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24 May 2024

Love Scotland podcast – Season 8

A head and shoulders photograph of an older man with grey hair, smiling at the camera. He wears a blue shirt, red tie and dark jacket.
Tom Conti | Image: Fred Duval, Shutterstock
Hosted by journalist and broadcaster Jackie Bird, each episode tells some of the thrilling stories behind the Trust’s people and places, showcasing how everything we do is for the love of Scotland.

Season 8

Episode 8 – Great Scot Tom Conti: from opening nights to Oppenheimer

Joining Jackie this week is Tom Conti, the Paisley-born actor best known for his roles on stage and screen, including 1978’s Whose Life Is It Anyway and 2023’s Oppenheimer. The recipient of Tony and Olivier awards, Tom was also named the 2024 Great Scot by the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA earlier this year.

In his conversation with Jackie, Tom reflects on his hugely successful career and his love of Scotland. Whether in smaller appearances in cult classics, such as Friends and Miranda, or leading roles in Broadway smashes, Tom reveals what it’s really like to lead a life in the arts.

Plus, he discusses his performance of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the late 1980s, where he filmed in the National Trust for Scotland’s Hill House and Mackintosh at the Willow.


Find out more about the Hill House

Find out more about Mackintosh at the Willow

Love Scotland will return later this year with a brand new series of episodes. Subscribe or follow now to make sure you don’t miss any new releases.

A navy and pink title card with a black and white photo of actor Tom Conti. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Tom Conti: Opening nights to Oppenheimer.
A navy and pink title card with a black and white photo of actor Tom Conti. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Tom Conti: Opening nights to Oppenheimer.

Season 8 Episode 8

Episode 7 – Solving the mystery of the potato sack propeller

Earlier this year, the National Trust for Scotland revealed that a Second World War plane propeller had been found on Arran. Mysteriously, the propeller was wrapped in an old potato sack and had been discovered deep in a peat bog. How did it get there? The Trust’s Head of Archaeology, Derek Alexander, led an investigation to find out.

He joins Jackie in the studio to discuss the surprisingly high number of wartime plane crashes and tragedies in Scotland, and the particular circumstances of 1944 that ultimately led to this propeller being hidden inside a sack.

See images of the propeller

Find out more information on the Trust’s places in Arran

A green title card with an illustration of an old-fashioned plane propeller. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Solving the mystery of the potato sack propeller.
A green title card with an illustration of an old-fashioned plane propeller. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Solving the mystery of the potato sack propeller.

Season 8 Episode 7

Episode 6 – Stories of Mackintosh at the Willow

Earlier this year, Mackintosh at the Willow – a tea room on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street that dates back to 1903 – joined the National Trust for Scotland’s portfolio of special places. To better understand the venue and the role it played in Edwardian Glasgow, Jackie sits down for a cup of tea with two expert guests.

Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE, who purchased, saved and restored Mackintosh at the Willow in 2014, is joined by cultural historian Robyne Calvert to reveal the hidden stories of the last remaining original tea room designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald. They also detail the life of Glasgow entrepreneur Miss Catherine Cranston, who once ran the tea room.

Who would have once frequented the tea room? What makes Mackintosh at the Willow such a shining example of its designers’ talents? And what has it taken to restore the magnificent tea room into the stunning location it is today?

Find out more about Mackintosh at the Willow

A navy and pink title card with an illustration of a lady in old fashioned dress. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Stories of Mackintosh at the Willow.
A navy and pink title card with an illustration of a lady in old fashioned dress. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Stories of Mackintosh at the Willow.

Season 8 Episode 6

Episode 5 – Six objects that tell stories of Trust women

This week, Jackie and her guests discuss six objects in the Trust’s collections that help to tell the stories of some of the most fascinating women connected to Trust places. Regional curators Emma Inglis and Antonia Laurence-Allen help to paint a picture of these six women, whose lives and jobs ranged from being an ale-brewer in 1600s Edinburgh to the daughter of an earl in Clackmannanshire.

What does a job application from 1910 tell us about the changing world of work at the turn of the 20th century? Why was ale-making seen as a predominantly female profession? And who was the historical figure behind Alloa’s successful glassworks?

Find out more about Gladstone’s Land

Find out more about Weaver’s Cottage

Find out more about Alloa Tower

Find out more about the Hill House

Find out more about Broughton House

Find out more about the Tenement House

A dark and light green title card with an illustration of a woman from the 1920s. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Six objects that tell stories of the Trust's women.
A dark and light green title card with an illustration of a woman from the 1920s. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Six objects that tell stories of the Trust's women.

Season 8 Episode 5

Episode 4 – A beginner’s guide to Scotland’s early monarchs

So far this series we’ve looked at two of Scotland’s most famous monarchs: Robert the Bruce and Mary, Queen of Scots. Today, we step back further in time to meet the rulers whose names have become more forgotten to time.

Helping Jackie to acquaint herself with the earliest kings and queens of Scotland is Richard Oram, a professor of medieval and environmental history at Stirling University. Together, they piece together a picture of the most significant crown-wearers leading up to Robert the Bruce.

How did Scotland come to be ruled by a king in the first place? Who made the biggest mark on the kingdom? And just how accurate is Shakespeare’s take on early monarchs Macbeth and Duncan?

Find out more about the Trust’s castles and royal places.

Season 8 Episode 4

Transcript

Five voices: male voiceover [MV]; Jackie Bird [JB]; Richard Oram [RO]; second male voiceover [MV2]; Steven Reid [SR]

[MV]
Love Scotland
, brought to you from the National Trust for Scotland; presented by Jackie Bird.

[JB]
Hello and welcome. The Stuart dynasty of kings and queens are the royal rock stars of Scottish history. Their lineage includes the multitude of Jameses and of course tragic Queen Mary. But with the exception perhaps of Robert the Bruce, the rulers who came before aren’t quite so familiar. It’s a complex and unfamiliar role call – King Lulach the Unfortunate anyone? So, as part of a mini-series featuring Scottish royals within this series of podcasts, we’re going to acquaint ourselves with some of the earliest crowned heads. And to help me through the ages, Love Scotland is joined once again by Professor of Medieval and Environmental History at Stirling University, Richard Oram. Hello, Richard.

[RO]
Hello there, Jackie.

[JB]
Now, there are 30-odd Scottish monarchs listed before we get to Robert the Bruce in the early 14th century. So, we’re not going to deal with them all, just the ones that you believe are of significance. What are your criteria?

[RO]
Basically, it’s the ones for whom we’ve got a good written record. The ones that you can look at their reigns and say something happened then that was transformative for Scotland and the monarchy more generally, but definitely something that transformed Scotland.

[JB]
It’s generally accepted that the first king was in the 9th century and that was Kenneth MacAlpin. Can you say a few words about him and perhaps more importantly about the origins of kingship?

[RO]
Ha ha! Right, a few words about Kenneth! He’s a hugely, hugely debated character, usually labelled first king of Scots, yet the more recent analysis of him emphasises the fact that he’s a Pict. Even somebody who’s been dead for well over a millennium is still able to cause historical debate. What we’ve got to bear in mind is that what we recognise as Scotland is something that really only starts to come into existence through the 12th and 13th centuries. Prior to that, Scotland was made up of a series of smaller kingdoms – fluctuating boundaries, no hard concrete edges like we tend to think about nowadays. These are dominated in Scotland by originally three kingdoms: the Kingdom of the Picts; the Kingdom of the Scots, which is based over in Argyll primarily; and the Kingdom of Strathclyde or Cumbria, which for want of a better term has been described to me as the Kingdom of the M74! It extends basically from the area around Dumbarton and Glasgow, all the way down the M74 line through Clydesdale, and finishes up actually becoming the Kingdom of the M6 all the way down to Penrith.

So, those are the big ones and gradually you get a merger taking place – a combination of military takeover but also inter-marriage cultural takeover. The Kingdom of the Scots and the Kingdom of the Picts merges into one, and that’s the one that we’ve started referring to as Alba, taking the Gaelic name. Kenneth, he gets this reputation as being the first of these kings of a unified Kingdom of Picts and Scots, and it is from him, from the descendants of his family, that the people that we recognise as the Kings of Scots in the 12th/13th century and onwards are descended.

[JB]
How were kings chosen then? Was it a direct form of primogenitor as we know it now?

[RO]
No, absolutely not. Primogenitor is something that only starts to come into Scotland in the 12th century; it’s only really becoming established generally throughout the British Isles actually in the 12th and 13th centuries. Prior to that, you were king-worthy. You were a member of a lineage who had had a royal member, somebody who’d actually been king prior to your time.

And you have three generations to reclaim that throne right. You have what’s called righdamhna. If you’re able to claim the throne and successfully take it, you’re king and you start the whole process over. Otherwise, you’re depending on what’s called tanistry, which is the designated senior male after the person who’s currently king – that could be your brother, could be an uncle; it could be a nephew, a cousin. It doesn’t have to be your son.

[JB]
That tells us a lot, the three-generation thing, as to why there was so much warring. If you looked back at your lineage three generations, I’ll have a go.

[RO]
Yes, because if you don’t, you lose that king-worthiness and you just become another nobleman. If you’re lucky, if the person who’s sitting on the throne doesn’t decide you’re a threat so I need to eliminate you – and that happened of course with monotonous regularity.

[JB]
And back then were women allowed a go at all?

[RO]
Women were a last resort and certainly not in the earlier period. They could transmit the royal right but you didn’t have Queens Regnant as we would understand them. That really causes a lot of problems because there’s the big question: who does the Queen Regnant marry? And that could lead to the transfer of the royal right out of the controlling line.

[JB]
Absolutely. So, as I understand Richard, Scotland didn’t have particularly detailed records on its earliest monarchs. You’ve chosen to start with Malcolm III. Let’s get the chronology right here. That’s a couple of hundred years after Kenneth MacAlpin, which takes us to 1058. But before we do that, of the 20 or so kings that we’ve leapfrogged, there are two famous names: Macbeth and Duncan. In a few words, how historically accurate is Shakespeare’s play?

[RO]
Ha ha! Well, apart from the names, there’s very little else in it that is historically accurate. What you’re looking at with Duncan is he’s actually a young man. He isn’t the white-haired nice old gent who just happens to have the misfortune to go for bed and breakfast at the Macbeths’ place. He’s a complete and utter – not to put too fine a point on it – numpty!

He succeeds his grandfather on the throne and he does the thing that all kings in the 11th century are expected to do: you start off your reign with a great raid. Go down into England, get plunder, show that you’ve got God on your side. God will smile on you, and you’re able to reward your followers. He goes down to England and it’s a fiasco – utterly, utterly crushed. He comes back to Scotland. He’s facing rivalry, as many of his predecessors have done, from the alternative line of the royal family up in the north, and this is Macbeth’s crew. He goes off up to Moray and, as far as we can tell, the one thing in Shakespeare is he doesn’t get killed up in Moray. He gets killed in Macbeth’s territory but it’s at a place called Pitgaveny, just outside Elgin.

Macbeth, you get this presentation of him as this sort of evil, tragic, antihero-type character. Macbeth has a long and successful reign: 17 years as king. He’s so secure on the throne, he’s even able to go on pilgrimage to Rome where he was well remembered. He distributed alms like seed corn to the poor, we were told in one of the Continental accounts.

[JB]
So what you’re basically saying is Shakespeare, like a lot of writers, didn’t let fact get in the way of the damn story.

[RO]
Absolutely not!

[JB]
Alright. Ok. Well, let’s move on to King Malcolm. How long was his reign?

[RO]
He lasted until November 1093.

[JB]
So, that’s about 35 years or so on the throne. Was that an unusually long reign back then?

[RO]
There had been one or two similar ones – Malcolm II before him had a 25-year reign; you’ve got a couple of long-lived ones. But they tend to be the ones who are so completely and utterly ruthless, and successful, that anybody who tried to challenge them just came to a very sticky end, rather rapidly.

[JB]
So we had Malcolm. Why was he particularly significant?

[RO]
Malcolm is particularly significant because in his reign we can start to see a whole series of steps being taken that begin to transform the future shape of Scotland. In his reign, you can begin to see the territory that we would now recognise as Scotland coming – not welded together yet firmly but coming together as a territory that is dominated by this person, the king of Scots. With his victory over Macbeth and Lulach, he’s able to push his territory up into the northern parts of mainland Scotland now. He’s taking over the Moray coastlands, stretching up through into Easter Ross – beyond that you’re into the territory of the Earl of Orkney, a very very powerful figure at that time.

But he’s also pushing down, consolidating his control over Lothian and over Cumbria. So, he’s doing that in territorial terms and he’s doing it successfully. Military victories are things that give the kudos that a king of that time needed. He’s also very successful in that he produces a multitude of sons by two marriages. And it’s the second marriage that’s also the very significant one because that’s when he marries Margaret of Wessex, who becomes St Margaret.

The key thing about her is, through her bloodline, the kings of Scots inherit a claim to the English throne as the heirs of the Anglo-Saxon kings.

[JB]
Yeah, she was a Saxon princess.

[RO]
She’s a Saxon princess. Her younger brother is the Anglo-Saxon heir to the throne who was dispossessed by William the Conqueror, but you’ve still got this marriage. And through that marriage you start to get the spread into Scotland of English and Continental culture, and with that you get the modernisation of the Church that’s taking place. Scotland is now buying into the same process of Church reform that was happening all across Europe at that time. Benedictine monks are introduced but you also start to see the development of what we would recognise as a medieval court – a royal court in English and Continental style. You start to get records being kept or written records contemporary to their time. It’s a great step forward. We can begin to put flesh onto the bare bones.

[JB]
I can feel your excitement! After Malcolm, the throne passes briefly to his brother and then to two of his sons. But it’s not until we get to another son, Alexander, that things start to get interesting again. Tell me about him.

[RO]
Alexander, 1107, comes to the throne, and he’s the one where we can actually really start to say we can see things happening. We can see a line of development, a close relationship with the English crown. He marries an illegitimate daughter of King Henry I of England and he starts to introduce things that we would traditionally call Norman. He fights in Norman style; he’s a knight on horseback. He’s introducing new orders of monks and canons – Augustinians are the ones that he brings in. He starts potentially founding new towns. So, you’re getting an early kickstart to the things that we would really see happening in the reign of his successor, his younger brother David.

[JB]
At that stage, Scotland was still pretty disparate. There weren’t industries to speak of. We didn’t have the towns; we didn’t have the burghs – that was to come later. But he did, as you suggest, play a big part in reorganising the Church, and the influence of the Church back then cannot be overstated.

[RO]
Absolutely not. I think it’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make maybe from our modern, very secular perspective. It’s difficult to actually understand the centrality of the Church to every aspect of daily life but also to every aspect of the political life of the kingdom. The Church is looking for one big thing and that is basically the protection and support of the king. In return, they give the person who sits on the throne the seal of approval: this is God’s chosen. Your kings of Scots aren’t anointed yet, so it’s not God’s anointed, but it is your ruling Deo rectore, with God’s right.

So, you’ve got God on your side. They’re also the educated class. They’re the ones who are writing the records, the ones that distinguish between the rightful kings of Scots and the unrightful kings of Scots. If you don’t have the Church on your side, you could end up failing … and failing quite spectacularly.

[JB]
Alright, so we’re forming some sort of civic society. Alexander I, 1107–1124; followed by David I. Now, I feel it in my water, we’re going to spend some time talking about David; I wonder why … oh, you’ve written a book about it!

[RO]
Without question, I’m biased, but David is possibly the most significant person to occupy the Scottish throne in the medieval period.

[JB]
You say this is the man who never expected to be king but ended up being one of our greatest rulers. Why?

[RO]
David was just the right man in the … Well, he wasn’t in the right place. He was actually probably in Normandy when his brother died, but he’s the right man at the right time. He’s of the right age. He’s a mature adult. He’s got a proven military track record.

[JB]
He was brought up a knight, full military training in a cosmopolitan area.

[RO]
And even better, he’s the brother-in-law of the King of England, and the King of England at that time Henry I was one of the most powerful men in all of Europe. If Henry decided that he wanted his brother-in-law to be King of Scots, his brother-in-law became King of Scots.

[JB]
So, he’s got some handy in-laws. What does he actually do?

[RO]
[Chuckles] How long do we have?

[JB]
I have to put a clock on you! Give us a couple of minutes. Extol the virtues of your man!

[RO]
Ok. David’s usually presented as this person who carries out what’s called the Davidian Revolution, and the view on him can ebb and flow. When I was a kid at school a long, long time ago, David – we got told – single-handedly created Scotland as we would now recognise it. He founded all the burghs. He introduced all the monasteries. He starts international trade. He brings in a coinage. He’s the first person to codify law for the whole of the kingdom. He extends Scottish territory. He eliminates his rivals. At one stage, he actually controls most of the northern part of England, as far south as Preston. So, a major expansion of Scottish royal power takes place underneath David’s controlling aegis. He’s really a key figure in the development of Scotland.

Now, obviously all of this he doesn’t do personally, and the big thing that he does do is he starts a process of introducing a lot of his friends that he’s made at the English court, and they’re bringing know-how. Traditionally, we used to think of them getting huge lumps of land all over the place. That happens late in his reign. These are the people who are with them around his court. They provide his administration; they’re the record keepers. They are the people who go out and act as his justices in the localities. So, he’s got a really good crew that he can rely on.

[JB]
Before we go to the break, one question about the land that he ruled. If I’m working on my farm, would I have known who the king was? Would I have cared?

[RO]
There’s a relatively good chance that you would have, depending on where you were, I think is the way to answer that. Because the kings of Scots had to travel. That’s how you got known – you travelled around. You were able to demonstrate that you were the king. You would go to visit the great nobles all round your kingdom. And this is why I was saying the king of Scots tended to spend a lot of time north of the Forth. You’ve got to travel, and that becomes even greater under David because his kingdom is getting bigger. He’s got to spread more and more, and of course if you’ve got the Church on your side, they’re also constantly telling people about who the king is.

[JB]
Well, let’s take a break at this high watermark of King David. But when we return, we’ll include a king described by Richard Oram, my guest today, as one of the most ruthlessly efficient kings ever. Back in a moment.

[MV2]
Impressive. For a moment, I thought she was talking about me. I meant Falkland Palace, she said with a smile. Of course she did. The art, the architecture, Scotland’s history can really turn your head. So, we signed up to take care of it. Keep it looking dapper.

[MV]
Since 1931 the National Trust for Scotland, a charity supported by you, has been looking after Scotland’s treasured places so we can all share in them. Support us at nts.org.uk

[JB]
Welcome back to Love Scotland. Professor Richard Oram, we’ve dealt with David, a king of great impact. But he has died during our break and so has his heir. We’ve reached 1153 and Malcom IV now. He’s pretty unremarkable except that he loses territory to England, and that takes us to William the Lion, 1165. You describe his reign as transformative.

[RO]
He starts his reign very very much as one of these angry young men in a great hurry. But he’s in a great hurry to recover the lost heritage in the north of England, and this really really mars his relationship with Henry II of England. Henry is meant to be so incensed by even the very mention of William’s name at times that he rips the cover off his bed, throws off his rich outer clothing and down on the floor, rolling around stuffing the straw out of the mattress into his mouth. And his fury at somebody actually having spoken favourably about William. So, he’s got this reputation of somebody who’s managed to alienate the king of England.

And to make things worse, when Henry II faces a rebellion by his sons, William sides with the sons. He manages spectacularly to get himself captured at Alnwick and is carted off to Normandy. Tied onto the back of his horse, carted off to Normandy and he is made to buy his freedom by basically putting Scotland in hock to the English king. He has to swear to become Henry’s man, put Scotland as an under kingdom, if you like, to the King of England. All the Scots have got to swear to that. He has to surrender four of his key castles initially that will be garrisoned, and gradually that will be lightened. Two of them are given back as marriage gifts because Henry also chooses who William will marry.

[JB]
So, what happened under William was absolutely seismic because that became, Richard, the basis of English claims over Scotland and therefore the various wars of independence that followed.

[RO]
Yes, in a lot of ways. Scottish kings had in the past recognised the superiority of the King of England. The kings of England were the most powerful kings within the British Isles. But this is different because this is recorded; this is down in treaty terms. It’s entered into English chronicles so it’s not going to be forgotten about. It’s a matter of record that the kings of Scots had submitted to the King of England and not just for Lothian. That bit of the kingdom is often described as part of the kingdom of England, which is in the kingdom of Scots, so it’s a clear, absolutely unquestionable legal surrender as well.

[JB]
But, every cloud has a silver lining. Because he was restrained, he looked inward. He looked at his own country and then he started, ‘Ok. I can do some things here.’

[RO]
Absolutely, and I think it’s the thing that is the silver lining with William. Yes, he still hankers after his English territories. It’s going to continue to hang over the family for another generation. But he has to begin to look at the consolidation of royal power. He has to look at the challenges because one of the things by being so humiliated, this takes the lid off challenges to his position. That forces him to deal with threats within his own kingdom. He’s extending royal control into areas where he’s able, so the far north and the far south-west – two areas that he’s going to tighten Scottish royal control over. But he also, right through the remaining part of his reign, he’s the one who really takes hold of the law code for Scotland and really starts this process of codification, setting the basis of the laws that we would regard as the foundation of Scots law.

[JB]
He was on the throne for about – I’m trying to do the maths here – 49 years. Is that correct?

[RO]
1165 to 1214. So yes, he’s one of the longest reigned Scottish kings.

[JB]
And a bad start, but let’s just say he managed to pull it back somewhat. He was followed by the bad egg. Let’s talk about Alexander II, the one that you described as ruthlessly efficient – back that up!

[RO]
My second most favourite Scottish king! He’s often forgotten about because he’s sandwiched between the reign of William, which is seen as being in some ways both catastrophic but also then an apogee of power. And then Alexander III, the one that everybody knows about – the supposed king of the golden age and all the rest of it. Alexander II is actually the one who creates Scotland geographically, effectively as we would understand it today. He’s the one who gains control over the whole of the mainland. He becomes the unquestioned ruler of that territory. And he was on the brink of taking control of the Hebrides. He’d started a campaign in the summer of 1249 when he died, actually just and no more in the Hebrides, on Kerrera Island in Oban Bay. He’s taken that great leap forward. He’s the one who settles the long dispute with England and gets a very, very good deal out of it.

[JB]
So far Richard, everything you’re telling me about this ruthless King Alexander II doesn’t seem too bad.

[RO]
But that’s the point. He is ruthless. And what he does is he eliminates every single person who stands in his way, every single challenger. You do not stand up to Alexander II; you usually end up without your head, possibly without your feet and various other parts of your anatomy. He progressively eliminates every rival to his position as king. And this will lead him ultimately to exterminate the last member of the big challenging family, who is … We don’t even know her name. She’s just an infant daughter of the race of McWilliam. And to demonstrate that he is ruthless, to the degree of it doesn’t matter if it’s a child, male or female, she has her brain smashed out against the market cross shaft in Forfar. And that is the end of all challenge to the ruling house.

[JB]
Oh dear, oh dear. Alright. Well, let’s put Alexander II to bed. We are fast running out of time, Richard. The wonderful Alexander III we’re going to have to race through. He basks in stability, I suppose?

[RO]
Basically, it’s one of those cases of all the hard work has been done by the people before him. We can’t take away from the fact that Alexander III does appear to be a good king. He’s a just ruler. You get the development of, if you like, a political life within the kingdom. It starts off poorly because he inherits the throne as a wee boy; he’s only 8 or 9 and it’s going to be a long time before he’s able to exercise rule personally. But when he does gain adulthood and become king, there is just unity – I think is the best way to describe it. Alexander II had removed the challenges to him. When you go on to look at Robert Bruce, you’ll no doubt come across the references to the community of the realm. This is the political community – Church and state – revolving around the king, and Alexander III is able to keep a balance over them.

He’s also presiding over a time of maximum economic benefit. This is in the middle of a period where the Scottish economy has been growing hugely. Scotland is actually relatively rich at this time; a great amount of silver is flowing around. And so, Alexander has that great reputation and, even better, towards the end of his reign, he’s got two sons to potentially succeed him. So there’s no problem ahead there, is there?

[JB]
It seems not but, as they both die, we are heading for problems that next in line is the daughter of their sister Margaret. Now, she’d been married off to Norway. She is named queen in 1286, but she dies en route to Scotland, leaving a full-blown constitutional crisis.

[RO]
A massive constitutional crisis. The royal family had narrowed down and narrowed down and narrowed down as, if you like, the successes of people like David and certainly William and Alexander II in removing the challengers, came back to bite them. Because you’ve removed a whole load of the obvious lines of the family, and instead you’ve got the emergence of 13 (ultimately) individuals who all say ‘We’re the rightful kings of Scots’.

[JB]
The elites don’t know who to choose and they call upon perhaps, in retrospect, the worst man to help them make a decision – someone that they regard as a friend: Edward I of England.

[RO]
This idea that Edward thrust himself into the void really needs to be challenged. The Scots were the instruments of their own ultimate near downfall with this one. But, he is not somebody to miss an opportunity and basically what he does is he says that he wants to have the homage of the King of Scots. They say, you’re here to decide who that person is. We need you to act as the ultimate arbiter. And he then says well, right, ok, I’ll take the homage of all of you and from amongst them we’ll get the king of Scots. But the critical thing is we’re usually given this picture of Edward sitting as sole judge; there’s actually the appointment of a court of auditors – 104 were appointed by primarily the two chief claimants: John Balliol and the future King of Scots Robert Bruce’s grandfather, Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale. They are the ones who hear the claim, this thing called the ‘great cause of Scotland’. They hear it and they present their findings to Edward, and it’s Edward who looks at the evidence. He judges that John Balliol is the rightful king and, of course, he’s already taken the homage and fealty of John. So, he then says ‘right, you have to recognise me now as your overlord’.

[JB]
‘You’re in charge, but I’m the real boss.’ And the Bruce family are not best pleased … and that is another story, which we will deal with in this series of podcasts. Richard, thank you very much.

[RO]
Thank you.

[JB]
And that’s all from this edition of Love Scotland. I hope you’ve enjoyed our romp through some early Scottish royals with Professor Richard Oram, whose book David I: King of Scots is published by John Donald.

And if this period of history particularly interests you, look out for a couple of episodes dealing with the life and tumultuous times of Robert Bruce. And don’t forget the National Trust for Scotland looks after many places with a royal history, including Falkland Palace and Drum and Fyvie castles and the Bannockburn battle site. Just head to our website for all the details. And if you’d like to help us preserve these important places, we would be delighted if you would become a member of the Trust; we cannot do it without you. Thank you for listening. Until next time, goodbye.

And if Scottish kings are your thing, why not listen back to a podcast in Season 6 on the early years of James VI in Scotland with Professor Steven Reid.

[SR]
When his grandfather Matthew Stewart, the Earl of Lennox is assassinated, is killed just outside Stirling Castle, the body is brought in just as he’s dying for James to see, he’s not much older than 5 at this point. Seeing that must have been really quite shocking for him.

[MV]
Love Scotland is brought to you by Think and Demus Productions on behalf of the National Trust for Scotland. Presented by Jackie Bird.
For show notes and more information, go to nts.org.uk
And don’t forget to like, subscribe, review and share.

Season 8

Episode 3 – The afterlife of Mary, Queen of Scots

Arguably the most famous monarch in Scottish history, Mary, Queen of Scots remains a figure of global intrigue more than 400 years after her death. One question, then: why?

In a previous episode of Love Scotland (Season 4, Episode 4), Jackie explored the life and times of Mary. Today, she’s on a mission to find out why Mary’s story and legacy have been pored over in such detail for centuries.

Joining Jackie in the studio is Professor Steven Reid of the University of Glasgow, who is also the author of The Afterlife of Mary, Queen of Scots. Together, they unpick the posthumous interest in Mary, the many different perceptions of her legacy, and how Mary’s death has been used throughout history to further different groups’ objectives.

Find out more about Falkland Palace

A green title card with a picture of a young Mary, Queen of Scots. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. The Afterlife of Mary, Queen of Scots.
A green title card with a picture of a young Mary, Queen of Scots. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. The Afterlife of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Season 8 Episode 3

Transcript

Five speakers: male voiceover [MV]; Jackie Bird [JB]; Steven Reid [SR]; second male voiceover [MV2]; Rosemary Goring [RG]

[MV]
Love Scotland, brought to you from the National Trust for Scotland; presented by Jackie Bird.

[JB]
Hello and welcome. There’s something about Mary. In 1587, the tumultuous life of Mary, Queen of Scots ended after three blows of the executioner’s axe. And yet, hundreds of years later, she remains a headliner in global historiography. Why?

We’ve discussed Mary’s life in Scotland in a previous podcast. The National Trust for Scotland looks after the magnificent Falkland Palace, which was described as Mary’s happy place – and boy did she need one.

Born in 1542, shipped off to France as a child, brought back from France as a teenager already a widow, she became a Catholic queen of a Protestant country. At this stage, through no fault of her own, she was a divisive figure, a hate figure for some. However, things didn’t improve after her disastrous marriage to Henry, Lord Darnley. She bore him a child, James, but she was later implicated in Darnley’s murder. Then another ill-conceived marriage with the brutish Earl of Bothwell, who was also implicated in Darnley’s demise. It’s easy to forget that Mary was only queen for 6 years before she was deposed, eventually held captive in England for 19 years, and then executed at the age of 44.

There’s no shortage of drama in that short life, but does that explain our enduring fascination with her? Well, that’s been the subject of a major study and now a book called The Afterlife of Mary, Queen of Scots. I’m happy to say I’m joined by the editor of that book, Professor Steven Reid, Head of History at the University of Glasgow, who’s back by popular demand after his earlier star turn on the early life of Mary’s son James. Welcome back, Steven.

[SR]
Hello Jackie, how are you doing? Nice to see you.

[JB]
I’m good, thank you. Now, this book is the result of something called the Mary Project. Can you talk us through that and its aims?

[SR]
Sure. Well, the project started in 2016 over a coffee with my friend Anne Dulau-Beveridge. Anne was interested in doing a small exhibition at the University of Glasgow. She’s one of the curators within the Hunterian, which is our museum and art gallery, and she had this painting – The Abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots by Gavin Hamilton. It’s from the late 18th century, and it’s the first what we call romantic painting of Mary. It’s the first that removes itself completely from any attempt to be truly historical and truly representative of historical fact, and it presents Mary in a romantic way.

And it got us thinking. What else do we have in the university collections that tells us about Mary’s afterlife and about the way that she’s been represented in objects and texts? We started a small project, initially in 2016 – just a couple of workshops with some academics at the university and with some colleagues. And we found that the university had an incredible world-leading collection of Marian items, particularly coins from her own lifetime, but also engravings, prints and text.

Then from there, we started to see themes and ideas around Mary’s afterlife and saw that there were definite patterns about the way she was remembered down the centuries and the different ways that her story was told. We thought, well, why don’t we expand this out and see where else we could look? And so, between 2019 and 2021, we received funding from the Royal Society of Edinburgh to extend our search into archives and heritage collections across Scotland, and eventually into the Royal Collection Trust and into the British Library as well.

We asked curators and heritage professionals and academics to come together to look through the lists of items that we found in each collection, to tell us what they were about. From there, we put together this map of over 2,000 objects relating to Mary. You could actually quadruple that if you included all the printed texts about her as well.

But we focused very much on the physical heritage of Mary – the objects, the images, the paintings. The project itself, and the book that we finally completed, also looks at film and music as well. Looking at her in these non-traditional ways, trying to get away from the textual afterlife largely.

[JB]
Let’s begin with a quote.
‘In the end is my beginning.’
Mary’s idea of a legacy, her own legacy – what does that tell us?

[SR]
‘In my end is my beginning’ is a motto that Mary used in her later life. She used it on her embroidery, and it reflects the fact that she was very self-aware in the closing decades of her life that the narrative that would be told about her was in many ways outwith her control. She felt that Elizabeth and the English government were trying to politically remove her.

I think that Mary herself felt that she was being put to death as a Catholic martyr. That was the image that she wanted to have as her posterity: that she was a rightful queen who had been deposed in 1567 by a group of nobles. She was a fit, physically well, mentally sound monarch who was absolutely sure of her rights as a sovereign queen. The story that she wanted to tell in her afterlife was that she had been unjustly treated and that she was dying in England at the hands of another queen as a Catholic, and that she was being effectively martyred.

And so, the images that she commissioned in her own lifetime, and even in her own letters towards the end of her life, you see her creating this idea of herself as a Catholic martyr – someone who’s been unjustly removed from power.

[JB]
Was it prescient of her to create her own legacy?

[SR]
I think so. I think to have the self-awareness to look ahead and think that my own political agency, if you like, has been taken away from me. She tries and tries again to come back to power, both through public negotiations with Elizabeth and with her son in her later life, but also through secret negotiations that include plots – and she’s constantly denied. I think in some ways she just had to look to her legacy and think, I’m not going to return to power; I have to try and secure an image of myself.

What’s been interesting about the project and what it’s uncovered in contemporary objects – objects very near to Mary – is that she had a far stronger hand in commissioning portraits of herself than we had previously realised. One of our contributors identifies a series of portraits in the 1570s that are very iconic of Mary, that we think Mary had a strong hand in. She was connected in terms of putting out her own letters and writings to her own information network, which portrays her in this way. And she’s aware in her own embroideries and her own physical objects that she thinks of herself as a martyr.

So, in part that created the beginning of a legend around her, and whether it was prescient or not is really difficult. The image of herself has endured; the idea of her as a Catholic martyr has endured through the ages as well.

[JB]
From your research, you stress that even early source material is completely partisan, no grey areas. People either loved or loathed her, or more specifically, what she stood for. How do you therefore negotiate such propaganda?

[SR]
I think that’s a really important point when we think about Mary. Everything that came from her later reign and everything that was used to justify her abdication in 1567, it was entirely partisan. You had the King’s party on one side who were putting forward the infant James VI as the figurehead king; and you had the Queen’s party on the other, who wanted to defend Mary and restore her to the throne.

The King’s party won the battle, the Marian Civil War, which lasted for six years, in large part because they were so good at using propaganda. George Buchanan was the leading Humanist who wrote much of the legend around Mary that portrays her in a hugely negative light. The King’s party were militarily weaker and had less geographic control of Scotland, but were able to create all this propaganda around Mary to portray her as an adulteress, as a murderess, someone who didn’t care for her son, didn’t have the nation’s best interests in heart – and were able to put out into the world.

As a result, even the sources from her own lifetime, most famously the casket letters, the ones that supposedly prove that she was romantically connected with Bothwell and was involved in the murder of Darnley – all these sources are questionable and put out there.

As we go through history, one of the themes that emerges is that you always get people on either side of those debates either defending Mary or harshly criticising her. They always retreat into these binary frames using the sources that exist. What’s been interesting is looking at how that story develops over the centuries between both those who would attack her and those who would defend her.

[JB]
You say, though, that there’s been a gender divide as well. Develop that for me.

[SR]
What’s been interesting, and one of the things that emerged out of the story of Mary over the centuries we looked at, is that it isn’t gender-neutral, in the sense that we find that women often want to identify with her or they can empathise with her. That ranges from poets up to salon readers and others who are interested in her. A range of writers who’ve written books about her, like Sophia Lee for example, who made a career out of writing books that included a three-part trilogy on Mary.

So, women on one hand can identify with her, but men tend to want to either condemn her or to really apologise and defend her, all the while taking away her agency, I think. It can become quite patriarchal. It can be quite heavily gendered. The most interesting example, I think, is Walter Scott, who actually had a carving of Mary’s death mask on his ceiling in Abbotsford … but also had what was believed to be a portrait of her severed head taken just after her death in his dining room at Abbotsford. So literally, in some sense, owning relics of Mary and owning parts of her identity, if you like.

[JB]
Gosh, it takes all sorts.

[SR]
It does!

[JB]
Was this gender divide truer of Mary than of other great historical figures?

[SR]
I guess with Mary, we haven’t really done this sort of searching in the way that we have for someone like Mary. But I think what’s interesting is that Mary generates a far stronger, personal …

[JB]
An emotional response?

[SR]
I would say absolutely there’s a far stronger emotional connection to Mary, an immediacy to her story that is far stronger than say someone like Robert the Bruce or William Wallace or any of the Stuart kings.

It’s notable that Mary’s son, although being the first king of the British Isles, of a united British Kingdom and all the achievements that he has in his life, is really bypassed in history because there is something about Mary … and as you said, her personal act of reign as a ruler in Scotland is only 6 years. But the amount of interest that that story has generated and the fact we keep coming back to it so much, there is something there. That was one of the questions at the heart of the project. Why is there this recurring interest in Mary, despite the fact that her contribution to the direction in the history of Scotland, in terms of shifting it or changing it, was very minimal.

[JB]
Something else I find particularly fascinating about your project was that the prevailing narrative of Mary changed over the centuries. In your introduction you say that this tells us about evolving attitudes towards gender, monarchy, power and religion in Scotland, and to Scotland’s own perception of its history. Before we look at that and how she’s been viewed down the centuries, presumably in the years immediately after her death she was still a pretty controversial political figure.

[SR]
That’s absolutely true. The most powerful instance is that all her personal relics, or at least as many as the English government could get their hands on, being burnt immediately, because they were worried about the potential popular response that could be got from her objects. Also, royal objects, particularly if they have royal blood on them, can have power.

The useful comparison is the execution of Charles I. Mary’s execution was carried out privately in a courtyard at Fotheringhay, and Charles’s was done in the open. As soon as he died, they immediately ran up with napkins to dab up his blood because this was royal blood that had power. How much more powerful would Mary’s be as a martyred queen? So, there’s that immediate security risk shows you just how worried they were about this.

And again, throughout that early period, Mary is still, in the half century or so after her death, a very live political problem for the Stuart monarchs to think about. How do they rehabilitate her, take her back into a narrative, when it’s Mary’s son who’s on the throne in England? There are very real political ramifications.

And also she herself being executed. What to do with the body? When it’s initially buried, it’s not looked after as well as it could be. James himself has to think, well, how do I recommission this and what do I do? He moves her body, obviously to Westminster, and gives it a proper burial and a proper tomb because he wants to reclaim her and make her the mother of the Stuart dynasty. A very live political figure there.

[JB]
So, the years move on, and that angry politicisation ebbs a bit. We come along to the Georgians, for example. How was she viewed then?

[SR]
The Georgians had an interesting relationship with Mary. The Georgians were quite emotional. They were quite effective in their response to tragedy, and they liked to show that they could be deeply emotionally affected by the things that they saw and stories that were tragic. Mary’s story, being tragic, was something that really resonated with them.

But they also saw Mary in the sense of being an idealised feminine figure. Many in the Georgian period would see her as a devoted wife, as someone who bore her hardship with grace and dignity. These kind of feminine qualities were very highly valued. You can see that coming through in, again in a very gendered way, associating these ideas of femininity with a queen who had been deposed and executed.

[JB]
The Georgians saw her sympathetically. Could that have been anything to do with the fact that that was post-Jacobite troubles and trying to calm the waters?

[SR]
Well, again, Mary herself, up to the end of the 17th century, is still very much associated with the Stuart monarchy. You saw through the 17th century that on one hand, the defenders of the Stuarts see Mary as someone who has been unjustly executed. But then on the side of the Republicans, this is another example of a Stuart tyrant, someone who’s really difficult.

By the time you get into the 18th century, Mary is briefly associated with the Jacobites. You get a number of portraits circulating among Jacobite supporters. What’s interesting there is that the effective sympathy comes through because the portraits change. We’ve got about 15 or so of these small head portraits of Mary in the 17th and 18th century. As Mary becomes more of a political enemy, the facial features harden; they become quite difficult. And then, as you get into the 18th century, they become more feminine and softer, picking up this idea of Mary as a feminine effective icon, an icon of sympathy. They change as well, and you begin to see that look, Mary’s face being reshaped to fit the aesthetic of the 18th century.

I suppose in some ways that culminates with The Abdication of Mary, the portrait that we have at the Hunterian by Gavin Hamilton, where the figure is deeply Georgian. The outfit is more like a dress that you’d find in the contemporary period. The picture itself is really influenced by Gavin Hamilton’s time in Rome as an artist. It’s all very neoclassical, but it looks nothing like the historical Mary. This transformation has happened because of the change in gender attitudes and the change in views of what it means to be a woman and what’s important in terms of the emotional value of Mary’s story.

[JB]
And then, by the time the Victorians come along, the view of her life and legacy changes again.

[SR]
Yes. We get a number of authors writing about Mary, and the view of her again becomes more powerful, I suppose. You see writers like the lesbian aunt/niece – let me see if I can get this right – the lesbian aunt/niece couple who are known compositely as Michael Field. They write a series of texts about Mary showing her as being quite sexually independent, as being powerful in her own female agency. And so, you see this harder edge coming into Mary’s story.

But at the same time, you also get a really curious development in the Victorian period of costumed balls and Mary – and Mary’s association with particularly the funds for raising the Waverley monument, and Princess Alexandra dressing as Mary. Mary’s costume and her iconography became all the rage. You could buy her costume, the patterns and the materials to make it in Debenhams. It was really a big part of that culture. People repeatedly dressing as Mary, so much so that it became a running joke.

You also found young Victorian ladies dressing as Mary for photo shoots. This is the early age of photography – the late 19th, early 20th century – and you find them at Highland retreats and in various other places, dressing as Mary and her four handmaids. So on one hand, in literature you’re finding a more sexually independent, progressive Mary beginning to emerge from the story, one who’s more in control of her own life and is more involved consciously in the murder of Darnley perhaps, and in the Darnley–Bothwell relationship. But you also have this very costumed, elaborate, more flowery version of Mary appearing in the costumes and the styling that goes with it.

[JB]
This moved on with bells on, I suppose, with the advent of moving pictures and the fact that she became a global media icon, especially in early films.

[SR]
Yeah, that was one of the most exciting finds, I think, of the project – the sheer range of black and white films. I think we found seven new black and white films relating to Mary that hadn’t been looked at previously – from the advent of the first Scottish historical film in 1895, which is a 19-second clip produced by a New York production company that stages Mary’s execution. It’s the first …

[JB]
I’ve had a look at it, and anyone listening can actually look at it on YouTube. It’s done very well.

[SR]
It is. You can see it on the NLS Moving Image archive and it’s an actor, Robert Thomae, dressed as Mary.But also, not only is it the first Scottish historical film, but it’s also the first to use a jump-cut special effect where the person moves forward and then the frame is paused and then they’re replaced with a mannequin with a detachable head, so it all comes together seamlessly.

Mary really tapped into that film market. Obviously the more famous ones that are known are Mary of Scotland with Katharine Hepburn, which she herself tried to use to relaunch her career in the 1930s. But there are lots of French and American and British attempts to create black and white films of Mary’s story, and that has continued right through the 20th century in TV series, in new films as well, and in lavish productions that we still see today.

[JB]
Wasn’t the Katharine Hepburn film – correct me if I’m wrong here – raised in Parliament because it was so historically inaccurate?

[SR]
That’s new; I didn’t know that actually! I hadn’t picked that one up, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

[JB]
Yes, I think I read that! Mel Gibson would never have been allowed to …

[SR]
What’s interesting is that there were a number of attempts in the early 20th century by the British film companies and by the British Film Board to create a British history on film as a form of cultural hegemony, as a way of putting British identity out there. But of course, one of the things that we find in the book is that it was the US film industry that really won that war and was able to seize hold of the cultural narrative and create a cultural dominance across the world using cinema.

You see that story being played out in the Mary films where the US interests are much stronger in the films. So again, you see how all these things connect together.

[JB]
Often the Mary films are a tale of two women rather than Mary as a queen. It’s always Mary and Elizabeth; Mary the martyr, Elizabeth the brutal; Mary the fluffy, Elizabeth the brave. The movies and the stage plays seem to major on the foibles of being feminine.

[SR]
I think that’s exactly right. And that is one of the strongest themes that’s emerged throughout is that binary presentation of Mary and Elizabeth across 4 and a half centuries, where Mary is portrayed usually as feminine and Elizabeth is portrayed as masculine. Mary is portrayed as emotional and regal, whereas Elizabeth is portrayed as logical and quite cold and calculating. You do get some manipulation in that, but broadly speaking that continues right into the modern day. You do see some plays in the 20th century like Robert Bolt’s Vivat! Vivat Regina!, where the two queens are portrayed on the stage throughout in parallel, on either side of the stage, and the whole thing is done as a dialogue.

You do see, in a recent staging of Mary, Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, actresses flipping a coin to play Elizabeth one night and Mary the next. So, you do see some changing in that, but it is a strong dynamic that goes through – that Mary and Elizabeth are always portrayed in a binary.

[JB]
Is part of our fascination with her the fact that she was a woman? We can’t hide from that. And that in terms of a woman on the throne, she ‘had to marry’ – damned if she did, damned if she didn’t. Whereas – I’m answering my own question here – because that falls flat when you look at Elizabeth, who managed to plough her own furrow.

[SR]
It’s difficult because in the 16th century it’s such a patriarchal society, so the choices that you have are really difficult. Elizabeth is unique because she chooses not to marry, and she creates an identity around herself of being married to her country. That allows her the space to be a very effective queen, deeply successful. But she doesn’t fulfil what, by the standards of the 16th century, would be her prime aim – to perpetuate a strong and stable dynasty going forward.

Mary does achieve that, through her son and through her second marriage to Henry Stuart Darnley. But that marriage causes such political unrest that it removes her from power and destroys her own personal legacy. Although again, in 1603, her son claims the throne and was able to say that it was my mother who’s created this dynasty, to rehabilitate her. So, that’s part of it. The cards are stacked against Mary and although she rules in her own name for 6 years, it’s done in a culture where every decision is being heavily scrutinised. It’s a deeply male-controlled world and as soon as she has a male child, people are looking to remove her from power.

There’s that real difficulty, but there’s also the fact that her story is so inherently dramatic. It is frequently portrayed as a three-act play where you have the French child whose upbringing is at the court of Henry II, then a first marriage to Francis II – he dies young, very tragically. Then you’ve got the interlude in Scotland with the drama with Darnley and Bothwell and the murder of Rizzio. And then act three is the captivity in England, when she’s under the control of Elizabeth and her government.

The retelling of the story is that it’s so easily packageable. That was something we did find on the project, that it lends itself very well to drama and to TV and to opera, because it has that structure.

[JB]
But our story’s a two-part, so let’s take a break just there. Part of the Mary Project is to collate and assess the many physical objects relating to her life. And that came up with some fascinating and new perspectives. We’ve touched on them earlier. We’ll find out some more. We’ll be back in a moment.

[MV2]
Impressive. For a moment, I thought she was talking about me. I meant Falkland Palace, she said with a smile. Of course you did. The art, the architecture – Scotland’s history can really turn your head. So we signed up to take care of it. Keep it looking dapper.

[MV]
Since 1931, the National Trust for Scotland, a charity supported by you, has been looking after Scotland’s treasured places so we can all share in them.
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[JB]
Welcome back. Professor Steven Reid, let’s talk about this gathering of Mary memorabilia. What were you looking for?

[SR]
I think we weren’t looking for anything in particular. We were being very much led by what we would find in the archives and in the collection. We asked all the heritage experts and the curators that worked with us in the project to look into their own archives and into their own material stores, do a search for anything that they thought materialated to Mary. It could be prints, could be engravings, could be coins – and tell us what they found.

In the first stage of the project, they all came back with Word documents and Excel spreadsheets with big lists of material. And then they started to present on it, and we started to look through and think, gosh, what are these things? Some of them were very unusual. Some were standard, like you would think – prints and engravings. Others were odd physical objects that appeared – everything from garden ornaments to rubber ducks to pieces of clothing to locks of hair. They had a really wide range of objects. And the more time we spent on the project, the weirder and wackier some of these objects have become. That has really helped us reshape the narrative around Mary, particularly in the 21st century, because she’s also a commercial as well as a historiographical icon.

[JB]
And in bringing them together after 400-odd years, I understand that there were still discoveries to be made.

[SR]
Yes, I think that what we had found was that … I mean, a good example is again The Abdication of Gavin Hamilton, the painting that we put at the centrepiece of our exhibition, which was at Glasgow in early 2023. We had it cleaned and conserved and we found that the trademark cap that Mary has – whenever you think of an image of Mary – there was a much more prominent cap in that picture. And it showed us that Mary’s iconography through all these objects is something that’s very consistent.

If I ask your listeners to imagine Mary in their head, and indeed if you do this as well, you probably would think perhaps of someone in a black dress. You would think of someone with striking red hair. You would think of someone that’s quite tall, and you’d probably also think of maybe a white cap on her head, a crucifix and a rosary possibly, and maybe a ruff or some other religious items. Does that sound about right, Jackie?

[JB]
Yes, yes, you got it.

[SR]
That iconography was something that, when we put all these objects together, we could trace right through. It began in both the paintings that Mary herself was involved in commissioning in the 1570s and 80s. But one of the big findings that we had was that this image was disseminated widely across the globe, and particularly in Catholic Europe, in a series of cheap woodcuts of Mary.

Woodcuts are when you take a wood block and you engrave on it an image that you want, and you can put it through a printing press very quickly and create cheap reproductions. You can also do it in metal and intaglio. The good thing about that is that you can tweak it and make it different for different audiences. So, if you wanted to emphasise Mary’s royal lineage, for example, you could add a range of crowns in the corner showing her rights and titles to the realms of Britain and France and Ireland. If you want to emphasise her Catholic identity, you could add angels or you could add religious paraphernalia. You could add little poems and texts about her life, and you could change the material depending on the audience.

But what we found in those engravings was that the image that we have of Mary in our mind – with the cap, with the ruff, with the religious iconography – became really fixed in these images. It became recycled and reused throughout all the later images and paintings and popular icons that we still see of Mary today. That chain became very quickly established as a result of her being seen as a Catholic martyr. That was one thing we found.

We also found with the objects that people had a very strong physical, emotional, affective response to, like the Georgians did. It’s one that defies reason, for want of a better phrase. People often say these objects are attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots, or believed to belong to Mary, Queen of Scots. And in many cases, when we looked at the objects, we found the provenance didn’t hold water. There are so many crucifixes around different collections that supposedly belonged to Mary or were used at the end of her life; they can’t be real. In many cases we’ve proven now that wasn’t the case.

But what’s interesting is not the fact that this isn’t a real crucifix of Mary’s, but the fact that people have invested this power in it and said, ‘this is connected to Mary’. And then the stories they have later told about them as well.

[JB]
It’s like Mary, Queen of Scots slept here. She would never have slept in her own bed, ever, if half of those assertions were true!

[SR]
The best example of that is the red bed at Holyrood. Holyrood was again one of the chapters in the book that we focus on. Deborah Clarke, the former curator at Holyrood, wrote a brilliant story about this for us, showing that in the late 18th and early 19th century, Holyrood began to open to the public and tours started. They were led by the housekeeper, and the housekeeper embellished this story around a bed that had belonged to the Duchess of Hamilton, saying that this was Mary’s bed.

Over time, the providence of the bed became lost so that it became Queen Mary’s red bed. This was discovered again in the 20th century. Actually, this isn’t Mary’s bed; it’s the Duchess of Hamilton’s bed. But the story still sticks, and it took a long time for them to divest from that narrative because the power associated with the bed is very real.

The other example, of course, are death masks. There are a number of death masks of Mary, some in wax; some in plaster; some in wood. And when we laid them all down side by side, there’s three or four different facial patterns, all completely different. But they all claim to be Mary’s. Again, one of those is the one that’s in Walter Scott’s library. There’s the face that’s used on the tomb at Westminster. But again, people believe they’re Mary and want to believe that they’re Mary. They want that connection even when it’s not quite real.

[JB]
I can really see the power of the collection now, because another aspect of it was the fact that you managed to bring together a lot of her embroideries whenever she was in captivity – and didn’t you manage to form a pattern of a protest, her own protest?

[SR]
So this is something that’s not been formed specifically by the project, but it’s certainly well known in the collections of her embroideries that are partly owned by the Royal Collection but are largely part of the V&A. When you look at these embroideries, and this has been established by Michael Bath and Clare Hunter and other scholars, that these were a conscious form of Mary’s protest, that the embroideries themselves are fitted with motifs and ideas.

The most famous one, I suppose, or the cheekiest one, would be a cat, which is a red-haired cat holding a brown mouse … and you can guess who it’s meant to be. It’s Elizabeth. You can see as well in some of the other symbols that they’re all about suffering and endurance through pain, and thinking about looking ahead to a better time.

Similarly, in a lot of the paintings of Mary you get coded biblical motifs. One of the ones that Mary uses quite a lot is Susanna and the elders, where Susanna is wrongfully accused of adultery by a range of elders in her village and then eventually they are condemned and put to death for the wrongful accusation against her. That story had very real parallels for Mary, and you see it being worked into often very small details into the paintings of Mary that still exist. So, that power is there within that iconography too.

[JB]
And no shortage of hagiography from Burns, and indeed from Sir Walter Scott when he wasn’t gazing on a death mask.

[SR]
Yes. So again, poets particularly frequently engaged with Mary. Again, Burns created this image of Mary, a very Georgian effective Mary, one who is maternal. And again, in Burns’s example, there’s a contrast between the un-maternal, unfeeling Elizabeth, who is cold like steel and is hard willed; and Mary herself, who’s deeply concerned for her son and is interested in the spring around her and knowing that she won’t see another one. So again, creating this quite bucolic image of Mary, I suppose.

[JB]
I had a chat with one of the National Trust for Scotland curators before you came along, Steven, and I asked that – apart from the places that she visited that I mentioned in my introduction – did we have anything in the various collections linked to Mary? I was expecting a couple of things. We have … so many! There is the poem about Mary, Robert Burns’s own hand in his birthplace museum. Drum Castle has a medal struck to mark her execution. There’s a 19th-century wooden pipe with her face carved upon it in Weaver’s Cottage. It’s through all the classes; it’s not just the landed gentry. There are various 20th-century items of crockery depicting her. There’s an endless list, which consolidates the fact that her story has long been part of Scottish culture.

[SR]
I think that’s right, and the pipe and the medal are both good examples, as is the crockery. You find that there were a whole range of Victorian medals struck, and indeed rings based on rings that Mary and Darnley would have worn as well; commemorative rings being produced in that way. You find that there are physical objects scattered throughout many Scottish collections: again shoes, locks of hair, other physical objects that are reputed to be Mary’s but perhaps are not … and again, people invest this power in them.

But from the 19th century on, that commercial aspect has really begun to emerge around Mary – people buying objects that commemorate Mary and are associated with her, and it proliferates into tea towels, into bookmarks. You have a range of Etsy stores, for example, devoted to Mary, Queen of Scots now. That commercial element and the tourism heritage element of Mary has really developed over the past two centuries, and again it’s another strand of why she’s so popular. But would there be such a burgeoning commercial interest if there wasn’t that story that’s so compelling?

There’s definitely something there that it builds on. You don’t get that level of object fascination with other monarchs or other figures in Scottish history, I don’t think.

[JB]
But one of the contributors in the book argues that, and I quote: ‘Mary’s place in the communal memory of Scotland is shaped by emotion and supposition rather than the critical evaluation of the queen’s life and reign.’ Has our fascination with Mary the woman diminished her historical legacy?

[SR]
I think her historical legacy has been gone over and gone over and gone over with biographies. There was a very exciting discovery last year where a series of letters were found in a Paris archive by a group of cryptological code-breakers. They found about 50 letters that told us about Mary’s captivity, letters she’d sent in cipher between 1570 and 1585. That’s rare. We don’t normally get new discoveries like that around Mary. Over the past century, there’s been very little in the way of new material discovery that’s come out. But I think with this project, what we were trying to do is get away from that and find a brand new way of looking at Mary.

I think it has shown a way that she’s perhaps more powerful and more enduring. Her life was very difficult and, as a queen, the odds were always stacked against her. But as a queen, even allowing for that, she didn’t have a brilliant reign. I think when you look at the legacy she’s had, it’s far more interesting because it does get us to reflect on what are our attitudes to women in the 17th, 18th, 19th century. How do we engage with the story of a woman who’s experienced violence in her life in such a difficult and horrible way? What does that say about us and our values today? So, in that sense, the legacy story I find far more interesting because it resonates so much today.

[JB]
We’ve learned about Mary’s story down the years, Steven, and how she’s been repurposed to reflect the society telling it. What do we think of her now, and what does it tell us about our society?

[SR]
I think what’s been most exciting to see in contemporary portrayals of Mary has been that they’re far more inclusive now, and they’re being used to reclaim a range of different narratives. One of the most interesting things that we posed within the project were recent drag portrayals of Mary, most famously in RuPaul’s Drag Race, both by Rosé, who portrayed Mary, Queen of Scots in a series of comedic sketches, but also by Cheddar Gorgeous, who portrayed Elizabeth I. There was a kind of meta dialogue going on between them, between the various Drag Race shows, and that was really fascinating to see. Also, there’s some fantastic pictures of RuPaul dressed as Elizabeth – again, people claiming Mary’s narrative for their own in a range of different settings to the ones that she maybe would be completely unfamiliar with, which has been really exciting to see.

Mary is definitely a brand now, I think, and is a real draw for heritage organisations and has a real commercial power, which we haven’t ever quantified – I would be very interested to do that. That kind of work has been done with Robert Burns. Mary is used in a range of tours. The strangest one I think we found was a series of medals for a virtual marathon series by London Secret Runs, where for every marathon you do, you can claim a new medal showing an episode from Mary and Elizabeth’s lives and they go on to a huge metal disc that you can put up on your wall.

You get everything from playing cards to my personal favourite, the mascot of the project, which was a rubber duck that features Mary. You know it’s Mary because of the cap and the ruff that’s on the duck itself. So, she’s very much a commercial presence. She’s very much a part of popular history, particularly children’s history. My son particularly likes the Horrible History’s versions of Mary that you get. And again, that in itself is interesting too.

She’s also been of direct relevance and importance to contemporary debates about gender equality, about power, particularly in Hollywood. We saw that when the 2018 film came out, and it came out just at the time that the Me Too movement was really beginning to explode. The story itself, which features two women caught in a patriarchal society making difficult choices, really spoke to that debate. Indeed, it was a very powerful part of our early project as well.

One of the things that’s come out in both the project workshops and in all the online teaching that we do around the project – and indeed in my classes on Mary – is how her story reflects the difficult choices that women often have to make when placed in positions of power, and again when confronted with a patriarchal society. So that in itself has been a really interesting thing to see. And it shows again just how relevant Mary’s story is, even though it’s 4 and a half centuries in the past.

[JB]
That’s our own societal zeitgeist, stamped firmly on Mary’s memory.

[SR]
I think so. And it’s absolutely still evolving.

[JB]
So at the end of the day, on this voyage of discovery, did you answer the question, why is her story so enduring?

[SR]
I think we’ve got a sense of the ways that it’s endured, but you mentioned the quote earlier on from one of our contributors and how there is a non-rational response to these objects and to Mary’s story. And that’s exactly it. I still don’t feel we fully know why. We’ve quantified just how popular she is and just how global she is, but there is an element, a non-rational response, whether it’s to real objects or to real places. I’ve heard some people on our course describe their time in Edinburgh, for example, as having trod in the place where Mary’s footsteps were. This idea that it’s an irrational, emotional response that goes beyond explanation. At the moment, that’s enough for me, I think, just to think, ‘yep, we’ll never fully explain it’. It goes into emotion and something deeply held by people, and that’s a mystery we’ll probably never solve, to be honest.

[JB]
Well, she was human. And so are we. Professor Steven Reid, thank you so much for joining us.

[SR]
Thank you, Jackie.

[JB]
We’ve just filled a podcast about her and we have barely scraped the surface – proof that Mary’s afterlife is still thriving. The book, The Afterlife of Mary, Queen of Scots, edited by Steven, is published in April 2024 by Edinburgh University Press.

Falkland Palace, Mary’s happy place, is cared for by the National Trust for Scotland, as well as other locations we’ve mentioned with links to Mary, including Alloa Tower and Kellie Castle. Check our website for opening times. Thank you for listening to Love Scotland. Until next time, goodbye.

And you can listen back to another podcast on Mary. In season 4, I learnt about the queen’s time in Scotland with author Rosemary Goring.

[RG]
I think she was very much a fish out of water by the time she arrived in Scotland. I think she was always made to feel that her position was extremely precarious.

[MV]
Love Scotland is brought to you by Think and Demus Productions on behalf of the National Trust for Scotland; presented by Jackie Bird.

For show notes and more information, go to nts.org.uk and don’t forget to like, subscribe, review and share.

Episode 2 – Robert the Bruce: battles of a King

In the second part of a two-episode biography of Robert the Bruce’s life, Jackie returns to the studio with Professor Dauvit Broun of the University of Glasgow.

Last week, we looked at the early life of Robert and how his canny abilities, not to mention his tendency to switch allegiance at opportune moments, helped him to secure power. But what came next?

Picking up their conversation in 1306, when Scotland has been conquered by Edward I of England and Robert faces a jostle for power with the most powerful family in Scotland, Jackie and Dauvit will look at all that happened in Robert’s reign.

Find out more about Bannockburn

Season 8 Episode 2

Transcript

Four voices: male voiceover [MV]; Jackie Bird [JB]; Dauvit Broun [DB]; Callum Watson [CW]

[MV]
Love Scotland
, brought to you from the National Trust for Scotland; presented by Jackie Bird.

[JB]
Hello and welcome to the second part of our deep dive into the life and kingship of Robert the Bruce in this, the 750th year of his birth. In part one we looked at the privileged early life of the young nobleman Bruce and how a mixture of determination and opportunism saw him position himself as one of the front runners for the Scottish throne. However, by 1306, when Robert was around 32, Scotland had been conquered by Edward I of England.

At home, Robert found himself jostling for position with a young member of the most powerful family in Scotland, John Comyn. As we take up the story, my guide again through these medieval manoeuvres is Professor Dauvit Broun, Chair of Scottish History at the University of Glasgow. So, Dauvit, what happens next?

[DB]
Edward I, he’s well beyond the age when kings are normally meant to be alive. He’s in his late 60s, clearly the old man. And therefore, you can just see these young things, John Comyn and Robert Bruce, looking for them to be … you know, they say ‘we should be kings of Scots’ – just trying to time it so that they can get there just when Edward I is in his last years, hopefully going to die soon.

[JB]
So, the two arranged to meet. What happened?

[DB]
They meet, and indeed meet in Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries, and they’re actually standing in the altar. That’s the most sacred space of a church. And whatever they were talking about, Bruce got very agitated and knifed John Comyn. Whether that was a mortal blow or not was a bit academic because Bruce’s party made sure that it became mortal. Now we can just set aside, I think, whether this was deliberate or not, it’s very difficult to be sure – the outcome is clear. Bruce has committed not just a sensational act of political violence by killing John Comyn, given John Comyn’s very high profile, but he;s done it in the most sacred space, which is the way people saw things at the time – an absolute abomination. So, he couldn’t have done this in a more outrageous way.

[JB]
But then he goes and gets himself crowned king.

[DB]
Exactly. This is why people think the whole thing might be pre-planned, because he wastes no time in raising his forces, gets hold of a great supporter of his – Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, who has kept the Scottish regalia for the royal banner. He dusts them down, gives them to Robert Bruce. A few weeks later he’s in Scone and being inaugurated as king.

There isn’t a great turn out from the Earls, most of whom are still in Edward I’s allegiance, but he manages to persuade the Macduff family, who are the people who are meant to put the king on the Stone of Scone. Of course, the Stone of Scone isn’t there anymore, so that’s a bit of a problem. He manages to get Isabel, Countess of Buchan, who’s a member of the Macduff family to perform that role. The Bishop of St Andrews – and this is what makes you think it’s all a little bit pre-planned – manages to slip his guards in Berwick and he gets to Scone, but two days late, so they repeat part of the ceremony just to make sure.

[JB]
So he’s crowned king, but he’s also excommunicated by the Pope. What’s the significance of that?

[DB]
Excommunication means that you’re severed from, to use the technical language of the time, the body of Christ, the Church. And what’s meant to happen then is that you’re just sent to Coventry. You’re no longer regarded as part of society. It was, however, a weapon that had been used many, many times as part of politics. So of course, if you were on the side of the excommunicated, you were unlikely to just accept the verdict. The fact that he had the backing of the two senior bishops in Scotland – the Bishop of St Andrews and the Bishop of Glasgow – shows that although had Bruce travelled abroad he might have had trouble being accepted; within Scotland, he was not shunned as he should have been.

[JB]
He wasn’t a popular man at that point. The Comyn family were after him, as were the English. Is this when he goes on the run?

[DB]
Yes, so he has a go almost as soon as he’s crowned. Of course, he’s gathering an army together. Edward I raises a force, doesn’t lead it himself, but it goes north and they have a battle in Methven, just north of Perth, and that goes dreadfully for Bruce. And that’s when he goes on the run. June 1306 … he’s crowned in, well inaugurated 25 and 27 March 1306. Then you’ve got the Battle of Methven in June and that’s when he’s on the run.

[JB]
And two of his four brothers were caught by the English, and they were hung, drawn, quartered.

[DB]
Yes, it’s a desperate, desperate business for his family.

[JB]
What happens to his wife and his daughter?

[DB]
They eventually are captured and they are kept in a strange form of captivity, which is to be put in a cage in a tower so that they can be, you know, exhibited to passers-by. Nobody Scottish was meant to communicate with them, ever at all. There’s just an old lady that looks after them and that’s how it is for a few years for them, which is pretty dreadful.

[JB]
So, Robert Bruce is on the run, and now we have the folklore. Now we have the spider. Tell us about the emergence of this story.

[DB]
I wish I knew. I should be able to tell you when do people first refer to the spider? But whenever it was, it does capture the absolute desperation of his position.

[JB]
We should probably point out, for those who haven’t heard of it?

[DB]
Oh, yes.

[JB]
He’s supposed to be in a cave hiding, and he sees a spider making a web … and it tries and tries and tries again. So, it’s a story of resilience.

[DB]
Exactly. Exactly. And it’s a wonderful story. If only it were true. Well, it probably is. Heaven knows. How do we know? But, like all good stories, it captures a truth, which is that Bruce was as out of things as you could possibly be. You couldn’t go further down. And just to set the scene a little bit, this isn’t just about running away from Edward II as we’re about to deal with the English. It is also about running away from the most powerful families in the country, most of whom think he is beyond any possibility of being brought back into normal society, never mind being king, because of what he’s done.

What is really ironic is, of course, that these families, the Comyns and their allies who are stretched across the country, are the people who are the backbone of the struggle for independence before. But it is just impossible for them to accept the idea of Bruce as king, especially for the way he’s done it. So, they are after him absolutely as well. Bruce is running away from many, many, many enemies and the war of independence has now become a civil war. And that’s a really. very fundamental change in the nature of the business.

So there he is. Bruce has got nothing. How does he recover from this position? And it is a remarkable story. When he does manage to come back, he arrives in Ayrshire. Remember, he’s Earl of Carrick, so that’s where he goes. He sends some of his brothers down to Galloway to try and raid but they get captured immediately. They’re taken away and executed horribly. So, Bruce is left with only one brother left, Edward, and then, well, we can, I mean the astonishing military turnaround.

[JB]
But the other Edward that you mentioned, Edward I, he died in 1307. He was a skilled politician, fighter, tactician. Edward II, his son, not so much. How much of a game changer was that?

[DB]
Fundamental, fundamental game changer. Because, as you say, Edward I was one of the most ruthlessly effective English monarchs there were, and there’d been quite a few. Edward II? Well, we can encapsulate what was different about him by what happened immediately after Edward I’s death. Edward I dies leading an army against Robert Bruce.

[JB]
Bruce was the death of him, almost?

[DB]
Almost, yes! This is when Bruce is beginning to recover and he’s actually won a couple of wee battles.

[JB]
Because there’s a campaign of insurgency going on, isn’t there?

[DB]
Yes, exactly. Edward’s got to do something. It’s poetic because he leads his army as far as the south shore of the Solway Firth – it’s Burgh by Sands. He can actually see Scotland and that’s where he dies. Despite his immense energy, and he was a big tall man, very striking.

[JB]
Longshanks.

[DB]
Longshanks indeed. And he was extraordinary. Ruthless determination, consummate politician. He goes; Edward II, he isn’t with him – he’s in London. He speeds up from London to take over because they’re meant to be invading Scotland. And what Edward II does, he gets as far as Cumnock. And then he celebrates making his bosom buddy Piers Gaveston. He treats like a brother – some would say a lover – makes him Earl of Cornwall, which is a royal title. Edward I has refused to do this, but now Edward II is king, he can do this for his pal. So, he gets as far as Cumnock, throws a great big feast for his bosom buddy Piers Gaveston and then goes home. That’s it. And Edward II doesn’t reappear until the autumn of 1310.

[JB]
So, this campaign of insurgency continues. And just to reaffirm that nature of a civil war in Scotland, Edward II had control during that time of castles including Roxburgh, Jedburgh … Perth was still a stronghold for Edward supporters. Many patriotic Scots did not approve of the Bruce regime.

[DB]
Exactly. There’s really a fundamental dimension to all this, which is that in hindsight, of course, it’s very easy to say, oh, these people supporting Edward II are traitors, et cetera, but far from it. They have up to then committed themselves to Scottish independence. And it’s just because it’s Bruce and the way that Bruce became king. And you can really understand that, for them, this is just awful to imagine this person as their king for the future. The problem is there isn’t an alternative …

[JB]
… because John Comyn’s 6 feet under.

[DB]
Exactly.

[JB]
So is it too much of a leap now to go to the months leading up to Bannockburn 1314? Are we missing out huge pivotal chunks?

[DB]
Well, there’s one thing that’s very good to put it all together because that is the march towards taking control of the whole of Scotland, which Bruce does, you see, by military tactics that are brilliantly effective, moving quick and decisively. But above all, he has this new tactic of destroying every castle he takes. And that is a new idea. That’s not what you’re meant to do. He’s figured out … this is part of the way he is so radical and original and absolutely determined. He’s got his eyes set on the ultimate goal and therefore will think through practically – what do I need? And he’s figured out that Edward II needs garrisons. That’s the main way he’s going to maintain his power. Robert Bruce has basically thrown the dice in the hope that the middling sorts, if you want to say the common people, of Scotland will back him because he’s the only hope for independence.

And in a way it’s a lose-lose for Edward II and his supporters because he can’t supply the garrisons regularly enough, so they have to plunder the local countryside, so people hate them. Robert Bruce comes along, takes the castle and destroys it. Yippee.

So, it’s a brilliantly effective military thing but also a political gesture – and that’s the way we find ourselves on the threshold of the Battle of Bannockburn, because up to that point Robert Bruce has avoided any pitched battles. That’s just throwing the dice too desperately; the spinning wheel of fate. You just don’t quite know what’s going to happen. You can lose everything. Stirling Castle is the prize. Edward II is coming up with his army in order to relieve the garrison, which is about to fall.

We know the outcome. I haven’t been to the Bannockburn Centre and played the game where they play the game of the battle, but I’m told that Edward II usually wins, if you do play the game. Somebody can keep me right here, but it’s fascinating. If that’s true, that just reinforces the point that if you had generalship and soldiers of equal value, really it should have been Edward II’s victory. But it wasn’t.

[JB]
Well, let’s leave the story there, just before we get to the Battle of Bannockburn. And when we come back, we’ll talk a little about the battle, but more about its consequences.

[MV]
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[JB]
Welcome back to Love Scotland. So, Dauvit Broun, we’re at 1314, the Battle of Bannockburn. Now, we’re not going into the battle in great detail, as there is another Love Scotland podcast from an earlier series, which does just that. But for our purposes, Bruce’s army, vastly outnumbered, wins the day. Now, you’re not a military historian, but can you tell me, did Edward lose the battle or did Robert win it?

[DB]
Again, it’s down to a large part to Robert Bruce’s inventiveness, his ability to think outside the box in a ruthlessly practical way. One part of that was this formation called the schiltron. You’re remembering that most of the Scottish army is infantry, so they have these huge pikes and they all come together so it’s like a big hedgehog. This was something that William Wallace had developed, but they were static. Robert Bruce developed it so that these could move around; that made it much more difficult. This takes a lot of training, I would imagine.

He also understood, of course, that the real problem was archers – the English archers. Well, they tended to be Welsh, but the archers in the English army. He did have a small cavalry force whose job it was to take out the archers, which they did. It’s a combination of really imaginative generalship, training and so on by the Scottish army, more than it was Edward making any terrible mistakes.

[JB]
And I understand there was a huge significance in the number of knights, Edward’s knights who were killed, influential men from influential families.

[DB]
Indeed, and taken prisoner more to the point, which means that Robert I is in a position because what you do with them is you use them as bargaining counters. Literally, you can … the idea is normally that they would be ransomed. That was the expected thing. This is how Robert then bargains to get his wife and his daughter released, and the Bishop of Glasgow released as well. So, it’s a huge turning point as far as that goes.

What it isn’t is a turning point for the cause of Scottish independence being recognised internationally or by Edward II. Politically, what it really represents is Robert’s victory in the civil war.

[JB]
Today, Bannockburn is of course regarded as a landmark victory … but it wasn’t then. How and why and when did it achieve the iconic status that it has today?

[DB]
In one sense, just to take a dispassionate view, because it was the only big set piece battle that Robert Bruce fought and he won, it’s always going to be very significant. However, when you look at the way things were written up at the time, particularly people writing in Scotland in Latin a couple of generations later, they actually make more fuss of a battle called the Battle of Roslin in 1302, which I don’t suppose … well, if anybody’s heard of it, give yourself a wee treat because that’s very impressive.

The Battle of Roslin, whose big winner was John Comyn, but we don’t hear about that of course. They tend to make not so much fuss about Bannockburn, until later. It’s when you get John Barbour’s Brus.

[JB]
This is an epic poem.

[DB]
An amazing epic poem written in Scots.

[JB]
And when was it written?

[DB]
1375–76. And it was for Robert Bruce’s grandson, Robert Stewart, Robert II, and his court.

[JB]
So, it wasn’t going to be critical?

[DB]
Well, it was critical actually. It’s an amazing piece of work because it’s got all sorts of interesting nuances. It’s not just bold propaganda, and it is critical of Bruce – the way he savaged the lands of the Comyns in Buchan, the Herschip of Buchan. When he portrays Bruce in his deathbed, Bruce is very conscious of this dreadful black mark in his career. He also has one of Bruce’s nephews, who becomes one of his great captains later on, initially telling Bruce off for not going into battle more instead of doing all the guerrilla war thing, which was so radical at the time and unbecoming of somebody who should be a paragon of chivalry. So, there are critical voices within the poem.

[JB]
But overall, it didn’t harm the legendary status?

[DB]
Oh, indeed not. It was absolutely such a dramatic and powerful and compelling celebration of Bruce the leader and the man; it brings him to life. And as far as the Battle of Bannockburn goes, the account of the battle is so vivid. I haven’t spoken to anybody who makes films, but I’m sure it feels like a film director’s close character of detail. It’s just amazing – you can just about hear it and smell it, what’s going on. It is very vivid, very extended, very vivid.

[JB]
Bruce wins the Battle of Bannockburn. The war trundles on for a good few years. We get to 1320, and I’m horrified I’m about to say the Declaration of Arbroath! Briefly, can you tell us about the significance of that document? Heresy for some!

[DB]
I know, I know, the Declaration of Arbroath. So, in a nutshell, the main part of this is that Bruce keeps winning and has actually in 1318 retaken Berwick. Just about the whole of what had been Scotland has been liberated from Edward II, but Edward II has the support of the papacy. The papacy has been putting acute pressure, everything they can throw at Bruce and his government.

And again, Bruce comes up with a novel idea. It’s not a completely new idea, but a novel approach to this idea of presenting yourself as the king who doesn’t really want to do all this, but his barons insist that he does this. A trick that had been played by the King of France a few years earlier. You’ve got this written and it’s written by Robert Bruce’s government, but it’s in the name of the 30+ barons who are named. And then you get many more as well as those who have their seals dangling at the bottom.

This is presenting the prose that many of us know so well and is so vivid. But at the time it’s just doing a very specific job of ‘please get the Pope to think again’, which they do. The pressure is relieved – it doesn’t solve the problem but because it gets incorporated into a way of telling the history of Scotland, which was written around 1330, it gets incorporated there and then is there for posterity. And of course, just because the prose is so amazing, it acquires some of the fame which has grown hugely in more modern centuries.

[JB]
But Bruce doesn’t get what he wants still. The war, the insurgency, the raids continue. There is a sort of truce of sorts, isn’t there? In 1323 when they decide, look, let’s call a halt to this for a while.

[DB]
Actually they arranged for a 13-year truce, which is huge. You wonder what Robert Bruce had in mind, but that all comes to an end when … I mean, it’s a stalemate basically, because Edward II is just never going to accept Bruce as the king of an independent realm, but he can’t do anything about it militarily because Bruce is in charge. He’s got it. But Edward II, eventually his problems in governing England take him over and he is deposed in January 1327. And Bruce says, well, that’s it. The truce is off. And he begins to put acute pressure in the north of England, eventually doing something which isn’t just raiding but actually starting to set the things in motion for annexing parts of the north of England.

It’s at that point that the government, which is precarious, the English government at the time, in the name of the adolescent Edward III, start peace negotiations.

[JB]
He’s a great tactician. He can smell the weakness. He knows that London is destabilised and he decides to make his move successfully. The Treaty of Edinburgh between Scotland and England, which I was interested to hear also included the marriage between his son, Robert’s son David, who was about 4 or 5 years old, with Edward III’s sister Joan, aged 7.

[DB]
Exactly.

[JB]
My goodness. But it meant that England recognised Scotland’s independence with Robert as king.

[DB]
Exactly. And just to complete the picture, Robert’s government then went to the papacy to have … The title King of Scots had been recognised since January 1324, but what they really wanted was the right of coronation and anointment, which Scotland, like other kingdoms, did not have in the 13th century. That is this real seal of approval. If you’ve got coronation anointment from the Pope, then you are it: you are fully and completely sovereign. And the Pope agrees to this. The papal bull, which is granting them coronation anointment, is dated a few days after Bruce has actually died.

[JB]
So, a year after the treaty, Bruce is just a few months before his 55th birthday. He is awaiting this confirmation, and he dies. What did he die of?

[DB]
Oh my goodness. Well, there’s all the business about whether he had …

[JB]
That’s why I’m asking: did he suffer from leprosy?

[DB]
And I’m afraid you’ll have to ask somebody else. I am aware that there are all sorts of diseases at the time.

[JB]
But that was a suggestion, wasn’t it?

[JB]
Yes, exactly. Oh, certainly, certainly. And now that a skull has been identified and you can see there’s degeneration – but there may be more than one reason for that sort of degeneration. What is clear is when people talk about leprosy in those days, that obviously wasn’t exactly the same thing as the leprosy that we tend to think of, which means that you’re completely ostracised from society because you’re completely unclean. Whatever it was, it wasn’t that because he and other people at the time – and my colleague Mark McGregor has researched this – where people who have the same ailment but they’re still part of society.

So, whatever the ailment was, it was very serious. Bruce had been seriously ill on a number of occasions in the years running up to that. At the time of the Treaty of Edinburgh being formally concluded in March 1328, he was actually in his bed. He was too ill. He was part of it but he was in his sick bed, so he had been seriously ill a number of times in the years coming up. It probably wasn’t a surprise to anybody when he finally died on 7 June 1329.

[JB]
Only five years after his death, Edward rescinded the Treaty of Edinburgh, and Scotland and England were at it, hammer and tongs again.

[DB]
Yes, indeed. It was three years later that things began to fall apart. And the key person there is somebody we haven’t mentioned for good reason, which is John Balliol had a son called Edward, who was very happy doing things that young men do in Picardy, but had been recalled. He’d been in England trying to gather support, and strangely enough Edward II didn’t really make much of this, but Edward III did. So, that reopened not just the wars of independence, but the civil war as well.

[JB]
We’ve come full circle. Bruce’s reputation as a great freedom fighter – when did that embed itself?

[DB]
I think Barbour’s Brus is a very powerful statement, dramatic and vivid statement of Bruce as the embodiment of the fight for Scottish independence against the aggression of Edward I and Edward II. It really goes back to that. Let’s not forget that Barbour’s Brus of course is manuscripts in those days, but it’s one of the most popular early printed books in Scotland. That and the Wallace, through to the 18th century.

[JB]
And what’s your interpretation – from everything that you know – the big picture of Bruce as a leader and his achievements?

[DB]
Well, his achievement undoubtedly is that Scotland was restored from two conquests and massive destruction and intense pressure – it was restored to be fully part of the family of European kingdoms. It’s very difficult to see how that could have happened with anybody else, not just because he won battles and was effective militarily, etcetera, but it’s just the challenge he faced was enormous because of the civil war dynamic as well. It’s his ability to be on top of the game, be endlessly adaptable and practical and effective and ruthless, all these things.

As I said, it was this amazing determination but willingness to think outside the box just to keep the main prize constantly in view. It is an astonishing achievement really.

[JB]
He’s deserving of his iconic status as far as his achievements are concerned?

[DB]
I think he is, honestly. I know attempts have been made to capture this in film, but there’s so much more that can be done, I have to say, to really bring through the astonishing story of Robert Bruce.

[JB]
Well, thank you so much for taking us through the complexities of his story and the complexities of medieval Scotland. Professor Dauvit Broun, thank you very much.

[DB]
Thank you.

[JB]
And that’s it from this double edition on the life and reign of Robert Bruce.

Bannockburn Battlefield is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. If you want to go along and learn more about the events there, head for the Trust website for opening times and for more details.

It’s preserved by the National Trust for Scotland for you, and if you’d like to help look after it, you can make a donation. Just head to nts.org.uk/donate to find out how. Until next time on Love Scotland, goodbye.

For more on the Battle of Bannockburn itself, search out our podcast from series one called Bruce’s Gamble, when the king finds himself fighting for his life in a moment of single combat.

[CW]
Henry sees the king and thinks ho ho, this is my chance, I’ve got him, spurs his horse forward, thunders towards Robert and Robert is now left in a position where he either has to try and run or get stuck in and try and save himself from Henry.

[MV]
Love Scotland is brought to you by Think and Demus Productions on behalf of the National Trust for Scotland, presented by Jackie Bird.

For show notes and more information, go to nts.org.uk and don’t forget to like, subscribe, review and share.

Episode 1 – Robert the Bruce: fact and fiction

Welcome to a new series of Love Scotland. In this week’s episode, Jackie is joined by Professor Dauvit Broun of the University of Glasgow to discuss the life of Robert the Bruce.

Robert, King of Scots from 1306–29, had a fascinating life of changing allegiances, shifting power and military victories. How much of our understanding of this Scottish ruler is based in fact? What motivated him to switch sides, on several occasions, in the wars of the 13th and 14th centuries? And why has his legacy had such a lasting effect on the nation’s history?

Next week, Jackie and Dauvit continue their conversation, charting the events that followed Bannockburn.

Find out more about Bannockburn

A navy and pink title card with an illustration of Robert the Bruce. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Robert the Bruce: Fact and Fiction.
A navy and pink title card with an illustration of Robert the Bruce. The National Trust for Scotland logo is at the bottom of the card. The text reads: The Love Scotland podcast. Robert the Bruce: Fact and Fiction.

Season 8 Episode 1

Transcript

Four speakers: male voiceover [MV]; Jackie Bird [JB]; female singer [FS]; Dauvit Broun [DB]

[MV]
Love Scotland, brought to you from the National Trust for Scotland.

[JB]
Hello. Our subject today is Robert the Bruce, Scotland’s great warrior king who lived and reigned during a turbulent period in Scotland’s history. He’s forever linked to the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where he and his vastly outnumbered army scored a victory against Edward II.

[FS]
Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!

Now’s the day, and now’s the hour;
See the front o’ battle lour;
See approach proud Edward’s power
Chains and slavery!

[JB]
Those stirring words by Robert Burns depict Bruce’s address to his troops at Bannockburn. The site is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland and this year, 2024, is a big year for Bruce as it marks 750 years since his birth.

Although the events at Bannockburn have been well documented, the story of Bruce’s rise to be King of Scots is hindered by a paucity of detailed historical evidence from that period, and by an excess of propaganda from the centuries that followed.
But his life is a fascinating one. He was as calculating and ruthless as he was brave. And as for his allegiances, well, let’s just say he was a man of shifting loyalties. And as for the famous story of his encounter with the spider, well, we’ll come to that.

So, to discuss the life and times of Robert Bruce, I’m joined by Professor Dauvit Broun, Chair of Scottish History at the University of Glasgow and an expert on medieval times. Welcome to the podcast, Dauvit.

[DB]
Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here.

[JB]
Medieval Scotland, Dauvit, is complex and I would say comparatively unknown territory for most of us. So, before we talk about Bruce the man, can I ask you about the Scotland he was born into in 1274?

[DB]
Thank you very much. A lovely place to start because, on the one hand, we can think about this as a period where Scotland is like so many other parts of Europe at this time, where there’s a growing population. It’s largely rural, of course. Most people live in the countryside.

[JB]
Population of about half a million?

[DB]
Yes, well, just when you’re saying about there being a lack of sources, all these things are a bit of a guesstimate. We’ll bag half a million then, shall we? There’s economic expansion because in the recent generations there's more trade. And so, although most people live in the countryside, there are towns – burghs in Scotland, obviously – towns generally in Europe and they’re growing; none of them very big yet, but they’re growing. More people therefore are interconnected, if you like. Even if you are tending your wee farm, you have the opportunity to sell a surplus because there’s more money circulating, and be part of the big trade network that for Scotland is linked partly to England, but also to the Low Countries, the Netherlands, where they have a great demand for wool. Scotland is one of the main wool producers, so even if you’re in the hills and you’ve got lots of sheep, then you’re part of this extended economy. So that’s part of the world that Robert Bruce grew up in.

[JB]
As far as its size goes, is it the Scotland we would know it now?

[DB]
Very similar to today. The main differences being that the Northern Isles are not part of the Kingdom – they’re not until the 1460s – and the Western Isles have only recently formally become part of the Kingdom. That’s the Treaty of Perth with the King of Norway in 1266.

[JB]
Tell me about the Bruce lineage. Going back a few generations, his family was Anglo Norman?

[DB]
That’s right, yes. And this is something that Bruce would have been very conscious of because obviously he’s not just aristocracy but leading nobility. A very important part of defining who they were was their lineage: male to male to male all the way back. That took them all the way back to a place in Normandy called Brix. I can’t say it right but Brix, which is where Bruce comes from. So they must have known that – that’s their name.
But that brings with it connections with a branch of the family based in Yorkshire, so they’ll be very familiar with that. But the Bruce family of course has been in Scotland for generations, arriving around 1120 in Annandale where they were set up with David I.

And from there, they’ve become more and more embedded. And for Robert Bruce himself, the most important part of this is he was born almost certainly in Turnberry, because his mother was the Countess of Carrick – his dad was Earl of Carrick by virtue of marrying his mother. He was part of this area, very much a leading part of this area, which was very naturally and substantially Gaelic at the time, with strong connections with Ireland.

[JB]
Robert Bruce led a privileged life. What languages did he speak?

[DB]
Well, of course we don’t have the opportunity to really get to grips with this, but he almost certainly would have known Gaelic. In fact, there’s no reason to doubt he would have known Gaelic, given that he was almost certainly brought up in Carrick.
Not only that, but he had in his career very strong contacts with the Western Isles and Ireland. So, he seemed to be at home in the Irish Sea area as much as in a more French-speaking, English-centric version of things. He probably – presumably, why not? – would have been able to speak some of what they called then Inglis, which eventually becomes called Scots.

[JB]
Let’s go to 1290. Robert would have been about 14 years old, and Scotland suffered a succession crisis. The last hope, a young girl dubbed the Maid of Norway, had died on her journey to Scotland, and those about to crown the new queen found themselves without a clear replacement. What were their options?

[DB]
All they could think to do was to stare at the family tree, if you like, and go back as far as they could, to anybody who had ancestry from the Royal Lion. They had to go way back to Alexander II’s uncle, Earl David, who died in 1219. And just to make matters worse, he just had daughters. ‘Matters worse’ for the way they thought of these things in those time.
So, it was a perfect storm for the legal eagles to take over because they could find all sorts of reasons – because there were no precedents for this at all – why it could be Robert Bruce, who was descended from one of the daughters.

[JB]
This is Robert Bruce, Robert the Noble – Robert Bruce’s grandfather?

[DB]
Absolutely.

[JB]
After the Maid of Norway died, there was a vacuum in terms of the throne of Scotland. How was that ended?

[DB]
Total panic to start with. The news got through in October 1290 and it took until March the following year for Edward I to give his reply to the Scottish guardians, the government of the time, who had asked him to come to help out as an arbitrator. By the way, in that time his wife had died so I do wonder at the back of my mind if, you know, some important, sensible advice was lost and he made the appallingly fateful decision to say: actually, I’m not going to come as an arbitrator but as a judge.

And it’s part of those really extraordinary twists and turns as the Scottish governors are trying to not acknowledge this; to say no, no, no, no. Of course you’re not the … I mean, it was a pretty outrageous suggestion from their point of view that Edward should be their overlord. And Edward was equally insistent. The twists and turns include Edward trying to drum up as many potential claimants. We end up with 13 at the end of the day, although everybody knows it’s just Bruce or Balliol. Bruce, the future king’s grandfather or John Balliol.

[JB]
And it was, of course, John Balliol. It was a win–win for Edward. He had his man on the throne and he’d strengthened his position over Scotland.

[DB]
And he really pushed that forward, to make it absolutely clear what this meant. Because for the first time ever, you had appeals from the Scottish Parliament being heard in the English Parliament with Edward I. That was unprecedented, but totally logical if Edward I is now the sovereign.

[JB]
John Balliol proves to be a bit weak as a king and ineffective. The Bruce family are clearly not entirely happy with this choice. Let’s talk about young Robert. What sort of upbringing would he have had as this privileged son of a leading family?

[DB]
Exactly. He would have obviously trained in all the soldiering and feats of arms and so on. He would have grown up expecting to lead not just as Lord of Annandale, which is the ancestral lordship, but also as Earl of Carrick. He would have grown up expecting to be one of the most important nobles.

[JB]
And he would’ve spent some time in Edward’s court and with other leading families … almost like a finishing school, if you like.

[DB]
Yes, yes. I mean, I’d hesitate to describe it as a finishing school, but another way to see it is to just imagine the aristocratic circles because everybody’s related to everybody else, one way or another. Just to broaden it slightly, if you look at the leading families in Scotland at the time, they’ve either all got lands in England or they’ve got family in England. We have had a period of 80-odd years of peace – not entirely trouble-free, but peace.

[JB]
Let’s leap to 1296, the last years of John Balliol’s ineffective monarchy. Edward I decided to invade and decided also to annex Scotland into England. Now, at that point, Robert Bruce was 22 years old. He joined Edward’s side. Why?

[DB]
Well, now there’s a very big question. Just to take a step back, we have to remember that Robert Bruce, the future king, is not head of the family yet; his dad is there as Lord of Annandale. Our Robert Bruce, the future king, is Earl of Carrick, and Dad Robert Bruce lives on until April 1304. So, everything that Robert Bruce is doing, you’ve got to bear in mind it’s in that context. And so that’s one part of it.

But the other part, as you’ve pointed out, is that the Bruces were not comfortable or happy with the Balliol kingship, the Balliol government. They never acknowledged that Balliol should be king. They took steps to avoid acknowledging that he should be king. Putting all this together, it’s less surprising – it seems shocking, but it’s less surprising that Robert Bruce, the future king, should be in Edward I’s army, even when they’re committing their atrocity of sacking Berwick, which is the first big event in the war.

[JB]
Well, let’s take a break just there. The Sack of Berwick was a significant moment for Edward and for young Bruce. We’ll be back in a moment.

[MV]
Are you a whisky lover or a nature lover? A fan of Burns or a good ghost story? No matter what you love about Scotland, there’s an episode of Love Scotland just for you. Take a look through our archives to hear the in-depth stories behind Scotland’s history, people and places.
Don’t forget to review, like and share.

[JB]
Welcome back. Just before the break, we reached 1296 and something called the Sack of Berwick. Professor Dauvit Broun, tell me about that.

[DB]
When Edward I decided to invade Scotland, which he did because John Balliol, as king and the nobility, refused to join Edward I’s army fighting the King of France – and had actually, unbeknown to Edward at this point, formed an alliance with the King of France. Edward I, perfectly within his rights as these were understood at the time, led an army to punish his rebellious nobles and was met with resistance, as you might expect. Berwick is not just part of the Kingdom of Scotland at this time, but it is the most wealthy burgh in Scotland. It is the centre of the wool trade with the Netherlands and indeed you have many Flemings who are merchants there.

Now the story goes that the people of Berwick had rather too much confidence in their defences. When they saw Edward’s army arrayed before them, they showed parts of their anatomy to the King of England, which wasn’t very tactful, shall we say. That might be, goodness knows, part of it. But whatever it was, Edward I was enraged by their defiance. And this was not unheard of; it wasn’t a totally disgraceful and an appalling thing to do in the laws of war at the time. If a place isn’t going to surrender, then give it a chance; if it doesn’t do it, sack it. This went on for three days and was a complete, I’m afraid, a total devastating massacre.

[JB]
And young Robert Bruce, who was on Edward’s side remember, does not come out of this well. In fact, a poet at the time wrote ‘the treachery of a certain man who will be decried forever, whose banner deceived the citizens of Berwick, let the name of this Earl be concealed, less damage be renewed.’ Was this a reference to Bruce?

[DB]
Yes. If you join the dots, there aren’t too many other candidates, shall we say, whose banner it is apart from Robert Bruce, the future king at this stage, Earl of Carrick. Those words were probably written between 1304 and 1306 at a point where, if you were hoping for renewing Scottish independence, your best chance was Robert Bruce. So, it’s possible to see why people might be careful about naming him in that context …

[JB]
Yes, if they wanted to see the next day or the day after tomorrow. This was also around the time that Edward took ownership of the Stone of Destiny.

[DB]
Yes, well, exactly. So, the sack of Berwick. And then there was a battle in Dunbar a few weeks later, where the Scottish army were swept away. Let’s remember again, there had been 80 years of peace, so they weren’t used to doing much serious business, whereas the King of England’s army was. The conquest was therefore pretty straightforward and very impressive: stately march, you might say, through Scotland all the way up to Elgin, Edward I got. And on his way back, he passed through Scone and collected the Stone of Destiny.

In Edward I’s eyes, what he had done was he had treated Scotland like it was a fief. That is to say, land that was given to his vassal, the King of Scots John Balliol, who had defied him, and therefore had been deprived of his land. Unprecedented at the time that this should actually be another kingdom, which did create difficulties for Edward I. But in his mind, that’s what had happened, and therefore it had ceased to be a kingdom. It just made sense to make sure the point was not lost by removing the Stone of Destiny on which Scottish kings were inaugurated, and also the bit of the True Cross, the Holy Rood, which was the most sacred royal relic.

[JB]
And at this time, as I said, Robert the Bruce, our Robert, was backing Edward. He did so for a few months, but then he flipped. Why?

[DB]
Now this is where I think we begin to see Robert Bruce become less conventional and a bit more adventurous and imaginative.

[JB]
Do we know anything of his character?

[DB]
His character? Oh goodness. I mean, we can keep tracking this if you like as we go through the years. Really, all we’ve got is his deeds. And as you said at the beginning, there’s a lot of propaganda about that, but peeling that away, what he actually did at the time and there’s also, of course, some things were written in his name. When you put all that together, you do see somebody that was prepared gradually, as events unfolded, to be more adventurous, break convention, and be the ruthlessly pragmatic person in order to achieve his goals.

[JB]
So politically ambivalent. Hugely ambitious.

[DB]
Hugely ambitious but – and this is an important point to always bear in mind in this period – of course for us we’re used to the idea of our political leaders keeping their personal lives and interests separate from the interests of the country. That was inconceivable in those days because after all, if you were the king or you thought you should be the king, then the fate of the kingdom and your fate and your family were intertwined, completely inseparable. That also went for if you were a noble family. The interests of your family against other nobles and the lands and all the people that depended on you – these were inextricably linked to your personal interests.

So what is unusual about Robert Bruce in 1297, as you say, when he’s no longer in Edward I’s peace and starts to rebel, is that he is striking an independent note from his father, who remember is the head of the family and is in England and is having a relatively quiet time. An independent note in order to maintain the profile of his family in the kingdom. It’s almost like he’s thinking through – Balliol is gone but Bruce sees himself as the rightful king. How is he going to maintain this profile of being the rightful king? He’s not going to do it like his dad is doing by sitting in his estates, doing fishing and shooting and all the things that aristocrats do. He’s going to be active in the politics of the country – and that’s what you find him doing in 1297.

[JB]
Which is fine, and which I can follow until I get to 1302 and discover that Robert Bruce changes sides again and goes back to join the English. The question again to you, Dauvit, is why?

[DB]
Exactly. After William Wallace, obviously as guardian, loses the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, at that point intriguingly the leadership then devolves to Robert Bruce and John Comyn, who he slays later on.

[JB]
Ah, spoiler alert! OK, let’s just talk about 1302 first of all. He goes back to the English. Can you tell us because we are going to be here for a long time?

[DB]
Oh, sorry! Yes, yes. Well, he’s been prominent in the government; however, John Balliol, he’s not out of the picture completely and in 1301 he takes a sufficiently personal interest in what’s going on to appoint his own person to govern what has been freed from Edward I’s clutches as sole guardian.

And this is all with a view to John Balliol actually coming back. In early 1302, which is when Robert Bruce defects, that is the point where this is top of the agenda. And why Bruce defects isn’t just negative reasons because he really doesn’t want to be part of this supporting Balliol. But it’s also a positive strategic move because this enables him to marry the daughter of the Earl of Ulster, who is in the loyalty of Edward I.

[JB]
So, he hops from side to side, depending on which side he thinks at that particular time gives him the best chance of eventually reaching the top in Scotland and claiming the throne.

[DB]
Exactly.

[JB]
You mentioned William Wallace there. Can we talk briefly about the interaction or not between Robert Bruce and William Wallace? Famously, for those of us of a certain age, the movie Braveheart had the meeting. This did not happen.

[DB]
No reason to imagine that … well, it definitely didn’t happen the way it’s portrayed – and whether they ever met is another matter. The whole idea of the meeting is a medieval fiction; it’s not a modern fiction. You get it in Blind Harry’s Wallace, written in the 1470s. Actually, it’s probably earlier than that, this idea that during the Battle of Falkirk, Wallace protests to prove he should be king and so on. So it’s not completely made up by Braveheart by any means. However, it belongs to literature rather than bald history, if you like.

[JB]
But there is a suggestion that Bruce may have taken part in the hunting down of William Wallace. Is there any factual basis for that? Because at that point he was on the side of the English and it’s difficult to keep track of which side that Bruce is on.

[DB]
Yes, yes, yes. I’ll just demur a bit about how difficult it is to keep track because there is this consistency of purpose. So as long as you know the context, then actually his decisions are quite rational.

But the fascinating thing about the terrible fate of Wallace is the government. There’s still been a government in the name of John Balliol until 9 February 1304. And everybody then submits to Edward I and it takes from then, February 1304, to the beginning of August 1305 for Wallace to finally be turned in. That is despite Edward I doing everything he possibly could to bully people into … I mean, he basically says to many of the leading people, I’ll have you back into your lands and take you back into my allegiance if you show me that you’re really doing your best to get hold of Wallace. I can’t recall Bruce being given that sort of instruction, but he would have the same pressure as anybody else. Nevertheless, Wallace is not handed in for well over a year. I mean, let me do the maths. We’re talking about a year and a half, aren’t we? So that is really quite impressive. I mean, we don’t know where he was, so goodness knows.

When he’s eventually turned in, of course it is an inevitable act of betrayal. But not by Bruce.

[JB]
Well, we’re reaching the end of the episode and Bruce isn’t even king yet. We’ll deal with that in next week’s podcast. But before we go, a final word on Bruce at this stage of his life, Dauvit. It’s 1305, the year before he becomes king. He’s 31 years old. If we were to go out for a walk and saw him across the street and I ask you, who was that? How would you describe him at this point?

[DB]
Well, yes, I’d say steely determination but also a real leader of people. And for all the, as I say, changing sides according to the immediate situation, but there is a clear-sightedness about his ultimate goal. So hugely ambitious; it’s like he’s got a very consistently clear idea: I should be king and king of an independent kingdom as well. He’s not going to be king of something which is just a bit of a rump and as vassal of the king of England.

[JB]
Professor Dauvit Broun, thank you very much.

[DB]
Thank you.

[JB]
And that’s where we will have to leave this edition of Love Scotland on the fascinating story of Robert the Bruce. We have yet even to approach a certain battle called Bannockburn, which of course is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

Your role in the future of Scotland’s heritage is absolutely vital and if you would like to donate then please go to nts.org.uk/donate

I hope you’ll join us next time for Robert Bruce the sequel. Until then, goodbye.

[JB]
Coming up in Part 2.

[DB]
Robert Bruce has basically thrown the dice in the hope that the middling sorts, if you want to say the common people, of Scotland will back him because he’s the only hope for independence.

[MV]
Love Scotland is brought to you by Think and Demus Productions on behalf of the National Trust for Scotland. Presented by Jackie Bird.

For show notes and more information, go to nts.org.uk and don’t forget to like, subscribe, review and share.

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