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 Independence—The 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.
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.
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.
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 Castle—while giving the Bruce women the chance to escape the English—was 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.
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.