The birthplace of King Robert the Bruce has long been the subject of speculation. English sources have claimed he was born in England, a line occasionally backed up by Victorian Scottish writers, almost apologising for the fact Bruce did what he did. I can only assume the source of the English claims were intended, in some way, to lessen the embarrassment of the greatest army in Christendom being totally outthought and outfought on a field near Stirling in 1314. “Oh well, Bruce was an Englishman after all.” If so, piffle. Bruce was born at Turnberry Castle, as far as I am concerned, without a doubt.
Quite simply there is no record of where King Robert was born. Consequently, that opened the door to all sorts of claims some of which, disturbingly, have been put forward as fact in school classrooms of all places.
In the absence of anything in the records, historians are reluctant to dwell too much on the subject. Not being a historian I have the luxury of doing just that.
So how should we approach the issue. Well, the best way, as far as I can see, is by looking at it from two angles, human nature and practicality. Let’s apply that to the one place that appears to have found a lot of favour south of the Border, Writtle in Essesx.
The reasoning seems to be that Bruce’s father was at the Coronation of King Edward the First in the summer of 1274. Bruce was also born that summer so the deduction seems to be that the birth must have occurred in England for Robert, who was Earl of Carrick, to be at Westminster. Writtle was owned by the Bruce’s so the story has developed that must be where Robert was born. Of course, it also ignores the fact the Bruces had at least a manor house in Tottenham.
Lets start with practicality. Edward’s Coronation took place on August 19. King Robert was born on July 11. Assuming both dates are exact, the young Bruce would have been 39 days old when the Coronation took place. That’s almost six weeks, plenty of time for dad Robert to have enjoyed the arrival and early days of his son and make the journey on horseback from Turnberry Castle to London for the Coronation.
It’s a long journey from Ayrshire to the English capital, a trip that would need plenty of planning if a heavily pregnant lady was travelling. It’s pretty fair to assume, Marjorie, Robert’s mum, even if she had wanted to head south, would not have been prepared to make the journey when she was seven months or more. It’s fair to assume such a trip would have been made via the Bruce lands ie from Carrick to Annandale, south to Yorkshire and then on to Essex. That’s a formidable trip on a cart, given it’s unlikely Marjorie could have gone on horseback. Bumpy potholed tracks, crossing the mountainous spine of England, a foreign country, with regular rest stops along the way, it’s likely the trip would have taken about a month.
So at the very latest that would have meant leaving Turnberry in March, still winter, and, given the seasons were much more pronounced in the thirteenth century, it would have made matters a whole lot worse, the party quite possibly having to travel on snow covered frozen ground especially high up the Pennines.
It just does not make any sense.
On the human nature side, we have to remember that Marjorie, by all accounts, was a determined woman used to having her way. Is it really likely that such a lady would want to have her firstborn son anywhere other than her family home? I doubt it.
She would want to be surrounded by the familiarity of Turnberry, family and the servants she knew well, safe in the midst of lands owned by her family for many years.
I doubt she would have wanted to give birth far away in a foreign land surrounded by people she did not know, perhaps even speaking a dialect she did not understand.
There may not be a historical record of where Robert was born but common sense insists it would only be Turnberry. I think it’s high time everyone acknowledged that. Everything does not have to be written down to be obvious. So let’s stop entertaining this nonsense that Bruce was born anywhere else, especially Writtle.