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Robert II (early 1316 – 19 April 1390) became King of Scots in 1371 — the first monarch of the House of Stewart. Before his accession he held the titles of High Steward of Scotland and Earl of Strathearn. He owed his position to his ancestry as the son of Walter Stewart, High Steward of Scotland and Marjorie Bruce, daughter of King Robert I "The Bruce" and of his first wife Isabella of Mar. Robert Stewart became heir presumptive to his grandfather, King Robert I in 1318, but this lapsed in 1324 with the birth of a son, afterwards King David II. On his father's death in 1326, he inherited the title of High Steward and in the same year parliament named him as heir presumptive to David. In 1329 King Robert died and the 5 year old David succeeded him.

Robert served as Guardian of Scotland on four occasions – shared with John Randolph, Earl of Moray (1334–1335), then solely during David's refuge in France (1338–1341) and twice during David's captivity in England (between 1346 and 1357).

The Steward married Elizabeth Mure c. 1348, thus legitimising his four sons and five daughters. His subsequent marriage to Euphemia de Ross in 1355 produced two sons and two surviving daughters and became the basis of a dispute as to the line of succession.

Robert joined a rebellion against David in 1363, but submitted to him under threat that any further defiance would mean the end of his rights in the line of succession. In 1364 Parliament dismissed David's proposal to write off the remaining amounts due to England under the terms of his (David's) ransom in return for naming a Plantagenet as his heir should he remain childless.

On David's unexpected death in 1371, Robert succeeded to the throne at the age of 55. England still controlled large sectors in the Lothians and in the border countrymarker. Robert allowed his southern earls to engage in conflicts in the English zones to regain their territories, halted trade with England and renewed treaties with France. By 1384 Scots had re-taken most of the foreign-occupied lands, but following an Anglo-French truce, Robert proved reluctant to commit Scotland to all-out war and obtained inclusion in the peace talks being conducted by England and France. Following a palace coup in 1384 the kingdom was governed by Robert's eldest son, John, Earl of Carrick, afterwards King Robert III, and then from 1388 by John's younger brother, Robert, Earl of Fife, afterwards 1st Duke of Albany. Robert II died in Dundonald Castlemarker in 1390 and was buried at Scone Abbeymarker.

Heir presumptive

Robert Stewart, born in 1316, was the only child of Walter Stewart, High Steward of Scotland and King Robert I's daughter Marjorie Bruce, who died (probably in 1317) following a riding accident. He had the upbringing of a west-coast noble on the Stewart lands in Bute, Clydeside, and Renfrewmarker. In 1315, an entail was passed in a parliament which removed Marjorie's right as heir in favour of that of her uncle Edward Bruce. Edward was killed at the Battle of Faughart, near Dundalkmarker on 14 October 1318 resulting in a hastily arranged parliament in December to enact a new entail endowing the right of succession to Marjorie's son should the king die without issue. The birth of a son, afterwards King David II, to Robert I on 5 March 1324 negated the Steward's son's position as heir presumptive but at a parliament in July 1326 at Cambuskennethmarker his position in the line of succession was restored. This reinstatement of his status as heir was also accompanied by the gift of lands in Argyll, Roxburghshire and the Lothians.

High Steward of Scotland

Renewed war

Dumbarton Castle below Dumbarton Rock


Walter Stewart died on 9 April 1327 and the care for the orphaned 11-year-old Steward passed to his uncle, Sir James Stewart of Durrisdeer. David II, aged 5, came to the throne on 7 June 1329 on the death of his father, Robert I, with Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, Sir James of Durrisdeer and William Lindsey, Archdeacon of St Andrews appointed as joint Guardians of the kingdom. David's accession to the crown kindled the second stage of the fight for independence and threatened the Steward's position as heir should a Balliol kingship emerge. King Edward III of England together with those nobles disinherited by Robert I, supported Edward Balliol's claim to the Scottish throne. Balliol's forces delivered heavy defeats on the Bruce supporters at Dupplin Moormarker on 11 August 1332 and again at Halidon Hillmarker on 19 July 1333 at which the 17 year old Robert the Steward participated. The Steward's estates were overran by Balliol who granted them to David Strathbogie, titular earl of Atholl but Robert evaded capture and sought protection at Dumbarton Castlemarker where King David was also taking refuge. Very few other strongholds remained in Scottish hands in the winter of 1333—only the castles of Kildrummymarker held by Andrew Murray's wife Christian Bruce, Loch Levenmarker, Loch Doonmarker, and Urquhartmarker held out against the Balliol party.

In May 1334 Scotland's situation looked dire, and King David went into safety in France. Robert who had been made joint Guardian along with John Randolph, Earl of Moray, set about winning his lands back in the west of Scotland. Strathbogie came over to the Bruce party after coming under pressure from the 'disinherited' but was fervently opposed to Randolph.
Dairsie Castle
antagonism came to a head at a parliament held at Dairsie Castle in early 1335 at which Strathbogie managed to get the Steward to side with him against Randolph. Strathbogie submitted to the English king in August and was made Warden of Scotland. It seems that Strathbogie may have persuaded Robert the Steward to consider submitting to Edward and Balliol—Sir Thomas Gray, in his Scalacronica claimed that he had actually done so—but Robert did relinquish his position as Guardian around this time. The Bruce resistance to Balliol may have been verging on collapse in 1335 but a turn-round in the Scots' fortunes began with the appearance of Andrew Murray of Bothwell as a potent war leader at the Battle of Culbleanmarker. Murray had been captured in 1332, ransomed himself in 1334 and immediately sped north to lay siege to Dundarg Castlemarker in Buchan held by Sir Henry de Beaumont—the castle fell to Murray 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 Avochmarker in 1338 and Robert the Steward 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 the failure of the six month siege of Dunbar Castlemarker 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, Perthmarker taken by the Steward also in 1339 and Edinburghmarker by William Douglas in April 1341

John Randolph, released from English custody in a prisoner-exchange in 1341, visited King David in Normandy before returning to Scotland. Randolph and Robert, as rivals, disliked each other; and just as Randolph was a favourite of the king, David mistrusted Robert's positions as heir presumptive and as Guardian of Scotland. At the beginning of June 1341 the kingdom was sufficiently stable to allow David to return to the country. His return was to a land with magnates who while fighting for the Bruce cause had considerably increased their own power bases. On the 17 October 1346, Robert accompanied David into battle at Neville's Crossmarker where many Scottish nobles died including John Randolph—Robert had apparently fled the field.

King David's captivity

With the king now detained in England and Randolph dead, the Guardianship once again fell to the Steward.In 1347 he took the important step of ensuring the legitimation of his children by petitioning the pope to allow a canon-law marriage to Elizabeth Mure and this was granted on 22 November. Even though he was held by the English king, David was not without influence in Scotland and Robert had his Guardianship removed and given jointly to the earls of Mar and Ross and the lord of Douglas—this did not last, however, and the Steward is once again Guardian before the parliament of February 1352. It was to this parliament that the paroled King David attended to present to the Steward and the members of the Three Estates the terms for his release. These contained no ransom demand but that the English prince John of Gaunt be named as heir presumptive. The terms were rejected by the council with Robert the Steward as a main opponent of the proposal threatening as it did his right of succession. David had no option but to return to captivity in England. The English chronicler, Henry Knighton recorded:
... 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.
Release talks ongoing in 1354 had got to the stage where a straight ransom payment with the provision of high ranking hostages was on the table but the understanding was destroyed by the Steward 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 southeast of Scotland and burned Edinburghmarker 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 terms 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 the Steward himself. This may have been the cause of a brief rebellion in 1363 by the Steward and the earls of Douglas and March. Later French inducements couldn't bring David to their aid and the country remained at peace with England up until he unexpectedly died on 21 February 1371.

King of Scots

Consolidation of Stewart power

Robert II depicted on his great seal


David was buried at Holyrood almost immediately but Robert II's coronation was deferred until 26 March 1371. Robert had first to deal with an armed protest by William, Earl of Douglas, for reasons that remain unclear but may have involved a dispute regarding Robert's right of succession or may have been directed against the southern Justiciar, Robert Erskine and the Dunbar earls. It was resolved by Robert giving his daughter Isabella in marriage to Douglas's son, James and with William replacing Erskine as Justicier south of the Forth. After Robert's accession, there wasn't a mass cull of David II's favourites and appointees as many had expected, but there were casualties—the brothers, Sir Robert and Sir Thomas Erskine and John Dunbar were to lose their Bruce titles and lesser personages fled into England.

The Stewart lands in the west and in Atholl grew in size: 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 to his eldest son of his second marriage, David, the earldoms of Strathearn and Caithness. Importantly, 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, and the king's heir, and Robert, Earl of Fife were the keepers of the castles of Edinburghmarker and Stirlingmarker respectively while Alexander, lord of Badenoch and Ross and the 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, on the whole, worked for the first decade of his reign. This led King Robert II to have influence over eight of the fifteen earldoms either through his sons directly or by strategic marriages of his daughters to powerful lords.

Rule from 1371–1384

Robert the warrior and knight: the reverse side of Robert II's Great Seal, enhanced as a 19th-century steel engraving


Robert became King of Scots in 1371, and in 1373 he ensured the future security of his Stewart dynasty by having parliament pass succession entailments which defined the manner by which each of his sons could inherit the crown. 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 King 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. His rule during the 1370s saw the country's finances stabilised and greatly improved thanks in part to the flourishing wool trade, reduced calls on the public purse and then 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—was to be found following the hunt in many places in the north and west of the kingdom among his Gaelic patricians.

Robert ruled over a country that continued to have both 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 were English garrisoned and so controlled southern Berwickshire, Teviotdale and large areas in Annandale and Tweeddale. In June 1371 Robert agreed a defensive treaty with the French and although there was 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 in the period leading up to Edward III's death—this indicated that a central decision had probably been taken for the escalation of conflict rather than the freebooting actions of the border barons. In 1376 the Earl of March successfully recovered Annandale but then found himself constrained by the Brugesmarker Anglo-French truce.

Dunfermline Abbey


In his dealings with Edward III of England, Robert blamed his out-of-control border magnates for the attacks on the English zones; but regardless of this Scotland retained the recaptured lands, which often ended up portioned out among minor lords, thus 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 Priorymarker but was to be attached to Dunfermline Abbeymarker. Seemingly, the Scots were unaware of an Anglo-French truce agreed on 26 January 1384 and conducted an all-out attack on the English zones early in February 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 had died in April) wanted a retaliatory strike for the Gaunt raid. Robert II must have concluded that as the French had reneged on a previous agreement in 1383 to send assistance and then having entered into a truce with England, that any military action would have been met with retaliation and exclusion from the forth-coming Boulogne peace talks. On the 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

Battle of Otterburn


John, Earl of Carrick, Robert II's eldest son had become the foremost Stewart magnate south of the Forth just as Alexander, Earl of Buchan and the king's fourth son 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 half-brother David, Earl of Strathearn—these complaints aired in several general councils together with Robert II's seeming inability to curb his son appeared to have damaged his standing within the council. Robert's differences with the Carrick affinity as to the conduct of the war and his seeming inability to deal with Buchan in the north led to the political convulsion of November 1384 when a council removed Robert's authority to govern and appointed Carrick as lieutenant of the kingdom—a coup d’état had taken place. With Robert II sidelined, there was now no impediment in the way of war and by June 1385, a force of 1200 French soldiers had joined the Scots in a campaign involving Carrick, Douglas and Robert, Earl of Fife, the king's third son. The foray 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


It was the victory of the Scots over the English at the Battle of Otterburnmarker in Northumberlandmarker in August 1388 that set in motion Carrick's fall from power. One of the Scottish casualties was James, Earl of Douglas. James left no heir and this led to various claims upon the title and estate – Carrick backed Malcolm Drummond who was the husband of James's sister while Fife sided with the successful appellant, Sir Archibald Douglas, lord of Galloway who possessed an entail on the Douglas estates. Fife, with his powerful Douglas ally, and those who supported the king ensured at the December council meeting that the guardianship of Scotland would pass from Carrick to Fife on the elderly Robert II's behalf—a counter coup had taken place.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 Alexander, Earl of Buchan. Fife took Buchan's positions as lieutenant of the north and justiciar north of the Forth from him—the latter role was given to Fife's son, Murdoch Stewart. King Robert 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 Castlemarker in Ayrshire where he died on the 19 April and was buried at Scone on 25 April.

Reputation

Some earlier historians judged Robert II's reign somewhat prosaic and aimless and attributed this to his age when he became king. A re-assessment by modern historians show a kingdom that had become wealthier and stable particularly during the first decade of his rule. Robert was subjected to negative propaganda while he was High Steward and again later as king—King David II's followers denigrated his conduct during his lieutenancies and described it as "tyranny" while 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'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.

Stephen Boardman writes in his book The Early Stewart Kings that much of the negative views held of Robert II find their origins in the writings of the French chronicler Jean Froissart. Froissart 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' . Boardman also explains that contrary to Froissart's view, Scottish chroniclers—Andrew of Wyntoun and Walter Bower writing near the time of Robert, 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' . Alexander Grant in War and Border Societies in the Middle Ages 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, Carrick manipulated the council of November 1384 to effectively oust Robert from any real power. The counter-coup of 1388 when Carrick's brother, Robert, Earl of Fife—again with the help of powerful allies—ended Carrick's jurisdiction which once again saw the king at the disposition of one of his sons. Despite this, an unknown chronicler who both Wyntoun and Bower relied on, made the point that Fife deferred to his father on affairs of state perhaps to emphasise the difference in styles in the guardianships of his two sons.

Notes

  1. Oram, et al., Kings & Queens, p. 123
  2. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, p. 3
  3. Bradbury, Companion to Medieval Warfare, p. 222
  4. Brown & Tanner, History of Scottish Parliament, pp. 70–1
  5. Oram, et al., Kings and Queens of Scotland, p. 124
  6. Weir, Britain's Royal Family, p. 214
  7. Boardman, Robert II, ODNB
  8. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, p. 4
  9. Webster, Balliol, ODNB
  10. Grant & Stringer, Medieval Scotland, p. 227
  11. Grant & Stringer, Medieval Scotland pp. 225–6
  12. Grant & Stringer, Medieval Scotland, footnote 2, p. 226
  13. Grant & Stringer, Medieval Scotland p. 231
  14. Duncan, Andrew Murray, ODNB
  15. Grant & Stringer, Medieval Scotland p. 233
  16. Brown, The Wars of Scotland, 1214-1371, pp. 241–2
  17. Grant & Stringer, Medieval Scotland p. 234
  18. Brown, The Wars of Scotland, 1214-1371, p. 244
  19. Brown, The Wars of Scotland, 1214-1371, pp. 241–3
  20. Sadler, Border Fury, p. 228
  21. Brown & Tanner, History of Scottish Parliament, footnote 34, p. 85
  22. Brown & Tanner, History of Scottish Parliament, pp. 85–6
  23. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, pp. 9–10
  24. Brown & Tanner, History of Scottish Parliament, pp. 86–7
  25. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, p. 10
  26. Brown, The Wars of Scotland, p. 253
  27. Rogers, The Wars of Edward III, pp. 218–9
  28. Rogers, The Wars of Edward III, p. 219
  29. Barrell, Medieval Scotland, p. 130
  30. Rogers, The Wars of Edward III, p. 220
  31. Brown & Tanner, History of Scottish Parliament pp. 102–105
  32. Jones, et al.,New Cambridge History, p. 360
  33. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, p. 45
  34. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, p. 39
  35. Oram, et al., Kings & Queens, p. 126
  36. Barrell, Medieval Scotland, pp. 141–2
  37. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, pp. 94–5
  38. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, p. 108
  39. Sadler, Border Fury, p. 258
  40. Tuck & Goodman, War and Border Societies, pp. 38–9
  41. Sadler, Border Fury, p. 260
  42. Sadler, Border Fury, pp. 259–260
  43. Tuck & Goodman, War and Border Societies, p. 40
  44. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, p. 118
  45. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, pp. 118–9
  46. Tuck & Goodman, War and Border Societies, p. 42
  47. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, pp. 120–1
  48. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, p. 123
  49. Barrell, Medieval Scotland, p. 141–2
  50. For an account of the background to Buchan's activities in the north of Scotland and the context in which he operated see Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, pages 83–9
  51. Jones, et al., New Cambridge History, pp. 360–1
  52. Oram et al., Kings and Queens, p. 127
  53. Goodman & Tuck, War and Border Societies, p. 45
  54. Goodman & Tuck, War and Border Societies, p. 51
  55. Jones, et al., New Cambridge History p. 361
  56. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, p. 171
  57. The date of Robert II's death and the disputed date for Robert II's burial and the reasons for the delay in Robert III's coronation are explained by Dauvit Broun in Brown & Tanner, History of Scottish Parliament pp. 112–6
  58. Jones, et al.,New Cambridge History, p. 359
  59. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, pp. 123–5 & 171–2
  60. Broun & MacGregor, Mìorun Mòr nan Gall, p. 84
  61. Boardman, Erly Stewart Kings, p. 137
  62. Boardman, Early Stewart Kings, pp. 108, 125 (footnote 2)
  63. Tuck & Goodman, War and Border Societies, pp. 30–65
  64. Oram et al., Kings and Queens, pp. 126–7
  65. Oram et al., Kings and Queens, p. 128
  66. Brown & Tanner, History of Scottish Parliament, pp.110–2


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