2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Scotland – June 25 – Day 2 – Part 1)

The castle at Stirling, not far from Glasgow was the final stronghold of the English back in 1314 when the first king of all Scotland, Robert the Bruce, and his armies managed to oust the English invaders from their lands.

After the death of King Alexander III in 1286, and the death of his granddaughter and heir Margaret, Maid of Norway in 1290, there were 14 rivals for succession to the Scottish throne. To avoid a civil war the Scottish magnates asked Edward I of England to arbitrate.  This Edward was willing to do, but in return he extracted legal recognition that the realm of Scotland was to be held as a feudal dependency to the throne of England.  This, obviously, was a contested and distasteful concession among many of the Scot’s lords;  William Wallace, John Comyn and Robert Bruce among them.

Edward named John Balliol, the man with the strongest claim to the throne as king in 1292.  Over the next few years Edward I systematically undermined the authority of the appointed King John and the independence of Scotland.  He would remove Scottish lords from their lands and place English favourites in their stead.   King John finally had enough and, making an alliance with France, he rebelled.  However, in 1296 Edward invaded Scotland, deposed King John, and claimed Scotland for the English throne.

William Wallace, hero of Braveheart,  was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk and subsequently executed after he staged an uprising in 1298.  John Comyn and Robert Bruce both had claims to the throne and were constant rivals.  Bruce tried to form an alliance with Comyn so they could join forces and defeat the English but the discussion ended in harsh words, tempers flared, and Bruce stabbed Comyn.

With the death of John Comyn, Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale, became king; although he was king of a realm ruled by English overlords.  He was defeated in several skirmishes before finally winning a battle.  And the more battles he won, the more Scottish Lords and their armies joined with him.  Finally only Stirling Castle was left to redeem.

Edward I son had succeeded him to the throne and Edward II marched on Stirling with a massed army of more than 25,000 foot soldiers and 2,000 mounted knights. Bruce, at best could gather 6,000 men and, maybe, 500 cavalry.  But, due to Bruce’s advantage because of his selection of the battleground, his strategic use of the men and arms available to him, the unexpected defection of some Scottish who had previously served the English and thus  brought Bruce crucial information, and the passionate and brave men of Scotland, the battle at Bannockburn was a resounding victory for Robert, the Bruce.  He united all the Scottish clans under one king and reigned with honor and wisdom for 23 years until his death from leprosy.

His statue stands outside the walls of Stirling Castle.   My mother’s middle name was Bruce and she often told us that her family was related to the great king. We have never tried to verify that fact but it is a nice story anyway.  The  Bruce  name  is  highly  regarded  in  Scotland,  so  it  is also  likely  that  Mom’s  parents  just  gave  her  the  patriotic  middle name.

The  walls  have  been  hit  by  quite  a few  musket or cannon  balls.These beautiful tapestries tell the story of the Hunt of the Unicorn.  There are seven tapestries in the series and a group of 18 weavers took 14 years to complete these reproductions of the originals that used to hang in the hall.  The project was commissioned by Historic Scotland as part of their efforts to restore Stirling Castle to the era of King James V reign in 1540.  We did not see the completed series as the last tapestry was not finished until 2015. The castle sits atop a high rocky crag with the only entrance at the end of a steep winding hill through the town.  Subsequently, the view from all three sides is incredible. As we left the castle we passed a truck and a group of men unloading a Formula One Race Car just outside the gate.  This made John’s day as he is an avid F1 fan and he had an opportunity to check it out. From the castle we walked down the street to Argyle House, which was closed so we went across the street to the church and cemetery.


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