Robert de Brus 1st of Scotland

By Jim Henderson. Featured image shows the King’s Cave near Blackwaterfoot.

Part One – Early history of the Brus family

Sir Robert de Brus, 7th Lord of Annandale and King of Scotland from 1307 – 1329

The story of Bruce and the King’s Cave is now legendary and is a major tourist attraction in Arran. However, the myth was devised in more modern times, created by several writers in the late 1700’s or early 1800’s, four hundred years after Bruce lived and based on folklore.

Thomas Pennent a naturalist who travelled all over Britain, visited Arran in 1772. He called the cave near Drummadoon, ‘Fionn’s cave’ named after the mythical Irish hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill who, it is alleged, lived in the 3rd century. There is also another connection; the area above the caves is named in gaelic ‘Tor Righ Mor’ (Big hillock of the King, according to James Robertson who visited Arran in 1768 or just King’s Hill).

James Robertson named the cave King’s Cave without explanation during his 1768 tour of the island, the results of which were published in 1788, when he was recording the flora. He also highlighted the problem with small pox on the island and visited what he called St Maolisa’s Well and cave on what we know as Holy Island off Lamlash.

St Molaise’s cave, Holy Isle

The following research is well established by scholars, and the historical records of Ayrshire, Rathlin Island and the Brus family.

The Brus line began in the early 1100’s, when Robert de Brus, a Norman born in France in 1070, came to England along with King Henry I in 1106 and was awarded land in Scotland by King David I (1084 – 1153), king of the largely Gaelic speaking country of Alba, at Annandale, Dumfries, thus becoming the 1st Lord of Annandale.
In time the Brus family also held substantial estates in Aberdeenshire, County Antrim, Essex, Middlesex and Yorkshire.

The 6th Lord of Annandale was the father of Robert de Brus, better known as Robert the Bruce 1st of Scotland.
The following account of how the 6th Lord Brus met Marjorie Countess of Carrick was found in writings held by Historic Scotland and confirmed in records of Kilconqhar Fife, Scotland.

Adam de Kilconqhar, the Earl of Carrick 1232-1271 lost his life in the crusades (Acre Palestine), leaving his young widow, the countess to manage the estates. Widowhood was unpalatable to her and she soon began looking for a suitable husband. One day, on a deer hunt, she came across the dashing Lord of Annandale & Cleveland, eldest son of Robert de Brus the 5th Lord of Annandale, who had returned home after serving time fighting in the 8th Crusade, the same conflict that ended the life of the Earl of Carrick. At first Robert declined her advances, but, being of a strong mind she did not give up and insisted on Robert accepting an invitation to her Castle at Turnberry. After a short time they developed a relationship that led to marriage in the autumn of 1271, without obtaining Scottish Royal consent, necessary to noble marriages at the time.

The Scottish King and Robert’s father did not approve of him marrying a widow and in anger seized Turnberry Castle. However, reconciliation was to follow and the marriage soon took place with the young nobleman being named the Earl of Carrick. On returning to Turnberry Castle their first child, a daughter, Isabel, was born in 1272 who later became Queen of Norway on marrying King Eric 11.

A second child, Christina, arrived in 1273 and on the 11th July 1274 Robert was born who became Robert I of Scotland.
The marriage in total sired around 12 children: Neil in 1276, Edward in 1279 who became King of Ireland, Mary in 1282, Margaret in 1283 who became Lady Carlisle, Thomas in 1284, Alexander in 1285, Elizabeth in 1286 who became Lady Dishington and Matilda in 1287 who became the Countess of Ross.

The ruins of Turnberry Castle

From his mother Robert inherited the title Gaelic earldom of Carrick, from his father the Royal lineage to the Scottish throne. By 1305 he was known as the Earl of Carrick and 7th Lord Annandale, controlling large estates and was a strong contender for the Scottish Crown. He became of age at 12 years old and was knighted at 16.

Robert was trilingual, from an early age fluent in Anglo-Norman, Gaelic and the early Celtic Scots language. In addition, a knowledge of Latin, gave him an understanding of law, politics, scripture and history.
At this time in history ‘tanistry’ was still part of Scottish life, which was a Celtic tradition giving tenure of lands for life as well as giving the apparent heir succession by election by those of the same blood.

John III (the red) Comyn, Lord of Badenoch and Lord of Lochaber, whose mother was Eleanor Balliol, eldest daughter of John de Valance, had a double line of descent- both Celtic and Norman. He had been a figure of some importance in the War of Independence 1296-1328 and guardian of Scotland for a period and was also laying claim for the Scottish title as descendant of Donald III (1093-1099), David I (1124-1153) and nephew of John Balliol, King from 1292-1296 after being chosen by King Edward I of England.

To be continued in part two – The Brus Confrontation with John III Comyn.


(Drummadoon cave- source googling-National record of the historic environment. June 1977 research) Ayrshire historical records, Kilconqhar Fife-Electric, Thomas Pennent, James Robertson, Boathouse Visitor centre Rathlin Island, Kilmichael Estate and Brus family records.