09 April 2021

The Women of Bruce Part One -- Marjorie Carrick, countess of Carrick

 

In my last blogs, I covered the valiant ladies of Dunbar Castle.  In my next several I will write about some equally strong females who were forced to endure the hardships of Scotland during the War for IndependenceThe Women of Bruce.  Much has been written about Robert “the Competitor” who was one of thirteen claimants to the Scottish crown in the early 1290s, of Robert, lord of Annandale—his ever hungry, ambitious son—and then Robert, earl of Carrick, who went on to become king of Scotland, first of his name, succeeding where his father and grandfather failed before him.  But what about the women around King Robert—his mother, his sisters, wives, the many mistresses and daughters?  Who were they?  What were their stories?

In Part One – I begin with an amazing woman (and my 21st great-grandmother)—Marjorie Carrick, countess of Carrick, lady of Clan Campbell—and mother of King Robert the Bruce.

Turnberry Castle

Marjorie was born in 1252 at Turnberry Castle, Carrick, Ayrshire in southwest Scotland.  Some fix her birth year at 1259, but that would put the birth of her first child before she was ten-years-old, so I seriously doubt that assertion.  Robert’s mother was the daughter and heiress of Niall Mac Dhonnchad, 2nd earl of Carrick, a line that goes back to Scottish kings, David I and Malcolm I, and beyond to the Pictish kings. Her mother’s side traces a direct line back to the kings of France and Henry I of England. Her father was nearly fifty-years-0ld when he finally accepted that he would sire no male heir to replace him.  Roland, his nephew and foster son, had been raised as his son.  With health fading and wanting matters settled, Niall made the bold move to place the chieftainship and control of the clan on Roland’s shoulders, but then, in old Pictish tradition, created his daughter, Marjorie heiress to Carrick, in her own right, and settled vast estates upon her.


Carrick Coat of Arms

Since she was such a prize as a bride, King Alexander III quickly married Marjorie off  at a young age to Sir Adam of Kilconquhar, a man twenty years older than she.  In  rapid time, she was wed, gave birth to her first child—a daughter Isabel (named after Marjorie's mother, Isabel FitzAlan Stewart), and then she had to stand on the castle wall, holding her daughter,  and wave goodbye to her lord husband of barely two years, as he rode off on the Eighth Crusade raised by Louis IX of France.  Adam, the new Earl Carrick, jure uxoris (by right of his wife), participated in a battle near Acre.  Months later, he died of wounds he received in the engagement.  

Fighting at his side, and there as Kilconquhar closed his eyes, was his good companion, Robert de Brus, 6th lord of Annandale.  Before Adam drew his final breath, he extracted a promise from his friend to journey to Carrick to tell his pretty lady wife of his death, and carry a memento to her.  One has to ponder, those in his final moments, as he stared at the handsome Robert (thirteen years his junior) if he was sending Marjorie a suitable replacement for her husband.

It took a few months for Robert to reach Britain and then travel to Carrick in Ayrshire in south western Scotland.  Carrick was just three days travel beyond his holding in Annandale, so it was no trouble to fulfill his vow.  When he arrived, he discovered Marjorie in the midst of a hunt.  The scene is easy to envision (especially to a romance writer!)Marjorie now in her early 20s, vibrant and independent, used to managing her honours on her own.  And feeling time ticking away.  


Neither a Scottish king nor an English one would leave her alone, a widow, for too long.  Already wed to a man closer to the age of her father than hers, and not wanting to stand about while being treated as a royal pawn in the games of marriage and power, she decided to seize control in her hands.  Robert was handsome, a strong warrior, and came with a good lineage—one to match her own.  He would make a good lord for Carrick—one of her choosing. 

Marjorie entertained Robert lavishly for a month.  At the end of the time, he mounted his horse, intending to return to Annandale—some 80 miles to the east.  To Robert’s surprise—as the story goes—he was but a couple leagues away from Carrick, when suddenly he was surrounded by Countess Marjorie’s mounted knights.  They forcibly escorted him back to Turnberry Castle.  Once there, he was met by Marjorie who informed him, in true Highland fashion, she was kidnapping him—that he would remain her prisoner until he consented to wed with her.  A Highland man kidnapping a bride wasn’t anything new.  Quite a few Scottish marriages began this way—called a Scottish Wooing.   Marjorie was being a truly independent woman, and not about to permit men to govern the path of her life any longer.  There was speculation just how hard she had to work to convince Robert to agree to her proposal.   

 


Bruce was no mouse of a man.  He had fought in the Crusade, witnessed the harshness of war.  And he was very ambitious, with long-ranging, farseeing plans.  One might guess, he was already contemplating that Kilconquhar’s wife would make him the perfect lady—one that someday might be his queen—and was merely playing hard to get.  The best way to win the heart of this strong-willed lass was to allow Marjorie to believe the idea was hers!   With his holding of Annandale not too far from Carrick, surely, he had heard tales of the beautiful countess, knew her royal heritage, and on the long journey home, figured he would be in an excellent position to claim a perfect bride, suited for his future.  Historians—and non-romantics—have cast doubt on the events, and suggest it was a mutual plot, a ploy to get by the wrath of Alexander III, king of the Scots.  Being her 21st great-granddaughter, and a Medieval romance writer, I firmly come down on the side of Marjorie kidnapping her husband because she was in love—and being very practical!




It was within the king’s right to make matches or marriage, or at least add his seal of approval before the couple was wed.  This authority permitted a king to control his lords and barons, to see no one man became so powerful that he might rival the man sitting on the throne—one much like Robert of Annandale.


Alexander III, king of the Scots

Thus, Alexander was naturally furious the couple wed without his royal permission,  or papal consent—nor Marjorie observing a full year of mourning.  In punishment, he seized Turnberry Castle and her other lands.  However, whether the tale of their torrid romance caught the king’s fancy, or he secretly admired Marjorie’s audacity, she was able to regain possession of her holdings by paying a fineabout one hundred pounds—equal to the marriage pact fee they would've had to pay if they had been granted permission by the king and married with the usual steps. 

Arms of Robert Bruce, 6th lord of Annandale

It was clear theirs was a lovematch.  In the nearly two decades they were married Marjorie bore 12 children, 10 lived to full age.  Less than a year after they were married, Marjorie gave birth to twin girls in early 1272

1.         Isabel de Brus  (She became the queen of Norway)

2.         Maud de Brus (Isabel's twin) (married Aodh O'Beland de Ross who became the earl of Ross and Stratherne in 1323)

3.         Their third daughter, Christian de Brus—often called Christina—came in 1273.  (Her first husband was Gartnait de Mar, earl of Mar (and brother to Isabel Mar, first wife of King Robert).  (Her second husband was Sir Christopher Seton,  executed with her brother Niall in 1306.  The third husband was Andrew, the son of Sir Andrew de Moray, hero of the Battle of Stirling Bridge with William Wallace.)

4.         With the fourth child in 1274, Annandale got his male heir—and one that would create a history, which would live forever—Robert de Brus—who would go on to be king of the Scots. 

5.         Mary de Brus was born 1275  (She married Sir Neil Campbell of Lochow, and then Sir Alexander Fraser of Touchfraser and Cowie)

6.         Late 1276, Edward de Brus came—a man who would be the king of Ireland for a brief time.  

7.         Margaret de Brus was born 1276  (She wed Sir William Carlyle)

8.         Niall de Brus, a third son, followed 1279. (He was taken prisoner at Kildrummie Castlewhile giving the Bruce women the chance to escape the Englishwas hanged, drawn and quartered at Berwick-upon-Tweed in September 1306, along with Christopher Seton, husband to his sister, Christian, and the earl of Atholl.)

9.         Alexander de Brus was born 1282  (He was hanged, drawn and quartered 9th February 1307 at Carlisle, Cumberland, captured with Reginald Crawford, cousin to William Wallace)

10.       Thomas de Brus was born 1284. (He was hanged, drawn and quartered 9th February 1307 with his brother at Carlisle, Cumberland, and Reginald Crawford, cousin to William Wallace)

11.      *** 1286 saw the arrival of Elizabeth de Brus, but she didn’t make it to adulthood 

12.     ***  And finally another daughter named Euphemia de Brus came 1287, but like Elizabeth didn’t live to adulthood either.

*** some family trees show both Elizabeth and Euphemia de Brus being alive, married and having children.  Closer inspection will show these are non-Bruce females who married into de Brus family, so NOT the same females.

Also of note, Marjorie's first daughter, Isabel, by Adam Kilconquhar went on to marry Sir Thomas Randolph, and her son, and Marjorie's grandson, was Thomas Randolph of Moray, the brilliant general that served Marjorie's son so well.

 Sadly, Marjorie never lived to see all the accomplishments her children attained, nor had she been forced to mourn the death of four of her sons killed because of their struggles for independence from England.  She died shy of age forty.  The cause isn’t noted, as history so often does, ignoring women and the important role they played, but one has to wonder if the birth of thirteen children took its toll upon her.  There is another daunting possibility—leprosy.  It had long been rumored that her son, Robert, died of the disease, likely acquired from his father, who was said to have perished of it as well—probably infected while he was on the Crusade.   (There are two different groups saying yes and no on if the king did or didn't have it, mostly based on a casting of his skull made 200 years ago.  The side saying he didn't have it are focusing on the face deforming part of the disease, of which Robert displayed none.  Leprosy can caused other issues that can kill).  Leprosy is spread by close contact with someone infected, and has an incubation period of a year or more, often up to five years.  After that period, it can take its time killing you through various means, such as attacking the respiratory system, making it harder to fight pneumonia.  Some are severely affected within a year or two, but others can take ten, fifteen or twenty years to succumb to the disease in the middle ages.  So, it is not unreasonable to wonder if Marjorie might have contracted the disease from her husband, and simply succumbed to the ravages of something that was incurable in the 1300s.  A recent study of the Bruce’s skull brought medical confirmation that the king did suffer from the dread disease, but it didn't destroy his face.  If you follow that line of thought it lends credence to both his father and possibly his mother dying from it as well.  



Majorie's grave at Holme Cultram Abbey


Marjorie is buried with her beloved Robert in Holme Cultram Abbey Churchyard,  Abbeytown, Allerdale Borough, Cumbria, England.  Another amazing woman who refused to submit to the narrow roles afforded women during this period.

Join me for Part 2 - of the Women of Bruce where I will talk about the amazing lady who crowned Robert king, and how she paid the price for that act.




Turnberry Castle


Deborah writers in the period of Robert the Bruce in her Medieval series the
Dragons of Challon.



Deborah writes as if she’s been in Medieval Scotland and can magically take you back there to stand amidst the heather and mist of another time. This is breathtakingly beautiful, award caliber writing
— New York Times bestselling author, Lynsay Sand

07 April 2021

Medieval Scotland -- One Big Family Fight

 Sort of weird. One big family fight.

ruins of Dunphail Castle

Alexander Comyn of Dunphail (my great uncle 22nd generations back) was killed in the siege of Dunphail Castle in 1330. All six of his sons died in the siege with him. Alexander was the son of John "The Red" Comyn, earl of Badenoch, Justiciar of Galloway--the grandfather of Red Comyn, the man Robert Bruce murdered in 1306, just before crowning himself king.
Alexander was killed by Sir Thomas Randolph, 1st earl of Moray (son of Isabel Kilconquhar, half-sister to Robert the Bruce). Randolph was Regent of Scotland at that period, and I proudly get to say he was my 21st Great grandfather.
Randolph beheaded five men and flung their heads over Dunphail castle's walls with a rather vicious taunt, which I shan't repeat since it's post supper time. Very well, you twisted my arm. Randolph called out: "There be beef for yer bannocks!" The men had been raiding on Darnaway Castle lands. Not surprising since Robert the Bruce, Sir James Douglas and the earl Moray had been giving Clan Comyn fire and hell for decades. The pressing started in 1308, which became known as the Harrying of Buchan, or the Herschip of Buchan. Vast lands under Comyn control was burned to the ground by the hand of Robert or his brother, Edward, and continued by for decades by Randolph and Douglas.


Darnaway Castle
Darnaway Castle was built by Randolph--on Comyn land (part of Bruce scorched earth policy to break the spine of Clan Comyn), which King Robert had given to Randolph. I am sure Randolph built the castle to keep an eye on the comings and goings of the Comyns--one of the most powerful clans in Scotland, and chief rival against the Bruces for the crown of scotland the Bruces. Keep in mind, Comyns and Bruces were also cousins!
Back in the 1880s, an excavation of Dunphail Castle (now ruins) uncovered five headless bodies buried in one grave. One was Alistair, Alexander's son (falsely identified as Alistair Cummings)--we know since he was leading the raid onto Darnaway land--so I just have to wonder if the four were his brothers (my first cousins 21 times removed). Only a vaulted basement and a partial wall remains of the castle. It is said to be haunted by the moans of five ghosts (not sure how they know it is five...lol) and the sounds of a battle.

vaulted basement of Dunphail castle