THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

03 June 2013

Robert the Bruce letter found at British Library

A previously unknown letter of Robert the Bruce, addressed to the king of England, has been found in a British Library manuscript. The letter was written in 1310, and reveals how, when faced with an English army marching into Scotland, Robert made an eloquent appeal to King Edward II, asking for peace on the understanding that Scottish independence be recognised.

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The letter of Robert the Bruce to Edward II, added at the foot of the page (London, British Library, MS Cotton Titus A XIX, f. 87r).

Robert's letter, written in Latin, is entered into the pages of a manuscript made towards the end of the 15th century by the monks of Kirkstall Abbey (Yorkshire). Its significance was recognised by Professor Dauvit Broun of the University of Glasgow, the principal investigator of the Breaking of Britain project (Cross-border society and Scottish independence, 1216-1314). The letter is actually included in a dossier of the correspondence of King Edward III of England (1327-1377) with the king of France, the archbishop of Canterbury, Popes Benedict XII and Clement VI, and the emperor of Bavaria. Previously identified as a letter sent by Robert II, king of Scots, to Edward III, the letter in question has now been convincingly attributed to Robert the Bruce by Professor Broun.

At the time of writing (1310), King Edward II of England (1307-1327) was leading an army into Scotland. Robert the Bruce (1306-1329) was trying to stave off this invasion by seeking to open negotiations with Edward, aimed in turn at asserting Scottish independence. Describing the letter, Dauvit Broun reports that "Bruce’s tone is extremely conciliatory; he seems to be offering to do anything possible to establish peace. However, he is nonetheless plainly addressing Edward as one king to another. There is no doubt that the bottom line here is that Edward should recognise Robert as king of the Scots." Soon after the letter was sent, Edward II's army returned south of the border. When Edward subsequently re-invaded Scotland, he suffered a humiliating defeat at the battle of Bannockburn (24 June 1314).

G70102-32
Detail of the letter of Robert the Bruce to Edward II (London, British Library, MS Cotton Titus A XIX, f. 87r).

Translation of the letter of Robert the Bruce (courtesy of Dauvit Broun, University of Glasgow)

To the most serene prince the lord Edward by God’s grace illustrious king of England, Robert by the same grace king of Scots, greeting in Him through whom the thrones of those who rule are governed. When, under the sweetness of peace, the minds of the faithful find rest, then the life of Christians is adorned with good conduct, and also the whole of Holy Mother Church, because the affairs of all kingdoms are everywhere arranged more favourably. Our humility has led us, now and at other times, to beseech your highness more earnestly so that, having God and public decency in sight, you would take pains to cease from the persecution of us and the disturbance of the people of our kingdom in order that devastation and the spilling of Christian blood may henceforth stop. Naturally, everything which we and our people will be able to do by bodily service, or to bear by giving freely of our goods, for the redemption of good peace and for the grace of your good will for all time, which must be earned, we are prepared and shall be prepared to accomplish in a suitable and honest way, with a pure heart. And if it accords with your will to have a discussion with us on these matters, may your royal sublimity send word in writing to us, by the bearer of this letter. Written at Kildrum in Lennox, the Kalends of October in the fifth year of our reign [1 October 1310].

We are grateful to Dauvit Broun for sharing his research with us, and to Chris Lee and Tony Grant of the British Library for providing the photograph. You can read more about the new find here. Don't forget that we're always happy to publish any new discoveries relating to the British Library's medieval manuscripts -- contact us via Twitter @blmedieval, or using the comments field at the end of this post.

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