THE KILLING THAT CLEARED WAY FOR BRUCE TO RULE

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Dr Fiona Wat­son has writ­ten a book to co­in­cide with the launch of Net­flix’s biopic Out­law King, which was re­leased on Fri­day.

The aca­demic said her re­search re­veals Scot­land’s most fa­mous king got away with mur­der when he stabbed John Comyn in a Dum­fries church, clear­ing his path to power.

Ar­gu­ment has raged for cen­turies over whether the killing of Red Comyn at the Church of the Greyfri­ars was planned or not.

The film de­picts a row that got out of hand – but Wat­son be­lieves Bruce lured the na­tion’s most im­por­tant no­ble to his bloody death.

The for­mer Stir­ling Univer­sity his­tory lec­turer said: “Un­til now, his­to­ri­ans have found it very hard to say, ‘He meant to do it.’

“We’ve sat on the fence. But Bruce was so con­sis­tent. He was so fo­cused on that throne and ev­ery step he took was meant to get him there.

“This in­cludes as­sas­si­nat­ing the man who had a far bet­ter chance of be­ing made king of Scot­land.”

Bruce ar­ranged the meet­ing and spec­i­fied the Church of the Greyfri­ars.

In the film, his sup­port­ers are wary of Comyn but go along as the church is sa­cred ground.

Bruce, played by Hol­ly­wood star Chris Pine, sug­gests the two men set aside their ri­valry and unite to win back Scot­land be­fore de­cid­ing which of them “wears the crown”.

But Comyn swears to do what­ever it takes to keep Bruce from be­ing ruler and threat­ens to in­form Engl ish monarch Ed­ward I of his plans.

Bruce draws his dag­ger and kills his ri­val be­fore es­cap­ing on horse­back, fear­ing: “I’m a dead man now.”

How­ever, Wat­son said her re­search points to a cal­cu­lated mur­der.

She said: “Bruce was schem­ing with the Bishop of St An­drews to take the throne at an op­por­tune mo­ment, when Ed­ward dies.

“But at the same time, Comyn is show­ing his royal cre­den­tials and there is clear ev­i­dence that if any­one is to take the throne when Ed­ward dies, it’s go­ing to be Comyn.

“If Bruce is se­ri­ous about the throne, he has to strike down John Comyn now.

“The mur­der was too well planned to be a mis­take.

“He had cas t l es qu i ck ly pro­vi­sioned and the en­trance and exit to the western se­aboard cov­ered. That’s the sign of some­body who had de­cided what he was go­ing to do.”

Wat­son writes in Traitor, Out­law, King t h a t Comy n wa s un­pre­pared for a fight, with no ar­mour, pos­si­bly even un­armed and sup­ported by

Sun­day Mail

only two com­pan­ions – his un­cle Robert and his valet Richard Gal­braith.

By con­trast, Bruce was both armed and in ar­mour.

She writes: “Bruce kicked out at John al­most im­me­di­ately, un­bal­anc­ing him be­fore run­ning him through with a sword or a knife.

“Pre­sum­ably, Comyn cried out and his un­cle ran to de­fend him but was then killed by Robert’s brother-in-law Christo­pher Se­ton.”

Wat­son said while there was out­rage over the holy set­ting, Bruce might not have con­sid­ered it un­think­able to kill in a church.

He had spent for­ma­tive years in a fos­ter fam­ily with Gaelic tra­di­tions – pos­si­bly even in Ire­land, where no­ble­men had in the past been mur­dered in such set­tings.

A church was a neu­tral meet­ing place and it meant Comyn could be lulled into a false sense of se­cu­rity.

Wat­son writes: “It was ob­vi­ously not ideal that they were to meet in a church but there was lit­tle he could do about it if he was to per­suade John Comyn to meet him.

“It’s pos­si­ble that Robert had a more prag­matic at­ti­tude to­wards killing on holy ground than many of his con­tem­po­raries, thanks to the years spent in his Gaelic fos­ter fam­ily.

“Pol­i­tics in the Ir­ish Sea world was a lot riskier for so­ci­ety’s lead­ers than in Eng­land and much of Scot­land, where the Nor­man prac­tices of hon­ourable sur­ren­der and ran­soms pre­vailed.

“This is not meant to ex­cuse what Robert did in Dum­fries, but it may help us to un­der­stand why he seems to have viewed it as a nec­es­sary means to the only end he had ever cared about.”

Wat­son bel ieves fur ther ev idence that the k i l l ing wa s planned comes f rom Bruce’s next move, as he quickly seized sev­eral strate­gic fortresses to se­cure his po­si­tion.

She said: “Al­to­gether these strate­gi­cally im­por­tant fortresses would help Bruce to con­trol the sea routes in and out of the west of Scot­land.

“Tar­get­ing them was not the work of a man who had made a mis­take, whose hand was forced, but was rather the pre­lude to the main act which Robert was surely al­ready plan­ning.”

At £ 85mil­lion, Out­law King is the big­gest “home­grown” pro­duc­tion ever made in Scot­land.

But one his­tor­i­cal i nac­cu­racy has Ed­ward I dy­ing en route to the Bat­tle of Loudoun Hil l in Ayr­shire, in which Bruce de­feated an English army led by Sir Aymer de Va­lence.

At the end of the bat­tle, Bruce wins a bru­tal sword fight with Ed­ward II be­fore spar­ing his life and punch­ing him in the face in­stead.

In real ity, the age­ing Ed­ward I sur­vived un­til July 7, 1307 – two months after the bat­tle – and Ed­ward II, who was still Prince of Wales, was not there at all.

Wat­son said: “Ed­ward II cat­e­gor­i­cally was not there. Although much of the bat­tle seems his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate, this is a fairy­tale Hol­ly­wood end­ing.

“The only oc­ca­sion they’re in the same place at the same time after Bruce seizes the throne comes at Ban­nock­burn in 1314 – but even then they didn’t fight each other. “They’ve taken some po­etic li­cence in or­der to fin­ish the film. I un­der­stand why they’ve done it – the en­counter be­tween hero and vil­lain – but it’s just non­sense. “And while Bruce is re­united with his wife and daugh­ter at the end of the film, the truth is he would have to wait an­other eight years, un­til 1315, as part of an ex­change of hostages

fol­low­ing Ban­nock­burn.”

Bruce was so fo­cused on that throne. Ev­ery step he took was meant to get him there

BAT­TLE EX­PERT Dr Wat­son. Left, her new book

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