THE KILLING THAT CLEARED WAY FOR BRUCE TO RULE
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
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
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