David Bruce
King of Scotland (1329-71)
Born 1324 Died 1371


David was the only surviving son of Robert the Bruce and his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, born at Dunfermline on the 5th of March 1324 after his parents had been married for 22 years and when his father was aged 50 and his mother in her early 40s.1 His arrival was therefore somewhat unexpected; indeed Robert had already made provision for the succession in 1318 when he recognised his grandson Robert Stewart as his official heir. With David's arrival all that changed and provided Robert the Bruce with a useful bargaining counter in the business of stablishing better relations with England.

By 1328 Robert the Bruce had achieved recognition of Scotland's independence from both England and the Pope, his excommunication order was lifted, and in July of that year the four year old David was married off to the princess Joan, daughter of the English king, Edward II and the 'older woman' in the relationship, being aged all of seven at the time.

The Boy King of Scotland

A year after the marriage, Robert the Bruce died, and David was propelled onto the Scottish throne at the tender age of five. Donal, the Earl of Mar was appointed as Regent and arrangements were made for David's formal coronation, which took place at Scone on the 24th November 1331, with David clutching a child sized sceptre custom-made for the occaision and anointed with oil 2 blessed by the Pope.

There were however, a number of forces ranged against the Scottish king eager to take advantage of the situation. Firstly there was Edward III of England seeking to take advantage of Scottish weakness to re-impose control over the north, then there was Edward Balliol, the son of the John Balliol who had been deposed by Robert the Bruce, who was keen to promote himself as ruler of Scotland, and finally there were a number of Scottish nobles who had supported the English at the battle of Bannockburn, had lost their land as a result and were keen to get it back.

Therefore with the support of English troops and dissident Scottish nobility Edward Balliol was able to launch an invasion of Scotland an in August 1332 at the battle of Dupplin Moor, near Perth, Edward Balliol defeated and killed the Earl of Mar. The following month Balliol was crowned king at Scone only to be deposed by the supporters of David in December.

Andrew Moray of Bothwell now took over as Regent but in 1333 Edward Balliol returned and once again won victory, this time at the battle of Halidon Hill near Berwick and once again declared himself king. Scotland now seemed too dangerous a place for the boy king and his wife, so they were taken across the sea to the safety of France, landing at Boulogne in May 1334.

A Prisoner of England

David was to spend the next seven years of his life in France maintained at the Château Gaillard as a guest of the French king Philip VI. Meanwhile Edward Balliol, deposed again in 1334, restored once more in 1335, was finally driven out of Scotland by David's supporters3 in 1341 and it was considered safe for the now seventeen year old David to return.

Therefore in June 1341 David was able return to his kingdom and finally take the government of Scotland into his own hands.

On 26 August 1346, Edward III won his famous victory over the French at the battle of Crecy. Perhaps fearing that his turn was next, David decided to invade England in support of his ally, France. It was an unfortunate decision, as at the battle of Neville's Cross, near Durham on the 17th October 1346 he was defeated and captured.

He was taken prisoner by Edward III and was to spend the next eleven years in captivity in England, being held mainly in London and at Odiham in Hampshire. It is unlikely that his imprisonment was too arduous and in any event negotiations for his release were soon in progress between Edward, the Scottish parliament and Robert Stewart who took over the government of Scotland in David's absence.4

The Treaty of Berwick

Negotiations continued for some years between the Scottish Parliament and the English government regarding the fate of David and eventually, on the 3rd October 1357, the Scots signed the the Treaty of Berwick wherby Edward III agreed to release David in return for a ransom of 100,000 marks.5

David was thus restored to the government of Scotland but faced with the problem of raising a substantial sum of money which was to be one of the fundamental preoccupations of the remainder of his reign. The treaty fortunately, had stipulated that payment was due in ten annual installments (although David later re-negotiated an extension to twenty-five years) therby allowing David to a institute a programme of heavy taxes in order to raise the necessary funds. Unfortunately the temptation of so much available ready money was hard to resist and David ended up using much of the money for his own purposes.

His second preoccupation was producing an heir, firstly because this was the normal preoccupation of kings and secondly because he disliked his nephew Robert Stewart who was currently next in line. In 1362 his wife Joan died and David married his mistress Margaret Drummond but Margaret proved no more successful than Joan in producing a son and David's plans to divorce Margaret and marry again were only cut short by his death.

Union with England

Now during his time in captivity David had became friendly with Edward III, who was of course his brother-in-law, and appears to have developed a more pro-English outlook. A neat solution to his concerns over the succession and the payment of obligations under the Treaty of Berwick therefore came to mind. David now considered a union of the Scottish and English crowns, therby ensuring that someone other than Robert Stewart became king and that the payment of the ransom money would become academic.

In 1364 a resolution specifically proposing that Lionel of Antwerp, the duke of Clarence, and son of Edward III be appointed as heir apparent was placed before the Scottish Parliament. It was flatly rejected by said Parliament but that didn't stop David from entering into secret negototiations with Edward III over the matter and effectively appointing Edward III as his heir, if and when he died without male issue.

However when David rather unexpectedly died at Edinburgh Castle on the 22nd of February 1371 at the early age of 47, the Scottish Parliament ignored David's wishes on the matter of the succession and accepted Robert Stewart as king, who duly became Robert II the first of the long line of Stewarts to rule Scotland.


David is not the most popular of Scottish kings; Robert the Bruce may have been the great Scottish patriot but his son somehow disapponted. "David was a weak and incapable ruler, without a spark of his father’s patriotic spirit" is the judgement that the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica places upon him.

Patriotism is of course, a flexible concept and the idea that Scotland should be independent is no more and no less valid than the idea that Scotland should be part of a united Britain. Depending on you point of view therefore, David either sought to betray the ideals of his father or was a far-sighted visionary who foresaw the eventual the union of the two nations.

Contemporary accounts also record a series of complaints and lamentations over the troubles of his long reign; Scotland suffered from the border fighting during the period of his minority and was hit again in 1350 when the plague spread from England to Scotland, killing an estimated half million Scots, or roughly one in five of the total population, over the next year. There was little that David could have done to effect these events but his reign was therfore not remembered as a happy one.

Despite having nominally reigned for 42 years he only actually ruled for nineteen of those years; when he was in charge he did rule with a certain amount of authority, he successfully quashed the only challenge to his rule that did emerge, he extended the representation in the Scottish Parliament to include burgesses as well as nobles. If he wasn't a great king, he also wasn't a bad king, if if he didn't quite fit the patriotic model set by his father.


1The exact date of birth of Elizabeth de Burgh is not known; it is belived she was born around the years 1282-1284.

2 The oil was sprinkled on the king's head, breast, shoulders, armpits, elbows and the palms of his hands,thus signifying that he had been anointed by God to rule.

3Principally John Randolph, Robert Stewart and Andrew Moray.

4By now Edward Balliol had given up on his attempts to become king and had retired on a pension from Edward III.

5A mark was worth 160 pence or two-thirds of a pound - there being 240 old pence to the pound.


The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica at;

and other articles on David II at;

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