14 August 2021

Women of Bruce – Part 5 — Sisters of Robert Bruce: A Tale of Two Isabels.

Women of Bruce – Part 5 —

Sisters of Robert Bruce: A Tale of Two Isabels.

When you really get deep into genealogy you run into a stumbling block of reused names.  I have 37 Robert Bruces in my family tree.  Nearly as many Patrick Dunbars and Hugh, William and James Montgomeries.  I understand that men want sons to carry on their names for immortality.  Only, sometimes it isn’t just the men’s names, which provoke the need to be careful in charting your ancestors—it can be the women, too!  Take the name Margaret—I have over 1000 of those.  Elizabeth?  Oh, yeah!  1333 in my tree (and counting!).  And Isabel/Isabella/Isabelle/Isobel?—406 and many belonging to the Bruce family.  Both of Robert Bruce’s grandmothers were named Isabel—Isabel de Clare and Margaret Isabel FitzAlan Stewart.  His paternal great-grandmothers were Isabelle of Huntington and Isabel Marshall, countess of Glouster, Hertford, Cornwall and Poitou.  Robert married his first wife—Isabel of Mar.  He was crowned by Isabella Macduff, a cousin.  But to really confuse matters he had two sisters by the same first name!

 Yes, this tales of two ladies named Isabel is a study in frustration and chaos.  Once more, we are forced to wade through incorrect information, details—or lack thereof— about two different women historians so casually dismissed, or merged into one.  They are not the same female!  Genealogists have confused, mixed up, or blended the two Isabels until they are a blur, and we are left scratching our heads as to why they simply don’t recognize these ladies are two entirely different sisters of Robert Bruce.

Isabella Kilconquhar Randolph

Through his parent’s marriage, Robert Bruce had seven sisters, with only five living to adulthood—Isabel, Maud, Christian, Mary, and Margaret.  However, often overlooked—he also had an older half-sister from his mother’s first marriage.  While she wasn’t a Bruce by name, she was still his sister, and she gave birth to one of the fiercest warrior heroes Scotland has ever known—Thomas Randolph, 1st earl of Moray.


Both women shared the same mother—Marjorie, countess of Carrick, in her own right. (I have written about the dashing Marjorie in my previous articles).  They had different fathers.   Both men went off to join the 9th Crusade, raised by Lord Edward, duke of Gascony.  And both became close friends.  The first Isabel—Isabel Kilconquhar Randolph—was the daughter by Adam de Kilconquhar.  Occasionally, you see her referred to as Isabel Martha Kilconquhar, or Isabelle of Carrick, some mistakenly call her Isabel Bruce, and sadly, maddeningly, some do their best to ignore this daughter all together.  She has a wonderful heritage, so she should be recognized as existing and not bundled into a generic “Isabel Bruce” label.

 Marjorie Carrick married very young to Adam, son of Donnchaidh de Kilconquhar.  Evidence shows that Adam hailed from Fife and from the ancient Clan of MacDuff.  His grandfather was Adam, son of Duncan, earl of Fife.  Adam’s mother was an unnamed woman from Clan Comyn (I think through process of elimination that she was likely Johanna Comyn, daughter of Richard Comyn and Eve Amabilia Galloway).  He had a half-brother, William Comyn, who took his mother’s surname and was named in a papal appointment as the bishop of Brechin in January 1296 (2/156/3 Theiner, no. 350 and.  2/147/23 Theiner, no. 262).  Ancient and impeccable lineage, but then the man who received Marjorie in marriage would have to be worthy of a woman who came from blood royal.  Adam appears to have enjoyed the favor of the Scottish king,  Alexander III, so small wonder he won her hand.  In wedding Marjorie, Adam became the 3rd earl of Carrick, jure uxoris.  Documents of the period show him using the title of earl of Carrick.  Still, the title was little more than an honor, for while Marjorie was the heiress of Niall, 2nd earl of Carrick, her father had set the real power within the clan to follow his nephew, Lachlan.  We don’t know if Adam chafed at being earl in name only for he didn’t stay on the scene long.  Shortly after wedding Marjorie, he joined the Crusade, leaving his young bride at home at Turnberry Castle, either pregnant or with her newborn daughter, Isabella.   Within a year, Marjorie was a widow, due to Adam dying of a wound contracted in a battle in the Holy Lands.


(Tree showing the Randolph, Bruce and Kilconquhar Lines)

 Adam charged his close comrade—the handsome lord of Annandale, Robert Bruce—to carry the tides of his demise back to his lady wife.  It is legend how he did just that, and as he made to leave, Marjorie had her men-at-arms capture Annandale and keep him hostage until he agreed to become her second husband.  Obviously, the lady was tired of men deciding her fate.  King Alexander III was upset they had dared wed without his grace and permission.  In punishment, he seized Turnberry Castle.  Since Alexander did not fine Annandale or seize his property, it clearly demonstrated the king laid blame solely at Marjorie’s feet.  Most likely, Marjorie turned on her charm and soothed the king’s ruffled feathers, because he turned the castle back to the Bruces a short time later, and just fined Marjorie one hundred pounds for daring the umbrage.

The marriage was a happy one, and within the year, Marjorie gave birth to another daughter—which she promptly named Isabel!  So, she now had two small daughters by the same first name.  Why would Marjorie name both daughters Isabel?  Well, to honor her mother is one possibility—Margaret Isabel FitzAlan Stewart, countess of Carrick, daughter of Walter Stewart, 3rd  High Steward of Scotland and Bethóc nic Gille Chris of Angus.  Or since she named her first daughter after her mother, she was naming her second daughter after the mother of her husband—Isabel de Clare.  Whatever the motivation we now have two daughters with the same name.

Since Adam was gone, barely a ghost in people’s memory, and the two little girls were not that far apart in age, I wonder how muddled their lives became as they reached marriageable age.  Oh, you are Isabel Bruce? No, I am the other Isabel—not a Bruce.  I am unsure if not being a Bruce hurt Isabel Kilconquhar’s chances at making the best marriage possible.  Still, she didn’t do too badly.  She married Sir Thomas Randolph, Chamberlain of Scotland (whose father was Thomas of Strathnith, and who had also been a Chamberlain of Scotland).  Thomas’ mother was Juliana Kilconquhar of Moray.  Since her parentage is sketchy at best, it’s not hard to assume this she might be aunt or cousin of Isabel?

Her marriage to Sir Thomas saw her wed to a very powerful man.   As the Great Chamberlain, he had jurisdiction for judging of all crimes committed within the burgh, and of the crimes of forestalling (an antiquated term for a merchant buying his way into a market.  In effect, Thomas was Justice-General over the burghs, and held Chamberlain-ayrs every year for that purpose; the form whereof is set down in Iter Camerarii.   He was a supreme judge and his decrees could not be questioned by any inferior judicator. His sentences were to be put into execution by the Baillies of the burghs. He also settled the prices of provisions within burghs, and the fees of the workmen in the Mint.  Thomas Randolph was a man of extraordinary parts, and served both Alexander II and Alexander III.  He also aided Robert Bruce “The Competitor” in his legal bit to be made king of the Scots.  Thomas held great favor with Alexander III, who made him lord great chamberlain of Scotland in 1269, an office which of he enjoyed till the 18th Aug. 1277.  He also worked as the king’s personal attorney on many matters.  Also, the man loved to sue anyone and everyone.  The Scottish court documents show Thomas bringing lawsuits against dozens of lords and ladies over matters of estates, properties and inheritance not fulfilled.

Thomas and Isabel had three children—Nicholas, Thomas and Mabel Isabella.  (Another Isabel! LOL).  Mabel Isabella went on to wed Sir Gilbert de Hamilton, who was one of the seven Royal Knights or bodyguards for Robert the Bruce.  It was Hamilton who gave the funeral oration at the burial of King Robert the Bruce at Dunfermline Abbey.

Tower of London

Nicholas, the eldest Randolph son, was captured at the Battle of Dunbar 1296 and taken to be held prisoner in the Tower of London.  King Edward wrote to the sheriff of London concerning the payment of expenses of Scottish prisoners in the Tower, including “…William, earl of Ross, Andrew de Morpenne, John de Mowbray, Nicholas Randolph, the king’s enemies….” recorded by John of Droxford, keeper of wardrobe of King Edward I, 6th November 1297. (Docs., ii, no. 481).  Odd, in September of 1296, his father was sent to France by King John Balliol.  These two references are the last we hear of either man. It is reasonable to assume within months after Longhanks’ letter concerning the payment for his keep that Nicholas died. I haven’t found any written release, and the conditions of the release, so my guess is he died in prison.  Many of the hundreds of Scottish nobility had been returned to Scotland long before this, so it is unusual Nicholas, the son of such an important man, was still being held.

Isabel’s younger son, Thomas, was originally sworn to Edward Longshanks, and after fighting for the English, he was captured in 1306 and brought before her brother, Robert.  Arrogant, and unbowed, he taunted his uncle for engaging in guerrilla warfare instead of standing and fighting in pitched battle.  Failing to take umbrage, Robert persuaded his nephew to change sides again.  Thomas went on to become one of the king's most important and trusted captains, the 1st earl of Moray, regent for Robert’s son David II, and eventually becoming Guardian and Chamberlain of Scotland.  He was a distinguished diplomat, just as formidable an opponent at court as he had been a warrior on the battlefield.

To add to the growing list of Isabels—Isabella’s granddaughter was Agnes Randolph Dunbar, countess of Dunbar, who held the siege of Dunbar Castle.  I wrote about Agnes’ colorful exploits in A Tale of Two Women and One Castle - The Ladies of DunbarPart TwoAgnes Randolph.  However, son Thomas had another daughter, which he naturally named Isabelle.  And, oh, his wife’s name? —Isabel Stewart of Bonkyll.

Isabella Kilconquhar Randolph lived until her early eighties.  She outlived her husband and both sons, dying less than two years before her daughter.  She was laid to rest beside her beloved husband in Melrose Abbey, and next to his father Thomas fitzRanulf of Moray and mother, Juliana Kilconquhar.

Isabel de Brus Magnússon

Queen Isabel de Brus Magnússon’s Coat of Arms

Isabel de Brus Magnússon—the other Isabel was a full sister to Robert Bruce.  She was born less than three years after her older half-sister with which she shared a name.  She was the first child of Marjorie Carrick and Robert de Brus. And though her brother may have been destined to become a king, at the age of twenty-one this Isabel became a queen before him! 


Ever mindful of cementing the House of Bruce into the royalty of Scotland and her allies, Robert Bruce, lord of Annandale, arranged a marriage for his eldest daughter to the king of Norway.  In 1293, Isabel traveled with her father to Bergen where she wed to King Eric Magnússon II of Norway in true royal fashion.


The last surviving son of King Magnús the Lawmender, Erik was given the title of king at age five by his father.  Magnús had intended for his son to co-rule with him, but before this could be arranged King Magnús died. Erick was then crowned sole ruler in the summer of 1280.  A year later, at age thirteen he married twenty-year-old Princess Margaret of Scotland, daughter of King Alexander III.  Tragically, Margaret died two years later giving birth to a daughter also named Margaret, who would go down in history as the Maid of Norway.  After Alexander’s death—leaving no male to follow him— this small child, not even eight-years-old, soon grew to be the center of unparalleled political maneuvering, since she now was the true heir to the Scottish throne.


In 1286, she became the child Queen of the Scots, though she had never set foot in Scotland and was never inaugurated.  And just as quickly, she was betrothed to Edward I’s son.  Longshanks wanted her wed immediately to Edward of Caernarvon, for in his vision his son would then rule Scotland as king through her.  The Guardians of Scotland resisted this plan, and after much choreography and negotiating, the nobles set out to collect the wee lass to bring her home—and under their control before Edward decided to fetch her himself.  Edward wasn’t above executing such a power play, and they knew if that occurred the English monarch would never set her free.  Alas, a storm blew her ship off course, and they were forced to land at St. Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay on Orkney.  Odd bit of fate.  The village was named after St. Margaret of Scotland, the wife of King Malcolm III.  We hope the saint took pity on the small child who bore her name, for she died shortly after making it to shore. 


The incident sparked one of the biggest legal battles in Scottish History —The Great Cause.  Seventeen claimants vied to be the next king of Scotland.  Isabel’s grandfather—Robert Bruce, 5th lord of Annandale—was a leading contender.  Even the man who would soon be her husband within a year, as King Erik of Norway had tossed his name into the hat, so the speak, claiming he held the right to rule through his deceased daughter.


Monument to the rules of Norway, including a listing for King Erik, his wife, Princess Margaret of Scotland, and their daughter, Margaret, Maid of Norway- Bergenhus Fortress, Bergen, Norway.

Isabel had arrived in Norway, a well-propertied woman and bringing riches to her marriage, bespeaking she was a woman worthy to be a queen.  Her dowry and trousseau were recorded at the time by Weyland de Striklaw, an English nobleman employed by the king.  Striklaw noted the delivery of the goods for Isabel’s trousseau: precious clothes and furs, 2 golden boiler, 24 silver plate, 4 silver salt cellars and 12 two-handled scyphus (soup bowls) for her new household.  The marriage seemed to agree with her, and she developed a deep love for her new country and the church at Bergen.  Almost four years later her daughter Ingebjørg Eriksdottir was born.  However, the marriage ended abruptly when Eric died 15th of July 1299.


Bergenhas Fortress, Bergen, Norway

Widowed at the age twenty-six, Isabel could have returned home to the Bruces, yet she stayed in Norway, and in spite of the insecurities that came with widowhood, Isabel was in no hurry to remarry.  There were some motions of a marriage in 1300. Not for Isabel, but her infant daughter.  Though Ingebjørg was only three- years-old, Isabel moved ahead with the plan to marry her child to Jón Magnússon, earl of Orkney and Caithness, the betrothal recorded in the Icelandic Annals.  Magnússon, by nature of each earldom, was a subject of both Scotland and Norway. Most believe this was a desperate attempt on Isabel’s part to find a protector for her daughter, and one aligned to the Bruce’s cause and able to affect influence in Norway as well.  Nevertheless, the wedding never took place as Magnússon died soon after the contract was recorded. Perhaps her fears soon proved unfounded for there were no further attempts to find a protector for either herself or her child.  Instead, Isabel settled into life as queen dowager.


As a queen consort scant information remains on Isabel’s life.  On the other hand, as queen dowager her days are better chronicled.  Queen Isabel participated in many official events and ceremonies, and clearly did not lack sway.   Her presence was recorded with the new king—King Haakon (Erik’s brother)—and his wife on many court occasions.  It was documented she was with the royal couple at the inauguration in 1305 of Bishop Arne Sigurdssön, the new bishop of Bergen.  Though her husband has been slanderously nicknamed “priest hater”, Isabel had a good relationship with the clerical powers in Bergen.  She made large donations in 1324 to the local church, and in return she received several houses from the bishop to provide an income for the rest of her life, leaving her independent in a time women rarely had this sort of freedom.


In 1301 a woman arrived at Bergen on a ship from Lübeck, Germany.  Quite bizarrely, she claimed to be the dead Margaret all grown up.  She accused several people of treason for trying to hide the real queen of the Scots.  Her story detailed that she hadn’t died on Orkney, but had been sold into slavery by Tore Haakonsson's wife (also named Ingebjørg), and then sent to Germany where she had married.  The people of Bergen and even some of the clergy vigorously took up her cause, in spite of the fact that the late King Erik had identified his dead daughter's body.  Even more damning—the woman appeared to be about forty-years-old, whereas the real Margaret would have been seventeen had she lived.  After a much followed trial, she was burned at the stake for treason at Nordnes in Bergen in 1301, and her husband was beheaded.   Whether Isabel attended any of the trial isn’t recorded, thought I’m sure she was aware of the proceedings.

Isabel’s quiet power likely helped the rise of Weyland de Striklaw—who we already met when the goods for Isabel’s trousseau were unloaded.  After Jón Magnússon’s death left the marriage for her daughter moot, Isabel’s patronage may have been the reason for his rising prominence—and possibly to her benefit.  Striklaw somehow managed to become guardian for the earl’s successor, and gained control of the administration of Orkney and later Caithness.  Little direct evidence can be found for Isabel being responsible with the man’s rise from exiled Englishman to one who controlled two earldoms.  Still, that command over Orkney and Caithness—earlships she had intended for her daughter—could be taken as an indication of Isabel’s discreet political activity after her husband’s death.

There is intimation that she was a mediator in the negotiations between Norway and Scotland, regarding the dispute of ownership of Orkney and Shetland when in 1312 the Treaty of Perth was reaffirmed.  Another is the occasion of her apply to King Haakon for a pardon of a prisoner 1339.

During her sister Christian’s imprisonment by Edward I, the two sisters exchanged letters.  Isabel even sent clothing and other needs to help ease the situation.  Helping her family didn’t stop there.  She sent a large number solders and knights from Caithness, Orkney and Norway to fight for her brother Robert.

Isabel, once again, took a strong hand in arranging a marriage for her daughter.  At this point the tales of two Isabels turns into a tale of two Ingebjørgs.  Isabel’s daughter named Ingebjørg, and her niece also named Ingebjørg, were married to the younger sons of Erik, Duke of Södermanland.  Isabel’s daughter married Valdemar, Duke of Finland, Uppland, and Öland.  Isabel was likely proud of the marriage, but that pride was dashed before too long, leaving her daughter a young window, just as she had been.  The two Swedish princes had long been mistrusted by their elder brother, King Birger, and eventually, in 1317 he had them both arrested at a banquet at Nyköping Castle.  They were held in a dungeon and no one was allowed to see them. Sometime after January 1318, tides of their demise spread throughout the country—rumors fearing they had been starved to death.  Their widows, the Duchesses Ingebjørg, were not meek in their acceptance of the deaths, instead became the leaders of their husbands’ supporters.  Eventually, later that year, they were able to force King Birger into exile, and crowned Magnús, the son of Ingebjørg Håkonsdatter, as king of Sweden.  Then, he succeeded his grandfather, Håkon V, as king of Norway in 1319.  The regency was held by Magnús’ mother and grandmother, and Ingebjørg Eiriksdatter also held a seat on the regency council.

In 1357, Ingebjørg died, naming her mother as one of her heirs, increasing Isabel’s wealth.  Isabel still did not return to Scotland.  There is not a single instance recorded of her returning to her family in the country where she was born.  Instead, she lived in Bergen the remainder of her life.  On 13 April 1358 and at the age of 86, she died in Bergen, Hordaland, Norway.  Isabel finally returned to the soil of her birth, being buried in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland.


Above: the first folio from an Old French version of William of Tyre’s  “Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum”, which belonged to Isabel Bruce, and the ex libris announcing her ownership is in red ink across the top of the page.

In summarizing, these two daughters of Marjorie Carrick may have shared a name, one common to the family, but they and their lives couldn’t have been more different, each carving out a special niche in history. 

Next month, I will finish up with the remaining Bruce sisters—
Mary, Margaret and Maud.

Then in October I will turn my attention to
the Daughters of Bruce...
first up will be Marjorie Bruce Stewart,
 the daughter of a king and the mother of a king

Deborah writes a Scottish Medieval Historical series the Dragons of Challon
and Contemporary  Paranormal Romance series the Sister of Colford Hall.


Candy Thompson said...

WOW!!! I was anxiously waiting for this next installment and it's fabulous!!! So well written and clearly explained! You could easily teach a class on these women and keep everyone's complete interest!!! You have a wealth of information and present it so well in these posts!!! Now, I can't wait for the next installment!!! Please keep them coming!!! :) :) :)

cubesmom said...

Thank you Deborah! Your glimpses into the lives of these historical figures is very interesting. Have you thought about writing a book about these families?

Deborah Macgillivray said...

I am working on a non-fiction book, intended mostly for the family, to leave my knowledge behind for future generations if they want to know more about their ancestors.