HE IS renowned as the King of Scots who led the nation into battle against the English at Bannockburn.
But now startling new evidence has emerged that Robert the Bruce had pleaded with King Edward II to leave Scotland in peace four years earlier.
A previously unknown letter has been published revealing the Bruce’s tactics to try to keep the enemy at bay while he was building up his own army.
It is said to be unique as a piece of correspondence between the two kings and its discovery after seven centuries has been described as a “complete fluke”.
A copy of the letter, written in October 1310, four years after Bruce was crowned, was unearthed in the British Library by a Glasgow academic.
With Edward’s armies marching through Scotland, Bruce decided to make an eloquent plea for peace – on the understanding his rival would recognise Scottish independence.
At the time, Bruce was in the ascendancy, slowly reclaiming power north of the Border while Edward was having to quell discontent among his own nobles.
In the letter, Edward is referred to as “the most serene prince”. Bruce pleads with him to “take pains to cease from our persecution and the disturbance of the people of our kingdom in order that devastation and the spilling of a neighbour’s blood may henceforth stop”.
The letter is a copy of the original, which is thought to have been transcribed in the late 15th or early 16th century.
In the end, Bruce’s move paid off as King Edward took his army south. When he returned three years later, his army was roundly beaten at Bannockburn.
By then, crucially, Bruce had taken all the strongholds except Stirling and those near the English border.
Dauvit Broun, professor of Scottish History at the University of Glasgow, who made the discovery, said: “The letter reveals a couple of things: firstly, 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 and the Scots as separate from the English.
“It’s impossible to know if Bruce was serious about keeping the peace. However it seems likely that he would have known that Edward was coming north to escape trouble in England as much as to assert control over Scotland. This could be seen as an attempt at fishing to see how Edward would react.
“The writing of this letter should be seen as a bold move by Bruce who had perhaps recognised that the tables were turning and he could stand his ground in the face of an advancing English army and open negotiations with the king.
“It allows us a clear sense of Bruce’s terms, which were basically anything as long as Scottish independence is recognised.”
Professor Broun told The Scotsman that he had stumbled across the letter by accident while leafing through a manuscript of correspondence believed to have been written by the monks of the Cistercian abbey of Kirkstall, in Leeds.
He added: “I’m pretty sure there was no previous knowledge of this letter.
“It appears to be a complete fluke that it was in with these other manuscripts, as the letter to Edward II dates from much earlier than the other material.
“It’s a passionate plea by one king to another for peace between their peoples. It’s not unusual for correspondence of this kind to indulge in heightened prose. But it’s striking how Edward is addressed in the most exalted terms.”
Details of the letter have been revealed ahead of the 700 anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn next June.
What Bruce wrote: A translated extract
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 … Our humbleness has led us, now and at other times, to beseech your highness more devoutly so that, having God and public decency in sight, you would take pains to cease from our persecution and the disturbance of the people of our kingdom in order that devastation and the spilling of a neighbour’s 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 perpetually flourishing grace of your good will, we are prepared and shall be prepared to accomplish in a suitable and honest way, with a pure heart.
Written at Kildrum in Lennox, the Kalends of October [1 October 1310].