Archive for the ‘Edward Bruce’ Category

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Edward Bruce: Last High King of Ireland

For hundreds of years, the Highlands of Scotland shared more culture with Ireland, across the water, than with England, on its southern border. For 18 months in the early 14th Century, Ireland even had Edward Bruce, brother of the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce, as its High King.

Like the best stories, it all started long ago, and far away. Of course, that’s relative. For those who lived in ancient Ireland, the story was neither long ago, nor far away. At the end of the 2nd Century, there lived an Irish prince, Cairbre Righfada, who distinguished himself in battle. In reward, he was given what is now County Antrim, Ireland, and the Argylshire area of Scotland, both of which he named Dalriada. The Picts of Scotland, however, were powerful, so Cairbre Righfada and his descendents remained in Antrim for another two hundred years. In the 500’s, his descendents, Loam and Fergus, became the first kings in the Scottish Dalriada. Fergus’s descendent, Kenneth MacAlpin, united the Scots and Picts in the 9th century to become the first king of all Scotland.

Through these years and beyond, thanks to their common history, the two countries shared a great deal. Even the name Scots derives from scoti, the Roman name for the Irish people, which Fergus and Loam brought with them. The languages of Irish and Scottish Gaelic, although distinct today, both derived from Middle Irish. The music of harp and bagpipes, the myths and legends, and forms of dress were all similar in the Highlands and Ireland. Even their saints passed freely from one country to another: Columba and Fillan, two of the great Scottish saints, were both Irish, while some say St. Patrick, the most famous saint of Ireland, was born in Scotland. Family trees stretched their branches wide across the Irish Sea.

The line of Cairbre Righfada continued more than a thousand years, to Scotland’s Alexander III. It is his death, in 1286, that precipitated the Wars of Independence, and brought Robert Bruce, King of Scots, a descendent of the great Irish king Brian Boru and the kings of Leinster, back to his Irish roots.

In 1314, Robert the Bruce led Scotland to resounding victory over England’s might, yet Edward II of England continued to hold Scottish castles and assert his right to rule. Like Scotland, Ireland had long suffered English occupation. The Ulster chiefs, encouraged by Bruce’s success at Bannockburn, and regarding him as part of their own nation, thanks to his heritage, invited Edward Bruce to lead them against the English and become king of Ireland. With such strong familial and cultural ties, it is no wonder the Bruces attempted to unite militarily against their common oppressor. Bruce wrote to the Irish kings: Whereas we…share the same national ancestry and are urged to come together more eagerly and joyfully in friendship by a common language and by common custom, we have sent you our beloved kinsman…to negotiate with you in our name about permanently strengthening and maintaining inviolate the special friendship between us and you, so that with God’s will our nation (nostra nacio, referring to Scotland and Ireland as one nation) may be able to recover her ancient liberty.

In May 1315, Edward Bruce sailed to Ireland with 6,000 men, landing on the coast of Antrim from which his ancestors had come. After a year of successful battles, he was crowned High King in May 1316. However, the Irish chiefs beyond Ulster were not so enthusiastic about Edward Bruce. They regarded the situation not as military unity, but as a Scots invasion, not so different from English occupation. In October 1318, Edward’s brief kingship ended with his death in the Battle of Faughart. Ironically, or maybe not, considering the long history of shared culture , Ireland’s last High King was a Scot.


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Week Three of the Blue Bells of Scotland opens at The Burton Review.  Included are a guest post about my experience on the banks of the Bannockburn, where the great battle happened, and a giveaway.  Stop by and leave a comment for a chance to win a copy!

Today’s Research: The Post Bannockburn Years

There are two great frustrations in research: the lack of sources and conflicting sources.

In the past two days, as I work on book 3, The Castle of Dromore, before returning with a hopefully fresh eye to The Minstrel Boy  (book 2 of the trilogy), I am scouring sources online and in my collection of books and DVD’s on all things medieval and Scottish, for Robert Bruce’s movements in the months from June 1316 to June 1318.  Broad strokes are easy enough.  Mostly.

There was a tremendous famine from 1315 to 1317.  Bruce himself led raids into England in the summer of 1316.  In early 1317, Bruce joined his brother Edward in Ireland for the war there, and stayed till May.    In the autumn of 1317, Bruce got mail–from the Pope.  He refused it because it was not properly addressed to him as king.  Also in the fall of 1317, Bruce began his third attempt at re-taking Berwick from the English.  The siege would last until April of 1318, when Peter Spalding, an English soldier with a Scottish wife, betrayed the English and allowed the Scots in.  (The lesson to be had here is, do not insult a man’s wife.  He let the Scots in because he was tired of the English soldier’s snide cracks about his Scottish wife.)  After taking Berwick, Bruce returned, in the spring of 1318, to ravaging the north of England, in his attempts to both force Edward II to make peace and finance the war which Edward II insisted on carrying out.

A gripping story is not built on broad strokes, however.  It is built more on the day to day, on the sights, sounds, smells, conversations, the emotional lives of the characters living out these events.  It is not enough, for the historical novelist or reader, to know that Robert Bruce was in Ireland from about January to May of 1317.  It is important to know where in Ireland–was he fighting in mountains or on boggy terrain?  Did they cross small creeks or raging rivers that drowned some of their number?  What was the weather?  Rainy, dry, hot?  (Actually, Bruce was there during the worst of the great famine of 1315-1317, which was so bad that the peasants were turning to cannibalism.  There are some vivid details waiting to jump off the page, in that piece of information.)  Who he was fighting with and against?  What were their colors, their personalities, their backgrounds?  Did they have tents or sleep in the open?

One detail that comes to us is the story of the laundress giving birth.  With the enemy not so far behind, Bruce stopped to make sure she was cared for, refusing, even for the sake of himself or his men, to leave a woman alone in such a situation. 

For the author who aims for accuracy, it is an irony that, although it is difficult to find sources, when enough are found, a new problem arises: they eventually contradict one another.  And given the ease of  creating websites on the internet, plenty of sites do contradict one another, even sites that appear very professionally done.  My current research, for instance, tells me that Robert Bruce was in Ireland from January to May of 1317.  And that he was holding a council meeting at Stirling, across the sea and across an entire country, from Ireland, in April 1317, a month before leaving Ireland.

Hm.  The Minstrel Boy will involve someone being in two places at once.  But it’s not Bruce.

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