Marjorie Bruce, Princess of Scotland and mother of the Stewart dynasty of Kings of Scots
By Susan Abernethy
Marjorie Bruce, Princess of Scotland, was the only child of the first marriage of King Robert I the Bruce with Isabella of Mar. Marjorie would suffer greatly through the Scottish Wars of Independence, surviving to marry and become the mother of the child who would go on to found the Stewart dynasty of Kings.
As the wars for Scottish independence from England raged, Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick, was one of the leaders of the fight. The Earl of Mar was one of the seven Guardians of Scotland and he believed Robert was the lawful King of Scots. Mar saw great advantage in aligning his family with Bruce and the possibility of his heirs inheriting the throne. He arranged to marry his eighteen year old daughter Isabella to Bruce. Legend says Isabella and Bruce were very much in love. The Earl signed over his family estates to Bruce and the marriage took place in 1295. Isabella quickly became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter named Marjorie, most likely in December of 1296. Isabella died shortly after the birth.
We don’t know what happened to Marjorie, where she lived or how she was educated. Six years after the death of his first wife, Bruce was at the court of King Edward I of England and most likely met the woman who would become his second wife. Her name was Elizabeth de Burgh and she was the daughter of Richard, 2nd Earl of Ulster and one of King Edward’s most prominent Anglo-Irish supporters. Either Edward chose Elizabeth as Bruce’s bride or Bruce transferred his allegiance to Edward, hoping to ally himself to the Earl of Ulster. Elizabeth and Bruce married in 1302.
After years of fighting and switching of allegiances, Robert the Bruce was inaugurated as King of Scots and Elizabeth was crowned Queen on March 25, 1306. The ceremony was celebrated at Scone by Bishop Lamberton of St. Andrews and a young Marjorie was in attendance. Although Bruce had gained the throne, the English were still fighting and within a few weeks of the coronation, Bruce was defeated by John of Lorne on the borders of Argyll and Perthshire.
At the end of June 1306, Bruce decided to send his family away for safety. Queen Elizabeth, Marjorie, and Bruce’s sisters Christian and Mary were given an escort of Bruce’s brother Niall and the Earl of Atholl and set off across the lands of Atholl, over the hills of Braemar until they reached the stronghold of Kildrummy Castle. They were only there a short time before the English sent troops to find them. Someone in the castle set fire to the castle’s store of grain and the castle surrendered but not before the ladies escaped in the chaos.
They were probably headed for the security of the Orkney Islands and on the way they took sanctuary in the small chapel of St. Duthac’s at Tain in Ross-shire. The Earl of Ross was no friend of Bruce and he violated the sanctuary and seized the ladies. Ross sent them south to become prisoners of King Edward in England. Along the way, the Earl of Atholl had been captured and Niall was seized along with the ladies. Atholl was hung and Niall was hung, drawn and quartered at Berwick upon Tweed.
Of the four captured women, Queen Elizabeth was treated the least harshly by King Edward. She was the daughter of his friend after all. She spent time in the Tower of London as well as other places and was allowed servants. Bruce’s sister Christian spent her imprisonment in the Gilbertine Nunnery at Sixhills in Lincolnshire. His other sister Mary was confined in a solid latticed cage of timber and iron and hung over the walls of Roxburgh Castle.
Edward had severe and punitive plans for Marjorie. He ordered the construction of cage like the one Mary was confined in to be built. He wanted the cage hung from the Tower of London and was not going to allow anyone to speak to Marjorie. But this was particularly cruel and unusual punishment for a twelve year old girl. Some of Edward’s advisors counseled him against this treatment, so he rescinded the order and had Marjorie confined at the Gilbertine nunnery at Watton in East Yorkshire.
The Bruce women languished in England until the Battle of Bannockburn in June of 1314. The Scots annihilated the troops of the new King Edward II of England and took many English hostages. Edward II’s commander Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford was in the hands of the Scots and Bruce traded him for his wife, daughter and sisters along with the elderly Bishop of Glasgow, Robert Wishart. All the women returned to Scotland.
King Robert’s gallant 6th Lord High Steward, Robert had fought valiantly at Bannockburn and it was decided that Marjorie would marry him. They were married in 1315 and Marjorie took up residence at the Steward home in Renfrew. Marjorie’s dowry included the Barony of Bathgate in West Lothian and this was destined to be the family residence of the couple. But it wasn’t meant to be.
Marjorie was heavily pregnant in early 1316 when she decided to go out riding. She was thrown from her horse between Paisley and Renfrew at a place called Knock Hill. Her child, Robert, was delivered by Caesarean section and she died within a few hours at the age of nineteen on March 2. The child, grandson of King Robert I the Bruce, would become the first king of the Stewart dynasty as Robert II, the name coming from a variation on the title of Marjorie’s husband as High Steward.
Marjorie’s body was taken to be buried at Paisley Abbey and her tomb stood for several centuries until it was disturbed during some renovation. The remnants of the tomb lay in the abbey gardens until 1830 when a minister of the church saw them and decided to have the tomb restored. He gathered together pieces of similar tombs and rebuilt the sarcophagus that can be seen today in the abbey. There is also a large cairn on the right side of Renfrew Road on the way into Paisley that marks the spot where Marjorie was thrown from her horse.
Sources: “The Kings and Queens of Scotland” edited by Richard Oram, “Scottish Queens: 1034-1715” by Rosalind K. Marshall, “Women of Scotland” by David R. Ross, “Robert the Bruce, King of Scots” by Ronald McNair Scott