July 11, 1274 — Robert the Bruce, more formally known as King Robert I of Scotland, was born on this day. A fierce warrior-king, who led the Scots in a number of battles trying to win independence from England, he is probably best known for his alleged encounter with a spider.
He first took up arms against the English in 1297 when he joined the revolt led by freedom fighter William Wallace – the Scottish hero portrayed by Mel Gibson in the 1995 Oscar-winning movie, Braveheart.
Robert came from a long line of noble ancestors and as well as shaking off the shackles of the English oppressors, he had ambitions to become King of Scotland.
So much so that in 1306 he stabbed to death John Comyn, his main rival for the throne, in a church. This act did not please the Pope who promptly excommunicated the ambitious Scot.
Undeterred, Bruce went on to claim the throne and to step up his campaign against the English, culminating in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 where Bruce defeated a much larger army led by King Edward II of England.
Before that, though, he lost six successive battles and was forced to go into hiding. And that’s where the spider came in.
According to legend, as a despairing Bruce lay on his bed he watched a spider swinging from the roof, trying to spin a web. Six times it tried and failed to complete the web, but became successful on the seventh attempt.
Bruce, it is said, took this as an omen, picked up his sword, rallied his men and resumed his campaign against the hated English.
In 1320, Scottish nobles sent the Declaration of Arbroath to the Pope, asserting Scotland's independence and naming Robert as their rightful king. Four years later, the Pope formally accepted this declaration.
The never-say-die king passed away in 1329, leaving instructions that his heart was to be removed from his body and taken on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
It never made it, though, because the knight making the journey, Sir James Douglas, was killed on the way. Bruce’s embalmed heart was then returned to Scotland and buried in Melrose Abbey. His body was buried at Dunfermline Abbey.
Published: October 11, 2017