Continued from Robert the Bruce: Part 1. Robert I of Scotland was inaugurated at Scone on 25 March 1306. The Stone of Destiny and the royal regalia had all been taken south by Edward I in 1296, so it was a simple ceremony. This was lead by Isabella, Countess of Buchan, who claimed the right of her family, the Macduff Earls of Fife, to crown Scottish Kings, even if the crown were notably absent on this occasion.
Civil war with the Comyns followed immediately, with Edward I taking full advantage of the situation. He sent an army north to support the Comyns; he declared Bruce and his supporters outlaws; and he was persuaded by Pope Clement V to excommunicate Robert the Bruce for the murder of the Red Comyn in Grey Friars Church.
In June 1306 Robert moved his forces to meet the advancing English army in Perthshire. The evening before the battle they camped in Methven Wood, but were surprised and defeated by Comyn forces. Bruce escaped, but many in his army did not. And in July Bruce and his surviving followers were trapped in a valley south of Tyndrum called Dalrigh, by John Macdougall of Lorn, the son in law of the murdered Comyn. Most of Robert's supporters were killed and Robert the Bruce became a lonely fugitive.
But if Robert escaped, most of his family did not, being captured by the English while fleeing towards sanctuary in Orkney. Two of Robert's brothers and a number of his key supporters were hung, drawn and quartered. One of his sisters was suspended in an open cage from the battlements of Roxburgh Castle for four years, while Isabella, Countess of Buchan, who was also Robert's mistress, met a similar fate at Berwick Castle. His older sister, Lady Christian Bruce was imprisoned in a Lincolnshire nunnery. Because Robert's wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, was daughter of one of Edward I's supporters she was simply imprisoned in a royal residence in East Yorkshire.
Robert, meanwhile seems to spent the winter of 1306/7 in hiding, including a period living in a cave on the island of Rathlin off the coast of northern Ireland with his brother Edward Bruce. This is one of a number of places said by local folklore to have been the location for Robert's encounter with a spider, in which he observed repeatedly weaving and reweaving its web, never giving up until finally it succeeded. Robert is meant to have drawn from the encounter the resolve to try again to gain control of his kingdom. Actually, the story in this form only dates back to Sir Walter Scott's telling of it: in the original version it was a support of Robert who saw the spider then told him about it.
In February 1307 Robert returned to South West Scotland, with two groups of supporters. Two of his brothers led 18 galleys into Loch Ryan, but were surprised on landing by supporters of the Comyn family. Robert's brothers were captured and executed. Robert himself landed further north, near Turnberry, and led his small band inland to the area around Glen Trool. In March 1307 Robert and his men ambushed a larger English force hunting for him and beat them off. Then, on 10 May 1307, Robert and some 600 men defeated an army of up to 3000 English at the battle of Loudon Hill. The effect of this on support for him across Scotland was dramatic.
Another even more significant event took place on 7 July 1307, when Edward I of England died, within sight of Scotland across the Solway Firth, and at the head of an army he had intended would solve his Scottish problem once and for all. Perhaps Robert the Bruce's greatest good fortune was that for much of his reign he would have Edward II to deal with, a pale shadow of Edward's mighty and ruthless father.
Edward II effectively gave Robert three years' breathing space, during which Robert waged a ceaseless and brilliant guerilla war across Scotland, attacking English supporters, and his own enemies, notably the Comyns. And all the time his powerbase grew. He first attacked those who had killed his brothers after their landing in Galloway, before moving north. Having agreed a truce with John Macdougall of Lorn in his power base of Dunstaffnage Castle, Robert carried on to take Inverlochy, Urquhart, Inverness, Nairn and Elgin Castles, through treachery rather than siege. After a pause in December 1307 when Robert the Bruce was seriously ill, he went on to take Balvenie, Duffus and Tarradale Castles.
On 22 May 1308 a still unwell Bruce and his army met the Comyn Earl of Buchan near Inverurie. Buchan's supporters ran away rather than fight Robert the Bruce, leaving Buchan defenceless. Robert burned every village and killed every member of the Comyn family he encountered. He then took Aberdeen. This left just one major stronghold of the Comyns intact, Dunstaffnage Castle, home of John Mcdougall of Lorn with whom Robert had agreed a truce the previous year. Robert marched west. John Macdougall set an ambush for him in the Pass of Brander near the north east tip of Loch Awe. Robert had learned from his ambush by Macdougall at Dalrigh in 1306 and was not going to be caught a second time. He outflanked the ambush, defeated Macdougall and shortly afterwards took Dunstaffnage Castle.
By the end of 1308 Robert controlled all of northern Scotland except for the castles at Stirling, Dundee and Perth, and for the first time was king in more than just name. By the end of 1309 Bruce controlled all of Scotland north of the River Tay; he had held his first Parliament, in St Andrews; and despite his excommunication, he had formally been accepted as king by the clergy of Scotland.
The next few years saw the capture of castles held by the English one by one. Linlithgow fell in 1310; Dumbarton in 1311; Perth in January 1313; Roxburgh in March 1313; and Edinburgh in March 1314. The Scots by this time were making raids into Northern England in search of plunder and cattle.
But the key to Scotland, Stirling Castle, was still held by the English and was under siege, the attackers being commanded by Robert's brother Edward. Without Robert's knowledge, Edward made a deal with the English Constable of the castle that if an English army had not arrived to relieve the castle by 24 June 1314, the castle would surrender, so making an aggressive siege unnecessary. Robert was not happy: he was deliberately avoiding the head on confrontation with an English army his brother's deal had now made unavoidable. Continues in Robert the Bruce: Part 3.