Text Box: Robert the Bruce, King of Scots


Robert the Bruce,

King of Scots

Home                                                                                        by Donald D. Erwin

The Irving and the Bruce families were close friends and allies. Robert Bruce, while fleeing from the forces of Edward I “Longshanks” one stormy night in 1298, took refuge with the Irvings of Bonshaw. The Irvings "carried him down to the Kirtle Waters" nearby and hid him in a cave in a precipice near Cove Tower, one of the many Irving strongholds. The cave door is in a perpendicular cliff twenty feet above the river and hidden by ivy. The current Bonshaw Tower (constructed in the 1500's), and the modern house adjacent to it, stands some one hundred feet from the edge of the precipice containing the cave. Robert Bruce, also known as Robert de Brus, was born July 11, 1274. After the death of his mother and the resignation of his father, Robert became the Earl of Carrick in 1293. When his father died in 1304 he succeeded him as Lord of Annandale.

Robert the Bruce

It is the tradition of the Irvings of Dumfriesshire that when Bruce left the Bonshaw sanctuary, one of his cousins (probably a second or third cousin), William de Irwyn of Woodhouse – a nephew of the Laird of Bonshaw and eldest son of Alexander de Irwyn, the clan chieftain – left with him and joined his cause. Throughout Robert Bruce’s efforts to gain, and hold, the throne of Scotland, William remained in his service. In 1307 Bruce had his first real success against the English forces at the Battle of Glen Trool. Sir Gilbert Hay had been Bruce’s armor-bearer up to that point, but after Glen Trool Bruce promoted young William to that post, and he would later have the added responsibility of secretary of the King of Scots. Trusted and admired by "The Bruce", William was eventually proclaimed a Knight, and was thereafter "Sir William." 

Some historical accounts of William de Irwyn show his surname being spelled as Irving. Although his uncle, the Laird of Bonshaw used this form of the name it is believed that William used the form of his father, the clan chief. Since the standard “Kings English” had not been invented yet, the spelling of surnames often changed depending on the whim of the scribe. Archibald A. M. Duncan, an early historian inferred in his work Regesta Regum Scottorum, that William was the younger son of a prosperous family originally from Irwyn in Ayrshire from which the surname was derived.

My line began using Erwin, the most commonly accepted form in the United States, during the latter half of the 18th century shortly after my immigrant ancestor arrived in the colonies. It now has many forms. The most common are Erwin, Ervin, Irvin, Irwin, Irvine and Irving. Throughout Britain and Scotland the name is commonly spelled Irvine, but pronounced “Irvin.”

This was at a time, however, when King Edward I of England was attempting to consolidate Scotland, as well as Wales and Ireland, into his kingdom. John Fordum’s fourteenth-century work called Chronicle of the Scottish Nation gives us some idea of Bruce’s challenge. He wrote: “Great was the task that Robert Bruce took upon himself and unbearable the burdens upon his shoulders. His mishaps, flights and dangers; hardships and weariness; hunger and thirst; watchings and fastings…” Edward I died in 1307, and “Hammer of the Scots” is inscribed on his tomb. It would be many years before his grandson, Edward III, would acknowledge Bruce as the true King of Scots.

After 1306 Bruce and his followers made gradual progress in freeing Scotland, but it was at the Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314 that the tide really turned. Bruce had a force of about 12,000, and faced a force of 25,000 seasoned English horseman and infantry. Bruce, however, drew the English into the low-lying area of Bannockburn where they camped next to some swampy marshes. The next morning Bruce’s forces, using their famous schildron formation, consisting of rings of men with spears leveled at every point of assault, charged downhill and massacred the English. It was a decisive victory; the most crucial military success in all Scottish history. It didn’t end the war with England, but it did prove that even a mighty English army could be beaten in open battle. Trusted and admired by “The Bruce,” William de Irwyn was knighted after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Thereafter he was “Sir William,” although Bruce is thought to have always called him “Willie.”

Text Box: Drum tower and manor house, ca. 1970s
During the winter of 1316, against his better judgment, Bruce took a force of Scots to Ireland to support his brother, Edward Bruce. Edward had been crowned King of Ireland, but it was mostly in name only since about ninety percent of the island was still controlled by the English. The campaign, in the first few months of 1317 was, for the most part, a failure. Bruce’s forces were not defeated in any of the several skirmishes, but few of the objectives were accomplished. The most notable battle during this campaign was during the push to take Dublin. Bruce’s force was intercepted by an army twice the number of his own under the command of the Earl of Ulster, the father of Bruce’s wife. Bruce’s force was successful, but at a great loss to both sides. It was during this battle that Sir William de Irwyn was promoted from armor bearer to commander of the Scottish archers. Edward Bruce was killed in battle shortly after Bruce returned to Scotland.

Bruce would rule Scotland for another fifteen years. There were many more skirmishes with the English, more raids over the Border by the Scots and north into the Lowlands by the English, but the Scots were generally more successful than the English. It was the aim of Edward I and Edward II to subjugate Scotland, but Bruce sought only freedom from aggression and recognition by the English king and the Pope that he, Robert Bruce, was the King of Scots. In 1323, however, Edward II and Bruce agreed to a kind of truce. Hostilities would cease, and Bruce would refuse to accept any correspondence not addressed to him as King of Scots. In 1324 Pope John XXII finally recognized Robert’s title. Four years later Edward III formally recognized Bruce and an independent Scotland at the Treaty of Northampton, and sealed it with the betrothal of his sister to Bruce’s son.

On February 1, 1323, as a reward for long and faithful service, Bruce granted Sir William de Irwyn a Free Barony in Aberdeenshire. The grant included the Castle of Drum (at the time probably just the tower and some primitive living quarters), and about 8000 acres of the original Royal Caledonian Forest. A second grant was made at Kyncross and was dated October 9, 1324. Both of the original grants are still in existence and are kept in a vault at Drum. To honor his father Sir William took the name of Alexander and thereafter Sir William was also known as Sir Alexander I, Laird of Drum. Robert Bruce, King of Scots, died on June 7, 1329. He was just short of his fifty-fifth birthday. History does not tell us, but it is presumed that Sir William de Irwyn served as Bruce’s secretary until the end of his reign.