Clan Bruce was one of the richest and most powerful clans in the 12th-14th centuries. It was a Royal House in the 14th century and produced two kings of Scotland.
Bruce is one of the most famous of all Scottish clans. It produced two kings of Scotland, one of whom, Robert the Bruce, led the army that defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn - an event of huge significance in Scottish history.
Clan Bruce descends from Robert de Brus, 1st Lord of Annandale, who came to England in 1106 from Normandy, France. He was a companion-in-arms of Prince David, who he followed north in 1124 to help reclaim his kingdom. Their mission was successful, and David won the throne, ruling as King of the Scots from 1124–1153.
The Bruces moved even closer to becoming royalty in 1219 when Robert Bruce, 4th Lord of Annandale, married Isobel of Huntingdon, daughter of Prince David of Scotland, 8th Earl of Huntingdon (the grandson of King David I). The union made the Bruce family hugely wealthy thanks to lands in both England and Scotland. Their son, Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale, was a claimant to the crown and was known as 'the competitor’. After three generations spent circling the throne, the 5th Lord’s grandson, Robert the Bruce, would become King of Scots.
The death of King Alexander III in 1286 started a real-life game of thrones in Scotland. All his children had predeceased him, and when his 7-year-old granddaughter died in 1290 travelling from Norway to Scotland to claim her throne, the Bruce and Balliol families both staked their claims to the crown. The ‘Guardians of Scotland’ were established to look after the country and, to prevent an all-out civil war, they asked Edward I of England to arbitrate among the claimants. But Edward I saw this as his long-desired opportunity to conquer Scotland.
In 1292 Edward chose Balliol who at first swore allegiance to the English monarch. But Balliol soon rebelled against Edward, leading to his defeat and forced abdication after the Battle of Dunbar in 1296. Robert the Bruce then swore allegiance to Edward at Berwick-upon-Tweed but he too breached this oath when he joined the Scottish revolt the following year.
The turning point came in 1306 when Bruce met with John Comyn (another rival for the throne) at Greyfriars Church in Dumfries; neutral ground. Bruce stabbed Comyn through the heart, committing sacrilege and invoking instant excommunication by the church. He then openly rebelled against Edward and his supporters and crowned himself King of Scots at Scone on 25 March.
Robert led the Scottish army at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 that famously defeated an English army three times its size. He died in 1329, having fought successfully during his reign to establish Scotland's right to be an independent country. Today he is revered in Scotland as a national hero.
Bruce’s wish was for his heart to be buried in the Holy Land, but his friend James Douglas died trying to take it there. Bruce's body was buried in Dunfermline and eventually his heart came back to Melrose.
Bruce's descendants include all later Scottish monarchs and all British monarchs since the Union of the Crowns in 1603.
There have been several notable members of the Bruce family in more recent centuries. Thomas Bruce (1766-1841), the seventh Earl of Elgin, was a diplomat who spent much of his own private fortune acquiring the 2,400-year-old marble statues of the Parthenon, many of which were decaying beyond repair. They are today known as the ‘Elgin Marbles’ and reside in the British Museum.
Sir William Bruce (c. 1630-1710) was the influential architect who introduced the Palladian style into Scotland. He remodelled the Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse, Thirlestane Castle and Hopetoun House, among many others.
Bruce sights to visit
Lace up your walking boots and pack a lunch for a visit to Robert the Bruce’s cave, which is up a steep path above Kirtle Water, near Kirkpatrick Flemming. Legend says that Robert the Bruce hid from the English armies within these gloomy walls, and watched a spider repeatedly attempting to spin a web. This inspired Bruce to continue the struggle for Scottish independence.
This is one of the most attractive and interesting castles in Scotland, and is utterly unique in being triangular in shape. With a moat, strong walls and formidable towers it is the epitome of a medieval stronghold. In 1314 Robert the Bruce ordered that it should be destroyed to prevent it being used by invading English armies. Thankfully, it has been rebuilt several times since then and you can enjoy its historical charms today.
This ancient town has had a long and turbulent history. On the death of Alexander III in the late 13th century, two Comyns, the Earl of Buchan and Lord of Badenoch, were involved in the struggles to win the throne, leading to their deaths at the hands of Robert the Bruce in 1306. This took place in the Church of the Minorite Friars in Dumfries. A plaque marks the location of the original site in Castle Street.
This town near Dumfries is reputed to be the birthplace of Robert the Bruce. You can admire a striking statue of Bruce and nearby are the remains of the two Lochmaben castles. Set in a nature reserve, the oldest remains were built by the Bruce Clan and the second was built by Edward I of England after he captured and dismantled the first castle.
‘The Good Sir James’, founder of the Black Douglasses, was killed in battle in Spain, while he was on a mission to take a casket containing King Robert the Bruce's heart to be buried in the Holy Land. Both the body of James and Robert the Bruce's heart were recovered and it is here in Melrose Abbey that the heart is interred.
You'll be spoilt for things to do and places to visit in Scotland's magnificent historic capital. The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street is a good place to start learning about Scotland’s fascinating history. Other attractions in Edinburgh worth visiting include the Scottish Genealogical Society library, the Palace of Holyrood House and Scottish Parliament building.
Edinburgh Castle was captured by the English during the Wars of Independence. Robert the Bruce's nephew, Thomas Randolph, daringly recaptured it by climbing its steep and craggy sides under the cover of darkness. Have a good look at the sheer cliffs he and his men climbed - they were certainly very brave! In 1329 the city was given a Royal Charter by Robert the Bruce.
Standing proud on its crag and dominating the landscape all around is Stirling Castle, a favoured royal retreat and the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots. While you’re here you must visit the very poignant site of the Battle of Bannockburn. Following the vanquishing of his rivals in Dumfries, Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scotland and began a long and arduous campaign to secure his title, finally achieving success at this battle in 1314. He then set about rebuilding the Scottish nation.
Want to venture off the beaten tourist track? Head to quiet Clackmannan, a few miles to the east of Stirling. Clackmannan is a historical town home to Mercat Cross, Tolbooth and Clackmannan Tower, a magnificent five storey building dating back to the 1300s. Thomas Bruce was given lands here by King Robert II in recognition of his rising against the English in 1334.
If there is an afterlife, Robert the Bruce can’t be too pleased that his body was buried in Dunfermline Abbey in 1329 but his heart lies in Melrose! Still, at least his bones are in good company - Dunfermline Palace & Abbey date back to the 11th century and the abbey was the last resting place for many Scottish monarchs.
Welcome to the capital of the Scottish Highlands. Relax and enjoy the Highland hospitality of Inverness and recharge your batteries - you have a lot of fascinating sights to discover. For a truly atmospheric experience, make the short journey to the battleground of Culloden where, in April 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite Rebellion was crushed by government forces. Members of the Bruce Clan came to live in this more northern part of Scotland and wrote their names large in the books of Scottish history.
In 1597, Sir Edward Bruce was made Commendator of Kinloss Abbey, located 3 miles east of Forres and founded in 1150 by King David I. It went on to become one of the largest and wealthiest religious houses in Scotland, and in 1312 it received salmon fishing rights on the River Findhorn from Robert the Bruce. Later, in 1633, the Bruce Clan acquired the Earldom of Elgin, a few miles on to the east. In Elgin Museum you can walk back through 1,000 years of Scottish history, and learn the story of the preservation of the Elgin Marbles by a more recent Earl of Elgin.