Robert II (2 March 1316 – 19 April 1390) was King of Scots from 1371 to his death in 1390. He was the first monarch of the House of Stewart as the son of Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland, and of Marjorie Bruce, daughter of the Scottish king Robert the Bruce by his first wife Isabella of Mar.
Edward Bruce, younger brother of Robert the Bruce, was named heir presumptive but died without heirs on 3 December 1318. Marjorie Bruce had died probably in 1317 in a riding accident and parliament decreed her infant son, Robert Stewart, as heir presumptive, but this lapsed on 5 March 1324 on the birth of a son, David, to King Robert and his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh. Robert Stewart became High Steward of Scotland on his father’s death on 9 April 1326, and in the same year parliament confirmed the young Steward as heir should Prince David die without a successor. In 1329 King Robert I died and the six-year-old David succeeded to the throne under the guardianship of Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray.
Edward Balliol, son of King John Balliol—assisted by the English and those Scottish nobles who had been disinherited by Robert I—invaded Scotland inflicting heavy defeats on the Bruce party on 11 August 1332 at Dupplin Moor and Halidon Hill on 19 July 1333. Robert, who had fought at Halidon joined his uncle, King David in refuge in Dumbarton Castle. David escaped to France in 1334 and parliament, still functioning, appointed Robert and John Randolph, 3rd Earl of Moray as joint Guardians of the kingdom. Randolph was captured by the English in July 1335 and in the same year Robert submitted to Balliol bringing about the removal of his guardianship. The office was reinstated in 1338 and Robert held it until David’s return from France in June 1341. Hostilities continued and Robert was with David at the Neville’s Cross on 17 October 1346 and either escaped or fled the field but David was captured and remained a prisoner until he was ransomed in October 1357.
Robert married Elizabeth Mure around 1348, legitimising his four sons and five daughters. His subsequent marriage to Euphemia de Ross in 1355 produced two sons and two surviving daughters. Robert rebelled against the King in 1363 but submitted to him following a threat to his right of succession. David died in 1371 and Robert succeeded him at the age of fifty-five. The border magnates continued to attack English-held zones in southern Scotland and by 1384, the Scots had re-taken most of the occupied lands. Robert ensured that Scotland was included in the Anglo-French truce of 1384 and that was a factor in the coup in November when he lost control of the country first to his eldest son, John, and then from 1388 to John’s younger brother, Robert. King Robert died in Dundonald Castle in 1390 and was buried at Scone Abbey.
Robert Stewart, born in 1316, was the only child of Walter Stewart, High Steward of Scotland and King Robert I’s daughter Marjorie Bruce. He died probably in 1317 following a riding accident. He had the upbringing of a Gaelic noble on the Stewart lands in Bute, Clydeside, and in Renfrew. In 1315 parliament revoked Marjorie Bruce’s right as heir to her father in favour of her uncle, Edward Bruce. Edward was killed at the Battle of Faughart, near Dundalk on 14 October 1318, resulting in a hastily arranged Parliament in December to enact a new entail naming Marjorie’s son, Robert, as heir should the king die without a successor. The birth of a son, afterwards David II, to King Robert on 5 March 1324 cancelled Robert Stewart’s position as heir presumptive, but a Parliament at Cambuskenneth in July 1326 restored him in the line of succession should David die without an heir. This reinstatement of his status was accompanied by the gift of lands in Argyll, Roxburghshire and the Lothians.
High Steward of Scotland
Renewed war for independence
Main article: Second War of Scottish Independence
Dumbarton Castle on Dumbarton Rock where Robert Stewart and King David took refuge in 1333
The first war of independence began in the reign of King John Balliol. His short reign was bedeviled by Edward I’s insistence on his overlordship of Scotland. The Scottish leadership concluded that only war could release the country from the English king’s continued weakening of Balliol’s sovereignty and so finalised a treaty of reciprocal assistance with France in October 1295. The Scots forayed into England in March 1296—this incursion together with the French treaty angered the English king and provoked an invasion of Scotland taking Berwick on 30 March before defeating the Scots army at Dunbar on 27 April. John Balliol submitted to Edward and resigned the throne to him before being sent to London as a prisoner. Despite this, resistance to the English led by William Wallace and Andrew Moray had emerged in the name of King John Balliol. On their deaths, Robert the Bruce continued to resist the English and eventually succeeded in defeating the forces of Edward II of England and gained the Scottish throne for himself.
David Bruce, aged five, became king on 7 June 1329 on the death of his father Robert. Walter the Steward had died earlier on 9 April 1327, and the orphaned eleven-year-old Robert was placed under the guardianship of his uncle, Sir James Stewart of Durrisdeer, who along with Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, and William Lindsey, Archdeacon of St Andrews were appointed as joint Guardians of the kingdom. David’s accession kindled the second independence war which threatened Robert’s position as heir. In 1332 Edward Balliol, son of the deposed John Balliol, spearheaded an attack on the Bruce sovereignty with the tacit support of King Edward III of England and the explicit endorsement of ‘the disinherited’. Edward Balliol’s forces delivered heavy defeats on the Bruce supporters at Dupplin Moor on 11 August 1332 and again at Halidon Hill on 19 July 1333, at which the 17-year-old Robert participated. Robert’s estates were overrun by Balliol, who granted them to David Strathbogie, titular earl of Atholl, but Robert evaded capture and gained protection at Dumbarton Castle where King David was also taking refuge. Very few other strongholds remained in Scottish hands in the winter of 1333—only the castles of Kildrummy (held by Christina Bruce, elder sister of Robert I and wife of Andrew Murray of Bothwell), Loch Leven, Loch Doon, and Urquhart held out against Balliol forces.
Dairsie Castle where the 1335 Parliament was held.
In May 1334, the situation looked dire for the house of Bruce and David II gained safety in France. Robert set about winning back his lands in the west of Scotland. Strathbogie came over to the Bruce interest after disagreements with his fellow ‘disinherited’ but his fierce opposition to Randolph came to a head at a Parliament held at Dairsie Castle in early 1335 when Strathbogie received the support of Robert. Strathbogie once again changed sides and submitted to the English king in August and was made Warden of Scotland. It seems that Strathbogie may also have persuaded Robert to submit to Edward and Balliol—Sir Thomas Gray, in his Scalacronica claimed that he had actually done so—and may explain his removal as Guardian around this time. The Bruce resistance to Balliol may have been verging on collapse in 1335 but a turn-round in its fortunes began with the appearance of Sir Andrew Murray of Bothwell as a potent war leader at the Battle of Culblean. Murray had been captured in 1332, ransomed himself in 1334, and immediately sped north to lay siege to Dundarg Castle in Buchan held by Sir Henry de Beaumont, with the castle falling on 23 December 1334. Murray was appointed Guardian at Dunfermline during the winter of 1335–6 while he was besieging Cupar Castle in Fife. He died at his castle in Avoch in 1338 and Robert resumed the Guardianship. Murray’s campaign put an end to any chance of Edward III having full lasting control over the south of Scotland and Edward’s failure in the six-month siege of Dunbar Castle confirmed this. Balliol lost many of his major supporters to the Bruce side and the main English garrisons began to fall to the Scots—Cupar in the spring or summer of 1339, Perth taken by Robert also in 1339 and Edinburgh by William, Earl of Douglas in April 1341.
John Randolph, released from English custody in a prisoner-exchange in 1341, visited David II in Normandy before returning to Scotland. Just as Randolph was a favourite of the king, David II mistrusted Robert Stewart with his powerful positions of heir presumptive and Guardian of Scotland. At the beginning of June 1341, the kingdom appeared sufficiently stable to allow the king to return to a land where his nobles, while fighting for the Bruce cause, had considerably increased their own power bases. On 17 October 1346, Robert accompanied David into battle at Neville’s Cross, where many Scottish nobles including Randolph, died—David II was wounded and captured while Robert and Patrick, earl of March had apparently fled the field.
King David’s captivity
Petitions to the Pope, 1342–1419.
The kings of France and Scotland, bishops William of St. Andrews, William of Glasgow, William of Aberdeen, Richard of Dunkeld, Martin of Argyle, Adam of Brechin, and Maurice of Dunblane. Signification that although Elizabeth Mor and Isabella Boutellier, noble damsels of the diocese of Glasgow, are related in the third and fourth degrees of kindred, Robert Steward of Scotland, lord of Stragrifis, in the diocese of Glasgow, the king’s nephew, carnally knew first Isabella, and afterwards, in ignorance of their kindred, Elizabeth, who was herself related to Robert in the fourth degree of kindred, living with her for some time and having many children of both sexes by her; the above king and bishops therefore pray the pope that for the sake of the said offspring, who are fair to behold (aspectibus gratiose), to grant a dispensation to Robert and Elizabeth to intermarry, and to declare their offspring legitimate.
To be granted by the diocesan, at whose discretion one or more chapelries are to be founded by Robert.
Avignon, 10 Kal. Dec. 1347
With the king now imprisoned in England and Randolph dead, the Guardianship once again fell to Robert. In 1347 he took the important step of ensuring the legitimation of his four sons, John, Earl of Carrick (the future King Robert III), Walter, Lord of Fife (d. 1362), Robert (the future Duke of Albany) and Alexander, Lord of Badenoch (and future Earl of Buchan), and six daughters by petitioning Pope Clement VI to allow a canon law marriage to Elizabeth Mure.
Even though an English prisoner, David retained influence in Scotland and Robert had his Guardianship removed by parliament and given jointly to the earls of Mar and Ross and the lord of Douglas—this did not last and Robert was once again appointed Guardian by the Parliament of February 1352. The paroled David attended this Parliament to present to Robert and the members of the Three Estates the conditions for his release. These contained no ransom demand but required the Scots to name the English prince John of Gaunt as heir presumptive. The Council rejected these terms, with Robert opposed to a proposal that threatened his right of succession. The king had no option but to return to captivity—the English chronicler Henry Knighton wrote of the event:
… the Scots refused to have their King unless he entirely renounced the influence of the English, and similarly refused to submit themselves to them. And they warned him that they would neither ransom him nor allow him to be ransomed unless he pardoned them for all their acts and injuries that they had done, and all the offences that they had committed during the time of captivity, and he should give them security for that, or otherwise they threatened to choose another king to rule them.
By 1354 ongoing negotiations for the king’s release reached the stage where a proposal of a straight ransom payment of 90,000 marks to be repaid over nine years, guaranteed by the provision of 20 high-ranking hostages, was agreed—this understanding was destroyed by Robert when he bound the Scots to a French action against the English in 1355. The capture of Berwick together with the presence of the French on English soil jolted Edward III into moving against the Scots—in January 1356 Edward led his forces into the south-east of Scotland and burned Edinburgh and Haddington and much of the Lothians in a campaign that became known as the ‘Burnt Candlemas’. After Edward’s victory over France in September, the Scots resumed negotiations for David’s release ending in October 1357 with the Treaty of Berwick. Its terms were that in turn for David’s freedom, a ransom of 100,000 marks would be paid in annual installments over ten years—only the first two payments were completed initially and nothing further until 1366. This failure to honour the conditions of the Berwick treaty allowed Edward to continue to press for a Plantagenet successor to David—terms that were totally rejected by the Scottish Council and probably by Robert himself. This may have been the cause of a brief rebellion in 1363 by Robert and the earls of Douglas and March. Later French inducements could not bring David to their aid and the country remained at peace with England during his reign.
King of Scots
Consolidation of Stewart power and personal rule
Robert II depicted on his great seal.
David died childless on 22 February 1371 and was succeeded by Robert II. David was buried at Holyrood Abbey almost immediately but an armed protest by William, Earl of Douglas delayed Robert II’s coronation until 26 March 1371. The reasons for the incident remain unclear but may have involved a dispute regarding Robert’s right of succession, or may have been directed against George Dunbar, Earl of March (also known as Earl of Dunbar) and the southern Justiciar, Robert Erskine. It was resolved by Robert giving his daughter Isabella in marriage to Douglas’s son, James and with Douglas replacing Erskine as Justiciar south of the Forth. Robert’s accession did affect some others who held offices from David II. In particular, George Dunbar’s brother John Dunbar, the Lord of Fife who lost his claim on Fife and Sir Robert Erskine’s son, Sir Thomas Erskine who lost control of Edinburgh Castle.
The Stewarts greatly increased their holdings in the west, in Atholl, and in the far north: the earldoms of Fife and Menteith went to Robert II’s second surviving son, Robert; the earldoms of Buchan and Ross (along with the lordship of Badenoch) to his fourth son, Alexander; and the earldoms of Strathearn and Caithness to the eldest son of his second marriage, David. King Robert’s sons-in-law were John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, John Dunbar, Earl of Moray and James who would become the 2nd Earl of Douglas. Robert’s sons John, Earl of Carrick, the king’s heir, and Robert, Earl of Fife, were made keepers of the castles of Edinburgh and Stirling respectively, while Alexander, Lord of Badenoch and Ross, and afterwards Earl of Buchan, became the king’s Justiciar and lieutenant in the north of the Kingdom. This build-up of the Stewart family power did not appear to cause resentment among the senior magnates—the king generally did not threaten their territories or local rule and where titles were transferred to his sons the individuals affected were usually very well rewarded. This style of kingship was very different from his predecessor’s—David tried to dominate his nobles whereas Robert’s strategy was to delegate authority to his powerful sons and earls and this generally worked for the first decade of his reign. Robert II was to have influence over eight of the fifteen earldoms either through his sons directly or by strategic marriages of his daughters to powerful lords.
Robert the warrior and knight: the reverse side of Robert II’s Great Seal, enhanced as a 19th-century steel engraving
In 1373, Robert ensured the future security of the Stewart dynasty by having Parliament pass entailments regarding the succession. At this time, none of his sons had heirs so it became necessary for a system to be devised to define precisely the circumstances in which each of his sons could inherit the crown—none of this would take precedence over normal succession by Primogeniture. By 1375, the king had commissioned John Barbour to write the poem, The Brus, a history intended to bolster the public image of the Stewarts as the genuine heirs of Robert I. It described the patriotic acts of both Sir James, the Black Douglas and Walter the Steward, the king’s father, in their support of Bruce. Robert II’s rule during the 1370s saw the country’s finances stabilised and greatly improved due in part to the flourishing wool trade, reduced calls on the public purse and by the halting of his predecessor’s ransom money on the death of Edward III of England. Robert II—unlike David II whose kingship was predominantly Lothian and therefore lowland based—did not restrict his attention to one sector of his kingdom but frequently visited the more remote areas of the north and west among his Gaelic lords.
Robert II ruled over a country that continued to have English enclaves within its borders and Scots who gave their allegiance to the king of England—the important castles of Berwick, Jedburgh, Lochmaben and Roxburgh had English garrisons and controlled southern Berwickshire, Teviotdale and large areas in Annandale and Tweeddale. In June 1371, Robert agreed to a defensive treaty with the French, and although there were no outright hostilities during 1372, the English garrisons were reinforced and placed under an increased state of vigilance. Attacks on the English held zones, with the near-certain backing of Robert, began in 1373 and accelerated in the years 1375–7. This indicated that a central decision had probably been taken for the escalation of conflict rather than the previous small-scale marauding attacks by the border barons. In 1376, the Earl of March successfully recovered Annandale, but then found himself constrained by the Bruges Anglo-French truce.
Dunfermline Abbey which received Coldingham Priory as daughter house from King Robert.
In his dealings with Edward III, Robert blamed his border magnates for the escalating attacks on the English zones, but regardless of this, the Scots retained the recaptured lands that were often portioned out among minor lords, so securing their interest in preventing English re-possession. Despite Robert’s further condemnations of his border lords, all the signs were that Robert backed the growing successful Scottish militancy following Edward III’s death in 1377. In a charter dated 25 July 1378 the king decreed that Coldingham Priory would no longer be a daughter house of the English Durham Priory but was to be attached to Dunfermline Abbey. In early February the Scots—apparently unaware of the conclusion of an Anglo-French truce on 26 January 1384 that included the Scots in the cease-fire—conducted an all-out attack on the English zones winning back Lochmaben Castle and Teviotdale. John of Gaunt led a reciprocal English attack that took him as far as Edinburgh, where he was bought off by the burgesses, but destroyed Haddington. Carrick and James, Earl of Douglas (his father William had died in April), wanted a retaliatory strike for the Gaunt raid. Robert may have concluded that as the French had reneged on a previous agreement to send assistance in 1383 and then having entered into a truce with England, that any military action would have been met with retaliation and exclusion from the forthcoming Boulogne peace talks. On 2 June 1384, Robert resolved to send Walter Wardlaw, Bishop of Glasgow to the Anglo-French peace talks, yet Carrick ignored this and allowed raids into the north of England to take place. Despite this, by 26 July, the Scots were part of the truce that would expire in October. Robert called a Council in September, probably for working out how to proceed when the truce concluded, and to decide how the war was to proceed thereafter.
Loss of authority and death.
A medieval miniature depicting the Battle of Otterburn where Carrick’s close ally, James, Earl of Douglas was killed
Robert’s son, John, Earl of Carrick, had become the foremost Stewart magnate south of the Forth just as Alexander, Earl of Buchan was in the north. Alexander’s activities and methods of royal administration, enforced by Gaelic mercenaries, drew criticism from northern earls and bishops and from his younger half-brother David, Earl of Strathearn. These complaints damaged the king’s standing within the Council leading to criticism of his ability to curb Buchan’s activities. Robert’s differences with the Carrick affinity regarding the conduct of the war and his continued failure or unwillingness to deal with Buchan in the north led to the political convulsion of November 1384 when the Council removed the king’s authority to govern and appointed Carrick as lieutenant of the kingdom—a coup d’état had taken place. With Robert sidelined, there was now no impediment in the way of war. In June 1385, a force of 1200 French soldiers joined the Scots in a campaign that involved the Earl of Douglas and two of Robert’s sons, John, Earl of Carrick and Robert, Earl of Fife. The skirmishes saw small gains but a quarrel between the French and Scottish commanders saw the abandonment of an attack on the important castle of Roxburgh.
Dundonald Castle, where Robert II died in 1390.
The victory of the Scots over the English at the Battle of Otterburn in Northumberland in August 1388 set in motion Carrick’s fall from power. One of the Scottish casualties was Carrick’s close ally James, Earl of Douglas. Douglas died without an heir, which led to various claims upon the title and estate—Carrick backed Malcolm Drummond, the husband of Douglas’s sister, while Fife sided with the successful appellant, Sir Archibald Douglas, lord of Galloway who possessed an entail on the Douglas estates. Fife, now with his powerful Douglas ally, and those who supported the king ensured a countercoup at the December Council meeting when the guardianship of Scotland passed from Carrick (who had recently been badly injured from a horse-kick) to Fife. Many had also approved of Fife’s intention to properly resolve the situation of lawlessness in the north and in particular the activities of his younger brother, Buchan. Fife relieved Buchan of his offices of lieutenant of the north and justiciar north of the Forth. The latter role was given to Fife’s son, Murdoch Stewart. Robert II toured the north-east of the kingdom in late January 1390, perhaps to reinforce the changed political scene in the north following Buchan’s removal from authority. In March, Robert returned to Dundonald Castle in Ayrshire where he died on 19 April and was buried at Scone on 25 April.
The reign of Robert II has undergone a re-appraisal since the works of historians Gordon Donaldson (1967) and Ranald Nicholson (1974). Donaldson admits to a paucity of knowledge (at the time that he was writing) regarding Robert’s reign and accepts that the early chroniclers writing near to his reign found little to criticise. Robert’s career before and after he succeeded to the throne is described by Donaldson as “to say the least, undistinguished, and his reign did nothing to add lustre to it.” Donaldson goes further and debates the legality of the canon law marriage of Robert and Elizabeth Mure following the papal dispensation, but acknowledges that the Acts of Succession in 1371 and 1372, although sealing the matter in the eyes of Parliament, did not end the generational feud of the descendants of Elizabeth Mure and of Euphemia Ross. Robert’s earlier participation in combat at the battles of Halidon and Neville’s Cross, according to Donaldson, had made him wary of sanctioning military expeditions against the English and that any such actions by his barons were concealed from him. Similarly, Nicholson described Robert’s reign as deficient and that his lack of the skills of governance led to internal strife. Nicholson asserts that the Earl of Douglas was bought off following his armed demonstration just before Robert’s coronation, and associates this with the doubt surrounding the legitimacy of Robert’s sons with Elizabeth Mure.
In contrast, the historians Stephen Boardman (2007), Alexander Grant (1984 & 1992) and Michael Lynch (1992) give a more even-handed appraisal of Robert II’s life. Modern historians show a kingdom that had become wealthier and more stable particularly during the first decade of his rule. Boardman explains that Robert II was subjected to negative propaganda while he was High Steward—David II’s followers denigrated his conduct during his lieutenancies and described them as “tyranny”—and again later as king when the supporters of his son John, Earl of Carrick said that Robert was a king lacking drive and accomplishments, weighed down by age and unfit to govern. Robert II’s association with Gaelic Scotland also drew criticism. He grew up in his ancestral lands in the west and was completely at ease with the Gaelic language and culture and possessed a potent relationship with the Gaelic lords in the Hebrides, upper Perthshire and Argyll. Throughout his reign, Robert spent long periods in his Gaelic heartlands and complaints at the time in Lowland Scotland seem to have been influenced by the view that the king was too much involved in Gaelic concerns. Boardman also asserts that much of the negative views held of Robert II find their origins in the writings of the French chronicler Jean Froissart who recorded that ‘[the king] had red bleared eyes, of the colour of sandalwood, which clearly showed that he was no valiant man, but one who would remain at home than march to the field’. Contrary to Froissart’s view, the early Scottish chroniclers—Andrew of Wyntoun and Walter Bower (who both utilised a source that was nearly contemporary with Robert II)—and later 15th and 16th-century Scottish chroniclers and poets showed ‘Robert II as a Scottish patriotic hero, a defender of the integrity of the Scottish kingdom, and as the direct heir to Robert I’.
Grant (1992) acknowledges that Robert II’s reign in terms of foreign and domestic policy was “not so unsuccessful”. As far as William, Earl of Douglas’s reaction was concerned when he staged an armed demonstration before Robert’s coronation, Grant does not hold to the view that Douglas was in some way demonstrating against Robert’s legitimate right to the throne, but more an assertion that royal patronage should not continue as in the time of David II. Grant also advocates that the demonstration was aimed at father and son Robert and Thomas Erskine, who held the castles of Edinburgh, Stirling and Dumbarton from Robert’s predecessor. Grant seriously called into question the dependability of Froissart’s writings as an effective source for Robert II’s reign. Influential magnate coalitions headed by Carrick, having undermined the king’s position, manipulated the Council of November 1384 to effectively oust Robert II from any real power. Grant gives little weight to the asserted senility of Robert, and suggests that the deposition of Carrick in 1388, and then the resolution to join the Anglo-French truce of 1389, were both at the instigation of Robert II. Yet power was not handed back to Robert II but to Carrick’s younger brother, Robert, earl of Fife which once again saw the king at the disposition of one of his sons. Despite this, the now unknown source whom both Wyntoun and Bower relied on made the point that Fife deferred to his father on affairs of state emphasising the difference in styles in the guardianships of his two sons.
Michael Lynch points out that Robert II’s reign from 1371 until the lieutenancy of Carrick in 1384 had been one exemplified by continued prosperity and stability – a time which Abbot Bower described as a period of “tranquility, prosperity and peace”. Lynch suggests that the troubles of the 1450s between James II and the Douglases (which some historians have interpreted as the legacy of Robert II’s policy of encouraging powerful lordships), was in fact a continuation of David II’s build-up of local lords in the Marches and Galloway—Robert was satisfied with government to leave alone the Douglas and the Stewart earls in their fiefdoms. The weakening of government if anything, Lynch suggests, came not before the 1384 coup but after it, despite the fact that the coup had at its root Robert II’s favouring of his third son, Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan (known as the Wolf of Badenoch).