Never give up - Bruce fights back in war of Scottish heroes

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ONE was a national hero and guerrilla fighter who restored Scottish pride before dying a glorious, if bloody, martyr's death. The other was a self-serving opportunist who betrayed his countrymen in his own ambitious quest to become the King of Scotland.

Well, according to the movies anyway. Now aristocratic descendants of Robert the Bruce are fighting to restore the legendary king's reputation as the true saviour of Scotland after Hollywood gave the honours to William Wallace.

The campaign is being led by Lord Elgin, the 37th chief of the Bruce clan - his 13th-century forebear Robert was the seventh - who will use the 700th anniversary of Bruce's accession to the throne next year to highlight his ancestor's achievements for a new generation.

A ceremony to his memory will be held at Scone Palace in Perthshire, close to the former abbey where Bruce was named king, and the royal standard of Scotland raised.

Then Lord Elgin, his family and descendants of the noblemen who acknowledged the king's legitimate enthronement at the time, will dip their family flags in homage to the Bruce.

"William Wallace was a great hero and met a martyr's death with great honour," said Lord -Elgin. "But I didn't watch Braveheart [the box-office hit starring Mel Gibson as Wallace] because I think I might have died on the spot owing to the way Bruce was portrayed.

"After Wallace's death, Bruce had to start all over again to fight for a united Scotland, and his military approach was far superior. After Bannockburn, it culminated in the marvellous achievement of being made king."

Lord Elgin said he did not want to play down Wallace's role in history, but Bruce's legacy was far-reaching. "He re-established the rule of law, re-established the ownership of land and made people responsible for the defence of the land," he said. "He created friendships with Norway and the Low Countries so that trade could flourish, and he improved communications by building bridges."

He was also a modest monarch, Elgin contends. "Having got Scotland quietened down he didn't build a castle but what you would now call a bungalow near Dumbarton where he spent the last years of his life."

Historian and author Michael Fry agreed that Robert the Bruce's memory had recently been overshadowed by Wallace, whose supporters commemorated the 700th anniversary of his death this year.

Fry said Lord Elgin was right to try to regain for Bruce the recognition he deserved among the wider public. "He is doing the right thing because Robert the Bruce is certainly a more important figure in Scottish history than William Wallace.

"The irony is that Wallace was ultimately a failure, whereas Robert the Bruce was a success. It's typical of modern Scotland that it has fallen more in love with the failure.

"However, I welcome the fact that there are films like Braveheart which create a whole lot of interest in Scottish history that wasn't there before. This is good as long as people realise that these kinds of films romanticise things, so I would advise them to read the books rather than just watching the movies."

David Ross, convener of the William Wallace Society, said it was not surprising that the focus had been on Wallace for the past few years because of Braveheart and a number of anniversaries.

But he added: "It's swings and roundabouts. The emphasis will switch back to Bruce next year and again in the run-up to the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn in 2014. Rightly so, as without Bruce, Scotland would not exist."

Archie Duncan, a former professor of Scottish history at Glasgow University, believes Bruce and Wallace deserve equal acclaim. "In previous centuries both were honoured and, for example, there are statues of them both outside Edinburgh Castle.

"But a very good biography of Bruce in 1963 swung the balance towards him. Braveheart swung it back the other way, although most historians were cringing because of all the historical inaccuracies."

The biggest influence on the legend of Wallace, chiefly remembered for his victory over English forces at the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, has been Gibson's 1995 blockbuster. It extended his fan club worldwide and sparked a Wallace tourism industry focused on Stirling and its nearby Wallace Monument.

After defeat at Falkirk by the army of Edward I, the final gory scenes show the captured Wallace being hanged, drawn and quartered on the streets of London - cementing his reputation as a martyr. By contrast, a 1996 film called The Bruce, with Sandy Welch in the leading role, was a low-budget affair that failed to excite the public.

The Bruce ceremony on March 26 next year, the exact date when the king was crowned 700 years ago, will start with a service at a church in Perth before moving on to Scone Palace.

After paying homage to their ancestor, the family and their guests will dine on a banquet of roast pork and roast beef washed down with ale and wine. "As we are commemorating a medieval event we thought we would do it in medieval style," said Lord Elgin.