back the English in their own lands as well as their territories in Ireland.
When the Pope finally recognized Robert as the true king and sole ruler of Scotland in 1324, England's claims to the country were all but over. By 1327, the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton officially marked the end of what eventually came to be known as the First War of Scottish Independence.
Although he lived to see his homeland free of English rule, on June 7th, 1329, Robert died at the age of 54 of unknown causes. Despite the political conflicts that plagued the Bruce family during his formative years, Robert rose to the call of his people, finally shaking off the threat of England after more than a decade of turmoil.