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Places of Interest about Girvan
King Robert the Bruce


THE records of Bruce's early life have perished, but it is almost certain that he was born at Turnberry Castle, the home of his mother, on 21st March, 1274; and as there were no Academies or Universities in Scotland in those days, it is highly probable that he received at least the rudiments of his education at Crossraguel Abbey. He owned extensive estates in Carrick, in Annandale, and in Yorkshire, but his chief inheritance was his claim to the Scottish crown. There was another claimant—the Red Comyn, connected with Balliol; but Edward I. was minded to keep the crown to himself. Under these circumstances, Bruce, it is supposed, made overtures to the Comyn for his support, which the latter betrayed to Edward. Apprised of his danger by a friend sending him a purse and a pair of spurs, Bruce fled from London, and arranged for a meeting with the Comyn in the Church of the Greyfriars, Dumfries. There the quarrel between the two came to a head, and Bruce in a moment of passion stabbed his rival, which was followed up by Sir Roger Kirkpatrick, with the well-known-response—"Tse mak siccar"

Bruce was now outlawed both by Church and State, and felt that his only chance of safety lay in "Audacity." He therefore set out for Scone, near Perth, and there, at the age of 32, assumed the crown. But what a poor coronation his was! There was no historical crown or sceptre, for Edward had taken these away; and no "Stone of Destiny" on which the Scottish monarchs used to be enthroned, for it was also taken away; and no enthusiastic crowds of nobles and gentry to cry "God save the King!" As Bruce's Queen remarked, sadly enough—"They were merely playing at Royalty." And so indeed it proved. In a few months, his forces were defeated, his Queen a prisoner, his brothers slain, his friends scattered, and himself an exile with a few followers on Rathlin—an island off the coast of Antrim, 6 miles long by 1 broad, with a population in these days of some 500 persons.

But this was the extreme ebb in Bruce's fortune. Soon •the tide began to flow, and it never ceased flowing till it carried him to Bannockburn and the throne of an independent kingdom. Accepting the seven times repeated attempt of the little spider to fasten its thread to the rafters as an omen from heaven, Bruce in the spring of 1307 crossed over to Arran, and thence to Carrick; and who that saw that poor fleet of fishing boats with his men on board, rowing over in the dark from King's Cross Point on the Bay of Lamlash to the Bay of Maidens, could have fancied that they carried our Scottish Caesar and his fortunes ! And yet so it was. The very light that guided him, it was afterwards believed, was a fiery pillar like that of the Israelites of old ; and this belief was a true one.

And now began a brilliant series of uninterrupted successes, making that period of Scottish history a very romance. First, the garrison quartered in Turnberry village was cut off. Then Percy, who held the Castle, abandoned it in disgust, after burning the old Abbey of Crossraguel by way of revenge. Then Douglas Castle, Roxburgh Castle, Dunbarton Castle, Linlithgow Castle, Edinburgh Castle, one :after the other, fell before him, leaving only Stirling Castle, which the governor promised to surrender by the end of June, 1314, if it was not previously relieved.

When Bruce began this career of success, Edward I. arose in his wrath, and vowed never to rest till Scotland was finally subdued. He had, with his army, reached a village within three miles of the Scottish Border, where, however, he was awaited by a greater Warrior than himself. But before he died, he made his son swear to carry on the war, and take his body along with him. But Edward II. had little stomach for fighting, and so he returned to London, and buried his father in a grand tomb still to be seen in Westminster Abbey, where a Latin inscription declares him. to have been "Malleus Scotorum"—the hammer of the Scots. And so indeed he was. But the anvil in this case outlasted the hammer, and a great many more hammers since.

At last, Edward II. was driven, as a point of honour, to make an effort to relieve Stirling Castle, and recover the conquests of his father. And thus it came to pass that on Monday, 24th June, 1314, the military strength of England found itself facing the military strength of Scotland, on the big sloping braes of Bannockburn. The disparity in numbers was great—100,000 against 39,000. But this was-more than counterbalanced by the oyer-confidence of the English and the folly of their King, as matched against the bravery of the Scots and the skill of Bruce.

In the fight that followed, we are called to notice several things about our Carrick hero which speak well for him, And first, there is his piety, which not only caused him to-throw himself fervently on God, but called on his soldiers publicly to do the same. Then, his skill in the choice of ground; then his personal prowess; as seen in the duel with De Bohun; then his watchfulness, which first detected the secret march of the English towards Stirling Castle; and finally, his wisdom in adopting the old Hebrew custom of asking the men themselves to decide whether they should fight or not. For Burns's words in "Scots wha hae" are true to fact; and before the battle was joined, Bruce made intimation to his men that he was quite willing to retreat if they so wished it. But the cry was unanimous to remain and fight it out to the end.

The policy of Bruce, with his smaller force, was to act on the defensive, leaving the attack to the English. He drew up his men in hollow squares or circles, the outer spearmen kneeling, while the bowmen shot from within. It was the formation of Waterloo, and had all Waterloo's success. It was the first appearance, on a great scale in our history, of "that unconquerable British infantry" before which the chivalry of Europe was fated to go down. And the result, as every one knows, was a great victory for the Scots, which practically settled the question of our national independence.

About a mile south of Dunbarton, there is a farmhouse by the road side called Castle hill, with a rocky knoli crowned with trees beside it. Although hardly a stone remains on it, this was the site of the ancient Castle of Cardross, where Bruce died, June 7th, 1329, aged 55 years. He died of a skin disease, brought on by his early hardships. One of the pleasures of his old age, we are told, was to take a sail in his yacht towards Turnberry, where he was born; and one of his latest acts was to build and endow an Hospital for lepers at King's Case Well, near Ayr. When he felt himself dying, he called his old comrade, Sir James Douglas, to him, told him he had been a great sinner and had shed much blood, but that he had meant by way of atonement to go and fight in the Holy Land against the Moslem. Would Sir James go in place of him, and carry his heart along with him? Sir James promised to do so, although on his way he fell in Spain, in a battle with the Moors.

King Robert's body now lies in Dunfermline, and his heart in Melrose Abbey. But he himself is enshrined in his people's hearts as "the good King Robert.'' He was the people's king. They had stood by him in his days of adversity, and he ever after stood by them. And it was this district of ours that gave him birth, and laid the foundation of the old saying—"Carrick for a man!" He made Scotland a kingdom instead of a province; and in many a dark passage of our after history, such as Flodden, people sighed for the master hand that knew how to rule and fight.

Oh for one hour of Wallace wight,
Or well-skilled Bruce to rule the fight,
And cry "St. Andrew and our right!"
Another sight had seen that mom,
From Fate's dark book, a leaf been torn,
And Flodden had been Bannockburn!


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