Sir Robert the Bruce and the King’s Cave

An historical account of Robert the Bruce’s exploits, leading to his time spent on the Island of Arran and the creation of Kilmichael Estate, Brodick, in two parts.

By Jim Henderson, local historian and native of Arran

Part 1

It is over 700 years since Robert was crowned King of Scotland at Scone.

There is a lot of information on the world wide web but in general there is no actual record of the time Robert and his followers spent on Arran. My research has been based on information recorded by descendants of the Brus family and the historical records of Ayrshire and Rathlin Island.

There are 5 locations which lay claim to the legend of the spider story, but without doubt the strongest argument supports Bruce’s cave on Rathlin Island. Records confirm his time spent there, and regarding the ‘Kings Cave’ it is dubious, because there are no recordings that he ever set foot in the caves at Drummadoon.
1. Bruce’s cave on Rathlin Island. 2. Oweynagulman Cave on Rathlin Island.
3. Uanch-an-Righ Criagruie. 4. Kings Cave Drummadoon and 5. Bruce’s cave Kirkpatrick.

The Brus genealogy – Descendants of the Anglo –Norman and Gaelic nobility.
The title Lord of Annandale was established by David 1st [1084 – 1153] of Scotland in 1119, he was King of ALBA, predominately Gaelic.The Brus family also held substantial estates in Aberdeenshire, County Antrim, Essex, Middlesex and Yorkshire.

Robert de Brus 1 1119 – 1138
Robert de Brus 2 1138 – 1194
Robert de Brus 3 1194 – 1211
Robert de Brus 4 1211 – 1226
Robert de Brus 5 1226 – 1292
Robert de Brus 6 1292 – 1304
Robert de Brus 7 1304 – 1312
(No recording of when the name Robert the Bruce was adopted.)
Thomas Randolph 8th Lord of Annandale 1312 – 1332

Robert the Bruce was born on the 11th July 1274 at Turnberry Castle; from his father he inherited the Royal lineage to the Scottish Throne and from his mother the Earldom of Carrick. He was trilingual, from an early age fluent in Anglo-Norman, Gaelic and the early Celtic Scots language. Understood Latin, giving him an understanding of law, politics, scripture and history. Robert became of age at 12 and was knighted at the age of 16.

There are two accounts of how Robert was conceived. The second version was found in writings held by the Ayrshire Historical records and confirmed by an entry of Kilconqhar Fife-Electric Scotland.

1. On returning from the wars where Adam de Kilconqhar the Earl of Carrick died, Robert de Brus son of the 5th Lord Annandale called by to inform his widow the Countess, residing at Turnberry Castle, who became infatuated and held him in the Castle until he agreed to marry her.
Kilconqhar was a small community in Fife-Adam was born in 1232 died in 1271 at Acre Israel (The 9th Crusade). Adam became Earl of Carrick when he married Marjorie the Countess.

2. Adam de Kilconqhar, the Earl of Carrick died in battle leaving his young widow the countess of Carrick 1253 – 1292, who was residing at Turnberry Castle. Widowhood was not her desire and soon set out to find a suitable partner. One day while on a deer hunt she came across the dashing Lord of Annandale & Cleveland, the eldest son of Robert de Brus the 5th Lord of Annandale, who was home in Scotland after serving a few months fighting in the Ninth Crusade, as did Adam de Kilconqhar. At first he declined her advances, but the Countess Marjorie insisted on Robert accepting her invitation of hospitality at Turnberry Castle. After a short duration a relationship was formed, which led to marriage in 1272, without obtaining Scottish Royal consent. The King and Robert de Bruce 5th Lord of Annandale did not approve of the alliance, with his eldest son marrying a widow, and in anger seized possession of Turnberry Castle. However, reconciliation soon endorsed the marriage and the young nobleman was named Earl of Carrick. On returning to take up residence at Turnberry Castle their first son was born in July 1274 who became the 7th Lord of Annandale and Robert 1st of Scotland. Robert had 10 other brothers and sisters who survived childhood.

The first born Isabel 1272 who became Queen of Norway, second born Christina 1273, followed by Robert1274, then Neil 1276, Edward 1279 King of Ireland, Mary 1282, Margaret 1283 Lady Carlisle, Thomas 1284, Alexander 1285, Elizabeth 1286 Lady Dishington and Matilda1287 Countess of Ross.

By 1305 Robert was named the Earl of Carrick and 7th Lord of Annandale. He controlled large estates and was a strong contender for the title of the Scottish Throne. John 3rd of Comyn, Lord of Badenoch who had been a figure of some importance in the war of independence (1296-1328) and guardian of Scotland for some time, was also making strong claims for the Scottish title, as descendants of Donald 3rd (1093-1099), David 1st (1124-1153 and nephew of King John (1166 – 1216).

At this time in history ‘tanistry’ was still part of Scottish life, which meant the Celtic tenure of lands for life, and gave the apparent heir of succession by election from those of the blood. Comyn’s mother was Eleanor Balliol, eldest daughter of John de Valence, establishing a double line of royal descent, both Celtic and Norman.

On the 10th February 1306 a meeting was arranged between the two contenders in the grounds of Greyfriars church Dumfries, which resulted in an altercation contesting the right of succession to the Scottish throne. Bruce who was passionate about his right of succession, struck Comyn a blow, but it is alleged that another of Bruce’s supporters finished the act. Bruce was excommunicated for this crime by Pope Clement V 1305-1314, as a result he had to act quickly, laid claim to the vacant throne and was swiftly crowned King of Scotland on March 25th at Scone near Perth. A crowning, which caused considerable resentment.

With his previous experience in the crusades of the Holy Land, Robert had developed a skill in guerrilla fighting, leading his men in surprise attacks on the enemy. Robert and his supporters began a series of successful confrontations in their attempt to drive the English out of Scotland, as well as with the Scottish clans, especially the ‘Comyn’s, who supported the English King, Edward 1st.
[Remember that Sir William Wallace whom Bruce supported was killed by the English in 1305-hung drawn and quartered in London]

On the 19th June 1306 Robert and his followers suffered their first defeat at Methven near Perth by the Earl of Pembroke (Aymer de Valance 2nd Earl 1295-1324) who ambushed the Scots. Bruce narrowly escaped capture and fled with what was left of his 4000 troops, heading for the highlands.
Historians record that Robert and his troops were engaged in another battle at Dail Righ,Lorne near Tyndrum on the 11th August and were defeated again after finding the Scots caught in the valley, between the English forces and Clan McDougal, allies of Comyn and the English (descendants of Somerled and cousins of John Comyn 3rd, Earl of Buchan 1259-1308). Robert and his survivors fled south becoming fugitives eventually heading for the Kintyre peninsula.

A few weeks later they arrived at the Southend of Kintyre where they sought shelter from Angus Og, chief of the McDonald clan in Dunaverty Castle (which no longer exists). Fearing that the hostile McDougals were still hot on their heels, after one night’s rest they set sail across the Irish Sea, making use of local galleys called ’Birlins’ which they commandeered.

What is known is that they ended up heading for Ireland, where Robert’s mother had an interest in Ulster and family friends, the Bissett’s, offered them shelter in their Castle on Rathlin Island where they regrouped and spent the winter months. During this enforced stay on the Island Robert had time to reflect and learn from the disastrous past few months. However, boredom and absence of any action, combined with the lack of nourishment, took a toll on the men’s morale. It was while sheltering in a cave that Robert witnessed the efforts of a spider making several attempts to make its web. Robert took this as an omen and encouraged him to make another attempt at regaining the Kingdom of Scotland. The story of the spider is now legend, a myth passed down from father to son by the Brus family.

[Note: During the time of the winter months- September to February- historians recorded that Bruce and his troops disappeared off the Scottish scene with no knowledge of their location. The Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) wrote in an article that Bruce had travelled to Arran via Lochranza. He had learned that Bruce had been in Brodick Castle and just assumed that this was their route from Kintyre to Arran.]

In the later days of 1306 more of Bruce’s supporters joined him on Rathlin Island including some of his younger brothers. By the end of January, and beginning of February 1307, there was still no sign of leadership coming from King Robert de Brus. Boredom was setting in affecting many of his troops, as they had been absent from their homes for a long time.

Following Bruce’s alleged meeting with the spider, a positive move was agreed to try and regain Scotland’s freedom from the English. As a first move, early in February, a group involving 16 ‘Birlin’ galleys sailed for Loch Ryan led by two of his brothers, Thomas and Alexander.
Their mission was to attack the English supply route from Carlisle, but they were betrayed and fell into the hands of the McDougal’s, Bruce’s enemy in Galloway and supporters of the Balliol clan, and they set upon the Scots. Many were captured and sentenced to death by the English including both of Robert’s brothers, who were executed in Carlisle.

To be concluded in the next issue of the Voice…