The Man who would (Unexpectedly) be King
Written by Gwen Sinclair and David Taylor
This year is the 650th Anniversary of the succession of Robert II, grandson of Robert I (The Bruce) to the throne of Scotland. We thought we would take a trip back through the layers of time to commemorate this very important occasion, since without doubt, it was because of this day, the current Dundonald Castle stands today!
Throughout this celebration year, the Friends of Dundonald Castle SCIO will be exploring some of the fascinating stories of Robert Stewart who had commissioned this, the third, castle here on Dundonald hill. Previously, castles had stood on the hill including the one built by Robert II’s great grandfather Alexander 4th High Steward of Scotland in c.1240, and prior to this, you may have found a wooden motte-and-bailey style castle built by the first high Steward of Scotland, Walter FitzAlan around 1136. The current castle is an impressive structure and is one of the earliest and largest tower houses in Scotland. Robert II’s castle is thought to have utilised the remains of the west gatehouse of Alexander’s castle as a foundation, with an inner and outer courtyard surrounded by a barmkin wall to ensure the utmost safety for him and his family. Making Dundonald Castle a fine stronghold, more than fit for a King!
To uncover the significance of this day, 22nd February, 650 years hence, we must begin our story in another significant year, 1315, not only for Robert II (who was not yet born) but for the future of Scotland itself. Let’s spirit our minds to a misty glen somewhere near the Scottish Border where a post Battle of Bannockburn prisoner exchange was taking place between the Scottish and the English kingdoms.
This turned out to be an event which would not only be of paramount importance to the future of Scotland, but without which Robert may not have been born at all – and if that had been the case, the Royal Stewart Dynasty which lasted 343 years may never have existed.
One man present was Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward, of Scotland who, at the tender age of only 22, was given the weighty task of securing the return of the Earl of Hereford back over the border to England in exchange for Elizabeth de Burgh, King Robert Bruce’s wife, his daughter Marjorie, and the Bishop of Glasgow. It was Walter who had the responsibility and honour of ensuring safe escort of these members of the King’s family home after their many years in captivity.
Walter had been present at Bannockburn and had become a favourite of Bruce, and it’s easy to imagine how the story that Walter and Marjorie (now 17 or 18 years old) fell in love on their trip home, and given the success of this mighty discourse, Marjorie and Walter were wed. Within the year Marjorie had given birth to their baby boy, named Robert, presumably named after his grandad, the Bruce. Tragically, Marjorie died during, or shortly after his birth, aged just 18/19, leaving him never to know his mother.
Robert had the upbringing of Scottish noble on the Stewart lands in Bute, Clydeside, Renfrew and Ayrshire, and first appears in the records at a parliament in Scone in December 1318, when he would have been about 2 years old. Here Robert is named as Bruce’s successor if Bruce should die without a legitimate heir.
At an earlier parliament in 1315, his mother Marjorie had been removed as heir presumptive to her father in favour of Robert the Bruce’s brother, Edward Bruce, who was then King of Ireland. However, Edward was killed at the Battle of Faughart, near Dundalk, in October 1318, resulting in a hastily arranged Parliament to enact a new entail naming Walter and Marjorie’s young son, Robert, as heir should the king die without a successor.
In 1324, though, Robert’s chances of becoming king were seriously reduced with the birth of a son, David, to the Bruce and Elizabeth de Burgh, and some 5 years later, David went on to succeed his father and become David II, upon the Bruce’s death in 1329. However, a Parliament at Cambuskenneth in July 1326 restored Robert to the line of succession, making him heir presumptive, meaning the throne would pass to him should David die without siring a direct heir. This reinstatement of his status brought with it the gift of lands in Argyll, Roxburghshire and the Lothians.
However, in the years after David II was crowned, it seems that he and his half-nephew, Robert Stewart, had a difficult relationship; David appeared not to trust Robert and saw him as a rival to any Bruce family plans for succession on his death – probably not helped by the fact that David was unable to produce an heir, while Robert was busily providing plenty of his own – 21 in all – that we know of!
Robert fought at the battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 against Edward Balliol, son of once-King, John Balliol, who was pursuing his own claim for the crown with the support of Edward III of England. This was a heavy defeat for the Scots and Robert took refuge in Dumbarton Castle, amidst its twin-peaked basalt rocky spurs overlooking the confluence of the River Leven with the River Clyde, where the nine-year-old King David II was already sheltering. The situation was considered too dangerous for David to remain in Scotland, so he was exiled to France for his safety until such time as it was safe for him to return.
In his absence Robert and John Randolph 3rd Earl of Moray, son of the famous Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray, a companion-in-arms of Robert the Bruce, were made joint Guardians of Scotland. Robert set about recovering lands in the west that he had forfeited after Halidon Hill. Meanwhile large parts of Scotland were under the control of the English at this time, including many of the largest castles. By 1341 conditions were considered sufficiently favourable for David to return. But all was not well for David as his attempt to invade England in support of France, under the terms of the Auld Alliance, resulted in David being wounded, captured and taken to the Tower of London after the Battle of Neville’s Cross, near Durham, in 1346. At the same battle John Randolph was killed and Robert Stewart escaped uninjured, with consequent accusations of cowardice, to then become sole Guardian of Scotland.
Robert was consequently involved in the negotiations to release the king from English captivity, though he seemed though to be in no hurry to achieve this and their relationship remained strained. David was able to retain some influence in Scottish affairs and had Robert’s Guardianship removed in the favour of the Earls of Mar and Ross. This was only a temporary setback for the Steward, however, and he was reinstated at a parliament in February 1352. The King was paroled to attend the same parliament, bringing with him conditions for his release. Here, David suggested he would accept Edward’s Son, John of Gaunt, as his successor should David produce no legitimate son prior to his death. Not surprisingly Scotland’s parliament rejected this. Robert saw this as a direct threat to his family’s hopes of succession and surely would have used his influence to secure this decision.
David II was eventually released in 1357 after the agreement that Scotland pay England a crippling ransom of 100,000 marks, at the rate of 10,000 marks per year, for ten years. This was ratified by the Scottish Parliament at Scone on 6th November 1357. David II continued to press for an English successor in return for a cessation of payments. Robert was vehemently opposed to this.
However, on 21st February 1371, David II died unexpectedly at Edinburgh Castle at the age of 46. His half-nephew, Robert the Stewart, became King the following day. His coronation didn’t go without its troubles though. [We’ll be posting the next instalment all about this as a short film, as well as more details to coincide with his coronation which eventually took place on the 26th March 1371 at Scone.]
Robert became the founder of a new dynasty for the Scottish royal family tree, and his very large family became major players in Scottish high society. Unfortunately, his marital arrangements were to lead to considerable conflict in future generations. He married his first wife, Elizabeth Mure of Rowallan, Ayrshire, in 1336, but the validity of this marriage was disputed. Robert arranged special dispensation by Pope Clement VI on 22 November 1347, through which all 10 children of their children were legitimated per subsequens matrimonium and he re-married Elizabeth in 1349. We know that by 1355 Elizabeth had died, as he had by then married his second wife, Euphemia de Ross, with whom he had two sons and two or three daughters. He also had at least several illegitimate children, making his number of children between 21 and 24!
Indeed whether it was simply due to his large number of offspring, or that he was a tactical man who wanted to strengthen the Royal House of Stewart’s continued claim to the throne for future generations, it appears that Scotland became pretty much a Stewart nation populated with titles and lands, most often bestowed on his sons by him, or connected to the crown due to the favourable marriages he arranged for his daughters. We also find with Robert II’s reign during the 1370s Scotland’s finances and internal security greatly improved due in part to the flourishing wool trade, and that Robert frequently visited and made connections with the more remote and previously troublesome areas of the crown in the north and west where the Gaelic lords resided.
It is clear that Dundonald Castle was purposefully designed for Robert and his Queen Euphemia de Ross to enjoy the finer things in 14th century life. Heading through the only access door to the castle today, we are immediately drawn to a most impressive vaulted ceiling towering above us which has survived near-intact for 650 years! There was another similar hall built above it, and so we can imagine the extravagant feasts and celebrations which he held here. Sadly, there are no surviving contemporary portraits of Robert, but within Dundonald Castle Visitor Centre, we have a display of his coins which show his head on the obverse side, giving us some idea of what he may have looked like. Additionally, within the lower hall of the castle set high on the inside edges of one of the huge arched windows there are two heads sculpted from stone. We believe that these are effigies of Robert and Euphemia, and were designed to show their status as the King and Queen of Scotland.
We will be exploring more about the life of Robert II as well as the important events and people connected to Dundonald Castle in future blog posts You can find out more about Robert’s Castle here at Dundonald on our YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8WLB2eAk8Q
McLennan, N D R., 2020. Conquered By No One: A People’s History of the Scots who made the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 p. 94; Independently Published.
Sadler, J., 2006. Border Fury: England and Scotland at War 1296-1568 pp. 196, 209, 226, 236. Routledge.
Brown, K., Mann, Dr A J et al., 2004. History of Scottish Parliament: Parliament and Politics in Scotland, 1235-1560 (The Edinburgh History of the Scottish Parliament) pp. 85-6.Edinburgh University Press
Boardman, S., 2007. The Early Stewart Kings: Robert II and Robert III, The Stewart Dynasty in Scotland. pp. 9-10. John Donald Short Run Press
Rogers,CJ., 2010.The Wars of Edward III: Sources and Interpretations 9. Warfare in history., p.219. Boydell Press; Reprint edition
Prebble, J.,1974. The Lion in the North: one thousand years of Scottish History. pp109-10. Book Club Associates. Robert MacLebose and Co Ltd, Glasgow.
Useful resource: https://www.rps.ac.uk/ click this link to read the Records of The Parliament of Scotland up to 1707 which include mention of Robert II during his rise to be king as well as details of this coronation.
Cover by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC
Portrait of Robert II Robert, James; Possibly late 18th century; Robert II, Accession number: SP I 96.1
Scottish National Portrait Gallery(Print Room line engraving on paper. 9.53 x 7.32 cm. Purchased 1932.
Images of models of 3 Strongholds at Dundonald Castle Museum by Jason Robertson