An Uncommon Sister – Christian Bruce

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Turnberry Castle

Christian Bruce was one of the many children of Sir Robert le Brus, Lord of Annandale, and his wife Marjorie, Countess of Carrick in her own right. Christian was one of 11 children, with 5 boys and 5 girls surviving infancy. Unfortunately we don’t know when she was born, nor whether or not she was an older or younger sibling.

Christian was probably born at her father’s castle of Turnberry sometime in the 1270s or early 1280s.

Christian’s grandfather was another Robert le Brus, one of the 13 Competitors for the throne of Scotland following the death of Margaret, the Maid of Norway; when the vacancy of the Scottish throne was resolved by Edward I of England in favour of John Balliol. And when Balliol’s kingship failed it was Christian’s brother, Robert the Bruce, who became one of the leading candidates for the Scottish throne.

There are some question marks over Christian’s marital history. Some sources claim she married Gartnait, Earl of Mar in the 1290s, and was the mother of Donald of Mar. However, this has recently been disputed. Christian never seems to have been addressed, or described, as the Countess of Mar, and there seems to have been little communication between Christian and her supposed son, Donald, even though they were both held prisoner in England simultaneously.

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Robert the Bruce and Elizabeth de Burgh

The main argument against the marriage appears to be that Abbot Walter Bower had stated that Gartnait had been married to the ‘eldest Bruce daughter’, a description never applied to Christian. However, if the elder daughters were already married, Christian may well have been the eldest ‘unmarried’ Bruce daughter.

By 1305, however, Gartanit was dead and Christian had married Sir Christopher Seton (c. 1278-1306). Sir Christopher was a knight with lands in Annandale and northern England. He was a stalwart supporter of Robert the Bruce, his family having had a long tradition of serving the Bruce family. We know little to nothing about Christian’s short marriage to Sir Christopher; their relationship had to take a back seat to the national events of the time.

Sir Christopher was with Christian’s brother on the fateful day in the Greyfriars Church in Dumfries, when Robert the Bruce fatally stabbed John Comyn, his rival to  the Scottish throne. Robert then made the dash for Scone, hoping to achieve his coronation before the Christian world erupted in uproar over his sacrilege. An excommunicate could not be crowned. Christian accompanied her brother, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Marjorie and her sister Mary to Scone Abbey. The Stone of Scone was the traditional coronation seat of the Kings of Scotland and, although the stone had been stolen by the English and spirited away to London, holding the coronation at the Abbey sent a message of defiance to the English.

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Scone Abbey with a replica of the Stone of Scone in the forefront.

On 25th March 1306 Christian, alongside her husband, saw her brother crowned King Robert I by Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, who claimed her family’s hereditary right to crown Scotland’s kings (despite her being married to a Comyn), just 6 weeks after John Comyn’s death. The next day saw the ceremony repeated following the late arrival of William Lamberton, Bishop of St Andrews,

Robert’s coronation was the start of the most desperate period of his life – and that of his supporters. Edward I of England was never a one to casually acquiesce when he saw his will flouted. He sent his army into Scotland to hunt down the new king and his adherents. After his defeat by the English at Methven in 1306, Robert went into hiding in the Highlands. He sent his wife and daughter north to what he hoped would be safety. Christian, her sister Mary and the Countess of Buchan accompanied them, escorted by  the Earl of Atholl and Christian’s brother, Sir Neil Bruce.

It is thought that the Bruce women were heading north to Orkney in order to take a boat to Norway, where Robert’s sister, Isabel, was queen consort to King Erik II. Unfortunately they would never make it. The English caught up with them at Kildrummy Castle and laid siege to it. The defenders were betrayed by someone in their own garrison, a blacksmith who set fire to the barns, making the castle indefensible. The women managed to escape with the Earl of Atholl, but Neil Bruce remained with the garrison to mount a desperate defence in order give the queen, his niece and sisters enough time to escape.

Following their capitulation the entire garrison was executed. Sir Neil Bruce was given a traitor’s death; he was hung, drawn and quartered at Berwick in September 1306.

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Doon Castle

Christian and her companions did not escape for long; they made for Tain, in Easter Ross, possibly in the hope of finding a boat to take them onwards. They were hiding in the sanctuary of St Duthac when they were captured by the Earl of Ross (a former adherent of the deposed King John Balliol), who handed them over to the English. They were sent south, to Edward I at Lanercost Priory in Cumbria.

Following the coronation Christian’s husband, Sir Christopher Seton, had been sent to hold Loch Doon Castle against the English. Following a siege the castle was surrendered by its Governor, Sir Gilbert de Carrick. Seton was executed on the orders of Edward I; the poor man was hanged.

Christian’s sister Mary and Isabella, Countess of Buchan, were treated particularly harshly by Edward I. The English king had special cages built for them and for centuries it has been thought they were suspended from the walls of the keeps at Roxburgh and Berwick Castles, exposed to the elements and the derision of the English garrisons and populace, and a taunt to the Scots just over the border. However, the cages were in fact indoors, within rooms in the castles’ keeps. In contrast, Christian was sent into captivity to a Gilbertine convent at Sixhills in Lincolnshire; she was probably told of her husband’s death – and the manner of it – some time during the journey south. Christian languished at Sixhills for 8 years, until shortly after her brother’s remarkable victory over the English at Bannockburn, in 1314.

King Robert the Bruce had managed to captured several notable English prisoners, including Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Essex. Suddenly in a strong bargaining position, the Scots King was able to exchanged his English captives for his family, incarcerated in England.

Once home in Scotland Christian joined her brother’s court. In no hurry to remarry, she accompanied the king and his family on a short progress around Tyndale, an area of Northumberland which was officially in Scottish hands. Some time after her return to Scotland, Christian had also been granted the Bruce lands of Garioch in Aberdeenshire.

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David II, Robert the Bruce’s son and successor

The Scottish Wars of Independence took a heavy toll on Christian’s family. Having lost her brother and husband in 1306, she lost her 2 younger brothers on the same day in 1307. Thomas and Alexander Bruce had been leading a force into Galloway when they were overwhelmed by the forces of Dungal MacDouall, a supporter of the Comyn faction. The brothers, both in their early 20s, were handed over to the English and were beheaded at Carlisle on 9th February 1307. Robert and Christian’s surviving brother, Edward, was killed in battle in Ireland in 1318.

The sad losses must have seemed endless to Christian. In 1316 King Robert had lost his daughter, Marjorie, in childbirth. She was just 19. Her son, Robert Stewart, survived and would be the king’s heir until the birth of his only son, David, in 1324. Marjorie’s son would eventually succeed as King Robert II following his uncle David II’s death in 1371. And in 1323 Christian’s sister Mary died; Mary had survived 4 years imprisoned in an iron cage at Roxburgh Castle before being transferred to a more comfortable imprisonment in 1310. It wouldn’t be surprising if her inhumane incarceration had contributed to Mary’s death in her early 40s.

Christian remained unmarried for many years. Although their marriage had been a short one, Christian kept her husband’s memory alive for many years to come; in 1324 she founded a chapel in Dumfries in his honour. There is a possibility  she was the Bruce sister mooted as a bride for Sir Andrew Harclay, earl of Carlisle, as part of a peace treaty with Scotland in 1323. However, negotiations broke down and the marriage never took place.

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Bothwell Castle

Christian eventually married in 1326, to a man who was probably about 20 years her junior. Her 2nd husband was Sir Andrew Murray of Bothwell, posthumous son of the Sir Andrew Murray who had fought beside Sir William Wallace in the victory at Stirling Bridge.

Christian and Andrew were to have 2 children, sons. Their eldest, John, married Margaret Graham, Countess of Mentieth, sometime after 21st November 1348. John died in 1352 and Margaret would go on to marry Robert Duke of Albany, brother of Robert III and a great-grandson of King Robert the Bruce. A 2nd son, Thomas, would marry Joan, a daughter of Maurice Moray, Earl of Strathearn, and died in 1361.

On the death of Christian’s surviving brother, Robert the Bruce, in 1329, Scotland was once again thrown into turmoil. His 5-year-old son, David, was proclaimed king, with regents set to rule for him. As a member of the royal family Christian took part in David’s coronation in 1331. She shared a room in Scone Palace with her nieces, the new king’s sisters.

The English, however, saw the Bruce’s death as an opportunity and backed Edward Balliol‘s invasion of Scotland. Edward was crowned king in 1332, but could not consolidate his position. In the same year Murray was chosen as Guardian of Scotland and spent the next 5 years fighting the English and repulsing their attempts to return Balliol to the throne. Again, Christian found herself in the thick of the fighting when Sir Andrew installed her as keeper of Kildrummy Castle. In 1335 she was besieged by one of Balliol’s commanders, David Strathbogie, earl of Atholl. Her husband marched to her aid with a force of over a thousand men; he was able to surprise Atholl and defeated him at Culblean.

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Kildrummy Castle

Christian remained in possession of Kildrummy Castle even after Sir Andrew’s death; her husband had died at Avoch Castle in Ross in 1338, having retired from national politics the year before. Christian is known to have entertained her nephew’s wife, Queen Joan, at Kildrummy Castle in 1342. David II was generous to his aunt, providing her with an income from a number of sources, including the customs of Aberdeen.

It is believed that Christian died sometime in 1356, the last time she was mention in the exchequer rolls. She must have been well into her 70s, a great age for the time. I couldn’t find any source to confirm where she was buried; however, her husband was initially buried in the chapel at Rossmarkie, but later reinterred in Dunfermline Abbey, suggesting that this is also Christian’s resting place. It would be appropriate if it was, as so many of her ancestors and family are buried there; including her husband, brother, Robert, and niece, Marjorie.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandhistory Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; Edward I A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; oxforddnb.com thefreelancehistorywriter.com; englishmonarchs.co.uk.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Maid of Norway – The Tragic Story of Scotland’s First Queen Regnant

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The coat of arms of Norway

The story of Margaret, the Maid of Norway, is short and sad. The little girl died before her 8th birthday, and before she ever set foot in the country of which she was Queen. And her death set into a motion a chain of events that would see Scotland torn apart by war for years to come.

Margaret’s claim to the Scottish throne came from her grandfather, Alexander III. Alexander had come to the throne at the age of 8 and had proved to be a very capable and strong monarch. He had married, on 26th December 1251, Margaret, the daughter of Henry III of England and Eleanor of Provence.

Margaret and Alexander had 3 children together. Their eldest daughter, Margaret, was born in February 1261 at Windsor Castle. And of their 2 sons; Alexander was born in 1264 at Jedburgh and David who was born in March 1273. However, their family was soon to face a succession of tragedies. Queen Margaret died in February 1275 at Cupar Castle. And 8-year-old David died in June 1281 at Stirling Castle.

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Margaret of England, Queen of Scotland

One happy event in the midst of the tragedy, was the marriage of 20-year-old Margaret of Scotland to 13-year-old Erik Magnusson around the 31st August 1281. Erik had become King Erik II of Norway the year before, with a royal council ruling for the under-age king.

Eric came of age in 1282 and the following year, on the 9th April 1283, Margaret gave birth to a daughter, another Margaret. The queen died giving birth to Margaret; at Tonsberg, Norway, and was buried in Christ’s Kirk, Bergen.

For Alexander III, even more tragedy was to follow in January 1284 when his son and heir, Alexander, died aged just 20. Alexander’s death sparked a succession crisis for Scotland’s king. He had no brothers or uncles to succeed him; his only heir was his 8-month-old granddaughter, Margaret, in Norway. In the same year Alexander obtained, from his nobles, a recognition of Margaret’s right to succeed to the throne, should he fail to produce any further heirs.

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The coronation of Alexander III

However, the death of his last surviving child also prompted Alexander III to look for a new wife. And on 1st November 1285, at Jedburgh Abbey, Alexander married Yolande de Dreux, daughter of Robert IV, Count of Dreux, in the hope of producing an heir.

Shortly after the marriage, on 18/19 March 1286, Alexander was on his way to visit his new bride, one night, when he got separated from his escort during a violent storm; his horse appears to have lost its footing and fallen down an embankment. The king’s body, with his neck broken, was found on the beach the next day, just a mile from where his wife was staying, at Kinghorn in Fife.

With the new queen pregnant 6 Guardians were appointed to rule the kingdom until the arrival of Alexander’s posthumous heir. However, Yolande either miscarried, or the baby was still-born and by the end of the year it was clear that Scotland had to look elsewhere for a ruler. Alexander’s only surviving heir was now 3-year-old Margaret of Norway.

Within weeks of Alexanders death Robert Bruce and John Balliol had both made attempts on the crown and the south-west was raised in rebellion. However the majority of Scots, represented by the 6 Guardians, gave their backing to Margaret, the Maid of Norway and Bruce and Balliol were forcibly held in check.

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Erik II Magnusson

As early as 1284 Alexander III had, following the death of his last son, floated the idea that England and Scotland might unite through marriage. In response to a letter of condolence from his brother-in-law, Edward I, Alexander had suggested that, through his tiny granddaughter, ‘much may yet come to pass’.

The prospect at the time had not been without risk, however; should Alexander have more children, England would have been committed to a disadvantageous marriage with a Norwegian princess. But with Alexander’s death, and the queen’s child dead, Margaret’s accession seemed certain.

With the Guardians maintaining an uneasy peace between the competing claims of Margaret, Robert Bruce and John Balliol, Erik II of Norway sought the help of Edward I of England. Messengers were sent between the English and Norwegian courts and in Spring 1289 serious negotiations began.

On 6th November 1289 an international summit was held at Salisbury. The Norwegian ambassadors met with Edward and his advisers. It’s possible the Scottish Guardians had also sent representatives, but some sources say the Scots were excluded from these initial talks. The summit proved successful and it was agreed that Margaret would marry Edward of Caernarfon, Edward I’s son and heir, within the next 12 months.

For the Scottish, the marriage alliance promised an end to the years of uncertainty and to the latent threats they had been facing since 1286. For Margaret, a marriage alliance with England gave the Maid a powerful protector.

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Alexander III of Scotland (left) with Edward I of England (centre) and Llewelyn, prince of Wales (right)

In March 1290 the community of Scotland, comprising over 100 Scotsmen of substance, met to ratify the marriage agreement. They wrote to Edward expressing their will to proceed with the wedding. The Guardians of Scotland, however, had sworn an oath to preserve Alexander III’s kingdom intact and undiminished for his eventual heirs, and their overriding concern now was to safeguard Scotland’s future independence.

It was agreed at Brigham that, although Edward and Margaret were not yet of marriageable age, the would be regarded as married on Margaret’s arrival from Norway – and Edward of Caernarfon would be King of Scotland from that moment. The business of Scottish government and law was to remain in Scotland and be run by a resident Viceroy or lieutenant.

There was no common ground, however, on the issue of royal fortresses: Edward I wanted to appoint all custodians as a guarantee of security but the Scots saw this as a demand for the surrender of sovereignty. In the final agreement, ratified at Northampton, the point is glossed over with an agreement that keepers would be appointed by the ‘common advice of the Scots and the English king’.

The reason Edward acquiesced on – or, rather, failed to push – the castles issue was the news that Margaret had already left Norway. Edward wanted the deal signed and sealed before the Scots’ hand was strengthened by the physical possession of their queen.

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Edward of Carnarvon

In the final agreement, the Scots got a clear statement safeguarding their independence. Edward promised that Scotland should remain ‘free in itself, and without subjection from the kingdom of England’.

Margaret set sail in September 1290; accompanied by Bishop Narve of Bergen, she was bound for Leith. In preparation for the Maid’s arrival, Edward I sent gifts for his future daughter-in-law; and the magnates of Scotland began to assemble at Scone Abbey, Perth, in anticipation of the enthronement of their new queen.

However, storms drove the Maid’s ship off course and she landed at St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay, on Orkney. Scottish and English representatives rode north to Orkney to meet her. Margaret died at Orkney, in the arms of the Bishop, supposedly from the effects of a severe bout of seasickness. She was 7 years old.

As the Scottish and English messengers returned south with news of the Maid’s death, Margaret’s body was returned to Norway. She was buried beside her mother, in the north aisle of Christ’s Kirk, in Bergen.

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Margaret, Maid of Norway, Queen of Scotland

Her father confirmed the identity of the body before her burial, an act that proved significant in 1300, a year after Erik’s death, when a woman turned up in Bergen. claiming to be Margaret. Reports say the woman appeared to be 40 years old, when Margaret would have only been 17, and she gained popular support, despite the king’s identification Margaret’s body, before finally being convicted as ‘the False Margareth’; she was burned at the stake in 1301.

The tragedy of Margaret’s death brought an end to the rule of the House of Dunkeld, begun with Malcolm III Canmore in 1058, and plunged Scotland into crisis. Edward I’s intervention with his judgement of the 13 Competitors for the crown, and his backing of John Balliol as the next King, saw the beginning of Scotland’s Wars of Independence. Marred not only be English invasion, but also the in-fighting among the Scottish nobles, it was not until Robert the Bruce emerged victorious that Scotland found her feet again.

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia, except that of Edward I, Alexander III and Llewelyn, which was taken from castlewales.com

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Sources: castlewales.com; Marc Morris Edward I: A Great and Terrible King; David Williamson Brewer’s British royalty; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; The History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; The Plantagenets by Derek Wilson; The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; royal.gov.uk; britroyals.com; undiscoveredscotland.co.uk; englishmonarchs.co.uk; educationscotland.gov.uk.

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My Books

Coming soon! 

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015