The Bruce Trilogy

The following is excerpted from a book by Nigel Tranter, THE BRUCE TRILOGY, reviewed by Sharma Krauskopf of the Scottish Radiance website at  The review is quite good, I encourage everyone to go to the website and read the review. The book is not a biography, but a story based on historic fact. 

(This book can be purchased through our website Bookstore)

The excerpt below has to do with the killing of Comyn the "Tyrant" by Robert the Bruce.

His information that Comyn would he in town today was quickly confirmed. He learned that his enemy, who was much involved in this bout of litigation, had installed himself at the small monastery of the Franciscan or Grey Friars, founded by the Lady Devorgilla, Balliol's mother, in the Castle Wynd, conveniently close to the castle itself. Here Bruce sought him-to learn that his quarry was at present attending the court nearby, but would be back. Bruce declared grimly that he would wait.

He had with him his brothers Nigel and Thomas, and his new brother-in- law Sir Christopher Seton, whom Christian of Mar had recently married. As Bruce anticipated, the news that he was back in Scotland and in fact here in Dumfries, very speedily was conveyed to Comyn in the castle, who promptly found his business there insufficiently vital to detain him from coming to verify the matter.

With a party of relatives and supporters he arrived at the monastery, and even though warned, the sight of Bruce sitting waiting for him before the fire of the refectory undoubtedly perturbed him. He stared.

"I had not looked to see you, my lord. Back. Here in Scotland," he jerked. "So soon." "No? I warrant you did not! But I am here. Safe and in order." Bruce's voice may have sounded steady enough, but only iron control hid the quivering tension that had been part of the man since the fact of Comyn's treachery had struck him four days before.

"You come from London? From Edward?" "From Edward, yes. That surprises you?"

"Only that you are not long gone. To return so soon. Comyn shrugged. "You saw the King? Spoke with him?"

"I did."

The other obviously was nonplussed. "He treated you kindly?"

"Not kindly, no. Edward is seldom kind to Scots."

"Did he speak ... of me?"

"What he said is for your privy ear, my lord."

"Ah, yes. To be sure." Comyn looked around him at all the interested throng of his own supporters and Bruce's, filling the small refectory. He beckoned to the Prior, who fussed about, in a flutter with all this splendid company. "Where may I speak alone with my lord of Carrick?" he demanded.

"My poor house is full, my good lord. With all this of the assize. I can clear a chamber or our lordships, if you will. But ... if you would but talk together, for a short time, the chapel is nigh. And empty."

"The chapel, yes. That will serve. Take us there." The Prior led them out of a side door and down a cloister walk. At a short distance behind them Bruce's brothers and Sir Christopher Seton followed on, as did Comyn's uncle, Sir Robert, and his insman Master William.

Their guide opened another door at the end of the cloister, which proved to be the vestry entrance to the little church, leading directly into the choir.

Gesturing to the others to stay at the door, Comyn beckoned Bruce forward to just before the altar itself. "We may speak safely here," he said.

A strange place for what falls to pass between you and me!" the other commented.

"As well as another. What have you to tell me, Bruce?"

"Sufficient to prove you a viler scoundrel than I knew defiled the face of this Scotland!"

"Christ God! You dare to speak so!"

"Aye, and more! And speak with good cause. Dastard! Judas!" Comyn's hand dropped to the jewelled hilt of his dirk. "You will unsay that, Bruce!" he whispered. "No man speaks so to John Comyn, and lives!"

"Unsay it? I will prove it!"

The other's dagger was half-out of its sheath before he realised that Bruce's hand was reaching into a pocket, not for his own dirk.

"What say you to this?" Bruce held out his signed bond, and the enclosing letter to Edward.

 Comyn's swiftly indrawn breath was as eloquent as any words. He stared at the out-thrust offering.

"I am waiting?"

His opponent moistened his lips. "Where ... did you... get that?" be got out.

"What matters it? Since I have it now."

"I have been betrayed, then..."

"Betrayed! You to speak of betrayal! You, who made this compact with me. To be your King!  And then betrayed me to Edward, to a certain death! Lamberton also-since he signed witness."

"Faugh! To betray traitors is no fault I" "Traitors! You name me traitor? Is it possible . . .that this forsworn wretch ... should so name Bruce?" And his hand rose to point a quivering finger at the other.

Swift as thought Comyn smashed down the accusing hand with his own clenched fist -his left, since his right was still clutching the dagger-haft.

"Aye-traitor, as I have ever known you! Sold to Edward always. Sold, for his favour. And his Ulsterwoman de Burgh.. !"

Whether at the snarling mention of Elizabeth's name, or at the physical blow to his arm, the second such that Comyn had struck him, something snapped in Bruce's overwrought brain as surely as a breaking bowstring, releasing a scalding red tide which rose swiftly to engulf him. The tingling downstruck hand went straight to his dagger. Scarcely knowing what he did, certainly not hearing the cries from the doorway, he whipped out the weapon and, beating aside the still upraised hand that had struck him, drove the steel deep into John Comyn's breast.

With a choking, bubbling groan, the other collapsed sideways against the altar, handsome features contorted, limbs writhing, and slid to the stone floor.

Dazed, unseeing, Robert Bruce stood, panting for breath. The horrified shouting of the watchers by the door changed to action. Sir Robert Comyn, nearest, came running forward, drawing his sword. Nigel Bruce sprang after him, but the two clerics threw themselves in his way; while young Thomas stood appalled, paralyzed. Not so Seton. A veteran soldier, he knocked Master William to the ground with a single blow, and leaping over him, raced after Sir Robert.

Comyn's uncle, cursing in fury, rushed on Bruce, who stood unmoving, as though stunned by what he had done. He did not attempt to parry or even dodge the blow which the older man aimed at him.

The other's sword-thrust was rageful rather than shrewd. And Bruce, unlike his fallen enemy, had anticipated that this might be a day in which armour would he a wise precaution, and was clad in a jerkin of light chain-mail. The slashing angry swipe drove him staggering backwards against the altar, in turn, but the steel did not penetrate the mail.

With a great roar, Seton hurled himself upon Sir Robert, his own blade high. Down it crashed, not in any wild swiping but in sheerest expert killing, on the unprotected neck of the older man. Head all but severed by that one stroke, Robert Comyn fell, spouting fountains of blood, over the body of his nephew.

Nigel came running to his brother now. "Robert!" he cried. "You are hurt? Stricken? Curse him! Robert speak I God's mercy ---are you sore hurt?"

Bruce did not answer, did not so much as shake his head.

"Rob-answer me!" Nigel was running over his brother's steel-girt torso with urgent hands.

"He is but dazed, man," Seton panted. "His harness would save him ....

"Quick!" Thomas Bruce exclaimed, hurrying to them, and pointing backwards. "They have gone. The churchmen. To tell the others. The Comyns. They will be back. Seeking blood let us away from here."

"Aye," Seton agreed grimly. "That is sense, at least. Come. Take his arm. An arm each. He will be well enough. The other door. To the street. Haste you!"

So, without a glance at the fallen Comyns, a brother supporting him on either side, the silent, glazed-eyed Bruce was led, hustled indeed, down the nave to the little church's main door, Sir Christopher striding ahead, reddened sword still in his hand.

They emerged into the cold, frost-gleaming Castle Wynd. The alleys and entries of the climbing street were filled with chilled, waiting Bruce supporters. Nigel yelled for horses.

Men came starting out, at sight of their lord's party and the bloody sword. Shouts filled the crisp air.

Two knights came running, drawing their own swords-Sir Roger Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, nearby, and Sir John Lindsay, a kinsman of Crawford's. Nigel was still demanding horses, but Kirkpatrick came right up to his feudal master.

"What's to do?" he demanded. "My lord-are you hurt? What is this?"

Bruce shook his head.

"Get our men assembled," Seton cried. "There will be trouble."

"They are near. On the green. And on the castle hill. And behind yonder church. A trumpet blast will summon them. But what's to do? That blood? Whose is it?" Kirkpatrick, a big, rough, fierce man, was not to be put off.

At last Bruce spoke. "I doubt . . . I have slain. . ..the Comyn," he said, slowly, distinctly.

"God's eyes! Comyn? Himself? Where?"

"God pity me-at the altar. In the church." That came out as a groan.

"In the church? Praises be-where better? For that snake I and you doubt it? Doubt he's slain? Then, by the Mass - I'll make sure of it!" Kirkpatrick thrust past them, on the word, and into the church doorway, followed by Sir John Lindsay, Sir Robert Fleming and a few other men.

"Watch you!" Nigel shouted after them. "'They will be there. The rest of them. By now. Take heed, man!"

Neither Kirkpatrick nor any of the others so much as looked back.

Rapping out an oath, Seton turned and hurried after them.

Whether with the cold, or just the passage of time, Bruce's trance-like shock was beginning to wear off. He was still shaken and not himself, but he became increasingly aware at least of the dangers inherent in the situation. He shook off his brothers' hands.

"My trumpeter," he jerked. "Get him. Quickly. To me. Up at the castle-yard. You, Tom. Nigel  -gather some men. Find and take the Comyn horses. Away with em. Then join me up at the castle. See to it."

"You are well enough...?"

"Yes. Go. Quickly. There is no time to lose."

Left alone for the moment, Bruce stared bleakly, unseeing, before him. Then he looked down at his hand. It was splashed with blood. Hastily he sought to wipe it away, his breath catching. Then he desisted. No amount of rubbing would wipe away this day's work. He might as well accept that. The deed was done, and there could be no turning back. What lay ahead he could not tell - save that nothing would ever be. the same again for him. He had slain a man. Not in honest battle, but in blind anger. Committed murder. Done the unforgivable thing.. Taken another man's life with his own hand. And in God's house, before His very altar. The unholy upon the unforgivable...

Even that was not all. He had murdered the most powerful man in Scotland. With a following great enough to turn the land upside down. Moreover he was completely lost with King Edward. Nothing could repair that break now. Suddenly all his ropes were cut. He was a
bark adrift in a rising storm.

Or not quite adrift, perhaps. Alone, yes. For ever alone now. Anchors and warps gone. Sore beset. But still he had a rudder. And a purpose. Made simpler now. Wholly simplified indeed, since it was now all or nothing. There was nothing left to him now but to fight. Fight to the death. Fight to win, or to lose. No alternative course, any more. To the fight, then with a new enemy to face, instead of John Comyn. His own conscience.

He set off, heavy strided, up the cobbled climbing street.

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